The Buying Game

Friday, February 27, 2009 | View Comments

Steven Goff reported today that DC United has purchased Canadian international Dejan Jakovic from Serbian side Red Star Belgrade. As MLS player movement is most often limited to intra-league transactions and the signing of out-of-contract players (free transfers), the purchase of Jakovic is the exception, rather than the rule, for clubs in the American top-flight. I took a quick look at some numbers to see h

This off-season has been filled with moves typical of MLS; player-for-player trades, player-for-allocation-money trades (which I guess is a type of purchase, but I've left it out of the discussion), and the incoming crop of college draftees makes up the vast majority of team acquisitions.

By my count, eleven out of fifty-eight players (nineteen percent) acquired by MLS clubs during the current period came to their new teams through purchases (source*). In all of these cases, the transfer fee was undisclosed, which can make it difficult to determine if the moves even were purchases (but for the sake of argument, I'm sticking to my numbers).

For a comparison, let's look at the English Championship, a league to which MLS is often compared in terms of quality: in the summer transfer period of 2008 (the off-season period, which is most comparable to the pre-season period for MLS), a total of fifty-seven acquired players were purchased by their new clubs (any counting error is mine). Without a percentage**, it's hard to tell how the this compares directly with MLS, as the pure number of transactions in the English league dwarfs the number in the American one. Even if we allow that moves between two teams in the Championship are equivalent to player-for-allocation moves in MLS, the difference in how business is conducted is staggering.

With the salary cap, modest revenues, and the current roster restrictions, buying players is just not a major part of doing business for MLS clubs.

While MLS fans would certainly like to see their clubs become players in the transfer market from the buying end as well as the selling one, the situation is unlikely to change any time soon. Until revenues reach the point when player higher-priced purchases make sense for American teams, those teams will continue to obtain players from outside the league in the cheapest ways possible. Clubs that do purchase players will do so with the utmost caution, making sure their investment, no matter how small, is justified.

Until the day that MLS teams are in the business of buying on a larger scale, they'll need to be as diligent as possible to find players through alternative means. Buying talent is the quickest way to improve quality, and MLS teams simply don't have the resources to follow that path. So MLS fans will have to be patient, waiting as the league and its teams build up the level of play through the current practices.

*I removed Felix Garcia from the count in light of his return to high school.

**Feel free to count every incoming move for the Championship; I just didn't feel it was important enough to deserve the effort.

(Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images North America)

Soccer on Versus?

Friday, February 27, 2009 | View Comments

Televised soccer has had a rough go in the United States, a situation that must be rectified if the game is ever going to become mainstream. The unconverted and soccer-haters will often point to the TV ratings as proof positive that the sport simply does not appeal to Americans.

While I've given most of my attention to ESPN's efforts (or lack thereof) to distribute soccer to the masses, there are certainly other outlets available to MLS.

I was flipping around the channels the other day, frustrated by the amount of college basketball (I guess it is the only thing going on), when a thought struck me: Why is there no soccer on the Versus Network?

While Versus is mostly known for being the television purgatory that the NHL currently inhabits, they also broadcast several "niche" sports. Outdoor sports, MMA, bull riding, and the Tour de France all air on the network. While I'm sure they all have their own dedicated viewers, it's unlikely that the available audience for any of those sports (save MMA, maybe) can match up to that of soccer. Despite the struggles of MLS to break through with both non-soccer fans and soccer fans that reject MLS, it would seem worth it for Versus to show a little soccer. MLS and Versus seem like a perfect match; one is a second-tier sports league struggling to increase their profile, and the other is a second tier sports network, working towards respectability with a wide range of programming.

For the sake of comparison a few fact about both FSC (the current secondary broadcaster of MLS) and Versus:

FSC 32 million homes (source)
Versus 74 million homes (source)

That's a pretty significant advantage for Versus.

Maybe there's something I'm missing, and Versus isn't a network that would work well with soccer or MLS. It's possible that MLS has already approached the network, and the folks at Comcast (owners of Versus) turned down the deal. Or maybe it happened the other way around, and Versus didn't offer enough to MLS to make it worth it for the league. How MLS games can show up on HDNet, a network with a relatively small market penetration, and not be available on Versus is beyond me.

Thoughts? Anyone with insight as to why two parties seemingly made for each other haven't hooked up yet?

Just wanted to be clear here that I'm suggesting that Versus could be an additional outlet for MLS, not an alternative to ESPN. MLS must be on ESPN to have any chance of breaking through. I hope the ratings improve this year.

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Something About Soccer

Friday, February 27, 2009 | View Comments
It's Friday, the weather in the DC metro is reasonably warm (although it looks like rain), and my brain has already cashed out for the weekend.

So I'm struggling this morning to come up with something interesting to write about.

I have yet to do a CCL review, and while I still plan on it, now is not the time.

I have yet to write complete my new open letter project, but it requires my full attention, and I'm stuck at the day job. Maybe Sunday.

So let's see what is out there...

An open letter to David Beckham from MLS Daily-I guess someone had to do one
A tidbit (end of the story) on "three way" negotiations over Beckham in the NYT Goal blog-This is why the deal will happen, whether Milan wants to pony up or not
An opinon on Becks' situation from a Forbes blogger-What a Negative Nelly; I'm not sure either Miami or Montreal have "bailed"
Projected MLS Eastern Conference lineups from Climbing the Ladder-Barring injuries, looks like Toronto should be a playoff team
A bunch of positives from the MLS Examiner-If I had the time, this is the type of post I would have preferred to do today

On that Seattle story; context is important, and I think it would be a stretch to say that soccer is more popular in Seattle than baseball. Still, the Sounders have obviously tapped into something there, and the recent quote from Sigi Schmid that he believed 35,000/game is possible are amazing (whether they're realistic or not). For a local perspective on the issue, head to Sounder at Heart.

That's all for now. I'll more than likely be back this evening.

Interesting Links

Thursday, February 26, 2009 | View Comments
I'm working on a new open letter idea, one with a little more scope and potential impact than the last one, so I've brought you a few links to tide you over.

Zero soccer content in the first link, just an insanely idiotic view on American football that I think is worth sharing. This is why I get frustrated, and why I'd like to take a frying pan to the skulls of most American sports fans.

I'm not normally a reader of Bleacher Report, but I came across a of fan blog (I think it's a fan blog; the writing is horrible) that illustrates one of the cornerstone tenets of the typical American attitude towards soccer. The "there's not enough scoring" argument. The guy's even given some suggestions on how to "improve" the game and make it more palatable to the American sports fan (and I say BAH! to all of them)

This one is great. Apparently, soccer is akin to socialism, which it why it will never succeed here. I just might be in the market for a new nation to call home; if any of my international visitors would like to make a suggestion, feel free. Suffering fools is taking up way too much of my time.

No American attitudes in the fourth link, just an examination of "soccer chatter". Pretty interesting stuff, although I would argue that almost none of it applies on this side of the Atlantic.

And finally, a nice short piece on the "football or soccer" argument. I'll call it whatever I want, thank you very much. I'm all for using the two words interchangeably, as the meaning is almost always made clear by the context.

I'm normally not much for rumor mongering, but I thought this was worth a mention because it relates to my previous post foreign stars and the "Matsui Effect" (apologies to Ichiro and Broadway Joe). The Ahn Jung-Hwan-to-MLS rumor has been revived.

As long as the price is right, and there is actually a team that believes he can contribute, why not take a chance? Ahn is called the "Asian Beckham", and since it looks like the league will lose the actually Beckham, why not replace him with a much less expensive version? Awareness of MLS will skyrocket in Korea, which is certainly not a bad thing.

For those of you who missed the Matsui Effect, please go back and read it. I would love to revive the discussion.

MLS: 5 Quick Ways To Build Buzz

Wednesday, February 25, 2009 | View Comments
It's a fairly obvious statement: MLS is desperate for a little love from the mainstream sports media. Nothing the league or its teams seem to do are enough to get on the map in the U.S., and it might just be about time for desperate measures.

