Carnival #7: Keeping the Youth At Home & Happy

Question: What should Major League Soccer (MLS) do to keep young American talent from heading to Europe?

The no-less relevant follow-up to that question is this: what can MLS do to keep young American talent from heading to Europe?

With that, welcome to my amateur stab at addressing this point for this, Carnival of Soccer 7. As I understand the question, the area is concern isn’t the - no offense to them - legion of good-and-steady players that generally populate MLS rosters. Vital as these guys are to any team for which they play, and while they could conceivably head to Europe to play a similar role, they’re not really the flight risks as high-upside, offensive players who can score goals, make the killer pass - e.g. do all the things that get people excited about watching the game. Two players who ducked the 2007 MLS Superdraft are often touted as Exhibits A & B in defining the trend of promising, young American players trying their luck in Europe: Robbie Rogers and Charlie Davies. In an article examining the extent to which we’re losing talent to Europe, ESPN’s Jeff Carlisle mentions both players, as well as some other notable names - Bennie Feilhaber and Lee Nguyen, to cite a pair of ‘em.

The first, and most obvious response to the situation is this: give these players more cash. But an earlier piece on ESPN, this one by Frank Dell’Appa on Charlie Davies’ bolt to Sweden, offers reasons to think this is an incomplete answer:

“The MLS offered Davies a contract worth more than $1 million over six years, plus bonuses and a sponsorship deal. Besides making Davies among the MLS' highest-paid players, this indicated the league also was going to promote him.”

And Davies still headed to Sweden. In other words, this won’t be easy.

While we’re on Sweden, it’s fair to note that Scandinavian clubs add another wrinkle to the larger equation. A still-earlier Frank Dell’Appa column for ESPN looked at what might make the Scandinavian leagues more attractive than MLS for players with ambitions to play in Europe’s top clubs. In a word, it’s exposure. Sweden’s a hell of a lot closer to, say, Germany or England than is Boston and it’s certainly closer than LA. Moreover, the various European club competitions mean that those Scandinavian clubs often play Europe’s top clubs - which amounts to a rather direct means of auditioning for these players. In other words, it’s just easier for an ambitious player to be seen in Scandinavia than it is in MLS. Given the number of younger American players heading not only to Scandinavia, but to Dutch clubs like Heerenveen (it’s weird how clubs seem to keep collecting Americans once they start, isn’t it?), it’s fair to loosely view those countries direct competition, a factor of the lower bar for entry.

So, what to do about these realities?

First, the league, and fans as well, need to accept that some players will simply leave - as Davies did. MLS simply can’t compete with Europe’s big boys salary-wise; it only takes a quick look at what a good, but by no means stellar, player like Claudio Reyna earned with Manchester City to see that. At the same time, these players are unproven - and that works to MLS’s advantage, at least when you’re trying to, frankly, impress upon a young player the chance they’re taking by heading to Europe. A second piece comes with massaging an issue Dell’Appa refers to in his piece on Davies: call it the Clint Dempsey trap. It’s likely that a few youngsters saw Dempsey’s fight to leave MLS and got to wondering what will happen to them if they play well enough to become valuable to the league: would the MLS let them go, or will they find themselves trapped when the league demands more than suitors are willing to offer?

With all this in mind, I’d recommend that the league take one of two tacks in trying to retain these players; the one they go with depends on the player, specifically the size and urgency of his ambition.

Built-In Escape Clause
Sign the players to one-year, lucrative-for-MLS contracts. The range here would be, oh, $60-80K. The approach here is pretty simple: tell the player this is a low-risk way to experience life as a professional soccer player, but one that gives them time to find their feet and doesn’t require them to stray too far from home. The player’s contract would be up at the end of the seasoon, leaving him both free as a bird to try out across Europe and able to leave on a free transfer if it works out. And the player will be plenty motivated: he find himself very, very exposed if he comes into the league fails to perform. The idea is to pay players of this kind enough to make it worth their while.

The Eyes Wide-Open, Long-Term Option
I’ll start by suggesting that MLS took the right track with Davies. But I’d still push it further. With this option, you sign the players to long-term contracts - something like 4 to 5 years - and you pay them well, as in no less than $200K where the situation warrants doing so. On top of that - and this is the kicker - in order to compete with the exposure these players would get in Scandinavia, MLS will not only kick in with sponsorships, but they’ll proactively shop them to clubs in top leagues.

It’s the “top leagues” angle that helps keep the players in MLS. Any player who signs this deal does so on the understanding that:

1) Bolting to Sweden, Norway, or Belgium, won’t be an option - it’s tempting to exclude Holland, but there’s clubs like Ajax or Feyenoord. The idea is that MLS tells them upfront that only offers from clubs in England, Spain, France, Germany, or Italy will get a hearing; every other offer will be met with a straight no, with the exception of...

2) Offers that come in over a specifically designated dollar figure. The wrinkle here is to set this number up front, so there won’t be any surprises or bitching in the media. I’m assuming something like this could be written into a player’s contract, but my legal people haven’t got back to me on this as yet. This buy-out figure should be set high, especially with attacking players.

The idea here is to protect the league’s interests and to let players know where they stand with the assumption being this will keep them from feeling screwed over. This isn’t a huge shift, obviously; after all, this is nothing more than what happens during a normal transfer negotiation. The difference comes with the offers to expose the players, to actively push them in front of European scouts - while, all the while guaranteeing that interested clubs will have to pay top dollar to pick up the player in question.

Well, that’s what I got.

Go ahead. Tear it apart. I’ll close my eyes....

MLS's Image and Doubts on the Cure

In a column for ESPN, Andrea Canales looks at the way Major League Soccer (MLS) is viewed around the globe. The conclusion shouldn't surprise anyone whose brain is still receiving their RDA of oxygen - e.g. we're generally perceived as technically backwater league playing before a country that could care less.

A chunk of her article studies the decision by Juan Pablo Garcia, the former Chivas USA midfielder, to return to Mexico to avoid missing out on national team duty due to his countrymen's perception of the league. Interesting as that is, it's when the conversation turns to the "Beckham factor" that I get a little dubious.

I'm not sure what Canales thinks about all this - by which I mean she plays her role as reporter well; it's the quotes from Peter Vagenas and Alexi Lalas that speak to a hope that Beckham will get more people watching and that will cause people to give the MLS another look.

Why can't I buy this? I mean, I can't even see it.

It could be that I don't believe "quality" pulls that many people to a sport, never mind a specific team. To give an example, I know Serie A is better, but I watch MLS because I get wrapped up in what the players are doing on the field and who will be the next big thing, who is done, etc. In the final analysis, I like it because it's "local" in the sense that the whole mess forms a pyramid that comes to a point with the U.S. National Team; that's the first hook, but, before long, I find myself attached to this team or that, this player or that and so on. It's the old "dog fight in Brooklyn is more interesting than a war in China" thing translated to sports.

Toward the end, the conversation turns to SuperLiga, which, again, I think has greater potential to grow the sport than Beckham ever will. I'm thinking that, as fans of the Mexican teams look at their team's schedule, they'll note who they're playing in the SuperLiga. Maybe they'll actually tune into a MLS game one lazy Saturday out of simple curiosity; next thing you know, they could be watching to keep tabs on the competition. If MLS teams show up well, that should boost interest more still as solid competition should.

Naturally, that's all untried projection, most of it based on how I get sucked into watching too much soccer (wait...that's possible?). But I think there's something to it. More, anyway, than Beckham getting hacked in two by a Kyle Beckerman tackle on some muggy Saturday afternoon. Where Beckham can come in handy - and, hopefully, some day will - is in luring more players from Europe. Interest from Europe will come when someone wants to see how, say, Edgar Davids is doing in Dallas (yeah, I know it didn't happen; I'm just saying). At least that's what I'm guessing.


RSL Stadium: What These Things Are For

Those interested in the details of the demise of Real Salt Lake's stadium in Sandy, Utah, could do worse than check out the following: the Deseret News carried an unwieldy piece that delves deeply into the politics and money of the dead deal; ESPN, for their part, picked up an Associated Press report on the collapse that makes for an easier read. Read the two of them and you ought to have a decent idea of what went wrong.

For my money, though, the Salt Lake Tribune's a-pox-on-both-their-houses column by a guy named Gordon Monson raises the most significant point about professional teams and the cities who host them:

"We witnessed pomp and circumstance, grandstanding, big-time backslapping, small-time politicking, finger-pointing, bird-flipping, public sniping, personal bickering, all over a few million bucks of the county's money, to the extent of royally turning off those who could have benefited from another sports alternative, a communal kind of meeting place, where, from spring to fall, the world's favorite game might have taken hold in Salt Lake City.

