Superliga: WTF!?

Has the "watch it live on MLSnet.com" thing worked out for anyone when it comes to Superliga? I have looked for every friggin' game to this point and cannot, for the life of me, figure out where the hell to go.

To given an example, there's this impressive banner on one side of this web-page that reads, "Watch every Superliga match LIVE [ed. - and it's glowing] exclusively on Telefutura and MLSnet.com." So, I click the little yellow "Watch Now!" button and - poof! - there I am on the extremely subpar Superliga site, which is dotted with old highlight reels and nothing I'm seeing that would allow for live viewing.

So...um....help? How and where do I go to make the live feed work? I'm not having much luck, any in fact. I'd go so far as to say I'm feeling like an FC Dallas "acquaintance," who bought higher-priced tickets to tonight's Superliga game just for the privilege of seeing the empty space on the LA Galaxy bench where David Beckham would have placed those golden cheeks in a kinder world.

(########)

MLS: Week 17 to the Playoffs!

Help! I’ve tripped and fallen off the MLS info-treadmill! I'm working on getting back on, but it turns out one little weekend away may as well be a month. Maybe that’s what has me feeling all Big-Picture-y right now - e.g. thinking about future prospects more than past results, hence the semi-predictive post. I’ll get to that below, but would feel like a total hack if I didn’t acknowledge the power rankings and power tools of the pundits who didn’t take off Week 17.

ESPN
My Soccer Blog
MLS Underground (reporting from new digs)
WVHooligan

So, there’s some substance for you. Now for the Crystal Ball Fluff: what follows is my sense of which MLS teams are headed up or down in the standings and which will hold their current position, good or bad.

For the record, I tried to copy/paste the standings from MLSnet.com and, good Lord, can that be dubbed a failed experiment. Still, I’ll take the teams in the order in which they appear, with East going before West.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

1) New England - HOLDING HIGH: The win over Real Salt Lake was borderline unwatchable, but with each returning starter, or each starter returning to health, the Revs will improve just that little bit.

2) Kansas City - A WOBBLING HOLD: I think the Wizards will improve their defense. If it doesn’t - and I say this as an admirer for what he’s trying to do - it’s on Kurt Onalfo for failing to adjust. Could really go either way.

3) Red Bull - DOWN: Unless talk of reinforcements come true, I think these cats’ best days are behind them. Blame this walk through the Valley of Mediocrity on a slow, old midfield. With how tight things are in the East, missing the playoffs could happen.

4) Columbus Crew - HOLD/INCH UP: I think Columbus will not only make the playoffs, but they’ll do so before the final weekend of the season.

5) DC United - UP: Starting to sputter again after that May/June resurrection; a good, solid team, but not a complete one. Still a smart bet for the playoffs, but I can’t see them going deep when things get serious.

6) Chicago Fire - UP: I’m sold on the “attacking triangle” of Blanco, Wanchope, and the Return of Chris Rolfe (in the link, see the second blurb after the main article). Speaking of Blanco, I haven’t heard or seen a bad thing; in fact, I’m reading superlatives.

7) Toronto FC - HOLD: And that’s bad. TFC has enjoyed a proud start to franchise history and I hope like hell they keep it up. But, the playoffs? Not this season.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

1) Houston Dynamo - HOLDING HIGH: I’m really hoping against a repeat of last year’s MLS Cup...and I’m a New England fan. But Houston just looks rock-friggin’-solid, so I won't mind if they make it.

2) FC Dallas - HOLDING HIGH: I’m sold. Damn them. I’m sold. In spite of showing continued vulnerability at the back, FCD is better than your average MLS team. And I think they’re going to keep improving at the back - to the extent they become a title threat.

3) Chivas USA - DOWN: Even as they are the fifth best team in the league, something about these guys feels thin. At the same time, I view this as the call I’m most likely to get wrong.

4) Colorado Rapids - DROP: Even with hints of the “thug act” returning - even Mehdi Ballouchy is trying to fit in with the new guys, however badly - this team looks like crap. Retaining head coach Fernando Clavijo is insulting at this point, so much that I’m going with calling them the Colorado Stupids, a name I love for its juvenile tone.

5) Los Angeles Galaxy - UP: Ignore the 14-point gap separating them from Chivas USA and focus on the 12-point gap between them and Columbus. Between their 4-6 games-in-hand camouflage and the gridlock in the East, count LA the team most likely to force an even split between the conferences come playoff time. An implosion is definitely possible, but I wouldn’t count on it....even as I pray for it and Alexi Lalas’ resultant unemployment...

6) Real Salt Lake - HOLDING IN HELL: Climbing the Ladder put it brilliantly in a post about all-time streaks of various kinds: “RSL + futility = BFF.” I read their on the verge of signing a lot of players, but I also think they’re good candidates for worst in league history.

So...when the playoffs roll around, who do I think will make it and where?

Eastern Top Two: New England Revolution, Kansas City Wizards
Western Top Two: Houston Dynamo, FC Dallas

The Rest: Columbus Crew, Chivas USA, DC United...and, to go miles out on a limb, let's say the Los Angeles Galaxy dukes it out with the Chicago Fire for the last spot. And, with Steve Davis' caveat about LA's schedule acknowledged (something about 14 of the remaining 18 on the road, with lots of Thursday/weekend turn-arounds; but is that correct? not based on the schedule on MLSnet.com, where I'm counting 11), LA gets more games against the West's, um, "lesser lights." Given that, and with an eye on Chicago's East-heavy schedule, it says here, from way, way out here on the thinnest tip of the loneliest limb, LA makes the playoffs. And they do it by beating the Fire on the final day of the season. Nice.

First, Live Beckham Shirt Sighting

I know I'm supposed to be on hiatus, but something unique prompted a quick check-in.

Last night, while attending the Hillsboro, Oregon Tuesday Farmer's Market, I spotted my first David Beckham LA Galaxy jersey. Not that interesting, one might say, but the context is significant. To begin, when one sees a soccer shirt in Hillsboro, it will be a Mexican club teams 80 times out of 100; 19 times out of 100, it will be a Mexican National team jersey; I once saw someone wearing a generic Chicago Fire jersey, which resulted in a day-long meditation on how the hell such things happen. The crucial thing is, Mexican clubs rule Hillsboro; you may get Euro clubs' jerseys in Portland, but not in Hillsboro.

The second point of interest was the person wearing it and where she chose to wear it. The girl in question was a high school student, a white, "chunky-athletic" brunette whose general appearance suggested neither nerd nor princess; more accurately, she looked determinedly normal, as in she didn't have the appearance of one looking to set high-risk trends. And that brings us to the occasion: the Tuesday market is kind of Hillsboro's "big night out." The place is crawling with packs of teenagers, out on the town to see and be seen.

Here's how I put it all together: a young girl gets dressed up to go hang out with her friends in a decidedly high-traffic area, and one crawling with her peers; given that, she must, on some level, think a Beckham jersey is cool. Whether her statement was love of the game (doubtful), love of the player (more likely), or love of the shirt as an accessory, someone out my way thinks this whole Beckham-thing is pretty hip.

I call that evidence that the whole master-plan continues to work as intended....so far at least....

(##########)

Hiatus

I was about to write up Week 16's action when it occurred to me - y'know, I have this little chunk of vacation coming up and suffered a full-body losing fight with allergies last night, so, what the hell? Why not take off this week? Why not enjoy soccer like normal people do?

And so I will.

See you next Tuesday.

(##########)

A Loose Definition of Evil

With a hat-tip to The Offside Rules, I give you...evil!

(#########)

MLS to PDX: Update...kinda

Just to follow up on yesterday's anguished post, I thought I'd chuck the latest word on Major League Soccer (MLS) expansion to the Portland area. It ran in this morning's edition of The Oregonian.

Some highlights and curiosities:

- Merritt Paulson, the current owner of the USL-1 Portland Timbers (who I'm going to go see tonight!), sounds like he's fairly separate from the relevant transactions. He says he "thinks about it (e.g. MLS expansion to Portland) a lot," but this one line tells me something else:

"The bottom line is that it's no shock MLS is interested in Portland," said Paulson, who planned to attend the MLS All-Star game in Colorado today. "And I'd certainly be very excited about being a part of it at PGE Park if that makes sense. And I think it would."


I'm just saying, note the passive voice.

- The chatter of the "players" involved isn't all that reassuring either. Here's the paragraph on the most high-profile "player":

"James Keston said this week that upgrading Hillsboro Stadium into a facility suited specifically for soccer "looks far more feasible." A makeover would more than double the 7,000-seat facility, add space for more concessions, restrooms and parking, and replace four softball fields that currently surround the stadium with amateur soccer fields."


Having recently visited the site, I think it's going to take quite a bit more than that, especially where parking and access is concerned. If, on the other hand, they try to do this on the cheap, getting in and out of that stadium will friggin' suck. I also have to admit that I'm far from an expert on stadium construction and infrastructure, so we're dealing with a laymen's view here.

Still...

That's where things are today, anyway. About where they were before, but with a rumor tickling our toes.

(########)

Rumor Site Love (Veron, eh?)

