Donovan's Ridiculous Price Tag

Tuesday, August 31, 2010 | View Comments
Aug. 14, 2010 - Harrison, New Jersey, United States of America - August 14, 2010: LA Galaxy forward LANDON DONOVAN ( ) keeps the ball from New York Red Bulls forward JUAN PABLO ANGEL.

Martin Rogers of Yahoo! is reporting that Landon Donovan attracted some European interest during this summer's (now closed) transfer window, and his preferred destination of Everton made a late play. That in itself isn't shocking; Donovan played well enough at Everton during his loan stint and during the World Cup that it makes sense the league/Galaxy received a few nibbles.  How much was offered, Rogers doesn't say.  What he does say is that MLS valued Donovan at $16 million.

If CONCACAF's proposed changes to World Cup qualifying go through, and we know the reports are legitimate now with Sunil Gulati commenting on them during the "four more years" presser today, it's very possible that the United States and Mexico will not face each other on the road to Brazil '14.  With two groups in the final round, the chances of the region's two biggest powers being split up is very likely, if not inevitable.

RUSTENBERG, June 27, 2010 Bob Bradley (R), the head coach of the United States, kisses his player Ricardo Clark who is being substituted during the 2010 World Cup round of 16 soccer match against Ghana at Royal Bafokeng Stadium in Rustenburg, South Africa, on June 26, 2010. Ghana won 2-1 and qualifies for the round of 8.

It's difficult to get excited about the status quo.  In this case, it's difficult to get excited about a status quo that has obvious limitations; Bob Bradley's contract extension may be the most practical decision for US Soccer, but is has a decidedly dull sheen about it.  If the goal is to move the US National Team forward as quickly as possible, Bradley's track record over the past four years seems to point to a loss of focus.

Outline of Bradley Ver. 2.0

Tuesday, August 31, 2010 | View Comments
Bob Bradley

Plenty has been written on this site and others about whether Bob should have been brought back. And there will be plenty of places to spew bile over this decision - one may even pop up on this site - but now that the job is officially Bob's it's probably worth a look at how the next four years lay out and what Bradley might do with them. The focus is on the 10 months between now and the end of the Gold Cup, but I've outlined the entire likely schedule below.

October 9 - Poland friendly
October 12 - Colombia friendly
November 17 - FIFA friendly date

With the playoff push on for MLS teams, it seems unlikely many MLSers will be called in for the October games. But with some actual time in camp, I would expect a few uncapped European based players to get called in. I would expect Mikkel Diskerud, Eric Lichaj, and Jermaine Jones to all get callups for the October matches.

The November friendly date is currently open. Because of the short time off, if it were to be filled, it would likely be played in Europe with a mix of players from eliminated MLS teams and Europe based players. Most of the major European countries have already announced friendlies for that date, but one country that does not that would provide a good matchup is Belgium.

The rest of this year gives Bradley a chance to scout and test European talent that has not yet been evaluated.

January camp
Friendly against some Scandinavian country
February 9 - FIFA friendly date
March 26-30 - FIFA international dates
June 5-25 - Gold Cup
July - open for friendlies
August 17 - friendly date
September 3-7 - international dates
October 8-12 - international dates
November 12-16 - international dates

While the end of 2010 should be an excellent chance to evaluate the European talent, the beginning of 2011 should give that chance the domestic players. There's no reason to believe that Bob will stop holding the January camp culminating in a friendly against a country whose professional league takes an extended winter break.

If a 2010 November friendly does not happen in Europe, the February friendly date would likely be utilized that way.

The March dates should be a dress rehearsal for the team that Bob will take to the Gold Cup. I anticipate that team consisting mainly of players who went to South Africa and using a similar set of tactics. Evaluations of players will likely lean toward problem areas; center back, defensive midfield, and striker.

Post Gold Cup should be the biggest time of experimentation for Bob during the next cycle. If the proposed qualifying plan goes into effect (there's no reason to believe it will not be approved because it nearly replicates the current AFC model), the US should have about 15 consecutive matches that are friendlies or where the US is a heavy favorite between July 2011 and October 2012. It's at this point that guys like Bocanegra and Cherundolo will likely be worked out of the rotation and younger players given more than cameo appearances in preparation for World Cup qualifying.

