Edu Out for USMNT

Sunday, May 31, 2009 | View Comments

The rise of Maurice Edu to National Team prominence took a hit today, as the midfielder will remain in Glasgow to receive further evaluation on the knee he injured in Rangers' final league match last weekend.

Edu has yet to receive a significant run out for the US, and it appeared that his big chance was approaching with his rapid rise to Scottish league stardom. It's unclear if Edu would have figured in either of the Americans upcoming qualifiers, but his presence would have added depth and an athletic contributor to the midfield stable.

I'm extremely disappointed with this news, as I was excited to see what an in-form and confident Edu could do for the Nats. Edu and Michael Bradley together in the central midfield is a appealing proposition for me, and a combination that might serve the team well in hostile environments.

I'm convinced that Bob Bradley will err on the side of caution against Costa Rica, meaning that Michael Bradley will be paired with Pablo Mastroeni again (I'd rather see Torres, but that's another post). While Mastroeni's veteran presence is an asset to be exploited, the tandem lends little to the attack. Although Edu is in no way an offensive star, his greater box-to-box ability might add a new element to the team without sacrificing too much defensively.

Regardless of the tactics, Edu's absence is disheartening. He has yet to be ruled out of Saturday's match against Honduras in Chicago, though I doubt we'll see see him there either.

Week 11 Best for MLS Yet

Sunday, May 31, 2009 | View Comments

It's Sunday morning, and there's still one game left on the schedule, but it seems to be that we just had the best week yet in Major League Soccer's 2009 season.

Intriguing matches abounded, be it a top of the table clash in LA, another round of the I-95 rivalry in Foxborough, the return of a superstar to his former stomping grounds in Houston, or a Cup winning coach welcoming in the club he led to glory in Seattle.

Amazingly enough the rest of the slate, despite lacking the story lines, managed to entertain as well.

In LA on Thursday, Chicago and Chivas USA did battle in an engaging back-and-forth game that resulted in a Chicago victory thanks to a controversial penalty call. In fact, three penalties were called in that match, and while that's not the preferred method for separating the two best teams in MLS, it certainly made for an entertaining night.

Saturday's early games were barn-burners both. The Rapids, aka The Conor Casey Show, went into New Jersey and won a five goal affair full of action, including another penalty. The Red Bulls had no answers for Colorado's attack, and a brace from Casey led the Rapids to victory.

In New England, two bitter rivals did battle at Gillette Stadium. Fred opened the scoring for DC, finally putting one home after United had been denied by the crossbar on several occasions. Shalrie Joseph equalized for the Revolution, climbing the ladder for fantastic headed goal. The climax though, came when Taylor Twellman flopped in the box, earning the second controversial penalty of the week. Ralston made no mistake with the opportunity, and New England earned a much-needed three points.

The worst game of the weekend (to date, FC Dallas has yet to play Chicago as I write this) wasn't without it's appeal. Former league MVP Dwyane DeRosario returned to Houston for the first time after being traded to his home town side in the off-season. The Dynamo left the welcome mat in storage, however, thumping the Reds by a scoreline of 3-0. Houston's goals all came within a five minute span, and while the rest of the match bored thanks to the large differential, the Dynamo did more than just hold serve at home; they also put the rest of the league on notice that they're still very good.

In Seattle, the story line revolved around Sigi Schmid coaching against the club that he led to a league title last year. Columbus went into Qwest desperately needing three points after an abysmal start to their season, and while a spirited effort and a world class goal by Alejandro Moreno nearly won them the game, Nate Jacqua and the Sounders had other ideas. 29,000+ exulted when Freddie Ljundberg earned a first half penalty, but the Swede pushed the shot wide. The equalizer finally came in the fifty-eighth minute, when Nate Jacqua coolly finished a Ljundberg chip. Though the game ended in a anti-climatic 1-1 draw, it was yet another engaging match in a wonderful atmosphere for MLS Week 11.

On paper, the late games looked to be the worst of the day; but in both LA and San Jose, fabulous goals and attacking play made for edge-of-your-seat viewing. The Galaxy and Wizards played back and forth for 80 minutes plus, with the LA side hitting the frame of goal on several occasions. It was Kansas City who broke through first, however, thanks to a Davy Arnaud redirection off of a powerful headed by Roger Espinoza. The Galaxy pushed hard for the equalizer, and it was the introduction of Edson Buddle that gave them the spark they needed. Landon Donovan found Buddle on a diagonal run to the left side of the box, and the striker did well to fire it past Wizards keeper Kevin Hartman. Los Angeles continued their drawing ways, but the two teams put on another show worthy of the Week 11 trend.

Meanwhile, in San Jose, Real Salt Lake and San Jose ended their match with the home side taking three needed points. Newcomer Cornell Glen started the scoring for the Earthquakes in the fifty-second minute, on a nicely placed header off of a cross by fellow newcomer Michael Zaher. Arturo Alvarez added to the lead with a Goal of the Week candidate, a left footed rocket that screamed past RSL keeper Nick Rimando. While the visitors pulled one back thanks to the work of sub Robbie Findley, it wasn't enough to bring them back.

A hell of a week, to say the least. If you haven't done so, I suggest you head over to and watch the highlights for each and every game; Week 11 was a fantastic showcase of how good MLS can be, poor officiating (I'm looking at you, Hilario Grajeda) or not.

The play on the field was fantastic, and the league even did well in the stands across the board (okay, except for New York). A brief look at attendance, just from Saturday's matches:

New York v. Colorado: 12,039
New England v. DC United: 15,271
Houston v. Toronto FC: 16,037
Seattle v. Columbus: 29,126
LA Galaxy v. Kansas City: 19,673
San Jose v. Real Salt Lake: 10,153

What was your match of the weekend to this point? Do you think the league is turning th corner on attendance, even just a little bit?

Well boys and girls, get ready for one hell of a show. Ginge's beloved Everton have fallen in their bid for the FA Cup, and that's sure to make for an extra lovely Black Cloud atmosphere.

Zach and I will breakdown the fan's version of the "club v. country" debate (guess who's for club, and guess who's for country), discuss more USOC issues in light of Gary Smith's comments (and Adrian Hanauer's response), touch on Philly's managerial decision, and there will be a bit about ESPN's coverage of foreign soccer as well. We'll also talk to's Noah Davis about Bob Bradley's squad for the upcoming qualifiers, and get his take on the Unites States' chances.

Episode 14 of the Match Fit USA Soccer Show, coming Monday morning.

Be sure to subscribe in iTunes, download the most recent episode by clicking beneath the CSRN logo on the right, or listen through the media player at the Champions Soccer Radio Network website.

Yet more in the continuing saga of the Portland stadium efforts. Don Garber has now appealed directly to Dan Saltzman, a City Commissioner and the man with the swing vote that may hold the future of the Timbers as a Major League Soccer franchise in his hands.

Garber wrote a letter to Saltzman, a missive outlining the importance of renovating PGE Park in order to properly maximize the soccer atmosphere.

It appears that Saltzman inquired with Garber and the league on the possibility of both the Timbers (MLS version) and the Portland Beavers baseball team continuing to share the stadium.

Garber didn't mince words on the league's position:
As I said during the March expansion announcement, the selection of Portland is contingent on the renovation of PGE Park and the relocation of the Beavers to another venue outlined in the deal between the City of Portland and the Paulson family. Without the fulfillment of this plan, MLS cannot expand to Portland.

While it's been known that an agreed and approved stadium renovation plan was a prerequisite for the Timbers joining the league, this is the first instance since the expansion announcement of the league clearly stating this in publicly available communication.