To that end, I've cooked up a few ideas for how MLS can artificially get itself a little attention from all of the soccer-hating no-nothing caca-brains in this country.

1. Run an ad campaign declaring baseball "dead"

Okay, so this one might piss off a few people. Still, the juice is worth the squeeze if even a few ex-baseball fans open up their minds to soccer, or if the national media picks up the story (no matter their angle, though it's guaranteed to be negative). All is fair in love and war, and I'm of the opinion that it's time for MLS to fire up the Shermans and get all Patton-in-Sicily crazy. Of course soccer won't supplant baseball in the American sports consciousness, but any possible opportunity for publicity should be seized upon like it's the last bottle of Smithwick's at a frat party kegger. Grab that thing and enjoy it, because you know you'll be drinking Red Dog for the rest of the night.

2. Create a massive bonus for cup winners

The U.S. Open Cup stinks. In it's current format, and with fixture congestion always an issue, MLS teams have treated the competition like reserve league. Though the idea might be a non-starter in the current economy, the creation of a sizable bonus for the MLS clubs involved could jump start things; add in a salary cap exception for the dollars awarded, and now we're talking. If your team had the opportunity to increase the money available for talent by $250k or so (random number), wouldn't you want them to go all out for the trophy?

3. Give supporters' groups the bully pulpit

The future of MLS is young, male, and possibly a little tipsy. There's nothing wrong with alcohol at a sporting event; that's why you pay security (I'm half-kidding). Short of validating any violent hooligan wannabes, the league should let their best supporters' groups speak for themselves. Buy a little time on ESPN or FSC and throw Barra Brava, the Riot Squad, the Nordecke rowdies, or any of a number of others into the spotlight. There is nothing in American sports like the nuts that make up soccer supporters' groups, and their passion might just rub off on some of the unconverted.

4. Fill a stadium or two no matter what the cost

As we've recently seen in Montreal, a bit of creative marketing and some cut-rate ticket prices can go a long way towards packing in the fans. With just a little more pride-swallowing, MLS could find ways to fill large stadiums for a couple of big matches each season and create the kind of atmosphere so many American soccer fans want to see. Forget Beckham; the league should do what it takes to get 50,000 in RFK without any Golden Balls-took-his-shirt-off shenanigans. It can be done; they just need to find the way.

5. Give promotion/relegation a little lip service

It can't hurt, right? The soccer public constantly clamor for it, and while it's unlikely to be instituted in the modern sports environment with owners unwilling to risk lost revenue, there's nothing that says Garber can't drop a hint or two that the league is "discussing" the idea of promotion/relegation. Giant tease? Of course. But would it get some attention from Bristol? I'm guessing it would. A concept as foreign and unique as pro/rel in the U.S. might make the heads of Tony Kornheiser and Jim Rome explode in a glorious fountain of deep red idiotic-soccer-hater juice. And we're all for that, right?

Most of these ideas are way out there, I know. Still, it's out-of-the-box thinking that's needed when all of the conventional methods don't seem to work. With me? Or not?

Give me your ideas. The wackier the better, just try to keep them within the realm of possibility.

Becks, Because Some People Still Care

Wednesday, February 25, 2009 | View Comments
The obligatory Beckham update, because a few people might actually still be interested: is reporting that an "American source" has confirmed that Beckham will stay in Milan. They reference "Daily Californian Los Angeles Times" which just sounds weird, so I'm not sure where the original story came from (hunting it down now).

Ivan Gazidis is a smart man, and we should all listen to him. While I'm disappointed he's no longer with MLS, I'm glad that he can be a voice of reason on that side of the pond for anything related to our cute little "retirement" league.

Not directly related to Beckham is a Q&A with Gazidis that I missed in yesterday's NY Times Goal blog.

That is all.

Oh, but I am working on a piece tentatively entitled "5 Quick Ways to Build Buzz" from an MLS perspective, so be on the look out for that. Yea! Another list!

Landon Donovan didn't make the squad today for Bayern's Champions League quarterfinal match with Sporting Lisbon, and the German giants rolled to a 5-0 win.

So what does it mean?

More than likely Donovan will return to MLS at the end of his loan, something which has been something of a foregone conclusion for a couple of days now. Not making the bench in Lisbon is just the final nail in the coffin. I'm on record that it's not necessarily a bad thing, since Munich may not be the best place for him anyway.

If Donovan comes back hungry, and there's no reason to think he won't, he should play well enough to be with a team in a top four European league this time next year.

In the meantime, he can help revitalize the mess that is the LA Galaxy.

I know I have yet to comment on Houston's 1-1 draw with Atlante last night, but be assured I will. I may do a complete CCL roundup in the next day or two.

Une Message Pour Mes Amis de Montreal

Wednesday, February 25, 2009 | View Comments

Bonne chance!

If my high school French wasn't so rusty, I would attempt a little more; be glad I'm sparing you what would inevitably be poor spelling and grammar.

Google translation is cheating, and I don't trust it.

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Expansion, All Fronts

Tuesday, February 24, 2009 | View Comments
Things are beginning to come to a head on the expansion front, and today brings relevant news/commentary on three of the five bids.

Miami FC is having problems, which can't bode well for the MLS expansion bid.

By way of the 24th Minute comes an opinion on the Ottawa bid. What's gotten lost for most Americans in the whole expansion process is the interesting back-and-forth among Canadian soccer fans.

Portland's soccer task force is going to recommend that the city sign off on Merritt Paulson's bid, but there is still $20 million that needs to be raised to make it happen. I'm not in-tune enough to know what this means exactly, though the $20 million shortfall seems much more important than the "rubber stamp" of approval by the task force.

As for the other two bids:

Vancouver seems to be sitting pretty at the moment, the beneficiary of issues with the bids of the remaining frontrunners. The 24th Minute also has a nice argument for Vancouver from a guest writer.

The lack of news out of St. Louis is conspicuous, and I'm not sure what it means. It could be that St. Louis has shored up their financial issues enough to be comfortable where they stand; or, the lack of news could be an indication that St. Louis has completely fallen by the wayside.

Just came across an opinion piece on The Oregonian's website by the man himself, Merritt Paulson

Merritt Paulson-An investment in more than sports

I've been told that everybody loves a list, so to that end, I've decided to take another stab at one.

With the 2009 MLS season less than a month away, I've put together the five reasons that 2009 will be the most important year for MLS.

1. It's the Economy Stupid

With the economy in the proverbial crapper, MLS must show that despite the squeeze, the league is in no danger going the way of the NASL. At the first sign of distress, the anti-soccer crowd will will jump to bury MLS and its efforts to establish soccer as a major American sport. With creative ticket plans, smaller rosters, and the suspension of the reserve league, the league appears keenly aware that pragmatism will need to win out, at least for the time being.

2. Beckham-bubble

Whether Signor Beckham returns from Milan or not, it appears that his influence on the profile of MLS has waned significantly. Without Golden Balls drawing attention from the mainstream media, awareness of the league among the general public will certainly backslide. If attendance and TV ratings take another hit, the aforementioned soccer-haters will have another reason to bash the sport. MLS must do everything they can to stem the tide, using what positives it can (expansion announcement, Seattle ticket sales, etc.)

3. TV Fallout

With the decision to "cancel" MLS Primetime Thursday on ESPN, it appears that MLS is teetering on the edge of television oblivion. If things continue to go poorly, future revenue for the league and the clubs is at risk. While the financial benefit of the current contract is minimal for teams, television exposure on a widely dispersed network like ESPN is essential to the growth of the league. Another poor year of ratings in 2009 will make it all the more difficult to convince ESPN that soccer deserves a desperately needed push across their various platforms (TV, radio, Internet).

4. Baseball's Problems

Conventional wisdom says that only sportswriters care about the ongoing steroid problems in baseball; although that may be true in a general sense, there will certainly be fallout from yet another black eye for MLB. MLS is in a position to capitalize on baseball's problems, as it is an alternative to baseball for the fan's entertainment dollar during the summer months. With lower prices and livelier atmospheres (for the most part), soccer has things to offer sports fans that baseball just can't provide; the onus to turn baseball's ills into a boon for soccer is now on both league office itself, as well as the individual clubs.