January camp
January Scandinavian friendly
February 29 - friendly date
June - 4 WC Qualifiers
July - open for friendlies
September 8-12 - 2 WC Qualifiers
October 13-17 - 2 WC Qualifiers
November 14 - WC Qualifier

2012 may provide the US a chance to do a friendly tour against teams tuning up for Euro 2012. I would expect scheduling a wide array of opponents in terms of style as a good test for the lineup and tactic experimentation that should be occurring during this time.

January camp
January - Scandinavian friendly
February 6 - WC Qualifier
March 23-27 - 2 WC Qualifiers
June 8-12 - 2 WC Qualifiers
June - Confederations Cup
July - Gold Cup
August 21 - Friendly Date
September 7-11 - 2 WC Qualifiers
October 12-16 - 2 WC Qualifiers
November 16-20 - International dates

If the US again qualifies for the Confederations Cup, 2013 looks to be a very busy year, and should mark the point of solidifying contributors and tactics.

January camp
January - Scandinavian friendly
March 5 - Friendly date
May/June - Pre-WC camp and friendlies
June/July - World Cup

As with any World Cup year, everything is about final preparations.

Bradley follows a pretty strict pattern for introducing new players into the fold, a process that generally takes a full year. With only a handful of matches between now and the Gold Cup, it's unlikely large scale changes will occur. But the call ups, the late subs, and surprise starts should give us an idea of who might slide into the Gold Cup squad ahead of those featured in South Africa.

Bob Bradley, the Value Choice

Monday, August 30, 2010 | View Comments
United States national soccer team head coach Bob Bradley responds to a question from a reporter at a news conference in Irene June 27, 2010, one day after the U.S. team lost to Ghana in their second round match in the 2010 World Cup.  REUTERS/Brian Snyder  (SOUTH AFRICA - Tags: SPORT SOCCER WORLD CUP)

Note from JD: My reaction will be coming soon, but first up to the plate is MFUSA contributor Dan Barkley.

by Dan Barkley

It has been a bit of an open debate here and on the American Soccer Show whether or not the USMNT coaching job is a high-profile position.I agree with a lot of people, it seems, when I say it is somewhere in the middle tier of the National Team positions, and probably at the lower end, behind such countries as Mexico, Russia, Turkey and so on. With the news of Bob Bradley getting another cycle, my opinion of the resigning has less to do with Bradley and more to do with that, in my opinion, the position itself is not desirable.

While attempting to clean things up a bit around here, I appear to have inadvertently killed the comments mechanism. I'm trying to figure out what I did wrong and how to fix it. Apologies.

Well, I fixed it, somehow, so comments are working again. Just in time for me to spit out something on Bradley's re-signing with US Soccer for another four years.

I'll get on it.


New posts don't have comments. This is annoying me to no end. Hope to have it fixed soon.

| edit post

AmSoc 41: The Ginge is Angry

Monday, August 30, 2010 | View Comments

Ginge basically goes off on some folks, and you'll need to listen in to find out who. Let's just say the topics covered include the USMNT and CONCACAF and leave it at that.

The American Soccer Show for download.
The American Soccer Show on iTunes.

Here's the L.E. Eisenmenger story on the RSL residential academy that we mentioned.

The American Soccer Show has a Facebook page now, so if you could "like" the show there, that would be great. Also, check out our t-shirt store if you've never been - there are also a few new designs there.

As always, thanks for listening.

Quick - hide the kegs and liquor bottles, FIFA is on their way.

The USA World Cup bid committee released the details of the visit in a press release today; the trip will include stops in five proposed host cities (New York, DC, Miami, Dallas, and Houston), looks at the stadiums in each of those cities, as well as a peek at potential training sites, "fan fest" venues and more.  Transportation, hotels, proposed media accommodations: it will all be given the thorough once over by a group of muckity-mucks led by Chile Football Association president Harold Mayne-Nicholls.

Representatives from all 18 candidate cities will be in New York to meet the delegation when they arrive on Monday. Including in the group are Danny Jordaan, CEO of the 2010 World Cup local organizing committee in South Africa; Jürgen Müller, FIFA Head of Event Management; Wolfgang Eichler, FIFA Media Officer; David Fowler, FIFA Marketing; and Julio Avellar, FIFA Competitions.

Here's the standard the US needs to live up to, though most believe that England is up for 2018 and the US for 2022:

"Concerning public transportation and event facilities, there seems to be no problem in hosting an event of such scope. This also counts for safety and security matters," Mayne-Nicholls said.

