The executive management team of the United Soccer Leagues has been restructured in the wake of the organziation's purchase by NuRock Soccer Holdings. USL founder and long time president Francisco Marcos will move into an international development role, with former VP and COO Holt moving assuming the President title.

NuRock has placed two of their own executives in senior roles with the USL, with CEO Alex Papadakis also taking that position with USL. NuRock Chairman Rob Hoskins will do the same, and become Chairman of USL.

This restructuring comes just as several team owners within USL-1 are voicing their displeasure of the sale to NuRock, as announced by the Carolina Railhawks through a press release today. The TOA (Team Owners Association) hopes to obtain FIFA certification, something that cannot happen as long as a private concern controls USL.

If the USL-1 clubs defect from the parent organization to form their own professional league, NuRock's purchase suddenly becomes much less valuable.

The removal of Marcos, a polarizing figure within American soccer despite his pioneer status, is an interesting move; how it will be received by the USL member clubs as well as if it will mean any progress on a relationship between MLS and USL will be worth watching.

What do you make of this restructuring?

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Adu Down to the Wire

Monday, August 31, 2009 | View Comments
CONCACAF Cup - Grenada v USA

Freddy Adu's immediate, and possibly distant, footballing future rests on the transfer deadline today. The young player is desperately looking for a loan move away from Benfica, who seem to have no plans to play the American.

Magnakai Haaskivi at Avoiding the Drop posted that this week could be the biggest of Adu's career; while I agree with that sentiment, I'm hesitant to buy into the thought that "there’s a very real possibility that his career is already over."

I find myself feeling for Freddy. He's not faultless in creating his own struggles, so I'm not shifting blame elsewhere; I'm just always loathe to judge a young player with so much pressure on his shoulders, when I myself have no real way to relate.

And so we wait, as the clock ticks down and the future of Freddy Adu rests in the balance. Freddy himself seems down about the prospects, if his Twitter updates are any indication:

I'll be back to update this post with whatever the outcome may be for Adu.

If Freddy isn't able to get his loan, and therefore playing time, we can pretty much write him off as a possibility for the World Cup roster next year.

*UPDATE* And just that quickly (maybe even before I posted this) comes reports that Adu is headed to Lisbon side Belenenses for a year long loan. Belenenses is in the Portuguese first division, avoided relegation last year on a technicality, and might give Freddy a chance to play regularly.

The Question of Diving

Monday, August 31, 2009 | View Comments

As an American soccer fan, it's incumbent (or so it seems) that I defend the sport constantly against ad hominem attacks by those that hate the game. It's an extra part of the "job" that comes with love the game here, something our fellow fans around the world generally aren't faced with. The list of "faults" that the anti-soccer crowd uses to attack the game are as numerous as they are ridiculous; but there is one particular issue that continues to come up that often forces us to throw up our hands in frustration.


What defense is there for diving? How can I look an American soccer hater in the eye and excuse away the blatant cheating that happens entirely too often? I struggle to say "Well, it's only a small part of the game."

While that's true, it's a fairly weak response. Diving is a problem, and many of us find it the most reprehensible part of a sport that is otherwise the greatest in the world. We desperately want the authorities that govern the game to do something about it, curb the blatant cheating, and get things right. I'm tired of making excuses for it.

But what's the solution? The issue has once again come up in the past weak, with Arsenal's Eduardo taking an out-and-out dive in a Champions League playoff match with Celtic, and Manchester United's Wayne Rooney taking a slightly less egregious fall in a Premier League match against that same Arsenal.

Eduardo faces a two match suspension for his dive, one so disgustingly obvious that it caused an uproar almost immediately after it happened. The Arsenal man's actions, falling despite making no contact with the keeper, drew the spotlight immediately. Eduardo could now face a two match ban, something that seems appropriate and yet sets a dangerous precedent.

Rooney's dive falls into a much more murky area. When I initially saw the play in full speed, it appeared to be a no-doubt penalty. Rooney's touch was heavy and he was extremely unlikely to be in on goal had Almunia not made contact, but the Arsenal keeper did technically foul the United striker. The issue of a dive wasn't immediate apparent, which might be a testament to Rooney's ability to fool the eye.

But it was a dive, at least in the strictest sense of that word. Rooney certainly started to go down before his legs hits Almunia's arms, which by definition, makes it a dive. Rooney took advantage of the situation, and made it impossible for referee Mike Dean to make any other call. It was penalty for United, which Rooney put away, a goal that made the difference in the defending champions victory over the Gunners.

Naturally, when the replays and super slo-mos hit the internet, the uproar began again. On the heels of Eduardo's dive, which while significantly different falls under the same general umbrella; cheating.

Removing the problem from the game completely is literally impossible. Players will always push their advantage, and referees will always be forced to determine which are truly fouls and which are dives. Humans are fallible, and so the situation is likely to arise again; but there is now talk of adding elements to the game that might curb diving even just a little, elements like post-match review on a more regular basis (as is the case with Eduardo), or officials on each of the end lines, who might be in a better position to determine dive versus foul.

Patrick Barclay of The Times Online thinks that goal line officials will make a difference. I agree that it could only hope, though I worry about the application, and adding yet another place for controversy to occur. Still, goal line officials makes too much sense for it not to happen eventually, and if it does actually deter diving (in the box at least), then that would be a good thing.

As for post-match review, that's a decidedly different can of worms. Using video to review simulation, especially incidents that are more open to interpretation as was Rooney's, could create a mountain of problems for whichever governing body decides to make it part of their regular disciplinary process.

Sam Wallace of The Independent agrees with Aresne Wenger on that matter, stating that if video review and retroactive action is to take place, "every single match – domestic or European – will have to be scrutinised to the same degree, starting with Wayne Rooney's dubious penalty award at Old Trafford on Saturday."

More work than it's worth? Or a legitimate way to eradicate the problem?

Either way, diving is likely to remain a part of the game in some form.

What would your solution be for curbing diving?

Zach and I also discussed diving on the new episode of the podcast, which you can download here.

Match Fit USA is back with a brand new show, chock full of interesting soccer topics. Jason and Zach tackle the place of diving in the game, bring in Andrew Bucholtz of The 24th Minute to get an update on the Vancouver roof situation, breakdown the US roster ahead of their next qualifiers, briefly touch on the sale of USL and lament the proposed use of the name "Cosmos".

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

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The Beckham Experiment Fallout

Sunday, August 30, 2009 | View Comments

In the interest of the free exchange of ideas, Richard Farley of World Soccer Reader and RF Football and I had a little back and forth on the the nature of and the American soccer culture's reaction to Grant Wahl's The Beckham Experiment.

It's not exactly "Friday Fight" (a feature I hope to revive soon), but it is an interesting look into how Richard and I saw everything that surrounded the release of the book, what the reaction might say about us (Americans who love soccer) and whether or not it is having a measurable impact in any regard. Enjoy.

Richard: Do people still care about The Beckham Experiment, Jason?

I ask because when you and I left off, I was an overly-opinionated, under-read pundit. Since then, I've read the book a few times and talked to the author. In some form, I discussed the book with almost everybody I've interviewed and it all ends up the same.

Nobody dwelt on the same crap I did. Without exception, the reaction to the book was positive. And after reading the book, I have to admit: It is a good book.

Granted, I don't think I feel it's good for the same reasons as most, but I'd still recommend it.

What I'm trying to say: You were right. I loved it. As a treatise on Major League Soccer, I loved it.

As an indictment of David Beckham (as it was advertised)? Not so much.

Jason: I could go on about the American attention span, which is naturally as present in its soccer culture as anywhere else, but I'll refrain. In a word, no. People have already moved on, and The Beckham Experiment was just a blip on radar. That shouldn't be viewed of an indictment of the book, which was excellent on many levels while also failing in its marketing-stated goal (I completely agree with you on that. The book was hardly a take down of Beckham and the nonsense surrounding him. But it was a skinning of the Galaxy organization).