For all the pain it has already caused me, I'm really developing a serious crush on MLS Rumors. While I'm usually a prude about reporting accurate information and supported opinion, there's something so damn lovable about a people reporting rumors. So long as they're totally upfront about it - and how much more upfront can one be, given the title - it's totally kosher in my book.

The latest rumor: Juan Sebastian Veron to Chivas USA. Maybe that's what has Luis Bueno dropping coy hints into his power rankings...

(########)

Eight Team Enter, Three Teams Leave - WTF?!

In case you haven't heard, the USL collected a fifth scalp last night when the Seattle Sounders dumped Chivas USA out of the U.S. Open Cup - and by a lopsided score. For those interested in a closer look at this freeway pile-up, I recommend Luis Bueno's near-rant.

Well, thank god the third round is over. The embarrassment was becoming too much. Wait, hold the phone. The Sounders get the Colorado Rapids in the next round. Dang. Looks like Major League Soccer (MLS) - that's America's top-flight, by the way - better practice concealing the blushes.

I think I've already hammered my disappointment with MLS's run in this year's Open Cup into the ground, so I'll leave it to Dan Loney to look ahead and MLS's less-than-ideal chances in the coming rounds. For a discussion of a related subject, Bill Urban took a wider view at a subject I've already examined narrowly (should be the second link in this paragraph), by wondering whether the current reserve set-up will ever produce an MLS-bench side capable of beating a USL side.

Good question. And I'm afraid we have our answer.

(#########)

MLS Week 15: Collective Rankings/Commentary

The Semi-Detached Pundit Collective (SDPC) shrank a little in Week 15: Sports Illustrated’s Ryan Hunt’s rankings weren’t up at the time of calculation and, thus, are not included. On Soccer hasn’t posted Scariness ratings for Week 15 either, so I’ll have to axe those this week. This isn’t a crisis, of course: a fella has a life before a blog and the other probably has deadlines or was roped into reporting on the MLS Fiesta del Horseshit (All-Star Game...that’s my shorthand).

UPDATE: Ryan Hunt's ratings are up, along with some chatter and commentary from the MLS Commish Don Garber's State of League address, some midseason honors for players (Adam Cristman, best rookie (yay.); but the "biggest surprise" is my favorite: Ned Grabavoy). It's a good read.

On the plus side of the ledger, The DCenters posted their Freezer and Who Ate All the Cupcakes got back to the by-conference rankings this week. All these combine to make us smarter...or collectively dumber. But I’m not about to do the math on that. And, as always, I’ll wrap this up with the little wrinkles in the numbers that interest me.

Here are the sources for this week’s SPDC rankings. I always forget to say this, but I'd encourage people to read the commentary; it tells you a lot about the author:

It’s a Simple Game
Sideline Views (Luis Bueno)
Sideline Views (Andrea Canales)
WVHooligan
My Soccer Blog
MLS Underground
ESPN
Fox Soccer Channel

Now, on to the numbers:

1. Houston Dynamo, 1.0 (last week: 1st - 1.0)
2. FC Dallas, 2.6 (3rd - 3.3)
3. New England Revolution, 3.1 (4th - 4.0)
4. DC United, 4.0 (2nd - 2.8)
5. Kansas City Wizards, 5.4 (6th - 6.6)
6. Chivas USA, 5.9 (8th - 7.4)
7. Red Bull New York, 7.1 (5th - 4.7)
8. Columbus Crew, 7.4 (7th - 6.9)
9. Toronto FC, 8.5 (9th - 9.2)
10. Los Angeles Galaxy, 10.0 (10th - 10.0)
11. Colorado Rapids, 11.0 (11th - 10.8)
12. Chicago Fire, 12.1 (12th - 11.8)
13. Real Salt Lake, 12.9 (13th - 13.0)

- Top and bottom stay the same - the Dynamo is still the undisputed #1, while Real Salt Lake is a nearly unanimous #13. In spite of a little internal shuffling, it strikes me as fair to judge the Top 4 static. Put in other terms, how strongly will anyone argue that Dallas is better than New England, or New England better than DC? Seems pretty academic to me.

- Within that Top 4, however, DC got hit pretty hard for that psychological loss to FC Dallas; New England also got a nice little hiccup from their win over Red Bull.

- The most significant shifting - both in terms of ranking and average score - comes with #’s 5-7, with the biggest swing hitting Red Bull; and rightly so.

- In fact, it’s only the size of the drop and the fact that the collective seems to view Columbus as breathing down their necks that makes Red Bull’s ranking add up. All I’m saying is the Bulls look pretty bad right now and I’m not seeing how they’re going to improve.

- I don’t get KC’s rise in the standings. This week’s accomplishment: creating and spurning many, many chances, much like in past weeks, and edging what is almost universally judged the worst team in MLS. (Or, as Luis Bueno rather wonderfully phrased it, “Disturbingly awful side.”) That merits a bump? (Wait...did I inch them up as well?)

- Chivas' climb seems a bit weird to me, too.

- The bottom four looks to be solidifying - bad news for the teams down that-a-way.

- Oh, if you’re looking for the guy who “improved” Real Salt Lake, that’d be me. Between the Beckerman trade and the fact the Chicago Fire is statistically worse than RSL (more goals allowed, worse differential - and in fewer games), flipping those teams seemed justified.

- Let’s here it for the so-called “perfect teams,” those whose collective rankings speak to a kind of unanimity on where they stand: the Dynamo at 1st; DC United at 4th; the Galaxy at 10th; the Rapids at 11th. Congrats, guys. You’ve found your niche!

- Turning to the pundits’ performances, WVHooligan’s rankings perfectly matched the collective mind for the second week running. That’s getting creepy.

- With that stellar repeat performance acknowledged, let’s look at the various “outlier” calls from the rest of us:

It’s a Simple Game: After the bold RSL call, there’s also my Red Bull hate.
My Soccer Blog: Hates KC; loves Red Bull and TFC.
Luis Bueno: He rates Chivas over both the Revs and DC.
Andrea Canales: Shares Bueno’s thing about DC; must be a Cali thing.

MLS to PDX: This Is Driving Me Nucking Futs!!

So, MLS Rumors, some site I found while wading through BigSoccer, in the depths of what can only be described as profound desperation, reports that:

"Ahead of tomorrow's State of The League address by MLS Commissioner Don Garber, MLSR has learned from a trusted source that the next three cities for expansion will be San Jose (which will be announced), Portland and New York City for the 2010 season."


Is this true? I'm ripping out my fucking hair (I'm bald) waiting for the transcript for MLS Commish Don Garber's speech to show (because I will not watch the goddamn video; I can skim faster than I can watch him pause for applause, godddamit!). So, I saw the announcement on San Jose (swell), but GIMME MY FUCKING Banana bread recipe, DAMMIT!!"

Of SJ (congrats, I think) & LA

I'm sure everyone who cares enough has posted about Major League Soccer (MLS) returning to San Jose for 2008 - and that's good for a lot of reasons, as laid out by Ian Plenderleith in his space on USSoccerplayers.com. You can also get a pretty good "wise-guy" background on how this all came together - most notably, the waiver of the soccer-stadium clause - from Jonah Freedman's latest for Sports Illustrated. (Whoops...second latest; the a-hole turned out something on John Terry that, no doubt, doesn't interest me; and "wise-guy" is a compliment.)

Count me thrilled with the league getting to 14 teams, welcome back San Jose (you're coming to Portland for the Open Cup), and all that, but one notion that kept recurring in San Jose area write-ups on the deal (like this one) appears in the discussions of where a San Jose team will play until they get their stadium built:

"Instead, the source said, the team will divide its 15 home games between two sites - McAfee Coliseum in Oakland for top-caliber foes such as the Los Angeles Galaxy with icon David Beckham, and a smaller facility for more routine opponents."


Did the parts in bold have anyone else squinting their eyes and saying, "suck what, now?" Beckham-mania will wear off at some point - a point before San Jose finishes their stadium, I'm guessing - which makes it worth examining that word "top-caliber" currently being applied to the Galaxy. Turning to last night and LA's first game in the World Series of Inanity and Profit, here are some descriptive passages:

"It's not good," [LA Galaxy head coach Frank Yallop] said. "It's not good. I think we were very nervous, to be quite honest. I think we were very — how can I say it? — scared to get on the ball and scared to make a mistake."

[SNIP]

"Former Galaxy player Mauricio Cienfuegos, who was a midfield key in the days when the Galaxy threw fear into the opposition, said it appeared that the current team has no heart.

[SNIP]

"The Galaxy players, with Beckham in the room, were told in no uncertain terms what Yallop thought of their performance. The offense was virtually nonexistent and the defense was stumbling blindly in the dark."

[SNIP]

"The heart and the desire and the determination should be there every game and it just wasn't tonight," [Galaxy midfielder Kyle] Martino said. "Everyone needs to go home and kind of look in the mirror and really do some soul-searching."


If this were a unusually poor performance, well, that'd be something. But go back and read what was said by various LA players and officials after the losses to Columbus and the Richmond Kickers and you'll see familiar themes; hell, the Martino quote matches something Landon Donovan said after the Kickers' loss almost verbatim. Sucking looks like the steady state for this bunch. Doesn't the appellation "super club" take more than Alexi Lalas' blessing?

