Year End Extravaganza

Tuesday, December 30, 2008 | View Comments
Things have gotten a little away from me recently, and I haven't found as much time to sit down and spit out my thoughts as I thought I would.

I've intended to rail against Euro Snobs (it is one word or two?) for quite some time, but the vitriol can be tough to brew up on command, and with little action on the domestic front, my vitriol is lying dormant.

I will throw just a couple thoughts out into the blog-o-sphere:

1. I don't care about year-in-reviews
2. There is no reason to get excited for USA-Sweden unless you're Swedish and live in LA
3. If you're Swedish, send me some of your fish
4. I might be more excited for USA-Mexico than I am for the Super Bowl (of course, my boys didn't make the playoffs)
5. I still think a Super Bowl commercial is a good idea for US Soccer (but not necessarily MLS)
6. Whether you're a Beckham-maniac or a Beckham-hatiac, Mr. David playing well in Milan would be good for MLS
7. Landon's German adventure (re-redux) has the potential to be the single biggest thing to happen to US Soccer (as a whole) in 2009
8. A strong (semis?) showing in the Confederations Cup has the potential to be the single biggest thing to happen to US Soccer in 2009
9. Color me encouraged (I think that's a light greenish-purplish color) that some MLS teams are going on the hunt for talent (and possibly willing to pay for it)
10. As long as they don't get TOO big for their britches, I think the MLS players' union needs to step up and make some demands; don't let Garber's boys railroad you into another crappy salary structure

And finally, something non-footy that's drawn my attention recently:

A Little Transfer Nonsense

Monday, December 22, 2008 | View Comments
MFUSA is your one stop holiday shop; no holiday hiatus (or readers for that matter, but I digress) for me.

There's not much going on in the world of American soccer, unless you're interested in Freddie Ljundberg's unfortunately timed surgery,
or Chad Marshall's apparent re-signing with Columbus (which IS actually a big deal and I'm actually for his staying believe it or not. I know, I know, I'm a hypocrite).

That being said:

With the winter transfer window opening in a little more than a week, I've decided to take an impromptu look at a few of our American boys, with a focus on their club form and any potential moves on their respective horizons.
This is a completely arbitrary list, comprised of those with transfer rumors attached to their names, with moves all but done, or whom are just flying high at the moment.
Video included for those that are Euro-based and whom you might not have seen in action recently:

1. Oguchi Onweyu
Gooch is still plugging along at Standard Liege, a club that seems to very much appreciate their American center back. Gooch and Standard are still alive in the UEFA Cup, something which may be holding up a potential move to one of several rumored Ligue 1 sides. Various information out of Europe have Gooch moving on to PSG, Borussia Moenchengladbach, or Olympique Marseille, with the consensus being that Marseille are top bidders. I think most of us are agreed that it's time for Onweyu to take the next step; as nice as Belgium might be, Oguchi needs to be tested in a league with a higher overall level of class.

Here's Gooch scoring one of his Big Man headers versus Sampdoria in the UEFA Cup:

2. Charlie Davies
The transfer rumors for Charlie seem to have petered out in the last couple of days, but that doesn't necessarily mean he's not moving in January. Charlie's form for Hammarby since signing in 2006 has been fantastic, and French Ligue 1 Sochaux has been linked to Davies. Charlie gets less attention than Jozy Altidore, largely due to his age and league, so a move to a more visible competition could only help.

Charlie, scoring, in a nice compilation:

3. Landon Donovan
By now, everyone is up on the Donovan to Bayern Munich loan situation. I've only listed him here because it's Landon's last shot in Europe. If you're an American and a supporter of the US national team, and you're rooting for Donovan to fail, I have nothing to say to you. You're a hater, a bad one, and I don't like you. Happy Holidays!

4. Kenny Cooper
Kenny's overseas possibilities took this hit recently. Even with the window yet to open, FC Dallas may be putting their foot down. In light of Kenny's '07 injury, I see no harm in him sticking it out in Big D until at least the summer. Eintracht Frankfurt has been mentioned as a possible destination.

5. Sacha Kljestan
Sacha is one of my favorite young American players, and I'm truly rooting for a January move. Celtic and Dutch side FC Twente have been mentioned, and I'm hoping he ends up in Holland. Sacha might end up being the playmaker that Freddy hasn't yet turned out to be; the Eredivisie seems the best place for him to improve.

No video on the MLSers for obvious reasons, with it being the off-season. Any video I could post is something you've probably seen twenty times.

