A Cooper Transfer Question

Friday, July 31, 2009 | View Comments
Feature Allianz Arena

Tried to be clever with the headline. Failed. Oh well.

So Kenny Cooper is off to 1860 Munich, a 2. Bundesliga club. The speculation over his immediate future can end for the time being, and we can move on to the next American player likely to head overseas (anyone want to hazard a guess?).

The problem now, is that Cooper's transfer raises some interesting questions. Is Kenny's move a lateral one? Or is 2. Bundesliga a step up in competition?

Unfortunately, and I've mentioned this before, I'm not knowledgeable enough to know the answer to that question. While 1860 Munich is clearly, and by a mile, the second biggest club in their city and their stadium, they're certainly a a bigger club than any in MLS. That alone might make the transfer worth it for Cooper, who probably has an eye to another moving after a few years of playing in Germany.

But in terms of his development, is he really better off? Let's assume for a second (and I'm not arguing this, I'm just using it for this discussion) that 2. Bundesliga is, at best, a lateral move when it comes to the strength of the league. If that's the case, is Cooper actually hurting himself by accepting this transfer? Perhaps those rumors of Championship clubs in England looking at Cooper were false; I'd be shocked if he chose Germany over England if transfer fee offered up were anywhere near comparable.

Is the goal to just get out of MLS at any cost? Of course Cooper's salary should see a nice bump, so maybe that's all there is to it. Cash is king.

Maybe I'm over-thinking this, or maybe I'm just trying to fill a bit of time on a lazy Friday afternoon. I'll let you be the judge.

Is Germany's second division a step up for Cooper? Is he better off there than in MLS? Should we expect him to improve in Munich?

Inquiring minds want to know.

Cooper Leaving After All?

Friday, July 31, 2009 | View Comments
Kenny Cooper

Despite a report earlier in the week that he was likely to stay thorough the 2009 MLS season, Kenny Cooper is apparently on the verge of a move to Bundesliga 2 side 1860 Munich.

Cooper is a free agent after the MLS season, and could leave on a free transfer to the destination of his choosing. Selling him now obviously makes sense for FC Dallas and MLS, who would be able something back in a transfer fee.

According to his agent, a deal already exists in principle and could be finalized as early as next week.

It's the nature of the world of transfers; what is said one day (that Cooper is likely to stay for the season, for example), is quickly refuted by new reports only a few days later. In the midst of a poor season, this can't be good news for FC Dallas fans.

Still, it's probably time for Cooper to head back to Europe, and while Bundesliga 2 isn't the highest profile or flashiest league, Cooper should be able to secure enough playing time to make the move worthwhile. Unfortuantely, I'm not up on my lower division German football, so I can't say whether or not the quality of the league is comparable or better than MLS.

Do you think this would be a good move for Cooper?

*UPDATE* If this is legit, then it seems the deal is done and Kenny is off.

The DP Boondoggle

Thursday, July 30, 2009 | View Comments
David Beckham

I felt like opining a little tonight, so here's a relatively brief view on the Designated Player rule in MLS, a rule that is up for review after the season and has been a topic of conversation among the owners at this week's All Star Game.

Before I begin, a brief selection from the MLS roster rules:
"The Designated Player Rule allows the League to sign players (under the League's single entity system) whose salary will fall outside of the team salary budget and whose cost above the salary budget charge will be the financial responsibility of the club for which they play. A Designated Player's salary budget charge will be capped at $415,000 per annum in 2009, but his actual compensation is higher. Each team initially received one Designated Player slot, and clubs are allowed to trade Designated Player slots. However, no team can have more than two Designated Players. The Designated Player Rule is a three-year initiative that will conclude after the 2009 MLS season when its future will be reviewed."

That's the DP rule as it currently exists, word for word, directly from the website of Major League Soccer. It sounds nice, doesn't it? Star power sells in America, or so the theory goes, and adding a big name that won't completely cripple a team's ability to assemble players within the constrictions of the salary cap (although it still might) would seem to make a lot of sense.

Only, I'm not buying it.

Soccer is a team game after all, and adding one player, no matter his star status or pedigree, who will still eat up a significant portion of the salary cap (18%), seems to go against the nature of the sport. One player doesn't make a team. The logical conclusion then, is that the although DP rule is intended to raise the quality of MLS through the signing over uber-talented players, that effect will be mitigated by the collection of mediocre talent surrounding those players.

Cliche alert.

You're only as strong as your weakest link.

Perhaps quality isn't really the point; perhaps the DP rule is simply intended to raise the profile of the league through the acquisition of marketable names. The most famous, highest paid, and original DP (you know who) embodies that approach; while the results on the field have been poor, the attention gained, shirts sold, and hype built has made the endeavor worthwhile. Right?

Or not. Too many of those casual fans that gravitated towards the star power of Brand Beckham flitted away rather than stick around and give themselves (and their money) over to MLS. For a moment in time, it seemed worth the imbalance that the DP created. But the league knows, and Don Garber has admitted, that their sales pitch should be aimed at the established soccer fans, not the shallow gawkers; the former have yet to indicate that they'll give their money and time to a league made up of teams with one shining star in constellation of lesser lights.

MLS is facing a dilemma (although I'm not sure they realize it): sell out and throw money at past-their-prime names who will no doubt bring momentary spikes in attention and revenue (tickets sales, shirts, etc.), or buy in and invest in the future of the league, allowing teams to spread more money around, increasing the level of play and hopefully attracting all of those anti-MLS American soccer fans that we know exist.

If it's an either/or situation, I'm fully behind "buy in".

Maybe it's not either/or. Maybe MLS is truly capable of doing both; investing in the overall quality of the league by letting its owners spend more across the board, while also aiming for those big splashes by holding on to the specific dispensation that allows teams to declare one highly-paid player special.

This, we can only hope.

But if I was a betting man - and I'm not (often)- my money would be on DPs, and DPs alone, being the basket where MLS chooses to place all of its egges. Nevermind that many teams are either wary or unconcerned with the rule, believing they have the right plan to produce a winner without a DP or are simply afraid that dumping too much cash on one guy will come back to bite them if things don't go as planned.

DC United and FC Dallas fans, I'll pause for you to curse.

It's unlikely, that have-it-both ways scenario, and I can't shake the feeling even as the Board of Governors (i.e., the owners) prepare to review the DP rule (per both Steve Davis and the MLS rule book), that MLS has its priorities all out of whack. It's one thing to be self-aware, to know that you're not hitting the mark as you should, and to express a genuine understanding of that fact; it's another thing entirely to turn away, reset and refocus, and change your aim.

I realize that half the battle for MLS, its owner/investors, and the fans of the league is getting other people to notice. Designated Players, as long as they are of a certain caliber (and by "caliber" I mean fame rather than ability), are an easy way to drum up interest; but for lack of a better word, Designated Players are an MLS boondoggle.

Just in case you're not familiar with the word:

boon·dog·gle (bōōn'dô'gəl, -dŏg'əl)
An unnecessary or wasteful project or activity.

That's it in a nutshell for me: even on field successes like Guillermo Barros Schelotto represent misplaced priorities on the part of MLS, because they are so rare. Simply put, quality players whose salaries are "reasonable" in world football terms ($750k this season) should be more plentiful in the league. The only way to bring more in is the allow teams greater freedom with their salaries, be it through a direct raising of the cap, or through a soft cap.

We can't expect MLS clubs to become solid talent-evaluators overnight. We can't expect them to wake up tomorrow with the ability to pull good, cheap, talent out of what the greater world has to offer. MLS can't just say "do better" to its clubs and ignore the problem, leaving the league's talent level to stagnate.

Designated Players are a nice shiny toys, ones that MLS owners can show off to all of their friends around the country and the world, as if to say "See? We have high priced talent, too". But they solve nothing in the long run, and only distract from the real problems the league faces. New, soccer-savvy fans aren't going to come running because some American or Canadian club signs a world famous footballer; they'll come running when the game played here begins to resemble the one played half a world away that they watch on their televisions.

