Win, But Not For Validation

Saturday, February 27, 2010 | View Comments
US Men's National Team

We interrupt the usual MFUSA weekend radio silence for a discussion about the importance of a friendly.

Specifically, we're talking about the USMNT's upcoming friendly in Amsterdam, where they'll take on the number three ranked team in the world. Bob Bradley has called in what appears to be the strongest side he can, and while the injuries keeping out two of his best players likely to be in the World Cup team (Clint Dempsey and Oguchi Onyewu) put the Americans twenty percent short of their potential, it will be their first full "A" squad test in 2010. It has meaning and import, both as a World Cup preparation exercise (i.e. for player evaluation) as well as for the greater confidence of the team.

But does it mean more than that? Does the US need a strong performance, perhaps even a win or a draw, to validate themselves in the eyes of the footballing world?

Nigel Reed seems to think so, as evidenced by his piece today on the Canadian Broadcasting Company's website. Forget for a moment the irony of a piece on a Canadian site opining on the need for the United States to prove a point in Amsterdam (okay, so that was a cheap shot, and I think Reed is actually English); even if Reed was writing for an American outlet, I would still have the same response:

No, Nigel, they don't need the validation.

Beating or drawing against the Dutch would be a wonderful, wonderful, thing, and I obviously hope it happens. We would all feel much better about the US chances moving on towards June (with the two May friendlies still to come) if they could beat a top-ranked team on their home soil. The Americans rarely play well in Europe, as evidenced by the most recent trip there in November, where they fell to both the Danish and the Slovaks with mixed A-B sides.

But getting a result in Amsterdam is important only for the here and now, not to prove a point to the everyone else. This isn't some insular "who cares what they think?" typical American attitude, it's pragmatism; if the USMNT starts worrying about what everyone thinks when they play, they're not focusing in the proper direction. They should win for themselves, because they're competitive athletes win the drive to do so, not because it matters what the rest of the world thinks.

Validation from external sources is only important if it brings with it some tangible gain; beating the Dutch is about the Americans, their confidence, and proving to themselves that they're good enough to go to South Africa and do well. If they lose, it doesn't matter that nations with longer and richer soccer histories will still discount them, because that ignominy plays no part in how then can, and will, play come June.

Despite what you may have heard, the outcome of a soccer match is not dependent on the reputations of the teams involved. Brazil doesn't win because they always have, they win because they're good. Spain won't land on African soil as one of the heavy favorites because they have a history of performing well on the biggest stage (they don't), but because they're good. If the United States is to advance from their group, perhaps move on to the quarterfinals, or god forbid go even farther, it will be because they are good enough to do so, not because they've earned the respect of some unnamed arbitrators of such things by beating the Netherlands in March.

The win? Needed, as wins always are. The validation? Not so much, because those things take care of themselves. Do well when you need to, and people will respect you; but that respect means nothing aside from the warm and fuzzies it brings, or the small individual effect it could have on Americans on the club level. I'm certain that much of the world respect, fears, and takes England seriously. That's all very nice, but it will do nothing to help them win games. Fabio Capello knows that. The players know that. Even the fans know that, despite the amount of pride it brings to crow that everyone thinks they're very good. Respect gets you nowhere when another team of eleven men with their own hopes of victory are lined up across from you.

The Americans know all that as well. I can't imagine that as a group they give any thought to their reputation abroad; they may hope for personal validation, because that relates directly to their own career success, but when Bob Bradley is lining them up for training on Wednesday, not a single one of them is thinking, "We need to win this game so the world will take us seriously."

Nigel Reed says the United States needs to send a message on Wednesday. I respond by politely saying they need to win, but not for the message it sends.

Roles and Fillings

Friday, February 26, 2010 | View Comments
Traditional Food For The Jewish Festival Of Hanukkah

No, not rolls and fillings…that’s pastry school. This is soccer.

Beginning after the upcoming friendly with Netherlands and ending when the final World Cup roster is released, you will see a lot of 23 man projected rosters. The problem I have with most of them is that most of them are put together as an “A” team and a “B” team that mimics the “A” team.

Now, the first half of that process is a worthwhile endeavor. After all, Bradley’s not going to leave someone off the team that’s a projected starter (barring injury or a WAG crisis). Assuming Bradley sticks with the 4-4-2, and assuming that injured players stay on their projected timelines, there are several that present themselves as clear first choice options. Other positions are down to a 1a and 1b situation, and a couple positions are still unclear because of current or past injuries. I see these as follows:

Absolute Starters (if you’re healthy, you’re in the lineup)
GK – Howard
CB1 – Onyewu
RM – Dempsey
CM – Bradley
LM – Donovan
CF1 – Altidore

Timeshares (both will make the team if healthy, who starts is a matter of form and strategy)
RB – 1a Cherundolo, 1b Spector
CB2 – 1a Bocanegra, 1b DeMerit
LB – 1a Bornstein, 1b Bocanegra

Still Up in the Air
DM – Edu or Clark
Because of Edu’s past injury, there has yet to be a good competition to see who will fill this spot. I’ll give Clark the edge for now based on his performance with the team last year.
CF2 – ??
If Davies is able to complete his recovery, he could reclaim this spot, otherwise Findley seems to have the inside track to being the starter. For the sake of the analysis (and hopeless optimism), I’ll pencil in Charlie.

FILE PHOTO -  United States v Costa Rica

That’s 13 players that, if healthy, should amass almost all of starts for the US in the World Cup. That leaves 10 positions to cover tactical needs and injury coverage needs. Two of those will be keepers. So we are now down to 8 field players.

So what is needed tactically? Tactical changes from the starting eleven come in a few forms, 1) you’re up or level and want to keep the result, 2) you’re down or level and need goals, or 3) you’re down a man due to a red card. I’m going to ignore number 3; again with the hopeless optimism.

The US hasn’t been great playing ahead against quality team. Tactically, these are the substitutions I would expect from Bradley in these situations: 1) bring on a new DM. With slower CBs, a quick DM is necessary to close down that space at the top of the 18 and neither Clark nor Edu have the extreme fitness required to do that job for a full 90. 2) Bring in a target forward. For those of you that think target forwards are useless, I would challenge you to find a situation where a ref allows more dead ball setup time than for a free kick in the final third. 3) Replace the most defensive player whose legs are shot.

Looking at the rosters of last year’s games in which the US’ opponent scored in the last 30 minutes to change the result of the game (Italy, Brazil, and Mexico), the ability to make these substitutions was limited. In none of these games was there a classic DM on the bench and Italy and Brazil had Casey on the bench. Injuries to Edu and Ching last summer left Bradley without the ability to implement this substitution pattern. But I would expect this pattern if the necessary people to implement it are healthy.

If the US is down a goal, something that there is a strong pattern to go off of, Bradley will likely 1) bring in a more attacking midfield option for the DM, 2) bring in a RM and move Dempsey up top and 3) bring in a new goal minded striker.

These two situations add up to another DM, CF, what amounts to injury cover, CM, RM, and CF. Filling these position, will require some more educated guesses, but they shouldn’t be to hard to come up with players who could fill that role, listed by order of likelihood:

DM – Clark or Edu, whoever is not the starter
Target CF – Ching, Casey
Attacking CM – Feilhaber, Torres, Kljestan
RM – Holden
Goal scoring CF – Findley or Davies, whoever is not the starter

With five designated roles, that leaves three field players on the roster that will probably not see the field unless there is an injury. For those players, pitch coverage is key. Having the right primary position is a plus, but the ability to play multiple roles is important. With most of the team defined, let’s look at what injury coverage the team has. The lists below include positions that Bradley has recently played players and positions that these players often play with their club teams.