Next up on my agenda is a rambling, angry, ridiculous rant on Eurosnobs and the harm they do to American soccer, as well a couple of shots at American soccer's Chicken Little.

EDITED TO ADD: While researching some things for this post, I came across the title of this article. I'm hoping it's just a coincidence.

MLS and its Supporters: Video Proof

Thursday, December 18, 2008 | View Comments
Post number four, no one here (cue the empty room echo sound effect), and I'm already reevaluating my approach. There's a chance I was just a touch dry (water...*cough*...I need water) with those first couple of posts. I had strong opinions on the subjects involved, though, and the voices get mad if I don't get them out every now and then.

So with this improved spirit (hard to be NEW and improved when the whole blog is new) in mind, I've decided to dedicate post four to one of the aspects of the beautiful game that intrigues me the most: supporter passion. It seems odd to me that our American sports don't spawn the type of fervor we see at soccer/football/futbol around the world. The most obvious possible reason is the stop and start nature of our big sports; it just may be that this type of action is inconducive to singing/drumming/chanting (yes, I'm aware that we chant on occasion, it's just that they're never particularly good). Football, baseball, basketball: sure we cheer and scream, sure we jeer and boo, sure we MAKE SOME NOOOOOIIIIIISSSSSEEEE when instructed to by our masters the jumbotrons (which, by the way, will be the mouthpieces of the oppressors when the machines take over), it just doesn't seem to have the same heart to it, does it?

Luckily, we Americans A. learn well, B. let the futbol cultured around us lead, or C. just give it the old college try when it comes our MLS and national team supporter duties. I've gathered up a small collection of supporter videos in a effort to illustrate the point. Bear in mind that these are my personal favorites for each of the listed teams-if you have any particular beefs with the one I've chosen for your club, just shoot me an email or point me in the direction of a better representation.

I've also tried to list the supporters group responsible for the madness if it's clear who that might be.

Love this video, Section 8 is fantastic. Gave me chills the first time I watched it.

Not a lot of selection of action videos for Chivas, and specifically the Union Ultras. Not bad, though.

Very little for the Rapids, and the Centennial Firm. This weak effort is the best of the bunch.

The Nordecke (and the supporters groups that reside there) has gotten much love recently with the Crew hoisting MLS Cup. Like them or not, its hard not to put them up there with the best in MLS (I was almost tempted to post the brawl with the Hammers fans, but thought better of it). There are probably 50 videos I could have picked for Columbus.

La Barra Brava, with the usual help from La Norte and Screaming Eagles. Again, I could have put up a hundred different videos. Still the standard in my opinion.

Tried my best for FC Dallas, and ultimately I'm a little disappointed. Nothing too exciting.

Houston Dynamo's Texian Army. Just okay for me, although there may be something out there I don't know about. Seems the Texian Army likes to upload videos of the supporters section with music added. Not a big fan.

This video is from before the Wizards left Arrowhead; not sure how the change of venue effected the Cauldron. I was actually expecting to find more than I did (although that Jimmy Conrad "Crashing the Cauldron" video is pretty funny).

Best of what I could find for LA Galaxy's Riot Squad. Ehh.

Very tough for New England's Midnight Riders ultras to make a difference with that stadium.

Like the Midnight Riders, the Empire Supporters Club isn't helped much by their stadium. At least they've got a new one on the way.

This was the only video I could find of Rouge Cavalier's Brigade in action. Come on you lakers, step it up.

1906 Ultras, doing the job for San Jose. Nice.

Definitely my favorite TFC supporter video. The audio is fantastic. I'm pretty sure this is the Red Patch Boys and U-Sector.

Emerald City Supporters when the Sounders played in USL-1 last year. I'm anxious to see if they'll get a major bump with their boys moving up to MLS.

Wasn't sure if I wanted to include this, but what the hell. I have no idea what the Sons of Ben will be like as a supporters group in their own stadium singing for their own club, but they sure are organized as hell.

So there you go. Supporters groups for every MLS team and two future one. Maybe it's just me, but I love that stuff.

The Greatest Game Ever Played

Tuesday, December 16, 2008 | View Comments
ESPN recently aired a special in honor of the fiftieth anniversary of "The Greatest Game Ever Played", the 1958 NFL Championship game between the Baltimore Colts and the New York Giants. The game, and its televised broadcast, is often credited with bringing the NFL to the forefront of the American sports consciousness. In the years since, football has taken its place as the king of American sports, engendering the kind of passion and support that the rest of the world reserves for that other football, the game we call soccer.