With the part in bold, especially the "communal kind of meeting place" part, Monson touched on something about professional sports that's too often overlooked. The decision to view sports teams, whether consciously or unconsciously, as vehicles for profit grounds the discussion over the use of public funds into what we've all heard out of Salt Lake City - e.g. the question of whether it's a "good investment." This gets the whole thing wrong; taken to extremes, it leads to the "luxury suite" wars we see in the NFL and NBA, where teams demand ever more extravagant stadiums to cater to ever-wealthier clientele and back those with threats to relocate. MLS may not have that problem, but the fundamental dynamic is the same.

All in all, there are worse things a city can throw a little money at than public, and communal, entertainment. Moreover, these kinds of debate shouldn't be just about money: it's a quality of life issue as well, but also about building community. I'd chip in my buck or ten in public taxes just so my city could build a baseball stadium; I'd throw down a good deal more for soccer, but I waste all kinds of money on soccer (my cable bill, for instance). In other words, I'm not going stiff baseball fans just because I don't like their sport or don't see value in it, any more than I'm going to get stingy about building a museum I'll never visit. I'm not going to sign over my mortgage to make it happen either (not that I have one), but I think the willingness to forward - even to waste - some tax dollars on something that can make a chunk of the community happy counts as a "good investment."

Money isn't everything.

Revs Nuggets in Soccer America Wrap

New England Revolution fans can find some good news at the bottom of a kind of wrap article on Major League Soccer (MLS). While the piece leads by looking at the potential arrival of Brazilian great (and dirty, dirty cheater) Rivaldo to the league, it closes with this note on notable Revs' players:

"The Revs have reportedly told the league to refuse all offers for [forward Taylor] Twellman this season and have apparently issued a hands-off order on midfielder Shalrie Joseph as well. Glasgow Celtic offered $1 million for Joseph last August and despite upping its bid this month has again been turned down, according to a source."

Happy as I am to see them stay, I have to wonder how this is going down with Joseph and Twellman. The latter sounds cheery enough in a Q & A session with Andrea Canales - though, admittedly, the Revs never enter the discussion - but still. I don't know either player, of course, and therefore can't speak to whether the Revs' position leaves them fuming. But there's a kind of knock-on effect in play here, something that could affect players outside the league with European ambitions. Does this kind of thing make them wary of signing with MLS?


USMNT/MLS Survey - Scaryice Rulz

I caught this one late yesterday.

Over on Climbing the Ladder, scaryice posted the results of a survey he conducted on BigSoccer and through his site (which I'm just flat-out horrible about visiting) on what armchair experts expect from the U.S. Men's National Team (USMNT) and MLS for the next few years.

The results speak for themselves, so I'll leave things there. If you haven't read this already, you really ought to. It's good stuff.


Timbers Hat Back On

Wow. Have I been totally sucky about covering the Portland Timbers. In my defense, it's borderline crazy to think these guys generate enough news for daily filing; I mean, I could just link to everything Bob Kellett posts on the Timber Blog, but any smart person would cut me out as middle man and go straight to Bob. And rightly so. That's not to say I won't borrow shamelessly from Kellett's labors...

In any case, I think I'll try to make this a weekly thing, as opposed to a daily one. We'll see how that goes.

While we're waiting for me to find my feet on this stuff, I'll kick off the return to coverage by linking to the Timbers' latest roster (of which I'm aware) and the schedule for the 2007 season. The roster looks fairly familiar, though I'll have to take a longer look at just how familiar in the near future. Still, it will be interesting to see what new coach Gavin Wilkinson can get out of the same bunch the struggled so much in 2006. As for the schedule, you can find the most important details on that by checking out what Kellett lists as "the negatives" inherent in USL Division 1 scheduling.

Hopefully, I'll be able to make more than a game or two this season, but there's this thing called life and I expect it will make doing damned complicated. Whatever happens, I take the tickles of giddiness in my belly to mean that I'm looking forward to the coming season.

But They've Been Feuding for Months...

Sports Illustrated's Truth & Rumors (or "Rumours" depending on the subject) led with an interesting nugget today:

"Bruce Arena is said to be heavily pursuing U.S. international winger DaMarcus Beasley, according to league-wide sources. There also is a possibility that U.S. National Team midfielder John O'Brien could be invited to pre-season camp, sources said."

Um, wasn't a spat between Arena and Beasley one of the central background dramas of the 2006 World Cup? Yeah, time heals old wounds, but still...

I don't see this one. For one, would Manchester City let him go, especially after losing Reyna? And would he want to return, whether for The Bruce or any MLS team? It seemed like he was just finding his feet...then again, I also haven't paid much attention to Beasley's mental state or playing time.

Any insight on this last angle out there?

As for the O'Brien angle, that I could see for sure. There's no question Bruce is pretty high on O'Brien. He thought enough of him, after all, to take O'Brien's wounded person to the World Cup. I wonder what Chivas USA would ask for in return? Perhaps Dave van den Bergh's travels aren't yet at an end?


Onyewu is a Magpie...for now

"'He comes across as an impressive person,' [Newcastle manager Glenn] Roeder said. 'He is certainly physically impressive, which is something I feel we need.'"

Gawd, I love that quote. Anyway, sounds like the loan deal sending Oguchi "Gooch" Onyewu to Newcastle from Belgium's Standard Liege is done and dusted. The Gooch saga is officially at an end. Good stuff. Hope he has a good second half to the season.


Nugget in Carlisle's Players-to-Europe Piece

I doubt he even knows it, but Jeff Carlisle's decision, or assignment, to write a piece for ESPN about players by-passing Major League Soccer (MLS) to take a stab at Europe is a timely one. More on that later...

Carlisle's article takes a "here's the problem" kind of approach. In his piece, the central question is whether promising U.S. players heading to Europe poses a problem or not. He doesn't get into the question of what we should do to keep said players, a discussion that will commence shortly in this space and others.

For the record, it's a pretty good article in that it lays out the debate pretty clearly. And Carlise does note what many view as the source of the problem: the crappy, sub-Subway, sub-McDonalds pay that players on MLS's developmental rosters, especially, earn upon entering the league. And, as he also points out, even players that enter the league after getting selected high in the draft earn comparatively little.

Most people who care to know this do, of course, but there was one thing in his piece I didn't know:

"The fact that the current collective bargaining agreement won't expire until the end of 2009 also serves to keep much of the existing salary structure in place."

I didn't know that, that thing about the collective bargaining agreement. Wow. That's a sticky wicket.


US Open Cup Format: Is it for parity?

After reading two articles on how Major League Soccer's (MLS) 12 "American" teams - new boys Toronto FC won't be included 'cause they're Canadian - will qualify for this year's edition of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup (um...LHUSOC?), I still wasn't totally clear on what was going on.

Here are those two items, for the record: LINK and LINK.

In basic terms, six of MLS's teams - the New England Revolution, the Chicago Fire, DC United, the Houston Dynamo, FC Dallas, and Chivas USA - qualify automatically and will join the tournament at the third round, which begins July 10. The rub comes with the rest of it: the remaining six teams qualify at some point, but nothing in the LHUSOC schedule explicityly stated "MLS teams that need to qualify will do so here." In another wrinkle, the two remaining teams that did make the playoffs in 2006 - Red Bull New York and the Colorado Rapids - get a "bye" in the qualification process; in other words, the four teams who missed out - Real Salt Lake (sniffle), the Los Angeles Galaxy, the Columbus Crew and the Kansas City Wizards - will play one another in a qualifying round with the winner of each of those games going on to play either Red Bull or Colorado.

A press release that appeared later in the day on clarified the piece that's missing - e.g. when these games will happen, not to mention who will play whom - if only partially. The dates will remain TBD, most likely till MLS figures out its scheduling, but the pairings are in:

Columbus Crew v. Los Angeles Galaxy
Kansas City Wizards v. Real Salt Lake

Colorado will then face the winner of KC v. RSL, while Red Bull gets the winner between the Crew and Galaxy.

The one question left over is why they're doing this. The official word is that the host of tournaments coming this summer - SuperLiga, the Gold Cup, Copa America, etc. - points toward giving MLS teams a break through fewer games. But look at the teams in SuperLiga and compare that to who's automatic for the Third Round. And, if memory serves, haven't MLS teams entered the Open Cup at the third round for the past few years? Assuming that's true, who's getting a break?

By my estimation, the league's weaker teams. I dunno. Maybe the issue started with people in the USSF - or whomever runs the LHUSOC - arguing that all MLS teams should have to qualify. In that case, waiving the need to qualify would bring some relief. Or maybe - just maybe - the thought or hope is that the fixture congestion for the "big teams" will help give the weaker teams competitively by giving them a bit of rest. Maybe that's the angle.

Whatever. It's fun to think about. Very much looking forward to the tournament...even if I suspect huge chunks of it won't be televised.

