Holden Headed to Burnley for Trial

Thursday, December 31, 2009 | View Comments
Bryan Ruiz, Stuart Holden

Fox's Houston affiliate is reporting that Stuart Holden has made a decision on his future, at least for the next few weeks, and will go on trial with English Premier League side Burnley.


This does not necessarily close the door on Holden returning to the Houston Dynamo in 2010, but it does make his intentions clear. He wants to play in England, and if he impresses Burnley (currently 14th in the table), a contract there would entice him away from MLS.


Holden also revealed this evening that he will make an appearance on the New Year's Day edition of Good Morning American tomorrow morning.


Unfortunately for MLS, who tried desperately to keep him with a large non-DP offer, and Houston fans, who will hate to see their young star go, I full expect Holden to play well on trial and secure a deal to play in England for 2010 and beyond.


Cleaning Up the USL v. NASL Mess

Wednesday, December 30, 2009 | View Comments

We waited, and waited and waited (those of us that care) for the United States Soccer Federation to make some kind of ruling on the sanctioning of either USL-1 or the newly rebooted NASL. In the interim, clubs switched sides, new clubs emerged, and no one really knew if there would be a second division in the United States or Canada in 2010.


USSF finally made some kind of ruling today, it just wasn't the type for which most had hoped. Instead of sanctioning either of the battling leagues, US Soccer's leadership chose to summarily reject both, impose a seven day deadline for a compromise to be reached, and leave us all still hanging.


Except that now we have something to debate. It happened almost immediately, via Twitter, the blogosphere, and established professional writers. It seems everyone has an opinion on what the "decision" means, why it was made, and what could possibly come next. For all intents and purposes, all the USSF announcement today did was bring heat to bear on the organization itself, because it made almost no one happy.


And I'm certainly not happy, because the immediate future of second division soccer in the US and Canada will still be undetermined come the new year. With only a few months in which to prepare themselves to put on a professional sports league, a task that involves a mountain of the administrative, marketing, and operational planning, both the NASL and USL are facing an uphill battle just to play. MLS may have the television contracts, the fading European stars, and the roster of big money backers, but make no mistake; a second division of soccer in this part of the world is a crucial part of the growth of the game.


But I've come to grips with the decision, putting it squarely in the "necessary evil" category. I'm certainly not alone in my view, though there are other valid viewpoints as to why USSF did what they did. The timeline is a mess, and there's little explanation that will satisfy me as to why this process has taken as long as it has. I'm sure any discussions had to this point have been tense, led to little progress, and required cooling off periods. There's no doubt that it takes time to gather the information USSF requested from each of the leagues and their member clubs. I have an appreciation, simply from personal experience of trying to get more than a few people to do what they're supposed to in a timely fashion, of how difficult coordinating multiple organizations, often made up of busy people with varied priorities, can be.


Still, it shouldn't have come to this. We shouldn't be staring down the barrel of 2010 with no idea if there will be second division soccer. Forget the larger ramifications, or any broader idea that American and Canadian soccer with suffer generally; this is really about all of the fans of the clubs involved, many of whom have woven their sides' seasons into the rhythms of their lives, who are panicked at the thought of a year without live and local soccer. After being told all month that something would be decided, and with most of the soccer community assuming someone would be sanctioned, they're left right where the rest of us more general observers are, only with the prospect of getting no return on their emotional investment in 2010 and potentially beyond. For any supporter, big club or small, first or second division, that's a pretty big deal.


I find it difficult to believe, however, that USSF would avoid sanctioning a properly prepared and administrated league, no matter who they were or what form they took (i.e., USL's sole private ownership, or NASL's team-owned setup), if one existed. I can draw no other conclusion that that neither the USL, with paltry handful of remaining clubs, nor NASL, with its requisite number of teams but organizational questions and new club issues, are ready to play, and therefore meet sanctioning requirements, in 2010. Without all of the pertinent information, which is in many cases confidential, none of can truly know the really "why" behind today's decision. The simplest, and most logical, conclusion is that USSF applied their standards and no one involved this little footy soap opera could live up to them.


So we'll wait for seven days while the two sides attempt to work something out. USSF is forcing them together to come to an agreement, using today's press release as a sort of public reprimand, and sending a clear message that no other outcome will be accepted. Either shape up, get along, and agree on an approach for 2010 that meets Federation standards, or there will be no sanctioning. What seems like a dodge is more appropriately viewed as a responsible use of the power they possess.


There are alternate takes, of course, and they range from viewing today's announcement and failure to sanction the the seemingly solid NASL as a calculated and insidious choice on the part of USSF, to more mundane appraisals like simple cowardice and ineffectual leadership. One potential NASL club's owner colored the decision to push for compromise as against the American way and preventing the new league from doing business. A noted soccer writer outlined an elaborate scenario where USSF directors, wary of a new league without spending restrictions, refused to sanction NASL because one of its clubs might one day embarrass MLS on the field.


Even those that haven't attempted to analyze the actions of US Soccer are frustrated by the lack of a resolution and are resorting to raking America's soccer leaders over the coals.


Many NASL adherents (generally those whose clubs are lined up to play in the new league) are calling for the new league to play anyway, sanctioning be damned. Why do they need USSF's okay when they have players (or can sign some) to send out, stadiums to play in, and fans ready to fill the stands? Stick it to USSF, go rogue, and give the people what they want.


Even if you hold the the opinion that USSF sanctioning is just window dressing, and the inability to play in CONCACAF competitions is worth the sacrifice, there could be serious detrimental results to playing outside the traditional structure. Per FIFA rules, players can be banned for life from playing in any sanctioned league if they participate in an unsanctioned one. Players who hope to one day (or already do) represent their countries on the international stage could be banned from their national teams. For everyone involved, including owners, coaches, and players, the risk of burning the bridge that connects them with the greater soccer world could be too much to ask. There would be players, mainly because there would be money, but would the quality of the league and their ability to do business be hampered by their rogue status?


It's almost impossible to see the answer to that question as being anything other than "Yes". With that answer in mind, I'm not so sure NASL would be smart to take such a drastic step. Better to play by the USSF's rules, even if they seem arbitrary and unfair at the moment, and works towards full inclusion in the structure that, for better or worse, is the reality of American soccer..


As for USL, their trump card is an established administrative system, with all of the necessary processes and typical red tape, that make a soccer league run. They have few clubs on their side, and they seemed frustratingly resolute in their believe that they, and they alone, should be running things on the lower levels of soccer. Of course, when we say "USL" these days, what we really mean is NuRock; it was the sale of the USL structure to the Atlanta-based concern by Nike that set this drama in motion in the first place. I've defended NuRock's right to protect their investment, including the lawsuit they've brought against defecting clubs, in the past, and while I understand why they've acted as they have, that doesn't mean I think it's right.


Sports, unlike almost any other business, involves a responsibility to the public trust. Fans aren't just customers whose business shows up on the bottom line. They give themselves over to their teams in many cases, and collectively have significant influence in shaping its image and ultimate success. For that reason, arguing for USL to throw in the towel on the second division and step aside for the greater good is justifiable; but because NuRock's raison d'être, as with any company, is to make money, I see no resolution that involves them quietly bowing out unless they can satisfactorily recoup the value their asset will lose without a flagship top division.


The bigwigs at USSF know this. They also know that the NASL owners have valid concerns about the direction of their league, and that it would be unfair make them accept USL control again. Compromise is the only way out. 2010 should be played under the auspices of USL with the understanding that the NASL clubs will pull out of the league officially following the season; the two sides can negotiate, quietly and behind closed doors while the play on field is the rightful public focus, towards a reasonable agreement.


While neither side will be completely happy, we'll have a stable second division setup, a sated national federation, and fans with teams who will be playing without any undo drama hanging over everything.


Step one is this season. I'm beyond caring who "wins" anymore, and I'm not interested in examining the machinations of USSF; I just want to know, both for American and Canadian soccers' as well as the fans' sake, that second division soccer will be happening in 2010.


USL and NASL Told to Work It Out

Wednesday, December 30, 2009 | View Comments

US Soccer has finally released a statement regarding the ongoing second division split, and it doesn't involve either league (USL or NASL) being sanctioned.