5. CBA on the Horizon

Despite the looming expiration of the current collective bargaining agreement, the soccer public has heard little about potential negotiations. While indications are that the players intend to be reasonable in their demands, several issues remain up in the air between the two sides. The new CBA could go far in bringing the league more respect among players, as well as help it hold onto young American talent (see Tracy, Marcus). A major salary cap increase is unlikely with the current economy and revenue position of the league, but concessions from MLS on minimums and player movement could go a long way towards improving overall league quality.

Feel free to share your thoughts, add you own issues the list, or pick apart my reasoning on any of the ones above.

My first attempt at a title was horrible; fixed it the best I could.

If you've been paying attention, you know that I'm extremely interested in what the Montreal Impact have cooked up for Wednesday night when they take on Santos Laguna at home in the CONCACAF Champion's League.

While the number of tickets that Montreal has apparently sold is impressive, I wanted to be fully educated before I spouted off that American clubs need to look north to Quebec for a little lesson in how to market a team. Sure enough, there are a couple of facts that dampen my enthusiasm just a little. Without first hand knowledge of the Impact's tactics, however, I don't feel comfortable attempting to qualify their success; besides, if the team is able to get 50,000 to a soccer match in the dead of winter and in the heart of hockey season, regardless of how they did so, it will be difficult not to be impressed.

Rumors that Montreal may reenter the expansion sweepstakes on the strength of their attendance Wednesday night now include an appearance by Don Garber at Olympic Stadium, something that would be very telling if it actually happens. I'm not sure why Garber would attend the match after the Saputo expansion bid has been rejected, unless he was open to their reduced entry fee proposal. Anything is possible in the current economic environment, although the other bids still in play would seem to make a discount for Montreal unlikely.

Besides, what does selling 50,000 tickets, severe discounts and handouts or not, really mean when it's for a one off match? Civic pride and the underdog status of the Impact are major factors, and maybe the people of Montreal are just excited that they have something on Toronto; it would still seem be a stretch to say that those things are certain to carry over if MLS puts a team in Quebec. Viewed in context, I don't think the ticket sales numbers alone are enough to bring Montreal back into the expansion mix; besides, there is still the little matter of the actual attendance, something which could be significantly affected by the weather.

The actual effect of the Impact's "success" should be negligible. Montreal is still unlikely to secure an expansion franchise, and the club itself is unlikely to significantly improve on it's 2008 attendance (just less than 13,000). Perception is important, however, and the shadow cast by both the Impact's progression through the Champion's League as well as their ticket sales bonanza for Wednesday's match will not bode well for MLS. Unfortunately for the league, this is exactly the type of information that will be picked up by the mainstream American media as well as the soccer-hating public as evidence that American soccer is failing. While those of us with a little knowledge understand the extenuating circumstances at play in Montreal and the context in which their sales numbers should be viewed, none of that will matter to the anti-soccer masses.

Without a "Beckham bump", would any MLS team be able to match what the Impact have done? I don't get the sense that any of the American clubs are capable; Houston's attendance for their CCL match tomorrow night should be a good indication that even the top teams in MLS struggle to sell out (although I suppose Atlante-supporters could help to fill Roberston), no matter the stakes. Toronto may be the only organization in the league that could legitimately sell 50,000 tickets to a match that doesn't involve David Beckham. So what is it about these Canadian clubs that has them light-years ahead of their American counterparts?

Perhaps the cultural differences between the two countries are such that soccer will always get a fairer shake with sports fans north of the border; maybe Americans are just incapable of the freedom of thought it takes to appreciate soccer, while Canadians embrace the game with a more continental attitude. It often seems that Canadians, while clearly proud of their country, are less burdened by the collective national self-image that keeps so many Americans from opening their minds to anything new.

My small history of personal interactions with Canadians does not give me a proper platform from which to speak to the reasons that it seems they get it and we don't; and I know I'm glossing over (or leaving out completely) the cultural differences between the cities in question themselves. Toronto and Montreal are probably as different as Boston and Dallas. It just seems that the as the successes for soccer in Canada pile one on top of the other, American clubs are left behind, choking on the dust of the Canuck express powering away into the distance. Seattle's season ticket sales gives me hope that the U.S. is not a lost cause, however, and I'm optimistic that Philadelphia will make a similar impact in 2010.

I'll be rooting for the Impact on Wednesday, and I hope they fill Olympic Stadium to capacity. I even hope Garber shows up. Not to revive the Montreal expansion bid, but to get marketing tips from the Impact front office.

Mexico Fans Are Itchy

Sunday, February 22, 2009 | View Comments

Mexico fans are already itching for the USA-Mexico rematch that's set to take place at Azteca in August.

I hope they don't get too overconfident; this could be the year.

Match Fit USA Podcast #2

Sunday, February 22, 2009 | View Comments
Match Fit USA Podcast #2 is here; hopefully this one is a little better than the first effort.

Run time is 42:42

Just an outline of what I talked about this week:
1. Headlines (Beckham, Edu, Donovan)
2. Media Watch (Fox News, ESPN Sportscenter)
3. Next Step (MLS expansion, TV announcers)
4. Looking Ahead (CONCACAF Champions League, Beckham, Donovan)

For some reason the vocal quality got all screwed up when I exported the audacity file to mp3, so I apologize for that.

Also, I did get the podcast up on iTunes;

Match Fit USA on iTunes

Or search "Match Fit USA" if that doesn't work.

Here is the file for direct download:

Match Fit USA Podcast #2

*Update* The podcasts themselves don't seem to be showing up in iTunes. I have no idea why that is, but I'm trying to fix it.
**Update** Okay, so #2 is on iTunes, but #1 is nowhere to be found. Not sure why.

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TV Announcers: ESPN Needs Ray Hudson

Saturday, February 21, 2009 | View Comments
During my usual check of soccer news and comment for the 6,235th time today, I came across a blog entry from a gentlemen (Dana Blankenhorn) espousing the virtues of Ray Hudson.

His general point, man-love for Hudson non-withstanding, is that American soccer needs a boisterous, passionate announcer who can convey sound analysis with excitement and flair, adding a dimension to the game that is currently lacking.

And I think I have to agree with him.

American sports, partly thanks to their long histories here, all have broadcasting personalities who have become larger-than-life. Millions of Americans tuned in during the early days of Monday Night Football just to listen to the controversial ramblings of Howard Cosell. Baseball fans will tell you that the voices of Mel Allen and Vin Scully (among others) just sound like they belong with the game, their vocalized imagery a treasure to be enjoyed whenever possible. Even our contemporary announcers can become icons; football commentator John Madden has transcended his sport to become a pop-culture phenomenon, while Joe Morgan engendered so much negative sentiment that he inspired one of the first well-known sports blogs.

How important to us are the personalities who present our sports? More often then not, we ignore announcers unless what they say is particularly pompous, patently incorrect or simply annoying. Those that are adept enough at what they do that they either strikingly frame the play on the field or add insightful viewpoints we as fans could not see ourselves can become, over time, identified with the sports the cover. This is particularly true for football and baseball, two passions woven into the American social fabric. Presenters of those sports become legendary in large part because what they cover has a significant influence on our collective cultural experience.

Soccer in America sits in the fully opposite position, as a sport with little historical relevance that may need unique and engaging television personalities to increase the game's profile. The status quo of staid, knowledgeable, yet uninspiring announcers does little to draw viewers to the game, although it is impossible to know how much of an impact they actually have. Our friend Dana Blankenhorn suggests that American soccer needs someone who is not only a knowledgeable expert, but who can also act as the vocal ambassador that the sport desperately needs. Dana's promoting of Ray Hudson for the job is specifically due to Ray's excitable nature; Hudson acting as the "Dick Vitale" of soccer could make the broadcasts worth watching (if they weren't already), and audio worth listening to.

Still, would it matter?

Would anyone other than dedicated MLS fans care?