I DID IT!! DC United's 2006

I'm a big kid now!!

Two months of sporadic toil finally came to an end today with the posting of the 12th and final installment of my team-by-team reveiw of Major League Soccer's (MLS) 2006 season.

You can find links to reviews for every MLS team - including your own - by clicking the link to my bio page. Feel free to weigh in, tell me what I missed, where I'm wrong, add something, take something away, etc. The more people chip into this thing, the more accurately the "story of 2006" will read for one little corner of posterity.

In any case, DC United's 2006 served as the final subject. If you're so inclined, pop by andt tell me what you think of it. As usual, that's over on Write On Sports. I'm not sure how long it will stay up, but the very kind folks on the site have set up a lovely plug on the site's home page. I count it a good thing to see MLS featured on the front page of any site.


So...that's that. Wow. I don't quite know what to do with myself now....any thoughts?


MLS Rosters: Enough Ammo?

A Houston Chronicle article looking ahead to the Houston Dynamo's defense of its 2006 title contains one interesting passage on what they're up against in 2007:

"Only one team — D.C. United in 1997 — has successfully defended an MLS title. The Dynamo have a chance to be the second, but their schedule never has looked busier. In addition to the regular season (through October), the Dynamo will be competing in Champions' Cup (February-April), the newly established SuperLiga (July-August) and likely the U.S. Open Cup (July-September)."

"'If we are successful in all the things that we're in this year, we'll play 50-plus games,' [Head Coach Dominic] Kinnear said.

So, that's "50-plus games" - though probably less than that, given the givens - and they're going to do this with 28 players? Or just 18 on the senior roster?

While this question always starts with whether or not the talent exists, at some point you'd think teams would be thrilled just to have enough warm bodies on the field. If nothing else, that could spell the senior roster here and there throughout what looks to be a brutal season.

So, is it time to expand the rosters for MLS teams? If so, how high do they go? How high can they go?

Becks' First Day

Yeah, I know all y'all have read word of Beckham's first major States-side assignment - he's helping Disney promote still-another annual celebration - but have you seen the photo that accompanies the ESPN article? It is just...magical...provided "magical" and "oh, Lord, he looks like a doofus" are roughly synonymous.

Enjoy (LINK).

(NOTE: I'm not knocking the guy. Honest. His reasons for shaking hands with The Mouse read a lot like Johnny Depp's for making Pirates of the Caribbean; and I still don't begrudge Depp the move, even after seeing the fever-dream schlock-fest that was the sequel. He figures his kids will dig it. I can't fault a man for that, 'cause I'd do the same thing for my kids in a heartbeat...even if it meant looking like a doofus.)


"Gooch" the Shameless Tramp

As recently as Saturday, some big guns suggested that Oguchi "Gooch" Onyewu was Olympique Marseille-bound. I'm hardly chastising anyone for that, mainly because "Gooch" is stumbling between suitors like drunken revelers in some meat market bar just before last call.

And now we've reached the latest flirtation: England's Newcastle United, on loan and for the rest of the season.

Not surprisingly, people are waiting for ink to hit paper - and for said ink to dry - before calling this one a done deal. The closest thing to a definitive report I've seen appeared on Sports Illustrated's page - and that's the Associated Press item citing the loan arrangement noted above. ran a less certain item, one with confused quotes from officials at both Newcastle and Standard Liege, Onyewu's current club, inserted into the copy. This second one gives an impression that, while someone's directing Onyewu to turn his head anbd cough (e.g. he's getting his physical), his current club doesn't seem to know much about it.

In any case, I really liked the Marseille move when I first read of it; they play the game purty in France and Gooch could use the polish. I like Newcastle too, though. Possibly to the extent that I'll just give in to that longing for the Kevin Keegan Newcastle of the mid-1990s and make Newcastle the English team I ignore during the MLS off-season (sorry, Liverpool).


On Stadium Pipedreams in Boston

Matchnight ran a rock-solid explanation as to why the Boston metro area seems like a big, big stretch for a soccer-specific stadium (SSS). Written by Don Cuddy, who I swear must be the same guy whose work appears on does a bang-up job of separating pipe dreams - e.g. a beautiful stadium, tucked into a bustling urban neighborhood - from the realities of Boston's politics and real estate.

He goes one further by making the case for Foxboro.

Having lived in Boston for a few years not too long ago, I can chip in thoughts of varying quality. To begin, Cuddy's take on the politics and real estate seem pretty grounded and accurate; his section on Foxboro less so. That place is seriously in the boonies and that discouraged a car-less me from buying season tickets, etc. At the same time, I didn't know anything about plans to add some commercial development to the area, something that would change the dynamic quite a bit.

The question is how much? Even assuming they build the bars, restaurants, etc., the odds tilt heavily toward TGI Friday's-style franchise/dumps. Worse, those would likely boast prices based on the assumption of a captive audience - i.e. once you're in Foxboro, you will pay top dollar for that pint of Sam Adams and a pre-game "girl-drink" is out of the friggin'question. Put another way, where else are you going to go? And I'm sure hotels/motels will be part of the commercial development; can't wait to see what a room goes for (or how many people will quietly "room stuffs" to split the cost).

For all that, assuming the Kraft family is serious about making Foxboro more worth the visit - again, I emphasize that place is a wasteland in its current incarnation, about as much fun as a wheatfield - Cuddy's overall point makes sense. Still, I'd love to see them try to build an SSS out in, say, Lowell. God knows that place could use the boost...and there are all those kick-ass restaurants up (I think it's) U.S. 1, including this massive thing positively devoted to MEAT.


Do You Sueno MLS?

I'm not even sure that I've got the Spanish Language News bit of that remotely correct, but that's another post for another blog.

The feature headline - e.g. the first thing you see in the slideshow on Major League Soccer's (MLS) site, - refers to something called "Sueno MLS," something I figured amounted to another hokey slogan. It took a couple distracted hours and another article - this one from LA Soccer News for me to understand that, while this may indeed by hokey, Sueno MLS is more than a slogan.

How much more? Couldn't tell you. I have to confess my total ignorance regarding the cultural significance of Univision's Republica Deportiva. While I've seen the program, I don't know enough to say whether it's "big" with "the kids."

For all that, Sueno MLS - which (very basically) amounts to a reality TV show following a small pool of applicants through open tryouts with Chivas USA - seems like a good marketing idea on paper. It targets a demographic that's always flustered MLS: Hispanics who watch Univision. Moreover, it's got that great "look at me" freak-show appeal that has made reality TV in general, the success and cultural nightmare it is today.

The question is, will it change minds or perceptions, or will this be regarded as a shallow publicity stunt? After all, Chivas USA officials are pretty upfront about the fact the applicants are only playing for a contract in the thinnest possible sense - check out this splice and dice paragraph featuring words from Chivas USA Owner, Antonio Cue:

"'We're not giving a roster spot,' clarified Chivas USA owner Antonio Cue, pointing out that the winner of the program will receive a two week contract, as well as be able to match themselves alongside the pro players of the team."

While no one involved rules out signing "the right player" it's clear Chivas USA officials aren't holding their breath. And if you want to avoid suspicions the whole thing is designed to raise the team's profile, by all means don't let anyone see the picture of new Chivas USA coach Preki that accompanies's write-up on the program.


RSL Stadium: Monday Morning Buzz-Kill

Not that there's a buzz to kill on a Monday morning.


One of the first things I saw on this morning was RSL statement on debt review decision. That didn't look like a happy headline, but it's got nothing on the Deseret News blurb that topped the Google News search, the relevant copy of which appears below:

"KSL Newsradio this morning is reporting that plans to build a soccer stadium in Salt Lake County are dead."

"KSL's Doug Wright spoke with Real Salt Lake owner Dave Checketts this morning. Checketts says based on a phone conversation he had with Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon, Real Salt Lake soccer is done. Checketts says the team will likely stay in Utah for one more year, then it will probably be sold."

That certainly sounds final. It also does something to the general momentum Major League Soccer has enjoyed for the past year. Still, given how surly this fight got, one can't call this too surprising. Depressing, probably - I know I developed a soft spot for Real Salt Lake this past season. But, surprising? Nope.

UPDATE: An article run in the Deseret News last Saturday picks through the places where a county-commissioned Debt Review Committee disagreed with RSL's numbers. For what it's worth, and coming from a second-hand observer, an article run last week on the concert-going habits of Salt Lake City dwellers goes some distance to justifying the committee's queasiness about RSL's projections. As much as I'd rather they build the thing, I can definitely see where the committee is coming from.


Q & A with the Pros (G & G)

Tempting as it was to break this into two posts - one for Ives Galarcep's Q & A and the other for Steve Goff's - it's likely that many, many of you have already read these.

