2006 Season Review: RBNY (and, yeah, I'm still alive)

For those interested in such things, I'm still plugging away at my 2006 season review series for Write On Sports. Today's installment features Red Bull New York, for whom I saw a wretched past and, in spite of said past, somehow predicted a happier future.

In any case, this will be the extent of my posting until after the New Year.

Still, that Eskandarian trade....that's something.


Knives Come Out for Adu

The Boston Globe ran an article today by a guy named Steve James, oh whom I had never heard. While it doesn't cover unfamiliar ground - how Freddie Adu's actual talent relates to the hype - the article contains some of the most cutting judgments I've yet seen.

All the barbs break skin, but the LA Times' Grahame Jones is the only one who twists the knife:

"He is a gifted player for his age but nothing special, even within the limited talent field that is MLS. His training with Manchester United was more of a courtesy by Man U toward MLS than an expression of serious interest and from what I hear he did not overly impress."

"Perhaps in time and with the right coaching, he might become a useful journeyman player but at the moment he is quite ordinary."


I have to confess that I'm not sold on Adu either. And I remain in a holding pattern on the latest great hype, Josmer Altidore. Believe me, I want him to be everything fans expect, but I'm definitely going to wait till he gets there to annoint him.


Bradley, Nowak, the Past...Love or Something Else?

Not surprisingly, I'm finding more stuff on the already mentioned ascension of Piotr Nowak to role of assistant coach with various parts of the national team program.

Joining an ever-lengthening list of relevant facts that completely slipped my mind today was the fact that Bob Bradley and Piotr Nowak have worked together closely before - e.g. as captain and coach of the Chicago Fire from 1998 to 2002. It took this article to jog my memory...I have no excuse.

On ESPN's site, Andrea Canales makes a pretty good case for the wisdom of this move, identifying it as a sign that Bradley "has just begun to fight" to make the USMNT job permanent. Still, I was gratified to see I wasn't the only one wondering about the relationship. In an apparently prescient post to his blog about Tom Soehn replacing Nowak at DC United, Ives Galarcep suggested the possibility of Nowak joining Bradley in the U.S. program. But he also tucked in the following toward the bottom:

"This is also assuming Bradley has forgiven Nowak for all his Jose Mourinho-like sideline histrionics, some of which have definitely rubbed Bradley the wrong way."

The "this" refers the question of whether Bradley would try to pick up Nowak. We know that happened. The question is how far Canales is correct in dubbing this a career-preserving maneuver against the more immediate question of how well Bradley and Nowak will work together in roles more equal than those they had with the Fire.


Landing Beckham Using the Rule - Potholes & Obligations

The San Diego Union-Tribune's Mark Zeigler went that extra little mile once again in reminding folks just how tricky - and, potentially, expensive - bringing David Beckham to Los Angeles might be. The devil plays in the numbers:

"There are several factors to consider, not the least of which is it's gonna get expensive. His annual salary is in the neighborhood of $8 million after taxes, which converts to $10 million-plus before them. He could leave Real Madrid on a free transfer when his contract expires in May, but anyone wanting to lock him up in the January window would have to pay Real Madrid a transfer fee that could push well into eight figures."

Ah, yes, the transfer fee. I mean, good golly, I know all this stuff, but it slips my mind more often than I care to admit. Don't know about anyone else, but I'm reading that to say we won't be seeing David Beckham sporting an LA Galaxy jersey in January. On the other hand, if I were Beckham and I was bored of riding pain in Madrid and generally interested in a comparatively anonymous lifestyle (I think "comparative" is the best he can expect), I'd figure I was already rich, take the pay cut, and go play in LA. Apart from explaining why I'm not rich, it's also fair to admit few people share my views on accumulating wealth.

That's all good and well, but the best part of this article comes with a quote from "superagent" Richard Motzkin:

“Do I think we'll see Beckham next year? I don't know. I'd say it's 50-50. But I would like to think the player for whom the rule is named would have enough appreciation of that fact that it would sway his decision.”

Perhaps after recoiling from the stalking ex-boyfriend desperation contained in that comment, Beckham will mull the move in earnest. ("C'mon, baby! I cut my chest for YOU!!)


Soehn/Nowak: Coaching Carousel on Hyperdrive

Some mornings, you expect to ease into the day - then the first thing you read is that Tom Soehn was appointed head coach of DC United and that Piotr Nowak will hook up with the U.S. National Team as an assistant (LINK).

Holy crap.

I don't know enough about Soehn to comment on how he'll do; I only know he has been linked to every coaching vacancy over the past three years at least. Based on that, it seems most people expect him to do well. And, to be unfair to Nowak, the second half of 2006 could very well have been the equivalent of an ailing marriage; maybe a change will do some good.

As for the Nowak move, that one leaves me a little uneasy. Nowak seems a pretty driven fella, one whose ego may strain in the role of second banana. But that's just an impression; Bob Bradley thinks clearly thinks otherwise and he certainly knows Nowak better than some schlump observing things from Portland, Oregon. Still, if I'm watching for anything with this hire, it's for distracting tension between Bradley and Nowak.

Big change though, huh?


2006 Season Review: Colorado

So, I'm not wild about the headline I chose - I threw out something tentative and never got around to correcting it - but think the rest of it came out OK.

For those interested in one person's recap of the Colorado Rapids' 2006, follow the link and have a read.


MVB Archives: Rounding Out October '06

Given how much energy I put into the first round of the playoffs, it's a miracle I found time to talk about anything else in Major League Soccer (MLS) - and yet I did. While he's hardly at fault - I accept full responsibility for my mania - Brian Garrison of An American's View somehow tricked me into floating a proposal for revamping MLS's regular season/playoff format/etc that had as much chance of adoption as I've got of sprouting wings and flying to the moon to eat green cheese. Seriously, that was a fun project that I kind of let peter out...and with admittedly few regrets. Thomas More wrote Utopia some centuries ago, right? And he did a better job.

Still, that was some time taken.

Returning to the matter at hand, though - that'd be the playoffs - it's fair to say I obsessed a bit. How much? Oh (LINK) just a little; though it got (LINK) pretty bad (LINK) whenever (LINK) I dealt with (LINK) New England. Still, they rescued me from my pessimism and that provided a happy moment or two. Surprisingly, all that takes us only so far as the end of the first round.

Interesting as all that was (to me anyway) the end of the first-round produced another interesting story in 2006: late-game/post-game brawls, especially in the Western Conference. Bad as the Houston Dynamo-Chivas USA brawl seemed to me at the time, it was the FC Dallas-Colorado Rapids affair that carried more long-term consequences. Whether or not some suspensions were just, it was kind of refreshing, if a little jarring, to see so much passion among the players.

Here's to hoping that emotion carries over to the 2007 regular season, where the all teams could certainly use it...in a constructive way that conforms to the league's rules, of course...

U.S. Camp: Early (Involved) Commentary

All y'all know by know that "Coach" Bradley called in 29 players for his inaugural training camp (list here). And, judging by my choice of headlines, I've got to be the last amateur pundit to look into this. But that's not completely true (I'm not slacking!): I did sneak an update into yesterday's post on USA Today's Q & A with Bradley.

Even there, though, I touched on the roster only tangentially. Before seeing it, however, I voiced one hope for Bradley's tenure:

"I'm hoping he begins by showing a willingness to build the team as opposed to playing for results by calling in veteran players. I'd like to think that would make a better impression with the right people."

According to the training camp report Steve Davis turned into ESPN, that's precisely what we can expect from Bradley's tenure:

"That in itself confirms a little something, although nothing shocking: that Bradley understands his work is all about development, and that he won't stray from that endeavor in some thinly veiled gambit to win insignificant matches and solidify his hold on the spot."

Well, super. I'm still on the same page with Bradley.

Davis' piece ain't bad, but it's also nowhere near as involved as the efforts turned in by heavy-hitters Ives Galarcep (LINK) and Marc Connolly (LINK). Both pundits pick through the names, explain eye-raising absences (Brian Ching (bum knee) and Brad Davis (wedding), to name two), and propose rosters for the January friendly against Denmark; hell, Connolly proposes three and tinkers with formation as well. My level of enthusiasm - which I'd compare in terms of relative satisfaction to coming across a thimble-full of water after crawling out of the desert - doesn't compel me to look at this in similar detail, but I have a thought or two on some questions they mentioned:

1) Justin Mapp: The time is now to start him on the left.

2) Michael Parkhurst: ditto - the time is now to play him. Groom him now, figure out where he'll work best. Concerns about size do come into play, but now is the time to see whether he can massage these at the international level as well as he does in MLS.