Richard: I agree, people have moved on. Wahl did a ton of media, and then the media did a ton of media. Overload happened about a week after the book's release. Ultimately, it was a lost opportunity. Amidst the undo focus on Beckham and Donovan, people failed to discuss the most important parts of the book.

You called it a skinning of the Galaxy. There's no other way to look at it. Wahl did a great job documenting it. More generally, it begs the question of whether any Major League Soccer team is ready to absorb elite talent. If this were Thierry Henry going to New York, would that organization be in a better place to deal with the problems Wahl documents? As much as the egos and the sensitive souls, the book is about how MLS is not ready for the big time.

I don't think that's a bad thing, either. MLS is young, and it serves a great purpose. However, I think we all want to see it grow, and as Grant Wahl shows, MLS is far from ready for prime-time.

Jason: Exactly as I would frame it. If we take the Galaxy as a stand in for any other MLS team, which isn't unreasonable, then it's safe to say that no club in the league is prepared to handle the complications that arise when you bring in a world renowned superstar.

That being said, perhaps the book documenting the unpreparedness of the Galaxy can act as a kind of primer for the rest of the league. MLS, meaning the organization itself, has now been through the ringer once, and should be more able to handle something Beckham-like when it happens again.

Let's also not forget that there's not another player on the planet that compares to Beckham in terms of transcendent stardom. Even Thierry Henry, long rumored to be on his way her eventually, doesn't have the same over-hyped aura that surrounds Beckham, and no other MLS team would be forced to deal with the same level of circus that the Galaxy were forced to.

Richard: The real value of The Beckham Experiment is casting a mirror at MLS. The message will only get across if MLS, LA Galaxy, and Prime Courter for Mr. Henry look at that mirror and find that primer to which you allude.

But it's not just the league and the franchises. It's also the fans.

When I read the book, I felt it was a relatively even-handed, matter-of-fact portrayal - the wide array of anecdotes you collect when you follow a club; yet incidences like Beckham's alligator-armed failure to pay for dinner were the banners waved by ardent detractors. In the press promoting the book, we didn't hear about the Bose speakers Beckham bought for the locker room. We didn't hear about Beckham (later) springing for dinner at a Brazilian steak house. In the book, Wahl devotes close-to-equal amounts of time to each of these incidences (mere paragraphs for each).

Why did the marketing dwell on alligator arms? Sports Illustrated, Crown, Random House knew their market. That's why. They know there was this power-keg of Beckham detractors who were hungry for a legitimate writer to take him to task. They wanted Beckham held to account for his Italian sojourn, his indifferent pace, his disrespect to club and league.

Whether that need for accountability is justified, the pandering to that market misled me about the book, kept me from reading it until I knew I would interview Wahl, and showed me a segment of our footballing culture which, in light of other recent events in our soccer world, needs to be discussed.

In the reaction to Beckham and The Beckham Experiment, there was a large element of clichéd fanaticism (to use a euphemism). It's something with which I am not comfortable, and I'd love to hear your thoughts on it.

As the book is a mirror for MLS, will (should) fans see the story surrounding The Beckham Experiment as a reflection upon themselves?

Jason: If you went into the book looking for an out-and-out evisceration of Beckham, you were certainly disappointed. As you say, the marketing led the audience astray, playing off of the desire of American fans who were looking for an expression of their own disapproval of Beckham's actions. Don't forget though, that Wahl found himself covering two very poor seasons for the Galaxy; working with that material, I would argue that it would be difficult to come up with any other marketing campaign that made sense. We can't fault the publisher for focusing on the Beckham portion of the story either, especially as everything (including Wahl's own presence) surrounding the team during the period the books covers is directly influenced by the Englishman's presence. Besides, the name sells books, and it would be a stretch (not that you're accusing them of this) to call is a "bait and switch" situation.

We tend to judge our sports idols on things which have no real world bearing; things like "loyalty" for example, a concept that is perhaps most ridiculous when applied to the ultra-transient nature of world football. Beckham's loyalty to the Galaxy only went so far as his paycheck, and even then he was always likely to put his national team future ahead of his altruistic "grow the game" nonsense. His move to Milan exhibited as much, and while those with a pragmatic viewpoint understand, that doesn't make the attitude of the Galaxy faithful any less valid. In their view, the team and the team alone comes first; when Beckham negotiated a deal that caused him to miss the first half of the MLS season, he directly impacted the most important aspect of the story for them, hence their outrage.

My approval of the actions (save for choice of one fan to enter the field) of the Riot Squad and other fans that booed/jeered Beckham came down to my belief that fans have the absolute right to voice their displeasure, especially in matters of choice, as Beckham's loan deal was. Throughout the ordeal, Beckham continually repeated his desire help MLS and American soccer grow, only to reverse himself when it became possible for him to return to Europe. Some of it, and I mean the negative reaction he received upon his return, was of his own making. I doubt seriously that The Beckham Experiment, no matter the hype or inflammatory anecdotes released in the lead up to its release, had any real impact on the reception that Beckham received. He was always likely to engender resentment, and that combined with the natural sports fan's (note, not "soccer fan", I'm specifically including all sports) regression to the negative, created the response he received.

If The Beckham Experiment serves in any way as a mirror reflecting the fans themselves, then I'm not sure many of them would be surprised by what they see or be concerned about what it shows them.

Richard: Your last sentence really sums it up, though I'm not sure I can be as sanguine. In all fairness, the West Ham-Millwall embarrassment occurred chronologically between the writing of your last section and my reply (sorry to destroy the proverbial fourth wall). Still, we were already walking that road.

The marketing of The Beckham Experiment and the fans' reaction represents this strange descent on which fans in the States find themselves, and as we move forward, it's only going to get worse. Perhaps I'm dwelling on this because of the stories surrounding the choices Steven Cohen's made. That was the latest opportunity for States-side football fans to prove they can be just as hardcore as their mental images of what a supporter should be. Most of the people you and I speak to are beyond this. You and I are beyond this, but clearly there are a number of people who are not.

The main stream media that ignored football for far too long is partially responsible for this market's continued, exaggerated association of football with hooliganism. Basketball does not get associated with violence after the Pistons-Pacers incident at Auburn Hills or the annual violence in the city which celebrates the NBA title. Outlets like ESPN took the time to put those stories in context. ESPN had a stake in the NBA. It served their best interests to go the extra mile and provide mitigating context. In contrast, ESPN has had no incentive to make sure context was provided for "soccer hooliganism." I'm not suggesting ESPN's approach to basketball coverage is unfair, nor am I suggesting the sporadic violence surrounding the NBA is not a problem. I am suggesting ESPN's approach to association football is unfair and the sporadic violence surrounding the sport is a problem.

ESPN is now on-board with football. We're starting a golden era, but the seeds of this very negative approach to following football have already been sewn. The States' football fan walks around with a huge chip on her or his shoulder after decades of being talked down to by the global community and the media. As a result, we see in some of our football fans the same lack of discussion, thought, and consideration for issues that plagues all of our other sports. Soon, we will be unduly dwelling on MLS DUIs and reports of misbehavior in clubs.

That is the common level of discourse of coverage in the British media (at least, at the coverage's most accessible level). We had a chance to be more than that. With a fan base of relative neophytes, we had a chance to build a better environment. And I'm intentionally using the past tense here (while using "we" in a very self-indulgent way). I think we've missed the opportunity to correct the course. Too many people are out to prove the fan in the States is just as "hard" (to sure a term I hear from Johnathan Starling) as other footy followers.

This was subtly acknowledged in how SI and Random House chose to market The Beckham Experiment. In that way, I suppose it's not just the fans that want to be like their international brethren. The media does, too.