"One thing FIFA are particularly focused on is accommodation, as we need a very high number of quality rooms. This is why we ask all bidders for a certain number of contracted hotel rooms. We trust that you will be able to fulfill the necessary requirements."

Mayne-Nicholls said inspectors had been warmly received by England bid chiefs, adding: "They have organized the visit in a perfect way, with great professionalism, but also with a sense of friendship and hospitality."

Do we have any doubts that the United States can't get the same glowing review when Senor Mayne-Nicholls and his cohorts depart at the end of next week? As with England, the US can show large stadiums ready to host games tomorrow if need be, something that is tripping up the bid efforts of Russia (Mayne-Nicholls warned Russian officials that they would need to start construction immediately on 10 new venues to be ready in time).

We've got stadiums, hotels, transportation, the works - all that being said, it's far from a slam dunk that the US gets the 2022 tournament. We'll know more at the end of next week.

According to Honduran outlet La Prensa, by way of for us non-Spanish speakers, CONCACAF is set to present to FIFA their plans for a new World Cup qualification process. The most significant changes are the elimination of the home and away series beyond the first round and a shift from the single group final round (aka, the Hexagonal) to a two group final round.

The structure as parsed by is this:

The six lowest ranked nations play off against each other, leaving three standing and reducing the total field to thirty-two teams.

From here, groups kick in, with the thirty-two teams drawn into eight groups of four. The two top teams from each group advance. Those sixteen teams are drawn into four groups of four, again with the top two teams in each group advancing. The final eight teams play in two groups of four, with the winner of each group automatically qualifying. If CONCACAF receives a fourth World Cup spot, then the second place finishers will also qualify. If not, the two runners-up will play off to determine the third qualifier, with the loser going on to play for a spot against a team from another confederation.

The total number of games for the top thirty-two teams, not including any needed play offs after the final round, is eighteen. That's the same number of games as in the previous set up.

Seeding will play a major role in this process because of the final round moving to two groups. If the United States and Mexico are the top ranked teams in the region, does that guarantee that they will be drawn in different groups? If CONCACAF does not use rankings in the final round and draws teams together randomly, a possible group with the US and Mexico together would unbalance qualification significantly; add in the possibility of the second place finisher in such a group having to play off against a nation from another region just to qualify, and things could get very interesting.

Keep in mind that if seeding is used throughout, and the US and Mexico are not drawn into the same final round group, they could both qualify without ever having to play each other.


I'm moving Jason Kuenle's comment into the post because it provide a likely reason for why CONCACAF is changing things:

My guess is this has to do with two things; money and rankings. While the number of games played by the top teams will not change from 18, the number of games played by lesser CONCACAF teams will go up, in some cases dramatically. Matches for these second tier teams obviously bring in revenue, but they also should increase the FIFA rankings for those CONCACAF teams.

Take Jamaica - last cycle they played 8 matches, two against Bahamas in the second round and then in the group, two against each of Mexico, Honduras, and Canada. They totaled 5 wins, 1 draw, and 2 loses. Under the new system, they would be in Pot A, and play against a Pot B team like Haiti, Guatemala, or Cuba, a Pot C team like Suriname, Puerto Rico, or Belize, and a Pot D team like Bahamas or Aruba. They should move out of this group with a record of around 4-1-1. They would then move to a group that looked similar to the Mexico, Honduras, Canada group, where they went 3-1-2. Even if they did not make the final groups, they would have played 4 additional matches, including two home gates for the federation. An additional two teams making the final round gives even more chances to play all 18 matches.

Matches played in 2010:

20 - 1 team

18 - 5 teams

10 - 1 team

8 - 5 teams

4 - 9 teams

2 - 14 teams

Total matches played - 112

Under the new rules:

18 - 8 teams

12 - 8 teams

8 - 3 teams

6 - 5 teams

2 - 3 teams

Total matches played - 150

Because World Cup qualifier matches have a 2.5 multiplier on them compared to friendlies, more qualifiers means more points, which means a higher ranking for midlevel teams. It's akin to fattening these teams up as a sacrfice when they play the US and Mexico. The US and Mexico have been just on the outside of being seeded for the last several world cups. The new qualification route means avoiding loses to each other while increasing the points gained by beating other teams. Also, the new qualification procedure takes advantage of the new confederation rankings giving CONCACAF a slight edge over AFC and CAF.