3) Twellman: As much as I like Twellman (love/irk sums it up fairly), I'd leave him on the bubble and give others more time to earn the spot; I'm thinking mainly of Nate Jaqua and Kenny Cooper here. If they fail, then recall Twellman and see what he does. In a related note, I see more in Jaqua than Galarcep; as he would say, that's just my opinion (and he's correct about that).

4) In yesterday's post, I mentioned that I liked seeing Eskandarian in the mix. I still do, but respect Davis' "mild surprise" at Esky's inclusion. It's been a while. To be honest, the same goes for Joshua Gros, who, as I saw it, seemed to fade deep in the past season.

Obviously, there's talking points to keep us chatting past the New Year in there, but that's all for now.

Trying Out in Toronto

I'm only flagging this Toronto Sun article about Toronto FC's open tryouts because it contains an interesting line of thinking. For those unfamiliar with the story, Toronto FC invited the locals down to strut their stuff, but they did so with the lowest of expectations and using a strange-ish format: a series of 60-minute, 6-a-side games - and the axe fell damned quickly after for the overwhelming majority of players.

With that in mind, I find the essential conclusions from the day simultaneously intriguing and predictable:

"Assistant coach Bob Gansler was blunt in his assessment of the talent he had seen in the first half of the three-day tryout."

"'I didn't see anyone who was even close to having the physical conditioning to play at the MLS level,' he said."

I just strikes me as odd that "physical conditioning" was the chief thing mentioned. Why not look for flashes from a good soccer brain first and look into conditioning second? Maybe having 1,000 invitees rendered that impossible, but with lack of fitness almost a given why not look for something else?


MVB Archives: Oct 7 - 20

Hey, hey...got two weeks in this edition. For those who haven't followed this from the start, I'm in the process of moving the good bits of the archives from My Very Brain to this site. The idea is to see all the copy gets to one place.

With regard to the copy, the bulk of it was directed toward something entirely expected 'round the middle of October: the MLS playoffs. I offered impressions, "playoff porn," I even undertook the last of my masochistic previews (and this project was a doozy) for the 2006 season. On a more personal level, I watched my New England Revolution charge into the playoffs -the first time they had actually charged in 2007.

Another item I did was remarkable only for being prescient. In reviewing ESPN's final "power ranking" for 2006, I wrote this:

"...there's something weird about putting FC Dallas over DC United; there's something weirder still about either of them topping the Houston Dynamo. And it's not that the latter is great, so much as the other two are stumbling into a chasm of indeterminate depth."

To fully understand why that makes me giddy, you've got to know my record for predictions.

And, naturally, it's not possible to discuss the MLS playoffs without complaining about the format...so I did.

The other stuff I like from those two weeks were a bit more random: I still think DC United's collapse (my word for it) constitutes one of the stories for 2006; as it turns out, I never bought into the Beckham rule - and, in spite of its adoption, will remain unreconciled pending evidence of success; I managed two posts (LINK and LINK) on the relationship between soccer and statistics that I really must parlay into something bigger; time was also set aside for my "tryst" with Real Salt Lake - I'm hoping for big things from that bunch next season and they'll remain my Western Conference team till we get something in the Pacific Northwest.

Speaking of which, I was particularly proud of my open letter to MLS Commissioner Don Garber as to why Portland, Oregon should get an MLS team before Seattle, Washington.

All righty...two more weeks down. Making time...

A Meaty Q & A with Bob Bradley


USA Today ran a pretty dense Q & A with newly appointed interim (grrrr...) USMNT head coach Bob Bradely this morning. All in all, he comes off like a pretty bright fellow and there are several noteworthy highlights - see, for instance, what he has to say about playing his son, his relationship with Bruce Arena, etc. - so take the time to read it if you got it.

But my two personal favorites come here (and this is Bradley talking):

"In 2002, our team had a freshness, a confidence, we got a great result in the first game (3-2 upset of Portugal). That's really important. If you're not together all the time, you build momentum during a World Cup. So that first game against Portugal absolutely was a spark. Sometimes, that's all it takes."

For what it's worth, I put a lot of stock in the passage in bold - not to mention its reverse.

But the million-dollar question of Bradley's uncertain tenure comes here:

"Most friendlies give coaches a chance to experiment with new players and tactics. As an interim coach hoping to be the permanent coach, is it more imperative to win those games?"

"The first responsibility is always to win and have the team look good. Of course, there are so many variables there. The idea of introducing young players into the team, the availability of players, it can go on and on. There are things that are out of my control. The ability to take whatever group is in camp and make sure the work in that camp is really good and when we have that opportunity that we take advantage of it."

Now, in a sense, Bradley ducked the question - and as well as any Bush White House flak that predates Scott McClellan and Tony Snow. But the way he answers will say a lot to me - and, hopefully, to USSF officials - about what Bradley would be like as a coach, specifically the extent to which he'll take chances. It's my hope he defies the strictures of his circumstances and pushes hard to introduce new players into the line-up; I'm hoping he begins by showing a willingness to build the team as opposed to playing for results by calling in veteran players. I'd like to think that would make a better impression with the right people.

We'll have the first answer to this question shortly. Stay tuned.

UPDATE: I just caught wind of Bob Bradley's first-ever list of call-ups to the national team training camp. In spite of the near absence of Europe-based players - who will, admittedly, be busy with club duties - I like what I see, specifically: Jonathan Bornstein, Michael Parkhurst, Dasan Robinson, Kyle Beckerman, Brian Mullan, Alecko Eskandarian, Kenny Cooper and Nate Jaqua.

The rest are OK, too.


Why I Lost Interest in England

Rather than dig into that question myself, here are two articles that explain the reason by implication:

1) Simon Tanton's essay against buying championships.

2) A piece by Kevin McCarra from the UK Guardian about the long-shot dreams of some lower-ranking Premiership clubs hoping to keep up with the elite.

As much as Major League Soccer's parity irks me, it at least keeps me and everyone else guessing. I just don't have the patience for nine months of soccer that ends with one of the same three teams taking the trophy - and that's even taking into account the better quality and appearance. The Champions League is a bit better, at least in terms of unpredictability and teams being closer to the same "social class," but the whole Tuesday/Wednesday thing is a killer.

In the end, I guess I'd just rather be surprised...even if the pervasive mediocrity in MLS drives me crazy sometimes.


What Dempsey Meant to Davies

The Boston Globe's Frank Dell'Appa produced another write-up for the Charlie Davies beat (the youngster headed to Sweden's Hammarby IF). Fun as all the details about salary are to read, it's a quote in the lower third of this article that raises one of the central questions to Major League Soccer's future:

"'One of the concerns was that [Davies] would be locked into the MLS for six years," [Boston College coach Ed] Kelly said."

Is this the Clint Dempsey "situation" rearing its head? It certainly wouldn't surprise me, though it sounds like there were more factors in play. After all, Davies plays in the Revolution's backyard, which considerably ups the chance of him getting wind of Dempsey's thwarted attempts to leave MLS. Could this have played a role in Cam Weaver's decision to try Norway? Did MLS scouts (is there such an animal?) or coaches even notice Weaver? Those are big, big questions, all of them.

Anyway, Dell'Appa's got a pretty interesting article there. And do note the way Davies path crosses that of one Freddie Adu.


Cam in Norway

I won't pretend I know anything about Cam Weaver as a player. For instance, I've never seen him play, in spite of the fact he spent the past year (at least) just up the road from me with the Seattle Sounders.

In any case, ESPN reported this morning that Weaver is headed to Europe at the beckoning of a Norwegian club (FK Haugesund - nope, haven't heard of them). Here's to wishing him all the luck in the world - and, as with Charlie Davies - I hope he can help all of us out down the road. It doesn't hurt he's got a pretty charming life story.

Not to ascribe God-like wisdom to Scandinavians, but it's worth asking what their scouts are seeing that Major League Soccer clubs aren't. How real, or serious, is the poaching?


My Very Brain (MVB) Archives: Oct. 1 - 6

As threatened in the welcome back post, I have spent the afternoon pawing through the soccer-related archives on My Very Brain; I'm trying to move the good (enough) stuff to archives on this site so's I can pretend I never, ever attempted the experiment with posting soccer stuff on My Very Brain.

Also in that note, I described this transfer project as reflecting a "Best-of-[insert month]," but that whole "of the month" thing came before remembering I talk so goddamn much (I mean, holy shit, am I verbose!). Before linking to the pick of the stuff I found for the week that started with October 1st, I want to add one thing: it's pretty fun looking back at what counted as the buzz for any given week. If you check out the links below, I think you'll see what I mean.