Jason: Perhaps I'm a little more philosophical about the potential for "hooliganism" when it comes to football in the United States. The media certainly does sensationalize violence in a way that only feeds the beast, but there's a different sports fan ethos here than in those places known for their football violence. That ethos is what causes British ex-pats to marvel at our (and therefore their) ability to co-mingle with fans of other teams in every sport without much concern that violence will happen.

Maybe it's the size of our country, the American ideal of individualism, the transient nature of our culture, or the amount of spectator sports we put on that have precluded us from falling into the trap of firms, hooligans, organized fighting, and the various other issues that draw so much of the media's attention. Supporters groups, with their organized memberships and directed aims, just don't exist in our traditional sports, and there's really no clear reason as to why. The groups that exist here now are generally an effort to replicate the soccer culture in other parts of the world; I have my doubts that those groups would have happened organically if American soccer was taking place in a vacuum.

Still, the effect is the same, of course, and there is always the danger that American fans go down the path that leads to what happened at Upton Park. We've already seen a few issues between fans and police, a clear indication that the culture scares the daylights out of authorities, who seem overwhelmed when confronted with something new and different. That doesn't mean, as you said, that violence isn't occurring at gridiron, baseball, or basketball events, just that as the "newcomer", soccer is disproportionately drawing the attention.

It could be argued that The Beckham Experiment, for better or for worse, represents another stage in the growth of the American soccer culture, both because of the way that it was marketed, as well as for the attention it received (though I have trouble putting the relative mainstream weight in context considering the footy bubble I inhabit). This means that the book's value is more in its simple publication rather than in any of the text it contained. That's not to slight Wahl's work, or to say that there isn't significant insight in the story it tells, just that the culture has yet to evolve to the point that a story of a team and their struggles with a superstar can be that and nothing more.

Through our tangential back-and-forth here, I think we've established that until books like The Beckham Experiment are commonplace, meaning that the American sports landscape prominently features soccer in the mainstream, our reaction to the existence of such a book will be more layered and complicated than a simple appreciation or dislike of its content.

What do you make of our viewpoints? Does has The Beckham Experiment exposed nagative aspects of our supporters culture, and do you think we're going down a dangerous path?

MFUSA 27 Live

Sunday, August 30, 2009 | View Comments
Live TV by Ustream

Thanks to the few of you who listened live. If you missed the show this morning, it will be released via podcast Monday morning, but here and on iTunes.

A big thanks to Andrew Bucholtz, whose work you can read at The 24th Minute and Sporting Madness among other places.

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European Champions League draw

Friday, August 28, 2009 | View Comments

English sides
An EPL side has featured in the final of the last five competitions. Even more impressive is the fact that 9 of the last 12 semi-finalists have also hailed from England. It may be boring and repetitive for neutrals, but what it really shows is the total dominance the league's teams have held over the continent in the last few seasons. With Ronaldo now gone, and none of the Big Four having really strengthened their teams over the summer break, this could well be the season that that the Premier League's strangehold on the competition is loosened.

However, for the large part, the teams look to face little difficulty in the group stage of the competition. Arsenal have the pick of the draws, only having to overcome a Belgian, Greek and Dutch team to progress, while Chelsea and Liverpool's groups - although trickier - should not pose too much of a threat to their progression.

Manchester United's group is a bit tastier, though, thanks to its Eastern European edge. Travelling to Istambul to face Besiktas will be daunting, especially as it comes just days before the Manchester derby. The match against Moscow involves a 1,500 cross-continent plane ride, while Wolfsburg, the German champions and strongest 4th seed, complete the group. Not easy at all. If I had to pick one of the EPL sides to fall at the first hurdle, it would be the Red Devils.

"Who are ya?"
This year's draw was memorable, if only for the fact that it created a new personal record: I had never heard of four of the teams, while for another five I could tell you nothing about them other than their name. That's nearly 30% of the participants of my continent's premier competition that I have little or no knowledge of.

How could this happen? How can teams like Apoel Nicosia, Debrecen, Rubin Kazan and Unirea Urziceni get into a tournament reserved (in theory) for the best 32 teams in the continent when clubs like Roma, Tottenham, Celtic, and Schalke didn't? While I'm pleased that such minimal teams get much-needed attention and money, it really isn't good for the competition.

Yes, these clubs won their respective divisions, but the days when the Champions League was a league solely for champions has long passed. Similarly, the days when Hungarian and and Russian (etc.) clubs were European powerhouses has also passed. We want the best teams in Europe competiting for the ultimate prize - not hand-outs for 90 minutes of fame to the Cypriot champions. That's what the Europa League is for.

Group(s) of death
While the English sides look certain to progress, excusing a potential Manchester hiccup, the rest of the continent's elite look set to battle it out in a number of intruiging ties: Bayern Munich and Juventus in Group A, AC Milan and Real Madrid in Group C, Barcelona and Inter Milan in Group F... through a handful of Ukranian, French, Swiss and Portugese champions into the mix and you have quite an appetising competition, even excluding a seemingly inevitable EPL-dominated second-round.

Hollywood drama
There were two real stories just waiting to be told as the (excessively complicated) draw was being made. Neither, unfortunately, came to be. The first involved a shy, unassuming Portugese winger and his potential return to play in Manchester. The second was an Inter-Chelsea match-up, which would have placed Inter Milan coach Jose Mourinho against his former club, and Chelsea coach Ancelloti against his former club's fiercest rivals.

The disapointment that neither scenario materialised is lessened by the realisation that, far from rule out the match-ups completely, the luck of the draw merely postponed them until the more intense latter stages. Can't wait.

The full draw

Festivities ‘Scarlet Sails’ celebrating school graduation in St. Petersburg
St. Petersburg, one of Russia's proposed host cities

In the global marketplace of international sport, national loyalties rarely infringe upon good business. American companies regularly work with organizations outside of the country to further the aspirations of others even while their peers are working diligently for the benefit of domestic concerns.

So goes the big business of bidding for the 2018 and 2022 FIFA World Cup.

The United States Soccer Federation has assembled a veritable "Who's Who" of nationally recognized leaders in their push to win another USA World Cup. David Downs, CEO of Univision, leads the bid as executive director, with USSF President Sunil Gulati, MLS Commissioner Don Garber, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, and California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger also on the committee. The bid formally kicked off via a website,, just a few weeks ago, and includes the slickly-packaged marketing elements that one would expect in such a well-funded venture.

But the American bid isn't the only one with American know-how behind it. Russia's bid, backed strongly by the country's president, Vladimir Putin, has its own sports marketing experts. Helios Partners, based in Atlanta, has been appointed by Russia's sports ministry to lead that nation's efforts to secure one of the two World Cups up for grabs.

The firm previously directed Russia's bid for the 2014 Winter Olympics, a bid that resulted in success when the games were awarded to the city of Sochi.

Russian President Medvedev visits Southern Federal Training Centre in Sochi
Sochi, Russia, host of the 2014 Winter Olympics

“This is an opportunity for us to again help bring Russia to the forefront of international sport,” said Terrence Burns, President of Helios Partners. “Russia is a new nation looking forward, but it retains an historical position as a meeting place of east and west thanks to its geographic and cultural diversity. Russia would be an historic choice for FIFA’s World Cup, expanding the reach of this great event while enhancing the nation’s social, economic and sports infrastructure.”

Helios also pitched the USSF in an effort to obtain the job of leading the US bid, but failed to reach an agreement with the American soccer leadership. With their previous history of working with Russia, moving on to the task of pushing a bid for that nation's first ever World Cup fit into place.

The firm believes that although technically competing due to the dual bid nature of this round of World Cup hosting decisions, the United States and Russia are actually not rivals. With "common knowledge" indicating that a European World Cup is in the cards for 2018, which would leave Russia competing with fellow UEFA members, the US bid would be more likely to succeed in 2022.