While it's been longer in coming than many observers had hoped, and does not rectify a messy situation, USSF's statement does make it clear that they're not going to take the path of least resistance and sanction NASL, which seemed the logical choice.


US Soccer press release, which is also on the organization's site:


CHICAGO (Dec. 30, 2009) – The U.S. Soccer Board of Directors voted unanimously on Tuesday to not sanction either the USL or the NASL to operate a Division II professional league in 2010.


The decision was made on the recommendation of the Professional League Task Force, which determined that neither organization on its own was able to provide a viable and sustainable operation during the upcoming season. Both organizations were unable to meet U.S. Soccer’s requirement of a minimum of eight viable teams for 2010.


Despite the ruling, the U.S. Soccer Board of Directors has given both organizations seven days to try to work out an interim solution for the 2010 season.


“After carefully reviewing the findings from the Task Force it was clear there are still too many uncertainties for both organizations, which would be extremely difficult to resolve in a timely fashion that would allow them to prepare for the 2010 season,” said U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati. “In the best interest of soccer in the United States, we decided to not sanction either league at this point. However, we did encourage both leagues to come together in the next week and attempt to develop another plan which would allow a single league to be approved on a provisional basis. We are committed to finding ways to improve the long-term viability of all leagues and teams and continue the growth of soccer in the United States.”



A closer look at what this might mean, specifically the note that "both organizations were unable to meet U.S. Soccer’s requirement of a minimum of eight viable teams for 2010" despite appearances that NASL has enough clubs signed up, as well as the deadline given the two groups to reach to an interim solution to come here at later time (just don't have the time for it at the moment).


Discuss.


Raul Diaz Arce

J Hutcherson over at the US Soccer Players site posited something interesting today (even if I had a bit of trouble navigating a meandering post to the point); it's nearly impossible to create a club-defining system that will ensure long term success in MLS, and teams are best served to take a "win now" approach each season without any concern for distinctive style.


I think. I may be pulling more out of it than was intended, but this closing parry is the thrust of the piece:


"Like it or not, MLS is trending towards a short-run league. Maybe not to the extent of Mexico or South America, but enough to suggest that system building is no longer the smart move."


I think the question is worthy of some examination. Because MLS is a league of parity (not "parody"), it's difficult for any team to establish themselves as a consistent powerhouse; while clubs like the Revs and Earthquakes/Dynamo have put together solid runs of playoff appearances in one case and playoff appearances and championships in the other in recent years, their type of success is extremely difficult to capture and is actually the result of great coaching rather than any broader philosophy that will carry them through across regimes.


The one club that has managed to create an institutional personality, and the impetus for Hutcherson's post is DC United, who may actually be living off of a faded past. The club's reputation for a more attractive (for MLS anyway) short passing game and clever attacking soccer was built in the early years of the league, when the ability of United's leadership to find talent others couldn't led to multiple championships and the "Tradition" label they use today.


Curt Onalfo addressed that supposed stylistic tradition when discussing his role as United's new head coach:


Onalfo's aim is to play "beautiful, attacking, quick soccer," he said. "We want to play with style and send players forward -- that is what D.C. United has always been known for." (Washington Post)



But should that really be Onalfo's concern? For a club used to winning that has failed to make the playoffs each of the last two seasons, shouldn't Onalfo just concentrate on winning, tradition be damned? As Hutcherson suggests, attempting to create a grand plan that will enable to club to sustain success over a long period is a gargantuan task; wouldn't it better to simply focus on the here and now, ignore the pull of the United style, and build a winner no matter how the play looks?


My guess is that Onalfo is giving lip service to style. He knows his job is to win, he knows the fan base is desperate to see the team back in the playoffs, and he knows (I hope) that it doesn't really matter how that happens as long as it does. But as much as the pragmatic approach makes sense in a quick turnaround league like MLS (see: Galaxy, LA) something will be lost if United no longer at least tries to play the game the way for which they're known.


MLS needs clubs that posses a traditional style, an overriding character, or something they're "known for", no matter the players who line up for them year after year. A club's "style" builds a connection with fans and supporters who come to feel pride because of it that players often can't because of the transient nature of the game. MLS lacks those connections in many cases, both because the league is built to ensure every club is essentially the same, and because long term success (which I'm defining as "multiple championships") is so difficult to achieve. What good is style if it doesn't win you anything?


United fans must now hope that if Onalfo is serious about keeping up the club's tradition of pleasing-to-the-eye soccer, that doing so doesn't preclude them from winning. If Hutcherson is right, and short-runs are the way of MLS, than every club that hope to win a title is best served to put their rosters together with little to no regard for any kind of long-reaching system. Without those grand plans for consistent success, no club will be creating any type of transcendent identity.


For me, that's a little depressing, even if it is the reality of Major League Soccer.


Let me know what you make of all of this.


Kansas City Wizards v CD Chivas USA

Guest Post by Ted Meyer


Curt Onalfo has been hired by D.C. United after an extensive search that had international names, MLS assistant coaches and even college coaches. It's hard to believe that D.C. United is putting their trust in a coach who was fairly mediocre in Kansas City. The Wizards did make the playoffs twice under Onalfo’s rein, but had a record of 27-29-22. That's not exactly the record fans want their new coach to have. It is obvious United is prescribing to the theory that under their organization, Onalfo can be successful. Onalfo does have ties to the United organization before his hire. He was a reserve midfielder for D.C. United in 1998 and 1999. He was also an U.S. National Team assistant coach under Bruce Arena. The transition time at D.C. United should be minimal.


Fans are not likely to take well to Curt Onalfo and patience is thin in D.C. Fans have been frustrated with Kevin Payne and Dave Kasper, who have made questionable decisions getting players. Now they make an unattractive hire and passed over fan favorite Richie Williams. D.C. United really ran out of options and needed to make a decision. Onalfo is not the glamorous choice, but he is an experienced coach. I am willing to overlook his seasons at Kansas City. He is an attack minded coach and Kansas City is not an attack minded team. In their 2000 Championship year they only gave up 29 goals and only scored 47. Here, Onalfo fits right in with D.C. United’s style of play.


Onalfo has some serious holes to fill. At just about every position United has some serious questions. Defensively, the team gave up 51 goals in 2008 (2nd most) and 44 in 2009 (5th most). Bryan Namoff and Dejan Jackovic have been solid, but the rest have been average or below. United has to improve their defense if they are to have any success. Much like last year the starting keeper is a big question mark. Josh Wicks got the job midseason over Luis Crayton with some solid play. However, that was coupled with some dumb mistakes, which included stepping on Freddy Montero in the Open Cup Final. He was subsequently ejected from the match. Offensively, Ben Olsen is gone and Luciano Emilio is likely to be gone. It is unknown whether Christian Gomez, Jaimie Moreno, or Fred will return. On the flip side, United has signed El Salvadorian international Christian Castillo. They also have Chris Pontius and Rodney Wallace, who showed promise in their rookie season. United has talent, but there are just too many holes to say that they enough to compete for a championship.


United missed the playoffs for the second year and a row on the last day in heartbreaking fashion. Some fans have spelled doom and gloom about the team for the coming years. United has faced worse times. From 2000 to 2002 the team never made the playoffs and finished in the bottom of league. This slump has seen D.C. United compete for silverware and won the Open Cup in 2008 and has some very talented players. The team was even at the top of Eastern Conference early in the season, before a late season collapse. United’s aging veteran players and a congested schedule played a key role in that demise. Onalfo doesn’t have to worry about a congested schedule or as many aging veterans. He will just have the MLS season and potentially the Open Cup if they qualify.


Onalfo has his work cut out for him. With so many potential changes, it is easy for some teams to label next year as a rebuilding year. That doesn’t necessary fly for United. The fans and organization want success. That success may be judged by just getting into the playoffs. Right now I see United falling right in the middle of the pack. They will be in another dogfight for the playoffs. However, MLS is notoriously unpredictable and we could see make an unexpected return to glory much like 2004.

Ted Meyer is United fan and student at George Mason University, where he hosts a weekly soccer show "The George Mason Soccer Show" at 5 PM ET on Fridays afternoons. He's also on Twitter.