For instance, we all know that the search for the USMNT coach as something of a "blue balls" experience, but realizing that an announcement seemed imminent in the first week in October explains why, um, "things" got so blue. Everyone seemed a live choice back then - even New England's Steve Nicol. That sounds sillier now, what with the Revs sub-par regular season and a third collapse in a final (you got one more season, Nicol!)

Another semi-related hot topic helped keep the coaching situation on the front-burner: the now-real possibility of U.S. participation in the Copa America. The decision to participate in the Copa counts as one of the rare moments where everyone was on the same page - even Jamie Trecker.

October also happened to be the first month in which several teams' late season peformances started to serve as predictors for the post-season. DC United's late slump was a fascinating thing to watch - painful as it was for their fans - but I think I managed to nail down one cause for it: judging by comments from some of their players, they figured they'd done enough by winning the Supporters' Shield. Another reality that came into focus around the beginning of October was just how bad the Columbus Crew was in 2006.

OK, last few here. October happens to be the month I accepted D's challenge to make My Very Brain a New England Revolution blog. Naturally, this will continue with It's a Simple Game, though the some of the guarantees of that first post will almost certainly not hold.

On a personal note, I spent a lot of 2006 doing match previews - typically for the site ArmchairGM. I'll commemorate the lot of 'em by linking to the big sprawler I produced for New England's final game against DC United. All in all, the previews were kind of a curious thing to do - especially given how rarely I made the correct calls - so I don't know whether I'll do this for next season. I expect I'll wind up doing more post-game reviews in 2007 because those are "newsier." I suspect those will look a lot like this, but I'll be sending them to Write On Sports instead - assuming they'll take them. For all that, though, ArmchairGM is a pretty cool place and I don't remotely regret discovering them; they just need people to build their database.

Anyway, all for now. More filling in the past three months tomorrow.


Moving Back

Hey, just wanted to let people know that I'm reorganizing my posting habits for a record sixth time this year. For the forseeable future, all soccer-related stuff I do will appear on It's a Simple Game...again.

For the record - and it is indeed that - a couple things went into this admittedly flaky decision:

1) It countermands the previously undertaken flaky decision to post all the stuff I do on My Very Brain (link). It makes more sense to have a straight "soccer blog" as opposed to a general content train-wreck.

2) The comments thing mattered. In short, I can't stand talking politics online (who knows? maybe I can't stand talking politics in general any more). Nothing changes, no one learns anything and everyone gets pissed off; that's fun like jerking off with sandpaper. Against that, I've found soccer people better able to maintain decent appreciation of the fact that what they're discussing doesn't matter. Anyway, I wanted to hear what other people think about soccer, even if it happens only infrequently, and I've still got comments set up here, but not on My Very Brain; in fact, comments will never go up on My Very Brain ever, ever again.

3) The title is better...it didn't hurt I watched Bull Durham yesterday, the movie that inspired the title.

There's more to it than this, but that's almost all to do with My Very Brain and not this site.

As for the rest of today - if not this week - I'm going to wrap up the soccer side of My Very Brain and create "Best of [fill-in-month/week-here]" posts to get all the good stuff on this site....where it properly belongs.

You all have my apologies for the past three months of madness. And a special thanks goes to Oscar M for tolerating both this switch and the previous one.


Moved: See Below

Thanks for the memories.


This Space Closing (or, Rather, Moving)

After today, I will no longer be posting any items on It’s a Simple Game.

I’m going to move all these operations to another, previously abandoned blog titled My Very Brain. The reason for the move is pretty straightforward: I want to pull all the stuff I write, contributions to other outlets aside, to one site and under one name. In other words, My Very Brain will serve as a one-stop venue for all things Manly and Ferry (and Jeff Bull as well).

Though that will serve as more of a general content site, this won’t mean an end to, or even a decrease in, soccer-related posting. Courtesy of another site, I’ve set up “categories” for My Very Brain and will tag all soccer-related content through del.icio.us. Hopefully, that will allow those who want only the soccer stuff to link to that and ignore the rest (though I hope some will enjoy the other crap, too).

So, anyone interested in finding me, or updating their sidebar links, bloglines browsers, and the like, should switch over to My Very Brain beginning Monday, October 2, 2006.

One final note on this: in the two years I’ve been blogging, I’ve started and stopped more blogs, changed formats, and, generally, freaked out more often than any one person has either cause or right to do. For those who have endured all the convolutions and sudden spazzing, thanks...and sorry for the headaches. It's been fun typing in this space, but it's time to move it all under one lean-to.


MLS: Shirts with Logos ('Bout Time)

I'll start by crediting Mike H from My Soccer Blogs for flagging a report about Major League Soccer (MLS) allowing teams to sell advertising space on the fronts of team jerseys. I'll end by quibbling with a single detail of the plan - and from a well of personal hang-up as well.

The substance of the shift can also be found here, where there is far less fronting on MLS than you'll find in the article to which Mike H linked (no discredit to him on that...but on the author, shame, SHAME!!! Do we really need reminding that "Major League Soccer doesn't have the talent, tradition or TV ratings of more storied American sports leagues"? And in the lead, no less?). If you can't tell from the title, I'm fer this particular arrangement and think the details of how the league is handling this hold together well enough...

...until this:

[FC Dallas President Michael] Hitchcock said Dallas will sign on only with a national or international company. Fans won't be embarrassed by something like Crazy Uncle Bob's Used Tires."

And this:

"In addition, the commissioner's office has authority to reject deals, and the league won't allow hard liquor or Internet casinos to buy space on uniforms. 'We don't want the local bail-bonds company on the front of the Columbus Crew jersey,' says MLS commissioner Don Garber."

Get bent, you prudes. With advertisers, I say the more the merrier and the quirkier the better. "Crazy Uncle Bob's Used Tires" would be a fanstastic logo and help out a local business to boot. Why not have a giganimous "FOXWOODS CASINO" blazoned across the front of the Revs uniforms? A tasteful "MD 20/20" on Houston's uniform? After all, what turns a human being into "dynamo" faster than fortified wine? Do kids - and I'm assuming that's the segment of the market the league fears "corrupting" - look at a jersey with a casino on it and turn to their dad and say, "When I grow up, I want to shoot craps just like Amado Guevara!!" Will they hold their breath till mommy buys them a fifth of Smirnoff just because they see their logo on Taylor Twellman's back? (They may need a stiff drink, though, after he pings the post for the third time in one evening.)

It's just money and the only time we should care about the source is if the local branch of the Ku Klux Klan asks to plop a little hooded man on DC United's uniform. Take the local bondsman and the team helps the bits of the local economy that need the bigger boost. Yeah, McDonalds can pay more, but do they really need it?

The Revs at Valley Forge

Don Cuddy, writing in Soccer365.com summed up the decidedly wobbly ego-fest thing that was and is theNew England Revolution's 2006 season. Cuddy did better, anyway, than 4/5 the soccer commentariat (the subject, I think, of a project to come), who are still assuming the Revs will wake up any day now absent evidence to the contrary.

Naturally, the subject turned to the reasons for the season-long bout with despondency and his answer, while not rock-solid, works well enough for me:

"The fact is that the thrill is gone for this group of players. While Steve Nicol has been able to keep the lid on there are a lot of people wearing blue shirts who are seething with frustration, each for their own reasons."

Sad, but true I think. Now the question is who was the mad scientist who did the brain swap between New England and Red Bull New York?


Woitalla: Theories on Youth Development

Soccer America's Mike Woitalla turned in a solid think-piece addressing the question of whether they way we coach our kids stifles their development. Woitalla gets it right for the most part, though he neglects to acknowledge the "dark side" of ditching the "win-at-all-costs" mentality: namely, games played in which they don't keep track of the score and the weird crap one reads from time-to-time about giving everyone "winners" ribbons, even when they don't win. Keep the goddamn score and tell the kids it's OK to screw up and lose so long as you try and that should take care of most the ego damage one can pick up from organized sports. Maybe it isn't that simple, but it sure seems like it ought to be. As they get older, raise the stakes and the kids will decide if those higher stakes are for them.

In any case, that's a quibble that grows out my own biases. Woitalla wrote a good column.

For what it's worth, they weren't for me. I gravitate toward co-ed leagues because I don't see the point in breaking my legs for a loose ball or getting in fights with amped-up jocks while playing rec soccer. It's not like there are scouts in the friggin' crowd. But that's my niche. I also know that any player who hopes to be good, never mind great, can't approach the game like I do. Hence, we need places where, yes, amped-up jocks can strive to be the best they can be. But, as Woitalla points out, let that be after they learn to figure it out on their own....and after they reach the age when their egos won't be warped into self-abusive mania.