Helios is now focused on the task of producing Russia's World Cup Bid Book, an all-encompassing document that outlines the technical plan of hosting the tournament. Each candidate nation must submit their bid book to FIFA in May of 2010.

Moscow joins WWF’s Earth Hour
Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow

“We are very pleased to have Helios working on behalf of Russia once again,” said Russian Football Union General Secretary Alexei Sorokin, referring to Helios’ previous success in leading Russia’s bid for the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia. “Helios is the perfect coach for our team; their skills and experience are an ideal fit and they will undoubtedly give us the best chance to secure the privilege of hosting the FIFA World Cup.”

Globalization means many things, and exhibits itself in many arenas. But perhaps it is most obvious in sport, where the hosting of a World Cup or Olympic Games is not only about money, but also about the honor and prestige of welcoming the world into one's country. Russia has aspirations of showing themselves for the football world though a World Cup, and an American company based in Atlanta, Georgia will be on board to help them achieve their goal.

"A certain element smiled when West Ham and Millwall were drawn together, while the rest of football held its head in its hands. When those two teams meet it goes beyond football and the game should not be punching itself on the nose over what happened." So says ex-hooligan Cass Pennant about last Tuesday's events - which have now been dubbed the "2009 Upton Park riots".

Those of you who watched the film “Green Street Hooligans” will remember the part in which bitter rivals West Ham FC and Millwall FC are drawn to play each other in the cup. Various hooligans punch the air, children cheer, while Elijah Wood’s character exhales sharply - “Ooof”. When the League Cup draw was made in mid-August and the two teams were pitted against each other in real life, “Ooof” seemed the most appropriate response, then, too.

The match was to be the first time the clubs had faced each other in over four years. Meanwhile, West Ham fans needed no reminding that it was eighteen-and-a-half years since they had last beaten their opponents. The League Cup second round, one of the least inspiring dates in English football, had a decidedly spicy appeal to it. While other cup matches around the country experienced lower-than-average attendences and little or no interest, the game attracted the largest audience of the night (although the lack of women and children at the game was noticable and reflective of the match's imfamy).

What happened before, during and after the match has been reported and televised non-stop. Before the game the opposing sets of fans clashed, resulting in a man being stabbed (he is in a stable condition) and over twenty other men being injured. During the match (and it is strange to think behind all the violence a fairly meaningless football match was taking place) the pitch was invaded by West Ham fans three times. After the match fans and police again clashed.

The most powerful aspect of the above video is the noise at the 50 second mark. The wall of shouting men, stamping boots, obscenities and missiles. Its been decades since that wordless sound has reverberated around London and its football grounds, but on Tuesday it was back with a force. The 1980s-esque hooliganism was backed up by 21st century technology, with forums and messageboards being used to organise clashes. "Bring your bats and don't bring your kids" read one of the posts.

The threat of copycat events in the coming weeks is a worry, as is its effect on England's bid to host the 2018 World Cup. The most worrying aspect of the evening, however, was that is stamped out the belief in this country that football was now hooligan free.

USL Sale Completed

Thursday, August 27, 2009 | View Comments

The sale of the United Soccer Leagues by Nike has been completed, with NuRock Soccer Holdings announcing their purchase of the multi-tiered soccer organization today.

The NuRock press release:


Atlanta, Georgia (Aug 27th, 2009) – NuRock Soccer Holdings LLC (“NuRock Soccer Holdings”) today announced that it has acquired United Soccer Leagues (“USL”) from NIKE.

NuRock Soccer Holdings, based in Atlanta, is led by Rob Hoskins and Alec Papadakis. NuRock Soccer Holdings is currently a USL franchisee with a Premier Development League operation in Atlanta and rights to acquire two USL First Division teams in Atlanta, Georgia and Birmingham, Alabama marketplaces, respectively.

Rob Hoskins, the Chairman of NuRock Soccer Holdings, is one of the country’s most respected and largest real estate developers in residential housing, and brings his valuable management and branding experience to the soccer industry. Alec Papadakis, the Chief Executive Officer and Managing Partner of NuRock Soccer Holdings, is a franchise attorney with domestic and international expansion experience. As a player in the North American Soccer League for the Atlanta Chiefs and the Boston Minutemen, Papadakis has had a long, storied soccer career in the United States at the collegiate and professional level, with numerous accolades.

“We are delighted to close this transaction with NIKE and begin a partnership with Nike’s leading football brands which will sponsor and support USL, and all of its leagues, for many years to come. Together with USL Management, we are excited about the opportunity to grow the size and visibility of USL, and to help develop and train the future generations of soccer athletes in the United States”, said Alec Papadakis, CEO of NuRock Soccer Holdings.

Rob Hoskins, Chairman of NuRock Soccer Holdings, commented, “Our vision for USL is to become the most competitive and profitable pyramid of soccer leagues in North America, while providing affordable family entertainment, and serving as the inspirational destination for professional and amateur youth soccer players in the U.S.”

Nike and Umbro will continue to support USL through a long-term sponsorship agreement naming Umbro as the official sponsor and exclusive supplier of match balls for USL’s professional and amateur leagues, including USL First Division, USL Second Division, Premier Development League and W-League. Nike Soccer will also serve as an exclusive sponsor for USL.

“This is really the best of both worlds for USL,” said Francisco Marcos, Founder and President of United Soccer Leagues. “We have new ownership that will focus solely on developing and growing the leagues, and Umbro and Nike Soccer join us as sponsors to support our franchise owners, teams and athletes.”

Now that the business of the sale is out of the way, it will be interesting to what, if any, changes NuRock makes to the way that USL is operated.

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Railing on CONCACAF

Thursday, August 27, 2009 | View Comments

I was tempted to title this post "CONCAJOKE Champions League", but thought better of it. Still, too good not to use in some form.

This is going to start with some thoughts on MLS in the competition but quickly devolve into something else. Please bear with me.

Just when it appeared that MLS clubs were beginning to take the CONCACAF Champions League seriously after a week of group stage matches that saw two out of three American entrants win, last night happens. Two terrible showings combined with what was by all reports a joke of a football match, and MLS is back where they started, with a collection of clubs incapable of putting forth a decent showing in international competition.

Relevant MLS numbers from last night's matches: three matches, one point, two goals scored, nine conceded, four players ejected (three for Houston, one for Columbus).

Only the Dynamo saved face last night, although they were forced to do so in some of the worst conditions imaginable for what is promoted as a serious international competition. In all, five players were ejected from Houston's match against Arabe Unido in Panama, including Stuart Holden for picking up two yellows cards in a twenty-second span. Add the lights going out in the waning moments (immediately after Unido leveled the game), and any belief that the CCL should be taken seriously goes out the window.

Yes, I'm a bitter MLS fan. I fully admit that. I'm desperate for the league to do better in this competition, if only because it might shut up some of the detractors and give MLS a little credibility in the greater footballing world. But this tournament, besides being so skewed by the disparity in team bankrolls that any real assessment of leagues other than Mexico's is difficult, suffers from an extreme low-rent profile.

I wasn't able to see the Arabe Unido-Houston match, but what I have heard doesn't make me too bullish on the future of the competition. To say that the lights going out in the stadium immediately following the home side's goal is suspicious is a gross understatement; even if you don't believe that the power outage was intentional, the fact that the lights went out at all just illustrates the problems the Champions League faces.

Small crowds, minimal attention, poor facilities, hostile environments that include thrown items and players in danger of physical harm; the list of problems goes on and on. Many of those issues carry over to other CONCACAF matches, especially international ones in Mexico and Central America. Because the confederation is uninterested in taking measures that might actually affect change but will hurt the bottom line, nothing is done. When fans are filling cups with bodily fluids and then hurling said cups at opposing players, something isn't right. Racist chanting gets major attention in Europe (as it should) and can sometimes result in matches played behind closed doors; why wouldn't CONCACAF step in an demand that national federations do something about the behavior of their fans and the condition of their stadiums, with the threat of closed door or forfeited matches to back them up?