Am I bitter? No. I'm a little nervous is all. The league put a lot of eggs in the Beckham basket and the current Galaxy team is like a slop of horse manure amid all the dyed eggs and chocolate bunnies.

Week 15 Power Rankings & Standings

Feels like I haven’t done one of these in ages. As it turns out, though, I just tweaked the format a bit last week. No matter. Back to the old schtick this week: last week’s ranking appears in parentheses immediately after this week’s ranking. So as to not misrepresent my judgment as entirely first-hand, here’s a key for my viewing: “@” means I watched a given team’s most recent performance in its entirety; “$” means I caught it through Quick Kicks, which provides extended highlights; “%” means I watched only the rump highlights available through MLSnet.com.

If you pay attention to the symbols, you may notice that I didn’t watch all that closely this week. So, take what comes below with however much salt you think you need.

1. (1) Houston Dynamo (1/2 of @ + nada)
Sure, they were stymied at home by Toronto, but that’s looking like Houston’s version of an off-game. The only question - it is was posed by Shep Messing, so, y’know, there’s the source to consider - is whether this team has peaked too early. Personally, I doubt it.

2. (2) New England Revolution (@)
I’m officially waiting for this team - my team, for Crissakes! - to start losing, so they can end the Steve Nicol Era. SO hard to watch: ugly function, zero flair. The wins are nice, but...wake me up when it’s over. Nice goal by Dorman, however, and the win over Red Bull was as important as it was dull.

3. (4) FC Dallas (@)
Damn these guys. They have me believing they’ve grown out of their crippling anxieties about success. That rally was about as fun as anything I’ve seen this year and, between Juan Toja, Arturo Alvarez, Dario “Lurch” Sala, and that cardiac-watch defense, they’re fun to watch. Can I adopt this team? Please?

4. (3) DC United (@)
By the end of the first half against FC Dallas - when they were finishing counters as if they were lay-ups - I had lifted the Black-and-Red to 2nd in the rankings in my head. Thing was, Dallas always looked in the game; they had the better of it even. And that’s the rub: the more exposed DC’s back-line became, the more the whole team suddenly looked weak and uncertain. They're better than the bunch below, however.

5. (5) Kansas City Wizards (%)
Nice finish by Johnson, and nice edge in shots on goal, but that counts as the least inspiring win of the season (wait; withdrawn; there’s New England’s to consider). That was RSL, guys.

6. (7) Columbus Crew (nada)
The reports on this game led me to give the Crew the benefit of the doubt. This sounded like a fluky loss to MLS’s best home team (best on paper, anyway). This weekend’s game against Toronto looms large, though.

7. (6) Chivas USA (nada)
They have a formula - win at home - and that’s working OK for them, but it won’t secure them home-field advantage in the post-season. Based on the formula, that's soemthing they'll require to make much noise. And relying on an own goal to top a team like the Crew doesn’t paint a solid picture.

8. (10) Toronto FC (nada)
If this isn’t the highest I’ve rated Toronto, it’s close. But this team has something lacking in those that follow: shit-kicking moxie. They fight. And last weekend’s draw at Houston suggests they may be savvy as well.

9. (8) Red Bull New York (@)
I know, I know: no one else rates Red Bull this low. And we all know about the defense. What I want to know is where these cats will find offense: Claudio Reyna, who is aging before my eyes? The doddering duo of Dave Van Den Bergh and Markus Schopp? (Wait, the latter is on the bench again, right?). They’ll probably right the ship, but, after enduring their game against New England, I can’t see how.

10. (9) Los Angeles Galaxy (idle)
The match report on the Galaxy’s loss to Tigres UNAL tells you everything you need to know. It’s bad. Writing as one of the (former) majority who expected LA to improve in the second half, suddenly I’m wondering about that.

11. (11) Colorado Rapids (idle)
Fire Fernando Clavijo, you dickheads. Not only does the team eat shit often as they play, but I’m hearing chatter to suggest Clavijo does a passable Dick Nixon. Look, you front office types, if you need someone to shit on your brand new stadium, hell, I’ll do it. Seeing as you dumped money into that thing, you shouldn’t be the ones doing it. For more, see what I’ve got to say about Chicago.

12. (13) Real Salt Lake (%)
Adding Kyle Beckerman should help this bunch. Not a lot, but I think he’ll help. They left their permanent dwelling in the shelter for that reason alone; at least they did something.

13. (12) Chicago Fire (1/2 of @)
Because I saw flashes of a competent team in the (horrible) loss to Houston, I tried - I mean, I really tried - to move these guys higher than Colorado; at least they had the wontons (brains? maybe...) to fire their coach. I still think they’ll improve, but, points collected excepted, they are statistically worse than Real Salt Lake; and that’s with RSL having a game in hand. Unbelievable.

God. Typing those last five entries was depressing. With #9 excepted, things don’t look much better in the current standings (here are the official ones):

Eastern Conference
1. N.E. Revs: 26 pts. (7-3-5: 26 GF, 17 GA, +9; home, 3-1-3; away, 4-2-2)
2. KC Wizards: 25 pts. (7-5-4: 27 GF, 22 GA, +4; home, 4-3-1; away, 3-2-3)
3. DC United: 24 pts. (7-5-3: 26 GF, 21 GA, +5; home, 4-1-2; away, 2-4-1)
4. Red Bull NY: 24 pts. (7-6-3: 25 GF, 21 GA, +4; home, 4-2-1; away, 3-4-2)
5. C’bus Crew: 22 pts. (5-5-7: 21 GF, 23 GA, -2; home, 4-1-4; away, 1-4-3)
6. Toronto FC: 19 pts. (5-7-4: 18 GF, 24 GA, -6; home, 4-3-0; away, 1-4-4)
7. Chicago Fire: 16 pts. (4-8-4: 13 GF, 26 GA, -13; home, 3-3-3; away, 1-5-1)

Western Conference
1. H'ton Dynamo: 33 pts. (10-5-3: 25 GF, 10 GA, +15; home, 4-2-1; away, 5-4-2)
2. FC Dallas: 30 pts. (9-6-3: 24 GF, 24 GA, 0; home, 4-2-1; away, 5-4-2)
3. Chivas USA: 24 pts. (7-5-3: 20 GF, 16 GA; +4; home, 6-0-1; away, 1-5-2)
4. Colo Rapids: 17 pts. (4-8-5: 14 GF, 22 GA, -8; home 2-3-4; away, 2-5-1)
5. LA Galaxy: 13 pts. (3-5-4: 17 GF, 18 GA, -1; home, 3-3-2; away, 0-2-2)
6. Real Salt Lake: 9 pts. (1-8-6: 12 GF, 24 GA, -12; home, 1-2-3; away, 0-3-3)

Um...About Beckerman and Rapids Fans....

I think it's fair to say I'm pretty disconnected from fan opinion. I almost never visit Big Soccer, the place where a helluva lot of fans lurk, because 1) I think it's a time-consuming black hole, and 2) people there take the whole "eat, live, breath soccer" thing more far more seriously than I do. Beyond a simple love of the game, soccer for me is an excuse for excessive behavior - e.g. yelling, drinking, and, in my youth, breaking other people's property. In other words, I miss a lot of this kind of chatter and hope I don't speak to that facet of the game very often because I'm not remotely qualified to do so. Hence this:

"Are you reading the same blogs I am? On big soccer, we are ready to lynch our coach over this deal. Beckerman has not always been the best player in the league, but he has come a long way and is now a very solid player. The supporters have a lot invested in him because we watched him grow. He is a terrific person. He was the spirit of the team. So, they trade him for a nobody. After last year, the FO doubled (yes doubled) Kyle's salary. Almost all of the Rapids marketing stuff has Beckerman's picture on it. Now they trade him because he pissed off our terrible coach. If nothing else it was good for some Beckham/Beckerman cross marketing. Now nothing.


A Rapids fan - who will only be identified by name if he so chooses to reveal himself (I'm a stickler for online privacy; I asked for permission to post, but not to name) - wrote that in response to my earlier post on the Beckerman trade. And I appreciate the assist (anyone and all: feel free to do the same in future; communication (usually) makes us smarter). In any case, he wanted the world outside Colorado to know that the trade that sent Kyle Beckerman to Real Salt Lake didn't make all Rapids fans happy.

In fact, judging from the thread on Beckerman trade that linked to me (right around the 18th page into it), the response to this has been overwhelming negative...um, actually, there's talk of canceling season ticket packages being bandied about as early as the 4th page in the thread (which is as far as I've gotten....it's not a bad read)...which is worse than lynching to sales departments; lynching, after all, ends quickly and with less noise (these days, anyway).

I'm still plugging through the thread; it seems a person or two accepts the deal with cautious optimism, but the people who feel burned control the space. Interesting times....

You Want Crazy?

Look no further. In yet another editorial freak-out, I've decided to ditch the "Top 5" feature.

You want crazier? I felt compelled to tell you about it.

Ta da!

(########)

Of Ballouchy, Of Beckerman

MLSUnderground broke the story yesterday (at least for my little corner of the world) and, in spite of the absence of "official word" (whoops, went official while I was typing), the mainsteam media reported on it today (out of Utah, the Deseret News and the Salt Lake Tribune; from Colorado, The Denver Post (sort of; can you spell blurb?) and Rocky Mountain News).