Week 27 Previews

My previews for Major League Soccer's Week 27 are already up on ArmchairGM. Looking back on what I wrote, one mystery remains: namely, my hostility to this weekend's game line-up, especially the televised game. I can't explain it...I only wish someone thought to air the "SuperClassico" instead of the Houston Dynamo hosting DC United.


Attendance: The Colorado Echo?

Which, come to think of it, wouldn't be such a lousy name for the franchise. And based on a report in today's Denver Post, it would fit as well. From the sly lead to the content, that write-up on the Colorado Rapids’ attendance woes is worth the read. In some ways, it’s a snapshot follow-up on the San Diego Union-Tribune report (linked to and discussed yesterday) on Major League Soccer monkeying with its attendance numbers.

Numbers like Colorado's - which for this season include an embarrassing draw of 3,805, which the USL Division 1 Portland Timbers reliably top even without discounting the beer - complicate the use of the phrase “major league” in MLS. Making matters worse, the downward trend came after Kroenke Sports Enterprises (KSE) bought the team from MLS’s patron saint, Phil Anschutz. Still, the article closes with happy talk from spokespeople for the former, who assure fans they’ll turn it all around next season when Colorado gets their shiny new stadium. They also promise better TV coverage.

Could it be they were just waiting for a better backdrop for it all? I suppose. Invesco’s just too damn big for anything but their Fourth of July blowouts. Let’s hope, for the team’s sake and the league’s reputation, that KSE’s people are not just talking.


Chicago Takes the Cup: What People Are Saying

It’s hard to hit a domestic soccer site today without bumping into some mention of last night’s U.S. Open Cup final, which the Chicago Fire won by topping the Los Angeles Galaxy by a score of 3-1. I have to confess, as I did in my post-game wrap, that I caught only the second half. All in all, I liked what I saw: a good, hard-fought game and not a bad one either. Another positive, albeit a curious one, came with the size of the crowd: only 8,851 showed up. Small as it was it looked bigger and sounded bigger still - another good thing.

With my wrap-up linked to above, I thought I’d pull together a tour of other Open Cup commentary because there’s plenty of it out there, starting with the 17 sources available through Topix.net’s aggregator. But the best stuff comes from some of the more prominent pundits.

Marc Connolly, writing for USSoccerplayers.com, credits Chicago for taking the Open Cup in general as seriously as any Major League Soccer team ever has; implicit in that notion is the idea they deserved to win, though he gives LA their propers too. And there’s something to that as well: either Los Angeles of Chicago, and now both, have been in every Open Cup final since 2000. One can also include Connolly among those mightily impressed with Tony Sanneh’s assist on the third, “nail-in-coffin” goal, which was scored by Thiago; count me among them too - the precision on that pass was what fans pay to see.

The pick of the bunch, though, comes from Jeff Carlisle on ESPN’s site. While the larger service of his column grows from the way he uses the Open Cup win to explain why Chicago are legitimate contenders for MLS Cup, I like that he singles out the play of Justin Mapp, both in this game and in the season in general, for admiration. Mapp is growing into a better player, which is good news not only for Chicago, but for the U.S. men’s team; even if Mapp never makes the squad, he forces the left-sided players that do make the squad to raise their game or keep checking their shoulder.

Finally, another article raised a neat point of curiosity:

“Thiago sealed the win for the Fire in the 88th minute on a Tony Sanneh pass, ensuring Chicago became only the fifth team to win the title four times.”

That kicked off a search for the identity of the other four teams. That in turn led to a Wikipedia entry and the possibility that the phrasing on this historical morsel isn’t the most helpful or accurate. Wiki's entry shows three teams that have one the Open Cup title five times in the tournament's 83-year history: Bethlehem Steel FC, Maccabee SC, and Fall River FC. Along with Chicago, another two teams have lifted the trophy four times: Greek-America AA of New York and Ukranian Nationals of Philadelphia. Apart from counting six teams with four titles, three of those teams have more than four titles. Am I being nit-picky? Yeah....

Still, good game and good win for Chicago. A number of people ought to be checking their shoulders on their way into the playoffs.

MLS & This Blog: Monkeying Around with Two Systems

I'm about to seriously complicate the way I'm blogging. In an effort to do everything I want to do through one site, I've been monkeying around with adding categories to an old political site I used to run. Blogger being completely boned for the past couple of days hasn't aided with the process, but, when all's said and done, I'm going to attempt to shift the content I'm posting here to another site titled My Very Brain. Assuming everything works, I'll return to posting politics over on that site while still sending soccer only items through to Soccer Blogs as I have been doing since July (?).

The question that remains to be answered is whether working through del.icio.us will make this work on Soccer Blogs' end. If it doesn't, I understand that, when Blogger gets its shit together, I'll be able to label posts and call it good from there.

In any case, I just posted a soccer post on My Very Brain, mainly to test out how, or whether I've figured the tabs correctly. I'm not holding my breath.

Anyway, it's just a comment on an article by Frank Dell'Appa on the wisdom, and arguable inevitability, of making the U.S. soccer calendar sync with the rest of the world's. On paper, this idea is unstoppable. Off paper, it's a tricky calculus of planning the season around the several butt-ass cold venues in these United States. For what it's worth, I'm with Rapids head coach Fernando Clavijo: we'll never know till we try it.

The Attendance Memo: MLS's Worst Kept Secret

Today's San Diego Union-Tribune runs a story about Major League Soccer, um, goosing attendance figures, mainly by ignoring any distinction between paid and free tickets. There are a number of interesting details in this one:

"The average paid attendance for the 2005 season was 10,746 per match, or 29 percent less than the 15,108 'official attendance' reported by the league."


"Only one team, the Los Angeles Galaxy, had an average paid attendance above 13,000 last season, and six of the 12 teams were below 10,000."


"The L.A. Galaxy easily outdistanced its MLS brethren in ticket sales last year, with an average paid attendance of 19,940. The next best team was Real Salt Lake at 12,689. FC Dallas was last at 6,634."

Given what I saw the last time I caught an FC Dallas home game, this last one certainly shouldn't surprise anyone. Still, those numbers just sucks.

For all that, though, this is neither surprising nor is it all that distressing. While the league undoubtedly forgoes some revenue by handing out free tickets, it's not just cash shovelled out the door. To begin, asses in seats are asses in seats; it makes the game look and sound better if nothing else. Second, what fans aren't spending on tickets, they can spend on concessions, funny hats, ugly shirts, etc. In other words, it's not implausble to argue these free tickets don't generate some revenue. And, obviously, those tickets puff up the attendance numbers and, which is useful for waving in the face of advertisers and the like. Is it dishonest? Yeah, but it's not unique to MLS either.

The more concrete business seems to come with the question of tickets distributed - e.g. the number of heads that should actually be avaiable for counting on game day. It turns out there's a bit of hanky-panky there as well:

"On average, announced attendance was 9 percent higher than the total number of tickets distributed and at some games close to 50 percent higher despite MLS' stated policy of using tickets distributed to determine its announced attendance figures."


"[Major League Soccer's] 2006 media guide says 'a record 2.9 million fans attended MLS regular season games' in 2005. But the Game Attendance Summary reports only 2.65 million total tickets were distributed, and of those just over 2 million were paid tickets."

The second of those two does better in painting the big picture - and, applying some of the above speculation about the behavior of fans who received free tickets, a gap of 250,000 (between the 2.9 and 2.65 million) makes for less worrisome reading than a gap of 900,000 (between 2.9 and 2 million).

The most galling thing in all this arises from MLS's half-foolish penchant for secrecy. Getting caught in a lie, by simply implying there's something horrible to hide, raises the odds of getting bit on the ass by a PR loss - and, as suggested both above and in the article, MLS isn't behaving much differently than any sports league. So long as the league gives away tickets to the right people - here, I'm thinking youth groups, disadvantaged kids, families; hell, I've been a reasonable candidate for such treatment in the past (and would have made it worth their while at the "liquid" concession stand to boot) - it's certainly not a bad thing.

So...are they giving it away to the "right people," those who fit the above description? The smart money is on no - and probably for the same reasons I pointed out about concessions, etc.

Timbers' Agnello Resigns, Sgt. Wilko Steps In

Hey, hey. Color me impressed. Upon reaching ESPN's site late last night, I caught word of Portland Timbers' head coach Chris Agnello's resignation. I would have posted on it then, but a pretty move scooped me, so I left it for today. On the other hand, they caught more than four games this season, so it seems fitting to cede the honors to them.