As such, I thought I'd combine them and cite the highlights from each.

From the Washington Post's Steve Goff (LINK), who has got to be the most non-homer sports writer I've ever read, here's what stood out: the stuff on Emilio Luciano; the great explanation for why Major League Soccer (MLS) builds in the 'burbs; and the part that best captures Goff's "Sgt. Joe Friday" approach to reporting, comes with his thoughts on MLS's officiating situation. I'm not picking on the man, by the way; didn't Joe Friday always get his man (even his blue boys?).

Now the highlights from Ives Galarcep's more wide-ranging session on his blog: his thoughts on Kenny Cooper as a "replacement" for Brian McBride; what he thinks separates a player like Clint Dempsey from a player like Justin Mapp - and I hope Mapp reads it; players on the U-20 team Galarcep sees as potential for the 2010 World Cup roster (at least one name from his list repeats in Andrea Canales' close look at our U-20s for ESPN); do note the mitigating factors he saw in Donovan's game against Denmark; throughout the piece there's his clear-eyed assessment of the kinds of international players MLS can sign under the Beckham rule - though I don't buy the attendance numbers he thinks Zidane, et al would bring; finally, there's the bit that should prompt the most interest - the list of big-name players Galarcep can see joining the league within the next five years. No less noteworthy are his (brief) thoughts on what lesser known internationals will do for the league.


KC Stadium?

I'm not sure how I missed everything about the latest on Kansas City stadium news, but, Lord, does it look like I missed plenty.

Based on an article in the Kansas City Star things are hopping in KC where stadium news is concerned. To begin, Wizards officials ought to announce shortly where they'll play the 2007 season (it can't be as small as they're claiming...can it?).

But the wackiest, wildest bit of news is this:

"And as early as Valentine’s Day the Wizards could announce a permanent stadium site."

What, what, what?

My total ignorance aside, I hope it pans out for them. I can't claim to care for the Wizards, but I like having the team there. Can't explain it, but I like it.


Salt Lake City: Cultural Brown Field

I kid, I kid.

The Salt Lake Tribune asked some knowledgeable types to run a bullshit detector over Dave Checketts' claims as to how eagerly Utahns (yes, I got to use the word!) venture out for big-name concerts. In his push to build Real Salt Lake their stadium in Sandy, Checketts claims that by 2010 he'll get 18 acts per annum in the stadium with an average draw of 17,000 screaming Utahns (that's two!). And that figure is a big part of Checketts' plan for keeping stadium operations in the black.

The people the paper ran those numbers back only noted that history is against Checketts' numbers - whether he dubs those figures conservative or not. There are some unintentionally funny quotes in this one: see the word "price-sensitive" - which used to be abbreviated as "cheap" - or the way the experts dance around the, um, social dynamic in the valley, which may keep people from turning out for rock 'n' roll. I'm not knocking the city - hell, I don't go to concerts any more (all the damn kids) - so much as I'm noting that I've never heard of a "Salt Lake City Sound" going national.

In any case, it's an interesting read in how non-soccer stuff impacts soccer.


Becks: Warm 'n' Fuzzy Challenge

OK, here's the deal: If you can get all the way through this article in the Toronto Star without choking up once, you can claim to be "all man."

Alternately, you could be emotionally dead...or I'm just saying that because I was a wreck for ten minutes after reading it.

Still, it's a good story and well-written. Is the power of celebrity a bit ridiculous? Absolutely. Whatever makes it work, the fact is it does. And it's very good of Beckham to take the time to do this kind of thing. He doesn't have to.


Revs Nation on Revs in '07

Don't know about the rest of you, but today sure seems like a slow news day. Maybe that's why I took a trip over to's message boards; normally, I can't find the time to make it.

I did some poking around on the New England Revolution's corner of the space and happened across a thread started by Soccer Doc. Before laying out the Revs' current roster, he opened the discussion by posing the following question: "Where [does they team] stand in building the 2007 roster?"

The discussion that follows gets at where Revolution fans think the team is assuming they head into the 2007 season with the current players. If you've visited this space in the past couple days, you may have seen my thoughts on this subject. But from the discussion started by Soccer Doc, I liked the skeptic's take from Imad Ashell and the optimist's take as expressed by jw. But a poster named Chowda gets my prize (yes, I know that counts for nothing) for the sharpest comment of the bunch; this line stands out:

"We haven't won a championship with this core group of players and we never will without adding impactfullike (that word's for you, UP) players to our attack."

No truer words have been spoken. The Revs do need something. And, over in Revs Nation, not a few souls are concerned about the lack of noise and motion in the team's front office.


Reyna: Why MLS Is @#%ed.

It took Ives Galarcep's write-up on Red Bull New York using the designated player rule to sign of Claudio Reyna to fully appreciate Major League Soccer's (MLS) competitive disadvantage with good-sized European clubs.

Here's the defining pargraph:

"Terms of Reyna's contract were not disclosed, but Reyna received at least a two-year deal which will pay him more than $400,000, which is allowed under the designated player rule. Under the rule, MLS is responsible for the first $400,000 of a designated player's salary, with the team covering the rest. While Reyna is unlikely to be making the more than $3 million he was making with Manchester City, it appears very likely that Reyna is making a seven-figure salary."

Manchester City paid Claudio Reyna - yes, that Claudio Reyna - more than $3 million?! As much as I like him as a player, he's no great shakes - he's average even. And h still hauled in $3 million.

Um, holy shit?

I've always known that star players in Europe made crazy, NBA-style money; and I did have a vague appreciation for the fact that the journeyman fared better even than MLS's top players. But seeing what Claudio made puts this in sharper perspective. Yikes.


Developmental Paycheck

Over on From College to the Pros he pulled together a good ramble on Major League Soccer's "Take-your-pennies-and-smile, punk" development player stiffing, er, salary.

His copy speaks well enough for itself; I'll only note that I support his wish that MLS reaches a point where they're paying a minimum salary that players won't be shy about mentioning in mixed company.


Failed Experiment

Last Monday, I announced an experiment involving switching up my schedule for posting to this site.

Let's keep this brief: While it's not hurting my traffic, it is messing with my mental space.

Now resuming regular service.


Speaking of the Mexico Game...

...what are people's early opinions on what will happen?

Here's my early-doors speculation: I'm seeing a loss, one that will look worse on the field than on the scoreboard. After seeing the Mexico roster (second half of this post on Steven Goff's blog), I'm counting a disturbing number of names I recognize - and given how distantly I follow the Mexican league, that suggests the Tricolores are bringing "the business."

With the U.S. men still very much in the feet-finding stage, I can't see us holding up well under those conditions.

Should a loss of this sort come about, I wouldn't view that as a blot on Bob Bradley's record, but that could be nothing more than a function of me expecting a loss. A bad loss, on the other hand, one where we look totally out of our depth - a la the game against the Czech Republic this past summer - would be something to think about. Put another way, a comprehensive blowout would deserve some serious thought. So would a win - and of any sort - for that matter.

But I'm seeing a loss - a clear, but still respectable loss.

Anyone else want to throw in a hat?


USMNT: Conventional Wisdom

I'm in no way belittling this reporter's work, or accusing him of unoriginal thinking, but an article linked to in their Newsstand feature crystallizes what I'd dub the operating conventional wisdom on the U.S. Men's National Team (USMNT) after their first game under Bob Bradley.

A guy named Simon Provan wrote the article for the Daily Texan and, as I read it, it's all there: the emphasis on the "new boys" with Justin Mapp as the stand-out, Donovan's slow start, Pablo Mastroeni's capable, but high-risk command of the midfield, and Eddie Johnson's clumsy irrelevance - though, in an added twist, Provan mentions E.J.'s seeming indifference to his sub-par play.

There's more detail in the article, of course, but that's where things appear to be, really. We'll have to see if anything changes after the game against Mexico.


A Corollary to "Don't Sweat the Small Stuff"

That would be, “Don’t hype the stupid shit.”

“MLS Set for Denver Announcement”
For the past day and a half, that’s the headline one sees when opens on their web browser.

And today we discover that the “major announcement” behind all this hype is that Denver’s own Dick’s Sporting Goods Stadium (“The Dick,” for short) will host this summer’s MLS All-Star game. And, yes, Scotland’s Celtic FC’s appearance in the event looks to be confirmed.

Here I thought we had something major, like a the latest player signed under the Beckham Rule. Who knows? Maybe that's still coming - though I doubt it.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m pleased for the city of Denver and hope they make out like bandits; ditto for MLS. Revenue aside, this is a nothing event, a pre-season game and an unwelcome distraction smack in the middle of the regular season. It doesn't need six to seven months of hype.