Garber goes on to outline three areas that make a soccer/baseball ground share distasteful to the league. These include "seating configuration", a concern that speaks directly to both revenue and atmosphere. In the current setup, PGE Park has no sideline seating on the east side of the field. Not only does this limit the higher cost seats that the Timbers could sell, it also creates a noise void and bad television broadcasts (as the TV cameras would point towards the empty side of the stadium).

The league's other concerns are "field surface" and "schedule", two aspects of a baseball stadium that create havoc for professional soccer teams. Almost as ugly as American football lines in places like New England and New York are the infield-outfield transition and pitchers mound eyesores in baseball stadiums. Scheduling conflicts are pains that league would like to avoid at all costs; while they desperately try to move teams out of stadiums where clubs don't have scheduling control, it would be a massive step back to have the Timbers in situation that would lead to potential problems.

You can read Garber's letter here (pdf)

The Donovan Dilemma

Friday, May 29, 2009 | View Comments

Match Fit USA contributor Jason Kuenle breaks down the many possible roles for Landon Donovan in the United States National Team setup.

By Jason Kuenle

With the season over for most European leagues, and with at least five big matches in the month of June, the US national team is once again front and center in the minds of soccer following Americans. I started thinking about this post after seeing a posting on another blog including a starting XI for the upcoming qualifiers that did not include Landon Donovan in the lineup. The poster stated that he left out Donovan because he disappears in big matches. This is the most often cited reason that Donovan detractors state when claiming that Donovan is overrated. While Donovan may be overrated, I believe that he does belong on the pitch for every important national team game. The question is where? In what position does Donovan most greatly improve the US’ chances for success?

Finisher? Playmaker? Both? As the all-time US leader in both goals and assists, Donovan has proven the ability to score and create. In addition he can play both sides of the field. This combination allows him to slot into any of the following positions: front man, support striker, either wing forward, center attacking mid, or either side mid. Below is a short pro/con list for each of these positions as it relates to the national team. Please feel free to add pros and cons by commenting below.

Front Man
Pros: Dedicates the leading goal scorer to thinking only about scoring goals
Cons: Not physical enough to play a target striker; little advantage over Altidore; limits his space to create for others

Support Striker
Pros: Goal scoring position without the cons of being a front man
Cons: Requires a front man who is a scoring threat to keep central defenders honest

Wing Forward
Pros: Close enough to score but enough space to create; a 4-3-3 with Donovan, Altidore, and Dempsey up top could be lethal
Cons: US is not moving to this formation anytime soon and even if they did it would start looking like a 4-5-1 very quickly.

Central Attacking Mid
Pros: Optimal position to orchestrate attacks; too deep to be marked out by central defenders
Cons: Requires unlikely (or terrible) formations 3-5-2, 4-3-3, 4-1-2-1-2 (or the dreaded 4-5-1); congests the middle for Michael Bradley’s runs at goal

Side Mid
Pros: Space to run and create; widens the US attack; matches up against a fullback instead of a central defender
Cons: Limits goal scoring opportunities

During Donovan’s career with the national team, managers have viewed his versitility as his strongest asset. He has consistantly played wherever the US was the weakest at that time. If Altidore does not start against Costa Rica, I would not be surprised to see Donovan start in the hole and move to the left side when Altidore comes in.

When I sat down to write this, I was hoping for answers, but in doing so I’ve only come up with more questions; if a formation was built around Donovan instead of putting him wherever the US is weakest, would he disappear in big matches? If Altidore were the front man with Donovan as a support striker, would Donovan have space to work that pairing him with Ching doesn’t afford him? What would the national team look like in any of the formations (besides the 4-5-1) with Donovan as a central attacking mid? Would Donovan be content with a creator role if he’s permanently moved opposite Dempsey or would he constantly be sliding into the middle?

Jason Kuenle has been a guest columnist for Match Fit USA since winning the MFUSA writing contest. He can be e-mailed at

MLS Daily 5/29

Friday, May 29, 2009 | View Comments

As promised (and literally only five minutes later), here's the link to my newest MLS Daily column, a commentary on the MLS influence on the USMNT.

Have a look and berate me accordingly.

MLS Influence on the National Team Fading

MFUSA Profiled

Friday, May 29, 2009 | View Comments
As if you don't get enough of me already...

Soccer City FC recently asked me to participate in the series on soccer bloggers, and my answers to their questions are now posted.

Match Fit USA -- A Chat On USMNT And MLS

Go take a look.

Oh, and my MLS Daily column on the influence of MLS in the U.S. National Team is coming soon.

| edit post

Officials from Mexico's FMF and CONMEBOL will meet in Nassau during the FIFA meetings taking place June 1st, with an eye towards working out the differences that saw Mexican teams pull out of the Copa Libertadores.

This appears to be the first step in an effort by the South American confederation to make nice with the big money FMF, an effort that will eventually end with Mexican clubs back in the big-time Libertadores.

While that may be good news for fans of the Mexican game (especially those that support big clubs), it's not necessarily the best news for fans of other CONCACAF leagues.

With Mexico shunning CONMEBOL, there were some that the the CONCACAF Champions League would benefit; without the carrot of the much more prestigious Copa Libertadores, those those would be more likely to treat their own confederation's top club as a tournament worth winning. That could only be a good thing for Major League Soccer, the Costa Rican league, and others around the region. More attention in Mexico means more money, which would theoretically raise the prestige of the CCL.

It's hard to blame the FMF, however, if they are in fact receptive to CONMEBOL and end up jumping right back into bed with them. CONMEBOL is where the biggest clubs in this hemisphere are, and Mexico's vision of itself (as a giant footballing country) means that pride will more than likely win out over principal.

Expect CONMEBOL to say something like:

"We apologize if you were offended. Our clubs were simply concerned about the Swine Flu, and it was not meant in disrespect to you or your clubs. We hope you accept our invitation to return to our competition, as we believe that Mexican clubs add richly to it.".

At which point the FMF will nod thoughtfully and say:

"We accept your apology, and humbly accept your invitation, as we wish to resume our relationship with CONMEBOL. Mexican futbol is among the best in the world, and we are honored to have the opportunity to test ourselves against the storied clubs of South America."

Handshake, smile, handshke...

And voila! It's like it never happened.

Too bad for CONCACAF.

Jason on the Midnight Ride

Thursday, May 28, 2009 | View Comments

A quick heads up for those of you that just can't get enough of me:

Hank over at Revs Midnight Ride has his new podcast up today, and it includes yours truly speaking about DC United.

Go check it out if you're a Revs fan, a United fan, or just an MLS junkie.

Episode 5-The Midnight Ride

Nowak to be Union Manager

Thursday, May 28, 2009 | View Comments

Ives Galarcep is reporting that the Philadelphia Union have lined up Peter Nowak to be the clubs first ever head coach/manager. Nowak is a proven MLS head coach, has a league title on his resume (DC United, 2004), and is a solid hire for the 2010 expansion side.

I'm no Union fan, and I expect those that are will be happy with the choice, but color me just a little disappointed.

Don't get me wrong, there's absolutely nothing wrong with Nowak, and Philadelphia is certainly better off bringing in someone who knows the league and its quirk. This move is right along the same lines as Seattle's hiring of Sigi Schmid, in that the club gets a proven winner who understands player acquisition rules and the league's style of play.

But with all of the rumors that have been swirling around Philly's manager hire in recent weeks, it's a little disappointing to see the club bring in a name that has been here before. Mentions of Sven Goran Erikson, as ridiculous as they were, had me hoping for a "big splash" kind of hiring. The more publicity the league gets abroad, the better; a big name like Erikson would get the foreign press talking about the league, which always tends to bleed over just a bit to our own mainstream media.

Philadelphia and Nick Sakiewicz did the right thing. They moved for a man with credentials and experience in Major League Soccer, and there are not too many guys out there with that type of resume.

Good for Philly; you'll just have to excuse my disappointment.