While the resignation itself didn't suprise me, this sure as hell did:

"Agnello coached the team to a last-place finish in his one season with the club. The Timbers scored 25 goals in 28 games, the fewest in the United Soccer League First Division."

Maybe that last place finish shouldn't have surprised me. The Timbers stunk up the joint in all four games I saw; why assume it's any different when I'm not there. I don't recall them scoring more than one goal in 2006, so I suppose the goals-for figure makes some sense as well. But, damn...that's an ugly thing to read about your team.

In any case, Timbers' defensive stalwart Gavin Wilkinson has already taken over and he's already getting advice from fans and pundits. (Ugh. Oregonlive's famously crappy website is making it hard to link to Bob Kellet's specific post on the subject. Here's a link to the overall Timbersblog; the post you're looking for is Wednesday, Sept. 27th's titled "Gavin's To-Do List." For the record, I'm guessing he won't get half these things done.)

What to make of it all. I'm not a fan of instant, gut-check analysis. Let's just say, given Agnello's track record, the move probably can't hurt and call it a day. We'll know more around June 2007.


U.S. Open Cup Preview

Filed this one away, as usual, over on ArmChairGM. For the curious, here's a highly gut-based prediction on tonight's U.S. Open Cup final between the Chicago Fire and the Los Angeles Galaxy. It's got nothing to do with form, injuries, suspensions, weather, a coach's mood, El Nino, what the players will have for lunch, etc.: no it's pure speculation.



Righteously Kissing Jaime Moreno's Ass

I finally got to the International Herald-Tribune's Jaime Moreno gush-piece that so many people (or at least one person) has cited today. And all I really want to say here is, Goddamn Right (it's a beautiful day - how good is Ween?). Seriously, no matter which team you support, Moreno deserves all the ass-kiss he can get: no one performs in every aspect of the offense like Moreno does - and has since, literally (well, almost) the founding of Major League Soccer; no one has adapted their game to [ahem!] age like Moreno has to escape the "one-trick pony" limitations; and no other player has scored as many flat-out kick-ass goals as Jaime Moreno has in this league. To top it all off, I've never seen so much as a hint of the asshole in him, just a class act that one.

Honestly, I can't say it much better than Bruce Arena, who once said (and it's quoted in the article):

"'Jaime Moreno?' Arena once said (again). 'The best player in the history of this league, no question.'"

Again, Goddamn right.


Best Team in MLS?

An unexpected passage appeared in USSoccerplayer.com's "Tell Me About..." column on Major League Soccer "Best XIs." (Crap. How do I punctuate that?) For those not familiar with the concept, someone, somewhere builds a roster from all the teams in MLS selecting the eleven best players for the season past.

But, as for that unexpected passage, here's that:

"Despite entering the league in 1998 - two years after MLS was formed - the Chicago Fire lead all franchises with 16 Best XI selections (1998-2003). The Los Angeles Galaxy and D.C. United have each been represented on the Best XI 15 times."

I count that kind of a cool thing to flag. Yes, DC United has won the most championships by a trophy or two (or three), but they had their wilderness years from (was it?) 2000 to 2003 as well. By at least one measure - that'd be consistency - Chicago can stake a long-shot claim to the Best Team title.

No, I wouldn't count it either...but I probably would if I was a Chicago fan.


Yes to "Interliga"...

...or whatever the they will one day call "the Champions-League-style tournament" between Mexico's top league and Major League Soccer. So long as they don't call it the "Champions-League-style tournament," they can call it whatever the hell they want. However they make it work, I love the idea - and hat-tip to Andrea Canales for fleshing out where things are over on ESPN's site.

One particularly encouraging piece of information comes here:

"'We're trying to do a tournament next year,' [Chivas USA co-owner Antonio] Cue said. 'We should be announcing it in the months to come. If it's not 2007, then 2008, but I'm looking very optimistically at 2007.'"

Yes, bring it on. The sooner the better. And I'm not all that bothered about whether we win or lose those early encounters - frankly, I'm expecting losses. A secondary - and MAJOR - question surrounds the scheduling. Will MLS try to wrap the tournament around the off-season to sync up with Mexico's schedule? Put another way, with the schedules not overlapping neatly, who gets left holding the short stick on this thing?


What Grew from the Carnival

Right around last Tuesday, when I was waiting for submissions to Carnival of Soccer 5, it occurred to me that it was a story in itself. My working assumption became that if I picked up enough contributions, and assuming the general sense of contributions lined up well enough, the data could be fleshed out into a snapshot of the Major League Soccer. That snapshot could serve as a means to communicate the league either to people who don't know quite how to approach American soccer, or to Euro fans, who see Major League Soccer as some lesser league (it is arguably that) with no traditions and rivalries (which it certainly is not).

And that's what happened. So here's the cultural primer to Major League Soccer that grew from Carnival of Soccer 5. Enjoy.


Week 26 Wrap-Up

I posted the wrap-up for Week 26 in the usual place.

Not much to add to what I have over there, but I will add a couple thoughts for fodder. For instance, could the New England Revolution play any more like a disinterested lover? Is the Los Angeles Galaxy finally hosed or am I writing them off too early? DC United still doesn't look good, but, given the opposition - after the Chicago Fire, that is - does it matter? The same applies, in a rough sense, to the Western Conference: I can't see anyone besides Chivas USA and FC Dallas making the final, but which of the teams is the more impressive? Are either of them all that impressive?

Anyway, there's the stuff I'm chewing on. Lay down your thoughts if you've got time. But if I had to call the final today, it would be the Chicago versus Chivas USA. And that's just weird.


A Pair on (Loosening) Parity

While the subject bears A LOT more thinking (and writing) a pair of articles about breaking free of Major League Soccer's centrally-planned parity structure have appeared in the last couple of days. One, written by Frank Dell'Appa for ESPN channels Red Bull New York coach Bruce Arena, who makes a blunt statement against parity without much in the way of elaboration:

"'I don't think parity is good in a professional league,' Arena said. 'You need elite teams. The parity issue has to be closely scrutinized because it doesn't make sense, unless you have 12 or 13 good teams. Elite teams have rivalries in other sports -- the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry is good, some of the NBA rivalries are good.'"

I agree.

The other, from a guy named Kevin McGeehan, certainly fleshed out the idea further, but he's talking about an unsettling direction:

"Be warned, however. The day is coming when an American star player will refuse to play for his MLS team after an offer from a European team is rejected. He will hold out. He may even sue the League. It's not far off. This will be the end of the single entity contract system. It won't come after a decision by the MLS owners; it will be forced by the players themselves."

This is what McGeehan takes away from the trade conundrum afflicting Clint Dempsey - and I think he's nailed the fallout of that one perfectly; everyone loses and his reasons add up at least logically - Shalrie Joseph, and Josh Wolff. As much as I believe in the inevitability of the end of central-planning, I'd hate to see the league and players' union to go down the path McGeehan describes, even if unintentionally. If the league won't yield, then, yeah, blow it up; they'll have themselves to blame. But, surely, there's something the parties can figure this out.

Once teams have separate owners, or, failing total separation, a place where only a couple of teams have the same owner (are we there yet? It's close, right?), I'd propose something like this: a continuation of the current draft allocations to help out teams that bombed in the previous season combined with a hard-and-fast salary and roster cap for the first team. This cap would have no wiggle room. And it ought to be higher than today's ranges, but not so high as to swamp small-market teams (like Columbus). Using the Washington Post's, by now, old-ish salary numbers - and assuming I did the math right when I did it quick - I added up Chivas USA's payroll and came up with a figure of $3,632,403. So, going forward, why not establish a cap of $5 million, or thereabouts and bump it as needed. No, that won't get us competing with Europe - not even close - but that's not realistic just now.

Anyway, all that's off the top of my head. But I think the league only needs to stand in the way of teams going bat-shit crazy, but that everything else ought to be fair game. A rigid salary cap would get closer - and they should make the teams rise and fall, both as teams and businesses, on the merit of the decisions they make.

G. Wahl & I. Galarcep on U.S. Coach

Without knowing what set them both to jabbering - in truth, nothing seems to have - both Grant Wahl and Ives Galarcep pulled together interesting articles on candidates for the still-vacant U.S. coaching position. (YESSSSS...I am getting impatient; what the hell am I going to watch when MLS wraps up in November? Well?)