The news: Real Salt Lake (RSL) traded midfielder Mehdi Ballouchy to the Colorado Rapids for Kyle Beckerman. Naturally, it was down to the blogs to tell us what to think about it.

Curiously, the emotions I'm seeing run from curious to happy regardless of the team they support. The Real Salt Lake Offside begins his post with a stirring, "I do not disagree with this trade." Nearly all the papers that posted more than a blurb mentioned Beckerman's stormy past with RSL's fans, so I had expected talk anticipating a tack or two on Beckerman's locker-room seat, but...nope; it's pretty polite. And the only hostility apparent on The Rapids Offside is directed at Beckerman, who Clint figures will make the worst team in MLS (that's RSL; I know; it's close) "become even worse" - go figure.

Naturally, these could be individual fan views and Beckerman, for his past sins, may yet have to endure some kind of fan-directed spanking tunnel (y'know...when a kid has to crawl through the legs of a bunch of other kids who spank him on his way through? no?). Then again, maybe not.

Turning to more neutral venues, USSoccerplayers.com's Ian Plenderleith, dubs this a good move for Real; going the other way, FC Rocky, who makes up for the Rocky Mountain News' disinterest in soccer, seems surprisingly excited about the young Ballouchy's arrival. Given all that, it's hard to say who won. Maybe they both did (though one commenter on MLS Underground's original post viewed this as both teams, essentially standing pat). Ives Galarcep did a fair job of a both glasses half-full approach on his blog; he's also got good stuff in there on both teams' needs, "The Clavijo Situation" (which is sure to depress Rapids fans), and what this means for Freddy Adu.

So after reading all that, and doing a little thinking, here's what I've got: on a player-to-player level, RSL probably did better; put another way, I rate Beckerman's overall game higher than Ballouchy's - though, I also think Ballouchy has a bigger potential upside, with the stress on the word "potential." In terms of needs met now, again, I'd go with RSL: I would love to be proved wrong here because I see hints here and there that Ballouchy can be the kind of player I like watching, but Colorado needs goal-scorers and that Ballouchy ain't that. Beckerman should help RSL with building the standard model MLS team: e.g. one that's hard to beat, which is something RSL can definitely use; in spite of a stretch of draws in May, RSL went back to losing ways thereafter.

Given all that, advantage RSL - even if it's not much of an advantage. The sad thing is, you have to wonder what someone like Ballouchy can do in the right environment - hardly an apt description for Colorado circa 2007. You have to wonder if he'll get a chance.

Schedule-Bashing Fun (+ a silver-plated lining)

The USSoccerplayers.com Writers Roundtable had a well-justified field-day with what the two-headed Major League Soccer (MLS)/Soccer United Marketing (SUM*) beast has done with the regular season schedule. Some choice outtakes:

(Bill Urban)"Silly me, I forgot, the league schedule is an inconvenience, a provincial backwater competition amid the roundelay of “prestige” friendlies and SUM-sponsored tournaments."

(Urban)"I find it hard to care [about the Superliga] beyond the journalistic necessity to do so about a tournament so clearly set up to sell tickets for SUM. There’s no other point, and the havoc wrought on the league schedule by the SuperLiga makes the regular season more of a joke than usual."

(Ian Plenderleith)"I like properly organized international club tournaments, but Superliga feels like it's been rammed into the schedule. There's been so much going on with Copa, the Gold Cup, the U-20s and The Dave Craze, that we've lost sight of MLS, which has been gamefully struggling for weeks on the sidelines to maintain our attention with threadbare rosters. It deserves to be our priority from now on, but we still have to wait for another three weeks before we can focus again on what is now the centric pillar of pro soccer in this country. I accept that it’s very tough to plan a league schedule in this country, but I can't accept the mess that’s been made of this year by the league, the Fed and CONCACAF."


So sad and, yet, all true. It's amazing how a good concept - and I count the Superliga, in spite of being (fucking) outraged about the lack of TV availability while we're choking on the inanity of the World Series of Football, a good one (if I had the balls and less free-time watching small children, oh yes, I'd boycott it...especially if there was anything else on Saturday) - can mask over the damage that each writer describes. At this point, the dignity of MLS's regular season, arguably even the U.S. Open Cup, almost requires a split season; either that, or give up and turn the damn league into a dog-and-pony show that will outright undermine player development.

That's fairly depressing stuff, if you ask me, though it's rescued by something else Ian Plenderleith says - and I happen to agree with the second half of what he says here as well:

"It's not been a stunning season so far, by any means, but I think the playoff run-in will be one of the most intriguing we've had for years once we get all this All-Star, exhibition and Superliga brouhaha out the way."


Between the topsy-turvy starts of DC United and the Houston Dynamo versus bolts from the gate by Red Bull New York and the Chicago Fire, I liked the early season plenty - but I'm also thinking the end-game will be even better.

(*I'm assuming I've got the pieces of the acronym correct, but don't care to look it up.)

(#########)

Quick: What's Worse than an Aging European?

There I was reading ESPN's latest power rankings (which I later intend to exploit for my own purposes) when I came across the entry on Red Bull New York:

"What's wrong in Gotham? The Red Bulls' midfield is flat out of gas and Claudio Reyna looks like a shell of his former self."


Having watched Red Bull's loss to New England this weekend, I have to agree; add to that Reyna's early substitution against the Houston Dynamo last week and you're looking at an ugly answer to all those questions about Reyna's age and fitness when he came to MLS: Yep, he's too old and fragile.

The supporting cast doesn't help - Markus Schopp looks like a genuine flop, while Dave van den Bergh (who looks a hell of a lot like a post-accident Mark Hammill) looks less like the off-season steal he once did - but here's the thing: Reyna's the friggin' DP; Red Bull spent real money on that cat, and it looks neutered right now.

I love Claudio as much as the next guy - possibly more. As such, posing this question hurts a little...but here goes: will Reyna prove that the only thing worse than an aging European is an aging Yank?

(##########)

Superliga: Can It Be "Super" Without TV?

Help a blogger out. I checked the usual sources (OK, source: soccertv.com) and didn't see any television listings for the upcoming Superliga. And Major League Soccer's (MLS) official Superliga site, which I would expect to pimp the weary-legged shit out of televised offerings, does not do so.

Am I correct in understanding that SUM, or MLS, or whomever, managed to get the (motherscratching) World Series of Football on the tube, but they didn't figure it out for Superliga? Shit. That's what I gather from the "United States" listings on soccertv.com, which date forward to 15 days. The Univision "family of channels" reach forward 8 days, so maybe they'll broadcast it...but, suddenly, I'm thinking I won't be watching these games.

Someone please tell me I'm wrong on this. Given my sense this is the sole event likely to connect the Hispanic market to MLS in any lasting way, the failure to get this on air (especially on Univision) would constitute one of the bigger screw-ups of the season.

(########)

Open Cup: It's Worse...but not that bad...

The Chicago Tribune's reporting staff almost prompted me to write a "holy-shit-the-sky-is-falling-and-it's-on-fire" kind of post, courtesy of a passage that appeared in their report on the Chicago Fire crashing out of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup (LHUSOC) on Sunday.

"The Fire became the fourth MLS team eliminated in the third round, joining Los Angeles, D.C. United and Houston on the sidelines. Only FC Dallas and New England remain."


It takes only a quick look at the competition bracket, usefully posted on the U.S. Open Cup's official site, to know this isn't the case. For one, Chivas USA hasn't played their Round of 16 game - that's on "June 16, 2007" against the Seattle Sounders. And that's in Seattle, by the way, the significance of which will be made clear later. There's also the fact that the Colorado Rapids is still in the tournament.

Getting back to that "significance" flag I planted earlier, maybe the Tribune's staff is stupid like a fox. For starters, they can't be blamed for forgetting Colorado is not an MLS team; I do it all the time, at least when I don't forget the Rapids' existence entirely. As for Chivas, maybe the Trib's staff knew all about Chivas' road record and figured that, combined with the Seattle Sounders' current hot-streak, would, in fact, leave New England and Dallas as the only two teams that one can say without smirking belong in MLS.

In reality, though, there are a minimum of three MLS teams remaining in this year's tourney. And the way the brackets break down means that at least one lower-division team will make the semifinals - and given how MLS teams are faring in LHUSOC play this year, why would one bet against them? If a USL-1 - or, god forbid, USL-2 - team wins the tourney this season, what the hell, y'know? For all the interest MLS teams and schedulers show in the tournament, it would be justice, wouldn't it?

That returns, rather nicely, to the post I was going to write. And if you read the report on Chicago's loss in Windy City Soccer, you'll read this priceless line:

"This was a night where the Fire was clearly second best in every aspect of the night except goalkeeping where Jon Busch kept the match close."


It shouldn't be this goddamn hard to tell which team on the field is top-flight.

(########)

Week 15: The Games I Caught (+)

I managed two games this weekend: New England’s win over Red Bull New York and that tantalizing ripper of a draw between DC United and FC Dallas; for the rest of the games, I clocked the result and that’s about it. Looks like I’ve got some reading to do...

But, if you’ve got fifteen minutes to spend on the can this morning, below are some thoughts that came to me out of those two games I caught.