RB (2) – Cherundolo, Spector
CB (5) – Onyewu, Bocanegra, DeMerit, Spector, Bornstein
LB (3) – Bornstein, Bocanegra, Spector
DM (3) – Edu, Clark, Bradley
CM (3) – Bradley, Feilhaber, Holden
RM (4) – Dempsey, Holden, Donovan, Feilhaber
LM (3) – Donovan, Dempsey, Feilhaber
CF (6) – Altidore, Davies, Findley, Ching, Dempsey, Donovan

Looking at the balance of this roster, the biggest remaining question is how many defenders is Bradley comfortable taking. My guess is that the Spector and Bornstein experiments as CBs is an attempt to determine if he can get away with only bringing 3 true CBs. Almost every analysis that I’ve seen has a fourth true CB, whether that’s Goodson, Marshall, Conrad, etc. But, honestly, that player will never see the field unless two of Onyewu, Bocanegra, and Demerit can’t go because of injury or card issues. If Bradley feels comfortable with Spector, Bornstein, and Edu as emergency fourth center backs, he may not fill that position.

One position that does look thin is right back. With only two players that line up there, including one that may line up in other defensive positions, a player capable of playing that emergency injury spot is a likely inclusion for the team. Right now, my money would be on Pearce to go as a LB option, freeing the other LBs to slot in to other positions, who could also fill in on the right in an injury or suspension situation.

Jose Francisco Torres

Donovan and Dempsey provide enough cover for the forwards. That leaves either one or two positions to cover midfield injury and suspension issues. Because of this, the players chosen for these positions need to be able to player multiple positions. If Bradley takes a fourth CB, then the ability to play CM and LM would be the most important. This favors Torres or Kljestan as the last included player. If there are two tickets available, this role would likely be split into a player who can play centrally as a CM or DM and one that if capable of playing either side mid spot, to give further flexibility in the use of Donovan and Dempsey. In this case Torres is probably a stronger frontrunner for central spot as he more naturally slides into a forced DM role than Kljestan and the pool of DMs is not strong after Clark and Edu (I can’t seriously consider Jones at this point). That leaves the winger spot with Beasley, Rogers, and Bedoya seemingly the top competitors for those places at this point.

Which players ultimately fill these roles will be a question of talent and form in the upcoming months. However, the roles that these players will fill are likely already determined. Any analysis that talks about someone as “the second best _____ option” misses the point. Unless the number one choice goes down with an injury before the World Cup, being second best does not necessary mean a ticket to South Africa. Bench players for the World Cup need to be either specialists for situations that are likely to arise or generalists that can fill in emergency gaps should they arise. If you want to get into the head of what Bob Bradley might do with his World Cup lineup focus on the roles that players are being given during the remaining friendlies.

Getting Out the Message

Friday, February 26, 2010 | View Comments
Man holding megaphone, close-up of hand

So I'm going back on my promise once again, and it only took me a few hours this time. But this just couldn't wait, and when the itch to write something hits, experience has told me to take advantage of it.

So I'd like to talk a little about the difficulty, or lack of success, the players have had in getting their message out during the CBA negotiations.

If you're a regular around here and if you've read the Super Fun series, you probably know very well what the MLSPU is trying to pry out of the owners; guaranteed contracts, free agency, and higher salaries being chief among the demands. You've likely read thousands of words on each of those topics, from various viewpoints and with various conclusions drawn by writers that span the "what should happen" spectrum.

But the question before us is whether or not the Players Union has done an adequate job of educating the general MLS fan base of their situation; according to some prominent names, more people are buying into the "MLS will fail with a strike" fallacy than siding with the players in their struggle for greater rights.

Perhaps I missed this; in the little circle I inhabit, sentiment has solidly been on the side of the players. So much so, in fact, that I've taken it upon myself to play counterpoint on a few occasions, even as I back the players in their quest for greater rights. It's not that I believe what the owners say, or that I myself hold the opinion that a strike would be a death blow for the league, I just have a natural tendency to play devil's advocate.

My largest concern with a player strike is that I view what they can gain (with the note that I have no belief that the owners will budge on free agency) as less important than starting the season on time and with the show-off moments that the opening of Red Bull Arena and the debut of the Philadelphia Union will provide. MLS only gets so many chances to strut, and both of those are opportunities that shouldn't be missed. Apologies to my friends on the Left Coast, but media attention in this country is driven by the I-95 corridor, and in the long run the league and the players will be better off for having had those flashy showcases happen.

Jamie Trecker wrote in his Fox Sports post this morning that he's received hundreds of emails that indicate confusion on the part of the fans; even though I think some of that can be chalked up to the more under-educated fans emailing Jamie because they disagree with his viewpoint (people who disagree are always more likely to write emails), it is troubling to hear that so many have twisted concepts of what the players want.

I'm not going assign blame to anyone with the MLSPU, because I'm not really sure who's fault this is. Ultimately, it does come down to the hired PR firm, who probably should have done a better job of coordinating the message. I really wonder, however, if it was just a task too large for a group of players in a under-covered sport.

Where were the players supposed to go? ESPN wasn't going to give the issue much coverage prior to a labor stoppage (and even then, who knows how much time they'd give it), and the MLSPU were able to get quotes and explanations out through the biggest outlets the soccer world had to offer. It just so happens that not everyone visits those website (because the biggest American soccer news outlets are invariably websites), making it all the more difficult to get the message out.

Short of out and out moaning, which certainly wouldn't be constructive (and which some might argue they've already done), I don't know what else the players could have done. They reached out where they could, even deigning to talk to more than one amateur podcast. They tweeted their hearts out, they leveraged every "MLS has it wrong" piece, they used their most visible members as mouthpieces in story after story. Perhaps they shut it down at the wrong times (though if the league asked them to for the sake of the negotiations, I don't think we can blame them), and maybe they leaned on a foreign organization few have ever heard of just a little too much; but they did talk, they did attempt to explain themselves, and they did use the tools at their disposal.

Management had a built-in advantage from a PR standpoint throughout the process. Even if you put aside the infrastructure MLS already had in place, it benefits from the perception that professional soccer in the US is always destined for failure if the wrong choices are made. As the initiators of possible change, the players' image suffers by consequence. For many, it's hard to understand why they would want to rock the boat now, when everything seems to be going so well.

The Importance of Mia

Friday, February 26, 2010 | View Comments

The late nineties was a low point for the USMNT. 3-6-1. Amy Wynalda. Three and out in France with an embarrassing loss to Iran. National team stalwarts like Tab Ramos, Marcelo Balboa, and Jeff Agoos found themselves on the wrong side of thirty. Many of the generation that would make their mark in the 2002 World Cup had yet to prove themselves as professionals. The highest level of men's soccer in the United States was in the doldrums, to say the least.

The USWNT, however, was in their golden age. Buoyed by success on the field and with audiences at the 1996 Summer Olympics, organizers for the 1999 Women's World Cup gambled and decided to schedule games not in small and medium sized venues, but in cavernous NFL stadiums. The gamble paid, and the tournament broke just about every record possible for women's sports, posting an average attendance of 37,319 per match. By contrast, the men's European Championships the following year drew an average of 36,220 per match. The final, at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, was attended by a staggering (and record-breaking) 90,185, and watched on TV by forty million viewers, not only a record for a soccer game in the US, but a number that most NFL games fall short of.

But more important than the hard numbers, although impressive, are the intangibles and the legacy left behind. Brandi Chastain's celebration, her face contorted in pure joy and the ecstasy of victory, positively radiating, is a truly iconic American sporting image. The exposure for both soccer in America and women's sports was immense, a priceless PR boon. But most importantly, it gave us Mia.