MLS Player Movement & (Some) Ratings

I've seen the title for Soccer New England's Ins 'n' Outs feature more than once; it clocks player movement throughout the league whether by draft, trade or waiver. But it wasn't till today that had the sense to check it out. Having done so, allow me to recommend it whole-heartedly. I know I'd forgotten about half of this stuff since it happened.

Since I've got a spot of time, I thought I'd make some mental notes on the moves completed so far. This won't be as thorough as Soccer New England's work by any means - that'll get you to visit their site, which seems fair since they did all the work - but, hopefully, it'll give all y'all something to think about.

Taking them by team (and briefly) and confessing up front that I know so little about the drafted players that I'll, essentially, ignore them:

Chicago Fire: As much as I've got a soft spot for Nate Jaqua, I don't think losing him will hurt the Fire all that much. Andy Herron for Ryan Coiner, on the other hand, that one has me puzzled.

Chivas USA: I still love the Guevara acquistion. Can't wait to see Preki as a coach...even if I'm prepped for failure. Losing Regan, that's something else too.

Colorado Rapids: As much as some of the waivers would make me nervous, Colorado has reloaded tolerably well over the off-season.

Columbus Crew: Hmm. I think they helped themselves with Herron, but the other acquisitions seem so, I dunno, anonymous. Then again, they got so busy during the last season. Again, hmmm...

DC United: Looking forward to seeing Tom Soehn in charge and Emilio Luciano play, but wonder if they didn't set themselves up for a transitional year after stripping down so much of the roster.

FC Dallas: Yikes. Time reload, guys.

Houston Dynamo: Largely standing pat, but can you blame them? They're still pretty solid.

Kansas City Wizards: Picking up Hartman was a good thing. I still like "El Gato," even if he screws up royally at least twice a season; the rest of the team can pick up the slack, right?

Los Angeles Galaxy: I still don't get the Cannon trade...honestly. And, yeah, the Beckham thing is fine, I wish Jaqua the best and all that, but....I dunno. There's just something irking me here.

New England Revolution: I didn't know bitterness was spelled "C-A-N-C-E-L-A." Seriously, how much of that guy's life did the Revs waste? OK, one exception to the general exclusion of draftees: I'm very interested in seeing how Amaechi Igwe does in MLS.

Red Bull New York: This comment may bite me later, but I don't think RBNY has done much wrong this off-season. Even though I think Chivas did well to pick up Guevara, I think RBNY was no less wise to let him go. But I've got a sneaking suspicion that getting back Tim Regan, picking up Eric Denton, and swiping Dave van den Bergh will pay off.

Real Salt Lake: The Adu move was pretty high risk; I hope it pays off for all concerned. And I like that they nabbed Rimando, even though I think I remember seeing some chatter from DC fans that he's slowed down a bit.

Toronto FC: In Ronnie O'Brien, Jose Cancela, Paul Nagamura, as well as the Edson Buddle/Alecko Eskandarian experiment, I think they've got the core of a team capable of competing in the league. If the Canadians they've signed, about whom I know too little to comment, come up just as good, they should be fine. All in all, I think this year's expansion entry did all right.

Revs Watch: Some Signings

I'm probably way behind on this - though, in my defense, I've got a plan to remedy the situation (and I'll never tell any of you about it. never) - but 90 Minutes reported today that the New England Revolution re-signed/elevated some more players.

In the re-signed column are defender Marshall Leonard and goalkeeper Doug Warren. Midfielder Jeff Larentowicz sits in the elevated column.

This news make me moderately happy. Perhaps content is the word? But it's news, right, and that means the beat is covered.


Equal Time on RSL Stadium

Sure, I link to Deseret News articles all the time, a paper that doesn't seem so high on any proposed stadium for Real Salt Lake (RSL) that uses public dollars. Then again, those are, by and large, straight news articles so they've got to keep a straight face when writing their stuff.

But columnists operate under fewer constraints and that's what gives Deseret Morning News columnist Brad Rock the freedom to make an argument that building a stadium for RSL may not be the soundest of investments. It's worth noting, however, that he takes a broader tack: rather than question the financial viability of RSL alone, he brings all of Major League Soccer (MLS) into the mix, concluding his commentary with this thought:

"But what I'd really like to know is if the league's finances are on solid ground for the next several years. A shiny new stadium in Sandy won't mean much if there's no league in which to play."

The man makes a decent argument. More to the point, there's a question of the extent to which fans - like me - can get wrapped up in the self-delusion thanks to what appears to be so much momentum in MLS's favor. The bottom line is, if Phil Anschutz secretly agonizes every night about pulling the plug - possibly tanked to the gills on gin, rambling beneath portraits of Abraham Lincoln - what would any of us know about it?

Against that, though, you've got some fairly successful organizations throwing making bets with time and money on the league - ESPN springs to mind, here - which makes one think there may be some good stuff we don't know as well.

In any case, one of the more curious things about Rock's column is, dubious as he sounds on the stadium, he figures it'll get built. And, to his credit, he takes that in stride.

UtahGamer, writing for Are You Loyal takes a stronger position in a post titled They Will Build It. His (whoops...that handle is gender-neutral, I suppose, so he could be a she) reasons are compelling enough as well - e.g. no one looks poised to vote against it.

Though the waiting game continues, some close observers see light at the end of the tunnel....even if they disagree on what's producing that light.


On Onyewu to Chelsea

I've hesitated to post on this since word hit the Web, but figure with the typically cautious Associated Press as the conduit and with Oguchi Onyewu's agent confirming talks, it's probably fer reals.

So, Onyewu to Chel$ki, eh?

My initial reaction was, don't do it, kid. The upside of going to a big club shrinks dramatically if you can only expect time on the pine. It took an "other item" blurb in a New York Times report (on youth and the Denmark game, if you must know) turned me around on the subject:

"His agent, Will Sherling, told The Associated Press that Onyewu had turned down possible transfers to Fulham, Middlesbrough and Real Madrid because he would not be assured of a regular place in the lineup."

“'I don’t know if that’s the case with Chelsea,' Sherling said. 'The best club for him is one that will develop his profile as a player. He doesn’t need to get tangled up in which club is bigger than the next.'”

Well, OK then. Looks like they're thinking straight. And it'd be good to see Onyewu regularly on the TV...can't say I've ever seen regular broadcasts from the Belgiam league.


The Pick of Bradley's "Dream Scenarios"

Writing for Jeff Bradley used his First XI feature to lay out a wish-list for 2007. Interesting as many of them are, it was his number one that got my attention:

"1. The best team wins. I'm not suggesting that Dynamo were not the best playoff team a year ago, but it's high time for MLS to have a Supporters' Shield team win it all. It hasn't happened, you know, since the Wizards won the Shield and Cup in 2000."

I did not know that (hey...way to go DC United; thanks for keeping up that streak). Bradley's right, though. It would be nice to crown a champion without mentally slipping an asterisk next to their name.


Revs in 2006: Long Slog Continues

OK, ten down and two to go. For the record, this series has me feeling like I'm walking backward while the rest of the soccer world moves forward. Still, I see the light at the end of the tunnel over my shoulder and know for a fact it's not an onrushing train, but the 2007 season on the horizon. Good stuff.

Anyway, the latest installment in my 2006 season-in-review looks back at the New England Revolution's 2006.

As the sub-head admits, this is a Revolution "fan site," which, in my case, should only mean I pay more attention to them and care more about what happens in their corner of MLS. I'm hoping it doesn't mean I get blinded by the sunshine I see coming out of their asses when writing about the Revolution. In plain English, as much as I like 'em, I don't want to be a cheerleader for these guys.

As such, I hope the 2006 review reads that way. I think it does, but put that down to bitterness about last season and anxiety about 2007. I understand this isn't exactly a lonely position, but I think the Revolution's two year status as clear contenders ended with the 2006 season. While more of their players are staying on (so far) than are leaving, the rising age of those players (e.g. Steve Ralston, Joe Franchino) combined with the talent already lost, points to a team that needs something near-term to avoid making 2007 a dreaded "Year in Transition." Speaking as a fan, I can hope that "something" came either through the Superdraft or a new lease on life for guys like Daniel Hernandez and Pat Noonan, or the continued presence and essential happiness of Shalrie Joseph.

I'm not hopeful on many of those counts. Hernandez may pull through a season - and I sincerely hope he does - but Noonan, well, he just seems cursed. Joseph seems unlikely to stick around for a full season and word that Odd Grenland upped its bid for Twellman points to a potential departure for him as well. So, no, signs aren't pointing to yes. 2007 looks to be a tough one.

And I think I said as much in the Write On Sports piece.


Dynamo Notes: CONCACAF and DeRo

Sure the article starts with Ricardo Clark's thoughts on his recent performance against Denmark - and I wish Clark all the luck in the world. But the more interesting stuff revolves around player news, which comes at the bottom.