Another Dead End for Adu

Tuesday, December 29, 2009 | View Comments
CONCACAF Cup - Grenada v USA

Courtesy of SBI by way of a Portuguese report, it appears that Freddy Adu has been dumped by Belenenses.


Adu's will return to Benfica, where it's unlikely he'll remain very long; after failing to secure regular minutes at Belenenses, Benfica may find it in their best interest to mutually agree to cancel Adu's contract. That possibility, perhaps augmented by hints Adu has dropped on Twitter in recent days about personal decision looming, might see him move back to the US and to Major League Soccer.


Whether Adu's struggles can be put down to attitude, lack of work ethic, or his simply not being good enough, there would certainly be a place for him back on this side of the Atlantic.


After hitting dead end after dead end during his European stay, Adu's travails are now well beyond "broken record" proportions, and the final nail in his 2010 World Cup hopes has long been driven; but there's still hope he could be a minor star in the US and slowly turn his career around.


Choosing Sides in the CBA Battle

Monday, December 28, 2009 | View Comments

During the week leading up to MLS Cup in Seattle, Don Garber lamented any talk of a strike by the players union as "irresponsible" and "detrimental to the process". His tone was forceful and his message unmistakable; the league knows what's best for the game and the players need to check themselves.


More or less. What Garber said back in November struck me as bluster and guff at the time, as did the noise the players were making about a possible strike. But here we are, more than a month later and just over thirty days from the expiration of the CBA, and little has changed. No progress has been made, the players are still talking strike, the league maintains a hard line and we're now all standing under the shadow of a delay (at best) to the start of the 2010 Major League Soccer season.


I'm just about fed up. For me, this isn't about taking sides anymore, and it's no longer about who's "right" and who's "wrong". I fall in neither with the owners, who despite the complicated and socialistic way the league is run should get credit for helping an iffy product along to stable status, nor with the players, who despite their sudden urge to force the toddler MLS into adulthood all in one shot deserve greater rights in determining where and for how much they'll play.


I fall in with soccer. That's right, I'm on the side of just figure the damn thing out so the league plays and we'll all have a season to follow, because it's the soccer that matters.


So, being on the side of soccer, I have a few questions I'd like to ask both labor and management in this little slap fight that unfortunately holds the immediate future of top level American and Canadian soccer in the balance:


To management front man Don Garber:


Does the league/management/owners have a cogent strategy for moving on from single entity, or will they always attempt to maintain a tight grip on player movement and salaries?


How much of the impasse with the players is related to in-fighting between ownership groups with differing opinions on how best to improve/grow the league?


Are there elements of the player demand list that league is willing to acquiesce to, or is everything presented a non-starter?


Are any of the expansion fees, both collected and future, being reinvested in the league to offset a potential rise in player cost, or are those funds simply being used to pay back Major League Soccer's original investors? If it's the latter, does that have any bearing on the hard line attitude for this CBA?


Are you aware of the PR hit the league is taking over your reported salary bump, which would have you making more than the total player salary expenditures for many teams in MLS?


Do you understand that no soccer, which will likely happen if you refuse to back down on certain things, is much, much, much worse than soccer under a significantly different CBA that might require an adjustment period on the part of the owners?


What the hell is wrong with you?


To the Players Union leadership:


Will it take across-the-board concession on every issue you've raised (free agency, guaranteed contracts, quality of life benefits) for an agreement to be reached, or are there issues you are willing to drop in exchange for one or more of the other demands being met?


Do you believe that threatening to strike necessarily improves your position, and do you have any concern about the damage such a threat could do to the league's image with MLS and non-MLS fans alike?


Is there consensus among your membership in regards to the strike, or are certain players still wary of such drastic action?


In light of the disparity in remarks by Kasey Keller and Jimmy Conrad over recent weeks, who speaks for the players, and which of the two mentioned is more accurately depicting the state of the negotiations?


Is risking the 2010 season, and potential putting the very existence of MLS in jeopardy with a protracted work stoppage, worth the 3-5 year agreement that will result from this standoff? Is there any sense that patience would be prudent only fifteen years into the life of the league?


Do you understand that no soccer, which will likely happen if you refuse to back down on certain things, is much, much, much worse than soccer under a significantly different CBA that might require an adjustment period on the part of the owners?


What the hell is wrong with you?

***



Color me worried. Very worried. I'm hearing from various sources that the players are resolute, that they fully intend to strike if the owners don't give in, and that there's almost no way a deal is reached by the expiration of the current CBA. That doesn't mean all is lost or that the season won't start on time, but it should give everyone with a stake in this league, be it financial, occupational, or emotional, pause.


One more question, for both parties, because it's important:


Don't you care about the soccer?


Never mind. I'm not sure I want an answer to that one.


I fully expect none of my questions to be answered, and to be not answered in a untimely fashion. Here's to being on the side of soccer.


Advice and Resolutions All Around

Monday, December 28, 2009 | View Comments
Sunil Gulati, Henry Kissinger

Keith says Sunil should splash the cash



Keith Hickey, who last contributed to MFUSA with a post arguing that USA 2022 makes too much sense for FIFA to pass up, returns with some suggested New Year's resolutions and advice for soccer's biggest names.


by Keith Hickey

If your family is anything like mine, then by now, you’ve disassembled the Festivus pole, packed away the ceremonial robes, and cleaned the virgin blood off of your sacrificial knives. Which means the next big event on the busy calendar this time of year is New Year’s Eve, and you’re already working on your solemn oath of renewal to present to the Council of Ultimate Truth, or, as the heathens destined for eternal disembowelment call them, New Year’s resolutions.


As an avid football fan, I’ve taken the liberty of dispensing some much-needed New Year’s advice for some of American and World football’s most prominent figures.


Bob Bradley: Be more stoic. These public displays of emotion are really undermining public confidence in you.


Cristiano Ronaldo: Lose Patrice Evra’s phone number. You’ve got a great thing going with Kaka now, don’t sabotage it.


Arsene Wenger: Buy Andrei Arshavin that racecar bed. He’s earned it.


Piotr Nowak: Win the MLS Cup, just to rub it in New York’s and Seattle’s faces.


Don Garber: Repeat after me: real grass and soccer-specific stadiums. Don’t make us beg.


Phil Brown: Buy a tanning bed. Premiership managers can do better than spray-on.


Sunil Gulati: Bribes for Warner, bribes for Platini, bribes for Blatter. Just get us a World Cup. And don’t let Julie Foudy know.


Fabio Capello: Call Michael Owen into every squad possible, put him on the bench for every match possible, and never, ever play him. Put Phil Neville up top if you have to.


Jose Mourinho: Sign with an English club. Refer to yourself in the third person. We miss you.


Clint Dempsey: Whatever you’re doing, teach Jozy. And grow out the beard.


Kaka: Stay fabulous.


Eric Wynalda: Sign with the Fire. We need interesting characters in MLS.


S’ralex Ferguson: Take Rio out back, and give him the Ole Yeller treatment.


Ryan Giggs: You’ve already won everything possible. Go back to Gallifrey. There’s a Time War going on.


Roy Hodgson: Put a fake mustache on Bobby Zamora, and don’t allow him within 200 yards of Fabio Capello or a telephone.


Roberto Mancini: The English press has already cast you as the villain, so have a giant skull carved into a volcano and hold training there. Your new bosses can afford it.


Carlo Ancelotti: You can start moving Guus Hiddink’s belongings into your office now to save time.


Pep Guardiola: Share some trophies. This isn’t Championship Manager.


Charlie Davies: Get better.


Happy 2010, everyone!


A Rambling Outlook for 2010

Monday, December 28, 2009 | View Comments
USA Fans

As fans, particularly the type that actively hope for soccer to take the next step (even if we're not sure what that next step might be) in the United States, it's easy to get overexcited about "moments", put too much into them, and believe them more influential than they actually are.


2009 is a perfect example of this phenomenon; between exciting success in Seattle (which was a series of moments rather than any singular event, but is still pertinent), the US Confederations Cup run, and various other "smaller" moments sprinkled throughout the calendar, the year past could be viewed as fairly important to the popularity growth of professional soccer in the America.