Red Bull New York 0-1 New England Revolution
- Shockingly decent crowd for New York, no? Actually, it is no. Only 13,819. Well, good job to the camera crew ‘cause it looked better than that.
- Sadly, the camera crew couldn’t save the game, a dull affair highlighted primarily by the through-ball that sent an inexcusably open Andy Dorman in to score for New England and Red Bull forward Juan Pablo Angel’s long-simmering madness. I loved the look on his face when he got sent off.
- Having mentioned Dorman, I may as well dub him man of the match. He scored one, and nearly had another, on a day when no one else looked terribly interested.
- OK, that’s a bit harsh. Red Bull started pretty well, going closest (by my recollection) when Clint Mathis hit the post and almost nabbed the rebound in the same sequence. When things dried up for Red Bull, however, things dried up generally.
- And that’s New England’s fault. They never managed a whole lot on offense. On the upside, their possession passing was better than I’d seen it in and Steve Ralston ably played the part of the wily veteran. But the essential absence of Taylor Twellman and, to a still greater extent, Pat Noonan, meant the Revs didn’t threaten enough to produce a rout - and, given Red Bull’s play, that would have been the only way to keep things interesting.
- Then again, when James Riley is on the field, things tend to be interesting.
- So, what ails the Red Bulls? Where Juan Pablo is concerned, profligate finishing; he missed at least one, and likely two, chances that a player of his reputation should have buried. Mathis had his chances and, if memory serves, he looked the most aggressive Bull on the field so long as he was out there. Claudio Reyna, god bless ‘im, looks tired out there - maybe that $1 million wasn’t so swell - and Dane Richards didn’t offer much more than energy on the right. Given all that, I’d say the Red Bulls suffer from an inability to impose themselves on a game, coupled with deadly problems with capitalizing on the few chances they create. This should look very familiar to The Bruce.
- All in all, not much of a game to watch. It was the kind the makes you drink to ease the boredom, only to have the drink inadvertently lull you to sleep.
- Oh yeah, I just noticed that MLSnet.com is celebrating Ralston’s 115th assist; given this was a secondary assist - Shalrie Joseph actually played Dorman in - this only makes me wonder how many of Ralston’s other 115 assists deserve asterisks. Don’t get me wrong: Ralston is not only one of my favorites - a consummate pro and a talented guy all round - and he absolutely deserves the praise, but...secondary assists are kinda silly.

DC United 3-3 FC Dallas
- This Sunday game on the other hand, this is the kind of game we should all sit prospective converts in front of in the effort to spread the faith. There was enough space on RFK’s field that one would think they could build the soccer-specific stadium in there.
- But DC fans have to be worried about what can only be described as a defensive collapse, one abetted by something like a Shrinking Violet Syndrome. FC Dallas, on the other hand, should be heartened by their team’s fight. Those of us not so fond of DC, well...let’s just say I had fun watching the second half...
- One last thing here: if Dallas had Kenny Cooper available, DC would have lost. They played down the flanks so much in the early going and only lacked someone powerful enough to get on the end of those crosses.
- Man of the match for me: again, it’s Arturo Alvarez. Toja had those inspiring goals and he brings so much all over the field, but Alvarez has that penchant for running at, and unsettling, defenses; it keeps ‘em honest. Dominic Oduro is pretty useful as well, though his lack of polish showed badly when, after being gifted the ball deep on United’s left, he almost miraculously failed to score.
- Speaking of playmakers, what’s up with Gomez? I didn’t see much out of him yesterday. I’d say United got more out of Ben Olsen. And a surprisingly spring-chicken-esque Jaime Moreno; was his hamstring pull the turning point?
- I’ll leave this one to DC fans, ‘cause I wasn’t paying enough attention, but who was the weakest link on defense? DC defenders got bowled over for (at least) two Dallas goals, and out-muscled on the other (hmmm...leaning back to Toja for man of the match...), but, damn, were those doughy goals.
- Going the other way, however, DC sure as hell had Dallas’ back-four at their mercy for the opening 50 minutes. Having only watched the game once, I thought they suffered from defending too far up field; watching them retreat toward goal approximated, substituting soccer for war, what would happen when a pike-push turned wrong on medieval battlefields. Just frickin’ carnage all ‘round. I’m guessing Steve Morrow made adjustments at half time - and those helped - but Dallas gave up their share of chances up to the 60th, 65th minute.
- Still, great game to watch. I would have enjoyed it just as much had Dallas lost 3-2, or won 4-3 (OK, that’s a lie; I would have loved a 4-3 Dallas win).

Moving on to the ones I didn’t see...

Chicago Fire 0-4 Houston Dynamo
I already wrote up this one; scary game from the rest of the league’s perspective.

Kansas City Wizards 1-0 Real Salt Lake (whoops, saw highlights)
- Wow...kinda thought they’d do better against RSL at home.
- Suddenly the mystery behind the high ratio between KC’s shots and goals adds up: hey guys, you can play the ball closer; you don’t have to shoot from over 20 yards for it to count. Seriously, these guys need to work on breaking down defenses.
- Speaking of which, I want to know where KC keeps the Eddie Johnson I saw in this game because they sure as hell didn’t send the same guy to the Gold Cup or the Copa America. Seriously, guys, if you’re just going to pretend to send EJ and keep this real (or is this the evil twin?) locked in a closet at Arrowhead, you may as well play him.
- Having just read the headline to the MLSnet.com match report (link under the score), can one really say KC ended their "slide" when RSL was the opponent? For the record, I'm still waiting for Toronto FC's first road win.

Chivas USA 2-1 Columbus Crew
- I’ll have to watch the highlights for this one; very intriguing result. Whoops...they don't exist...damn...
- Good for the Crew for scoring one on the road; that’s only two against Chivas at home this year. Actually, I see by the stats sheet they scored two goals; damn shame Eddie Gaven gave the game-winner to Chivas....well, unless you’re a Chivas fan.
- Good result for Chivas, whatever happened.

Houston Dynamo 0-0 Toronto FC
- There are times when I want to witness records being set or broken; this isn’t one of them.
- I wonder if Toronto has Houston’s number. Or maybe they’ve just got the “draw-on-the-road” thing down.

Right. I’m off to do some reading; I’ll need to know more before compiling power rankings. Interesting week, though...

Top 5, 07.13: FCD D News; Stats; RSL Grovels

With no oxygen left outside LA for reasons already discussed, I doubt this will gain notice. But here goes...

- Just when FC Dallas is finally able to field Adrian Serioux, they lose Alex Yi to a hamstring injury. Sucks for them, but even more for Yi, who seemed to be getting used to the whole pro-soccer thing. In a related note, FCD versus DC United ought to be one of the games of the weekend, right?

- Throughball posted a cool table showing some kind of statistical formula for offensive production, adjusted by position. I picked this up through The Offside, who expressed reasonable shock that Clint Mathis came in second, but that's hardly the only surprise in there. Eddie Gaven?

- This comment barely relates to the article, but, while I was reading something about New England's Michael Parkhurst finally shifting back to where he likes to be, a random comment about Shalrie Joseph's status got me thinking: given a playoff format as generous as Major League Soccer's (MLS), why the hell does any team not give top players time to heal, room to get well before the late-season push? The Revs kept rushing Pat Noonan back last year. I don't get it. This league's regular season schedule may be crowded, but it's also exceptionally soft - soft enough that you don't saving players where you can makes a lot more sense than trying to kill them.

- I noted Jason Kreis' open letter to Real Salt Lake fans yesterday, but, as reported on The Offside Rules, they're bowing lower still by having players call season-ticket holders. It's nice, I suppose, in a stalker-boyfriend who can't do anything right kind of way, but they really don't pay the players enough to abase themselves in that manner.

- I never knew Chicago had so many Mexicans. Now I do - it's in this Houston Chronicle article a little ways down - and now so do you.

(#########)

I Hate Beckham for Making Me Write This

“What I am saying is that the [David Beckham] media blitz is going to bring new meaning to the term overkill.”
- Ives Galarcep, Soccer by Ives, 07.13.07


That’s precisely what has me feeling a bit of ambivalence about adding to the frenzy - and that goes double with Posh in tow, who, the more I see of her, gives the impression that we’ve imported a second Paris Hilton...as if the first one wasn’t enough (I mean, look at her hamming in the damned silly photo on Galarcep’s post; I’m embarrassed for her). ESPN’s “front page” alone (which, sadly, will be gone by the end of the weekend at the latest) carries an image sufficiently over-the-top to tip my lunch “over-the-top” of my throat.

There’s good stuff and bad being written about Beckham’s arrival, some welcoming, some worried, and all shades of opinion in between. I’ll spare you from the jottings of soccer-hating meatheads, who predict this will be still another flash in the pan; they won’t admit defeat if the MLS Players’ Union bought the goddamn NFL and made them grounds-keepers at the local soccer-specific. But a guy named John Smallwood wrote an intelligent deflation of the Beckham hype for the Philadelphia Enquirer; contrary opinions defending Beckham the player, as well as Beckham the commodity, are pretty easy to come by, though. Hell, you can even find man-on-the-street quotes saying Beckham will be the Galaxy’s best player after Landon Donovan - which is just classic. I love my country sometimes.