Alan Ameche scores the winning touchdown in "The Greatest Game Ever Played"

Soccer fans in this country are desperately waiting for our own "Greatest Game Ever Played". We're waiting for the seminal moment that the switch gets flipped and the rest of the country wakes up to the obvious greatness of the beautiful game. What that '58 NFL Championship game had going for it is something that cannot be recreated; the newness of televised sports. The images transmitted to the rest of the country from a frozen Yankee Stadium did more for the NFL than anything that MLS or the USSF can think of will do for American soccer. The modern world seems devoid of frontiers to conquer. There is no new and untapped medium through which soccer can stake its claim in the American sports landscape. It seems that our sporting minds have been made up; if we haven't been doing it for generations, then we sure as hell aren't going to do it now.

It creates a dilemma difficult even to comprehend. Throwing in the towel is not an option, and unless MLS goes belly up, it does not seem likely those of us who do love the sport and support the domestic game will let it happen. But it leaves us grasping for that elusive breakthrough. So where do we look?

There is only one possibility. USA-Mexico. USA-Mexico, a rivalry that more than contends with all of the most famous American sporting battles. Ohio State-Michigan? Nothing compared to El Tri and the Yanks. Yankees-Red Sox? USA-Mexico makes it look like a tea party. Redskins-Cowboys? Leaves me wanting. Wake up America. Spend a little time searching YouTube. Want rivalry? Here's rivalry:

And that's just from the qualifiers.

Here then, is the call to action: ABC, ESPN, whomever: Give USA-Mexico your five-star treatment. Get the word out, advertise MONTHS in advance. Have those clever talking heads of yours spend a little of their energy hyping something that deserves the hype. Put together a nice little package reviewing the recent history of soccer's answer to Yankees-Red Sox. Drum up a little excitement across your twenty-seven networks in February with something that approaches what you might do for a Saturday night football game in November. Send two or three of your cadre of reporters to interview anyone who might have an opinion on what beating the US means to Mexicans. Find out what the grass root supporters groups are doing in preparation of the game. Challenge your viewers who might otherwise ignore the game to give it ten or fifteen minutes of their time; it's more than likely that at least some of them will stick with it, get hooked, find themselves diving in headfirst, just like so many of us have done.

US Soccer, I have three words for you: Super Bowl commercial.

I'll admit it. I'm DESPERATE for American soccer's Greatest Game Ever Played. Here's to hoping February 11, 2009 lives up to my hype.

Go East Young Man

Monday, December 15, 2008 | View Comments
If you're reading this, it is almost certainly thanks to Graham Bell at CSRN, and as such, I would like to thank him for pointing people in this direction.

American soccer fans have been hit with a relatively new phenomenon during the lead up to the January silly season; Americans being on the tips of the tongues of some of Europe's biggest teams.

Rumors are currently circulating that Chivas USA's shaggy-haired midfielder Sacha Kljestan has piqued the interest of several big-name European clubs, among them Celtic and FC Schalke. Add this to the still unconfirmed loan of American soccer's golden boy Landon Donovan to Bundesliga giants Bayern Munich, as well as Kenny Cooper's varied rumored destinations, and Yanks suddenly seem to be hot properties. All of this, of course, is old hat for our brethren in fandom across the football-playing world, so they will have to forgive our newbie enthusiasm. It's not every day the phrases "US international" and "Champion's League side" appear in the same news piece.

Forgotten among the excitement of trials and transfer rumors is the belief of some that Americans leaving for the continent is a detriment to our domestic league. How can we continue to grow MLS and draw more Americans to the game if the players that those potential fans could most identify with are off to Europe by the time they are twenty-five? There is of course, a contrary argument: How can our young players get better if they are not challenged in a more competitive club environment? In my opinion, holding back the development of a player by refusing the approaches of foreign clubs is indefensible. A player's career is short, and for MLS to refuse a transfer move for a young player simply because they wish to hold on to their American stars is tantamount to sabotaging that player.

So I say, go east young man. The game in America can only be helped by players we've produced performing on a larger stage. The profile of MLS can only be helped by players who plied their trade in the burgeoning league going on to bigger and better things. Departing American players will force MLS to intensify efforts to uncover future stars in order to keep the supply and demand system working. The search for new young stars will benefit the league as a whole as well. Overall quality depends on a class standard that will come from deep investment in youth academies, not holding on to a few desirable players. We all, of course, look forward to the day that the MLS is no longer a feeder league, a day when it can stand on its own as a solid player on the world football stage, when the Sacha Kljestans and Kenny Coopers of the world can stay and prosper as American stars in a top tier American soccer league and be no worse for the experience, and top talent from overseas will consider MLS as a first or second option, rather than a possible final payday.