Bravo to Gary Smith. The Colorado Rapids head coach spoke out on the deplorable state of the U.S. Open Cup after his side's 1-0 loss to the Seattle Sounders on Tuesday. At the top of Smith's hit list was the Sounders' choice to play the match at Starfire Sports Complex rather than Qwest Field, and Major League Soccer's obvious disdain for the country's oldest cup competition.
"(The way) the whole system has been conducted has led us down a path that it was obvious the MLS league games are far more important to everybody in our league," Smith said. "Why should we risk our best players when nobody actually sees this as an important competition?

Smith's frustrations may seem like sour grapes, but it's clear he simply wants to see American soccer with a knock-out tournament akin to England's FA Cup. Romance, no matter the possibility of lower level teams knocking off the MLS big boys, is severely lacking in the U.S. Open Cup. It's a result of the severe lack of interest both MLS and its clubs have in seriously competing for the trophy.
"I come from an environment and culture where Cup games are part of the fabric as English football and European football. I think people at the top have demeaned this competition by playing it here for starters. Why don't we play the games at Qwest? Why, when we offered up the facilities at our own turf, are we not there?

The Sounders response to this, of course, is that Starfire provided a more intimate setting for the type of crowd they expect to get for a U.S. Open Cup qualifier. My immediate question is, why is that the case? I understand that the game was midweek and might not be quite the draw a weekend night might be; but if the team is able to sell out a 28k stadium for league matches, why is the bar lowered to 4k for Open Cup games?

Smith also commented on the "private" nature of the Open Cup draw.
"Why can't we promote the Cup in a more sensible fashion so everyone can get behind it?" he said. "There is a behind close door draw done and we end up here in a facility that is below par. We have seen two very good teams do battle on a below-par surface and facility.

It's a good question, and one that I hadn't really considered before. My issues with the Open Cup goes so far beyond the nature of the draw, that I simply hadn't realized that it was done in such a fashion.
"I don't understand that with the strides the MLS and the league made in this country. Seattle has proved this week already what a good team they are. It doesn't suit them either and I'm surprised."

Smith doesn't strike me as the John Carver type, frustrated enough with the league and the condition of the game here to simply walk away. I think his concerns come from a genuine place of interest in seeing the game succeed in the U.S., and he seems to believe that a properly run and well-respected cup competition should be part of that success.

I agree.

Trouble in Portland

Wednesday, May 27, 2009 | View Comments

And so it continues out in Timbers country. The dissenting voices on the PGE Park renovation/Portland Beavers stadium issues are already both loud and relentless, and it appears that they have new ammunition.

A post on The Portland Mercury's website contends that Portland mayor Sam Adams has withheld an economic study that indicates a new Portland Beavers stadium in the currently proposed section of the city (Lents) would actually result in a net job loss.

This is bad news for the Timbers and their MLS ambitions. Nothing has gone right in Portland since that original city council vote way back in March. I suspect most observers, both casual and otherwise, naturally assumed that the first vote was binding and that Portland's stadium situation was sorted. We know now that the vote meant nothing in the grand scheme, and that there is plenty of work to be done in Merritt Paulson is to bring his Timbers to Major League Soccer.

It's difficult to know if the study is, on its own merits, a stadium killer. Without a new park for the Beavers, allowing the Timbers to be the lone tenant of a renovated PGE, the expansion franchise awarded to Portland could be in jeopardy.

I won't bother with the Montreal-as-backup-plan speculation, but I will say that this latest blow to Portland's stadium plan cannot be happy news for Don Garber. From an outside perspective, it appears that the chances of this deal getting done and the Timbers entering MLS in 2011 get smaller and smaller every day.

With a mentioned deadline looming at the end of the summer, it behooves Paulson and Adams to get this thing figured out sooner rather than later. The comments on the Mercury's website indicate that there may be some holes in the aforementioned study, but that's unlikely to matter in the court of public opinion.

I'm hoping that there are a few Rose City denizens out there who can shed some light on this subject and give us a sense of where things stand, with a particular focus on public opinion. If you're reading this and your from Portland, please share your thoughts.

Welcome, kind reader. This little intro is a late addition to this post, and is a nod to the fantastic points made in the comments that resulted from my opinion. I won't say that I'm completely convinced that I was wrong when I originally wrote this missive, but I will say that I have scaled back my convictions just a little. Some very astute readers have pointed out flaws in my hypothesis, and while I could go stomping away with fingers shoved firmly in my ears, I'm more than capable of revising my thoughts. What you'll find here is still my basic belief, and while there may be just a small amount of confusion as to my point (which is my failing as a writer), I think it important for you to read both my organically produced post and the resulting comments for proper context.

Generally speaking, I'm all for the success of women's soccer. I can appreciate the skill and ability that the best women players in the world possess, and I'm happy to see the latest attempt at a viable league that showcases those attributes succeeding. I'm proud that the United States has led the way in promoting women's soccer, that the greatest women's national teams have been American, and that young girls all over this country have role models their peers around the world simply do not have.

Unfortunately, I have a bit of a problem. Despite my feelings of pride and appreciation, it is my belief that the success of American women in the sport has stunted the growth of the men's professional game in the United States.

None of this, no matter what you might think, comes from a place of sexism. I don't begrudge women the right to play the game and get paid for it. I don't begrudge them the spotlight they've received in this country. I don't begrudge them all of the success they have or may have, and I won't make the argument that the nascent Women's Professional Soccer league is hurting MLS or men's soccer.

No, the effect of women's soccer on the men is a matter of perception, and it goes back to those original great United States Women's National Teams. Players like Michelle Akers and Mia Hamm are legends in the history of the sport, and their dominance in the early years of international competition was truly remarkable. But in being so dominant and receiving the amount of attention they did (and rightfully so), they fundamentally altered the image of soccer in the American sports consciousness.

The most transcendent soccer image of the last twenty years, a moment that crossed over into the mainstream American sports scene, is that of Brandi Chastain, on her knees with arms raised and shirt in hand, exultant after putting home the winning penalty in the 1999 Women's World Cup Final. There is no equivalent image for American men's soccer; even a shocking run to the quarterfinals in the 2002 World Cup came and went without marking our culture the way that Chastain and her teammates did.

For millions of Americans, both male and female, it has therefore been burned into their minds that soccer is a women's game. The only major American success (i.e. victory, because we're all about winners) attained on an international stage was accomplished by women; the conclusion is then easily drawn by those already closed off to soccer by mistaken assumptions or reactionary tendencies (the "foreign" factor) that the game is therefore a "woman's sport". Even those with more liberal outlooks on gender equality or with a proclivity to accept "new" passions like soccer have trouble reconciling "major sport" with it because of the connections formed by Hamm, Lilly, Chastain and company throughout the 1990's.

In effect, this means that not only does the anti-soccer crowd have another rallying cry (as asinine as it is), but also that the casual American sports fans is less likely to give the game a chance. The inherent sexism that exists in our sporting culture may be unfortunate and lamentable, but it clearly exists. Sports passion tends to be a one-way affair; while millions of American women follow men's teams avidly, only a minuscule fraction of men do the same with women's teams (and I know of no real-life examples). Latent sexism in the culture means that any success attained by women in soccer reflects negatively on the sport as whole rather than boosting its popularity (as it actually should).

Major League Soccer is the entity most affected by all of this; while the women and their game have carved out a niche thanks to passionate female fans, America's top men's league has struggled in comparison (with allowances for the relative meaning of "success"). Sports are inarguably driven by the collective interest of male culture, a culture has mostly rejected soccer in the U.S. I have no doubt that part of that rejection can be attributed to the aforementioned perception that soccer in America is a women's game first and foremost.