With all the things being written, I have to confess that it was Frank Dell’Appa’s column for ESPN that provided the inspiration for me joining this orgy of speculation. His piece contained two of the more subtly novel talking points I’ve seen in all this; maybe that kind of clarity results when people keep asking you about what you think of Beckham's arrival. First, from the business perspective, Dell’Appa writes:

“Several high-powered potential investors are watching MLS closely, and some will be in Commerce City when the MLS All-Star team meets Celtic on Thursday. Their names are not Tom Cruise, but these are people whose transactions are found in the financial sections of newspapers, the ones who make most of their moves behind the scenes. And they are intrigued by MLS' possibilities.”


We all know about the people looking into buying Chicago, but it's the choice of the word “several” that catches the eye in that it implies still more people are looking. The news on the Chicago sale is interesting enough (are they investing to make home money or merely diversifying for shits-and-giggles?), but hints of wider interest are something else again. Without names being attached to teams, Dell’Appa’s assertion just kind of hangs there, to be sure, but that kind of talk gets one daydreaming.

But it was something Dell’Appa said about Beckham the player that really struck me, something I hadn’t, in all the months of thinking and reading about this, properly considered:

“And if Beckham stumbles, unable to cruise through an MLS opponent's tough tackling, barbed-wire midfield, it could reflect well on the league's level of play. Either way, people will be watching the league, analyzing it, regarding U.S. soccer on its own terms.”


For all the scenarios I considered in which Beckham flopped, this little upside never occurred to me. Beckham flopping could actually be a good thing? Well, don’t that beat all...

What do I think of all this? As someone who has followed soccer in the States since the early 1990s, I can safely say the scale and - this is crucial - the durability of the Beckham hype is like nothing I’ve seen before; the only thing that came close was the warm, fuzzy, yet brief embrace of the U.S. Women’s after the 1999 Women’s World Cup. I have to say that I don’t know that I like all this attention. Maybe it’s only because we have to hear Rob Stone say “Beckham” twelve times a minute, as he did in last night’s Primetime game; that was fucking ridiculous and I sincerely hope it never happens again. Then again, maybe it’s only because all this attention and all this hoopla surrounds just one player; maybe if the elevated chatter talked about the league, or even soccer, as a whole, I wouldn’t mind so much.

Whatever I think, it’s happening. And it’s not like I’m going to stop watching to get away from the hype. I mean, I’m going to watch the (damned) World Series of Soccer, whoops, Football next weekend just to see what Beckham looks like. So, try as I may, I’m clearly not immune. Off we go into the Wild Brit Yonder, right?

Finally - and I feel like an a-hole for burying this, ‘cause it made me laugh out loud when I read it - Laurie, from the inimitable LA Galaxy Offside, wrote up her thoughts after taking in the televised screening of Beckham’s Big Reveal. It’s full of good stuff - so, do go read the whole thing - but none of them topped this passage, which described the comments offered by LA Galaxy GM Alexi Lalas:

“– Lalas thanks the team, the “Galaxy family.” Because hell, yeah, I know I sell off my kids and buy new ones when they start to bore me.”

And, with that, I’ll anxiously wait to see what Beckham can do on Major League Soccer’s fields.

The (Alleged) Embers Under the Fire

As a man who tries to tell the truth at least 80% of the time, I’m not going to lie to you: I turned off the Houston Dynamo’s romp over the Chicago Fire after Nate Jaqua scored. More than the tinges of paranoia telling me that Jaqua scoring some augurs the Apocalypse, I turned off the game because I knew the Fire had, at most, one goal in them against a defense as stout as Houston’s.

Naturally, this means I missed Joseph Ngwenya’s super-sharp goal - seriously, find the video on this one (easy to find from here); it’s worth the look (assuming you can find your way past the Wall of Beckham).

All y’all know by now that the Fire never scored: worse, the Dynamo added yet another goal after Ngwenya’s.

With the Dynamo on a run nothing short of ominous, the key talking point from this game concerns Chicago; specifically, the view I share with USSoccerplayers.com’s Ian Plenderleith that, “the Fire didn’t play too badly for the first hour.” That’s the take-away for me: the Fire aren’t doomed; here and there, flashes of a competent team show. For instance, MLSnet.com’s match report noted a slick back-heel from Thiago that freed Chris Armas in the area. I think "dead to rights" is overdoing it, but regardless as to whether Armas should have shot, he instead raced the end line with Chad Barrett shadowing him; in a move indicative of the disconnect between Fire players, Barrett took one seam while Armas, who pulled the ball back deeper than Barrett’s, took another. What looked like a near-certain goal fizzled to nothing....again.

The point is some decent parts are there for the Fire; someone only needs to connect them. Maybe this is Juan Carlos Osorio, maybe not. This isn’t to say the Fire can be made title contenders - I don’t think they’ve got the talent for that and their central midfield, with all due respect, is ancient - but they can become a respectable team before the season’s end.

And that should make some teams, particularly Eastern Conference teams, a little nervous.

(#########)

Top 5, 07.12: No USOC for DC; Other USOC; Stadium Porn; Kreis...

...and I leave the ellipses because I like Jason Kreis well enough and couldn't think of an appropriate verb that wouldn't sound insulting.

Trying to make this quick today.

- As a (I think) Harrisburg, PA blog put it, DC became the latest Major League Soccer (MLS) team to "go poof" in the U.S. Open Cup (OK: the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup...by Wheaties). The Harrisburg Patriot-News did a good homer write-up...as well they should. I see this loss as part of an irksome trend I mentioned yesterday and what The Offside Rules wrote today.

- Speaking of the Open Cup, Bill Urban forwarded a swell idea on USSoccerplayers.com: reserving a spot in the Superliga for the Open Cup champion (and how cool would it be if, say, the Harrisburg City Islanders lifted the Cup?). I wholly endorse Mr. Urban's recommendation - but would modestly propose adding the structural adjustments I mentioned yesterday (see the "yesterday" link above).

- I held off on this yesterday, but won't be able to ignore it till I post it and get the urge out of my system. The computer-drawn mock-ups of DC's potential stadium look delightfully space age. The image fourth from the left is my personal favorite...very tech.

- Jason Kreis' open letter to RSL fans is....is....I don't know. Painful? Mildly embarrassing, yet simultaneously appropriate? All I know is, the man deserved a better situation.

- As a fan of MLS trying to use cheapness - and I don't care what they discount: tickets, beer, parking; just something - I just wish a team other than Chivas USA was the one to give it a real-world test. Turning things over to Chivas USA co-owner, Antonio Cue:

"We have not changed our ticket prices because we are trying to be just with the people and give them the best benefit with the soccer we are giving."


Um...solidarity?

Ah, finally got the length of a Top 5 post to where I want it.

(##########)

Ditching Single-Entity: Here's How!!*

* OK, the truth: I've barely thought this through. But...here goes...

I've never been a fan of the single-entity structure of Major League Soccer (MLS) - and that's even as I understand why the league went that way. It's probably the theoretical libertarian in me that chafes at centralized authority (I say "theoretical libertarian" because, like communism, libertarianism looks swell till you introduce actual human beings into the machinery....anyway...).

As it turns out, no lesser figure than Pele - that's right: The Big Man - sees it my way, as revealed in an interview USSoccerplayers.com was dogged (or lucky) enough to score:

"USSoccerPlayers: What is the difference between the NASL and MLS, and what needs to be done to make soccer even more mainstream in this country?"

"PelĂ©: The way [MLS] is now is too controlling. If you want to sign a big player, you can’t because you are controlled. A team can’t go out and buy five great players because there are too many controls put on them. This will have to change in the future. In Europe, teams can buy whatever players they want."


Now, I confess to parting company with The Big Man when it comes to MLS clubs "[going] out and [buying] five great players" - the league can't swing that and probably won't be able to for years. That said, all the clubs should not have to wait for the Central Authority to hold their dicks before they pee.

Here's my off-the-top-of-my-head re-structuring plan: ditch the designated player rule and set a hard salary cap about twice the current one of $2.2-$2.6 million (or whatever the hell it is); this applies only to money being paid out directly by the club. In order to sweeten the pot to lure harder-to-get players, allow the clubs to arrange sponsorship deals for the players in order to pad their pay. Naturally, the big market teams will enjoy an edge at this point, so you balance that by giving more of the TV revenue to help the smaller market teams get decent players; obviously, such a plan assumes sports networks will continue to buy TV rights; I think getting more, higher-caliber players ought to help make that pencil out.

Will this work? Oh good Lord, no! Or, rather, it probably won't...or hell, I don't know. But I like the Big Picture piece: set guidelines that will keep things tight and let the teams run themselves. It's just a thought.

The All-Star Game & MLS to Pac NW

In a attempt to discover whether Major League Soccer (MLS) would make an announcement on expanding the league during next week's MLS All-Star Game, I did one of the feeblest things an information whore can do in the 21st century: a google search (doubling down, I did so under both "News" and "Web" categories).

I am ashamed. And lazy.

But if you look at the (let's see...one, two, three...) fourth item in the Web search list, you'll see why I'm interested in such things: when real estate investor James Reston was awarded exclusive rights (e.g. first crack) at expanding MLS into the Pacific Northwest, I remember hearing something about an announcement on that coming "within a month" or "by the end of the month" - I can't remember which. And the All-Star Game seems to fit neatly within that time-frame.