But doing the prudent thing and pulling back our excitement just a bit is necessary for proper perspective. Soccer isn't going to "blow up" overnight as a nationwide obsession, and shouldn't be dismissed (as the old guard media so consistently do) simply because it hasn't. The fan base of the game in a country of 310 million, which is not insignificant, will always support it on some level, and it would take mistakes on an epic scale to ruin the pro game as well as success on an equally epic scale to bump it into the mainstream (and even that would likely be fleeting, even if the number of committed fans grew significantly).


Unfortunately, "epic mistakes" are not out of the realm of possibility with the MLS CBA negotiations casting a pall over things. For observers of the American game in its totality, even the excitement of a World Cup year is muted by labor uncertainty in America's top flight.


Add the second division drama to the list of concerns, as well as more mundane on-field issues for the USMNT (injuries for example), and it would be very easy to be slightly downtrodden for 2010.


Fortunately, I'm almost (somewhat) possibly (provisionally) certain that the labor nonsense will get fixed, that USSF will make a decision that gives us second division soccer for 2010, and that soccer will make strides with the general public if for no other reason than the ESPN hype machine will be in overdrive. Fairly soon, the relative whispers about the England match to open the World Cup will mutate into outright shouts emanating from the sports TV behemoth. Think of it as a cattle call; not all of the cows will heed it, but more than a few will come along for a look.


As for those more "mundane" issues, the ones involving the United States and their World Cup fortunes, my belief in a positive outcome is less strong (if that's possible). As hopeful as I am (and I am, believe me), I also recognize that it will take the team's and Bob Bradley's very best to make the tournament a success. I won't even bother myself with expectations, which will surely be raised thanks to the fortunate draw; the public will be the public, and if the US fails to meet some kind of unrealistic standard placed on them by a few under-informed mainstream voices, the disappointment will do little to affect soccer's actual standing here. We could all try to face down the tidal wave with reason if we choose, but I'm positive we would all be swept away. Best to just ride it out.


The 2010 World Cup will ultimately be a disappointment for the United States. That's because no matter how or when they go out (and they will), fans of the team will be heartbroken; that's the nature of passion, and why I'm slightly more tolerant of blind-homerism and "rah-rah" type opinion than some. Soccer needs deluded fans just as much as it needs rational analysts; this isn't an academic exercise to be broken down to its essence and examined like some wispy 19th century novel. It's a game, meant to arouse irrational hope and unrealistic belief.


All that being said, and confirming again that the World Cup will ultimately be a disappointment for the US (because they won't, and can't, win it), there could be some joy to be had. I expect them to progress to the second round, even with the issues currently facing Bob Bradley; it won't be easy, and there will be more than a few dodgy moments, but with England clear favorite and capable of getting nine points, the Americans can get through on four, or even three, points.


There are other ways to see it, of course. Whatever is behind it, and I'm coming to grips with the notion that it really doesn't matter, there's nothing unfair about a disastrous prediction for the US at the World Cup. Injuries and form (which is probably best left to later judgement) make it easy to see the Americans falling flat. If we're all just "best-guessing", a conservative estimation, based on missing players, a sometimes tactically-naive coach, a poor record in the last World Cup, and other factors too numerous to name, is understandable. I may hate it, I may have a visceral response to it (working on that; might try the counting thing), but I become one of the deluded if I refuse to see the possibility, and although I recognize the need for unrepentant homers, I have a relatively strong desire not to become one.


And that's just it. Anything is possible, no matter how much we think we know. It's possible the US will beat England. It's possible the US could fail miserable and come home with no points and the worst World Cup showing since France '98.


Neither outcome, or anything else that happens at the World Cup for that matter, will have any explosive or implosive effect on the place of soccer in the sports hierarchy of the United States. It's just doesn't work that way. Even if it did, or if someone soccer entered "fad" or "new hotness" territory (like it seemed to briefly during the heady days of "Beckham-mania") would that we want that? Wouldn't the inevitable regression back to niche/fringe status just be depressing?


Not that everyone cares, or really wants to see soccer explode in the US. I know that there are plenty of you out there that are fine with the way things are. I envy your attitude.


2010, provided there will be an MLS season (compromise people, compromise) and a second division (Hello? USSF? Are you there?) to go with the World Cup will probably be the biggest year in the history of American soccer. That means more attention than ever before, more interest than ever before, and more growth than ever before. What it doesn't mean is soccer becoming a major sport in the United States of America. That is still a long way off, if it ever happens.


So get ready, and get excited, for the moments as they happen over the course of the next year. Just don't go reading too much into them. Slow growth is maddening to the impatient among us, but will ultimately serve American soccer better than any sudden explosion of popularity.


USMNT: The State of Things

Sunday, December 27, 2009 | View Comments
WCQ - Barbados v United States

I'm not usually one for forced structured posts that attempt to cleverly categorize players, teams, coaches, etc.; I prefer to simply present my opinions and viewpoints in a old-fashioned prose format and let you do the parsing. That's not the suggested blog method, but I try not to let that "how to" noise dictate too much around here.


Sometimes, though, it makes sense to use a black and white delineation of items to present a few concepts.


I will, however, avoid any clever categories or analogous wordplay. That's where I draw the line.


Never mind all that. Let's just get on with it.


This is an overview of the US National Team's positive and negative trends heading into 2010. Bob Bradley has a lot on his plate, much of it with as yet unknown results, and will need every opportunity presented to flesh out what is what for the World Cup in six months time. I've also thrown in an "unknowns" for good measure, just to be sure we're hitting all of the major issues.


Trending Down


Back and Front Line Depth

Not only did the loss of Oguchi Onyewu and Charlie Davies take two positions of strength in the starting lineup and make them weaknesses, it highlighted the lack of depth the United States has at each spot. The drop in quality and experience from Onyewu to Jay Demerit is significant if not debilitating, but it's the second line behind the assumed pairing of DeMerit and Bocanegra where things get iffy. Chad Marshall is a class behind the European-based group, Jimmy Conrad is a very good MLS defender who likely won't hack it at his age on the international level, and none of the other possibilities (Cameron, Goodson, a re-positioned Jonathan Spector) inspire much confidence.

Up top, and how Bob Bradley will handle being (likely) without speedster Charlie Davies, also creates problems of depth. Depending on who Bradley taps to replace Davies in the support striker role, the move we all assume he'll make though he could certainly adjust his strategy, it might open a hole or thin the reserves somewhere else. Both Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey could be slotted in alongside Jozy Altidore. From a quality standpoint, either of those moves would make sense; it's the replacements in the midfield that then become tricky.


Confidence

Collective team confidence, especially with in international football, is a tricky thing; there's just not enough continuity to really know how much the effect of poor results will carry over to a meaningful competition like the World Cup. Do the two friendly losses in Europe, neither of which included a few integral parts of the team, mean anything heading in 2010? I doubt it, but there aren't any positives to be taken from them, either.

The months leading up to South Africa, and the friendlies on the schedule (beyond January's match against Honduras) will have a lot to do with the collective feeling of Bradley's squad. Wins would be nice, but perhaps more important is level of play; the Americans can draw or lose against Mexico (assumed to be lined up) and the Netherlands and still move forward feeling good about themselves provided they perform at a high level. I'd much rather see them lose 2-1 to the Dutch while competing than win 1-0 on a lucky break despite getting dominated.


Trending Up


Possible New Options

Despite the ongoing struggle of German-American Jermaine Jones, who wasn't a lock to figure in the team but certainly has the quality to do so, to get back to the field, Bob Bradley's potential player pool might have a few added names come June.

At Rangers, both Maurice Edu (who made his first team return Sunday in a sixteen-minute substitute appearance) and DaMarcus Beasley are on the road to recovery. For Edu, it's the culmination of his rehab process after a knee injury suffered earlier in the year; for Beasley, it's finally getting playing time after struggling to get any for almost all of 2009. If Beasley can consistently stay healthy (he was out Sunday with a thigh injury) and return to his old form, Bob Bradley will have a dangerous new option on the wing. That option might allow Donovan or Dempsey to move up top without a significant drop in quality behind them.