Football - Cardiff City v Derby County Coca

If you can't remember the last time you thought about Eddie Johnson, the speedy striker who showed so much promise as an MLS player before heading off to England just a year and a half ago, you're probably not alone. Johnson has seemingly dropped off of the National Team radar since leaving MLS, after getting lost in the shuffle of a manager change at Fulham and spending a year on loan at Championship side Cardiff City. With the recent emergence of Jozy Altidore and Charlie Davies, Eddie is the forgotten man, a young player who has failed to stay on an upward trending career path, and is therefore left out of most USMNT conversations.

But Eddie is only twenty-five, and there remains hope that he can convert his considerable potential into something more substantial. If he can, he just might find himself in the mix for the World Cup squad next year. A solid season, hopefully full of goals, could return his name to the list of strikers Bob Bradley considers for national team duty.

Johnson is with Fulham again, for the time being, as they begin their Europa League campaign tonight in Lithuania; there's some hope that he's starting to come around a bit, and HammyEnd.com's Dan Crawford has been kind enough to give MFUSA his perspective:

If you mentioned at the start of the summer that Eddie Johnson might play a big part in Fulham’s season, you would have got some bemused looks (at best) from most Whites fans. The American striker didn’t make the best of first impressions when he joined us in January 2008. He looked nervy and ill-at-ease during a testing debut against West Ham, missing a glorious chance that could have put Fulham back in the game.

To be fair to the young man, his start with Fulham suffered from the fact that he was a transfer earmarked by Lawrie Sanchez, who had been sacked by the time Johnson had arrived. Roy Hodgson had little choice but to give the new forward his chance immediately in the heat of a real relegation battle; but Johnson was always going to struggle in comparison to the likes of Brian McBride, one of the most highly-regarded players in recent times at Craven Cottage and probably the finest ambassador for the game in America, and Clint Dempsey, now fast emerging as a fans favourite.

By the end of a six game spell in the Fulham side, Johnson had certainly improved. He might have scored at Blackburn as the Whites salvaged a vital point in the run-in and it is no exaggeration to say that he was excellent as McBride headed a massive winner against Everton. His chances were always going to be limited once Hodgson overhauled his squad after Fulham successfully avoided relegation, with two big-money strikers arriving in the shape of Andy Johnson and Bobby Zamora.

Johnson’s education in English football continued in Wales, oddly enough, with Cardiff City. He initially struggled to adapt to the physical nature of the game in the Championship, but had earned the respect of a notoriously demanding home support at Ninian Park by the end of a difficult loan spell. He scored two goals towards the end of his time with Cardiff and headed back to Fulham in good heart.

His chances of making an impact during this campaign with the Whites have increased largely because there doubts over whether Zamora can be considered an automatic selection, having endured a disappointing season in front of goal last term. The former West Ham striker managed just four goals – two of them coming against lower-league opposition in the FA Cup – and was close to joining Hull City earlier this month. With Diomansy Kamara, another forward, reportedly edging closer to the exit door, Johnson did his cause no harm with a string of fine pre-season performances.

Perhaps motivated by the fact that he would have to up his game in order to make Bob Bradley’s squad for the World Cup in South Africa next summer, Johnson took his opportunity with both feet on Fulham’s pre-season tour of Australia. He came off the bench to good effect against Perth Glory, making two goals for Erik Nevland. What was most evident in those early pre-season matches was that his first touch and awareness of what was around him had improved markedly since his first few games in a Fulham shirt.

Johnson notched his first goal of pre-season for Fulham’s reserves against Aldershot last week. He has travelled with the squad for this evening’s Europa League qualifier against FK Vetra – a measure of how highly Hodgson must rate his improvement. Fulham have offered several Championship clubs the option of taking him on loan to aid his development and give him a chance of first-team football, but I believe some of his more trenchant critics might have written Eddie off a little too early.

It's obviously a crucial season for Johnson, not matter where he ends up, and while USMNT fans won't be putting as much hope into him as they did before, we should still keep an eye on him.

SOCCER: JUN 06 FIFA World Cup Qualifier - Honduras at United States

Just a little catch up, as I attempt to reboot my brain; I haven't exactly been at the top of my game in recent days.

Two young American players are in the news for potential moves; one who raised his stock during a strong Confederations Cup, and one who remains a frustratingly incomplete player yet to impact the USMNT.

Houston Dynamo midfielder Ricardo Clark is set to move to Italian side Livorno, but not until January, according to a reports in the Italian press. Clark's growth as a player should be helped by the move, and there's no reason to think he won't see significant playing time for the newly promoted club. Just keep in mind that I've yet to find this move as "confirmed" in any official sense.

Kenny Cooper is also staying in MLS, at least for the time being. Buzz Carrick reports that Cooper will stay with FC Dallas through the end of the 2009 season, when his current contract expires. Cooper can leave on a free transfer in January, and seems likely to do so.

It's time for Cooper to go, in my opinion, though I see no harm in his finishing out this season before heading elsewhere.

How do you feel about Clark landing in Italy, and where do you see Cooper ending up at season's end?

Owners Discussing DP Rule?

Thursday, July 30, 2009 | View Comments
Freddie Ljungberg

Through Steve Davis' excellent new blog comes word that the DP rule is up for discussion at MLS All Star Game (or was, I'm just a bit late passing this along).

While I think the changes that Davis says might be under consideration would increase the effectiveness of the rule, I'm not convinced that Designated Players don't hold back MLS. I'm working something up on the subject, and will regale you with my thoughts on the matter in the not-too-distant future.

Among the changes rumored to be under consideration are a lowering of the cap hit for DP's (currently $415k), which would obviously increase the incentive for some teams to go out and pick up a big name player. Currently, only six teams take advantage of the rule.

While I have no doubts that a few big European and South American names might be interested in playing here if the money is equal or close to it, the risk/reward equation still makes it tough for MLS teams to pull the trigger.

All Star Game, If I Must

Wednesday, July 29, 2009 | View Comments

I'm not enthused about writing this post. I'm not overly excited to break down the MLS All Stars or their Premier League opponents. I'm not particularly keen on the All Star game, and while I understand the reasons for it, I'd just as well have it go away.

It doesn't appear that it will, and so I feel obligated to write a little something on one of the oddest friendlies you'll see this summer. This isn't LA Galaxy-AC Milan, DC United-Real Madrid, or any other made-to-make-money match that pits an actual club with players who are comfortable with each other against a foreign side in the initial stages of their pre-season.

Instead, it's a collection of the best MLS has to offer against a foreign side in the initial stage of their pre-season. Sure, it will be nice to see talent from our league go up against a relatively strong team from one of the world's most popular competition; but beyond the curiosity of it, what's the real worth?

The game is a showcase, of course, a way for MLS to get themselves out there and in front of many in this country that usually don't pay attention; but the contrived nature of it all, and the fact that MLS from week to week won't resemble tonight's game in any real sense, means that (at least in my mind) the net effect is minimal. Do we really believe that anyone not already predisposed to MLS will turn towards it now if the All Stars beat Everton? I don't.

Maybe I'm missing something. Maybe there's an aspect of worth to the game that I don't see, something that makes it more beneficial to American soccer than it appears on the surface. Maybe Major League Soccer feels obligated (much as I do to write this post) to put on an All Star game simply because it is such a part of the professional sports fabric in the United States.

Hell, maybe the damn thing makes money. That's a reason to hold it, right? Every dollar counts for MLS, and if the All Star Game brings in a few, who am I to question it's worth?