There is, unfortunately sometimes a perception of female athletes being either mindless, talentless bimbos (see: Kournikova, Anna) or man-hating valkyries. Mia Hamm was neither. She was a woman who looked like a woman, but played like the boys. There was no minivan, oboe-practice-today-soccer-tomorrow-and-ballet-on-friday soccer mom vibe. Mia was unmistakably, a competitor, intense, ultra-focused, completely determined, and quite simply, the best in the World (103 goals in 95 games with UNC, and 158 in 275 with the USWNT, a FIFA record for men or women). In a time when most American soccer players would struggle to be recognized in their hometown, Mia was doing commercials with Michael Jordan, shilling products like Nike and Gatorade. To the American public, she was the foremost soccer player since Pele, and the most prominent female athlete since Billie Jean King. Washington Post columnist and ESPN analyst Michael Wilbon called her "perhaps the most important athlete of the last 15 years." In my own opinion, the player most responsible for the growth and popularity of soccer in America today is not Landon Donovan. It is not David Beckham. It is Mia Hamm.

Led by Mia, that USWNT accomplished so much, carried so many torches, and were an inspiration for a generation of youth soccer players in this country, male and female, providing a tangible link between the masses of the grassroots players and the small elite that makes up the professional ranks. For a few short years, at least, the USWNT was more famous, and far more successful, than their male counterparts. When the final story of soccer in this country is told, pride of place must be awarded to these athletes.

Finally, if you haven't seen Dare to Dream: The Story of the U.S. Women's Soccer Team, make sure you do so. It's a brilliant bit of film-making and an inspiring story.

MLS CBA Expires, Nothing Changes

Friday, February 26, 2010 | View Comments

We waited anxiously. We speculated. We related every bit of scuttle we could get our hands on, and trusted none of it. And in the end, when it came to the MLSPU's announcement at 5 PM ET yesterday, nothing happened.

The statement happened, of course, but it appeared to changed nothing. The Players reiterated their disappointment with the League's position, but vowed to remain at work for the time being. For the fans, with the season rapidly approaching (and more so in Columbus), it it's an exhale moment; there will, we think, be soccer.

But the specter of a work stoppage still hangs over the league, and there is no safety net now. The CBA is now officially expired, after neither extension resulted in a new deal, and the Union declined another. The Union can legally mobilize their membership for a strike at any time now, and though there are questions over their ability to get everyone on board (i.e., do they have the votes), it behooves both sides to get the deal done. We've waited long enough, and the game of chicken hasn't helped anything.

The wisdom of the Players' decision is now the topic of debate. Did they gain or lose leverage by choosing not to strike now? Did they effectively reverse public opinion on with whom the onus lies? Or did they bluff, come up short, and now must bob and weave with the strike card to make it appear they have any power at all?

The season can go on without a new CBA, and as Kyle McCarthy points out today, the provisions of the old will hold sway for now. If you believe the Players don't have the support to strike, nothing has changed. If a deal isn't done by First Kick, and the two sides have to start meeting again for that to even be a possibility, expect more strike noise from the Union. Time will tell if they can drum up the votes to make that threat stick, of if the League decides to wait them out.

Talk about a let down. Some resolution (even a strike, I think) would have been better than no resolution.

The MFUSA no-labor-talk pledge is no reinstated. We've spent enough time on this for now, and there is plenty of other things to talk about. Back later with Deep Cuts if I can work up the energy needed.

Flipping the Switch on MLS

Thursday, February 25, 2010 | View Comments

For all of the words spent trying to explain the MLS collective bargaining battle, be it the issue of free agency, how the players lack "basic rights", or why a prudent financial approach is either good or bad for the league, the entirety of the matter boils down to one question for me:

When is the right time for MLS to evolve past single entity?

Even if that's not really what's at stake.

Of course, you can't ask that question without establishing whether or not MLS owners (investors) even want to move past single entity; as has been rightly pointed out around the blogosphere, the league's structure gives its backers cost certainty in a business and sport that is notoriously risk heavy.

For the sake of simplicity, and so we can focus on the larger issue, let's put aside the wants and desires of the owners for now. It's a major part of any practical discussion of moving away from single-entity, but it has little to do with assessing when the right time might be for it to happen.

So when is/would be the right time? Is it now, heading into the fifteenth year of play, with brand new stadiums popping up, new clubs coming on board, and what seems like a high water mark in committed, passionate support?

Is it years down the road, when MLS will presumably have an even larger fan base, more dedicated venues, and a wider continental audience?

There is no easy answer. Depending on the landmark you choose to use as guide, MLS is either ready to "take the training wheels off" or needs to stay the course for now. If you believe that several successful clubs drawing packed houses for every home match is a turning point, you likely see the time as right for a shift. If you choose instead to view profitability of individual clubs as an key indicator, you might feel the league needs to remain locked down.

Which played-out adage do we ascribe to? "Slow and steady wins the race"? Or "You have to spend money to make money"? Conservative or progressive? Buy into the belief that MLS is on an upswing and needs a freer operations to take advantage, or look at the economic climate and relatively small revenue streams and preach caution? Rail at the powers that be for being stuffy bean counters, or praise them for having the foresight to create an American soccer league that has lasted fifteen years?

I'm amazed at those that are steadfast in their stances, on either side, and give the impression that the answers are simple or obvious. They sure don't seem to be to me.

At this point in the maturity of MLS, I have made only a few, very basic, conclusions when considering the way the league is run now and how it should be run in the future.

1. Single-entity just doesn't feel right.

When the league can sign a player itself and then "assign" that player to any team in the league (whether it happens that often anymore or not), it's a serious hindrance to individuality. We know it's there, it just takes some of the sting out of it when it's even possible for the league to move players around as they see fit.

2. Anything that threatens the viability of the league should be avoided.

Is free agency one of those things? I don't really know. Is single entity the only thing keeping the league from going under after years of losses? I doubt it, especially with SUM in the picture, but it's possible.

3. Unless by de-stabilizing the league financially, greater growth is actually possible.

And here's the problem; I get the sense that this may be the case, and that allowing MLS clubs to do their own thing might actually push the league forward. The problem is that the weakest clubs will always be on the verge of collapse, and investors who might be attracted to a league with lower risk (as it is now) would otherwise stay away.

4. Nothing is certain.

This is my biggest issue, and the one that overrides any briefly held opinion I might have. Risks are necessary, but knowing which ones to take, and when to take them, is often a matter of faith rather than reason. Smarter people than I are certain that MLS needs single entity and the borderline restraint of trade aspects it maintains to continue a growth pattern. Others, equally as smart, argue the opposite, saying the MLS should leverage it's success in certain markets to bring the league more in line with the rest of the world, something that will help it compete more globally for players and attention from fans here who view the league as a joke.

Again, let me be clear that these are my personal conclusions. I often find myself envying those who are more convinced of theirs, wondering why I can't just throw myself in with one side or the other.

I'm curious where the usually-thoughtful MFUSA readership falls, and would love to hear your opinions on if, and when, single entity should meet its demise.

If anyone can explain why a revenue sharing scheme and salary cap rules can't serve the same basic purpose as single entity, at least from a club viability standpoint, please step forward with that as well.

USA-El Salvador Aftermath

Thursday, February 25, 2010 | View Comments

The American MLS All-Stars finished their mini-tour last night with a last-gasp win over El Salvador in Tampa.

Few, if any, of the Americans truly distinguished themselves; though the US dominated the game, putting the ball in the net was a major issue. Too many clear chances were missed, with Sacha Kljestan being the biggest offender. Sacha finally got his goal, of course, putting the US ahead for the win in added time.

“Overall, there were some good efforts and we saw some very positive things on the field tonight,” said U.S. Men’s National Team head coach Bob Bradley. “We went down but continued to push to get a win, and when you can come away with a result from a good play at the end that’s very positive.”

The real business of preparing for the World Cup begins now. Bradley will give us a glimpse of what the tournament team might look like, save a few omissions due to injury, when a mostly Europe-based team takes on a real challenge next Wednesday. Lucky for us, we won't have to wait long to find out who will be there; US Soccer is set to release the roster sometime today (per Grant Wahl and other sources).

There are a number of players who are either finally healthy or just on the edge of the squad who are based in Europe and might be in Bradley's team. Edu. Beasley. Bedoya. Eddie Johnson. Fred-....just kidding.