Eric Wynalda crashed and burned with ESPN, and while his brash nature rubbed some fans the wrong way, it certainly made for more lively broadcasts. Unfortunately, Wynalda was never going to be the type of broadcaster who could cross over; there was simply nothing unique enough about him to appeal to anyone who was not already a passionate soccer supporter. It's conceivable that someone like Hudson could force his way into the non-soccer fan's awareness simply through the force of his personality and the nature of his commentary.

There is really no reason for ESPN to have not taken this step already.

So I'm with Dana; bring in Ray Hudson and give televised soccer in America a little bit of life.

Ending this abruptly: I'm actually going to go watch the Galaxy game.

Expansion, Donovan, Beckham

Saturday, February 21, 2009 | View Comments
I'm hoping to post a big-picture view of the Galaxy-Milan struggle a little later; but for now, a couple of news items and my thoughts.

Expansion Developments

There seems to be a lot of news on the expansion front, not the least of which is the startling revelation that by Joan Oliva, director general of Barcelona, that the club is "reevaluating" their involvement in the Marcelo Claure-led Miami bid. More than anything, I think this is just prudence on the part of Barcelona; it's hard to blame them for thinking twice in what is certainly a rough economic patch. I will say, however, that Barca should be paying attention to what is going on in Seattle, where the Sounders have now surpassed 20,000 season tickets. Although the cities are on opposite ends of the cultural spectrum, and the legacy of the Sounders from their previous incarnations in the northwest is certainly a factor, if the Catalan giants and their partner Claure market the team correctly, there is no reason it should not be a success. I'm not rooting for Miami in the expansion sweepstakes, but I am confident the team will draw well if placed there.

In Portland, Merritt Paulson is working with the city to finance the necessary PGE Park renovations without exposing the city to risk. It appears that Paulson realizes that with the economy as it is, it's he himself that will have to guarantee the loans, ensuring that any shortfalls in repayment will be his responsibility. I am actually actively rooting for Portland, so it seems to be good news. My opinion remains that at least a few MLS teams should be in medium-sized markets where competition for coverage is not as fierce.

Rumors of Montreal's reentry into the expansion race thanks to the astounding number of tickets sold for their Champions League clash with Santos is just that right now: a rumor. If something solid comes out, I'll let you know.

Oh, to be a fly on the wall at MLS headquarters right about now.

Landon's Mediocre, Bayern Falls

Things are not good for Bayern Munich right now. The team continues to struggle, after losing to 2-1 to Koeln today in Munich. Landon Donovan come on at the half, and aside from clearing a chance away from Bayern's line, made very little impact. I wasn't able to watch the game, so I don't have any first hand analysis (which I'm not supposed to do anyway); go to to read the match report. It appears Donovan is going to return to MLS at the end of his loan, which I'm not sure it the worst thing for him. His place (and role) in the Bayern team was always going to be iffy; there are simply too many options for Donovan to get the first team minutes he needs. I'm confident that he'll play well for the Galaxy, which will either lead to a sale in the summer, or a free move to Europe in January.

Milan Fires Back

Adriano Galliani insists that the bid for Beckham will not be raised, something which would seem to kill any hope of a deal. I don't know that it's necessarily over yet between the two organizations, but it's not looking good for Beckham. I hope Leiweke reponds to Galliani's response, because these two going back and forth is the only thing keeping the story fresh. Galliani did make one statement that I took a little umbrage with:

"They see transfers as business in the States. In Europe transfers are made on a technical basis."

I'm pretty sure that's a giant load of Italian crap. European clubs are constantly working to make a profit on players bought and sold; just because Milan has the resources to care just a little less about the "business" aspect doesn't mean they aren't playing the game. I find it hilarious that both sides are playing the "bully" card at this point, with a little of the "who do they think they are?" card thrown in. In spite of myself, I'm actually starting to enjoy whole mess. I still believe that every day the "negotiations" drag on is another day of free publicity for MLS.

I'm adding this after reading the same story with slightly different quotes on soccernet: It appears Galliani was referring to the premium the Galaxy may be putting on Beckham because of his marketability; I guess Milan don't want to pay extra for that. Whether Milan wants to admit it or not, that is certainly part of what makes up Beckham's value.

Podcast Recommendation

Friday, February 20, 2009 | View Comments
I meant to do this yesterday, but my attention span failed me (as usual).

If any of you are looking for new listening material, may I suggest Winning Ugly Radio. These guys (and one girl) do an engaging, hilarious, groundbreaking soccer podcast that deserves more attention. Think "Around the Horn" on soccer without the pompous sportswriter bullshit. Plus, they have "Anchorman" drops!

If you don't find Will Ferrell saying "The Human Torch was denied a bank loan" hilarious, then I don't know what I can do for you.

Winning Ugly Radio

Mission Statement

Friday, February 20, 2009 | View Comments
As the readership slowly grows for Match Fit USA, I'm finding myself more and more concerned that I have yet to write a clear and concise explanation of the my aims and goals for the blog. This post is an effort to rectify that situation.

I'm not sure it's quite necessary, and perhaps the context and viewpoint of a blog isn't important to the majority of readers as long as the content is interesting and informative, so forgive me if this comes off as hubris.

A few facts about me, just to frame my reasons for blogging.

I'm a writer. That can mean many different things, but for me, it simply means that I love to convey my thoughts in written form. I'm one of those guys that constantly gave lip service to writing a novel (insert Brian Griffin joke here), and then only wrote in fits and starts that never amounted to anything significant. Still, I know I'm a good writer (there's the hubris), and this blog gives me an outlet for a talent that I've spent years generally neglecting. Until the idea for this blog came along, I never truly considered writing anything other than fictional works; I'm finding, however, that the satisfaction I get out of this far exceed my initial expectations. I should have done this a long time ago.

My passion for soccer is relatively new. While it's possible this fact will invalidate my opinions in some of your minds, I think it's important to know. Simply put, I view myself as exactly the type of American sports fan that MLS needs to attract to become a big time league in this country. I have been a passionate American football and baseball fan for as long as I can remember, and I never really considered soccer to be anything other than an peripheral sport to which I might give a modicum of attention on occasion (I've never been a hater). I don't remember the exact moment, but my soccer passion sprung forth fully formed a couple of years ago after I intentionally sought out EPL matches on television. Since, I've found both the game on the field and the game's place in the American consciousness to be all-consuming passions, passions which directly led to the creation of this blog. As a result of my admitted neophyte status when it comes to the actual play on the pitch, I usually try (I say "try" for a reason, I'm not always successful) to avoid any evaluation of players or teams that would be better done by those who have played and observed the game for much longer than I (I did actually play as a kid, just like every suburban-bred American of my generation).

I am not a journalist. I don't have sources, or my finger on the pulse of the league, or a desire to break news; as of the moment, I am just an observer of soccer in America attempting to raise the level of discourse on the game's place here. I will, on occasion, comment on the headlines of the day, or "report" news that might be germane to the larger issues I'm trying to examine, but I am never going to be a traditional soccer news blog. Too often, the pundits and talking heads declare unequivocally that soccer will never succeed here without ever giving legitimate reasons as to why that might be true (and no, the "not enough scoring" argument is not a legitimate reason), and my aim is to either discover what those reasons might be, or to debunk the myth completely.

Now, as for those aforementioned aims and goals:

Originally, I intended this blog to be a hobby, a way for me to get out of my head all of the opinions and thoughts relating to American soccer that were constantly threatening to explode my brain in a fantastic display of frustration. I am without a community of like-minded individuals with which to discuss the game (a situation I should endeavor to rectify, to be sure), and the blog was intended as a surrogate for that missing community.

Things changed quickly. While the blog still serves as that brain-spew repository I originally created it to be, it has also become a means to an end. As I said before, I have both a passion and a talent for writing (damn hubris again), and because of both that fact and because I have felt for a long time that I am falling well short of my reaching my full personal potential, I've come to view the blog as a possible way to convert a hobby into a career. I know it won't happen overnight, and I know there's a chance it might never happen; that won't stop me, however, from working towards that end.