To be fair, I rarely find myself excited for any All Star game, no matter the sport. Baseball's is more about tradition than anything else, and it could be argued that the Home Run Derby has transcended the game itself in buzz. Football's is a ridiculous exercise that matters so little that no one minds when players beg off of playing. All Star Games all around seem pointless and unnecessary, and I certainly carry that prejudice with me when I consider the MLS version. Soccer just seems even less of a fit for an exhibition like this, though, and I can't shake the feeling that holding it makes the league come off as "minor league".

I suppose that attitude is much of the reason for my disinterest in tonight
s game, and while I'm going to watch (again, I feel obligated), I doubt I'll be overly impressed/excited/involved in any of the action or the final result.

Enjoy the All Star Game. My prediction: MLS All Stars 3, Everton 1.

MLS Playoff Revamp

Wednesday, July 29, 2009 | View Comments

MFUSA reader Vnice, who recently proposed an MLS/USL farm system set up for American soccer, has returned with a way to "fix" the MLS playoff structure.

It’s pretty ironic that I submit this amid reports that MLS Board of Governors is considering altering the playoff format. According to Pitch Invasion, a playoff revamp may be in the works; while it would be a little better, I still say my idea would be miles above.

A lot has been made about how much the playoffs completely stink, especially because so many want a single table. The purists are especially loud on this front. Currently, the top eight teams in MLS qualify for the playoffs, or more than half the league. As it is, the current situation makes it possible for teams from the same conference to play each other in the final, a la RBNY vs. Crew last season. That game was played at Home Depot Center in Carson, CA, far away from either team’s supporters. I remember watching the final last year, amazed at how totally lame and surreal it was. Take the current situation, add a heaping tablespoon of playing-during-international-breaks, and it makes for a very frustrating state of affairs for followers of MLS.

I’m going to bullet my major ideas first.

Single table - It just makes ridiculous amounts of sense, and for those who argue against it for playoff purposes, just keep reading.

Balanced Schedule - Each teams plays every other team twice, once at home, once on the road. End of discussion.

Calendar - I have come to accept that the American calendar should not change (more on that below), and that we might have to bite the bullet when it comes to playing during international breaks. Again, more on that below.

Sticking with the playoffs - The playoffs should remain, but the number of teams lessens, and season standings count more…a lot more.

Two-legged final - The championship semi-final and final becomes two legs, home and away. No more neutral site for the final.

The single table is just the logical way to go. Conferences are lame, and the drama of season standings his increased when they matter more. “Wait, Vnice…standings don’t count for squat, because half the league qualifies for the playoffs.” Well, the playoffs are getting a major face lift under my plan:

The number of teams goes down, from eight to either six or four.

If six teams, the Supporters Shield (SS) winner plays the team in second place for a spot in the final, two legs home and away. This way, over the two games, it gives a fair assessment as to who is really the superior team and deserves to be in the final more. The remaining four teams play a quarter final and semi final round. The quarter final is single game, home team has the better regular season standings. The semi final round is two legs, home and away. The winner of that semi final plays the winner of the game between the winner of the SS and the 2nd place team for the final over two games, home and away. I firmly believe that supporters of the teams in the final deserve to have it this way. Having the final 3000 miles from the homes of the two teams really did a disservice to their supporters, and the lack of passion in the stand was palpable.

If the playoffs are four teams, it would similar, except that the winner of the SS would get to defend their crown by getting an automatic pass into the final. The second place team would be automatically placed into the semi final round. The remaining two teams play single game elimination, the home side having the better regular season record. Semi and final would again, both be two games, home and away.

Just imagine how insane a stadium would be hosting a final for their side? Qwest and Toronto come to mind as being absolutely insane. I think even Columbus could fill up the stands pretty good if they could host a final game. It would be win-win for the league, as it would look so great on TV. That said, the final needs to be a night game. Night games just translate better on TV. Also, notice how I make regular season standings very substantial. The SS winner either plays in the final automatically or the semi final. Second place team gets in to the semi final automatically in both plans. Also, having the semi final and final should be at home and away is a logical partnering with the single table, and the significance of the regular season standings, especially the SS winner.

Ok, so would this work? What do you think?

Jason here. Just wanted to note that I may have my own post on the playoff structure in the near future; I'll probably tackle the rumored format and my feelings on it.

Chelsea FC v Club America

The World Football Challenge and other assorted friendlies played the US this summer, featuring some of Europe's most-storied clubs and biggest names, have packed stadiums from coast to coast. Massive crowds of actual soccer fans have been treated to "quality" soccer as the barnstorming teams play out the initial stages of their pre-seasons.

If nothing else, the "Summer of Soccer" has proven that America has strong appetite for the game. The flip side of the Euro-invasion's success is the disheartening evidence that MLS is failing to reach many in this country that already have an ample interest in the sport; it's not the unconverted, non-soccer sports fan that the league must attract to reach new heights, but that footy-obsessed Eurosnob that refuses to acknowledge the domestic competition as an outlet for their passion.

It's not an easy sell. The uber-rich, super-talented footballers that line up for Chelsea, AC Milan, Inter Milan, etc. are infinitely more glamorous and attractive than the under-paid, workman-like players that populate Major League Soccer. MLS clubs lack the history and pomp of those century-old European clubs, and the American-style nicknames and wacky color schemes set them widely apart as professional soccer teams.

If Major League Soccer wants to be relevant, if they have any designs on attracting at least a few of those fans that willingly plunked down their hard-earned money to see foreign teams play, they're going to have to make a few changes. What changes might be needed, and how best to implement them are the million dollar questions; it's not something to be taken lightly, no matter how "obvious" the steps might seem to those of us on the outside.

Neither are they overnight, quick-fixes. It will continue to take time for MLS to infiltrate the existing soccer fan base in the US, as it's likely to be a slow and arduous process simply because it has to be. Still, the league must take the first baby steps to even give itself a chance, and must do it soon or risk missing out on the soccer "boom" we seem to be witnessing.

Here's the rundown: The list of issues that continue to face the league, the ones most talked about in fan and blogger circles, and the ones that have been trodden over so many times that I'm clearly being redundant.


CBA negotiations have begun, the players and the league are meeting, and the hope is that there is some progress being made. For me, the salary issue isn't one of "fair" compensation or the ability to acquire quality alone (i.e., salary cap); it's also a matter of perception. As long as the low end of MLS salaries, as well as those of the mid-level talent that make up the bulk of league starters, sits below the six figure mark, MLS will be viewed as a poor league populated by "semi-pro" type talent, especially when juxtaposed the millionaires that line up for top-level clubs in leagues easily available to American soccer fans via television. The gap will (and should) remain massive for the foreseeable future and beyond, and many will still discount MLS players because they make a pittance compared to the Lampards and Terrys of the world; but if the league can find a way to pay the bulk of their talent a wage that at least allows them to live without roommates, it will be a giant step towards respectibility.


The league continues to hold on to their excuse that playing through international breaks is a financial necessity; many fans don't buy it, or if they do, want MLS to put the league on hold anyway. Even as I make allowances and take Garber's pleas of poverty (figurative, of course) at face value, I still believe that the growth of MLS as a quality soccer product is being stunted by the refusal to address the issue. Choosing a few dates a season to work around, while playing through others, seems like a reasonable compromise. While no one would be entirely happy, it would be a clear sign that MLS wants to operate within the framework of the greater footballing world. Eurosnobs and their kin will continue to point in derision at MLS for as long as the league holds out.


I'm of the solidly held opinion that the lack of consistent atmosphere is one of the biggest turn-offs for fans who naturally look to Europe for their football fix; for every massive Seattle and Toronto crowd, there's minuscule attendance in other cities that adds nothing to the excitement of the game. The leagues most easily available to soccer fans in the US - England, Spain, Italy, and Germany - all have atmospheres that ramp up the electricity, tension, and appeal with large, engaged crowds. Combined with the obvious talent gap, and MLS becomes unwatchable for many. THe supporter culture is growing in US, but too often MLS clubs find themselves at odds with the people they need most, hindering the effect those groups might have both the live and televised experience. Marketing and club-supporter cooperation are the most obvious areas in need of improvement and should make a marked difference if given the proper attention; but "atmosphere" is the least controllable variable for MLS, and may be the slowest to change in a positive manner.