Judging by what they're reporting, the Dynamo made a serious bid to keep Dwayne DeRosario States-side; or, as the piece points out, only serious in terms of the pre-Beckham Rule world. Speaking as a fan of MLS, I'd love to see DeRosario stick around. For my money, he's the best player in the league, capable of manuevers, even thoughts, few others can manage (it's the "thoughts" part of that that gives him an edge over Dempsey). But I'd also be OK if he skipped town for a bigger check - or a bigger pond. The man has worked hard and he deserves it.

There's also something in there about the Dynamo offering forward Brian Ching something better. I'm less partial to Ching and, as such, only hope he gets something that suits him; he may not be my favorite kind of player, but he also seems the nice sort, so I wish him the best.

The other piece of news concerns the Dynamo's upcoming CONCACAF Champions' Cup series against Costa Rica's Puntarenas FC. Looks like parking issues at Robertson Stadium means they'll play the home leg in College Station (I'm sorry, but what a silly name), Texas. It sounds like a tiny venue - the official capacity of the place in question is 3,000, though they've squeezed in just over 8K once before - which should make it a weirdly hot ticket. I'll just admit I like this move well enough and leave it there. Anyway, more - much more - information appears here.

And I'm really, if pathetically, excited about the Champions Cup. The season really can't come soon enough.


When The Bruce Comes A-Courtin'...'s best to hide the children.

I'm kidding, of course, but I do love this picture of Bruce Arena. It looks for all the world like he's sitting across from you at a cozy table, plying you with poetry while he waits for the roofies to kick in.

Still, the big (and slightly old) news is that Claudio Reyna looks set to come home to Red Bull New York this summer. I've always liked Claudio's game and hope he brings something better to RBNY; it'd be nice for that franchise to be something other than mediocre.


Revs in '07/Palencia on MLS

To be honest, I had trouble figuring out the order of that headline; it was only because this is a Revs site that I went the way I did...'cause I want to lead with what Juan Francisco Palencia said about MLS.

For the record, that comes from a Matchnight interview with New England Revolution assistant coach, Steve Mariner - an item worth reading in full. The part about what Palencia said ties into David Beckham's arrival in MLS and the point centers on what European old-timers can expect in MLS. So, take it away, Paco:

"...I disagree with those who say it's an elephant cemetery, because that's where I would've buried myself. But I'm in great shape physically, because that's how you have to be there, above all else; and mentally, because you have to think much faster there than here. It's harder to keep the ball at your feet; they pressure you very quickly."

This adds up well if you think about the traditional attributes of the American player - a high-effort, low-to-medium skill type. But, yeah, we love our fitness; it's almost a fetish on the national team. To return the conversation to Beckham, further down in the interview Mariner does some jawing about the Spanish game, notably the pace of it; he's guessing the transition will be a tough one for Beckham. I tend to agree, but would also play up the physical side of MLS. While the English game, with which Becks is amply familiar, has its rough side as well, at least the refs provide some cover for the players, right? In other words, I bet Beckham will handle the speed just fine, but I can't speak to how well he'll deal with cheap, hard fouls that go unpunished.

Turning to now to what Mariner has to say about the Revs' 2007....

It's kind of interesting, to be honest, though mainly from the perspective that he's speaking more as a "proud papa" than a dispassionate observer; for that, look no further than his comments on Taylor Twellman and Pat Noonan's partnership. Don't get me wrong: I love both players, but Noonan, in particular, has an injury monkey I'm not sure he'll ever shake.

But the meatiest part of the Revs chat comes with this reply:

"JIM (Interviewer): Switching subjects, but still thinking about playing with the ball, with Pepe Cancela gone and Dempsey gone and your passing on the young kid Colaluca in the draft, who do you see as being the player who makes the pass to the player who makes the play for this year's Revolution?"

"PAUL [Mariner]: Obviously the jury is out on the draft, we feel that we had a good draft, we still feel that we're very strong in central midfield, we've got Shalrie, until the window closes, we've got Andy Dorman who makes fantastic runs, I think Danny Hernandez, who hasn't been as fit as he would like and we would like, hurt his ankle badly and took a long time to come back after that, we feel that Danny Hernandez is a fantastic player. Not only is he a leader on the field but he commands so much time on the ball, he always selects the right passes, doesn't give the ball away. We've got Jeff coming in there, Jeff Larentowicz and we've got Joe Franchino that we can play in there, so we have options and we've drafted a young man from Wake Forest, Ryan Solle, who very rarely gives the ball away, albeit at college level, he's always in good spots, he's a similar player to Michael Parkhurst as far as the brain is concerned, so we're not concerned about that area. Obviously injuries will determine whether that is true or false but at the present moment, we're happy."

So what's the take-away from that. To begin, I like that he's as high on Hernandez as I am, though, as with Noonan, I'd admit his injury issues haven't been insignificant either; still, I'm pretty high on Danny's eye for a pass, if not the proverbial "killer ball." There's also the bit about Shalrie Joseph - notably the somewhat cryptic phase "until the window closes" to decipher. With January almost gone, you'd have to assume it's the summer transfer window (right?). So, I'd take that to mean Joseph ought to be around for a bit (again, right?).

But the crucial part is the kind of player the Revolution likes. It's the player that "rarely gives the ball away" they admire. While that's got it's upside, it also speaks to a "safety first" mentality, an anxiousness about trying something too bold. With all due respect to the Revs staff, they did cultivate Clint Dempsey and gave him ample space to experiment while he was part of that team. Still, the rest of the team reveals shortage of that kind of player - and there's also Jose Cancela's departure to consider; it was clear the staff never quite trusted him.

Anyway, I'm just saying...and it makes me a little nervous. As well as Steve Nicol and Mariner have done, the one thing they haven't done is put this team over the top.

"Other" Lalas Eats Bait, Line, Fishing Rod

In his Sports Illustrated column, Greg Lalas divined a bold future for American soccer based on what he saw in last weekend's 3-1 U.S. win over Denmark: to wit, that America would "seriously challenge for the World Cup in 2014." Maybe a penchant for hyperbole is genetic, yeah?
Just so you know where he's coming from, here's a passage on what has him so jazzed:

"Because these kids -- the average age of 18-man roster was about 25 -- have confidence in their abilities, their first touch, their gumption, that has never existed in so many American players at the same time."


"I never thought I'd say that. But then again, I never thought I'd see a player with the swagger of Mapp or the awareness of Bornstein or the Makalele-like work of Clark or the sheer linebackerish power of Kenny Cooper. All of these guys are all under 23, still on the upside."

My title reads a little harsher than I'd like (what can I say? I couldn't come up with anything else) because I genuinely admire people willing to walk on thin limbs. At the same time, with this argument Lalas walks directly into a particular piece of conventional wisdom about the United States' past two World Cups. How many times during the teeth-gnashing analysis of the 2006 Cup was the question of "what happened" to players like DaMarcus Beasley and Landon Donovan raised? The argument amounted to contending that the "fearlessness" and, yes, swagger these players displayed during the 2002 Cup seemed to evaporate in Germany. Assuming that to be the case, can we ignore the possibility it will happen again?

I'm somewhere between these two poles. The fact is, we played in a damned hard group and got weird results - e.g. drawing the world-champs-bound Italians while getting spanked by the Czechs, who would later fizzle. Sure, Donovan looked tentative, but he might have picked up shell-shock from that first game.

Regarding the future, I'm plenty happy with what I saw in some of the debuts. But as most people have pointed out - and as Luis Bueno repeated in another column - the real test will come against Mexico. If cats like Justin Mapp and Jonathan Bornstein do all right there, I'll get a bit more giddy - though I emphasize the "bit."

And, for the record, start Kenny Cooper. With our somewhat pressing needs at forward, I'm most anxious to see what he can do.


An Experiment

To Whom It May Concern:

I'm going to change things up on this site for a bit; assuming it works, both for me and the site, those changes will probably stick. But I'll cross that bridge when I get to it. So here's the plan:

I'm going to move my posting schedule back to the late afternoon. The idea is to give breaking stories a little more time to develop and other people more time to weigh in. Speaking as someone who has never broken a story in his life - and I put my odds of ever doing so pretty low - I'm hoping this will play to what I regard as my strength: obsessing over a subject till it makes enough sense for me to explain it both correctly and clearly.

No less significant in encouraging this experiement is the pattern in my site traffic. The one or two times circumstances compelled me to post late, it didn't seem to kill my traffic. Who knows? Maybe most people read and work on their sites in the evening and I'll actually be putting out content when more people can see it?

So, right. Look for that to start tomorrow. I'll have to keep myself from spazzing if, say, Edgar Davids gets signed by FC Dallas tomorrow. I think/hope I can swing it.