I don't suspect that this blog itself will bring me much in terms of monetary rewards; those of you who find this stop on your daily Internet journey a worthwhile one need not worry about being inundated with ads. That being said, I do have grander designs for Match Fit USA, which may include a few or all of these things:

1. Domain name- I would love to own
2. More writers- No reason I should be the only one spouting nonsense on the topics I try to cover here; if there are others out there that have well-formed opinions and a talent for writing, I would love to have them involved.
3. Live coverage- Eventually (I stress EVENTUALLY), I hope to get to a point where I can travel for major events, as well as visit the hotbeds of American soccer to gain insight I currently lack.
4. A panel-style podcast- Yes, I've done a podcast (and I plan to continue), but it's not quite what I would want ultimately; I'd love to have several people with different viewpoints examining the state of American soccer in an audio format.

Maybe I'm getting ahead of myself. I've only been doing this for a couple of months now, so any gains made in any form are a bonus. Still, I'd be lying to everyone involved (you, the reader, as well as myself), if I didn't admit to visions of a bigger, better future.

Hopefully, for those of you who enjoy what I do here, I've managed to shed some light on my background and viewpoint. I also hope I haven't alienated anyone; I realized this whole thing is both self-serving and off-topic. I promise to get back to the business at hand as soon as possible (maybe there's some new Beckham news to comment on).

Finally, I have to say thank you to everyone that stops here, but especially to those of you who have given me feedback (both good and bad). It's your support and any effort to spread the proverbial word (special shout out to my fellow bloggers), that spur me on and make the effort worthwhile.

Reassessing the Inevitable

Friday, February 20, 2009 | View Comments
Tim Leiweke is an angry man. Recent comments from AC Milan vice-president Adriano Galliani that AC Milan are "close" to acquiring David Beckham have the AEG executive in quite a tizzy, something that might quickly lead to a Michael Douglas in "Falling Down" situation.

"We are not close. Two weeks ago Milan made a ridiculous offer ($3m or £2.1m) to which I replied 'no' in a few seconds. With that figure, Galaxy don't even cover the damages deriving from the shortfalls of not selling his shirts. Since then, no-one has made any moves. There are no meetings arranged."

It seems clear, at this point, that Mr. Leiweke is taking these negotiations rather personally. While he has said all the proper diplomatic things about Beckham himself, his pointed words in the direction of AC Milan are thick with vitriol. I'm rapidly reassessing my belief that a transfer deal is inevitable, largely due to Leiweke's disposition. In a perfet world, these negotiations would be strictly business, done in the best interests of both clubs, without emotion becoming a relevant factor. From an outsider's viewpoint, I think it would be hard to argue that emotion isn't currently playing a role. I'm not sure if we can rake Leiweke over the coals for getting a little worked up or not; those who believe Milan is attempting to perpetrate a grab-and-dash might be on the Galaxy exec's side, while those sick of the Beckham circus and ready to cut bait on a player who has seemingly betrayed the American soccer public's trust will want a deal to be made no matter the potential inequity of the deal.

"After that ridiculous offer, Milan have not done anything. They have tried other people, from the commissioner of the league (Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber) to David's representatives, but not us, who own his rights."

Perhaps Leiweke, and those angered by Milan's snobbery, should cut the Italian club a little slack. I know I'm often confused by the MLS single-entity structure, so what's the say that Milan have a grasp on who exactly they should be contacting?

I'm kidding, of course. If we take Leiweke's claim at face value, then we have to assume that Milan is attempting to go over the Galaxy's head. Ridiculous. No matter the structure of MLS, Milan has to know that any deal must be made with the team first; even if the league's approval is required to finalize the transfer, Milan should know they can't just ignore step one and go directly to step two.

"If David doesn't return, who will replace him? Our transfer market is already closed. If Milan are so determined to keep him, why are they taking so long? Do they think that we will settle for less money? They are mistaken."

I'm not really sure what game Milan is playing (again, taking Leiweke's statements at face value for the sake of argument). The only conclusion I can come to is that they've painted themselves in a corner, spouted off about obtaining Beckham while underestimating the cost, and now are regretting the entire debacle. If they overplayed their hand based on the belief that Beckham would come at a significant discount simply because he can extricate himself from his MLS deal, then they've underestimated the financial and public relations value of the midfielder in the American market.

"What Milan don't understand is that behind this story, there are fans that are renouncing subscriptions, sponsors that want damages and rival teams that have the right to know if the Galaxy will play at their stadium with or without Beckham."

Maybe it's all just posturing. Maybe there is a deal on the horizon, one that gets closer to the Galaxy's asking price. Maybe I'll post this analysis, only to be proved wrong today when the news hits that the deal is done, that Beckham will remain in Milan, that the saga is over and the blogosphere will have to move on to the next overblown topic (expansion anyone?).

But I'm not so sure. I think it's increasingly possible that there is no deal imminent. The "unhappy player" card, used by every agent and club to swing the transfer game in their favor, only goes so far. When a team and a league have as much invested in one player as the Galaxy and MLS do in Beckham, that "unhappy player" card loses some of it's resonance. There is truly no precedent for this situation, one in which the actual abilities of the player in question could be called a secondary concern for one of the parties at the negotiation table.

"David is a friend and asked me to listen to what Milan proposed. I have said yes, because of him. But I will not be taken for a ride and hence, on 9 March, Beckham will be in Los Angeles and will work with the same seriousness and dedication as before."

I'm not saying you should start making your "Beckham = Traitor" (or hopefully something more clever) signs for your club's home date with the Galaxy quite yet, but do think it wouldn't be a bad idea to go ahead and buy the markers and posterboard.

I base all of this on nothing but a gut feeling. I have no idea how things will actually play out, I just think the anger on the side of the Galaxy shouldn't be underestimated.

American Soccer Fan Flowchart

Thursday, February 19, 2009 | View Comments
I saw this hilarious Harry Redknapp flowchart a couple of weeks ago, and thought it might be fun to try and put together an American soccer chart that covered the range of attitudes towards the sport. I've done this in my free time at work, so it's in no way a finished product (and certainly not as good as the Redknapp flowchart). Consider it a work in progress; feel free to save it, add to it, and just generally improve it. And when you're done, send it back to me and I'll post it (with credit of course).


In what is quickly becoming a MFUSA staple, here are some quick hitters on an ugly Thursday morning.

United stadium backlash

The first anti-stadium salvo has been fired in D.C. United's direction by Washington Post columnist Marc Fisher. This is standard operating procedure for Fisher, but expect more on this front in the not-too-distant future.

It's hard to dispute anything he mentions; the economic environment is certainly a problem for any large scale building project. My only issue with the column is the spotlight he shines on the ethnic makeup of United's fan base versus that of Prince George's County; I'm not really sure what one has to be with the other. If United can't draw from outside of the county, then there's no reason to build the stadium in the first place.

My desire to see MLS teams in dedicated soccer facilities effects my ability to empathize with the tax payers of PG County, and I think these type of projects will always have their detractors. No matter how put-together these plans might be, there will always be people on the other side deriding the use of public funds for what is essentially a private endeavor. Let's hope that United, Prince George's County, and the Maryland Stadium Authority are diligent in their planning and implementation of that plan, because there is still a lot that can go wrong before shovel hits soil in the name of the Black & Red.

Another item making the rounds related to the United stadium effort is a Q&A with Kevin Payne, the team's president and CEO.

Nakamura mulling future

Shunsuke Nakamura is considering his options with his Celtic contract set to run out in the summer. The story mentions that he may actually choose to remain with the Old Firm club, and his apparently inevitable return to Japan is mentioned several times. If Nakamura is available on a free transfer, even if it appears certain he will return to Yokohama Marinos, MLS would be crazy not to make a run at him (as I've mentioned before). Perhaps he could be enticed to play one or two years here; any investment made in the Japanese star would be justified by the international marketing return.

Galaxy win without stars

For some reason, I didn't get to sleep until late last night, so I was able to catch (endure?) most of the Galaxy's win over Oita Trinita in the Pan-Pacific Championship. There was nothing special, and nothing of import can truly be gleaned from a glorified friendly, but I will say that the Galaxy managed to control the game reasonably well. I still don't understand how Edson Buddle scores goals; he always looks so out-of-control on the ball.