Anyone have Jack Warner's phone number?

If I start on the officiating in the region, we might be here all day. Let's just say that there's some anger on that issue as well, and leave it at that.

CONCACAF is a joke, and it's not because there isn't good soccer being played. When the odd idea comes up that perhaps the United States should pull out of CONCACAF and move to another confederation, I generally laugh it off. I never really though there was a reason to do so, because I always viewed the issue from a competition perspective; the US isn't what Australia was, a good footballing nation stuck in a region filled with minnows, and therefore looking poor by association. Mexico, Costa Rica, Honduras, etc., are all strong teams that play good soccer and quite often push or beat the United States. But maybe I'm looking at the question from the wrong angle.

Why should the US, and by extension MLS, want to remain in a confederation that allows environments that condone criminal behavior (at least I hope throwing bodily fluids at someone is a crime elsewhere in the region), officiating that is so poor it makes a mockery of the game, and a general disregard for order and properly conducted sporting events?

Jozy's First Goal for Hull

Wednesday, August 26, 2009 | View Comments
Just in case you haven't seen it, here's Jozy's first goal for Hull in the Carling Cup match with Southend United. Gotta love these guys that take video of their TVs.

End of '09 Big for American Soccer

Wednesday, August 26, 2009 | View Comments
MLS 2009 Super Draft

As I recover from a late night of fighting through some technical snafus on the podcast recording, my brain is working just well enough for a thought to occur on the crucial nature of the rest of 2009 for American soccer; several events of note are coming up before the year is out (or in one case, could happen).

While most of us are probably engrossed in the MLS playoff push, tracking the progress of our young Yanks abroad, or looking forward to the rest of World Cup qualifying, a peek to the future, and what is coming, might still be in order.

What: MLB CBA Negotiations
When: Ongoing, with January deadline

Our attention to the ongoing negotiations for the next collective bargaining agreement between MLS and the players tends to wax and wane as events warrant; while we know that they are going on, we're not consistently tracking the story simply because updates are few and far between. Most recently, it was reported that the players are seeking both guaranteed contracts and free agency. Most observers believe the owners have/will balk at both demands, with the latter being a near impossibility.

The shape of the new CBA will be a major determiner in the direction of the league over the life of the contract, with a salary structure, salary limits and minimums, player movement and roster restrictions, etc., all in someway influenced by the agreement. The owners and the league have all of the leverage, but the hope remains that MLS will loosen the purse strings and a push salaries upwards in the interest of growth.

What: MLS Expansion
When: Undetermined, but possible in '09

We know that MLS will expand again, we just don't know when. Montreal appears to be on the fast track, though nothing is guaranteed; renovations to Stade Saputo are dependent on provincial money, and nothing has yet been set in stone. Don Garber continues to make statements regarding the future of the league, often suggesting that MLS needs a team south of Washington, DC. Rumors abound on other expansion possibilities, with St. Louis still talking stadiums, San Antonio getting mentions in the Mexican press, and Ottawa not giving up. No one really knows if MLS will get to twenty teams and remain there for any substantial length of time, or if the league will continue to expand toward 24, 26, or more.

FIFA Worldcup 2010 Mascot Zakumi

What: World Cup Draw
When: December

The United States still has a bit of work to do to qualify for South Africa 2010, but the remaining schedule and the quality of the squad should see them through. Once qualified, the US will be anxiously awaiting the December World Cup draw in Cape Town; as an unseeded team, the Yanks could, as they did in 2006, find themselves in an extremely difficult group. The draw will help decide the direction of fan expectations leading up to next summer, with a difficult draw sure to elicit hand-wringing and doom-saying and a less daunting one bringing with it predictions of advancement to the knockout round.

The United States' World Cup hopes could literally hinge on the draw, a full seven months before the tournament itself.

Am I missing any other big events that might happen before 2009 is out?

MLS & San Jose: Fool Me Twice...

Tuesday, August 25, 2009 | View Comments
MLS Press Conference

"Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me."

The San Jose Earthquakes, the only MLS franchise to be "reborn" after the original version of the club was relocated to Houston, is in a tough spot. Owner Lew Wolff is struggling to get a stadium project off the ground, has seemingly overestimated the city as a soccer market, and is lashing out at fans in the press.

When the league awarded an expansion franchise to Wolff in 2005 to fill the void created by the relocation of the original team to Houston, a jaundiced eye or two were pointing in Don Garber's direction. Despite the big money Wolff as owner, many questioned the wisdom of granting a team to a city that had already proven once their inability to get a proper stadium built for the club.

Wolff assuming allayed the league's fear by convincing the owners back in 2007 that he'd be able to get the deal done. AEG had pulled out in frustration, but as owner of the A's and a real estate maven, perhaps the league believed Wolff had the wherewithal to give San Francisco Bay Area professional soccer a fitting venue. Major League Soccer's anxiousness to return to the Bay Area, a hotbed for the sport in the US, brings us to today; Wolff's stadium efforts have stonewalled, the team is one of the worst in MLS, and there future is looking bleak once again.

Hindsight is always crystal clear, and the bet here is that Garber and Co. are kicking themselves over the decision to rescind the "no stadium, no team" policy, at least in the case of the Wolff and the Earthquakes. Without a concrete stadium plan, San Jose will continue to be stuck in the ill-suited and entirely too small Buck Shaw Stadium, a venue that team does not control and the league cannot be happy with. Despite original plans to "barnstorm" around the San Francisco area, the club has settled into a rotation of the aforementioned Buck Shaw and Oakland's Coliseum, used when the club has "big" matches that are certain to attract larger crowds.

Ramon Sanchez

What to do? Should the league take another hit, admit defeat in San Jose (again), and move the club to another market? St. Louis seems to have more stadium plans than they know what to do with, and would certainly welcome the club with open arms. Should MLS stick it out and hope that Wolff is able to finally secure the money necessary to break ground on a facility? The only problem there is that the owner's plans aren't exactly for a soccer palace; what was to be a step-up from a purely-functional no-fills facility and seat 18k is now slated to be a bare-bones 15k seater with zero amenities. If having a dedicated stadium for the Earthquakes is the only goal, I suppose that will do; but with other venues like Rio Tinto and Red Bull Arena opening, an austere and smallish stadium would looks terrible by contrast.

The Earthquakes have dedicated fans. They manage to fill up, or close to it, Buck Shaw Stadium for the majority of home games. While the excitement over the team's return hasn't met Lew Wolff's expectations, that doesn't mean that San Jose and the Bay Area is not a worthwhile market for MLS. But for the time being, while the league focuses its attention on new and excited fan bases in cities like Toronto and Seattle with high hopes for Vancouver, and Portland, San Jose's small crowds and undetermined future make it an obvious candidate for relocation.

Moving the team would take some serious pride-swallowing on the part of MLS. Wolff's protestations over the club's relative lack of popularity and his frustrations over the stadium deal give the impression that he might be happy to get out of the league. MLS knows it has willing parties in a couple of cities, and finding a buyer shouldn't be too difficult. But will Garber and the decision makers admit defeat for a second time in San Jose, thereby shining a light directly on their folly to return to the city in the first place?

It's likely not gotten that far. I can't see the Quakes moving anytime soon, but the question of their future is worth asking. MLS can't afford to leave clubs struggling in markets without viable stadium futures (other than the New England Revolution), and after Garber's comments/threats regarding DC United earlier this year, we know that no team is untouchable. With a shaky recent history, and "failure" already on the resume, San Jose could be staring at the prospect of losing another Major League Soccer franchise.

Jozy Altidore, Wael Gomaa

It's only one game, and sixtieth minute substitute appearance at that, but Jozy Altidore's English adventure has gotten off to a rousing start. His first touch set up Hull's winning goal in their victory over Bolton on Saturday, and the Tigers fans took to their new American starlet immediately.