U.S. v. Denmark: 5 Links

Though I have to confess to some surprise at the paucity of coverage, the stuff that's out there is pretty swell. Here's a round-up:

Ives Galarcep (from his blog)
Jeff Carlisle (ESPN)
Andrea Canales (ESPN)
Marc Connolly (
Kevin Modesti (Daily Breeze - and, for the record, an engaging set-up)

It also relies on several areas of apparent agreement. For instance, everyone is gushing over Justin Mapp - though none more than Canales, whose piece borders on a (deserved) mash note. Still, they guy had a great game. Another generally shared view is that the Danes sent a decent team. The "newcomer" theme gets played pretty hard and small wonder; the number of caps earned by the best players on the field Saturday - Mapp, Kenny Cooper, Ricardo Clark, and Jonathan Bornstein - could almost be counted on one hand. The general take on the "established" players was: that Conrad got caught out on the goal; Donovan was either tentative or uncomfortable (for what it's worth, I thought he was about all we had in the first half and he was played in a new role); Mastroeni did well, as did Clark, but they need time to grow; and Chris Albright was everyone's goat for the Danish goal, though someone mentioned he suffered from the flu...which begs the question of why he was started.

The one significant point of contention came with Bornstein. Where Connolly described an assured performance ("From the get-go, Bornstein didn't look green one bit, and surely didn't seem tentative."), Carlisle singled out his left flank defending as a persistent problem, while Galarcep only suggested he took some time to find his feet. Then again, Carlisle suggested Eddie Johnson "had his moments," but I saw well less than that; only one quality pass (to Bornstein) from a player who was hyped to the skies going into the '06 Cup simply doesn't cut it. Returning to Bornstein, I wonder if his defensive frailties (and I can relate to these; oh, can I relate) make a case for grooming him for midfield.

All in all, though, people were happy, if a little antsy about the Mexico game. And no matter who you read, people want to see more of Mapp and Cooper; the same goes for Bornstein, generally, though there are concerns. That, as I see it, is the story for the first game of the Bradley era.

One last thing and it goes back to that paucity of coverage. Modesti points out the low attendance (as I did) and speculates this may have something to do with the past summer's, um, difficulties in the World Cup. Eh, could be....

But I think it's something more obvious: how many people knew about this game? I know all of us freaks did, but I spent the weekend with family, specifically with people who generally follow soccer when they know about it. Let's just say they had no clue about this one. And I suspect that would apply to anyone who doesn't have the soccer corner of ESPN's site bookmarked. I think this explains the problem better than bitterness, but it's also possible Modesti heard something I didn't.


How Do I Like Bob Bradley?

...let me count the ways...

No, seriously. There's only one, really.

The Boston Globe produced a sprawling biography of Bob Bradley. Like most biographies, it's about explaining who Bradley is and how he came to be that way.

That's all well and good - not to mention being the perfect length for bathroom reading - but what I really like about Bob Bradley comes with a pair of quotes that were somehow separated between the 1st and 5th pages of the article. Here are those:

"When you are around the game and especially around good players, one of the first things you learn is that it's a player's game," said Bradley. "It is a challenge for a coach to be able to communicate with good players, create an environment where players can get better.


"Generally speaking, the US player continues to get better; [MLS] has played a huge role in that. But when you look around the world, there are still higher levels for us to set our sights on in all areas."


"As much as we have gotten better, we have to realize, technically, we still have a ways to go. And that doesn't take into account, if we really raise the bar to the top, the Maradonas and Zidanes and Ronaldinhos. We have not gotten to that point, yet. But, mentality-wise, we have had enough big games to understand what needs to get done. If you go back the last eight years, it's incredible what has been accomplished."

In basic terms, I just think the man has the correct ideas in his head; from there, I extrapolate that he may be able to improve our program. A second piece grows from this: if people are worried about the limitations or inexperience of U.S. coaches, isn't the answer to get them experience by letting them coach, ideally at the highest level and against the best? If that's the case, it seems sensible to me to start with people who seem to "get it." And, based on what he says, I think Bradley is good for this.


U-20s Make the Grade

Because I didn't see the games and generally neglect covering the U.S. youth soccer teams, I almost hesitate to mention that the U.S. U-20s qualified for this summer's FIFA U-20 World Cup. Obviously, they did and this post is mainly about acknowledging, if not celebrating, that achievement.

Then again, I'm of the opinion that qualifying over regional teams like Guatemala, Panama, and Haiti should be automatic at this point. Wait...that's not what this is about. Congratulations, guys. Make us all proud this summer...or we won't buy your jerseys.

For those curious about what we looked like on our way to qualifying, du nord pulled together a fairly thorough post-game post in the aftermath of our goalless draw against Guatemala. It's good for checking any undue optimism that qualifying may have inspired.

Now, here's to hoping some widely available network airs these games. Then I'd have something (more?) worthwhile to say.


Hey...You Scandis Keep Your Hands Off My Twellmans

I can't remember who it was the first referred to someone taking it in "the Twellmans," but I've always liked that. If the originator of that phrase somehow reads this, feel free to step up and take credit.

In any case, the Boston Globe reports that Odd Grenland, a Norwegian club, is sniffing around the New England Revolution's Taylor Twellman. The report also suggests, and fairly strongly, that said interest won't come to anything. To begin, Odd Grenland's offer looks a bit low for one of the league's marquee players. And, this time, I agree with them; $1 million isn't enough for Twellman.

Then again, neither is $181K per season.


Addendum on Denmark Game: E.J.

Sure enough, I got one article into my reading and already came across something I had intended to mention in the post below: Eddie Johnson is done on the national team till further notice. There was nothing in his play to justify his presence on the field - especially for as long as he lasted. He played the ball too slowly, which would have been tolerable had he shown interest in taking on Danish players, he gave it away too much, etc.

Thanks to Ives Galarcep for reminding me of my oversight. Johnson did have a remarkable game, though for all the wrong reasons.


Denmark Game: What I Saw

I haven’t read a single commentary - online, dead-tree, professional, amateur or otherwise - about Saturday’s game when the United States’ b-team beat a Danish b-team by a score of 3-1. I wanted to work from memory as much as I could. And here’s what stuck:

The Good

1) Justin Mapp meets Jonathan Bornstein. Mapp’s run down the Danish left stuck with me longer than anything. It was great to see him live up to expectation, better still to see him do it with hair on loan from Peter Tork. And Bornstein’s goal was a nice, sneaky-shit kind of goal. Very good.

2) ‘Twas Good to see us come from behind. I was very happy that we neither spazzed nor folded after giving up a goal on some sloppy defending.

3) Cooper’s Goal. Agonizing as it was to watch him lumber up the middle, Cooper took his goal very well - even if I wonder why the Danish ‘keeper didn’t do more to cut down the angle with Cooper coming in all alone.

4) Honorable mentions: Clark’s tenacity was the tonic the team needed - even if the PK call was dubious; the near-miss on that penalty aside, Donovan had a solid all-round effort, especially in the first half when it seemed he was all we had on offense; Mastroeni held the middle pretty well.

The Bad

1) The Danish goal. No matter how short a time the team had to find their feet, the disarray in our back line, particularly in the first half, just shouldn’t occur among professionals.

2) Missing Claudio. This may be something of a long-term project, but we need to manage the ball better. While this no doubt aggravated the problems on defense, our difficulty in keeping the ball and pacing the game will keep us out of the world elite till we get it figured out. As generally implied by the above, we improved during the second half - either that, or the Danes got pooped - but it wouldn’t have cut it against stronger opposition. And that includes a Danish first team.

3) Attendance. Hello.....echo.... Seriously, I thought we’d do better than that. Nice that some Danish fans showed up though.

For all that, it wasn’t a bad debut for Bradley and a number of the new players. Bornstein, Mapp, Cooper all looked quite comfortable; the fact I stopped noticing Bobby Boswell after about the 20th minute suggests he probably did well enough. But the defensive positioning on the Danish goal remains a sore point - and also a worrying sign for the upcoming (February 7) game against Mexico.

In any case, I very much doubt this is all I'll have to say on the game; someone out there will knock something else loose, no doubt.


Trecker on SuperLiga

For some reason, I don't seem to hate Jamie Trecker like the people on Big Soccer message boards seem to.

And I thought he did a pretty swell job picking over the details and potential pitfalls of the proposed SuperLiga - a.k.a. the tournament between the clubs of Major League Soccer (MLS) and the Mexican Primera Division, a.k.a. the thing that has me most excited about 2007.

This one passage, in particular, got me thinking:

"[SuperLiga] will have to convince people that the games mean something. To do that, MLS should insist that all the participating clubs field their full-strength sides. MLS also will have to make sure it has an English spanish language tv partner and that this partner is committed to plugging the games. Finally, it is going to have to sell this tournament all season long — and it is going to have to make sure all of its teams make winning this tournament a talking point and a goal."