I don't know what could have been expected for a pre-season match, even if Beckham was in the squad, but the emptiness of the stadium depressed me. Although those that did show up made their feelings known on the Beckham-to-Milan issue. Good for them, and I suspect we'll see this all over MLS this year, even if a deal is worked out and Beckham isn't even in the States to bear the brunt of the backlash.

Amazingly, something stupid is said on Fox News

The American soccer blogging community has been alerted to the insidious, ridiculous, and inflammatory comments by people masquerading as comedians on a Fox News show called "Red Eye". While I was not even aware of the show before this little incident, I would be shirking my duty as a promoter of soccer in the U.S. if I didn't help draw attention to what can only be described as unfunny idiocy.

Now, it is attempted comedy. I don't want to get over-excited about what is essentially a bunch of misguided American clowns playing to the soccer-haters in their audience (which I can't imagine is very large). Take from it what you will, and decide on your own if it's worth contacting Fox about, as I've been asked to do.

Relevant contact information:
President of Fox News Channel (and chairman of Fox Television Stations Group),
Management / Executives:

Donovan, YouTube, Steroids, Fandom

Wednesday, February 18, 2009 | View Comments
Stupid job getting in the way of my blog posting; man, I wish I could do this for a living (email offers to jbdavis1 (at) Haha. Would ya look at that? I screwed up my own email address. Oh well.

Anyway, a couple of thoughts on the news o' the day:

Donovan and Bayern

I'm sure you've heard by now that Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge has put a serious damper on Donovan's hope of a permanent transfer. I'm really not sure how to feel about this: on one hand, it's too bad that Donovan will have to come back to MLS. On the other, I don't know that Germany was the best place for him to be in the first place. Perhaps he's shown/will show enough that a summer move to another club could still be possible. I don't know enough to declare one league better for him than another (as some have done), so I'll just say I hope a transfer happens, no matter the country. I have a sneaking suspicion that Bayern may have inquired about a price for LD (for planning purposes if they did decide to buy him), and perhaps they were scared off by the MLS answer. We all know that Donovan is the league's poster boy, and as I've said before, $15 million doesn't seem too steep a price. With the options at striker Bayern already has, and the moves they've already lined up for the summer, buying Donovan to be a squad player/fourth striker at $15 million might not be the best situation for either party. National team fans want Landon to get consistent playing time if he's going to leave MLS, and there are certainly plenty of other clubs in top-tier leagues who could use his talents.

Where's our YouTube phenom?

A new footballing wunderkind has appeared on the scene; a 6 year-old French/Algerian boy with amazing ball skills. While I think most of these YouTube created phenoms are ridiculously overblown and overhyped, I am a little curious as to when we'll see the first American kid who benefits from the marvels of the digital age. If the Aussies can have one, why can't we?

Madin Mohammed, the French kid

Rhain Davis, the Aussie kid (if you haven't seen it before)

Steroids in baseball, and what that means for soccer

When the news broke that Alex Rodriguez tested positive for steroids, I had two completely different initial reactions: the baseball-fan/Yankee-hater in me said "THAT CHEATER! BAN HIM FOR LIFE!" (I came down from that pretty quick; I'm tired of the steroid issue, but I do think the cheaters should be punished); the soccer-fan/MLS-hype-man in me said "Yes! MLS can SO take advantage of this!". I've now come down from that second reaction as well; I don't think the steroid issue in baseball means anything at all for MLS, as the issue hasn't seem to have had any effect on baseball's appeal over the last five or six years. MLS will have to stand on its own, and deliver a strong, compelling product, if it wants to draw in fans. I can't see baseball fans switching the their televisions (or trading their tickets) from Red Sox-Yankees to Revs-Red Bulls just because one more guy has gotten caught sticking a needle in his butt.

Can I follow two sports this year?

I'm beginning to get the sneaking suspicion that my baseball fandom is in a bit of jeopardy this year; pitchers and catchers have already reported, and while I'm excited, I'm far more so for the start of MLS (and CONCACAF Champion's League before that). Just for the record, I am a GIANT baseball fan. Baseball is what I call my "first love", the sport that I played the most (and at the highest level of performance) and understand the best. I live and die with my team, and I'm one of those guys who can watch a nine-inning game from beginning to end, digest every nuance while second guessing every managerial decision, and then stay up to watch the highlights of the same game I just watched. I doubt I'll turn my back on the game (don't want to be one of THOSE guys), but with my soccer passion ramping up even more, and with the blog giving me a legitimate reason to follow every kick of the ball that I can, baseball may take a backseat this spring and summer for the first time EVER. Man, my brother is going to hate me if he reads this. Sorry Kev!

Sorry about the lack of links; I just don't the patience to track them down right now.

Understanding Player Movement

Tuesday, February 17, 2009 | View Comments
American sports fans, especially those unfamiliar with soccer, understand player acquisition as consisting of two processes: trading and the signing of free agents. When their favorite team needs to bolster its roster, they expect that trades will be made, or players will be signed (in the off season only); because player movement between clubs in the world's game doesn't follow this model, it can often be confusing to the average American.

The worldwide nature of soccer, and the high level on which it is played around the globe, means that competition for players is fierce. Because international boundaries, labor laws, contract laws, etc., all play a part in player movement between leagues and countries, the standard practice is to purchase a player, rather to trade for him. Trades occur, but rarely, and often with a fee included in the transaction. "Free agency", as it exists in the professional environment of the United States, only applies to footballers who are out of contract (i.e., a "free" transfer).

The purchasing of players hasn't been a major part of American sports for at least a half century; in the modern era, league rules are often at play when it comes to obtaining players, and these rules strictly regulate how, when, and if, a player can be moved from one team to another.

To further muddy the waters for Americans unfamiliar with the idiosyncrasies of world football, there remains yet another foreign concept: the loan. The idea that one team would loan one of its players to another for a indeterminate period of time has no parallel in our domestic sports. In fact, the concept is so foreign to some that they simply cannot fathom the reasons behind it; I've heard more than one talking-head or radio host rendered speechless (or incredulous) simply at the thought. For them, an athlete plays for one team and one team only; players deemed unworthy of the roster are either cut, traded, or demoted (minor leagues). For control of one team's player to be ceded to another ostensibly on the same tier of competition is apparently "un-American".

MLS chose to set itself up as strong centralized organization, in the mold of the modern-American sports league. The NFL, NBA, and Major League Baseball* all maintain strong grips on player movement within their leagues. Lack of any (serious) foreign competition for talent means that these leagues generally only import players; they're in little danger of losing their stars to clubs abroad. Without a powerful international body governing their sports, like FIFA does with soccer, the American "big three" control player movement in a way that serves their best interests while attempting to maintain competitive balance.** Because MLS sits near the bottom of its sport in terms of financial clout, it has maintained a de facto policy of only bringing foreign players in on free transfers; movement of players within the league occurs through the American practice of trading (although trading is not limited to player-for-player and can include other considerations like DP spots, allocation money, or draft picks). It would appear that this model serves two purposes: one, it allows for teams to upgrade their rosters and fill holes without extravagant spending, and two, it is familiar to the league's American fans.

MLS teams will eventually need to enter into the world of transfers, if only because it will reach a glass-ceiling of quality that cannot be broken through with the current policies. For those of us already in tune with the game and the way its business is conducted around the world, this will come as no shock. But for Americans whose world of sports has no parallels for transfers and loans, those concepts will continue to be just another reason to reject the game.

*I can't find anything that indicates that buying a player is specifically prohibited by MLB rules; that doesn't mean it isn't, just that I can't find any reference.

**Obviously none of that applies to the NFL, a league playing a sport that is played only (for practical purposes) by Americans.

A final thought for today that has nothing to do with the above post:

Just because you can write (about soccer or anything else), doesn't mean you should. Try to be sure you know how to properly use the English language in its written form before you go spewing nonsense and frustrating people (like me). An opinion alone is often not enough.