It's been quite the summer for fans of the game in the United States. Whether you're a fan of European (and Mexican; can't forget about Club America) football, MLS, or both, big foreign clubs gracing our shores is truly a sight to behold. If MLS looks worse by comparison because those teams came here, then the goal should be to acknowledged those problems as the spotlight is intensified, and work towards fixing them.

It's on MLS to make the changes, though, and they haven't exactly inspired much confidence with their track record; a full reversal may not be in the offing, but even small one would be heartening.

If MLS wants to eventually draw the type of excitement, be it in ten, twenty, or thirty years, that we've seen during this friendly period (which has yet to end), then they must take the events of this summer to heart.

Change is good.

CONCACAF Cup - Championship Match

The fallout from the 5-0 thrashing that the weakened USMNT received from Mexico is one of controlled anger here in the States. While disheartening, disappointing, and embarassing, many of us are attempting to take the loss in stride; completely discounting the significance is impossible, but we attempt to be realistic about the meaning (see my post on the subject). I'm fighting hard to balance my feelings between minimizing a loss I see as an obvious aberration and giving the command Mexican performance its proper credit.

Not so in the Mexican press.

I suppose it was to be expected. I'm certain that we here, the bloggers and sparse mainstream writers who serve as "press" for American soccer, would be doing a little crowing of a similar nature; but tell me that you don't think that his is just a bit over the top.

Excepts borrowed from FIFA.com.

"El Tri are still the kings" headlined the website Mediotiempo.com, an indication of the general euphoria that seized the nation. "Giants or not, Mexico are the best team in the CONCACAF Zone," continued the report. "And that's not just because of the result. No other country in the region has won five Gold Cups, which is one more than the Stars and Stripes."

"El Universal was just as triumphant in its reaction. "A golden dream" ran the headline of an article that greeted the end of Mexico's barren run north of the border with relief. "Javier Aguirre's boys have created a new era by showing that they can beat a team that has been a thorn in the side of El Tricolor. The trophy held aloft by the captain Gerardo Torrado was a reward for the 35 days they spent together and released the tension that has built up over a whole decade."

Mexican fans also took to the streets in jubilation, a reaction that seems a tad ridiculous to me, but makes sense in the context of Mexico's record on American soil in recent years.

It certainly adds a new layer of intrigue to the August 12th showdown in Mexico City, a game that was already rife with tension and subplots before the Gold Cup team folded. Bob Bradley surely knows that this "A" team players will be anxious to make amends; his ability to channel that energy will be crucial to the American performance.

What do you think? Overreaction on the part of the Mexicans and their press, or an understandable reaction to a "historic" win?

DC United

DC United will be the first MLS side to kick off their 2009-2010 CONCACAF Champions League campaign tonight (8pm ET, FSC), when they take on El Salvadorian club Luis Angel Firpo at RFK Stadium. The match is the first leg of a two-legged series that will decide who enter the group stages of the tournament.

While I don't expect United to have much trouble getting by Firpo, the start of the tournament only brings to mind the issues that MLS clubs have in international play. Good enough to play and beat many of the region's lesser teams, MLS teams just don't have the ammunition to go up against the big boys. Mexico and Costa Rican teams dominate this competition, and there's no reason to think that it will change this time around.

But there is hope. United is much improved over last year, when they went down in the group stages of the CCL. Of the other MLS teams involved, both the Dynamo and Crew are good enough to progress relatively deep if they can get a few breaks in the group stage. Toronto is inconsistent and has a tough qualifying series with the Puerto Rico Islanders, but should be able to get by the USL-1 club.

And then there's New York. The less said about them, the better.

It would be foolish of me to suggest that any MLS club is truly capable of competing for the CCL title. There's just too many handicaps for that the be the case, and the much-richer Mexican clubs have too many advantages. But it wouldn't take much more than a few teams in the quarterfinal, and one in the semis, to improve drastically over last year's league terrible showing.

I think it can happen, and it starts with United tonight.

, | edit post

In light of today's news that mun2 will be available to many on the day of the USA-Mexico World Cup qualifier at Azteca, I'm curious how the development effects those of you planning to watch/DVR the game.

I'm throwing up a two polls, and encourage you to expound upon your answers in the comments if you feel the need to do so.

Polls after the jump.

USA-Mexico mun2 News

Monday, July 27, 2009 | View Comments

We signed a petition, we sent emails, we moaned and complained, all in an effort to get NBC Universal to do something about the availability of the USA-Mexico match on August 12th.

I don't know if they listened, but it's clear they're making an effort to make the match available to a wider audience. While the game will still be broadcast on Telemundo's sister channel mun2, that network will now be available free of charge to DirecTV and Dish Network subscribers on August 12th.

The free preview of the channel will make it available in 56 million households that day, a significant increase over the 31 million homes that currently receive it.

In addition to this free preview news, Telemundo/mun2 also announced that the English-language broadcast team for the qualifier will be Phil Schoen and Marcelo Balboa.

A statement by mun2 Senior Vice Predident and General Manager Alex Pels:

"By offering a live a major sporting event on mun2 free-of-charge to the industry, we hope that all soccer fans and sports enthusiasts will recognize mun2 as uniquely American, game changing, connected and smart - our brand attributes. It is a great opportunity for new viewers to sample our quality programming and to see an historic game produced by Deportes Telemundo, the best sports team in the business."

This is fairly big news, and I'm happy to see that the match will be available to many more English-speaking Americans than before. Telemundo has played this smart, putting their other property (mun2) in front of a larger audience, giving the American soccer fans what they want, and leveraging the interest in the game.

If you're a cable subscriber, call your cable company and demand that they take advantage of this free preview; while DirecTV and Dish Network have signed on, cable companies may not unless pushed to do so by their customers.

Give me your thoughts on this news.

On this week's Match Fit USA Soccer Show, Jason and Zach cover Telemundo v. ESPN, Beckham's fan run-in, expansion news, the US Open Cup final war of words, and the crushing loss of the US to Mexico in the Gold Cup Final.

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

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MLS has released their All-Star Game media schedule, and in the mix is a planned "special announcement" by Don Garber at 2:30 MT (4:30 ET) Monday.

Word on the street is that Montreal is on the verge of being announced as Major League Soccer's nineteenth franchise.

Could the two be connected?

This past week, we learned that Montreal's entry into the league would be on the agenda for the league; with the new news that Garber has an announcement planned (with no detail provide), speculation is easy.

Add to it what Duane Rollins has heard over at the 24th Minute, and two plus two now appears to be four.

Keep your ear to the ground and your eyes on MFUSA tomorrow for any updates.

For what it's worth, you guys know that I'm solidly on the side of "expansion is good", and Montreal makes sense as an established soccer market with a stadium ready made to be upgraded.

CONCACAF Cup - Championship Match

You can't sugar coat a 5-0 drubbing. There's no way to excuse it away, no matter the setting or individual participants. At the senior international level, giving up five goals in one half is a supreme embarrassment.

And that's what the Gold Cup final was for the United States. An embarrassment.

Still, I refuse to overreact. I refuse to let the drubbing bring me down for more than a few moments; Mexico had the better side, the more skilled side, and the deeper side. The US fielded an "experimental" team by every measure, and make it clear from the beginning of the tournament that while winning the cup would be nice, getting a look at players who might not otherwise play on that level was more important.

Believe it or not, I'm giving Bob Bradley a pass today. Bradley did what he'd been doing all tournament; setting out a team with several players he hope will contribute to the National Team in the future alongside several players who might not ever wear the shirt again. Playing together as a unit for this tournament and this tournament only, these players hit the ceiling of their talent and resolve against Mexico. Faced with 60,000 green-glad El Tri fans, they crumbled under the pressure. Can we really blame them?