I personally have very little interest in WPS or women's international soccer. This is probably a failing on my part, one I will readily admit to. My passion and attention inevitably fall to the men's game, and I have no real defense for what I'm sure comes off as a sexist attitude. On occasion, I've even been known to lament the need for the "M" in "USMNT".

But I have no (or little) resentment towards the women's game, despite my opinion of their effect on the prospects of the men's version in the United States. I accept the current situation and the history that caused it as it is, with no bitterness. I've never thought to myself, "If only women's soccer hadn't gotten so big here", or anything of similar ilk. I still believe that MLS and men's professional soccer will become a major part of American culture, and I hope that it will in concert with a strong women's league.

I'm no sociologist; I have no empirical evidence to back up this viewpoint, and my opinions are based solely on being an American male living in the American sports culture.

I expect to receive some criticism for my views, though I suspect there are some out there that will understand my statements, keep them in proper context, and realize that I'm not simply being sexist.

I apologize for the length and the tone, but there was really no other approach to this post that made sense.

Hopefully most of you will allow me this one departure from the norm and stick with me as I return to more idle subjects.

Does anyone get what I'm saying here? Dissenters, make your voice known.

USMNT Roster Review

Tuesday, May 26, 2009 | View Comments

The United States Mens National Team camp roster came on Sunday, and while I posted it here, I didn't add much comment. Because I know all of you are desperate to hear my opinions, I'm going to take a look at the roster a little more in-depth.

The next period is extremely important of the US Nation Team, and not just from a World Cup qualifying standpoint; the Confederations Cup is rapidly approaching, and while the results there might not mean much in the grand scheme of things, it will set the tone for Bradley's stewardship for the rest of 2009 and into 2010.

I'm breaking this down by position (naturally), with a few thoughts on each group.


Tim Howard
Brad Guzan

No suprise here, as Howard is the entrenched number one American keeper, with Brad Guzan fairly settled at number two. I might prefer the second keeper be someone with a bit more recent club play under his belt, and there are a few names that come to mind; but I'm really not concerned enough to drag up possible replacements for Guzan, so let's just move on. I do like the inclusion of Luis Robles as a training keeper, simply to expose him to the environment.


Carlos Bocanegra
Jonathan Bornstein
Danny Califf
Jay DeMerit
Frankie Hejduk
Oguchi Onyewu
Heath Pearce
Jonathan Spector
Marvell Wynne

I like the inclusion of Wynne (though I wonder if he'll dress much), but I'm troubled by the state of our back-line pool if Bradley thinks these are the best of the bunch. One conspicuously omission is Michael Parkhurst, who some out there are calling to be immediately included in the first team setup. We know that Bradley's locked in Onyewu and Bocanegra in the middle, so any intrigue would need to be of the reserve/fullback variety. Hejduk's going to continue to get the call until he is proven unable to handle it (which hasn't happened yet, at least not in CONCACAF), Spector is back in the mix thanks to a return for West Ham at the end of their season, and Bornstein seems to have a place in Bradley's heart. Pick and choose among the rest for pros and cons, though it's fairly clear that experience has won out. Not a Califf fan.



Check on Bradley, Edu (excited to see if his form carries over), Mastroeni (despite my reservations about him, he's still worthy), and Torres (perhaps the most exciting younger player still yet to get a full showing). After that, it gets a little dicer; Adu is still getting the benefit of the doubt without any recent club playing time, Beasley couldn't crack the Rangers lineup and may not be completely healthy, Kljestan's stock has dropped precipitously in recent months, and Feilhaber is on the "comeback trail". I have no real issues with any of these choices, though I wonder if Bradley would have been better served to call in some alternate choices. I don't really know why it strikes me as noteworthy, but I do find it interesting that of the midfield collections, only two play in MLS (Kjlestan and Mastroeni).



Although listed at forward (which is how they are designated on the player pool list at, two of this group might be more accurately called attacking midfielders (Dempsey and Donovan). Jozy has shown himself to be the most dangerous option, and despite his lack of club time and recent toe surgery, was an absolute no-brainer. Cooper is probably the most conspicuously omission, if only because those calling for his inclusion for each and every camp make so much noise. I'm not sure if Bradley included Davies because he believes in him that much, or because his suspension in Sweden makes him uniquely available (meaning he won't miss out on opportunities to play for Hammarby, despite them being in-season). A couple of MLS names come to mind that could have taken Davies spot without much trade off, but I don't really have a bone to pick here. I'll refrain from the "worthiness of Ching" in the interest of saving a few dead horses.

Bob Bradley often engenders frustration when he chooses predictable rosters such as this, and I expect this round will be no different. The problem remains that Bradley's most urgent task is to win in CONCACAF and qualify, and this is certainly the type of group that can get that job done.

To add to this discussion, we'll have Noah Davis of on the podcast this week, so be on the lookout for that..

A Note on Adu

Tuesday, May 26, 2009 | View Comments

A quick hitter, partly because it's a slow day, and partly because I'm swamped with the bill-paying job.

This just came across Freddy Adu's Twitter account (which I have no reason to believe is fake):

FreddyAdu11 a lil bit of a chance i might stay here or somewhere else.Benfica gotta sell to make up for lost money.Ill find out more within next 2 weeks

Make of that what you will, but it will be interesting to see what happens if Benfica dumps the wunderkind.

Start the ridiculous speculation now: Is a return to MLS in the cards, and might that be the best thing for Freddy?

Happy Memorial Day boys and girls. I hope you are enjoying your holiday while properly honoring those who gave their lives to protect our country.

While many of us are enjoying hamburgers, hot dogs, a nice beer (I recommend Magic Hat's Number 9 for such an occasion) and the company of family and friends, others are out on the internet, posting their inane ramblings on American soccer and ruining my mood.

I give you two such imbeciles after the jump.

First, a caveat: Bleacher Report (the site which is currently featuring the two posts I'm about to highlight) is a wasteland of poor writing, ridiculous ideas, and almost nothing of merit. Of the "stories" posted to Bleacher Report, it is my humble estimation that a full ninety-nine point nine percent of them are so poor that they are actually damaging to any reasonable soccer brain (it's equally as bad in the other sports they "cover", but this is about soccer). I generally try to avoid Bleacher Report at all costs, but today I couldn't help myself.

My case, in two perfectly illustrated points:

First, a nice little post written in a "slide show" format, which I assume helps get the writer points across with clever word bites and pictures. Thanks buddy, those shots of random MLS action really made me think. The post is entitled "What the MLS Must Do To Still Be in the US in 2020", and bravely sets out to "fix" soccer for the American audience.

Check out these brilliant ideas:

1. Increase the goal size to increase scoring (blech)
2. Reduce the field size to create faster play (Um, ok)
3. Shorten the game to 60-70 minutes (What?)
4. PK tie-breakers for all games (No, no, no, NO!)
5. Increase PK calls during matches (Hold please, I need to vomit)

I have neither the time nor the energy to rip into these ideas individually, but I bet you can guess just how that would go.

But wait, there's more!

Not only does our first writer suggest ridiculous ideas that would so completely change the game that we might as well just come up with a new name for it, he actually has a defender!

Okay, so not completely, but he is followed up by someone equally as dense about soccer, who begins by explaining why his fellow Bleacher Report "writer" is wrong, and then goes ahead and suggests slightly less stupid but equally as ridiculous (not to mention "done before") ways to "Americanize" the game.

May I present do-do number two's main points:

1. Keep the official time on the scoreboard, and have it COUNT DOWN (Wait, haven't we done that before?)
2. More subs, with re-entry allowed (Some of you might like this, I don't)
3. Go back to American-style nicknames (Americans don't like soccer because a team uses "FC"? Please)
4. No jersey sponsors (How does this have bearing on the popularity of the sport?)