Sorry about that, just something I needed to get off of my chest; if it doesn't apply to you, please ignore it. If it does, please take it as constructive advice.

Back to What I Do Best

Tuesday, February 17, 2009 | View Comments
Gotta love a Tuesday morning that feels like a Monday...

Back to what I do best; writing about soccer (rather than trying to talk about it; boy my mouth got dry). For those of you that checked out the podcast, thank you very much. It was a lot more work than I anticipated, mostly because I was a bit of a perfectionist with it. Now that the formatting work is done (my attempt at an intro, the music, etc.) it should go much smoother next time. I'd like to make it fairly consistent week-to-week, so I'll be on the look out for segment ideas if any of you would like to suggest any.

Greg Lalas at has written a piece on Mexico's struggles that echoes the sentiments I attempted to get across in this piece. There's nothing in Greg's piece that I didn't say, although I'm kicking myself for not making the Australia/Oceania parallel that he does. Like Greg, I think Mexico will be fine (eventually). I even hope they're rolling through everyone else come August, when the USMNT heads to Azteca; if we're going to get our first even win in Mexico City, then I want it to be over an on-form Mexico team so there can be no argument about which nation sits atop the CONCACAF mountain.

Milan's chief executive says that Friday might be the day that the Beckham mess is settled. I'm not sure why that would be unless the Galaxy and MLS agreed to give Milan an "wink-wink" deadline extension. I'll just go ahead and say it again because it bears repeating: no one knows anything (even the BBC, and possibly even Milan's CEO). If you listened to my podcast, you know that I'm rooting for the deal to fall through just for the selfish reason that I think the return-of-Golden Balls press conference will be fantastic theater.

The more I think about it, the more I believe that it's probably in MLS's best interest to drag this out as long as possible. The Beckham mess draws attention to the league, and although no one is talking about the on-the-pitch product at the moment, the more focus drawn to MLS during the run-up to the season, the better. It seems an obvious observation, but the imposition of the arbitrary deadline by Garber indicates that maybe the league hasn't thought about the situation in those terms. I'll give Garber credit for defending the league's and the Galaxy's "honor" against the seemingly derogatory way Milan has approached the negotiations; maybe he truly did have his heart in the right place. It just seems like it would be awfully difficult to throw away all of the free publicity the saga is bringing.

By the way: Milan offered $3 million for Beckham? Really? As I said when it was reported that Milan failed to come back with a second bid before the February 13th deadline; either Milan doesn't value Beckham (as a player at least) as much as they are leading on, or they have zero respect for MLS. Perhaps they viewed the financial restrictions that MLS clubs operate under as an indication that the league would be more likley to sell Beckham at a discount. Even if that was just the initial offer and they intended to come up a bit, that seems an awfully low number to start.

Also filed under the heading of "no one knows anything" comes a report that deal is in place. Right.

Steven Goff also has a post on his blog about the potential All-Star game opponent, and I can't say that I'm enthralled. Don't get me wrong, Inter Milan would be a great opponent, and I'm sure Rio Tinto will be a fantastic venue for that match. I'm just not enthusiastic about the All-Star Game as a concept. It smacks of minor-league if you ask me, and I'm sure to opine about it here in the near future.

Match Fit USA Podcast #1

Monday, February 16, 2009 | View Comments
Here, by popular demand (okay, so one guy just suggested I do one) is Match Fit USA Podcast #1

Download, listen, tell me how much it sucks. Seriously. It's okay.

Match Fit USA Podcast #1

*Note* Just realized I had the Impact ticket sales number WAY wrong. It's 35k, not 55k. That's what I get for not having the story in front of me.

Stay Tuned...

Sunday, February 15, 2009 | View Comments
I apologize for not posting today; I'm working on new project for the blog. Stay tuned...

This whole David Beckham mess has me thinking about "foreign stars" and their role in the growth of MLS. While Beckham's appeal and marketing clout are undeniable and transcend national boundaries, he may not be best prototype for star signings as the league looks to expand its visibility.

When Yomiuri Giants baseball star Hideki Matsui signed with the New York Yankees in 2003, the profile of Major League Baseball in Japan rose dramatically. Despite a seemingly insurmountable time difference, Yankees game broadcasts received national attention in the baseball-crazed Asian nation. Soon, Yankee stadium fences sported Japanese-language advertising, sales of MLB merchandise in Japan skyrocketed, and other Japanese stars angled for moves to the United States. This effect (which I'm calling the "Matsui Effect" for the purposes of this commentary) has led to raised awareness of Major League Baseball in the slugger's home nation, while opening a new market and providing new revenue to the Yankees and MLB. While MLS does not sit at the pinnacle of its sport in the way Major League Baseball does, it seems likely that opportunities exist to tap into the Matsui Effect with foreign stars from nations who may not classify as traditional footballing powers.

In December of 2008, rumors circulated both in Korea and the U.S. that Ahn Jung-Hwan, one of Korea's most popular players, was a target of several MLS teams. On-the-field talent concerns aside for a moment, the increased attention given MLS by Jung-Hwan's countrymen as a result of his arrival could have been significant. Even with the general opinion of the United States on a low ebb (improved since the election of Barack Obama), American culture still holds drawing power abroad. Combined with a significant push from a cultural icon like Jung-Hwan, this American magnetism could bring MLS millions of dollars in both ad revenue and merchandise sales.

For many nations passionate about soccer but who lack a strong domestic league, the exploits of their countrymen abroad serve as a point of patriotic pride. Players like George Weah of Liberia become akin to gods in their homelands, able to heal tears through the fabric of the country with their celebrity. While MLS is extremely unlikely to sign players on the level of Weah (in terms of both ability and national status), there are several players who might fit the bill to bring with the the Matsui Effect.

First, the elements that make up a potential "Matsui Effect" candidate:

1. He must be a massive celebrity in his home country (perhaps even mentioned as a source of "national pride")- While there may be more accomplished or perhaps more talented players from his country, our candidate must be a larger-than-life icon in his homeland.

2. His homeland must be either relatively affluent or have a substantial population- The net results of the Matsui Effect are dependent on either the money available or the size of the market; talented players from smaller or poorer countries, no matter their national celebrity, can't have enough of a marketing impact to be called Matsui Effect candidates.

3. His abilities must allow him to be a substantial contributor- No matter how popular he might be, the candidate's homeland is unlikely to follow the league for long if the player is unable to make contributions on the pitch.

On to a few candidates off of the top of my head:

Andrei Shevchenko

Shevchenko-to-MLS is not a new idea, and the mercurial Ukrainian star is a perfect candidate. The Ukraine is not the ideal affluent nation to target, but the attention the striker would draw to MLS from all of Eastern Europe would be significant.

Shunsuke Nakamura

Nakamura has stated his desire to return to Japan to finish his career, a fact which may preclude him as a serious MLS target when his time in Scotland comes to an end. Regardless, Nakamura's potential ability to open the Japanese market to MLS is massive. Japan is the crown jewel of foreign markets; a culture rabid in their culture and expansive in their affluence. Despite a strong domestic league, the Japanese, just as with their passion for baseball, are easily enticed to follow American franchises.

Unnamed Chinese Player

China's sheer size makes it the most attractive untapped market for any sports league. Signing a Chinese player of import (I am entirely too unfamiliar with Chinese football to attempt to name one) could be huge for MLS, in the same way that the signing of Yao Ming to an NBA contract has led to an explosion of marketing opportunities for the basketball league.

For American soccer fans, the spectacle surrounding these celebrity signings can often be frustrating. David Beckham's time in American and current ongoing dalliance with AC Milan has left us wary of big name signings who are unable (or unwilling) to contribute on the field. In a perfect world, MLS would be allowed to grow organically, free from the necessary evils of creative marketing and the unfortunate reality of minuscule bottom lines. But because the league needs revenue to grow and improve its overall quality, players that can create the Matsui Effect are an important part of the effort. As long as these players are legitimately talented, there is no reason that MLS should not try to take advantage of their celebrity in their home nations, hopefully to lucrative results.