While there are few positives to take out of the drubbing, all is not lost. These Yanks have been through the fire now, and the ones that are likely to figure in future plans will be better for it. It takes a mental toughness not easily gained to play and beat Mexico, and if this loss does nothing else, it makes the US victories earned over the last few years even more impressive. The United States is a regional power thanks to organization, industry, and team cohesion; Mexico still has a greater abundance of talent, and beating them should never be taken for granted.

I'm not going to belabor the match itself. I'm not going to moan about the breakthrough goal that Mexico got through a dubious penalty. I'm not going lament the lack of organization at the back for the US, and I'm not going to pick out any specific players that failed when their best was needed. I'm not even going to talk about how a few early chances for the US could have completely changed the complexion of the match if they had been successfully taken.

No, I'm not going to do that at all.

Instead, I'm going to focus on the coming-of-age of Stuart Holden, the strong play of Troy Perkins, the improvement of Chad Marshall and Robbie Rogers, and the peek we got throughout the tournament of a bright US future. One game does not destroy all of the good that's been done by Bob Bradley and his staff this month, and while there are many things that he does that confound me, and I'm still convinced he's not good enough to lead the US to a successful 2010 World Cup, he did the right thing in this Gold Cup.

Let Mexico have their moment. I'm not happy about it, and the margin is such that we should all be a little angry, but the context should help. The Americans on the field at Giants Stadium were thoroughly dominated today, and the black eye we've received should hurt; but we know that our best is still better than Mexico, that we can get results against the best in the world when we play our game, and that the slate is wipe clean in just over two weeks when the Yanks head to Azteca.

This one mattered, because it always does when the US plays Mexico. But we need to maintain perspective, to focus on the relative unimportance of actually winning the Gold Cup.

Did I sugar coat it? Okay, maybe a little. We got beat. Bad, and by a better team. Reload, reset your passion, and start getting ready for the biggest game the US has this year. You'll be better off for it.

Gold Cup Final Live Blog

Sunday, July 26, 2009 | View Comments
Come here, go to Epic Footy, it doesn't matter; either way, myself and other will be talking about the Gold Cup final as it happens, as the US attempts to take another victory off of their rivals from the south.

Check back for the MFUSA Soccer Show tomorrow, which will have some post-match reaction from yours truly as well.

Live blog after the jump.

I don't have much to say today, and there really isn't much that needs to be said. Anytime the US and Mexico face off it's a big event, whether the sides involved are "A" squads or not.

Giants Stadium is likely to be a sea of green, though I hope we do see a good amount of support for the Yanks. The young guys that have grown up in this tournament deserve it.

ESPN2 is presenting a Gold Cup-focused show here shortly (2pm ET), so if you're looking for a way to channel your excitement, be sure to check that out.

There should be a live blog for the match over at Epic Footy, and I'll probably post it here as well.

Share your thoughts, predictions, and expectations for the game here if you'd like.

My prediction? 2-1 USA, with goals by Ching and Beckerman.

MLS Saturday Week 19

Saturday, July 25, 2009 | View Comments
Chelsea FC v Sounders FC

Alright boys and girls, another Saturday is upon us, full of MLS action. Unfortunately, I will be detained until early evening tonight, but I want to be sure you know to check in on Epic Footy for a running live blog. There will certainly be one going for the day's early game, Seattle v. Chicago, and while there is a gap before the night games get going, the live may stay up and just roll through in the interim.

A quick rundown of the MLS schedule, with some picks thrown in:

Seattle v. Chicago 3PM ET, ESPN

McBride is done for Chicago (shoulder surgery), and while that's a blow, the Fire are still one of the best teams in the league. Seattle should have it's usual massive crowd, and the showcase of ESPN to show it off. I'm calling this one a draw, 1-1.

Columbus v. Toronto 7:30PM ET, Direct Kick

This one is already a decent rivalry (they play for some made up trophy called the "Trillium Cup), and should be another tense affair. There won't be many TFC fans in Columbus, unfortunately, as the team's supporters groups are staying away in protest of their treatment the last time these two played in Ohio. I only wish Columbus had strong enough attendance (not sure why they don't) to make up for the lack of travelling support. I see another draw here, 1-1.

Houston v. New England 8:30PM ET, Direct Kick

Houston is without two of their most important players, Brian Ching and Stuart Holden, but still look to be head and shoulders better than New England. With the game in Houston, there's no reason to think that the Dynamo won't take care of business. Houston wins, 2-0.

Kansas City v. LA Galaxy 9PM ET, ESPN2

The day's other ESPN game (this time on the Deuce), it's game two of Beckham's return to MLS. Although Community America Ballpark is small, it's also intimate; even with a sell out, there will only be 10k, but I'm guessing they'll be brutal towards the Englishman. LA is on a role though, and I can't see home field making that much of a difference for a Wizards team missing Jimmy Conrad and Davy Arnaud to Gold Cup duty. LA wins, 2-1.

Colorado v. New York 9:30PM ET, Direct Kick

New York is bad, really bad. Colorado always manages to make things tougher for themselves than they need to be, though, and so I'm torn. But New York is really bad. The home-standing Rapids should be able to get the full three points. Rapids win, 1-0.

San Jose v. DC United 10:30PM ET, FSC

The trip out to the West Coast is a long one for DC, so this game might be a little tougher than it would appear. Still, United is much better than San Jose, sits only one point behind the Fire in the Eastern Conference standings, and has just added reinforcements in Danny Szetela and Ely Allen. I expect that Szetela will make his United debut tonight. United can't afford to drop points to weaker side here, so I'll pick them to win 3-1.

Make your picks here if you so choose, or just lambaste me for my picks.

I hope to be back in time for the night games, so maybe I'll see you over at Epic Footy.

MLS Daily Column 7/24

Friday, July 24, 2009 | View Comments

My new MLS Daily column is an ode to the Sounders-United Open Cup final location brouhaha (first time I've used the word on this site; not sure I like it)

Check it out.

US Open Cup Final Could Use Some Controversy

Beckham Fined for Fan Spat

Friday, July 24, 2009 | View Comments
David Beckham reaches boiling point with several LA Galaxy Fans, LA

David Beckham has been fined $1000 for his run in with a Galaxy supporter at halftime of Sunday's Home Depot Center friend with AC Milan.

Commissioner Don Garber's statement:

“We support our players interacting with fans, whether it is at clinics, charity events or by high-fiving their supporters in the stands while celebrating a goal,” Garber said. “However, our players should never engage in conduct that can be interpreted as encouraging fans to come out of the stands and onto the field, regardless of the reason.”

The league came under fairly significant pressure from fans to fine its highest profile player; after several days without a statement from the commissioner's office, some wondered if Beckham would get away with his transgression.

While the fan's actions are inexcusable, and I completely agree with his lifetime ban from the stadium (fans should never leave the stands, for any reason>, Beckham clearly escalated the altercation, and therefore deserved some form of punishment.

The fine may seem paltry in light of Beckham's salary, and a suspension might have sent a clearer message; but I'm comfortable with this action, as it seems in line with other punishments dished out be MLS.

Do you agree? Is Beckham's punishment sufficient, or would you have preferred he received a suspension?

Friday Fight: MLS Expansion

Friday, July 24, 2009 | View Comments
Philadelphia Union Press Conference

Always looking for ways to spice things up, I've decided to try out a new feature here at MFUSA; it's called "Friday Fight", and consists of a running debate (conducted through email) on a chosen topic.

The first installment of the Friday Fight pits yours truly (Jason) against All Things Footy podcaster and new MFUSA contributor Kevin McCauley.

You'll have a chance to vote for the winner of the debate at the end of the post.