Daft guy number two then defends the idea of tiebreakers and more penalty calls (hold, vomiting again), while actually managing to suggest a few reasonable ideas (mid-market expansion for one). Hey, even a blind man finds a penny every now and then.

Both of these pieces speak to issues I have with Americans and their attitudes towards soccer. Neither one of these guys seems to understand that the game doesn't need to be changed to be successful here; slow and steady growth is preferable to any possible overnight increase in interest if it means fundamentally altering the rules by which the rest of the world plays the game. American hubris, that we know better and are free to change anything we'd like whenever we'd like, is so contradictory to the strides that soccer has made in the U.S., that it makes me angry to hear it spewed.

Mr. Bleacher Report Writer, what you've just written is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever read. At no point in your rambling, incoherent post were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone on the internet is now dumber for having read it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.

Am I overreacting here? Am I wrong to think that changes like those posed at Bleacher Report would ruin the game and make it less popular in America?

This week on the Match Fit USA Soccer Show, Jason and Zach discuss Portland's supporter culture and people who don't get it, Juan Carlos Osorio and his ridiculous remarks, the USMNT roster situation, and we'll speak with Adam Soucie from Orlando about professional soccer in Central Florida and his unique promotion and relegation concept.

The Match Fit USA Soccer Show, part of the Champions Soccer Radio Network.

LISTEN in the CSRN Media Player

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Comments and criticisms on the show are always appreciated.

USMNT Roster Announced

Sunday, May 24, 2009 | View Comments
Here's the roster Bradley is calling in for camp ahead of the next round of qualifiers:





Zero surprises. Thoughts on this roster?

Live blog people! Impromptu decision to throw together a live blog for DC United and Real Salt Lake, coming up at 7:30 Eastern. Join in and give your impressions as United try to get back to the top of the Eastern Conference.

ESPN Confed Cup Schedule

Saturday, May 23, 2009 | View Comments

Perhaps this is only news to me, but I hadn't yet seen TV information for next month's Confederations Cup.

I'm guessing there's little chance I'll be able to see most of these games (although I'll be doing my best on the computer at work), but maybe you have a slightly different schedule and can take in the World Cup dry run.

ESPN's schedule for the competition in South Africa to follow, with USA matches in bold.

6/14, 9:55 am- S. Africa vs. Iraq: ESPN2 HD
6/14, 2:25 pm- New Zealand vs. Spain: ESPN2 HD

6/15, 9:55 am- Brazil vs. Egypt: ESPN2 HD
6/15, 2:25 pm- USA vs. Italy: ESPN HD

6/17, 9:55 am- Spain vs. Iraq: ESPN2 HD
6/17, 2:25 pm- New Zealand vs. S. Africa: ESPN2 HD

6/18, 9:55 am- USA vs. Brazil: ESPN2 HD
6/18, 2:25 pm- Italy vs. Egypt: ESPN2 HD

6/20, 2:25 pm- S. Africa vs. Spain: ESPN2 HD

6/21, 1:00 am- Iraq vs. New Zealand: ESPN2 HD (delay)
6/21, 2:25 pm- Italy vs. Brazil: ESPN HD
6/21, 2:25 pm- USA vs. Egypt: ESPN2 HD

6/24, 2:25 pm- Semifinal #1 (1A vs. 2B): ESPN HD
6/25, 2:25 pm- Semifinal #2 (1B vs. 2A): ESPN HD

6/28, 8:55 am- Third Place Match: ESPN2 HD
6/28, 2:25 pm- Confederations Cup Final: ESPN2 HD

Believe it or not, that's the Confederations Cup trophy at the top of the post.

MFUSA Soccer Show 13 Preview

Saturday, May 23, 2009 | View Comments

The newest Match Fit USA Soccer Show is coming Monday, and it's certainly the best one yet. Zach and I discuss Portland's supporters culture, Juan Carlos Osorio and refereeing in MLS (again), the potential roster for the USMNT's upcoming matches, and in the last segment, we're joined by Adam Soucie of Soucie On Soccer and the Orlando Soccer Supporters Club to talk about the professional game in Central Florida and Adam's unique promotion/relegation concept.

It's perfect fare for anyone looking for a footy fix on their holiday weekend, from the best American soccer podcast available.

DC United Stadium Chatter

Saturday, May 23, 2009 | View Comments

DC United's stadium efforts continue, perhaps slightly refocused with the departure of Victor MacFarlane from the team's ownership group. Loudoun, a suburban hotbed and one of the fastest growing counties in the country, has been mentioned as a possible candidate for a stadium.

Today, the Loudoun Extra section of the Washington Post has posed the question of United's stadium possibly landing their in the "Living in LoCo" blog.

I profiled Loudoun briefly in my "United Stadium Location Roundup" post, and while I believe the county is far from ideal, it may represent United's best shot to get something done in the DC Metro area. Distance is an issue; Loudoun is thirty miles or more outside of the District, hardly the place for a vibrant soccer environment. Public transportation, or rather lack thereof, is also a problem. Many of United's ardent supporters prefer to use public transportation to get to matches, and Loudoun County does not currently have a nearby metro station.

Work is beginning on an extension of Metro's Orange Line to Dulles Airport, which sits predominantly insides the Loudoun County borders; but the locations of the stadium will determine if even shuttling fans back and forth is feasible.

The Washington Post Extra post adds little to the knowledge we already have. The author was unable to get a comment out of either United or the local authorities, and I wouldn't expect there will be one for quite some time. United is certainly going to leave no stone unturned, and Loudoun is certainly on their list; but a comment from either side will only come when a deal is in place.

These stories, from Loudoun or other locals, will continue to trickle out for the foreseeable future, and while they are not necessarily newsworthy in and of themselves, they at least show that the subject is on the minds of the community.

Share you thoughts, especially you United fans and DC readers: Is Loudoun a good place for the stadium to be, or does it matter at this point (meaning, just getting a stadium is enough)?

I just realized that "Loudoun" is misspelled on the map I'm using for this post; I "borrowed" the image, so it's not my mistake. Just in case you were wondering.

Tom Veit, president of the newly minted Philadelphia Union, likes to dream big. No piddly ambitions for Tom, he's obviously a "If you're gonna do it, do it big" kind of guy.'s John Mantia has an interesting interview with Philly's top guy today, an interview in which Mantia states that Veit and the Union have ambitions to be the preeminent soccer brand in not only the United States, but in the entire Western Hemisphere.

Pretty ballsy stuff.

Good for Veit, and good for the Union. While such lofty goals are clearly out of reach for the immediate future, the club should be applauded for aiming high. Simply "getting by" isn't enough for MLS clubs anymore, and there's no reason that an American team shouldn't be looking to punch above it's perceived weight straight out of the shoot (apologies for the mixed metaphors). As we've seen with Seattle, immediate success is attainable if the club is properly marketed.

While we'll have to wait and see on Philly, it's good to know that someone else in this league is aiming for the stars. Perhaps Seattle's success (and to a lesser extent, TFC's) has emboldened the new expansion clubs to be more than a break-even proposition. It's take money to make money, or so the old saying goes, and it sounds like Phiadelphia's ownership is ready to make in investment in the club's long term future.

All of this leads me to believe that perhaps the Union coaching (manager?) hirer might just make a significant splash. No hard reasons, just speculation. I won't dismiss something out of hand just because MLS is still "minor league"; enough money and a hard enough sell can get almost anyone without a job to bite.

Veit is going to be great for the modern league from what I can tell, and he certainly appears to know how to put on a show in the media. This can only be good for MLS as far as I'm concerned, unreasonable aims or not.

Besides, the league news a new resident hype man with no more Alexi Lalas.

MLS Daily Column 5/22

Friday, May 22, 2009 | View Comments

It's Friday, which means that my column for MLS Daily is up. Go check it out, for the love of everything that is good.