"MLS and the soccer media cannot sit back and just make this a "Hispanic" tournament — that, sadly, would condemn it to obscurity in the greater sports world, and American soccer needs a competition that can pass both the 'competition' smell test and reach across ethnic lines. For too long, the USA has lacked a major cup competition."

Not to put too fine a point on this, but I have a sneaking suspicion he's right about all that. Personally, I had fallen into a kind of automatic assumption that, if Mexican fans do take to this tournament more quickly than American fans, that hometown pride will prompt the latter to step up. I think the first part of that holds - e.g. about the Mexican fans getting to the games - but suspect I'm being a bit credulous on the second.

For what it's worth, I think this has the potential to do twice as much for the generating interest in MLS as two Beckhams. If this tournament either produces a series of sellouts, and if this gets more Hispanic fans interested in MLS, SuperLiga will be nothing short of brilliant; after all, it's harder to ignore sold-out games and broadly rising attendance. This also strikes me as a relatively low-risk idea.

In any case, good luck to SuperLiga - and may all our clammy little fantasies come least those having to do with soccer.


Galarcep: The Danish Game in Perspective

Tempting as it was to pile all the U.S. v. Denmark previews into one post, I found the individual subjects worth treating separately. And it's probable that the match preview Ives Galarcep produced for ESPN tipped me toward that perception.

In wrapping the previous post on what to expect from the Danes, I implied that the U.S. men's program would be better served by getting at least some answers from this game. Making that point is what Galarcep does so well in his preview. More to the point, it's about first potentially lethal first impressions:

"What matters for an American fan base is a victory, a convincing win to serve as the first cup of mouthwash to help remove the bad taste of last year's World Cup, a flavor that has lingered far longer than it ever should have."

"Give the fans a victory and some promising performances from some national team newcomers and suddenly people will have something else to talk about besides who is or isn't standing on the sidelines for the U.S. national team. Put out a disjointed lineup that falters against a Danish League All-Star team and you just might hear some 'Where is Juergen' chants sprouting up at Home Depot Center."

While Galarcep's looking ahead to the Mexico game - and rightly so - I'd argue this is also about something both simpler and larger: making up for lost time during the late summer and fall of 2006. The U.S. program will remain unsettled as long as the "interim" tag squats beside the word "coach." As much as I've argued in the past that Bradley deserves a proper audition, I'm also getting antsy. At this point, ambiguous results are the worst we can have.

So, here's to hoping we get some answers on Saturday - and through the rest of spring for that matter. If Bradley does well enough, I'm tempted to say we run with him; the only reason we can him thereafter is if we implode during the Gold Gup and the Copa America this summer.

It suddenly occurs to me that these are heady times.

One last thing: I haven't seen an official roster yet, but am encouraged by what I see in this paragraph:

"He will field the best 11 he can come up with (which should be a solid one led by Landon Donovan, Pablo Mastroeni and Jimmy Conrad) and the team should benefit from the long training camp it has just completed. Young standouts such as Kenny Cooper, Justin Mapp and Jonathan Bornstein will have their chance to stake claims to the voids left by the retirements of Brian McBride and Eddie Pope. You can rest assured that Bradley will have his team ready to play."

For the record, I like that short list and hope they tear up some Danish second-stringers.


Meager Scouting on Danes

Unfortunately, that richly-detailed, player-by-player look at the Danish "B-squad" that the U.S. Men's National Team (USMNT) will play on Saturday (game time here) has yet to materialize. It's possible I'm looking in the wrong places, but so far I'm seeing mainly big overviews of Danish soccer history.

I'm not saying there's anything wrong with that, either. I mean, I could get off my duff and look into these players with only a little more effort than the next guy.

Even so, I did catch one note on Danish soccer in general that should give us some notion of what to expect on Saturday; this one comes from the chat Marc Connolly enjoyed with Fox Soccer Channel's Christopher Sullivan. Here's that:

"While his time playing under Olsen was short, Sullivan quickly learned the method to his team's success."

"'They pressured all over the field,' he said. 'It was high-pressure, forcing teams to play quickly and under duress.'"

I like what I read there. A pressing game should help expose some of our players who may not be comfortable as they can be on the ball.

Against that, a Grahame Jones report from the LA Times leads with the short time this Danish team has had to get to know one another. As much as it would be nice to ease Bradley into his too-brief trial, we also need to get the team and coach settled well ahead of qualifying; a Danish team still working out the kinks may not tell us much of anything...unless we get our asses kicked, that is.


Bob Bradley: A Reputation is Born

And it's birth-name is "hard-ass."

At least that's what's creeping into late reports out of the U.S. men's camp. I commented on this while linking to an item earlier in the week and it suspect this incarnation of Bradley will sink permanent roots.

Another variation on this theme - this one from USA Today - contains come eye-catching quotes from Landon Donovan. There's this, for example:

"'He forces you to toughen up and play,' Donovan says. 'We don't call many fouls out here (during training), so if you get a foul, it's almost like a miracle. Bob is old school, a hard East Coast fighter. That's his mentality.'"

More encouraging than that is Donovan's elaboration on a point made by Pablo Mastroeni, who commented on the belief that Bradley treats the old hands no different than the new boys:

"'For a lot of us, that's good, myself included,' Donovan says. 'He wants to make it a privilege and an honor to be here. I think that too often, even myself, you come here and think, "OK, it's another camp."'"

So, things sound OK in practice, but the Bradley regime is about to get its first live test, albeit against somewhat modest opposition - more on that later. Let's hope we get to enjoy the right kinds of conversations around 4 p.m. PST Saturday.


Celtic FC for All-Star Game?

The people at MLS Underground tell me that Scotland's Celtic FC will serve as the opposition for the 2007 edition of the MLS All-Star game. Call me crazy, but I like this one more than Chelsea...though they'll probably come and try to steal out players too...

And, no, I still don't care about this "event."


Supplemental Draft Mania (LINKS!)

Today's edition of the Newsstand was a bonanza for people who don't know much about players rising up to the Major League Soccer (MLS) ranks. And that would be people like me.

The first dozen articles or so dealt exclusively with the players picked up in MLS's Supplemental Draft and the formatting was such that it's pretty easy to link players with the teams that chose them. You'll find (nearly) all that they posted below by team - starting with the new boys - along with some chatter by me.

Toronto FC
Good overview of TFC's Draft (LINK)
Other papers covered specific players: Here's one on Hunter West and a two-tissue affair (that's at a minimum, a minimum) on Richard Asante.

Red Bull New York
Ives Galarcep wrote a piece that touches on all Red Bull's picks, but it also updates Elie Ikangu's status.

Houston Dynamo
Not much more here than a list of names...and I haven't heard of a one of 'em.

LA Gals/Chivas
Can I call them the Gals? In any case, I suppose doubling-up on coverage - e.g. both the Galaxy's and Chivas USA's picks appear - is just happens when you're covering America's fifth or sixth sport with two teams in the same market. In a side-note, looks like there's another Kljestan in the league....

Columbus Crew
This one not only contains the Crew's supplemental picks - and the team seems to like them - but there's also a good quote from the head coach on how a coach thinks about acquiring players:

"'From here, we have to pare it down to (the league maximum) 28 players,' coach Sigi Schmid said. 'We’ve got more stability going into this season, so it’s going to be tougher to (make the roster). But we think these four can offer us something, and there will be some guys who played some significant minutes last season that probably won’t be around when this one starts.'"

Colorado Rapids
Really, this just names the two players the Rapids picked up before moving on to more important collegiate skiing, for example.

FC Dallas
This one wins the title for the blurbiest of blurbs. And everyone be on the lookout for Sandi Gbandi.

Kansas City Wizards
The local media managed a decent overview write-up on KC's picks. Another paper did a nice "local-boy-done-good" profile on Chris Konopka, who KC drafted for cover at 'keeper.

DC United
Forwad Ricky Schramm served as the focus for this report DC's draft day...but, courtesy of an out-of-context reference that is, ironically, seeking to provide context to DC's pick-up, David Beckham is mentioned.

Finally, and most importantly....

New England Revolution
Soccer New England wrote up an overview on the Revs' three acquisitions: goalkeeper Phil Marfuggi (love the name), defender Gary "Where's the" Flood, and midfielder/forward, Chris Loftus (Road). For his part, Loftus earned a profile in another publication.

So, let's see....that leaves, the Chicago Fire and Real Salt Lake uncovered. Their picks - and, well, everyone's - can be found here.

This ought to be the end of the draft season, right? The rest of the movement should involve trades and big(ger) name signings. After that, it's letting the games begin.