From afar, it looks like Jozy might be the new American idol, the player that kids all over the US (and there are millions of them) will look up to; running around fields from California to New York, more and more young players will be emulating Jozy Altidore.

That can only be a good thing for American soccer. The sport has needed a young star to capture young players' attention, and as good as Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan are, neither is in a position to fill the role. Dempsey lacks the "it" factor, that indescribable charisma that brings public attention. Donovan, at least until he returns to Europe, isn't on a big enough stage to have the impact that his talent should allow him to otherwise. When kids look for footballing heroes, it makes sense that they would look to the world's highest profile league.

Hull is by no means a massive club, and it would obviously increase Altidore's impact if he was playing for a world-renowned name like Manchester United or Liverpool; but short of a starting role in the lineup of a Champions League contender, which Jozy is clearly not ready for, playing against those clubs and on television gives him enough of a spotlight to elevate him quickly to soccer idol.

For many of us, growing up in a country where soccer was widespread as a participation sport but was not yet a major spectator sport, there simply was no major American star to emulate. The connection that exists between young dreamers and idols in baseball, football, or basketball aids in turning those dreamers into serious athletes, and when they can no longer play, rabid fans. The United States' dearth of those connections in the sport of soccer is just another factor in why the game is only slowly taking root here.

Altidore has the potential to be America's first breakout, crossover, media star. The Lebron James of soccer, if you'd like, a player who's image is perhaps even better know than his considerable talents. While Lebron is arguably the best in the world at what he does, Jozy is just a young player with natural talent still learning his craft; but that doesn't mean that he can't capture America's attention while he performs in a top European league.

Whether Jozy transcends soccer and becomes a popular culture icon is yet to be seen. The place of the game here still makes it an impossible thing to predict, no matter that Altidore possesses all of the attributes to do so. Still, young American soccer players may finally have an player truly worth idolizing; a young star who will score goals in the world's biggest league, against some of the world's most recognized footballers, all the while growing up before our eyes.

I can only imagine what it must be like for a twelve year old American soccer player to watch Altidore play on television while Hull's home supporters chant "USA! USA!" over and over.

Jozy Altidore, American Soccer Idol.

MLS Not Interested in USL

Tuesday, August 25, 2009 | View Comments

This should probably be filed under "things we already knew", but via Jack Bell and the New York Time Goal blog comes confirmation that Major League Soccer isn't interested in buying the United Soccer Leagues.

MLS inquired, but determined that Nike's asking price as well as complications that might arise from the purchase (perhaps including unwanted pressure from FIFA to institute a promotion/relegation system) did not put it in the league's best interest to add the USL's six division setup.

The question of who may be in a position, or have a desire, to buy the league may be answered in the next several weeks. Miami FC owner Traffic is rumored to be interested; the Brazilian sports even management company could expand their role in the league to that of owner/operator.

It would appear that we can completely put to rest any thoughts that a farm system or promotion/relegation (as unlikely as it was even if MLS purchased USL) are coming to American soccer anytime soon. If Traffic is indeed the front runner to obtain USL, the league should be in good hands; Traffic has shown a willingness to invest in the product, even as Miami FC has had significant financial struggles this year.

What is unclear is what, if any, changes in the relationship between MLS and USL would result from the sale. If MLS will not be buying their biggest competition, it's imperative that they attempt to reopen the lines of communication and work out a mutually beneficial working partnership with USL (specifically USL-1).

Just Give Him A Minute

Monday, August 24, 2009 | View Comments

Jozy Altidore could be forgiven for feeling a little pleased with his Hull City FC debut on Saturday - his first touch of the ball in the EPL was an effective if perhaps fortuitous assist for the game-winning goal.

Minutes later he saw his shot power over the opposition goalie but wide of the post. Another chance soon followed but again he was unfortunate not to score. And all this in the half an hour he played after coming on just after the hour mark. Talk about an impact substitution.

Despite only having seen 30 minutes of him play, the Hull City fans were more than pleases with his contribution. The message boards were buzzing with compliments (“Looked brilliant going forward for us and linked well"), comparisons (with Carlton Cole, Emile Heskey and Ruud Van Nistelrooy) and chant suggestions (the most amusing of which was - to the tune of ‘Que Sera Sera’ - “Jozy Altidore/He's magic like Dumbledore/You give him the ball he'll score/Jozy Altidore). Already his Wikipedia entry has dedicated as much detail to his 30 minutes with Hull as it has with his spells at Villareal and Xerez which, for, is complimentary indeed..

What was especially promising about Jozy’s debut was the immediate partnership forged with striker Kamel Ghilas (and a goal within one minute of the partnership forming on the pitch is certainly immediate). The players gelled at once, exchanging crisp passes during the game, and enjoying after the game. For a team not renowned for being exotic, Hull City appear to have stumbled upon an American-Algerian partnership that shows much promise.

Hull manager Phil Brown (having previously lambasted his team in a humiliating on-pitch team-talk, and enjoyed some impromptu karaoke) is hardly one to shy away from a bit of drama - and his post-match comments reflected this. "I looked into the whites of his eyes and asked him if he was ready to play". It's fair to say that he was. After visa trouble, a swine flu scare, and a frustrating and barren last 14 months of football, it was clear that Jozy was simply relieved to see things finally click on the pitch.

This week Jason and Zach tackle "The Everton Way", MLS news and the importance of the CONCACAF Champions League, the potential sale of USL, and some news and rumors on Americans Abroad.

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

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This was the third attempt to stream the show live as we record it, so make sure you check the UStream player on the right side of the page for the scheduled start time of next week's show (generally Sundays around 1 PM ET).

When I wrote my recent article on comically bad soccer teams, I purposefully left out Fort William FC – partly because the team is very, very obscure (Scottish Highland League, anyone?) but also because recent events at the club deserve a full article.

First - some background info on a club that makes NYRB see like an All-Time Brazil XI. Over the past four seasons the Fort have recorded a 5-105-1 record, a run of form that has me searching for (and failing to find) a suitable superlative. They have conceded seven goals for every goal scored, and last season created a new league record, losing all but one of their games (which ended 1-1). They haven’t won a game at all in exactly two years. They have perfected the art of abject failure, and the consistency is almost beautiful to behold.

All of this made the news in 2008 that the club was to become the subject of an American reality TV show in the near future somewhat bemusing, slightly tragic, but ultimately exciting.

“America’s Team FC” is fantasy soccer-meets American Idol. It is an interactive experiment in which the fortunes of “a team renowned for being the worst team in Europe - and perhaps all of professional soccer” will be controlled by fans several hundred miles away. Owners (who will pay $60 for the privilege) can pick the side and manage various aspects of the club. American soccer players will be selected from try-outs across the States and are set to fly in to take part in games. The matches will be broadcast across the globe via a pay-per-view internet feed.

The website promises “personality clashes, heated rivalries, relationships and alliances, team conflicts, torrid romances, and ultimately the unity built between the players and their adopted hometown”, all within the scenic casing of the Scottish highlands, a place where locals are more interested in shinty. I wish I was making this up.

Fort William FC is a quaint, idiosyncratic part of British football, a quirk, a blip in the system. The team play at Claggan Park, a ground the BBC described as the most scenic in Europe. Yet already “merchandise” is being touted on the site, the majority of which does not even include reference to Fort William FC. The long-held tradition of home town players* will be uprooted in place of “soccer” players from across the pond.

The operation has been put on hold, however, for the indeterminable future. While a recent update on the official site has re-iterated the plan it has failed to specify when it will actually come into operation. Meanwhile, the assorted players who make up Fort William's team have doggedly got on with the action, as the season kicked off this August. You can't say they haven't been consistent - losing 5-1, 6-2, 2-0 and 3-0.