Given that I slip into a drool-inducing doze when the words "all-star" and "game" are combined in a sentence (I'm lukewarm on exhibitions generally and, Lord, do I hate all-star games; looking forward to a peaceful Thursday evening next week), has anyone out there heard any rumors about expansion announcements during the All-Star Game?

(##########)

Week 14 Collective Rankings (& Fronting)

The Semi-Detached Pundit Collective (SDPC) returns after a week off; I think we’re all catching up after the Week 14 Cluster-fuck. We’re holding steady at nine power-ranking pundits (PPPs?) and, of course, On Soccer’s Scariness ratings (both Week 13 and 14) show up again introducing an element of predictive science - the impact of form on rankings - to the proceedings. I’ll link, as always, to The DCenters Freezer, despite the risk posed by introducing “anti-rankings” to the rest of the rankings.

Some things that occur to me appear after the numbers - and there are some interesting elements in here.

Here are the sources for this week’s SPDC rankings. I always forget to say this, but I'd encourage people to read the commentary; it tells you a lot about the author:

It’s a Simple Game
Sideline Views (Luis Bueno)
Sideline Views (Andrea Canales)
WVHooligan
My Soccer Blog
MLS Underground
ESPN
SI - Ryan Hunt
Fox Soccer Channel

Now, on to the numbers:

1. Houston Dynamo, 1.0 (last week: 2/3 - 2.4; SR: 1)
2. DC United, 2.8 (6th - 5.1; SR: 4)
3. FC Dallas, 3.3 (5th - 4.9; SR: 3)
4. New England Revolution, 4.0 (1st - 2.3; SR: 7)
5. Red Bull New York, 4.7 (2/3 - 2.4; SR: 10)
6. Kansas City Wizards, 6.6 (4th - 4.4; SR: 9)
7. Columbus Crew, 6.9 (8th - 8.0; SR: 2)
8. Chivas USA, 7.4 (7th - 7.4; SR: 8)
9. Toronto FC, 9.2 (9th - 8.4; SR: 5)
10. Los Angeles Galaxy, 10.0 (13th - 12.3; SR: 6)
11. Colorado Rapids, 10.8 (10th - 10.0; SR: 12)
12. Chicago Fire, 11.8 (11th - 11.7; SR: 13)
13. Real Salt Lake, 13.0 (12th - 12.0; SR: 11)

- Houston is the new, and undisputed, #1 - no shock there.

- Speaking of new and undisputed, Real Salt Lake racked up perfect “13s” for the first time in a while...congratulations, Mr. Kreis. And as ESPN pointed out, Kreis earned a contract extension for this. Um, wow.

- And, somehow, between today’s SPDC rankings and Week 12’s, LA climbed rather abruptly out of the basement...and I think they owe Brian Hall big for this.

- Opinion is split on a couple teams - KC and New England to name a couple - but no team has divided the punditry like Red Bull New York. They rank as high as #2 (Canales) and as low as #8 (me). (I suppose here’s where I should mention the Revs are nearly as baffling: I’ve got them at #2 while Bueno plugs them in at #7...in any case...) I think the scariness figure for Red Bull says a lot about their recent, very bad form; not to start an argument, but I’m wondering if people are clinging to early season memories when rating the New York franchise. Another possibility would be that I’m the outlier.

- By the way, anyone else see the pattern in the above-named teams? Yep. All three are Eastern Conference teams.

- The past two weeks’ big movers? Crap. Take yer pick and note they go both ways. That said, TFC's slip is a little surprising given they've finally showed a spark on the road.

- Except on the bottom: six of the nine pundits in the survey view rank the Rapids, the Fire and RSL, 11, 12, and 13, respectively (and I’m one! Yeah, me!). None of these teams moved a whole lot, which kind of confirms the suckiness.

- Since I started the bastardry above with the comments about New York, below are the weirdest choices made in the other pundits’ work, as judged by me (and, for those named, please feel free to stick up for your choice; it will make us all smarter):

Me, first: The implied homerism of my Revs’ pick; the Red Bull pick.
WVHooligan: Holy shit. He matches the collective exactly. Read him.
SI: Also pretty sane...the asshole.
Fox Soccer: KC at #8 and Columbus at #5, the latter is particularly odd.
Bueno: New England at #7? Red Bull at #3?
Canales: Red Bull at #2? Arguably, DC at #5?
ESPN: Red Bull over Dallas throws me a little...
My Soccer Blog: This man loves TFC (#7) and doesn’t think much of KC (#9).
MLS Underground: Not exact, but matches the collective closely.

I'll start the defenses: I think Red Bull's dive is real - e.g. that there's something wrong. The Revs, on the other hand, will do fine...and I kinda hate them for it. That is all.

Top 5, 07.11: Lalas Responds*; Great v. Good; Johnson Flying Away?

* To be clear, LA Galaxy GM did not, in any way, respond directly to anything written in this space...I think he only goes after the Brits...

- May as well lead with Alexi: Mark Ziegler spent some time with both Lalas and LA head coach, Frank Yallop - though probably not in the same room. Ziegler got some quotes that might explain the apparent spazzing in LA to the outside world:

“'There is the conventional wisdom that you ride the storm out and let things settle, and certainly there's a time and place for that,' Lalas says. 'But we didn't think this was the time or place for that.'"

“'We wanted to identify players who we felt would enjoy and be able to perform in a high pressure situation,' Lalas says. 'It doesn't necessarily mean it's the best player. It's a very specific type of player we need. We need players who are strong mentally, who can withstand the pressure of playing with eyes of the world on them.'”


Thanks, Alexi. We'll take that under advisement out here....still looks like spazzing....

- Speaking of LA, Jay Hutcherson of USSoccerplayers.com had a thing or two to say about how he views LA thus far (can't link to anything but the general address for Hutcherson's blog...still waiting on permalinks for the site's blogs):

"It's odd watching a team in obvious transition. The Galaxy don't play as a unit. Half the team operates as if they have no clue what to expect, and this didn't suddenly happen - the result of too many trades and an off night in Virginia."

"Maybe this is the step too far, or at least too soon, turning the Galaxy into the touring version of the Cosmos revisited minus the depth. How does this team plus added superstar concentrate on league and exhibition schedules when they can't keep it together for 90 minutes?"


This is what the Alexi-era has wrought. A good thing?

- OK, one more LA thing, then I'll leave it alone. Someone, anyone, please for the love of a god who supports things good and decent and doesn't take live puppies for sacrifice, please tell me that the logo that Mike H posted on My Soccer Blog is not the Galaxy's new, official logo. That is more than "a little Star Trek-inspired." That is a sign they'll be sporting 90s-themed body suits by 2010.

- A line written by Ken Pendleton in his celebration of Adu hits on something massive:

"Moments of inspiration are often what separates the winners from the losers at the highest level. Good tactics and hard work are not always enough. You have to have players who can do something unorthodox or unexpected, like Adu did to set up the winning goal against Brazil. He received the ball from a throw-in with his back to the goal and two defenders closing in. Most coaches would have instructed their players to make the simple pass back to the person who made the throw-in (Zizzo), or to try to win a corner by knocking the ball off one of the markers, but Adu opened up the Brazilian defense because he had the audacity to try to beat both markers by playing keepie-uppie."


This same notion has been rattling around my head for a while now and I'd take it one step farther: the simple pass is always there, or nearly always at least, plain as day to everyone in the stands; but, as much as it means to winning, the aesthetic side matters too. I mean, we watch the game to see players do these things; they're paid to play because they can do those things and that's why we pay to watch professional athletes. This stuff is huge.

On a related point, I move that we start referring to Adu simply as "Adu." I don't care whether you think he deserves it or not; we're free to crown our icons on our own terms. Who's with me! Huzzah!!

- Crap...rambling...sorry. This last one's quick: MLS Underground reported a rumor that England's Derby County (that's the right name, isn't it?) wants to sign Kansas City's Eddie Johnson. They can have him. Maybe it'll help...but I'd recommend strongly against holding your breath.

Sunil's Technical Director...hmmm...

"'We will bring on a technical director to work with (national coach) Bob (Bradley),' [U.S. Soccer Federation President Sunil] Gulati told Reuters."

"'There's a reasonable chance that would be an international coach, not because I necessarily think they're better but because he'll bring something different to the mix.'"


While the rest of that article goes on to talk about Gulati's preference for a Hispanic coach to connect with America's growing Hispanic population - oh, hell, call it what they call it, growing Hispanic market - it's the second passage that has me thinking conspiratorially. Given the success enjoyed by both U.S. Soccer and MLS with "reaching out" to the Hispanic community, that stinks like a red herring.

And this could go a number of ways: do they want a second banana for Bradley in the same way Gerard Houllier once played second banana to Roy Evans at Liverpool? Is this a slow-moving coup to buy Gulati more time to get his (wet-) dream national team coach? (Hell, will it be Houllier?) Could it be Gulati found a candidate who balked at risking his reputation on coaching an American team? This way, Bradley takes the hit if and when we fail, leaving the technical director free to meddle while in the steam room while he's around, but jump ship when it starts sinking.