Edu's possible role in the World Cup team, should he make it, is less clear; even with Jones not figuring, central midfield is a position of relative strength. Bradley, Clark, Feilhaber and Torres are all capable, available, and likely to be playing for their clubs more consistently than Edu. Still, Edu's box-to-box quality would be a nice thing to have in reserve.


Important Contributors Playing in High Quality Leagues

This is a bit dependent on where Dynamo starts Ricardo Clark and Stuart Holden end up, but it's likely one or both will end up in the English Premier League. With Landon Donovan headed to Everton on loan to join Tim Howard, Clint Dempsey an established starter at Fulham, Michael Bradley contributing for 'Gladbach, and Jozy Altidore getting solid time at Hull, more Americans should be playing regularly for clubs in top level European leagues as the World Cup gets ever closer.

The experience and competition against high quality opponents will only do those players good before the tournament in South Africa. Projected back line starter Carlos Bocanegra has hit a rough patch in France, so everything is not entirely rosy; but the positives (provided all of these players get first team time) clearly outweigh the negatives. MLSers will naturally play an important role in the World Cup team, but the higher the proportion of players facing world class competition in the months until June, the better.


Unknown


MLS Labor Trouble

Speaking of the MLSers likely to be in the squad, there could be a problem for them if the league and players union are unable to come together on a collective bargaining agreement before the scheduled start of the 2010 season. No league means no playing time, and the United States cannot afford to have so much of their potential World Cup squad doing nothing but training. The sharpness needed for the pressure of the tournament will only come through games.

Bradley's "policy" of only calling in players who are getting regular time at their clubs would be stretched if the MLS season does not happen as planned. While there's every reason to believe that things will be sorted eventually, how much actual game competition the MLS players will see could be an issue. Bradley might take extraordinary steps, like running camps while MLS is in labor hell (just a guess), or be forced to rely even more on players based abroad.


This taking of the National Team temperature as 2010 looms is not mean to be comprehensive; there are many issues Bob Bradley will face in the New Year that are either under the radar, unknown to us altogether, or will crop up in due time.


USA 2022 Just Makes Sense

Thursday, December 24, 2009 | View Comments
1994 WORLD CUP FINAL

It's a Christmas miracle, an unexpected contribution to MFUSA from Keith Hickey, who presents his argument for why the United States should get another World Cup in 2022.


In 1994, FIFA, world football’s governing body, held the World Cup in a country with little history or interest in the sport, no professional soccer league, and in stadiums built for other sports. It became the most successful sporting event in the history of the world. Attendance and revenues for USA ‘94 exceeded all expectations, smashing records, setting a new standard, and leaving behind the seeds of an American soccer revolution.


In December 2010, FIFA will gather and select the hosts of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, and the United States is bidding for both. The 2018 competition is likely to be held in Europe, and England, despite internal issues, has emerged as the front-runner. This would clear the way for the US to host the 2022 edition, an event which could see the United States fulfill its potential as a soccer nation.


On paper, the American bid is a no-brainer. No other nation can boast the number of World Class stadiums as the US, thanks mostly to the NFL. No nation has as large a population with the same mix of sports savvy and disposable income. No other nation has a media hype machine as large or as effective as the American press. In terms of transportation infrastructure and accommodations, the United States is again at the very top.


On the reverse face of the World Cup coin are the intangibles. Unable to find any substantive holes in the American bid, the most often heard objection is, “But they just hosted it in ‘94! It’s unfair!” Which is true. But it’s not the shortest time between hosting duties (that would be Mexico, 16 years between 1970 and 1986, albeit after Colombia withdrew), and the process isn’t about fairness at this point (Which is handled by FIFA’s rotation policy). The United States simply boasts the strongest bid of any eligible nation. Sepp Blatter has also used the World Cup in recent years as a way to expand the game beyond the traditional European and South American power base, taking the World Cup to Korea, Japan, and South Africa. Conventional wisdom says that he’d love to take his dog and pony show on the road to Qatar, or Australia, or Indonesia, for the noble cause of proselytizing the sport, but if Sepp Blatter has noble intentions, then we needn’t worry about future World Cups, since the End of Days is clearly upon us. Sepp’s two aims are to solidify his base of power so he can keep getting elected, and to make crazy amounts of money. The first was strengthened by the presence of every possible FIFA tournament being held in Africa for the past couple of years. A US World Cup would also serve to reward and placate Jack Warner, Sepp’s right hand and CONCACAF President. The latter objective is also served best by holding the tournament in the US, for obvious reasons. Besides, does Blatter really want to schlep around Perth or Palopo, or endure summer in Qatar?


A final argument must also be made for the tournament’s legacy. When the ‘94 World Cup ended, it left behind Major League Soccer, a league that has grown and established itself admirably. By 2022, MLS could be ready to make the jump to the next level in the American sports hierarchy, and the World Cup would be the perfect catalyst to make that happen. Americans love events, and America loves the World Cup. Every tournament, soccer players grace the covers of newspapers and magazines, and everyone knows at least something about the game. And the ranks of soccer fans always swell with new recruits after the tournament has ended. The World Cup would put the sport over the top, and put MLS in the national spotlight in a way not seen since Pele played for the Cosmos. Soccer will have conquered the last frontier. The 2022 World Cup in the United States would make the World’s game truly global.


Keith Hickey is a passionate soccer fan from Philadelphia, whose life will be complete when the Union start play next year. You can find him on Twitter as @usarsnl.


Happy Holidays

Wednesday, December 23, 2009 | View Comments


It's the that special time of year, and that means a short break from the daily grind of the blog for myself, and I would assume, our other MFUSA contributors. We'll be back in a few days (maybe sooner, I am a bit obsessed) with more of our usual coverage.


On behalf of myself and everyone involved with MFUSA, best wishes for a wonderful Holiday Season.

(The image is borrowed from epicsports.com, I hope they don't mind.)


Kevin Alston

The United States National Team holds an annual camp, accompanied by a friendly, each January at the national training center (aka the Home Depot Center) in Carson, California. Called various disparaging names and viewed almost as a "tryout" camp, the players invited are rarely the type to excite most fans.


If that's the case, then what's the point? Jamie Trecker doesn't seem to think there is one, and wonders why US Soccer is writing checks for an exercise that simply won't unearth any new gems.


To be honest, I hadn't thought of it in those terms. The January camp just is and going beyond a basic evaluation of the names called up never occurred to me. But Jamie's point is well taken, especially with 2010 being a World Cup year; only a handful of names on Bradley's camper list have any chance of making the team for South Africa.


I'm not sure any reasonably-knowledgeable fan views the camp as preparation for the World Cup in any meaningful sense; as Trecker says, that process won't begin until the full team is together for their March friendly with the Netherlands. I've not really seen any indication from US Soccer that this camp is being portrayed as somehow important to the World Cup effort, but maybe I'm missing something. It would obviously be disingenuous of them to do so.


But I'll play devil's advocate and argue that the camp does serve a purpose. It's about the future, the endemic lack of depth, and is in fact an indirect commentary the condition of American player development.


Thanks to the convoluted, generally broken, and completely inefficient infrastructure the United States has for bringing along young players, the path to national team contributor is rarely a straight line. Too many players meander through the system, get passed over for the youth internationals, or are never found in the first place. For every Landon Donovan or Jozy Altidore, there are players like Alejandro Bedoya and Marcus Tracy, who while not exactly unknowns, are a much slower track to a National Team runout.


The United States regularly produces players that do not become professionals until their early twenties. While their contemporaries around the world have been living and breathing the game as pros for several years, American "kids" are only beginning to make their names in places like the US, Sweden, and Denmark when they emerge from US college soccer. This means that evaluating them as potential National Team contributors is almost impossible until they're in their early twenties. Even then, many are either not ready, needing more time as pros to improve their game, or never will be ready because they're simply not good enough.


Taking a quick and dirty look, here are some of the guys that fits that first-look, early-twenties mold:


Kevin Alston - 21
Omar Gonzalez - 21
Brandon McDonald - 23
Alejandro Bedoya - 22
Geoff Cameron - 24
Brad Evans - 24
Chris Pontius - 22
Justin Braun - 22
Robbie Findley - 22
Marcus Tracy - 22



Trecker's probably right. There probably aren't any diamonds to be mined out of this group. But I'd rather have Bradley taking a look at them in person than to assume as much, and I don't see a problem with throwing a handful of players up against the wall and looking to see if anything sticks. The lack of depth in the program overall almost makes it critical that the head coach do so.