It is sad that there will no longer be a "winner" of the qualification and that we may not face Mexico in qualifying, but it's a good move by CONCACAF. The mid-tier nations need to be the backbone on which CONCACAF grows. Getting those federations a greater number of competitive matches and more money (if it's not wasted or embezzled) will help the US in the long run.

When the news "broke" that Sunil Gulati had met with Jurgen Klinsmann, a wave of deja vu washed over the USMNT fan base. Thursday meetings between Gulati and Bob Bradley yielded no resolution on the current coach's future, and word that the Fed is bringing the German legend back into the mix is sign that Bradley might be on his way out. For Bradly-haters and Klinsy-lovers, the development was welcomed enthusiastically.

But word of the Klinsmann meeting almost certainly emanated from US Soccer itself, bringing into question the reason for the leak. That Bradley has made googly eyes at European clubs like Fulham and Aston Villa while his status as National Team manager is unsettled can't sit well with Soccer House, and though Klinsmann's candidacy in 2006 and stated interest in the US gives meetings with him some weight, it's possible both sides are just playing games. The ultimate significance of the Klinsmann meetings is mitigated by the origin of to the story and the outlet that reported it first (ESPN). It definitely seems like US Soccer was looking to to make a point through the press from here.

Which Bradley surely received, though it's difficult to know if it hit its mark as Gulati intended. As long as Bradley remains on the job months after the World Cup and meetings end without resolution, any noise about a successor should be viewed with a skeptical eye. The Klinsmann star has dimmed a bit in the intervening years since '06, and while that might make it easier for US Soccer to bring him aboard without repeating complications, it might also have soured them on giving him the control he demanded. If Bradley is done, then Klinsmann is a logical choice to replace him; but this meeting wasn't much more than Gulati and Klinsmann getting reacquainted and glad-handing a bit. Maybe Gulati talked to Klinsmann about taking the job, or perhaps he just asked the German his opinion on the program, Bradley, and how to take the next step. We certainly know Klinsmann has opinions.

Even if much of the haranguing between Bradley and US Soccer is just an issue of money, Klinsmann will cost more than Bob. Maybe that's not an issue, but if the choice is down to bringing back a proven, if decidedly un-sexy, commodity at a slightly higher cost than before or bringing in an unproven (at least in the US job) and much more expensive option, the the Fed's calculated leak might not be anything more than a negotiating ploy. Each side is working to expand their leverage; Bradley has largely missed with his plays for English interest (Villa effectively eliminated Bradley with their statement over the weekend), but the message that he's looking for a new challenge is clear. US Soccer's salvo, timed conveniently with Gulati's meeting with Bradley is their message that they do have other options.

In the end, the effectiveness of these ploys is questionable at best. As mentioned, Bradley has no return interest from major clubs abroad to give him significant leverage with US Soccer. Unless he is open to a return to MLS, he may not have a ready-made landing spot. For their part, US Soccer has drummed up no vocal interest from any name candidates, and look to be falling back on a sympathetic, and local, standby for their own bit of push back. The longer this saga goes on, the more it appears that neither side has viable Plan B.

Klinsmann might be a legitimate candidate, and maybe US Soccer really is ready to consummate the relationship they couldn't in 2006. But the nature and timing of the Klinsmann news makes it seem more like a calculated shot across Bradley's bow than an actual step towards a new USMNT manager.

When MLS made the decision to bring their website in-house while adding a news arm that would be "independent" of the league from an editorial standpoint, natural questions emerged. Just how impartial could's writers be if their paychecks came from the very entity they covered? Even with assurances that the league would not dictate content or censor criticism, the new team faced an uphill battle to prove themselves a trustworthy outlet of American soccer news and commentary.

More basically, what do we want from the MLS website? It should provide stats and news, surely, and lighter stories on players, teams, and coaches are acceptable ("player x working really really hard this year"), but can a league sanctioned media outlet ever be an effective source of opinion? If we're letting the league decide what questions to ask, which is the reasonable perception, do the difficult ones get shoved under the carpet? If Garber is doing a poor job, who is going to openly criticize his boss? An independent writer can ask the hard questions and hold the league accountable for its actions in a way an in-house guy simply can't for fear of risking his neck.