In Defense of Chivas USA

CBA "Trouble"?

Friday, May 22, 2009 | View Comments

From the Columbus Dispatch comes a note on the MLS CBA negotiations (middle of the story). It strikes (no pun intended) a very sour tone, and indicates that the players were none too happy with the financial date they received from the league.

It sounds bad. It's certainly not heartening for fans and observers who understand how crucial the next CBA, and a smooth negotiating process, truly is.

But let's not panic.

As Zach and I discussed on the last MFUSA Soccer Show, the league holds most, if not all, of the leverage in these negotiations. To use a poker term, MLS is clearly slow-playing the union; holding back on giving up financial data is just another ploy in the back-and-forth. It could mean something interesting, however, something which might actually be a good sign-is MLS doing better than any of us even thought?

Why else would they hold back on providing the union with data unless that data indicates something the league doesn't really want the players to know? If the MLS bottom line was mediocre or poor, I would expect the league to hand over that information willingly, perhaps even enthusiastically. Convincing the players to swallow another bitter pill would be much easier if Garber & Co. can show that there really isn't that much money to go around.

There's also a mention of the phrase "work stoppage", something none of us want to hear. No matter the rhetoric, a work stoppage is still an extremely remote possibility, as both sides know the league couldn't survive it.

Essentially, I'm tossing this little note from the Dispatch out of the window; until we hear something more substantial, it's impossible to know exactly how things are going.

If you read the headline and thought "duh", my apologies; news is news, no matter how expected it might be. According to Paul Oberjuerge, Bruce Arena has let it slip that Landon Donovan will be in the Confederations Cup squad (duh again), but won't be playing in the Gold Cup.

Makes sense, of course, and I'm not sure it ever crossed my mind that Donovan would be playing Copa de Oro futbol. I subconsciously assumed that the sure-to-be JV team that Bradley puts out in the regional tournament would not include the all-time goal scoring leader, especially in light of the crowded Nats schedule this summer.

Perhaps I'm not telling you anything you didn't already know, and safe-assumptions are called such for a reason; but this is confirmation (I think), and therefore noteworthy, if not earth-shaking.

Bradley, as Arena did before him, relies on Donovan so much that it often appears to be a foregone conclusion that he will be called up for every meaningful match. The argument could be made that the Gold Cup really isn't meaningful this year; unlike 2007, when the full-strength team was necessary to ensure a Confed Cup berth and the kids were sent to Copa America in deference, the Gold Cup is clearly well down the priority list.

As it should be. As unfortunate as it is that fans are likely to see a young, experimental team at American venues around the country in July, that squad will still be important testing ground of depth and potential ahead of next year's World Cup.

Meanwhile, aside from the pesky business of World Cup qualifiers, the Confederations Cup gets top billing. Some lament the contrived nature of the tournament, and wonder how strong other participants sides might be; but the competition in South Africa will involve some of the world's best teams, and should be a strong test of the full-strength side's development. Showing well will not only raise confidence for the rest of the year and the remaining qualifiers, but it might also raise awareness of the team stateside for those not yet paying attention.

No Donovan at the Gold Cup? Expected and good. The choice of attacking players for the tournament should be interesting, and I'm excited to see some of the younger talent get a chance to shine. Bob, no retreads please.

Is this news to you? Expected and unsurprising? Either way, who do you see "taking" Donovan's place in the USMNT during the Gold Cup?

Old Guys Linked to MLS

Thursday, May 21, 2009 | View Comments

When accomplished European or South American players outlive their usefulness in "major" leagues, they are almost immediately connected with MLS in some fashion. Soccer fans are nothing if not rumor-hungry, and the constant movement of players from club to club provides plenty of grist for the mill.

This week, we're confronted with two such old-timers who are rumored to be considering plying their trade (ending their days?) in the good old USA. One is a Dutchman of rich pedigree and multiple European cup victories, while the other is a Portuguese superstar with a Ballon D'or to his name.

Clarence Seedorf to Philadelphia Union

I'm really not sure what to make of this. While I think it's highly unlikely, I have no doubts that the club may have inquired about the midfielder's availability. The story I've linked to above states that Seedorf would immediately become the best player in MLS; while he's certainly talented enough for that to be the case, I'd have to see him in action before I would make that statement. European players, even world-class ones like Seedorf, have a tendency to struggle in MLS initially.

By the way, Seedorf is one of my favorite players, and I would love for this to happen. I'd be making plans for a Philly trip the second he signs the contract.

Luis Figo to (Pick a Team)

This is less a rumor, and more a connection made because Figo stated he would be open to offers from America. While there's less detail here than with Seedorf and Philly, it's actually much more likely we'll see Figo here. The New England rumors are bound to start up again (partly thanks to the large Portuguese population of the region), though I have trouble seeing Figo agreeing to play for the Revs with their artificial surface at Gillette Stadium. Figo was a great player, and MLS would certainly benefit from his star power, but this is too much of a retirement home situation for me to be comfortable with it. Let him go to China, where he's bound to be the biggest going.

Bottom line? I guess it's nice to see MLS in the mix for players of this caliber, and I'm always happy to see anyone of renown mention America as a possible destination; but it's hard to get excited about players well north of thirty, no matter their pedigree. But hey, if we're going to lose an older European DP to AC Milan, we might as well get one back, right?

Thoughts? Would you like to see Seedorf and Figo in MLS?

Big news out of DC today, as owner Victor MacFarlane has sold his shares of the club to partner Will Chang.

It would appear that MacFarlane has finally had enough of the stadium game, as his ownership in DC was always based on leveraging a stadium deal into a mixed-use development project. MacFarlane made his money in real estate investment, and had little ties to the DC Metro area.

A few items of pure speculation:

MacFarlane clearly did not see a good end to the stadium saga. For him, it appears this was a matter of sooner rather than later. If the club is ultimately unable to secure a stadium deal and MLS chooses to relocate it, MacFarlane would be selling his stake anyway, so why not get out now? Expediency is the word of the day.

Although MacFarlane's sale casts a shadow of doubt over United's stadium prospects, the club will be better off with Chang in total control. Chang has always been the more involved of the two, and clearly feels a connection to the club that MacFarlane did not. Chang is also more likely to look for creative alternatives to the traditional stadium process, something that could pay dividends in the end.

It's difficult to properly frame this news without knowing all of the factors, of course, though I expect we'll hear more out of MacFarlane's camp in the not-too-distant future (Goff and Stauffer may be on the phone right now).

If there is more fallout, or if something relative to United's prospects of remaining in DC comes out, I'll be sure to provide an update.


Okay, so it's not MacFarlane, but it is the next best thing: Steven Goff has just posted a brief interview with the new majority owner of the club, Will Chang.

I take two things away from Chang's comments:

One, the removal of extraneous real estate issues from a stadium plan might make things go a little smoother than before, and it's heartening to hear Chang say that he just wants a stadium, not an investment (and oddly enough, the ideas presented by the FC St. Pauli piece I referenced in my previous post would absolutely work in DC: a functional, utilitarian facility that gets the job done without the need for bells and whistles). And two, United fans can exhale; Chang's assertions that the club is going nowhere, even if a stadium deal takes a few year, has to be great news to the faithful.

ESPN Promises World Cup Push

Thursday, May 21, 2009 | View Comments

As an American soccer fan, I'm often frustrated with ESPN's efforts to promote the beautiful game. Despite being the home of MLS and the Champions League (for the time being), the network does little else than air the matches. Soccer's profile on ESPN has been all but nonexistent for years.

Slowly but surely, though, the game is becoming more a part of ESPN's sports portfolio. While MLS and American soccer still get minimal run, the network is now working highlights from around the into their nightly SportsCenter broadcasts.