General consensus is that Brian Ching, Clarence Goodson, and Heath Pearce did the most to help their cases in last night's game. All three would seem locks for the Netherlands match roster, so they may have another chance to up their stock. More interesting than the carryovers will be those dropped; will Chad Marshall, who didn't play against El Salvador, be included? What about Robbie Rogers, whose performance was almost comically atrocious?

Bradley on Ching:

“Brian has just been in this camp. Brian had a little bit of an injury at the end of the season last year. We talked with him, we talked with Dominic Kinnear, we agreed that January he would work on his own, he would do strengthening, and we would get him into camp in February. I think in this camp, it’s like a preseason. He starts and the first few days, you can see it’s a little bit slow. But Brian has qualities on the field in terms of putting himself in good positions, holding balls, bringing guys into the game. He’s a player that works hard for the team. He puts himself in good positions. I think often he makes players around him better because of the type of honest, dirty work that he does. I thought that was clearly the case in the second half. Had some chances, the goalkeeper made some great saves, but he got himself a goal, and I thought he had a good presence."

I have trouble buying into the theory that one game can decide a competition, though if you choose to view last night as a "Ching v. Casey" showdown, Ching clearly came out on top. Club form will also matter, and while I don't think Casey can do enough for Colorado to set him apart from Ching, or that Ching will play poorly enough with Houston to fall beyond Casey, the opening part of the MLS season* will play a part.

And let's not forget that injuries can happen at any time.

Bradley on the roster for the Netherlands:

“It’s important to say that decisions for Holland involve many different factors. In some cases we might have an idea that we want to see another guy play, so not bringing in a player isn’t necessarily a statement that he has for some reason dropped down a little bit, just that we have two opportunities, this week and the next game to see some guys and we also recognize that we’ve had a number of these players away from their club teams a good amount in January, in the case of a guy like Clarence Goodson, because his team in Norway had actually started doing stuff. MLS guys, it’s just been this last stretch but we factor all those things in.”

Say what?

As important as these two "B" friendlies over the last month have been to Bob Bradley and the process of filling out his World Cup roster, things get kicked into a higher gear, and very quickly, for next week.

It won't be the full first-choice team, as it will be without Dempsey, Onyewu, Feilhaber, and Cherundolo (am I missing anyone?), but will certainly provide a better picture of where things stand just over three months (!) ahead of the World Cup.

Who would you like to see called in for the match against the Netherlands next week?

US v El Salvador Live Blog

Wednesday, February 24, 2010 | View Comments

Head over to the American Soccer Show's UStream channel to listen to the live post game show as soon as the final whistle blows.

US-El Salvador Match Day

Wednesday, February 24, 2010 | View Comments

The USMNT, the "B" version, takes the field tonight against El Salvador in Tampa. While it's not the team we'll see in South Africa, it's still worth our attention, if for no other reason that it will help take our minds off of the MLS CBA fustercluck.

I'll be watching the play of the forwards most closely, with an eye to see who (if any) can distinguish themselves out of a somewhat underwhelming group. I've defended Brian Ching and what he brings to the table in the past, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't want someone else to step up and zoom past him on the pecking order. It just feels like it's time.

The problem, of course, is that there's only one other guy who will be dressed tonight that also plays Ching's target forward role: Conor Casey. Hmm...maybe we'll forget about the target man problem for now. Though Casey did surprise us all once in Honduras, I suppose it's possible he could do it again.

The other two forwards are Robbie Findley and Jeff Cunningham, players who use their speed to create chances. I root for Findley, though I'm beginning to wonder if he has that extra bit of talent that would make him a viable inclusion for this summer's World Cup squad. Cunningham knows how to score, as evidenced by his MLS tally last year, but is inconsistent and ill-equipped for the international level.

Why do I plan to watch the forwards closely again?

The other areas of interest really has more to do with the future of the squad past the World Cup than it does with the present; aside from seeing how Bornstein does (he's a lock in my opinion) and whether Goodson can add to his case for a reserve centerback spot, the young guys will be the most intriguing.

Onto to the Match Fit USA/American Soccer Show schedule of events for this evening:

  • Keith Hickey will be running a MFUSA live blog during the game

  • I'll be there, just not consistently enough to run it myself, so Keith will handle the duties. It's been a long time since we've had reason to do one of those.

  • The American Soccer Show will be live immediately follwing the final whistle (shortly after 9PM)

  • Zach and I will give our own takes on the game as well as get your immediate reactions via Skype (AmericanSoccerShow is the show Skype name), Twitter, Email, and the show chat room at the UStream page.

    You can listen at the aforementioned American Soccer Show UStream channel, or through the show's website.

    An Open Letter to MLS Players

    Wednesday, February 24, 2010 | View Comments
    2008 MLS Cup


    Hiya fellas. Hope all is well as you work diligently to prepare yourselves for yet another Major League Soccer season. This will be the fifteenth, you know, and though that's not a long history, it's definitely a milestone to be celebrated.

    This league has come a long way since it started back in '96. The clock counts up now for one thing, and wacky "Americanization" attempts are remnants of the past. It's more than just rules that have changed over that time, though; it's also the culture that MLS inhabits. Slowly but surely, the game of professional soccer in the United States (and Canada, too) has made inroads; the fans are starting to create something special in a lot of places, and more cities are lining up to join the movement every year.

    A lot of that growth is thanks to you guys, of course. Without the efforts of players, many of whom might have been better compensated plying their trade abroad, there wouldn't be a league for us to love. So many of you and your brethren toiled in the early years of a league that was always on the verge of collapse, never knowing if the American sports landscape could support soccer after failing to so many times.

    For that, I think, we have to forgive the architects of Major League Soccer for erring on the side of caution in the way they chose to operate. Restrictive of salaries almost to the point of ridiculousness, they've protected themselves and the league with a system that clearly borders on draconian in its function. I'm tempted to bring up that tired George Santayana quote, but I'll save you the lesson. Needless to say, MLS isn't ideal, at least from a player's standpoint, in the way it goes about its business. Many, perhaps most, and maybe all, of you believe it's time that system changed, or that the owners make some concessions to bring the league more in line with the rest of the world. Maybe you're right.

    Everton FC v Chicago Fire

    I wonder what you are thinking as you train with your teammates in Arizona, or Florida, or Spain, or wherever. I wonder, as you strive to get your body back into top playing shape and push yourself into exhaustion in the process, what is going through your mind. Can you really focus on the task at hand knowing that you might be walking out at any moment? Are you thinking about your families, or your rent, or where you might try to catch on for another playing job? Are you single-minded in your efforts to prepare for the MLS season, or have you already checked out knowing that there might not be a season?

    I know that you're "fighting the good fight". I get that sometimes people have to make a stand. I support your right to take this situation to its farthest extreme if it's absolutely needed.

    But while you vote on the question of striking, presumably over the free agency issue (thought since no one has any idea what the league really offered, perhaps it's about more than that), please remember that soccer in this corner of the world isn't a culturally-ingrained institution like baseball or football that can just pick back up where it left off when you guys finally return to the field. The sport here already has more than its share of scars, and though I get the sense you feel supremely justified in the threat to strike, a labor stoppage would add yet another wound. Would that wound be healed relatively easily, once MLS resumes, or would it remain, possibly becoming infected and ultimately killing off yet another league?

    I know I'm talking in extremes there. I apologize for that. It's just that, well, I'm very nervous. Even if a strike isn't a death blow for MLS, it certainly can't help it grow. Red Bull Arena is a shining jewel of a stadium, ready to become the premier soccer facility in the United States, and it may sit empty. The Philadelphia Union are fired up, ready to play, come with a rabid fan base that is ready to unleash their unique Philly brand of passion on American soccer, and might not get to. Those are just two of the more high-profile issues that that a strike brings up, with nothing said about the rest of the rising tide of support that's sweeping the league.