Unfortunately, until American kids are coming through club youth academies, getting enough playing and practice time to develop earlier, camps like this one are a necessary evil for US Soccer.


USMNT January Camp Roster

Tuesday, December 22, 2009 | View Comments
Real Salt Lake v New York Red Bulls

Bob Bradley has called up a roster of thirty players for the January camp to be held at the Home Depot Center in Carson.


Here is the full roster:


GOALKEEPERS (4): Kevin Hartman (Kansas City), Troy Perkins (Valerenga), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake), Zach Thornton (Chivas USA)

DEFENDERS (8): Kevin Alston (New England Revolution), Jonathan Bornstein (Chivas USA), Jimmy Conrad (Kansas City Wizards), Omar Gonzalez (Los Angeles Galaxy), Clarence Goodson (IK Start), Chad Marshall (Columbus Crew), Heath Pearce (FC Dallas), Marvell Wynne (Toronto FC)

MIDFIELDERS (12): Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Alejandro Bedoya (Örebro), Geoff Cameron (Houston Dynamo), Brad Davis (Houston Dynamo), Brad Evans (Seattle Sounders), Benny Feilhaber (Aarhus), Eddie Gaven (Columbus Crew), Sacha Kljestan (Chivas USA), Jeff Larentowicz (New England Revolution), Dax McCarty (FC Dallas), Chris Pontius (D.C. United), Robbie Rogers (Columbus Crew)

FORWARDS (6): Justin Braun (Chivas USA), Conor Casey (Colorado Rapids), Jeff Cunningham (FC Dallas), Robbie Findley (Real Salt Lake), Brandon McDonald (San Jose Earthquakes), Marcus Tracy (Aalborg)


Notable on this list is Robbie Findley, who US fans have hope to see in Bradley's setup for months, plus deserving players like Jeff Lerentowicz, Chris Pontius, Kevin Alston, Omar Gonzalez, and Marcus Tracy.


The camp will serve to introduce those first-timers to National Team camp, and Bob Bradley will take this group into the January 23rd friendly against Honduras.


What do you make of this roster?


General view of Ghana v Australia

Details on stadium renovations to Portland's PGE Park that will transform the stadium into soccer-specific facility have been released, reports The Oregonian. The design, which carries a $31 million price tag and will be funded by Timbers owner Merritt Paulson and the City of Portland, will put game day capacity at 20,000, with an auxiliary seating area that would allow that number to reach 24,000 for special events.


While the deal to fund the project has yet to be finalized, the release of these renderings should be heartening to fans of the Timbers and fans around the league looking forward to their entry. The stadium will be unique in MLS as a urban facility with history and intimate feel.


Again, provided the deal gets done and the funding comes through in time for renovations to be completed for the start of the 2011 season.


The most disappointing element of this news, unfortunately, is that Portland will play on an artificial surface. Because the stadium will also be used for high school and college football (how that makes it a "soccer specific stadium" I'm not sure), grass would be unable to stand up to the wear and tear. The climate of Portland doesn't help, either, with rain coming frequently during the spring and fall months. The FieldTurf surface to be installed is specifically designed for soccer, and though anything but grass is ultimately a disappointment, other concerns make the decision somewhat justifiable.






Full details of the renovation plans, plus additional renderings, are up at Portland's website.


Wynalda Would Bring Intrigue

Tuesday, December 22, 2009 | View Comments

Another week, another Chicago Fire head coaching rumor. This time, the club is said to be talking to US legend and current Fox Football Fone-In host Eric Wynalda for its top position. I'm taking the rumor with a grain of salt, of course, but you'll have to excuse me if I'm a little excited about the possibility.


It's not because I'm a fan of the Fire. I'm sure there's more than a little concern in those ranks, considering that Wynalda has zero coaching experience; hiring a first-time head man to lead a veteran team, no matter the individual's playing pedigree, is a risky proposition. Pardon the pun, but there's a reasonable chance that Wynalda, if given the reigns of the Fire, would flame out spectacularly.


It's not just Wynalda's lack of experience that might lead to a crash and burn scenario, however. Wynalda's reputation for spouting off at the mouth, both in Facebook comments and in his various media appearances, is well established; under the pressure of trying to win in the parity-riddled MLS, could we really expect Wynalda to hold back and mute his tendency to make controversial statements? I know I wouldn't.


But that's exactly why I'm a provisionally excited at the prospect. It's no secret that MLS lacks for off-field intrigue, the type of press-driven sniping that makes the English Premier League so interesting for millions of fans around the world during the days between games. What would the last few English seasons have been without the silly back-and-forth between Rafa Benitez and Alex Ferguson? How boring would it be if no manager ever said anything ridiculous, controversial, or just plain dumb? How much could MLS, which lacks for high-level play on the field, use a little more grist for the conversational mill?


It's completely selfish of me to hope that the Fire hire a man I not sure can adequately lead them anywhere. 2009 ended in disappointment for a team built to win it all, and while there has been, and will be more, player turnover for 2010, expectations will again be high. The coaching search to this point hasn't been a smooth process, and frustration is building within the fan base. Candidate names, few of whom would get the fans buzzing with excitement, have come and gone. The club, like their Eastern rivals New York and DC, is on the verge of entering the new year still searching for a direction.


Perhaps the best choice for the Fire would be a man with head coaching experience and an appreciation of MLS and the American game. Greg Lalas suggests someone like Hugo Sanchez, the Mexican legend recently fired by Spanish side Almeria, would be an excellent fit. He even mentioned Chicago, saying that Sanchez could do for team what Blanco did; bring in the Mexican and Hispanic fan base. Sanchez, despite his own penchant for talking and a
swashbuckling style, might be a safer hire.


But who wants safe? Wynalda's played in MLS, knows the game even if he's a bit blustery at times, and he would give the Fire an nice profile bump with casual MLS and non-Fire fans around the country. The Fire could certainly do worse, and I would argue that taking a shot with Wynalda would be much better than bringing in an experienced coach that amounts to nothing more than an MLS retread.


There's no doubt Wynalda would be fun to watch and follow. Just thinking about the first time he takes a shot at an opposing manager in the press, or badmouths a player from another club, makes me slightly giddy.


C'mon Fire, hire Wynalda and give this league a little more flavor.


Bob's Christmas List

Monday, December 21, 2009 | View Comments
Santa Claus


A source that has requested confidentiality forwarded this to me last night. And for fear of being put on the naughty list, I dare not reveal his identity:

Dear Santa,

It’s that time of year again. I wanted to thank you for fulfilling all of my wish list for last year. I thought that I might have asked for too much last year with qualifying for the World Cup and getting a good draw on the list along with a marquee win and a shiny new striker. Actually, you really outdid yourself with giving me the emergence of both Altidore and Davies. I've included a couple of pictures that show off the wishes of mine that you've fulfilled.

Jozy Altidore, Joan Capdevilla

That brings me to the first thing on my list this year, a healthy team. I know that every team goes through injuries, but honestly, my team is just not deep enough yet to deal with injuries to our top players. Against Spain, I saw what the kids can do against when everyone can contribute. I’d feel much better about things if I had the whole pool to draw from. I’m not sure if you have medical elves to help on this, but I really wasn’t sure how you would fulfill last year’s list either and that worked out.

I’d like a respectable showing in the round of 16. I realize that this is really two wishes in one, but with the draw that we got, getting out of the group is more like a really nice stocking stuffer than a present. I’m sure you understand. I’d love a win, but I think my job is pretty safe with a loss on penalty kicks or something like that game against Germany in WC02.

If I do keep my job past the World Cup, I’d really like a new model of center back. The team has a lot of talent under 25 in just about every position except this one. Don’t get me wrong, I really like the big, physically commanding, set piece target, win everything in the air center backs that I have, but they have their limitations. If you could make a young quicker center back emerge from the pack that can defend large areas of the box and cover for other defenders mistakes, it would give me a lot of flexibility going forward. Then I wouldn’t have to worry that none of my natural left-sided backs under 30 years old can play solid defense for 90 minutes. Maybe I wouldn’t play with a defensive midfielder paired with a box-to-box guy just to close down spaces around our goal. Although I’ll probably still do that. I do love seeing Mikey charging the goal.