Feel free to propose a few candidates of your own, or give me your thoughts on my "Matsui Effect" concept.

I came to a sudden realization this morning after posting my latest Beckham commentary (how many is that now? 10? 12? Sheesh) : when it comes to developments in this made-for-tv drama, no one knows a damn thing.

Did Don Garber place a Friday deadline for completion of a Beckham deal? Sure. Does that mean the deal is dead, and that Beckham will return to MLS and the Galaxy? Don't bet on it.

Soccer journalists, on this side of the pond at least, have dutifully reported the comments of Tim Leiweke, which would seem to end speculation that Milan could still secure the permanent services of Mr. Beckham. Several of them, however, even while announcing the end of the saga, have stated their belief that Becks will still end up in Milan for good. Milan themselves aren't convinced either, calling the deadline a "tactic" on the part of the league, and are going forward with their belief that a deal will be made.

I'm not sure what to believe. My news reader is choked with Beckham news, emanating from every outlet in the free world; from sports, news, entertainment, and gossip sites. The three pronged attack on the story, from interests based in the U.S., Italy, and England, has only served to ratchet up the volume of news, while offering very little in terms of insight. It seems few, if any, of the reporters covering the negotiations have any sources with intimate knowledge of where things actually stand. Those that do claim to have "inside" information are often the most unreliable, news organizations whose reputations falls somewhere between that of Boy "The Kidnapper" George and Alex "Roided" Rodriguez.

Therefore, the only logical conclusion to be made is that no one knows anything.

Nothing coming out of the Galaxy camp can be trusted as long as Beckham's loan deal has life left in it (23 days to go), and the man continues to show up on the pitch in the shirt of the Rossoneri. Those who still believe that Beckham will not return to the States chalk there cynical view of the "deadline" up to Beckham's state of mind (i.e., why would the Galaxy want to bring back an unhappy player), as well as to the financial power of Milan (i.e., if they really want him, they'll pony up the dough). While I'm inclined to agree with the cynics, I also believe that Garber truly intended to set a hard deadline; whether or not the deadline holds is up to the Galaxy's ability to convince the commissioner that any subsequent Milan offer is in the best interests of both the team and the league.

Don't get me wrong: I will continue to post updates and commentary on breaking news whenever I might come across it. I'll just be sure, in the future, to take every new development with a grain of salt. Until the league issues a statement announcing the departure of Beckham and the end of his contract (with the inevitable "we wish him the best" bullshit), I'll try not to fall into the trap of believing everything I read. I suggest you do the same.

David Beckham will return to the LA Galaxy at the end of his loan to AC Milan, so says Tim Leiweke. The AEG president stated that AC Milan did not make a second offer prior to the Friday deadline set by Don Garber.

Really? No second offer? Maybe Milan didn't want Becks as badly as they insinuated. Are we to believe that despite being named the eighth richest club in the world, the Italian giants were unable to come up with a million or two more euros? Frankly, I'm shocked. As much as I wanted the Galaxy to make sure they got full value, I always expected the deal to get done. I can't imagine Leiweke backing down from his latest statement unless Milan drastically raise the offer, forcing the hand of both AEG and MLS, and it would have to be a pretty rich offer for Garber to sign off on the deal at this point.

I think a lot of people, myself included, took Beckham's departure to be a foregone conclusion.

So, where does this leave us? What does Beckham's return mean for MLS, the midfielder himself, and the future of the "grow the game" mission?

1. MLS is no pushover

No matter whose "fault" it was, AEG's, Major League Soccer's, or Milan's, the disintegration of the transfer deal will give foreign clubs pause when negotiating with the league. Short term, this could cause European clubs to think twice before looking to MLS for talent. While this might allow MLS to hang out to it's younger stars, it might also lower its profile as a strong feeder league. Regardless of the actual fallout, Don Garber will spin it as a positive; it's his job and we should expect nothing less.

2. Beckham the Villian

Beckham's image is now forever altered in the minds of not only soccer fans in the U.S., but the unconverted as well. Whether supporters of MLS or not, Americans are less likely to be enthralled by the Englishman after he tried to jump ship. The net effect of a heel turn could go either way; the die-hard MLS fans will certainly be present to boo Beckham mercilessly, but I'm not sure if the Beckham-mania tag-alongs will still show up.

3. Letting Donovan go just got a lot easier

Beckham's return opens the door for Donovan's departure, should Bayern Munich decide they want to keep him. While it's clear that Landon is the more important player in terms of on-field success, having Beckham back lets them justify selling off their other star.

4. Expect a Beckham mea culpa

I can't wait for the "Return of Beckham" press conference: Becks, dressed sharply in an Italian suit and flanked by Galaxy brass, will reiterate his commitment to the team and to the mission of helping soccer grow in America. MLS fans from around the country will laugh, ESPN will again fall over themselves to cover it, and all of us soccer blogger guys will have fodder for at least another week.

5. Beckham's effort level will be discussed all year long

Already, not more than a few hours after the story broke that he will return, there are those who are predicting that Beckham will sleepwalk through the MLS season. While it's certainly a possibility, I doubt that he'll do so intentionally. If anything, we'll see last year's Becks, a player of high quality subconsciously dogging it due to the less-than-stellar talent around him.

I'll be back later with the pros and cons of Beckham's return.

I meant to add a disclaimer as well- I'm not naive enough to believe that a deal still couldn't happen; I just think both the Galaxy and MLS (read: Don Garber) have decided they are being taken advantage of, and will continue to hold a hard line no matter if AC Milan comes back with an improved bid or not.

Friday Morning Briefs

Friday, February 13, 2009 | View Comments
I'm a little booked up today, so a couple of quick hitters:

TV Ratings a Small Victory

Nielsen released the ratings for USA-Mexico on ESPN2 (0.8 rating, 1.2 million total viewers), and despite little effort from ESPN, they were pretty darn good (qualifier: for soccer). The Wednesday broadcast was the most ever watched WCQ on ESPN, a history that includes 26 matches. Univision and ESPN Deportes cleaned up, of course, with Univision setting a new record for viewership. While I'm encouraged by the numbers, I want to be sure I view them in the right context; I may try to break them down a bit when I have a little more time. On the face of it, it looks like soccer is gaining more and more traction as time goes along. The ratings also indicate one or both of two things: one, Hispanic viewers watching the English-language broadcast helped ESPN2's ratings, and two, the Euro Snob factor continues to rear it's ugly head. These ratings (and FSC's EPL ratings) only serve to reinforce the stark fact that American soccer fans just don't want to watch MLS.

Beckham Deadline Day

Today is Don Garber's unofficial deadline day for the Galaxy-to-Milan Beckham transfer. I haven't seen anything that would indicate a deal is done, although the Mail Online is reporting that the Italian club's bid is 8 million pounds ($11.5 million). That number would fit nicely with my earlier prediction, but would certainly be a disappointing result for those of us who believe Milan should be made to pay a premium for Goldenballs. I may be incommunicado when the actual transfer deal comes down (provided the deadline isn't a bluff), but I'm sure I'll have plenty to say as soon as I can get myself back to the keyboard.

DC United Give Up on the District

This is big news (for soccer fans anyway) in my neck of the woods, so I would be remiss if I didn't mention it. Steven Goff and others are reporting that DC United is now actively working with Prince George's County to make a stadium in the county a reality. As the Poplar Point project continues to fall apart, there was really no choice for United. As a Virginia guy myself, I would have loved for a stadium to go up on my side of the Potomac; selfishness aside however, it's good to see one of Major League Soccer's most visible franchises move forward on giving their fantastic fans an actual home. As vibrant and raucous as La Barra Brava, the Screaming Eagles, and La Norte make RFK, they just can't fill it up and give United the atmosphere they deserve. I'll be following this one closely. While my soccer passion has only grown up in the last few years, when it has been difficult for me to make it to RFK, I am anxious to see the team play in person. Although PG County would be a longer trip for me, and for other Virginia-based United fans, I'm sure the trade off of a soccer-specific stadium filled to the brim with rabid supporters more than makes up for a couple of extra miles.

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