    DC United fans

    Growth means more money, which should mean more stability, which certainly should result in a better deal for the players. You'd be hard pressed to find an MLS fan that doesn't back you in that fight, at least to a point.

    But more than anything, MLS fans want their teams to play. They want to go out to their stadium on a Saturday and watch you pour your heart out for a victory. They want to fly the banners, sing the songs, bang the drums, and revel in the sense of camaraderie that comes with supporting their club in the greatest sport in the world. The club you play for and the work you do is a massive part of their lives. A strike would take that away from them.

    I won't tell you not to strike. It's not my place to do so, nor would I want you to think I completely agree with the way that MLS is run. I see your side of things, and I know that the decision to strike is not taken lightly.

    I just hope you guys know what you're doing.

    Best of luck, boys, whether it be in your efforts to force the league's hand (which I'm guessing would mean soccer without interruption) or just trying to be the best you can out on the field.


    Jason Davis, a Major League Soccer fan

    Vinyl Ready Art - Soccer

    Well hello there! Long time no see! I bet you thought you were rid of me and my insane propensity for exclamations...but no! I'm back!

    And there's a reason for that. Since we last met, much has happened in the world of the MLS CBA negotiations! The two sides appear to be really, really mad at each other, and it looks like there might even be a strike. Can you say slap fight?

    Who will come out on top in the epic game of chicken that is finalizing the next labor agreement for America's top flight soccer league? Will it be the owners, those fat cat rich guys sitting on top of their gigantic piles of money? Or the players, who might be better off working for the world's largest retail chain rather than play a game for a living? Wait, what?

    The rhetoric is flying like so much spittle, and even the League has decided to break their previous silence in light of a coordinated PR blitz by the Players.

    Let's see if we can't recreate the timeline, shall we? If I screw this up, just keep in mind that I'm loaded with a fifth of whiskey and enough prescription painkillers to take down Rush Limbaugh! Oh the agony...

    Stuff that happened on Friday, February 19th

    First, various soccer writers filed stories on a sudden turn in the negotiations, with all of the talking being done by the Players. Got a bunch of chatty goalkeepers, that MLSPU!

    "We feel the league's not taking us very seriously at all," said Houston goalkeeper Pat Onstad, a member of the player's union executive committee. "We're pretty far apart at this stage."
    "Earlier in January there were some indications that some progress was going to be made, but right now, I think the negotiations are really in a bad place. We're a long way from getting this deal done."
    Pat Onstad to Soccer By Ives

    “I can honestly say that I don’t think things were ever going great,” said Cannon. “But there was a lot more hope when we had a little bit more time. Maybe people just felt that through negotiations things could hopefully get done, but I think now it’s come to a point where the reality of the situation has to eclipse the hope we all have.”
    "I know on our side, we’re prepared to strike if we have to for what we want,” said Cannon. “If the owners feel as adamant about treating us like they do, that’s up to them. It’s their business.”
    Joe Cannon to Center Line Soccer

    Then, and without warning, the entirety of humanity was blindsided by a barrage of tweets by MLS players on the social networking service.

    Twellman. Riley. Cannon. Williams.

    And that's not all! There were more, including some who felt the need to lash out on Facebook! I'm just too lazy to go hunt them down right now, and besides, I'm sure you get the picture!

    Then, like a thief in the night, or something else more accurate and poetic, Friday slipped away...

    Stuff that happened on Saturday, February 20th

    The Players had their say on Friday, so of course the League had to respond! You think they would let those punks paint them in a bad light without firing back with a Gatling gun of smackdown? No-sir-ee-bob!

    "They're mis-characterizing the scope, extent and seriousness of the proposals that the league has made," Abbott said. "We can't compel them to accept those proposals, we can't compel them to appreciate those proposals but I can tell you that they are significant. To say that the league is not serious is a complete mis-characterization of what has happened over the past few weeks, or months for that matter."
    "There was some sense that the league hadn't been taking the negotiations seriously, and had not made serious proposals, and nothing could be further from the truth," said Abbott. "In terms of economics, the league has agreed to increase its spending on players by over $60 million."
    "We just don't see free agency being a part of that structure or something that would be good for the league. And so that's not something that's in the proposal or something we're prepared to do."
    MLS President Mark Abbott to Soccer by Ives

    “Our view has been that the most effective way to negotiate a CBA extension is to do so in the bargaining room, across the table, and not in the media,” said Abbott.
    “We’re ready to continue bargaining with the players,” said Abbott. “That being said, we’re not going to make changes in the league or commit to spending that would impair the long-term future of the league. That’s something we can’t do. We would never do something that would hurt our long-term future simply to avoid a work stoppage. But we’re hopeful there isn’t going to be one.”
    Abbott again, this time to Center Line Soccer

    Mark "The Hammer" Abbott, ladies and gentlemen! Let's hear it for him! Obviously the Players were just a tad bit miffed that one of their major demands for this CBA, free agency, was pushed aside like so much nonsense by the Politbur - I mean MLS leadership.

    Stuff that happened on Sunday, February 21st

    Perhaps it would have been for the best if the back-and-forth had ended there, with each side getting in their shots. Fair is fair, right? But noooooo, the Players, via some dude that "runs" the Union, just had to respond to the League's here we go again!

    "It is unfortunate that MLS doesn't see the modest changes we have proposed as being good for the league, especially since until these changes are made, more and more quality players who should be playing in MLS, will not be doing so. It will also be a shame if the league's refusal to improve its system results in a work stoppage."
    Union executive director Bob Foose to Soccer Insider

    For your sanity and mine, I left out all of the math that Che Foose rattled on about. Just know that he claimed the League is fudging the numbers to make their offer sound better than it actually is, which is pretty damn clever of them! "$60 million" sounds like a lot, right? Guess not!


    Nothing much happened on Monday, which is just boring, but I'm sure it will pick up again soon. The clock is ticking, the end is nigh, the bell is soon to toll, the rubber will meet the road, the mill will grist the...

    Whoa. I think I just blacked out there for a second. What were we talking about? MLS CBA propaganda? Jeez, that doesn't sound like fun at all. I think I'll pass, thank you very much! I'm sure there are plenty of others, much smarter than I am and without the annoying need to yell all the time that could really explain what the hell is going on.

    Fake Sigi
    Nutmeg Radio
    MFUSA's Jason Kuenle (be sure to read the comments)
    Ridge Mahoney

    Wake me up on Friday. Unless there's no deal, in which case I'm going to need a lot of Vicodin. Bye then! Thanks for stopping by! Happy CBAing!

    This weekend's revelations regarding what has and has not been offered by the players and owners seems to show that free agency is the major (if not only) sticking point of the negotiations. Oddly, discussion in the public has primarily centered around other topics (namely the rate of growth), or when Mark Abbott did bring it up, his explanation was obtuse at best. So, what's the big deal with free agency?

    There are plenty of strawmen that have been erected in the free agency debate. Such arguments as free agency will not bankrupt MLS because of the salary cap, while correct, are simplistic. I can't think of a quote from any owner or league official stating that free agency would resulting in the death spiral of salary increases that killed NASL.

    What you have seen from Mark Abbott is "free agency wouldn't be good for the league" and similar quotes. That's it, no official league explanation. Now, plenty of people have made up explanations. Generally, they've made them up with logical flaws so that they can then immediately tear them down.

    Here's why I would be opposed to free agency if I were an owner. Basic economics states that price increases when demand outpaces supply. While price cannot rise too high, due to the salary cap, the salaries for individuals in high demand will increase.

    As has been noted since the being of these negotiations, the place where MLS needs to increase the salaries for those players at the shallow end of the salary pool. A $20,000 increase to Chad Marshall's salary is less than a 10% increase, while that same $20,000 would be enormous to someone making $35,000. But between the two-time defender of the year and an option off the bench, which player would be in higher demand and see that increase in salary because of free agency?