ESPN is also the American home of the World Cup. This means, that despite the generally apathy they have towards soccer, every four years they have a vested interest in pushing the sport and the event. 2010 will be no exception, and the "Worldwide Leader" has announced that effort for South Africa 2010 will be their "biggest marketing campaign ever".

I guess this is good news, though I'm not quite sure what to make of it. The context of the statement is unclear: will it be ESPN's biggest marketing campaign ever as a network, or just for the sport of soccer?

Either way, the first thing ESPN needs to do is find a few SportsCenter anchors who won't ruin soccer highlights with snarky comments or horribly butchered pronunciations. I'll be interested to see if any of the World Cup buzz bleeds over to MLS, even just a little bit, especially if the network starts their campaign early enough in 2010 that the American league is the only game in town until the tournament.

I also expect a major backlash from the soccerphobes. That'll be fun.

MLS Punk

Wednesday, May 20, 2009 | View Comments

Nothing of significance from me tonight, just wanted to pass along a link to an interesting viewpoint on how MLS should present itself:

Football, Fussball, Soccer (Fanhouse)

The writer makes strong arguments for a Major League Soccer light on corporate malarkey and frills, and heavy on atmosphere, supporter culture, and bare-bones, punk, counter-culture vibes. German second division side FC St. Pauli is his inspiration.

'Tis excellent, and I highly suggest you read it. I may decide to expound on the ideas contained therein at some point in the future.

The potential of Major League Soccer coming to Portland (it remains "potential" as long as the stadium issue is unresolved) has some questioning the prevailing (and long standing) supporters culture. On OregonLive today, a column appeared which includes a letter written to the Timbers front office; in the letter, a family decries what the writer calls "a bunch of angry white guys tanked up on liquor", "dropping F-BOMBS in their chants all night long".

The writer goes on to declare that the Timbers won't fill their newly renovated stadium if the Timbers Army is allowed to continue their dirty chanting, determining that the club will be dependent on "the large family willing to drop a couple hundred bucks on tickets and then fill up on concessions and gear".

Ugh. Where to begin.

I suppose the writer presents, inadvertently, an interesting question: Does the move to MLS behoove the Timbers to shift their focus from a counter-culture hard-core supporters model to a more family-oriented soccer-mom one?

Of course not.

The Timbers, despite the beliefs of one parent, can absolutely succeed by staying true to what go them to where they are (on the verge of MLS). In fact, it would be a crime if Paulson pointed marketing efforts in a different direction, or did anything to reduce the influence of the Timbers Army. Portland is exactly what MLS needs because it is not the staid, bland, boring fan culture that so many clubs around the league possess.

Could the Timbers Army cut down on the swearing just a touch? Sure. But any family attending a match should know what they're getting into going in; supporter culture is part of a club's identity, and shouldn't be artificially restricted for any reason short of violence or abuse. Language is too often censored unduly while parents receive a free pass, either because they're unwilling to speak frankly with their children regarding its use, or because those parents believe it is the responsibility of others to dictate its use. We're talking about words here people.

I suspect that if enough people complain, or if the Timbers see a hit to their bottom line, that they may ask their supporters to scale back on the four letter words. While there's nothing wrong with that, and I would hope the TA would be receptive to the needs of the club, it unfortunately speaks to a misstep on the part of professional soccer teams in the United States. Long term growth and entrenched cultural resonance will not be built through the family-friendly atmosphere, not matter how tempting it is to go after those dollars.

In a country where professional soccer will remain fourth or fifth in the competition for entertainment dollars for at least the time being, it's the passion of fans like the Timbers Army that will drive new interest from those yet unconverted.

My favorite part of the letter, one that speaks to the ignorance of the writer, despite their claims of a history of supporting soccer clubs:

"Do they really believe that chanting obscenities from 75 meters away impacts what happens on the pitch? Fat guys leading cheers laced with foul language is rather silly isn't it? Don't believe me, go sit down there next game."

Like I said, I don't know where to begin. To say he (or she) is missing the point would be a gross understatement.

You stay classy, Portland. I like you just the way you are.


There is now a response to the letter from the Timbers Army, which you can find here.

MLS & 6+5

Tuesday, May 19, 2009 | View Comments

6+5 hit my inbox today, in the form of a Jack Bell interview with the president of La Liga, José Luis Astiazarán. Astiazarán discussed the potential impact of the rule on his league, clearly stating that for the La Liga, it's no big deal.

The interview, related to American soccer only by later questions revolving around Spanish investment in the U.S. and the prospects of American players in Spain, immediately got me thinking about how 6+5 might impact Major League Soccer. While the richest European leagues may scramble to rework their rosters to comply with the rule, our little American league is, and should continue to be, American enough that the impact would be minimal.

But is that really the case? Besides the obvious and immediate nature of the rule, something MLS is in no position to worry about, there might be a few extraneous and more long-reaching effects.

Current roster rules make it possible for MLS clubs to field more than five internationals, though because the league uses citizenship and residency status to determine a players provenance rather than their national team eligibility, there may some overlap that makes it difficult to properly assess the effect.

For example: Bakary Soumare is not an international player under MLS rules, but would be according to FIFA, as he is now capped by Mali and is therefore ineligible to play for the U.S.

6+5 is intended to restore a national identity to domestic leagues, something big clubs and big money has reduced significantly in recent times. For some, the effects could be large; England is the most obvious example, and the debate rages on there as to whether or not the rule is a positive step or an infringement on the right of clubs field the best possible team (and is therefore an impediment to quality).

Let's put aside the immediate impact of the rule on the field, because as I mentioned, it really doesn't apply to MLS (for now, although there are a few exceptions). Instead, I'm suggesting that 6+5 will ensure that MLS will remain primarily American despite any efforts by those in power to increase the number of internationals in a bid to improve league quality in a rapid manner.

The appeal of Major League Soccer, and the strategy it uses to increase its appeal, is a delicate balancing act. The league can choose the slow and steady path it is currently on, relying heavily on Americans, or it can attempt a quick jump by increasing foreign roster spots. The former could keep the league stagnate and leave it as it currently is, generally unable to attract soccer fans who turn their back on the league. The latter might improve quality and appeal to those fans, but it could jeopardize the league's ability to develop American talent on a broad scale.

While I'm not keen on the idea that Major League Soccer should, or has an obligation to, serve as some sort of National Team proving ground, I understand the need for it to be a place for Americans to play. American players will continue to leave the country to ply their trade in greater and greater numbers as time goes on, but there will also be those that have no other option than to play in the United States. MLS should absolutely be a place for the best Americans to get on the field, and in numbers that ensure it remains American at its core.

Luckily enough, that's exactly what 6+5 is intended to do.

I'm tempted to expound on this further, and I definitely want to make the point that I'm not arguing for 6+5. It's very possibly that the rule will never go beyond the discussion phase, therefore making my point a moot one. But if it does, and if some are worried that MLS could move too far away from the American player, then the rule will keep it from going too far.

Here's an unfortunate (depending on your viewpoint) fact: the Major League Soccer salary cap isn't going anywhere. Even a significant increase in the cap seems unlikely for the foreseeable future, as the league struggles to raise its profile and bring in more television dollars. The prevailing financial prudence means that many fans will continue to be frustrated with the minuscule amount of money their teams are permitted to spend on players. This is especially true for fans of clubs that have the wherewithal to go well beyond the cap; profitable teams with strong attendance continue to be handcuffed by restrictions meant to ensure the solvency of the league, as well as maintain competitive parity.

There seems to be a reasonable answer to the problem, though. A way to allow those clubs with larger coffers to flex their muscle without out-pacing the rest of the league so much that it creates a competitive imbalance. It's called a "soft" cap.