The topic: Major League Soccer's expansion policy, in light of Don Garber's recent comments on potential markets for new MLS teams.

And off we go...

Davis: Don Garber recently spoke on Major League Soccer's future expansion plans, mentioning several markets are potential homes for team; while I'm not sure about the Commissioner's preferred targets, I do think that expansion is important to the league's success.

The bigger the national footprint, the better the chances for improved marketing partnerships, sponsorship deals, and TV ratings.

Simply put, expansion, and expansion now, is the way to go.

McCauley: Obviously, no one sensible is going to argue with the fact that expansion will bring the game to more fans and that is important to the league. However, MLS is a league that built its foundations on a business model of slow and steady growth. They were determined to not be the NASL, and thus far, they have succeeded. They already have three expansion teams planned between now and 2011, shouldn't they wait to see how the league's finances and the finances of those teams are looking before they decide to add even more?

Davis: They have that covered, in that they are intent on finding ownership groups that won't go running at the first sign of trouble. Why do you think Jeff Cooper's bid never received serious consideration? The league is being smart about expansion; find strong markets with the potential to explode, and ownership that has the cash to handle initial losses if they occur. If they were simply expanding to expand, then I might agree with you; but the exposure of the league to more of the country coupled with stringent requirements for investors (because that's what the "owners" actually are) makes my trepidation about it minimal.

McCauley: That is one positive, that Garber has become very strict about who invests in the league, but the league needs to make sure the teams they have are stable before they go expanding. The New York Red Bulls and FC Dallas, despite having plenty of money, are being run in an exceptionally poor fashion, and as a result, are both drawing less than 10,000 fans per game in two extremely key markets. The league's most successful franchise with its largest fan base, D.C. United, can't even get a deal done for a new stadium, stirring up rumors that the club is considering a move to St. Louis. The league has contracted and moved many teams to this point, who's to say they won't do it again, especially with the economy causing a serious drop in attendance for this season? I've heard the argument that all we need is more soccer specific stadiums, but with the attendance in Dallas, I'm just not buying it.

Davis: Obviously soccer specific stadiums alone aren't enough. It's also about making sure that the fan base exists and the organization is properly run. Dallas is a confluence of a poor team and worse marketing and therefore an indictment of their ownership, rather than an indicator of something intrinsically wrong with MLS. United's situation is troubling, I'll give you that, but moving forward with cities ready to step up with stadiums actually makes even more sense because of it. Taking control of their future by placing as many teams as possible in soccer stadiums with schedules the league can control is smart business, no matter the problems some of the original teams face. I've mentioned the national footprint, and while I think that trumps everything else, expansion is important as a way for the league control its own destiny. The matter of the talent pool is a nuisance, but I'm actually of the opinion that it's an overblown concern anyway.

McCauley: The matter of the talent pool is not a concern that I think is overblown at all. So many of the "fringe" guys that MLS is just on the verge of getting to buy a ticket to a game have the hang up that the level of football is nowhere near world class. It's not something that bothers me, because I know it will get better. I've seen the level improve drastically since the designated player rule was enacted. That's irrelevant, though, because MLS doesn't have to sell the game to me. I'd watch the league even if I didn't feel like the level of play was improving, just because it's my top domestic league and I want it to succeed. The people MLS has to sell to are the so-called "Eurosnobs." Every major city in the country has tens of thousands of people who love football but don't want anything to do with MLS because of the perceived level of talent in the league. It doesn't matter how wrong they are, perception is reality. There is one way around this, though, and that is a re-structuring of the roster and cap rules. If the minimum salary, non-DP maximum salary, and foreign player limits are all changed, there will be no problem attracting enough high-quality talent to MLS to fill out 16-18 rosters. If it was no big deal for an MLS club to offer $100k + / yr to an Anton Peterlin, Cody Arnoux, or Charlie Davies in 2007, the issue of expansion diluting the talent pool would be no problem, because we'd be able to retain all of these great young players we're producing.

Oh, and this argument about expanding the national footprint of the game without presenting any statistics seems very NASL-y.

Davis: Call it NASL-y all you want, but comparing the way that league operated and how they expanded to anything MLS does is like comparing Barcelona and FC Dallas; the national footprint argument is more about TV revenue and advertising dollars than anything else. A truly national league is much easier to sell to broadcasters and corporations than one with a regional feel, and as this country is so large, it's going to take 20+ teams to reach the necessary market saturation. The league shoots itself in the foot if it doesn't expand now, when demand for franchises is high and investors with ample monetary clout are lining up to get in. You want an increase in quality and something to counteract any shallowing of the talent pool? Then expansion is necessary, because it will allow the league to raise the cap and adjust roster rules without overly exposing themselves financially.

It costs money for MLS to push themselves towards relevancy in America, and expansion provides several new revenue streams with which to attack.

It was at this point that McCauley threw in the towel and conceded defeat to my withering intellect. Okay, not really, the email chain just sort of petered out (hey, we both have lives). I'm sure McCauley would have loved to get in one last word, but it's my site and I'm ready to put this up, so there you go. Be aware that this back-and-forth probably could have continued for another twenty rounds or so if allowed to continue.

Vote for the winner below.

USA-Mexico (Again)

Friday, July 24, 2009 | View Comments

The US took care of their business, beating Honduras 2-0 on goals by Clarence Goodson and Kenny Cooper (and what a lovely team goal that was) in the semifinals of the Gold Cup last night; all that was needed for the classic USA-Mexico rivalry to get another round of action was for El Tri to take care of Costa Rica. They did, but just barely, outscoring the Tico in PKs to earn their spot in the final.

Did you really expect anything else?

Conspiracy theories (Hi Adam) aside, the US and Mexico were the two best teams coming into the tournament, and will now face off for another Gold Cup title. Mexico is clearly desperate to beat the Americans, especially on American soil, and we should expect that which has become typical of the rivalry: A hard fought, highly competitive, tension-filled match that comes down to who takes their chances when they come.

My money's on our boys (Dos a Cero).

I'm tempted to try and and do a Gold Cup overview for the Americans, but I don't think time constraints are going to allow it.

I'd also love to do a recap of last night, but again, there's just no time. Instead, I'll point you in the direction of MLS Daily, where Matt has a match report and names Stuart Holden Man of the Match.

The Gold Cup was a strong coming-out party for Holden, and my guess is that he'll be making the trip to Azteca next month as part of the full "A" squad; while other Americans have performed admirably in this tournament, Holden stands head and shoulders above anyone else.

Anyone want to share thoughts on the win over Honduras?

Heath Pearce, Carlos Costly

I'll admit that the Gold Cup has attracted little of my attention in recent days; with the USA-Mexico TV issue taking up a lot of my time and other news filtering out, the CONCACAF championship hasn't really been top of mind.

But our boys play Honduras tonight in Chicago, with a birth in the final on the line. Ever shifting, changing, and swapping parts, Bob Bradley's young(ish) roster faces off against the team it beat 2-0 in DC just two weeks ago. Whether or not the US can do it again is slightly more in question now than before, with several of the team's bigger guns (Charlie Davies, Benny Feilhaber) departed for their clubs.

My player to watch? Stuart Holden (duh). The kid from Houston by way of Aberdeen has taking his opportunity well in this tournament, and looks to be a rising fixture for the Yanks. I expect he'll put his stamp on this match one way or another.

There will be a live blog, of course, which will posted both here as well as Epic Footy.

Portland Decision Day

Thursday, July 23, 2009 | View Comments

After several stops and starts, a vote that in the end meant nothing, and enough political wrangling to choke a horse, a negotiated $31 million PGE Park renovation plan finally goes before the Portland City Council today.

The deal, tentatively agreed to by Timbers owner Merritt Paulson and Portland mayor Sam Adams on July 9th, is $6 million less than originally planned. The City Council will now have the final say, and remove the last hurdle (we hope) from the Timbers finally hitting the path that leads to a 2011 MLS debut.