Wahl takes the more ecumencial approach by far, listing just about every conceivable candidate for the post - including long-shots (and may they never become short-shots) like Sven-Goran Eriksson. The only A-List new name in here for me was current Lyon manager Gerard Houllier, whom I, as a Liverpool fan, remember fondly from the annus mirabilis that was 2001. The memories cool considerably courtesy of the (too many) years that followed, when Liverpool played oppressively dull soccer - then again, they played the same style in 2001 as well (and it should be noted here that I haven't been following the Premier League like I did before my pre-family peak). What he's doing at Lyon, and what he did at Liverpool in 2001, aside I don't think Houllier's the man for the U.S. job. We need help with attacking and those Liverpool teams, which I watched damn closely, suffered from the same ailment.

Galarcep's offering is more direct: he scratches his head at USSF President Sunil Gulati's travelling interview bit and holds up three solid candidates who make their homes, and more often than not (as in 2 out of 3) work, in the U. S. of A: Peter Nowak, Bob Bradley, and, yes, the inevitable Jurgen Klinsmann. All these candidates have been picked apart all over the 'sphere, but Galarcep compiles a defense of the first two that's worth the gander.

As I said at the top, I'm not sure what's driving the appearance of either of these. They're intersting enough, but the only thing I really got out of them was 1) Houllier being in play, and 2) the fact that ANY MLS coach will literally jump - and jump off a building - to land the U.S. job. The same can't be said for Klinsmann, though both pundits are convinced he's got the job so long as he wants it.

I figure we could do worse. And, in any case, if our first concern is simply making South Africa 2010, I'm confident any of these guys could get us there...though I'd hate like hell to be proved wrong.


Previews (Finally) Posted

Interested parties will find my Week 26 previews posted over on ArmchairGM, which is part of the reason why this space has been so quiet today. This ought to be a hell of a weekend with several answers about the post-season (finally) coming.

I've got something else I'll link to later. It's something I wrote for WriteOnSports that grew out of the Carnival of Soccer. By the way, thanks again to all the Carnival participants. I do believe I gave everyone due credit for the big mash-together I produced for WriteOn, but will no doubt endure corrections if I didn't. I think that, when you read the thing, you'll see my intentions were good anyway.

And, after that, there's one more thing to tend to.

Talk at you later.


Revs WIN!?! (Plus a Test)

Contrary to my shameful prediction, the New England Revolution pulled out an away win over Red Bull New York last night, leaving them one win, maybe some losses and so on, away from clinching a post-season slot.

If you go to Quick Kicks, you can see a rare sight for this 2006 season: Taylor Twellman putting the ball in the goal, as opposed to, say, into the 'keeper's arms, or off the woodwork. Anyway, just yanking your chain, Taylor (can I call you Taylor?). Keep doing this and I'll stop being an asshole.

(NOTE: A big purpose of this post was to remind myself how to create links that open new browser pages. Hope it works. If it doesn't, though, you'll be seeing this page coming and going all day.)


Come One, Come All: Carnival of Soccer 5

Welcome to Carnival of Soccer 5!

It seems that my incessant whining paid off: in the end, I pulled in five posts, which brings the total to six once I chuck my post onto the pile. If I may say so, we’ve got a fine bunch of rambles on the topic. To refresh everyone’s memory, here that is again:

If someone asked you to describe the character of each of the 12 teams in Major League Soccer, what would you say? What’s the story of each Major League Soccer club from where you sit?

I’m going to begin here with a unique contribution. It came from Bonji, the creator of the College to Pros blog. Rather than talk about all the teams, Ben wrote an ode to his Colorado Rapids that covered everything from their history to their ready-made rivalry with Real Salt Lake. All in all, it's very thorough and very educational.

It’s a good thing someone stood up for the Rapids – Lord knows I didn’t. Neither, for that matter did DCenters’ Kinney, who explains all Major League Soccer’s teams by equating them to teams from America’s “other sports.” I’ll admit right now that I can’t hold a candle to his knowledge of the entire sporting scene (damn….). Mr. Fish, of The Kin of Fish fame, takes a similar, and equally sharp, approach to the subject. In both cases, the analogies are impressively tight – more so than I could manage trying to communicate between leagues. And Mr. Fish post has a hell of a clever title as well.

Mike H of My Soccer Blog examined MLS's teams through an entirely unexpected, yet very effective, lens: a cast of very recognizable human characters. This one takes the prize for creativity.

The award for tidiest post goes to Joe from We Call It Soccer (great blog title, by the way), who brilliantly and simply equates all the league’s teams to a brand of beer...not sure I believe the choice for Columbus is an actual beer, but I particularly admire his choices for Red Bull New York – I respect anyone, really, powerful enough to be familiar with the selected brand - and Real Salt Lake.

Rounding out the contributions is my own, which appears below. Since I can only be brief when being suffocated with a pillow – and because no pillows were handy – it is, of course, too damned long. It’s also a trifle indisciplined, but I like it well enough. I held up a player from the past or present to stand as a symbol for the history and tradition of each team; and because I became so fixated on using the word “hapless” to describe the Crew, I eventually added a word or phrase for each team as well. If I could give everyone a prize for reaching the end I would, but things are tight in my world.

Thanks to everyone for contributing. For the record, hosting is not as hard as I made it out to be. I’ll be trying to pass the torch shortly. Volunteers are, of course, welcome. Interested parties should feel totally free to contact me through email.

Carnival of Soccer 5: MLS Thru Its "Barkers"

The topic for Carnival of Soccer 5 is a discussion of the personality of MLS teams, either the one you support or all the others. Potentially, this is a massive topic, which raises the issue of how to size it up for skinning. Just for yucks, I’m opting explain each of Major League Soccer’s 12 active teams (my apologies to the now-defunct Miami Fusion and Tampa Bay Mutiny) using a player, past or present, from that team - these would be the "barkers," as in carnival barkers, of the title; on top of that, I’ll also tag or tar each team with one word or phrase. And, where I can’t resist the urge, I’ll throw in more random crap where it applies.

Chicago Fire
Player: C. J. Brown
Word: Devious
Sure, it’s Peter Nowak’s shirt that hangs in state in Toyota Park, but Brown better fits Chicago’s character because he speaks to the team’s grit and guile. As Chicago evolved out of the 1998-2000 era, they became less about star players and more about smart, “good enough” players like Brown. I don’t know that he’s the dirtiest player in MLS, but he’s among the league’s most effective dirty players, an absolute master of making opposition players go bat-shit crazy and self-destruct. It’s that kind of mind-set that keeps Chicago in the thick of it season after season.

Chivas USA
Player: Luis Hernandez
Word: Chastened
Yeah, he never played for Chivas USA, but Luis Hernandez is emblematic of the first year “Chivas mentality” – e.g. the idea that even Mexican B-Teamers could own MLS. We all know how that went. Chivas have since figured out that this will not work – not today, not tomorrow, or ever. For their sake, let’s hope they move into the future as they have so far, by signing quality veterans, like Ante Razov, and bright youngsters like John Bornstein. There’s still time for this identity to take root and the trends are good: since an ugly year one, they’ve blossomed into one of the most enjoyable teams in MLS to watch.

Colorado Rapids
Player: Pablo Mastroeni
Word: Spoiler
I passed on players like Chris Henderson, Paul Bravo (whom I barely remember), Marcelo Balboa, and Jean-Phillipe Peguero (who would have been a fine choice, but for completely different reasons), and settled on Mastroeni for one simple reason: when I think of the Rapids at all, it’s as a team that can’t score for shit and is boring as paint drying, grass growing, and old people running, to watch. Put another way, they’re kind of classically American in that they’ve got defending down pretty well (this season, with its series of 4-1 and 5-2 blow-outs excepted), but they only seem to score goals by accident. In the end, Mastroeni is a great stand-in for the team because he can destroy brilliantly, but he’s not so hot going forward.

Columbus Crew
Player: Brian Maissoneuve
Word: Hapless
Yeah, Brian McBride would be the easy call, but he’s something the Crew has never been: successful. As well as Maisonneuve played on any given day, he seemed to spend more days nursing busted joints. And so it goes with all of the Crew’s Great White Hopes: Kyle Martino – nope; Ross Paule – nope; Sebastian Rozenthal – nope. NOTE: At the risk of offending more sensitive readers, I’m about to embark on what could be misinterpreted as “gay bashing.” Rest assured that what follows bears no more hostility toward homosexuals than a Gay Pride parade. Columbus, “America’s Hardest Working Team,” has always struck me as one of the league’s “gayest” teams. It’s not so much the yellow jerseys as it’s the three guys in hard hats on the crest who seem to be ogling passers-by. And there’s just something about the way they’re standing that gives the impression they’re ogling men. And, to be totally honest, that’s completely endearing. It’s just so unintentionally Village People.