Michael Bradley
Santa, there are so many things that I could ask for, so many things that the team needs. I hope that you see my three little wishes as reasonable requests. As always, your additional generosity is welcome. Also I hope you take into account my gratitude compared to the English when deciding if the FA should be on the naughty list this year.

Sincerely,

Bob Bradley



The Kansas City Wizards, after months of back and forth over the choice of site for their new stadium, have finally settled on Kansas, and the club has promised groundbreaking on the site by this week.


The site is the newer of two potential locations to crop up, as the state of Kansas and Wyandotte County made a significant push via $230 million in incentives. The stadium is set to seat 18,500 and will be part of a larger complex to include an office park.


The Wizards' saga finally coming to an end, after a protracted process and several false resolutions, is good news for the league and soccer in Kansas City. Due to the delays in getting a deal consummated, the new ground won't be ready until 2011 or 2012, but nevertheless, MLS is continuing along the path towards total stadium control.


Wizards President Rob Heineman discussed the team's stadium plans and the decision to choose Kansas site over the original planned location in Missouri in a video message at the club's official blog, Hillcrest Road, and released a statement though the Wizard's website. The team also gave away t-shirts with a design image of the stadium on it, a clever marketing tie-in to drum up excitement over the news.


An official announcement with all parties involved is expected after the holiday season.


Holden Pursued By Blackburn

Monday, December 21, 2009 | View Comments
Stuart Holden

If Stuart Holden ends up in Europe, it could be with Premier League side Blackburn Rovers, according to multiple reports out of England and Scotland.


Holden's rumored suitors also include SPL clubs Aberdeen and Rangers, and the efforts of Major League Soccer to keep him in Dynamo orange are substantial. Still, with Blackburn entry into the sweepstakes, the decision for Holden becomes that much more difficult; while the Rovers would offer Holden an opportunity to play in the bright lights of the Premier League, the club is only three points from the relegation zone. With that fight framing ever move made by manager Sam Allardyce, it's difficult to see Holden playing much during the remainder of this season.


For the short term, joining Blackburn might be a disaster for Holden and his World Cup form. In the long term though, whether they stay up or not, the club might be a good place for the American to continue the growth he's experienced while in MLS.


The MLS offer, reported to be at or near a non-DP max salary, likely can't stack up to what Blackburn can offer Holden. But the extraneous factors, including a certain starting role, the comfort of home and family, and a head coach that knows how to best use him, add value to the league's offer. Holden's good enough to be a contributor for the USMNT during this year's World Cup, but his ability to be that could be severely handicapped by ending up buried on Sam Allardyce's bench.


What do you make of Blackburn's interest, and do you think it would be a good move for the young American?


The American Soccer Show 6

Monday, December 21, 2009 | View Comments

Last show of the year, people. There's news and discussion of Donovan, Holden, and Beasley, plus an interview with an English footballer looking to play in the US and a rundown of the top five American soccer moments of 2009.


DOWNLOAD THE SHOW

SUBSCRIBE IN ITUNES


PM Joins stars in world cup bid

Among those nations bidding for the 2018 or 2022 World Cup, England is by far the highest profile; because the country is the place where the game of soccer was born, because the names involved are well known and the domestic league is richest in the world, and because politics are predictably omnipresent, the English have a large lead in World Cup bid intrigue heading into 2010.


There are others bidding, of course, though the prevailing wisdom is that England will really have to fall flat to miss out on 2018. The last time the tournament took place on English soil was 1966, so long ago that only four of eight the stadiums used that year still exist; that is particularly noteworthy in history-rich England, where the typical football ground is ancient by any practical measure. With two World Cups up for grabs in December 2010, and England boasting new venues, buckets of money, and soccer's premier (no pun intended) club competition, it makes logical sense that FIFA would choose to place the World Cup there.


But there's at least a small amount of dissent on the inevitability of England's 2018 hosting, and it doesn't help the the bid has been fraught with problems from the outset. From in-fighting amongst the bid's leaders to whispers that additional funding depended on the resignation of chairman Lord Triesman as well as the controversial inclusion of Milton Keynes in the list of host city finalists, issue after issue continues to crop up for the FA. Things appear to be in order for the moment, but with potential damage done and the always fickle nature of FIFA largesse, to say that England in 2018 is a slam dunk would be naive.


It's Russia that would likely stand to gain should England fail, and there's a chance it could jump up and grab the 2018 tourney even despite a strong English bid. The game is on the rise in the world's largest country, with Russian Premier League clubs making Champions League inroads, Russian stars exploding in the English Premier League, and the government intent on showing the world that Russia is emerging as a complete sporting culture. Vladimir Putin's interest in the bid is keen; for a nation often lumped in with other former Soviet republics and whose perceived ability to host suffers due to issues Poland and the Ukraine are having heading towards Euro 2012, the World Cup is a crown jewel to be obtained at almost any cost. Russia has hired the services of an American marketing firm, the same firm responsible for the bid that landed the Russian city of Sochi the 2014 Winter Olympics.


FIFA is notorious for using the World Cup to open or enhance new and emerging markets, and Russia would fit nicely into that trend. It happened with the United States in 1994, Japan and South Korea in 2002, and to a point, will happen with South Africa in 2010. These are countries where soccer's profile is often secondary to other sporting passions, and for whom the World Cup does wonders. Russia's sheer size, massive population, rapidly improving league, and global leadership role make it an intriguing candidate for FIFA's next grand experiment.


Russia's is also the bid setting the pace. While England was still finalizing their host city list and the Unites States was still soliciting petition signatures for various candidates, Russia was submitting their formal bid agreement. Whether that provides them any advantage with FIFA's selection committee is impossible to know, though it certainly makes clear the nation's ultra-serious intentions to win a bid.


Russia's focus is on 2018, and their candidacy 2022 would be invalidated if another European nation wins the bid for the first of the two tournaments.


Let us not forget that other bids sure to receive votes exist as well, specifically the joint effort by Iberian neighbors Spain and Portugal. Joint bids have alternately been accepted and frowned upon, but have been approved for this round of World Cup hosting determinations.




Perhaps none of that has any bearing on the US bid, though. The American committee, while technically bidding for either 2018 and 2022, is focusing most of their energy on the latter year. The trap of buying into "prevailing wisdom" (already referenced once in this piece) is an easy one to fall into and the US effort cannot afford to do so; assumptions of a European 2018 World Cup are easy to make, but shouldn't dictate how the US goes about constructing their bid package. Even if the United States hosting the tournament in 2022 makes sense financially (high-capacity stadiums and a track record of record tickets sales being the two most compelling factors), the unpredictability of the process and the politics involved mean that there's a strong chance someone else could jump up and grab the tournament that so many simply assume will come to America.


Both Australia and Qatar fit the "emerging markets" criteria, and while the Australians are committed to pushing for 2018 (Qatar is bidding only for 2022), each represents a challenge to another American World Cup. Unlike the US, neither has hosted the tournament before, and each is located in a part of the world that would see its first World Cup. Qatar's bid is especially intriguing because of the country's location in the Middle East and the wealth it possesses; even a shortage of acceptable stadiums and the searing heat of the region during June and July might not be an impediment if that wealth is brought to bear on new facility construction. As a bid hoping to promote regional (Arab) unity and serve a larger purpose by fostering better relations between the Arab and western worlds, the Qataris are impossible to dismiss.


Australia has stadiums, a burgeoning league in many ways similar to Major League Soccer, and tradition of passionate sporting support. What they may not have is the cooperation of the country's other major football codes, with authorities in charge both Australian rules football (AFL) and rugby (NRL) voicing concerns over stadium conflicts certain to occur should the country win its bid. A united front, as the US seems to have (thanks in part to the NFL being out of season during the summer) gives the American bid a leg up on their Aussie counterparts, but the Australian dissent won't be a deal breaker for FIFA if Australia represents the best possible showcase for their marquee event and will help the game take strides in a part of the world still somewhat resistant to the tide of soccer.