You can read the resolutions and ordinances at the City of Portland website (if that's your thing). My understanding is that the vote will fast track the PGE Park improvements, and award the construction contract directly to Paulson's company Peregine, LLC, rather than have it go through the normally required competitive bid process.

The City of Portland site also has a nifty "Frequently Asked Questions" page for the stadium deal, which appears to have been written directly following the original council vote (which simply authorized the city to negotiate with Paulson). The FAQ indicates that August 1st was the target date for completed preliminary stadium designs and engineering plans; whether that date holds, with this vote coming only a week ahead of the deadline, I'm not sure.

The business item is listed under "Regular Agenda" on the council's schedule for the day after three other items with hard times, which puts the PGE Park vote after 3:00pm PDT at the earliest.

It may be a pointless endeavor, but I'm planning throwing up the live video from the council chambers here if and when we get word that the stadium deal is actually being addressed. Check back in on this post closer to those mentioned times if you're interested.

I'm a strong supporter of Portland's entry into MLS, and I'm hoping that today is finally the day that the speculation over the Timbers future comes to an end.

*UPDATE* The stadium deal "term sheet" (anyone that can explain exactly what that means, please do) has passed.

USA-Mexico: ESPN v. Telemundo

Wednesday, July 22, 2009 | View Comments

While many of us have been frustrated in recent days over the planned broadcast of USA-Mexico on mun2, the full story of why it ended up there is just now becoming known.

MFUSA has learned that Telemundo did in fact offer the game to ESPN, and at a rate charactarized as in-line with the prevailing standard, as well as consistent with those charged when the Spanish-language channel purchased rights from ESPN. Various media outlets have suggested that the asking price for USA-Mexico was exorbitant, a label that sources claim is inaccurate.

ESPN, for their part, has stated that their desire was to have the the game be available to as many viewers as possible; how that relates to their negotiations with Telemundo is unclear. Sources indicate that Telemundo approached ESPN with a proposal a year ago, only to have their communications go unanswered.

ESPN states that their stance has never been any other than "We do not have the rights to the match"; it's not clear how the prevailing wisdom became that they were priced out of the match.

As we've noted in this space, and as Telemundo president Don Browne told TV Week, the game will be available in English through both mun2 (available in roughly 30 millions homes) as well as through the SAP function on Telemundo.

Livorno Targets Ricardo Clark

Wednesday, July 22, 2009 | View Comments
Ricardo Clark

As I mentioned yesterday, Landon Donovan is being targeted by newly promoted Serie A side Livorno; you can now add another American to their wishlist, as it has been revealed that Livorno are working on a deal for Houston Dynamo midfielder Ricardo Clark as well.

Clark was among many Americans who put forth a strong showing at the Confederations Cup last month, and rumors surrounding his future began when French club Rennes (home of Carlos Bocanegra) were said to be interested in his services.

While the general consensus seems to be that Serie A would not be a good fit for Landon Donovan's game, my sense is that it fits Clark perfectly.

Does Clark to Livorno make sense? Is it a better fit for him than for Donovan?

Montreal Expansion On MLS Agenda

Wednesday, July 22, 2009 | View Comments
SOCCER: JUN 18 Nutrilite Canadian Championship - Toronto FC at Montreal Impact

Joey Saputo has told the Vancouver Sun that Montreal entering the league will be on the agenda of MLS officials when they meet ahead of the All Star Game in Utah next week.

Joey Saputo believes that the Impact's expansion hopes no longer rest in the bid process. Essentially, Montreal's original bid that fell apart thanks to a disagreement over the expansion fee still carries weight with the league, and with Saputo willing to play the same expansion fee as Portland and Vancouver ($35 million, reduced from the original amount of $40 million), he believes they are on track to enter MLS in 2011 or 2012.

Saputo is nothing if not a picture of supreme confidence, and while he may seem to be getting ahead of himself, the smart money is on Montreal becoming an MLS city sooner rather than later. If the Impact receive the Quebec provincial government's assistance to upgrade Stade Saputo to meet league standards, there's no reason to believe that they won't skip another bid process and become the next expansion franchise.

Montreal's impressive support of the Impact during this year's CONCACAF Champions League (55,000 attended their home leg against Santos Laguna at Olympic Stadium) surely grabbed the leagues attention; while not all of those tickets were sold at full price, the number alone is impressive. Combined with a solid organizational infrastructure, strong home attendance at Stade Saputo, and the apparent desire of MLS to exploit the passionate fans in Canada, Montreal's entry might be a foregone conclusion.

It is interesting that MLS leadership will review Montreal's "dossier" next week, separate from the normal expansion review process. What that means, or how quickly things will move because of it, remains to be seen.

First, a quick review, then some new information:

Telemundo will simulcast the USA-Mexico World Cup qualifier on August 12th in Spanish and English, with the English-language version to be broadcast on little-known mun2.

By holding on to the English-language rights and shifting that broadcast to mun2, Telemundo is leveraging the rising interest in soccer to drive viewers to that channel. While it makes sense as a business move, it's maddening to those of us that don't have access to the lesser-known channel.

Apparently, there's another option.

Although it doesn't forgive NBC Universal for not putting the game on a channel with wider distribution (i.e., basic cable), Telemundo will have a Secondary Audio Progam in English.

President of Telemundo, Don Browne, says as much in a recent interview with TV Week (that I apparently missed and which also mentions the petition effort). I've also been told that Telemundo will be announcing the SAP option in an upcoming press release, as well as revealing the English-language announcers for the game.

While this alleviates one of my concerns, namely that the game's reach in English would be limited to those that receive/pay for mun2, there are still plenty of people out there without Telemundo. For those people, English-speakers whose television lineup consists of numerous other NBC Universal outlets, the location of the broadcast is still an issue.

If this news doesn't sate you, please continue to spread the word on the petition and email NBC Universal's executives.

Los Angeles Galaxy v New York Red Bulls

I've been curious about the lack of Landon Donovan transfer rumors for some time; it would seem logical that his Confederations Cup performance would draw the attention of at least a few European clubs. The lack of news on that front had me wondering if MLS had simply scared everyone off with a ridiculous fee valuation, or if Landon himself has rejected all approaches out of hand in the interest of finishing the season with LA.

While I'm still wondering if either of those things are happening, it's being reported that Italian side Livorno is interested in making a move for Donovan.

As with all of those rumors, we have to remember to view them with a skeptical eye; the source his is Goal.com, but they appear to be relaying information gleaned from Gazzetta dello Sport. Indeed, if you do a Google News search for Donovan's name in all languages, several hits come back from Italian sites; what that means, or if it gives any credence to the rumors, I have no idea.

I'm glad that there's some movement on the Donovan transfer front. He's at the height of his powers now and has separated from his wife (who was unlikely to follow him), so the time to go is now.

As for Livorno, the club mentioned in the rumor, they are a newly promoted Serie A side who has been a top flight team before the recent dip into the second division. Italy hasn't often been mentioned as a place that Donovan might end up, so it remains to be seen if the "experts" believe it to be a place he might succeed.

If Donovan did actually end up at Livorno (a remote possibility, no matter the rumors), he'd be going up against Yank teammate Oguchi Onyewu; quite the intriguing proposition.

Editor's Note: A few months back, the idea of pro/rel was batted around at MFUSA; regular reader and commenter Vnice had an alternative idea. This is his presentation of a "farm system" for American soccer.

by Vnice

A few months back, Jason Davis posted an article advocating the creating of a promotion/relegation system between MLS and USL. It combined his thoughts with an article found on Soucie on Soccer. It’s a great idea, but personally, I think it would never work, so I proposed a farm system instead. The idea of a farm system between MLS and USL has been talked about on several blogs and websites around the internet for a while, especially as rumors surrounding USL’s imminent demise or restructuring continue to grow. Promotion and relegation is highly unlikely to ever happen in the North American sports landscape. But, I believe it doesn’t have to. A farm system is less exciting for sure, but it’s an effective and practical solution to how we can solve the divide between MLS, FIFA’s recognized top flight of American soccer, and USL, which comprises the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th tiers of the soccer pyramid.