Anyway, those are a couple of the things I thought upon seeing this article...should have posted this on Big Soccer...conspiracies seem to do all right over there.

(#########)

Houston's Loss, LA's Loss: The Meaning of Top-Flight

While most the attention seems to be going to the LA Galaxy crashing out by the head of the Richmond Kickers’ David Bulow, Houston’s loss to the Charleston Battery strikes me as the bigger news. Maybe it’s, as Fox Soccer put it (in a great headline), Richmond’s “third-tier” status versus the Galaxy’s oxygen-sucking hype - but, against that, you have things like LA’s loss to a ten-man Columbus to make sense of these things. Houston could point to their second-string line-up, but that’s kind of a bullshit excuse...your either top-flight or you’re not. So, Tuesday, July 10 was a pretty good night for America’s lower division clubs - they almost got New England as well. And pretty good for the Open Cup But it points to the familiar problem of MLS trying to maintain top-flight league’s status and schedule on second-tier budgets.

In that context, LA’s loss to Richmond plays a little against type. For starters, I think LA actually did want to win this one: I can’t see why else they’d risk starters, for even half the game, if they wanted to throw it away - and that applies, even if half the team might be quietly smiling about a couple days off down the road. But Landon Donovan called out his team using words he didn’t have to - go get ‘em, you thinning wonder - which either suggests disappoint or it merely reinforces the sense that LA needs positives badly enough that they’ll take anything. It’s been said plenty of times that LA is working their players with all the tenderness of a pimp and last night’s game only served as the latest example; a half a game here or there isn’t going to save their top players much with exhibitions filling in every possible gap left in an already-stuffed schedule.

Turning now to Houston, I had a hell of a time finding the starting line-ups - at least while I was looking - but everyone makes clear that Houston’s best got a breather in this one. The game still sounded like a good one - especially for both ‘keepers - and the hundreds of Charleston fans went home happy; good stuff, all. But the team Houston fielded, more than LA’s line-up choices at least, resurrected the old case about Major League Soccer (MLS) clubs failing to take the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup seriously.

The question is, which of these teams made the right call: Houston for resting key players, or LA for killing theirs? More to the point, where do the following factors break: the number of quality soccer players in the U.S. versus the number of quality players an MLS club can afford to carry on their roster? With the number of games MLS clubs play, and given how condensed the schedule can be, it’s inevitable they have to do a little prioritizing of the games and look for players down the bench for games that seem less pressing. In other words, I side with Houston.

That’s where the question of the overall, U.S. player pool comes into play. If there are simply a limited number of top-quality players in the U.S. - e.g. in numbers that would match the Portland Timbers’ Tom Poltl’s figure of four to six per MLS roster - then it’s not so surprising that USL-1 and USL-2 teams, comprised of players with talent comparable to the outer reaches of MLS benches, would win Open Cup games with pretty regularly; after all, between two teams of roughly equal players, the guys that play together competitively most often should have an advantage.

But if the American player pool is deep enough to build 13 (soon to be 16?) top-flight teams, MLS really needs to consider either paying the depth-pool well enough to keep them in MLS, or to expand the rosters to help make the often grueling MLS schedule (just add exhibitions!) more manageable. Sure, other alternatives are out there - e.g. moving the Open Cup outside the regular season to allow teams to prioritize it - but, assuming the schedule stays the same, or even if it changes to accommodate international tournaments (to which, face it, the Open Cup will take a back seat), rejiggering MLS rosters to help them cope with the Open Cup remains the only remedy I can think.

Why, you might ask, should the powers-that-be be interested in helping MLS? Because top-flight should mean just that: MLS teams should be the best teams and winning against them should look a lot more like Richmond’s win over LA than Charleston’s win over half-Houston.

(##########)

"Fire Alexi" Post Redux

I don't know much about blogging, but I do know that when I walk away from something I posted and keep thinking of better ways to make my point that I posted a bunch of gibberish.

As much as I like bits and pieces of my original post on the reported chilly tiff between LA Galaxy GM Alexi Lalas and LA head coach Frank Yallop, here's another, shorter, better (peanut-butter sandwich cookie) crack at it.

Santino Quaranta, a player deemed either surplus or irrelevant to requirements in LA, ain't exactly a neutral observer, but the fire-sale mentality seizing the Galaxy front office is there for all to see. Further, something clearly isn't right in LA's half of the Home Depot Center. After the players - who normally don't get cut down like the loose women in horror movies as they are now - the likeliest culpable parties include the general manager, who stocks the team with players, or the coach, who decides which of said players hit the field on game day and it what formation, etc.

Regarding Lalas and Yallop, one of these men has a record to boast of, while the other does not: Yallop has two titles with San Jose, while Lalas has two stints in the GM position, one with the MetroStars and the current gig with LA, in which he proved better at moving personnel than building a competitive roster. Given that, it seems likelier that Lalas is the problem...an impression backed up by the player merry-go-round he has currently set on "dizzy." By the time the old players get on the same page as the new players, newer ones replace them. At this rate, LA will "know itself" some time around Week 25. That doesn't seem like a bbq recipes for success, never mind a situation in which a coach can operate.

Anyway, that's all I wanted to say in the original. You'll find links and a couple decent phrases in there, but that's about it.

(##########)

Top 5, 07.10: Osorio, Open Cups, RSL's "Special Talent"

Quick(er) and dirty(er) today...

- As nearly everyone has noted, the U.S. Open Cup got underway last night with FC Dallas just squeaking past the USL-1 Atlanta Silverbacks. The best report I found on this one came from Buzz Carrick's 3rd Degree. It's a bit Dallas-centric, but, boy, is it thorough. Any visiting Silverbacks fans should feel free to balance this account with thoughts of their own.

And the ever-reliable official site of the U.S. Open Cup has a nice spread showing all the third round match-ups...and don't let those June dates throw ya. It's July, dude. I totally checked.

- As reported in a couple places, Juan Carlos Osorio started with the Chicago Fire yesterday. Good for him. Less good for him: his first game comes this Thursday against the uncomfortably hot Houston Dynamo...rut-roh. I don't think many expect him to win that one, but some smart folk have great expectations for the new guy. On a personal level, I just want to add this: MLS is better with a good Chicago team. Same goes for Colorado. Come back, you assholes.

- Iso-Vision: some love it (like me), others find it distracting. If you hop down to the comments on that link, you'll see the rushed defense I made - but, rushed as it was, I stand by it. I find "Iso-vision" really educational. You get to see what a player does during an extended period - e.g. timing their runs, how they fit into the larger shape of the team, how busy they are, how they conserve energy, etc. If you're really lucky, you'll catch them doing the good stuff - e.g. farmer blows, scratching their balls and bitching out the ref.

- Did all y'all see Real Salt Lake's latest attempt at making a local government regret the decision to build them a stadium? Has a stadium ever been built in spite of its proponents? Can this thing still go sideways?

- This last one is just weird. Does the Boston Globe's Frank Dell'Appa get a piece from any trades involving Andy Dorman or something? I'm sure he doesn't, but that why else would he carry water for Dorman's agent?

(########)

End Scene with Lalas Emptying His Desk

When Ives Galarcep posted chatter about a rift between LA Galaxy head coach Frank Yallop and general manager Alexi Lalas, at least one interested party quickly picked up on the story. My Soccer Blog directed me to the latest comments from Santino Quaranta, who had a thing or two to say what things looked like during his time in LA - who, if you'll recall (and I can't find the original article) was once quoted just days before being traded as viewing LA's locker room something like freaked-out.

Now, just because I once called Lalas "a tool" some may suggest I'm biased against the man. Not at all - and I did leave out the word "gigantic." The main thing is, I find Lalas useful in the same way as the reflectors on my pedals keep me from getting hit by cars at night: he's good for getting people's attention and that's about it. He's only GM material in the sense that he doesn't mind being a bastard.

Still, given where they sit in the standings, it's hard to say things are going well for LA. Perhaps Yallop is part of the problem - though his record in San Jose, which was good enough to get him hired as head coach to Canada's national team, argues against that. Perhaps it's the instability, something that might grow from the panicked atmosphere Quaranta describes and the trading at a pace that reminds me of my (extremely high-risk, often-wretched pay-out) approach to Monopoly.

In other words, if sides must be taken in this one (and, clearly, they don't), I'm on Yallop's. My advice: fire Alexi, let the team settle down a bit, and see what happens. (I'm not a cruel man, though. Lalas' provocateur schtick would do so well in a column; in fact, I think that's his calling (though would Greg Lalas view this as his brother muscling into his turf?). Worst case, hand the man some plastic bags, dress him down a bit and have him yell his opinions at heavily-trafficked street corners. Oh, fine...you can pay him for it.)

Toward the end of his post, Galarcep gets into what might happen if LA fails to make the playoffs. Galarcep figures both men would be vulnerable, though I'd like to think just Alexi would go, seeing as so much of the mess in LA coincided with his watch. But the more interesting question is what happens if the Galaxy does make the playoffs. Would Ghosts of the 2005-06 Off-Season lead to a renewed round of spazzing or would the front office stand pat as they so fatefully did back then?

With Alexi at the wheel, I'm seeing more spazzing. I think it's all the man knows how to do.

(#########)