    If the shallow end is not made deeper while the respect for American players abroad grows, those quality midlevel players will increasingly choose to go abroad. Because there is a limited pot of money to grow MLS, the broadest and quickest way to increase the caliber of play is to put that money toward the midlevel players. These players who fill out starting lineups and are the first options off the bench are the heart of all but the big four leagues. Attracting, retaining, and increasing the midlevel talent in MLS is the most efficient use of money to increase the quality of play. However under free agency, the midlevel player's salary does not rise because there is a larger supply of similar players.

    Free agency would not kill MLS, it would; however, slow the growth of MLS by shifting resources toward top end players. When a team must give up something of value (draft picks, allocations, other players) in order to get a top player and upgrade a position, it artificially lowers the demand for top players that command this compensation.

    MLS' flirtation with the designated player defies this view of MLS finance. The difference is that DPs were created to generate buzz and ticket sales through big name signings. Players like Marshall, Conrad, Kljestan, and Beckerman do not have the financial impact that Beckham or Blanco did. There is little to no gain for MLS in paying Jimmy Conrad an extra $30,000 per year. There is a bigger difference between the talent that you can attract for $60,000 versus $30,000.

    If you want future salary cap increases to go to a handful of players while the majority of players see little to no increase, then free agency will give you that. If you want to see those cap increases to go toward recruiting and retaining better midlevel players for MLS, then free agency is the enemy. The owners and MLS leadership have chosen the second.

    If I were a midlevel player, I would be hesitant of free agency for the same reasons. If I were Pat Onstad or Jimmy Conrad, I would be for it because of the reasons stated above. The real question is what do the actual midlevel players think? If the majority of players see free agency as benefiting a small portion of players, they may not wish to strike over the issue. Because there has been no public mention of the players having taken a vote authorizing a strike, many have wondered if the union has the votes to even authorize a strike. If not, the union really is out of ammunition, which could be the reason that they turned to the public this weekend.

    , | edit post

    AmSoc 14

    Monday, February 22, 2010 | View Comments

    So much stuff to cover in this week's American Soccer Show, and so little time. A under-the-weather Zach Woosley and I did our best, hitting on the news of the week (Davies, Gooch, Donovan, kits, El Salvador friendly, kits, etc.) as well as getting into Vancouver's issues with MLS over their academy structure and the CBA with Duane Rollins of the 24th Minute and It's Called Football.

    Visit the American Soccer Show website to listen, download it here, and make sure you subscribe in iTunes or RSS.

    MLS CBA: Striking Might Not Work

    Monday, February 22, 2010 | View Comments

    Gauntlets are hitting the ground like so many falling bombs all around the MLS CBA negotiation battle ground; after week's of silence only broken by announced extensions of the bargaining period, both sides are suddenly lashing out in a final flurry of caustic rhetoric.

    At this point, it appears that the Players are willing to strike to get what they want. The League declared emphatically, through mouth piece president Mark Abbott, that free agency is not an option; as I've argued before, it's unlikely that the League will give up the right to restrict player movement that they won in Fraser v. MLS willingly. That means it will take a massive amount of pressure to effect change, and finding an angle on the situation where the Union to have enough weight to create that pressure is near impossible.

    The owners have almost nothing to lose by waiting out a strike, aside from the missed momentum that would come from the opening of Red Bull Arena and the debut of the Philadelphia Union. Those are small items in the grand scheme of how the league operates, and though it would be painful, it's doubtful those problems would play any part in the owners' reaction to a strike.

    A large segment of the American soccer community, or perhaps simply the most vocal segment, advocate the Players' striking. Even those who can't see the owners completely relenting want labor to take a stand against management to prove a point. Drastic times and drastic measures, and with the 15th year of MLS play upon is, it's time for the training wheels to come off; the owners need to know that changing the system is necessary, even if a labor action now doesn't result in it.

    Is this just a matter of resolve, or will the economics be the deciding factors? If it's the former, I believe that Players want to make their stand and are willing to walk out. If it's the latter, I doubt the union's rank and file will hold out long without paychecks, meaning the owners will win convincingly. They have the money and the legal backing, and would gladly sacrifice half a season (or more) of gates if it meant protecting their long term investment. People with money like certainty they count on years into the future.

    None of us should be surprised by the sniping going on in the press, nor is the timing particularly interesting. This week is the stretch run, and both sides are playing their hands in the public realm as well as at the bargaining table. All of the cliches apply: "Who will blink first?" is the one that comes to mind immediately.

    A strike is the only bullet the Players have. The problem is that the owners might be wearing money-lined Kevlar vests.

    Players Hit Out on CBA Negotiations

    Saturday, February 20, 2010 | View Comments

    Public relations is part of any collective bargaining process. The two sides do their best to "control the message", either presenting their position in an effort to sway the public's opinion, or in the case of the MLS owners, say nothing at all.

    Yesterday's sudden wave of noise from the Players was notable for it's ratcheting up of the rhetoric. Out of nowhere, it seemed, the players rattled their sabers, letting anyone who would listen know that the League is holding things back. Playing the victims, as they've done throughout, they carefully and methodically chose the moment to let fly with a controlled message.

    It started with two prominent soccer writers (Ives Galarcep and Jeff Carlisle) posting stories on the matter, with direct quotes from Pat Onstad in one case and Joe Cannon in the other. It continued on Twitter and Facebook, where more than a few players drew attention to the aforementioned stories as well another piece, written by Richard Snowden at Soccer365, that frankly borders on propaganda. Sprinkling in other items to better turn fans to their side, notable players used social media as a tool in their campaign.

    (Link goes to Snowden's Soccer365 piece)

    Using calculated, coordinated, classic PR (or so it would seem to me; I have no public relations experience), the Players launched an attack on the League, and did so on a Friday evening the week before the negotiating deadline during the slowest part of the news cycle. That's clearly no coincidence, and indicates that the players who let fly with opinions (quotes in stories), links (on Twitter), and inflammatory statements did so because they were directed to.

    (Cannon also linked to Snowden's piece)

    The Players have failed, by some people's estimation, to get their message out properly. While many of us that scan blogs and soccer news sites daily may know where they stand and for what they're looking, it's probable that the interested-yet-less-connected MLS fan doesn't really understand their position. Yesterday was a clear effort to rectify that situation at a crucial time in the negotiating process. Another extension is unlikely if not impossible; actual play begins very shortly (starting with Columbus' series with Toluca in the CONCACAF Champions League).

    As for Snowden and his latest salvo at Soccer365, it loses some of its thunder in light of his past efforts. After Snowden wrote a similarly toned piece call "This System of a Down Must Go", in which he made a factual error for which he was subsequently called out, I invited him on the American Soccer Show to discuss it. Perhaps because of the harsh reaction he received, he pulled out of the interview, even indicating to me that he may not write about soccer again.

    None of this, of course, means that the Players are being intentionally misleading, or "spinning" things to their side unjustifiably; if they saw the need to fire a volley of PR on Friday because they want to gain leverage against the more powerful (in negotiating terms) owners, then more power to them. The way I see it, they'll need all the public opinion help they can muster to get even a few concessions from the League.

    A work stoppage could be coming, and it could be in the form of a players' strike, as they've told Galarcep, Carlisle, and the Twitter and Facebook-following faithful. Or, this could be just another effort to turn the tide as much as they can before they head down the home stretch to a new CBA that they'll accept whether they're granted guaranteed contracts and free agency or not.

    I leave you with this, from the Twitter feed of Steve Goff of the Washington Post. Unattributed (which is notable), it either reads as blustery nonsense or a true indication that the world is going to end (i.e., there's going to be a work stoppage):

    Photos: USMNT Kit and Warmups

    Friday, February 19, 2010 | View Comments

    I was just passed some very cool pictures that I'm guessing you guys may be interested in.