The flip side of those questions, a problem perhaps not as obvious at first blush, is the matter of association; if publishes a story that is viewed as biased, unfair, or flat out wrong by certain segments of the league's fan base, it logically reflects back onto the league. Because any questionable or inflammatory content would be published on the league's official site, the league would naturally suffer from the belief that it was sanctioned, perhaps in a de facto manner, by MLS itself. At the very minimum, the material remaining in place after protests were lodged would appear to indicate that the league found no fault in it.

Case in point: in the aftermath of the Crew's uniform-disaster-cum-disallowed-goal in Mexico last week, posted its weekly Power Rankings (which are posted without a byline). In the blurb on the Columbus Crew, number three on in the rankings, was a one sentence statement: "Quit barking about the disallowed goal against Santos. The ref made the right call."

The statement prompted a spate of comments through the site's Facebook-connected mechanism, many of them critical of the tone and questioning the writer's purpose in dismissing what fans, and the Crew themselves, perceived as a legitimate complaint. Anecdotal chatter on Twitter indicated that several of the critical comments were deleted (all comments have since been removed). followed up on the controversy in Torreón with a story, this time with Simon Borg's name in the byline, on the official match report. In the report, the referee explained the Crew goal was disallowed because Emilio Renteria re-entered without permission; with video evidence that seemed to contradict that version of events, Crew fans and sympathizers found fault with Borg's story, which seemed to back the ruling. Again, comments from readers followed expressing a distaste for the tone of the piece, and again there are anecdotal statements that some were deleted (perhaps justifiably so if the removed comments contained abusive language).

At this point, much of the "controversy" over's treatment was a matter of perspective; Borg (and the site's entire content team, for that matter) are not beholden to defending MLS teams, and shouldn't be if they are truly independent of league oversight. By stating that the Crew fans should "quit barking" (harsh wording, to be sure), and posting a story reinforcing the official version of events, appears impartial.

But this brings us back to the issue of reflecting views; whether Borg is writing impartially or not, his work still appears under the MLS banner. For the uninitiated, uninformed, or otherwise unconvinced, it might appear as though he is stating opinions held by at least a few running around MLSHQ in New York. Short of attribution by association, the league must deal with the ramifications of one of their employees using dismissive language in the aforementioned Power Rankings.

Friday morning, in the site's daily "Kick Off" post and with a headline including the words "Renteria backs ref", Borg linked to a Spanish-language story out of Venezuela that claimed Renteria spoke in support of the referee's decision. Renteria flatly denied making such statements to Columbus Dispatch reporter Shawn Mitchell, who referenced the inclusion of the erroneous Venezuelan article in his blog post at

Again, Borg's intent is questioned in the comments, and the relevant problem of verification is presented. As an employee of the league, Borg certainly has the wherewithal to contact the Crew and check the story's veracity; even forgetting that he's working under the league's auspices, Borg may have an obligation to followup as a matter of journalistic integrity. Whether the information is presented in blog form or not, Borg and his coworkers are professionals operating as a news-gathering agency, and are therefore answerable to a higher standard. By linking to the Venezuelan story, subsequently refuted by Shawn Mitchell, Borg has opened himself up to an additional wave of criticism (it should be noted that an update was made to the post, linking to an story reporting that Renteria denied making any comment backing the referee's decision).

The core issue is not one of the rightness or wrongness of Borg or anyone else associated with (minus, perhaps, the journalistic issue presented above); impartially speaking, whether the writers and presenters of the site should side with the league's teams is a matter of opinion. For Crew fans, the actions listed here amount to a pattern of bias, Borg himself is a target of derision, and their reaction is no doubt exacerbated by the simple fact that the offending items emanated from individuals covering the league at the behest of league itself.

It's the perception here that is the problem, with the team damned if they do and damned if they don't; their impartiality is in question from the start because of for whom they work, and anything they write will be viewed through a prism of league sanction. Show the slightest hint of bias, real or imagined, and they risk alienating a portion of the fan base. Fail to follow through on promises of editorial freedom, again real or imagined, and they risk losing credibility.

The revamping of the league's website and the launch of their in-house coverage fills an unfortunate gap that exists in the amount of media attention given to American soccer. Be it through news-gathering, blog posts, or radio shows, serves the fan base in a way much needed and too often neglected by established outlets. The profile of the MLS website, official and therefore a natural destination for fans, gives them an inherent ability to be among the most prominent voices. But by its very existence,'s coverage presents problems difficult to overcome but intrinsic to their work, even while their dominating presence gifts them a leading role. Reconciling the two is ultimately up to the fan, who must either search out truly independent opinion as an alternative or carefully parse content coming from the league's official site.