DC United
Player: Raul Diaz Arce
Word: Fortunate Son
Yes, there’s Jaime Moreno, yes, there’s Marco Etcheverry – hell, there’s even “Rocket” Roy Lassiter, Ryan Nelsen, John Harkes, Tony Sanneh, Christian Gomez, Eddie Pope, and, if you want to get really funny about it, there’s even Shawn Medved, Mario Gori, Dema Kovalenko (my wife would kill me if I left him out) and some other weird people I could throw in here. Yes, yes, yes. But there’s a simple reason I chose Raul Diaz Arce: for no particular reason, he lit up the league during DC’s “wonder years.” And, for no particular reason, DC United has been the best team in Major League Soccer’s history. If I asked to explain it, though – I mean to really make sense of it – the best answer I can come up with is Diaz Arce. It’s like someone asking you, “Why him and not me?” Hell, I don’t know… Raul Diaz Arce? NOTE: To confess one serious bias: I hate winners. Always have, probably always will. When the league was first founded, DC United was my team and it was only because their name wasn’t ridiculous and their uniforms didn’t look like someone vomited girl-drink all over a soccer player. I turned like a bastard on these guys for two reasons: one, having lived in DC for nine months - basically the span of the 1997 season - I discovered that I love the Smithsonian and Adams-Morgan, and the Post Pub, but that I don’t much like DC; two, watching a winning team is like life on anti-depressants in that you don’t experience the full range of emotions….very unsatisfying.

FC Dallas/Dallas Burn
Player: Oscar Pareja
Word: Bone-Tired
Pareja fits the bill because, like Dallas, he starts strong and he was basically talented, but tires down the stretch. It’s like the team was born old and tired. They seem to start every season going on some ungodly tear, opening a massive lead over all comers thereby convincing nearly everyone – or at least me – that THIS will be the year they win it all. Come every August, though, something goes monstrously wrong and they wind up losing in the first round of playoffs – inevitably, to Los Angeles. NOTE: Wherever one finds the phrase “flatters to deceive” they’ll find either “Dallas Burn” or FC Dallas somewhere in the definition.

Houston Dynamo/San Jose Earthquakes
Player: Dwayne DeRosario
Word: Magic Man
There was a time – and a blessed time it was – when San Jose battled my New England Revolution for the unwanted title of worst team in the league. Then came Landon Donovan. After him came Dwayne DeRosario. Two championships and one monumental choke later (last season’s playoffs) and that’s the San Jose/Houston formula: an entire team, as collectively strong as the Red Army rolling out of Stalingrad, and add one “Great Man” at the helm to make the difference. The essential trick is that Houston is never bad.

Kansas City Wizards
Player: Peter Vermes
Word: Dour
There’s no getting around it: Kansas City is boring, possibly the most boring team in the league. If watching Colorado is like watching old people run, watching Kansas City is like watching them sleep. I’ll forever associate these guys with the torture of MLS Cup 2000 and, thus, 1-0 wins; call that the equivalent of that old person waking up just long enough to hit the snooze button before going back to sleep. The living legend Preki excepted, Kansas City seems to throttle the life out of offensive players - think Josh Wolff and Eddie Johnson - thereby rendering them as dull and stingy as the team as a whole. As such, it seemed appropriate to pick a defender to stand for this team, but one as colorful as, say, Jimmy Conrad didn’t feel right. No, a hard, competent player, one who embodies the negative power of the game seemed better. NOTE: Kansas City’s original “Ride the Rainbow” kits have no peer. These made every home game look like a gay pride parade.

Los Angeles Galaxy
Player: Kevin Hartman
Word: Bridesmaid
I’ve never been able to reconcile myself to the idea that LA has won MLS Cup, never mind twice. My impression of this team remains fixed somewhere in injury time of the 1999 MLS Cup, when goalkeeper Kevin Hartman’s completely whiffed a clearance, thereby putting DC United up by two goals. Even when they did win the Cup, it always felt somehow dubious; that, however, hardly stands as a claim that New England, who really stunk up the joint on both occasions, deserved to beat them on either occasion. For all that, LA certainly counts as one of MLS’s elite teams; not only have they never missed the playoffs (yet – tee hee hee), but they’ve participated in as many MLS Cups as DC United. It’s just sickening, really. NOTE: I’ve always hated these guys. They’re kind of my American Manchester United, a team I could somehow pull against even if they played the Ku Klux Klan All-Stars.

New England Revolution
Player: Paul Keegan
Word: Spaz!!
Yeah, New England has some of the league’s best players these days – Clint Dempsey, Steve Ralston, Taylor Twellman, Pat Noonan, Shalrie Joseph – but this is an aberration. Take away the stars and this team reverts to what it always has been: eleven guys running like hell in all directions, all of them inhumanly eager and blessed with the technical skills of ten-year-olds with club feet. And, as most pundits believe, the stars will be taken away shortly, returning the team to a place where a guy like Darren Sawatzky can be a star. NOTE: The Revs were always my team, even before I knew it. Though I was always going to fall for them, the incomparable fanzine, Pictures of Chairman Mao, accelerated the process considerably. If and when they finally win MLS Cup, I will cry like a girl holding Simon Le Bon’s hand as he sings “Save a Prayer” ‘round about 1983.

Real Salt Lake
Player: Jason Kreis
Word: Bad Math
Real Salt Lake approached the league with an odd, but entirely understandable, philosophy: build a starting eleven around the league’s “elder statesmen,” players who know the league as well as anyone and, arguably, know how to win it. Something gave it out between here and there…well, several somethings, mainly knees and some hips. Missing in this formula were the requisite youngsters, the guys who can run, fetch, and tackle for the “wily veterans,” who no longer have the legs. NOTE: I’ve totally bought into the Real Salt Lake narrative this year; I’d love to see them make the playoffs.

MetroStars/Red Bull New York
Player: Lothar Mattheus
Word: Petulant
If this team could play half as well as they bitch, they’d be DC United, if not better. In spite of frequent overhauls, this team somehow carries at least one prima donna on every season’s roster. Then comes the drama, then comes the losing streaks – put it all together and you’ve got a team that consistently entertains in precisely the wrong place.

Ta da.

Stadium Porn Request

On a day when it's possible to drown in articles about the ground-breaking for Red Bull New York's shiny new stadium in Harrison, New Jersey (LINK, LINK, LINK, LINK, LINK, LINK), I'm not seeing a lot in the way of solid, computer-generated stadium porn. The - let's see...one, two, three, four - fifth and sixth links in the above chain promises something, but both images in #5 show me a pudgy executive kicking a ball into a goal while #6 takes me here, and I didn't see anything much there either.

A google search yielded two pretty stale images (LINK and LINK) and even the official site of Red Bull New York, for all their articles on the story, doesn't put any kind of slideshow where one can easily find it.

Anyway, it's possible I'm the problem, so I'm hoping someone out there knows where to find purty pictures/artists' renderings of the new stadium. If you've got 'em, please pass them on. I'm curious to see this thing.


DeRosario Trade Rumors (WARNING: Lame)

In what must be the least substantial report I've ever read, Sports Illustrated's "Truth & Rumours" devotes just one paragraph to the possibility of the Houston Dynamo's Dwayne DeRosario heading overseas. So, "Europe is clearly calling," but who's on the other end of the line and what are they offering? I can't see Major League Soccer letting DeRosario go for cheap either.


Red Bull v. Revs TONIGHT

Just posted the preview for the first game of Major League Soccer's Week 26 in the usual place. Speaking as a Revolution fan, I've got a bad feeling about this one; if you check the preview, you'll see I committed sins against both fandom and aesthetics in predicting a Red Bull win; you'll also see I'm still borrowing kevbrunton's brain cells.

One last question: does anyone know what Shalrie Joseph did to his hand?


Carnival of Soccer 5: Homework Due Today

Thankfully, it doesn't look like my attempt to drum up traffic through BigSoccer.com paid any dividends. Some things only make sense around 11 p.m. and after your third can of Hamm's.

Anyway, quickly as I can: Submissions for Carnival of Soccer 5 are due by the end of the day today - let's say, oh, no later than 8 p.m. PST - and should come to me through the email address attached in my profile. You can read the topic through this post.

Only one submission so far - which doesn't make for much of a carnival. Still, the show will go on even with only the ringmaster and one clown climb out of the funny car.


Maybe This?

So....when Major League Soccer finally wraps up in mid-November, maybe I'll look into getting serious about men's college soccer. Looks the SoccerTimes covers it well enough - and I know Fox Soccer Channel airs a game (or just shy of that) a week.