    World Cup Ticket Disaster

    Friday, February 19, 2010 | View Comments

    by Matt Acconciamessa - US Soccer Daily

    Though I am a diehard USMNT fan and all-around obsessive follower of the international game, I have not yet had the opportunity to see the World Cup in person. Needless to say, I've been eying up South Africa ever since Germany '06 came to a close. But thanks to some inept measures from FIFA, this World Cup has priced out many fans, including yours truly.

    The Telegraph is reporting what we all suspected; overseas World Cup tickets sales have been disappointing. There are so many things here that FIFA didn't seem coming that have contributed to the issue. It's pretty baffling that they had so little foresight, but then again it's understandable for a Sepp Blatter-led administration that has been criticized for just looking for the quick buck.

    Let's take a look at the circumstances surrounding this tournament. Ticket sales began in the midst of one the deepest global recessions since the Great Depression, and they have continued with the world still far from its former level of output. Couple that with the fairly common security concerns surrounding a nation where violent crime is a problem, and anyone who has taken a basic economics course to tell you that you should expect a decrease in demand.

    For a moment, let's all take a little return to the classroom for a little Econ 101. How should a market adjust to reach equilibrium if demand is much less than supply at a given price level? By lowering the price; if this isn't done, there's an excess supply of tickets that will go unsold (see: FIFA's current dilemma). This is such a simple, simple model that carries a pretty common sense recommendation: if sales are below expectations, adjust the pricing. It just boggles me that FIFA has only really taken notice of this and made an effort to correct it until now. Really, these people have to be somewhat educated to get in these high ranking positions, right? Right?

    Yes, FIFA general secretary Jerome Valcke's announcement today that ticket categories would be downgraded in order to make them much more affordable to South African residents so as to sell out every game falls into the "better late than never" category. But the fact that FIFA waited until this long to make any kind of move now dampens the effect that hosting this global spectacle can have on the South African economy. Instead of those extra tickets going to foreigners who will spend their money on hotels, food, and memorabilia, they will stay in the hands of South Africans, removing that extra injection of outside income from the picture. If this tournament was really about South Africa, FIFA would have made more of an effort to get tickets sold to fans around the world.

    Instead, they pretty much did the exact opposite. They gave Match, an agency conveniently led by Sepp Blatter's nephew (as Pitch Invasion astutely pointed out), exclusive rights to sell ticket and travel packages. Essentially, they gave this agency a monopoly on hotel rooms in the various host cities. And, back to Econ 101, what usually happens with a monopoly? Higher than normal prices, which in turn leads to a drop in demand. Couple that with the well-publicized price gouging that has been going on with flights to South Africa, and demands drops even further. Seriously, NO ONE SAW THIS COMING?

    As much as I'm sure FIFA likes to think that the draw of the World Cup can allow them to charge a pretty hefty premium, they're learning now that that simply is not the case. Though footy fans across the globe spend nearly four years excitedly looking forward to the next tournament, there is a limit at which they just won't pay to see it in person. Hopefully, Sepp Blatter and company aren't so inept that they repeat these mistakes in 2014 (a tournament for which Match also has exclusive rights. Doh.). At this point, however, I wouldn't put it past them.

    As if all this wasn't bad enough, there's the whole matter of FIFA holding down entrepreneurship with its rigid stance on merchandise and World Cup business ventures. Another measure doing its part to hinder the growth of the local economy.

    Though it can't stop this company from making a splash. Heck, even though it’s in poor taste, at least their taking some of the surrounding market circumstances and concerns into consideration. That's a lot more than FIFA can say.

    Cross-posted to US Soccer Daily

    Deep Cuts: Boom or Bust

    Friday, February 19, 2010 | View Comments
    Sports News - January 30, 2009

    Week 2 of the experimental return of Deep Cuts. As I mentioned last week, the effort will be to bring you links to things you might not otherwise encounter on your daily scan of the internet, with an occasional mainstream story sprinkled in from time to time.

    Let's get this party started.

    The World Cup isn't creating jobs in South Africa

    That sound you hear is the air leaking out of the "World Cup effects positive change" balloon.

    Tim Howard is up for Merseyside Sports Personality of the Year

    I wonder if the trophy is a sterling silver hubcap.

    Another "Soccer is great, but MLS is doody" piece

    College papers: Turning students into Eurosnobs one burnt out philosophy major at a time.

    Growing soccer in African-American communities (Cached version because this site seems to have had a malfunction)

    Nothing funny about this, other than the multiple mentions of soccer as a "white-boy sport".

    Some guys talk about soccer players moving abroad

    We have a winner in the "Huh?" category.

    And finally, Happy Birthday to Avoiding the Drop, one of my favorite blogs. Yeah, I'm a day late. Sorry guys.

    One more note before I go; I'll be appearing on the George Mason University Soccer Show this evening with host Ted Meyer between 5 and 6 PM ET. You can listen live here.

    Charlie's Comeback Goals

    Thursday, February 18, 2010 | View Comments

    Not only has Charlie Davies returned to France to continue his rehab with Sochaux, he's set a timetable for his return to the training pitch.

    Those of you intimately tuned into soccer news to the detriment of your personal relationships as I am have probably already seen the Davies interview with the club's website. You probably keenly listened as he related his struggles over the past four months, discussed how coming so close to death has changed him, and cringed as he rattled off the list of injuries he sustained in October's crash. Every bit of it is riveting, and only makes you want to root harder for Charlie.

    The most interesting part for US National Team fans, however, is that aforementioned timetable. One month, Charlie says. One month until he's back on the field with his club, working his way towards match fitness with a ball at his feet and visions of goals in his head.

    Like the rest of us, I'm sure Bob Bradley has a calendar posted somewhere in his office now with a day, roughly a month in the future, circled prominently. The sooner Charlie gets back to training, the sooner he gets back to matches for Sochaux, the sooner he'd be available for Bradley's twenty-three man roster that needs to be pretty close to solidified by the time May rolls around. This next month, and the actual day that Davies is able to resume training (meaning he's fully healthy short of match fitness), will ultimately decide if Charlie's name will be there.

    Charlie also has a targeted return match in mind, but demurred from revealing it to the interviewer. I like that. He doesn't need the added pressure of the world (i.e. Sochaux and US fans) bearing down, with people asking him constantly if he's going to make the target. Charlie's challenge is extremely personal, and it's understandable that his goal itself is as well.

    Again, it has to be said. Don't bet against Charlie.

    An Open Letter To Rory Smith

    Thursday, February 18, 2010 | View Comments
    Seattle Sounders: Not Backwater

    Thank you, Rory Smith. Thank you for making my job so damn easy. Not only do you seem genuinely smug about discovering a "point" (Landon Donovan is a good player, and probably better than Davey Becks) to which any number of American fans could have saved you time and the Telegraph lots of money and said "no shit, Sherlock," you did it in a way that is quite frankly, insulting towards and almost willfully ignorant about, an entire league, its players, and its fans.

    One of your central arguments against MLS, Rory, seems to be about how MLS is a "farce," a competition run on rules different to those that have sufficed perfectly well everywhere else for more than 100 years." To which I would like to give you two numbers, eight and three. Eight is the number of different clubs to have won the MLS Cup since it was first contested. Three is the number of clubs who have won the Premier League in that same time frame. And guess what? Those three clubs are sitting one-two-three in the table right now. How exciting. Maybe there's something to this whole "parity" deal, eh? I'd be willing to bet good money that Toronto FC makes the playoffs before Stoke City qualifies for the Champions League.

    And just once in the history of MLS, only five years into its existence, has the league had to fold clubs. And that was an eternity ago, when patience was short and funds were shorter. The English Premier League, the richest domestic sporting league in the world, has Portsmouth currently failing before our very eyes, and others, like Leeds and Newcastle, have come perilously close. I'd hardly call that sufficing "perfectly well." Maybe the long-term stability and growth model of MLS is something your league can learn from, Rory.