*Alright. I may have glossed over the details of “the tradition” in order to make a point. In reality, the fact that Fort William FC is made up of entirely home-town players is because nobody wants to play for them. In fact one Saturday a team was only scraped together on the afternoon of the game, when local bars were searched for able-bodied men.

Football - Fulham v Everton Barclays Premier League

The buildup to the English Premier League season, at least in the past few years, always includes a discussion about a potential shakeup in the top four places. Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal hold a death grip on those coveted Champions League positions thanks to big time money, and dreams of a change (at least for fans of clubs outside of the Big Four) dance in our heads.

Can Everton really challenge? Is Villa strong enough to last the full season? Will Manchester City's new money leapfrog them over Arsenal?

No matter the chatter, the idea of a top four shakeup continues to be just that, an idea. As Villa proved last year, the squad depth and wherewithal needed to jump ahead of the clubs with the deepest pockets and a track record of success is no mean feat; for every club that "threatens" to breakthrough, there are always hazards and hurdles that make the reality of the jump a near impossible task.

There won't be a shakeup in the top four this year either. At least it doesn't appear that way from where I'm sitting, and as a fan of none of the clubs at the top of the table year in and year out, I have no rooting interest in seeing the domination continue. If fact, I'm desperate for another club to rise into the top tier and end the monotony. It's no fun when the table is so predictable that a full fifth of it can be written out before the season even begins.

Things will change beyond the top four this year, of course, because the clubs below the Champions League spots are not so disparate in talent that a few breaks here and there can't make a massive difference. An injury or two, a fluke goal here and there, perhaps even the emergence of a player not expected to make a massive difference; all those things are likely to affect the standing from fifth to fifteenth.

For the two clubs that threatened the Big Four last year, as well as the one that surprised many by finishing seventh and earning themselves European football, 2009-2010 looks like it may be a significantly different campaign.


To be fair, it's not much of a stretch to suppose that Fulham is unlikely to hit the same heights again this year, and they aren't in any way a threat to the top four. A smaller Premier League club with less resources than even their second-tier brethren (and as relegation candidates in previous years, it's probably not accurate to call them "second tier"), Fulham will find themselves seriously tested by competing in both England and Europe. A boon because of the money involved and the attention it brings, the Europa League could be a double-edged sword for the Cottagers. Simply being spread too thin may do them in, resulting in another clubs vaulting themselves in to Fulham's former finish. Ending up mid-table and safe of relegation would be acceptable for them, of course, so the push required for another top seven finish is probably not coming.

Aston Villa

There's much more to say about Aston Villa. The Villans are off to a terrible start, with a difficult test away at Anfield looming tomorrow. Martin O'Neill's sway over his club may be waning, the important John Carew is rumored to be on the outs with the Northern Irishman, and last year's disappointing home form has followed them into this season. That's not a recipe for success, and even a top-half finish might be a struggle. From top four challenger to mid-table also ran is a mighty drop, but fits the reality of Villa's place in the Premier League hierarchy. Having played less matches (as of this writing, they've only played one) than anyone else makes it difficult to assess Villa, but their midweek loss to Rapid Vienna in the Europa League doesn't change the perception that this season might be a comedown.


If Villa's start has been poor, then Everton's has been disastrous. Thumped at home by Arsenal in the first week of the season, the Toffees today fell pray to the same promoted Burnley team that shocked Manchester United in middweek. Everton has had injury issues and transfer talk distracting them, and hasn't proven that they can play through those concerns. That being said, Everton is the best equipped club in this group to turn things around and finish similarly to the way they did last year; it will David Moyes' best effort, and they desperately need a victory in their next league match against Wigan at Goodison Park they're to have any real chance of repeating their 2008-2009 finish. More than a matter of points, a victory is a matter reversing negative momentum.

Until it actually happens, a the dethroning of any of the Big Four seems like a pipe dream. Anything can happen in sport, and it's certainly possible that this is the year; but if so, someone else is going to have to make a run. Maybe Manchester City actually can sustain their early start with their diamond-encrusted lineup and make a serious run at the Champions League; they may have to be the ones, because the likelihood that last years challengers can seriously push again looks more and more unlikely.

There will be a shakeup, it just won't be the one some many are hoping to see.

As you can see, I continue to spread my wings here, and will be sprinkling in more pieces like this going forward. I'm also hoping to add even more writers, both on American subjects and foreign ones, so if you would like to write for the site, please drop me an email:

Donovan to...France?

Friday, August 21, 2009 | View Comments
Seattle Sounders FC v Los Angeles Galaxy

An explosion of rumors in the French language media today have Landon Donovan on the verge of a move to Parisian club Paris Saint-Germain.

Le 10 Sport seems to be the original source of the rumor, which has been repeated on several other French sport sites.

France has not been previously mentioned as a possible destination for Donovan, so this rumor catches me by surprise just a bit. What is most fascinating about it is the implication that a move might be imminent, meaning that PSG would be buying/signing on loan Donovan from MLS at a time when no one thought he would leave.

I'm taking this rumor with a grain of salt, just as I would any other, though I am absolutely floored by the its suddenness. If anyone has insight into the credibility of, please enlighten us.

I imagine, if Donovan was to somehow end up in France, that the presence of another American in Ligue 1 (with Davies and Bocanegra already there) would drive up attention from this side of the pond significantly.

*UPDATE* With little help from MFUSA Twitter follower Joseph, I have a slightly better translation.

Essentially, the story indicates that PSG's manager, Antoine Kombouaré, isn't completely convinced that Donovan could help the club. While Landon has admirers there, including former player Alain Roche, it's not exactly as it seems. A Los Angeles-based interest owns a significant portion of PSG and appears to be behind some of the push for Donovan. But if the manager is skeptical, can there really be anything to this rumor?

**UPDATE** This rumor has obviously spread to other bloggers/reporters since I posted it, and some seem to be under the impression that any move to PSG would be after the MLS season (meaning January); while that makes more sense than a move now, I'm not able to find a report out of France that explicitly states the timing. If any of you out there can read French and are able to find a reference to January loan, let me know.

1 Goal: Education For All - Photocall

Hoping to use next year's World Cup in South Africa as a means to focus attention on educational needs for the poor children of the world, FIFA has partnered with a program called 1GOAL to create a lasting legacy from the first African-staged edition of the tournament.

The program encourages fans to pledge their support for the campaign through a website, at No monetary commitment is required; the campaign simply asks for a signature in support of education for all.

The campaign has also produced a video to spread their message.

I wonder if Kevin Spacey is actually a soccer fan...

Does the US Owe Torres?

Thursday, August 20, 2009 | View Comments
WCQ:  U.S.A. v Cuba

I'm just chock (not chalk) full of questions today. This one popped because of a mention of Torres and his place in the US squad at ESPN's US Men's National Team blog (subscription required, sorry).

The post essentially states that Torres needs to prove himself a little more before we can expect Bob Bradley to throw him into another big US game (remember his last appearance, at Saprissa?). I'm a fan of Torres, and there have been spots this year where I had hope Bradley would use him, but perhaps it is a little too early. The kid is only twenty-one, and it's might be a little presumptuous of us to assume he's truly ready to contribute on the international stage.

But that's not why I'm here.

Instead, the question of Torres' place in the squad actually has me pondering another question: Does Bob Bradley, or US Soccer for that matter, owe something to Jose Francisco Torres?

I should probably frame the question better. When I ask if Bradley/US Soccer owes something to Torres, I'm specifically referring to the player's decision to don the Red, White and Blue (or white and a slightly different white, I suppose) of the US over the green of El Tri. Getting Torres, a young player full of potential, to commit his international career to the United States was no small feat; the initial impulse, at least on the part of many fans, is to want to reward him for that decision. That desire is absolutely amplified by the fact that his other option was our most hated rivals, of course, and we were rightfully thankful for his decision.