Unlikely as it may seem, it's important to keep in mind that if a shock winner emerges for 2018, the bidding for 2022 will be altered significantly. Should a non-European nation secure the first of the two tournaments, the bids of Russia, England, Spain and Portugal, and Belgium and the Netherlands (another joint bid) remain in play; FIFA skipping over Europe for twenty-two years between Germany 2006 and 2022 is unimaginable, and would leave the United States without any chance of winning.


Odds makers have England strong favorite to win the 2018 bid. Conventional wisdom (that pesky thing again) has the United States in line to be second time hosts in 2022. Only FIFA's unpredictable executive committee knows for sure which way the winds blow, and even then, those winds are ever-changing. What seems like a foregone conclusion today may be shockingly tossed aside come December of 2010.


MLS CBA: Length Matters

Sunday, December 20, 2009 | View Comments

Jose Romero drops what I consider to be a bomb in regards to the MLS CBA negotiations; citing an unnamed source, he says the league wants a five-year agreement.


I hope that's a negotiable point for MLS. If not, my confidence that a deal will get done in time to start the 2010 season on schedule is teetering on the edge of oblivion. Five years may not seem like a long time, but remember how far the league has come since 2004; besides stadiums and TV contracts, MLS now has packed stadiums in new cities bringing in more money than ever before. Although few individual teams are profitable, the league itself has taken large strides towards a strong collective financial footing. It's hard to imagine the players signing a new CBA that locks them out of negotiating a new deal for five years when things seem to be getting bigger and better at such a rapid clip.


Worse yet when the league is so resistant to guaranteed contracts and free agency. The players have held firm on their demands, which indicate to me that if they can't get those concessions this time, we should expect them to be even higher on the priority list next time around. None of their demands being met plus having them pushed to the background for five years is the worst case scenario. It's difficult to imagine the players would willingly swallow two bitter pills at once, and so I don't see them relenting on both issues.


They may not have to, of course, though I wonder which point will be easiest to reach a compromise on first. The guaranteed contract demand is particularly sticky because of the MLS salary cap; as Dave Clark of Sounder at Heart pointed out, carrying salary commitments beyond a player's usefulness is particularly damaging to team-building with the rules that MLS uses.


So someone, or everyone, is going to have to back down. The players can moan about FIFA rules and guaranteed contracts all they want, but it's the last concession the league is going to make. The league can demand another five-year agreement all they want, but without those aforementioned and unlikely concessions, the players will never go for it.


Keep in mind that what you're going to hear from both sides, at least until mass approaches critical levels, is these extreme and almost unreasonable demands. The game is only in it's opening minutes, and neither has begun to adjust their strategy for the reality of compromise. I'm still not ready to get too concerned, even if things like guaranteed contracts and five-year agreements are outside the bounds of practical expectations.


In the immortal words of Douglas Adams-


DON'T PANIC.



Although I think a little nervousness might be in order.


Snow Day News Roundup

Saturday, December 19, 2009 | View Comments
Winter Storm Hits Vast Swath Of East Coast

Here's a nice little snow day (for us in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast anyway) news roundup from guest writer Matt of US Soccer Daily.


If you are stuck in your house because of the massive snowstorm currently sweeping across the Northeast and looking for something to do to pass the time, then grab some hot chocolate and read through some of today’s top bits of US soccer news.


-First off, great news coming out of the Real Salt Lake camp. Andy Williams announced on his Twitter account (@bommadog) yesterday that his wife is now cancer free. This is immeasurably uplifting news for the Williams family, who have had quite an eventful year juggling Andy’s professional duties with their persistent pursuit of treatment options. MLS, RSL, and the fans rallied around Marcia Williams and her bout with a rare form of leukemia, and the conclusion of that battle is a heartwarming finish fit for the holiday season. Andy Williams has always been one of the good guys of MLS, and he handled himself with grace both on and off the field throughout this incredibly trying time.


-If you didn’t tune in this morning, you missed another fantastic showing by DaMarcus Beasley, who continues to fill up the stat sheet for Rangers. Beasley scored a goal and assisted on another in Rangers’ 6-1 rout over Motherwell. It was the fourth consecutive start for Beasley, who is looking much more confident and explosive on the ball with each passing week. Barring any unforeseen setbacks, I would expect Beasley to be in Bob Bradley’s camp early next year.


-During Fulham’s 3-0 rout of Manchester United and following the match, commentators gave Clint Dempsey a lot of praise for his play. This isn’t particularly odd, given Dempsey has been a Fulham stand out for some time now, but it seems as if English announcers are paying even more attention to Yanks in the EPL since the World Cup draw. In addition to discussing Dempsey, they also mentioned Landon Donovan’s loan move and predicted success for the Galaxy captain. Now, while this doesn’t sound overly important, it must be noted that the English media is notorious for piling pressure on the Three Lions. The more commentators praise American players and build up the USMNT, the more pressure the media will begin to put on Fabio Capello’s side. While it might not be much, every little bit helps, particularly in a country with the pundits jump on every opportunity to label the national team as underachievers.


-Carlos Bocanegra was an unused substitute in Stade Rennes’ 1-0 home victory over Paris Saint Germain. After a long spell of consecutive starts, Bocanegra has now gone three straight matches without a start (one of which he was suspended for). While American fans should not hit the panic button just yet, it is worth keeping an eye on, as Bocanegra will certainly be in South Africa if healthy. The US captain has not had a poor run of form in Ligue 1, but rather just seems to be in the midst of a competitive battle for playing time. With a USMNT back line still filled with question marks, let’s hope Bocanegra can reassert himself in the starting XI as soon as possible.


-Last, but not least, the Kansas City Wizards look like they are on the brink of starting construction on their new soccer-specific stadium in Kansas City, Kansas. One of the biggest remaining hurdles for the ownership group has been selling STAR bonds in a fairly difficult market, but President Robb Heineman sounded very upbeat in an update on the Wizards website Thursday night, saying:

“Based on the information that we've received from the bond financing community, we are now confident that bonds can be sold. In fact, although the formal agreements have yet to be inked, we're confident enough in the pace and direction that, starting next week, you'll begin to see yellow machines on site at Village West in Kansas moving dirt, at our expense.”

Assuming all goes according to plan, the stadium is projected to be finished by the middle of the 2011 season. KC’s ownership group has really done a great job since coming on board in 2006, and they deserve a lot of praise for the work they have done to make this new stadium a reality.


Well, that’s it for now. Enjoy the snow everybody.


Donovan Loan to Everton Confirmed

Friday, December 18, 2009 | View Comments
Football - Everton v Manchester City Barclays Premier League

Everyone knew it was coming, and today it was finally done; Landon Donovan will join Everton on a two and a half month loan starting in January. It's up to Donovan now, with his MLS future secured by a new Galaxy contract, to make this his first successful stint abroad.


What could be said has already been said, and multiple times. Weeks before he even suits up for the blue side of Liverpool, Donovan's potential in the world's most visible league has been analyzed to the point of coma.


Still, now that there's no doubt that Donovan will get a little premier playing time, I'll saunter forth with my best guess of how he'll do.


He'll get a few goals. He'll deliver a few more nicely placed passes that lead to goals. He'll do a lot of running, and engage in some high-energy defending. His speed will cause defenders trouble, forcing teams to play Everton differently. He'll be okay, not great, and will ultimately return home with the same reputation that he carries at present. His stint won't be a crushing failure, but neither will it be some sudden revelation of his talent to the wider world.


Call if fence sitting if you want, but the preponderance of evidence, that being Donovan's "growth" in the last year, the lack of time to adjust to England, uncertainty over how David Moyes will use him, there's really no other conclusion to draw.


But Moyes made it clear he actively wanted Donovan, and because the situation at Goodison Park from a management perspective is much more stable and less political than Bayern Munich's last year, that's a good sign.


Come March, some will still label Donovan's loan a failure, and some will frame it positively as long as he doesn't stink up the joint or fail to play. Neither will be exactly right, but as long as Donovan remains confident and healthy heading into the World Cup, I'm not really sure anyone should be too concerned.


Step on up and share your predictions on how Donovan's stay with Everton will go in the comments.


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