    Now, Rory, I'm not some blind MLS Homer. I know it's not the highest quality of play, and some of the rules can seem counter-intuitive at times. But to dismiss MLS as a group of amateurs and retirees is unfair to serious professionals who have devoted their lives to the game and a disrespectful slight to quality veterans like Juan Pablo Angel, Youri Djorkaeff, and Cuauhtémoc Blanco. The fact is, MLS has produced a good deal of players who have "made it" in Europe. Not only American players like Bryan McBride and Brad Friedel (And don't tell me England wouldn't kill to have a keeper the quality of Friedel or Tim Howard), but foreign players too, like Stern John and Ryan Nelsen have cut their teeth in the American League.

    So, Rory, here's the bottom line. Feel free to praise Landon Donovan. Feel free to fairly criticize MLS. But there's no need for this snobby, arrogant, backhanded anti-Americanism. Because that's what it is. There are no columns reexamining the perceived quality Belgian League because of the successes of Kolo Toure and Vincent Kompany. Leave it in the last century, Rory.

    Football - Everton v Sporting Lisbon UEFA Europa League Second Round First Leg

    Until it's proven impossible, I'm usually the type to believe in the best case scenario, meaning that I refuse to acknowledge something won't happen until a preponderance of evidence exists making it undeniably clear that it really won't.

    That doesn't mean that I don't intellectual assess possible outcomes and have a different opinion of what will likely happen, it just means that I don't close the door, no matter how small the opening might be, on my preferred result.

    I suppose in some ways, I'm a hopeless optimist.

    And so it was with Landon Donovan and his loan deal to Everton. I didn't know that Donovan would succeed with the Toffees, because no one did for sure, but I certainly had a strong belief that he wouldn't fall flat. Far from falling flat, he has now contributed enough to Everton to be the subject of much speculation over his immediate future. Will MLS extend his loan? Can Everton afford to buy him permanently?

    As little as a few days ago, after Donovan helped Everton beat league-leaders Chelsea by putting in a Man of the Match-quality performance, I still believed it possible he would remain in England till the end of the season. Even after David Moyes states publicly that he sees no way for Everton to keep Landon, I still thought he would stay. I discounted Moyes' words, just as I did with Bruce Arena's company line, chalking up the statement to keeping expectations low just in case a deal couldn't be worked out, or to a negotiating stance on the part of a savvy manager.

    I don't think I could even identify for you what has changed, but I'm not convinced that Donovan will in fact return to MLS next month, and play with the Galaxy until the World Cup. Maybe it's the words of people who know things, or deferring to the path of least resistance; either way, I'm no longer optimistic that Donovan will stay with Everton. He's on his way back, just as was originally planned, and it doesn't matter how well he's played since landing in Merseyside.

    There's just too much that needs to happen for Donovan to stay, and I can't convince myself that just because he's become indispensable for Everton (which he clearly has) that MLS will allow for a loan extension. It's still possible, just as is almost anything with the less-than-predictable suits in New York, but without a strong financial incentive for the league, I don't see them letting him play in England while the MLS season is happening.

    Donovan has done much to exorcise some European demons this winter. I suspect that he'll return at some point in the future. I just don't think he'll be staying past March this time around. It's a disappointing realization to come to.

    New England Revolution fans

    Okay, so I'm failing to live up to my promise this time around. Another extension the the CBA negotiation period means more time, and with little else going on today, I just can't help myself, despite what I've said before.

    There was a "mini-storm" of discussion today, all set off by Steve Goff at Soccer Insider. Now, when one of the big media guys covering soccer (and there aren't many) decides to put forth his theory that things might be going so well, people tend to sit up and take notice.

    Which is what Duane did. And there's really nothing wrong with Duane's own piggyback piece, even if it does sound super duper scary. No MLS for half a season? How can he possibly think that would be okay?

    On the surface, I get what our Canadian friend is saying: With MLS holding only some of the general public's attention, and with that public being the most die hard of soccer crazies, it's conceivable that a work stoppage that will wipe out half of the season would have little net effect on the league's popularity or ability to operate, specifically because MLS matters little in most markets until the summer.

    Conceivable, but wrong. The problem lies in Duane (sorry to be picking on ya there, buddy) taking the most avid fans for granted. MLS may not lose much in a larger sense, but any loss of play will only serve to piss off those that have given themselves over to the sport and their clubs. Those people actually matter most in the less successful markets, where poor marketing and small club profiles need the most help via word of mouth and fan-to-fan recruitment. Cancelling half a season can't be good for business.

    If you're not worried about the effect a strike might have on those poorer markets, then sure, a player stand at this point seems like an great way for them to make their point and get what they've wanted all along.

    I can't sign off on it though, and really do see the league's long term prospects being seriously damaged by a long work stoppage. For some, it looks like the ends would justify the means, as in a strike would be okay as long as it resulted in a freer MLS model; that seems a very risky proposition to me, and I really hope the players aren't considering it. The unknowns are too great, and while MLS appears to be on solid footing at the moment, there's no way to know how detrimental an effect a strike, or any prolonged work stoppage, could have.

    Even if the league started up again after finally hammering out a deal with the players, the repercussion of the lost time and lost revenue might not be felt for one or more years; the owners aren't in the poor house, and might not be if forced to cancel matches, but that doesn't mean they'll stick it out with a losing proposition damaged by a work stoppage just because they're giant soccer fans (which some of them aren't).

    Hey, FS, I think it's your turn.

    Friendly Angst: US Schedules Turkey

    Wednesday, February 17, 2010 | View Comments

    Add Turkey to the USMNT's pre-World Cup schedule; the UEFA nation will visit Philadelphia on May 29th, the last friendly before the Americans head off to South Africa and their date with England (not to mention Algeria and Slovenia).

    It's nice to the schedule begin to fill out a bit, and though many fans will wonder why there aren't more friendlies set, a match against Turkey will be a strong test against a side with plenty of pride to play for after failing to make the World Cup themselves. Better yet, I can't imagine that the Turkish diaspora in the United States will be descending on Philly in large enough numbers to ruin a home send off, making the match a smart move simply from a "feel good" perspective.

    The Turkey match alone won't be enough to sate everyone, of course. There still seems to be a large portion of the fan base mildly concerned that the US hasn't already scheduled more matches, and more matches against quality opponents. While Mexico sets up six match tours of the US, the Americans have only booked games against the Netherlands (March 3rd) and Turkey.

    Not that Mexico is really testing themselves with matches against the likes of Iceland (ranked 94th), New Zealand (a World Cup team, but ranked 79th), and Senegal (ranked 91st). Are the Americans' two matches worth more in a "quality over quantity" sense than the Mexican full slate? Maybe, but since the American preparations are an individual concern that really has nothing to do with anyone else, it doesn't really matter. Make note of the last date on the Mexican tour, the match set for Reliant Stadium in Houston; the opponent is "TBD" and could end up being the United States.

    Perhaps more aptly assessed is the warm-up schedules of the Americans' Group C opponents, England, Algeria, and Slovenia. It's those three sides the US will need to get enough points off of to advance to the knockout rounds anyway, so it might be a better to take a look at their plans*:


    3/3 versus Egypt, at Wembley Stadium, London


    3/3 versus Serbia, at Stade du 5 Julliet, Algiers

    5/29 versus Ireland at Croke Park, Dublin


    3/3 versus Qatar, Petrol Arena, Cleje, Slovenia

    *These are the dates I could confirm with a cursory search of the web and federations sites.

    In comparison, the US schedule is fine. In fact, the US schedule looks pretty good all things considered, especially with the stern test that the Netherlands will present in only a few weeks. Remember that between now and the send-off match against Turkey that the only FIFA date is March 3rd.

    How does everyone feel about facing Turkey in Philly?

    *UPDATE* Add Czech Republic on May 25th at a location to be determined (Rentschler Field at in Hartford is among the rumors) to the USMNT schedule, per a US Soccer press release today.

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