“What’s a farm system, dude?”

Well, let’s say DC United of MLS has a USL-1 affiliate in Charleston, and a USL-2 affiliate in Bermuda. A player can start off with Bermuda and work his way up through the system until he is playing with DC United, and vice versa. Often, in major league baseball, stars that are injured or have surgery make their comebacks in a minor-league affiliate until he is up to par. A farm system would work to develop players all over the US and Canada. If a player on the Rapids isn’t cutting it, he moves down to a USL side to work on his skills, and vice versa. If a Puerto Rico Islander shows considerable progress and skill, he might get the call from his MLS parent club to play in the big time. Lots of sites on the internet can describe the technical aspects of a farm system much better than I, so go look them up for details.

So, let’s examine why this would be a good idea:

Development. A lot of people debate how MLS can sustain its player pool, and how the US National team can develop talent. A farm system would align the leagues in such a way that moving up and down becomes seamless. This makes it easy for teams to maintain effective squads, while identifying those who need more development. It also allows players who can’t quite cut it in MLS to maintain a professional career, and makes it easier to spot players going through a professional renaissance or rejuvenation. Obviously, the benefits more immediately impact the individual MLS teams, but that’s kind of the point. The top flight should have everything at their disposal to ensure player development. Imagine what MLS teams could do with the farm system and their academies at their disposal?

Ambition. Part of the America’s “soccer problem” is that its millions of youth players do not see soccer has a way to make a living. The farm system immediately creates a far larger, integrated infrastructure in which to make a living as a player, coach, front office personnel, etc. Now, it really is possible to work your way onto a Galaxy squad when you start at the bottom. The potential is easier to see, which immediately makes the talent pool in the US expand. With more youths giving soccer a chance, an increased number of superior domestic players will float to the top. All of this adds up to the US National Team (and Canadian, by the way) having an even bigger pool to draw from.

Settles the pro-rel argument. Look, MLS owners will NOT go for promotion and relegation. But, it will be open to a farm system, which strengthens and integrates the leagues to make soccer a force to be reckoned with.

No massive changes needed. The great thing about a farm system is that the USL does not need to sell out to MLS. MLS does not need to buy USL. They can be separate. In baseball, the National and American leagues remain separate entities from the minor leagues. The affiliation is where they have common ground. USL and MLS can each retain their ways of doing things. Players sign contracts with the respective MLS parent sides, and agreements would have to be made regarding league wage minimums, etc. But, I think these are obstacles that are easier to overcome than the actual merging of MLS and USL, or instituting pro-rel.

Now, there are a number of valid arguments against a farm system, so let’s take a look.

Pro-rel is better. Well, maybe it is in the grand scheme of world football. But, it’s not practical in the North American sports environment, nor would MLS owners go for it. Plus, many USL sides lack their own stadiums, or stadiums that would be acceptable in MLS. A farm system means that Austin Aztex, currently in a high school American football stadium, wouldn’t get promoted to MLS, and be an embarrassment of Astroturf and gridiron lines on TV. However, player development can still happen, which is the bigger overall goal here, anyway. Besides, if we forced pro-rel, a lot of the money bag owners would be alienated, possibly driving them away, and potentially ruining MLS.

Lower league teams would be filled with old guys. Not so, I believe. They, like MLS, would be comprised of players of all ages. Besides, a lot of the old guys are still burning up MLS (Keller, McBride, etc.). Also, how old is “old”, anyway? The same argument can be made for super young players. Blah blah blah.

A farm system is too radically different than the rest of the footballing world. It’s so…American. Well, of course it is. And while MLS has rightfully taken out a lot of “Americanisms” from soccer, some should remain. The calendar, for instance, should remain as is. The western European calendar makes no sense for MLS, weather wise, and would force it to compete with all the major sports except baseball. MLS should keep the current calendar, except for international play periods. Pro-rel just wouldn’t work here, either. Should we force it, because the EPL does it? No way. What’s good for the goose is not always good for the gander, so we shouldn’t force this issue either.

USL isn’t second division football. Yes it is. As long as FIFA says so, that’s the way it is, people.

To give you an idea of how this could work, here is a mock up of what it could look like. For the sake of this mock up, I combined USL1 and USL 2, and created a new USL 2 out of some PDL teams. It also looks at the landscape after Portland, Vancouver, and probably Montreal leave USL for MLS, and FC New York and Tampa Bay join USL. (I have seen better mock ups online, but frankly, I couldn’t find them. My apologies to anyone who feels ripped off…email me, and I promise to give you credit in this article. After all, I only wrote this after reading extensively on the issue). This mock up establishes team affiliations in a manner similar to that of professional baseball. If baseball can be successful with this, why can’t we? Anyway, here we go:

Of course, the rest of the current PDL could serve as the 4th tier of soccer, the footballing version of Single A minor league baseball. Now, this set up pays no attention to any practical aligning of the teams. It was kind of random, except for USL-2, where I just found teams near the parents MLS side. *shrug*. It’s a mock up…just a general idea. But, say Beckham got hurt. He stays out a few weeks, and makes his return via Hollywood United. Whoa, the attendance goes up for them. Maybe he stops through Rochester for a game, too, before heading back to Galaxy. A fun thought.

Anyway, I think the farm system is familiar enough to Americans to make it acceptable, and practical enough to work swimmingly. MLS and USL should give it a chance, and make it happen, for the sake of North American soccer, and for the US and Canadian national teams.

Image credit Bill's Sports Maps

Seattle Sounders FC v CD Chivas USA

Dominic Kinnear has chose four players to round out the MLS All-Star team, adding them to the First XI announced by the league last week, as well as the two commissioner's picks.

Here are Kinnear's selections:

Jhon Kennedy Hurtado (Seattle Sounders FC)
Pat Onstad (Houston Dynamo)
Davy Arnaud (Kansas City Wizards)
Brad Davis (Houston Dynamo)
Fredy Montero (Seattle Sounders FC)
Brian Ching (Houston Dynamo)

Predictably, Kinnear has chosen two three of his own guys. Both Ching and Davis seems reasonable choices, however, so objections to their inclusion.

(Somehow I forgot that Onstad was a Kinnear selection as well; I could argue for Ricketts, but Onstad's been good this year, so again, no bone to pick)

Seattle gets two more players in the team, to add to the two (Keller and Ljundberg) who made the First XI. Hurtado and Montero clearly deserve inclusion in my mind.

These selections put to rest the question of David Beckham's inclusion; while it would be impossible to defend his inclusion based on merit (which the All-Star Game is ostensibly, but not actually, all about), I've argued that he should be in the game simply to raise it's profile.

A moot point now.

Here's the full roster:

Goalkeepers: Kasey Keller (Seattle Sounders FC), Pat Onstad (Houston Dynamo)

Defenders: Geoff Cameron (Houston Dynamo), Wilman Conde (Chicago Fire), Jhon Kennedy Hurtado (Seattle Sounders FC), Chad Marshall (Columbus Crew)

Midfielders: Davy Arnaud (Kansas City Wizards), Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Cuauhtémoc Blanco (Chicago Fire), Brad Davis (Houston Dynamo), Stuart Holden (Houston Dynamo), Shalrie Joseph (New England Revolution), Freddie Ljungberg (Seattle Sounders FC), Javier Morales (Real Salt Lake)

Forwards: Conor Casey (Colorado Rapids), Brian Ching (Houston Dynamo), Landon Donovan (Los Angeles Galaxy), Fredy Montero (Seattle Sounders FC)

What do you think of Kinnear's choices?

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