I became aware of the soft cap concept thanks to Ben Knight from It's Called Football and Onward Soccer, who mentioned it on ICF; Ben also wrote an ebullient response to the idea, which was originally proposed by Richard Snowden of Soccer365 back in December. Richard's numbers are a little higher than I might suggest, as I would argue that something equivalent to what Duane Rollins (24th Minute) suggested in the comments of my recent post on parity makes more sense.

Take the cap as it exists, the money for which comes from the central player salary pool, and tack on an additional amount (again, Duane's $2.5 million makes sense) which owners can spend out of their own pockets to upgrade their teams. While some owners would obviously pass, it would allow those who wish to an opportunity to separate themselves from the pack. Keep the exempted amount low enough, and the league stays competitive from top to bottom, but separates things just enough to provide some haves v. havenots intrigue.

Essentially, the idea is the DP rule spread over multiple players, and capped. Imagine how much better off LA would be if half of Beckham's salary went towards the contracts of five players rather than one.

Most of what can be said on the subject already has, so I'll defer to Misters Knight and Snowden. If MLS is going to take the next step into international relevancy (both on the open player market as well as in international competitions), something needs to change to allow clubs more freedom to sign talent. A soft cap seems the most logical way to effect change without risking overspending or the league's bottom line.


A Pro/Rel Idea for MLS

Tuesday, May 19, 2009 | View Comments

Yes, we're talking promotion/relegation today. And yes, I realize that it's unlikely to ever happen, that MLS owners would never agree to it, and that the American franchise model makes it a difficult system to implement.

I also know that it's at the top of the wish list for many American soccer fans. The romance of it intrigues us, and I think the added pressure of possible relegation would push owners to make a proper effort to field a strong team (FC Dallas comes to mind), lest they go down.

While the current league situation makes pro/rel almost impossible, recent news leads some to believe that we could see a very different environment in the near future, one that would allow for a workable system.

Learn all about it after the jump.

Those events that may make pro/rel feasible? The demise of USL-1. Rumors are swirling (I'm not speaking to the validity of the rumor, I'm just mentioning it because they are out there, and it's necessary for the proposed system to work) that the league could be kaput if Montreal bolts for MLS (a possibility that is also being rumored). While the league may go away, there's no reason that the clubs have to: if MLS is able to get their hands on the operating rights, and FIFA comes through with second division certification, we might see MLS2 before long.

I realize that all of that is conjecture, but it is certainly within reason. With MLS and MLS2 representing the top two levels, promotion/relegation might be closer than we ever previously thought possible.

Trust me, I wouldn't bring up pro/rel, and beat the dead horse, if I didn't have something unique to share. This isn't your typical moaning about how the system would add something unique to professional sports in America (although I've made that statement before). Instead, I'm going to point you in the direction of Adam Soucie, the man behind the plan-

Common Sense: Making Promotion and Relegation Work

In Adam's system, the owners are protected to an extent, which continues to be the biggest reason most observers believe pro/rel can never happen here. Adam makes allowances for playoffs (which makes sense), discusses stadium issues (MLS2 clubs cannot move up without a proper stadium), and limits the clubs going up and down each year to one.

I'm intrigued enough to wonder if something like this could ever work.

It makes sense on so many levels that I'm hoping some of you with a little more time to break it down can help me find the chinks in the armor. Not because I want to tear down Adam's ideas, but because any proposed pro/rel system is bound to be put through the ringer by everyone in the soccer community.

My only concern is that it would take a much, much, larger TV contract to make it possible. The money to be shared needs to be of a greater magnitude in order for the owners to accept it.

Thoughts? Does Adam's system make sense? Oh, and be sure to add Soucie on Soccer to your footy rotation immediately; Adam's an excellent writer with a lot to say on the sport.

Back to this again. Manchester United's third straight Premier League title has me thinking about parity, and its role in American soccer. United's championship illustrates that a league with no controls will produce predictable and redundant results more often than not; it's simply beyond most clubs to compete for a top four spot in England, much less challenge for the title.

There just doesn't seem to be much intrigue after awhile.

My question then, living in a country where the top flight league dictates parity through salary and roster controls, is whether that parity ensures intrigue; does every club having a (somewhat) equal chance to lift the trophy make the season more interesting overall?

It's a cop out, and for that I apologize, but I simply don't know. My gut tells me it should, but my eyes don't confirm that suspicion. Major League Soccer's rules are so overbearing and heavy-handed, that I wonder sometimes if it's more "forced mediocrity" than anything else.

Without big or dominant clubs in MLS, the league becomes a wash of uninteresting results, with draw on top of draw (running 40% of results this season). Even the best team in any given year is unlikely to finish with an overwhelming record, simply because the level playing field makes them only slightly better than the league's also-rans. Add playoffs to the mix, and you get MLS 2008; a team with what can only be described as an "underwhelming" record makes the final, frustrating those of us who hope to see the best teams compete for the cup.

I'm generally not a dynasty kind of guy. It bugs me when a team (other than my own, of course) runs off a string of titles. I hate the idea that every season's end is a foregone conclusion, with the balance of play only serving to sort out the details. The EPL frustrates me for that very reason.

I realize that I'm arguing both sides here. I seem to be in possession of a very "have my cake and eat it too" attitude; I want great teams without the annoying problem of the same one winning every year. I want the league to rise above the mediocrity and provide class teams at the top, teams capable of winning not only MLS, but the available international competitions.

Is that too much to ask? Is there a balance to be struck, or are we stuck in this rut, with parity holding play back yet ensuring that the same club doesn't take home the title season after season?

The English Premier League season, more often than not, reaches a point sometime in early spring when the club who will be the eventual champion is easily identified. The intrigue at the top of the table is whisked away, and the league becomes truly interesting only at the bottom.

Major League Soccer maintains an up and down, lead-changing dynamic throughout the majority of the season; and again, because of the playoff structure, which team finishes with the most points and wins the Supporters Shield is only part of the story. Is that intrigue? I suppose. But too often, the mediocrity of it all overshadows any excitement built through parity.

I have no answers. In fact, I originally wrote most of this post on Sunday, the day after Manchester United secured their title. I was planning on posting it then, when this idea was fresh in my mind; but I held off in the hopes that I would have some conclusion to draw, rather than a bunch of half-cocked ideas. Oh well. Maybe you guys can work it out for me.

Is parity better than predictability? Does the relegation battle make up for the lack in intrigue at the top of the EPL table? Is MLS "boring" because parity means draw after draw?

This is a bit outside of MFUSA's wheelhouse, but it's extremely interesting, so I'm passing it on.

MJ over at the Steel Army (the USL-2 Pittsburgh Riverhouds supporters group) has a great interview with the owner of Ruff Neck Scarves; while there's plenty of discussion on the rise of scarf culture in the United States, the most interesting bit revolves around embattled radio personality Steve Cohen.

Ruff Neck is locked into advertising with WSD, but makes it clear they don't support Cohen. While Cohen absolutely has the right to say what he likes about the Hillsborough disaster and the Liverpool fans' role in it, his insensitivity and stubborn rejection of the truth means that he must deal with the repercussions. The First Amendment does not protect Cohen from those who take issue with his statements; those groups also have the right campaign against him, and they are obviously having an effect.

Head over to the Steel Army's blog and download the pubcast immediately to hear what Ruff Neck has to say about Cohen.

Here's the new Match Fit USA Soccer Show; this week, Zach and I take on Joey Saputo and Montreal's expansion hope, MLS ownership issues, American soccer in 2019 (Black Cloud!), the Sons of Ben and MLS supporters groups, and the MLS CBA negotiations.

The show is now part of the Champions Soccer Radio Network! Thanks to all that aided in that effort.

LISTEN the show on the CSRN Media Player

DOWNLOAD the show

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