I figure if I can make it through November and December, there will be pre-season crap to discuss come January. Then again, assuming available coverage, that's about when the Gold Cup and the CONCACAF Champions League ought to be rattling around.

Hmmm...it seems the wife is right. It really does never end.


DC v. Fire: An Ad Hoc Cup Needed

A pair of articles (LINK and LINK) appeared on MLS's Newsstand today about rising tensions between DC United and the Chicago Fire as the season goes into the (fer reals) stretch. Both articles pull the same quotes and cover the same ground, but I thought I'd still pass both of them on to give the illusion of intense media interest in the rivalry. Whether they phoned it in or not, I'm pleased to see coverage in more than one paper.

Anyhoo, yeah, the league or the fans - whomever makes such decisions - ought to establish some kind of informal trophy between the Fire and DC United. If they wanted to be snarky about it and name it under the auspices of the 2006 season, they could call it "Relevance Cup," which would hint at just how lousy the rest of the Eastern Conference looks after DC and Chicago.

Oh, and those suspensions - assuming there are a few (there should be, but the league hasn't updated their page that tracks this) - can't help DC for this weekend's game against Red Bull New York. Though that's not to say DC still shouldn't win that one...


Think for Me, kevbrunton

In spite of what the aptitude tests tell me, I have no talent for math. It hardly helps that it interests me even less. As such, I'm glad there are people out there like kevbrunton, who broke down the many, many scenarios that will decide who clinches playoff positions and when. He did this useful thing on BigSoccer.com.

Just so you know, this edition is pretty Eastern-centric, a function of the fact that the West will remain (mostly) wide-open no matter what happens.


Defense, Mediocrity, the Future (Vague...)


Here's a little glimpse of the future for this blog going forward....well, almost anyway. This and another site will serve as more of a depository for links to items I'm posting elsewhere. The items will be closer to "original" content as opposed to the old blogging habit of linking and discussing. That also means they'll be fewer of them - as in one a day if I'm lucky.

Yes, I expect the already modest traffic to nose-dive. I'm looking to implement this business shortly after Carnival of Soccer 5, so will do business as usual till, oh, let's say Friday. After all, I've got to polish my contribution to the Carnival yet (as well as pass the torch).

Anyway, I don't doubt a few of you were contacted by a guy drumming up content for a site called WriteOnSports. It's a sharp-looking space and easy enough to access; I hope it does well for the people running it. They certainly seem nice enough. Anyway, here are my first two contributions over there:

1) A defense of Major League Soccer against the supposition that it either will, or even needs to, "take off" and become truly major league.

2) The other one started out as a punter's piece - e.g. I started it intending to write about who looks like the favorite to lift MLS Cup. The impossibility of the task got me ruminating on how unsatisfying the broadly mediocre 2006 season has been.

Right. That's it. Some time by the end of the month, I'm hoping to fold this site into another - and that, in doing so, that Soccer Blogs will still be able to pull from this site. We'll see, I guess. I'm not too tech savvy...

Carnival of Soccer 5: Two Days to Go....

...for submissions - i.e. submissions are due by the end of the day tomorrow, September 20.

Details on the topic here. And submissions should go to the email address embedded in my profile.

That is all.


MLS: West or East?

This one's just out of curiosity: Which of the two conferences is the stronger as we head into the final days of Major League's soccer's eleventh regular season? Let's do some math:

Eastern teams enjoying good form: Chicago and....

Western teams enjoying good form: Chivas USA and Real Salt Lake.

Are those weird calls? To some extent, absolutely. When I say "enjoying good form," I suppose I'm saying these are the teams I'd be wary of playing due to their visible enthusiasm. Everyone else just seems going-through-the-motions flat.

Are these better teams? In Chicago's case, possibly. The other two, I think they're just playing for something bigger than the post-season; call it credibility, and you're probably not far off.

Anyway, I've said it before: it's been a weird 2006.

Any thoughts on this out there?


Week 25: Status Quo Ugly

I just posted my breakdown of Major League Soccer's Week 25 in the usual format and in the usual place. Hop on over and enjoy if you're so inclined.

There is one note on a note I left on that one, specifically, the one about shifting allegiances as we head into the post-season. At the end of my take on Chicago Fire's relative position, I noted that I've officially "adopted" that team for the remainder of this season. Now, that's not as turn-coat as it sounds: the New England Revolution remains the team to which I'm committed. By that I mean, any time the Revs play the Fire, I'll be pulling for the former - and desperately so (is there any other kind of support in New England this year?). But given where I think the Revs are this year, I'm not all that confident I'm going to see them in the post-season at all, never mind for long. Yeah, I know their odds aren't bad as, say, the Columbus Crew's, but I wouldn't be the least surprised if they miss the playoffs.


Carnival of Soccer 5: Heading to the Wire

OK, there are just a few days to go till submissions for Carnival of Soccer 5 are due. Interested parties should email their thoughts on the following topic...

If someone asked you to describe the character of each of the 12 teams in Major League Soccer, what would you say? What’s the story of each Major League Soccer club from where you sit?

by the end of the day (5 p.m., PST), Wednesday, September 20th, to the email address available through my profile. An expansion on the topic appears here.

No, I'm not afraid to host a one-man carnival (but who will man the midway?), but would rather have to pull together a bunch of ideas than air my own. I mean, I do that everyday, right?

I'm looking forward to hearing some chatter.

Luke "Krispy" Kreamalmeyer Makes A-List

Dubbed a "bright spot in a difficult Timbers season" (whew. they don't know the half of it), the Portland Timbers' Luke Kreamalmeyer made the USL First Division All-League team.

Given what he put up with this season, it seems fair that Luke K. (I'm not typing that name again) gets something for his troubles. Congratulations, lad.


Connolly's Argument and Why I Still Like Cunningham for MVP

Big-league soccer scribe Marc Connolly, writing this time for USSoccerplayers.com forwarded a useful proposal yesterday: he argues a distinction should be made between the typical Most Valuable Player (MVP) award while another is handed out for Player of the Year (P-o-t-Y? which actually takes longer to type than "Player of the Year," even allowing for proper capitalizing...where was I?).

Using Real Salt Lake's (RSL) Jeff Cunningham as his example, he expands on the point:

"Regardless, Cunningham's worth to his side has obviously been valuable. But is he the most valuable player in the league, considering his team would not make the playoffs if the season ended today? Or, in other words, if you lined all the players up in the league and could pick one to go into the playoffs with based on this season's performances alone, would you take Cunningham?"

"My answers are: No and No."

As much as I appreciate the distinction Connolly's seeks to make - and he even makes fine arguments for another pair of candidates, DC United's Christian Gomez and Chivas USA's Ante Razov - I'm not sold on his methods for measuring. For one, I don't think overall team success needs consideration in determining most valuable player status. As I see it, the word means what it does: which player was most valuable to his team for the duration of the season in question? Sure, Gomez is a hell of a player (and a stronger candidate to boot), but he's also working with a better supporting cast than Cunningham. As for Razov, Connolly argues for intangibles such as his leadership qualities in the Chivas locker room.

But, as much as both players are major contributors to their clubs, I bumped into an absolutely crazy statistic (here) that gets fairly directly as what Cunningham means for RSL:

"[Cunningham's] involvement in 69.4 percent of RSL's goals is on pace to set a league record."

69.4 percent. That's one hell of a number for a typically stats-shy sport like soccer. On a more direct level, Cunningham's scored 15 of RSL's 36 goals this season. Even if Cunningham hasn't yet led his team to the post-season promised land, could RSL even entertain the concept without Cunningham's contribution? My answer is: no. That's why he's a good candidate for MVP.

For all that, Connolly's fundamental proposal, that's a pretty sound idea. The player who enjoys the best season and the player who means most to their team aren't always going to be the same.

Last of the Week 25 Previews...

...are avaiable on ArmchairGM (LINK). They also contain one of the better analogies I've made between the animal kingdom and Major League Soccer.


Carnival of Soccer 5: Submissions Needed

All righty. We're headed to the weekend, which seems an ideal time to remind people about sending in submissions for Carnival of Soccer 5. The deadline for submissions is Wednesday, September 20th. Send what you'd like to say to the email address found through my profile (it's on the sidebar too).

So, with your weekend in front of you and with all that time to burn (HA!), here's the topic you should marinate on:

If someone asked you to describe the character of each of the 12 teams in Major League Soccer, what would you say? What’s the story of each Major League Soccer club from where you sit?

A longer explanation appears here.

With things so quiet in my inbox (what? do you all have lives or something?! how dare you!!!), I may have to do something drastic. Yes, I may have to resort to comment spam...