In the short term, MLS may in fact find itself scrambling to find players to market to its American audience. It appears, however, that the immediate future of the league may rest squarely on the talents of foreign players. Cuatoamac Blanco and Guillermo Baros Schellotto seem prototypes for the high profile players the MLS needs to boost quality and visibility. As it becomes obvious that MLS should focus less on the unconverted American sports fan and more on the non-MLS following soccer fan, the nationality of the stars of the league will be less of a factor. For football savvy fans and ardent club supporters who want trophies, the nationalities of the players matters little.

MLS has a stated goal of managing the financial aspects of the league to ensure solvency. While this is paramount to the survival of the game in America in the historical context of the NASL, it restricts the growth of the league more than any other single factor. If our young, talented players are going to go abroad, MLS has to increase the salary cap or modify its rules in order to fill the void. Soccer can succeed here, American stars or not; we’re more than happy to root for foreigners when they wear the colors of our favorite team (see MLB, NBA).

Simply put, the more go Yanks abroad, the better.

Forever the Outsiders?

Sunday, December 14, 2008 | View Comments
Match Fit USA is a new blog examining issues related to the popularity of soccer in America as a professionally played mainstream sport.

For this, the first ever edition of Match Fit USA, I thought I'd tackle the overriding issue that every fan of the beautiful game in the United States is faced with daily; are we forever doomed to be the sporting minority?

I'm not sure there's any easy way to predict the future of soccer/football/futbol passion in the United States. There are simply too many factors involved for us to have a sense of where the games appeal is headed. A large immigrant population, the relative infancy of our professional top flight league, the cultural impact of televised soccer in greater and greater quantities: these factors and many other will all have a bearing on not only the future of the game in the U.S., but the success of our national team and league on an international stage. We're facing a bit of a chicken-and-egg dilemma; will interest grow and sustain without a major international success, or is international success dependent on a large increase in overall interest?

Things seem to be headed in a positive direction. MLS continues to improve (despite the moaning of some), attendances are (for the most part) holding steady or increasing, the game itself is making inroads with our national media outlets. Other signs are less encouraging. MLS teams continue to struggle against international competition. TV ratings for MLS broadcasts are exceedingly disappointing. Talented young American players are increasingly going abroad to start their professional careers. So what should we do?

Our dilemma is a new one in the history of sports. Never has a group of committed, passionate enthusiasts had to struggle with promoting their game in such a crowded landscape. American sports are both many and varied; our hearts and our dollars are already stretched thin with those passions that run deep due to history and geography. Soccer fans, both here and abroad, like to believe that the passion that comes with the game is deeper than any other. While this may or may not be true, it is being tested here, as those of us who want to see the game grow continue to slam our heads into an unyielding American sports landscape.

It is difficult, as a fan, to sit back and let time do the work. It may be that soccer in America will simply crawl up the ladder by osmosis; the more the non-soccer fan is exposed, the more the game with enter the general consciousness. But we'd rather bang the drum; bemoan the haters and the deniers and crow about the beautiful game in every forum we can find. It's our right to do so, and it may be necessary to the long term future of the game, I don't honestly know. It just seems more often than not to create a flag-waving backlash, legions of "patriots" who think that accepting soccer means denying the good old USA. Those of us who know better get frustrated and scream some more, creating more backlash and more hostility, and the cycle repeats. Are we better off stepping back and letting the greatness of the game do it's work? Again, I'm not sure, I simply posit the possibility.

I, of course, intend to continue to slam away; hence, this blog. Soccer voices need to be loudest to be heard, and I hope to speak up on a regular basis. I have no qualifications other than a modicum of writing ability and a head full of opinions. I hope those of you who have the same (or even just the opinions) will join with me. I don't believe that American soccer and it's fans are doomed to the periphery of the sports landscape. I believe that the revolution may be a slow and painful one, but that by the time my son (who is 7 months old) is old enough to buy a beer at his local bar, he'll be doing so sitting with many American soccer fans.

The future of this blog will include examination of MLS and it's approach to the American sports fan; American talent and it's dissemination throughout the world (or whether we should make sure to keep our best talent at home); my thoughts on the USMNT and the future of American soccer on the international scene. etc., etc., etc.

Feel free to contact me with your thoughts on any of the subjects covered here, or with your general feedback about Match Fit USA.

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