But Torres' decision was only possible due to a matter of circumstance; just because he threw in his lot with the nation of his birth rather than that of his father doesn't mean he should automatically walk into the team. Torres' talent is undeniable, and I'm sure he'll get his chance to show it in a big US match at some point in the future; but for now, while we're thankful for his loyalty, we should realize that it might just not be his time.

The issue of dual-nationality and choosing a side is a sticky one, especially when it comes down to the Yanks and El Tri. The passion here doesn't measure up to that of Mexico, and so young players often feel more pressure from the southern side than they do the northern. For that reason, Torres' decision is groundbreaking, and should be seen as such, no matter his contributions to the US on any meaningful level.

It's possible that my efforts to separate the player's skill from the question at hand have failed, and that I'm confusing the issue even more. I really just wanted to throw it out there to you, to see if there might be a consensus. If Torres was ready-for-prime-time right now, none of this would have even come up; but because he is just on the periphery, still growing and maturing but not yet a solid contributor, we have to ask the question.

Bob Bradley's job is to win games. I have no doubts, no matter the concerns over his competence, that he does everything he can to put the United States in a position to win each and every time they take the field. If Jose Francisco Torres is not a player to be relied upon quite yet, or is one whose inclusion in place of someone else would make the team weaker, than Bradley is doing the right thing no matter the sense of debt we as fans might have.

The bottom line is that playing time should not be a reward for choosing to declare for the United States.

Maybe I've gone off in the wrong direction, and so I'll end with this: Do you think, if you are one of the people who has been calling for Torres to play, that part of your feeling is based on that aforementioned sense of debt? It's possible that some haven't even examined our feelings enough to have realized that it might be a factor.

Has Villa Quit on O'Neill?

Thursday, August 20, 2009 | View Comments

Aston Villa's start hasn't been exactly top-notch. Sixth-place finishers in the Premier League last year, the Birmingham club crashed to earth during a poor second half and limped across the finish line. After starting out with so much promise and appearing poised to make a legitimate run at a Champions League position, Villa instead found themselves ending their season on a sour note.

Unfortunately, that sour flavor permeates Villa's opening effort for this season. After two games played, against arguably inferior opposition, Villa has two defeats and no goals to their credit. Wigan's thrashing of Villa at Villa Park was especially disheartening; O'Neill's club did little right, and though one of Wigan's goals (Hugo Rodallega's wonder strike) was unfortunate, the Birmingham club never showed signs of life. Martin O'Neill stood in his technical area, arms crossed and concern showing, clearly frustrated with his side's effort.

Today was no different. On the road for the away leg of their Europa League series with Rapid Vienna, Villa conceded early (very early, as in first minute early) and never really pushed the Austrians for a leveler. Lost for an answer, O'Neill attempted to change the game with the insertion of Gabriel Abonglahor, but to no avail. Again, O'Neill seemed unable to will his team back to their 2008 form.

The question now becomes, has O'Neill's team quit on him? After last season's crushing collapse, have the Villa players lost faith that their manager can put them in the proper position for success? Today's formation, which left Emile Heskey as the lone striker, certainly could not have inspired confidence.

To be fair, Villa has been without their best upfront target option in John Carew, player whose physical influence at the head of the Villa attack was sorely missed. But one player should not be the difference, and so O'Neill remains on the hook for his club's poor start.

Once confidence is lost in a manager by his charges, it's notoriously difficult, if not impossible, to get back. If Villa's poor form goes on, something they can ill afford, the question of O'Neill's waning influence will become that much easier to answer.

If that is the case, Villa's performance on Monday against Liverpool at Anfield isn't up to snuff, then perhaps Villa's owners are the ones that should be asking the question.

O'Neill covered for his team's shortcomings today in traditional fashion, claiming to be "pleased" with the performance against Rapid Vienna.

"We tried to create and in so doing, when you are getting players forward, obviously you are going to leave gaps but overall I'm pleased."

Those appear to be the words of a man desperately searching for a silver lining. Nothing in today's performance truly instills confidence that Villa is working out the early season kinks, and O'Neill certainly knows that.

"The games are hard and approaching us pretty quickly but when we settle down this season we will be absolutely fine. We need to improve and keep improving. As the whole squad gets wound up and fully fit then we will be OK."

Unfortunately for O'Neill, time is already short. If diagnosed quickly, the ineffective manager might not ruin Villa's season; but if hesitation becomes the order of the day, and O'Neill is left in place to flail madly, things could go very badly very quickly.

The New York Red Bulls are bad – pitifully, blatantly, and almost amusingly bad. They have the league’s leakiest defence, the most incompetent attack, an astonishingly appalling road record in which they have avoided defeat just once... the list goes on (and on).

Yet their ineptitude, their complete inadequacy, is set to be something of a story as the season draws to a close. While the majority of the league’s attention will be rightly focused on the race for the play-offs, there will be more than a few keeping an eye on the action at the bottom. Defeat following defeat following defeat... It’s become something to be sure of, something certain. In a league as open and competitive as the MLS the NYRB’s plight is a comfort.

Their crapness is also in danger of becoming historic.

New York’s stumble towards the Wooden Spoon is also set to be a stumble towards MLS history of the worst kind. They are on course, with just 10 points thus far, to record the worst season in MLS history – a record (14 points) held by the 2001 Tampa Bay Mutiny side, in a season always to be asterixed and all but invalidated by the tragic events in September that cut short the regular season to 26/27 games.

The Red Bulls need to gain four points from their final eight games in order to avoid a superlative season of failure. To put that into perspective – the team is currently suffering through a period in which they have gained just 1 point from a possible 36. They have not won a game since May. Gaining even another two or three points looks almost beyond reach.

All this makes Sunday’s game with Dallas strangely compelling. It’s a nothing game, really. Dallas, even with a couple of games in hand on some teams, surely can’t harbour realistic aims of reaching the post-season, while NYRB gave up on that dream months ago. Yet this is one of the few remaining games in which New York has any chance of winning. Dallas is very poor on the road (1-7-2), while all of NYRB’s wins (and by “all” I mean “two”) have come at home. Intruiging stuff. While the match line-up itself (NYRB vs. FC Dallas) might not exactly set the heart racing, the sub-plot (NYRB vs. History) might just heat up the prospect.

Derby County

Sports - December 08, 2007

Chelsea beat them 6-1. Arsenal thrashed them 6-2. Aston Villa humped them 6-0. West Ham strolled to a 5-0 win. Even Reading squashed them in a 4-0 rout. And these were just their home defeats. Yes, Derby’s 2007-2008 Premier League season was one to be forgotten. A pity, then, that it won’t be, as it broke almost all of the more unenviable EPL records. And then what happened? Derby were relegated to the Championship, in last place, with a solitary win. Five games into the next season they won their first game in 360 days.

San Marino National Team

Football - Northern Ireland v San Marino 2010 World Cup Qualifying European Zone

Losing 4-0 to Switzerland in their first competitive game in 1990, the San Marino national side could have been excused for feeling somewhat doubtful about their chances in qualifying for the European Championships two years later. And then what happened? They didn’t qualify, nor did they qualify for any of the next eight international tournaments since then. I think the team’s fortunes can be summed up by the fact that the greatest result in their history was a 1-0 win over Liechtenstein. Five years ago. In a friendly.

East Stirlingshire FC

Last but most certainly least – Scotland’s whipping boys. Perpetually bottom of Scotland’s lowest division, the team achieved British infamy during the 2003-2004 season, when they gained just 8 points (from a possible total of 108). And then what happened? After a season of such epic failure (over 100 goals conceded!) a best-selling book entitled “A season with Britain’s worst team” was published while, strangely, a 6,000-member Norwegian fan club was established. The team finished bottom for another four years before, unbelievably, becoming good. In 2009 they reached the play-offs. There’s hope for NYRB yet.

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