This tête-à-tête with the Crew faithful brings all of the problems part and parcel of the league website as news and commentary outlet into a rather harsh light. This particular controversy is likely to blow over in due time, but the site has certainly lost a number of Crew fans as an unfortunate result of tripping over fine line must walk.

For more on the impartiality issues with and their scooping up of most of America's more prominent soccer journos, see this Pitch Invasion post from March.

Please keep comments on topic; the issue at hand is the problem posed by's in-house coverage, not the validity of any Crew fan complaints over the controversy in Mexico or the website content.

Rafa Marquez things Bob Bradley should stay on as USMNT head coach. I can only assume that someone at asked Rafa his opinion, because there's really no reason for him to comment otherwise. Honestly though, who cares what Marquez thinks?

Add another question to the list of the inane posed to any player with any standing who happens to be in the US (the other being, for players visiting the States with clubs abroad, "Would you consider playing in MLS?). Sure, Marquez has a unique perspective on the USMNT being Mexican, but I'm not sure what value there is in his opinion. His fairly solid "hated" status among USMNT fans not soaked with taurine makes even asking him odd to say the least. Maybe Marquez is voicing his belief in coaching stability at the national level because his own country goes through managers like toiler paper.

I don't see media covering the Mexican National Team approaching US players to gauge their opinions on Mexico's vacant head coach position...

I can only hope that if Carlos Bocanegra (the actual captain) or Landon Donovan (the captain according to the English) were asked who should coach Mexico their response would be something along the lines of "WHO THE F&%K CARES."

Probably not, but we can dream, right?

And yes, I'm being somewhat facetious on a Friday. Rafa was asked, so he answered. It's just not news in my world.

Grahame Jones is annoyed, that much is clear. The Bob Bradley dance, top of mind again yesterday because the coach and Sunil Gulati met in LA to to discuss the future, is pushing the LA Times soccer writer to the breaking point. And really, can we blame him?

Jones is expressing, from a major media pulpit, what bloggers and fans have been saying for weeks. Just get it figured out already.

But where Jones differs from the rest of us is in the stated reasons for his frustrations. Jones doesn't mention the need to get a coach in for upcoming friendlies, or suggest that US Soccer is wasting time better spent moving the program forward with a decisions made; no, Grahame is just flat out testy that US Soccer operates like secret society and that information leaks out of the Fed at a rate not dissimilar Chinese Water Torture. Drip, drip, drip, slowing driving us all mad.

And I quote:

That's the way the federation operates. Nothing is revealed before a battery of lawyers has signed off on every clause on every scrap of paper. It's why soccer news breaks overseas, not here. Over here we schedule news conferences to announce old news.

Don't expect any news resulting from yesterday's meetings. Taking the temperature of this process is a matter of guessing, or in the case of Steve Goff, guessing from a an educated position in which you still essentially know nothing. Everyone is tired of guessing.

I suspect Grahame is right when he says that if a foreign manager gets the job, we'll find out from the press in the coach's homeland. As I'm not in Grahame's position, covering the sport for a major American daily and therefore scrambling for information day after day, I won't mind at all if we learn about Bradley's successor from German or Argentinian sources. I might wait until the US Soccer announcement before I buy it completely, but such is the way of the world.

Maybe even the LA Times isn't beyond a bit of doubt. For a reporter, that's got to be painful reality.

With the knowledge we have about how US Soccer operates and disseminates information, I don't blame Jones for his rant, even if it does sound like sour grapes. Like all of us, he's just ready for something - anything - to happen.

BRIDGEVIEW, IL - AUGUST 08: Nery Castillo  of the Chicago Fire passes the ball to Freddie Ljungberg  as Roy Miller  of the New York Red Bulls defends in an MLS match on August 8, 2010 at Toyota Park in Bridgeview, Illinois. The Fire and the Red Bulls tied 0-0. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Editor's Note: MFUSA is happy to present the first edition of a weekly column from Center Line Soccer's Robert Jonas.

by Robert Jonas

As MLS stocked up on a new batch of Designated Players in the summer signing window, it was clear that these big-money earners fell into three categories. The first was the big name, big pedigree players personified by Thierry Henry and Rafael Marquez, while the second was the returning World Cup contributors still playing at a high level — Blaise Nkufo and Alvaro Fernandez being chief among that group. And what was the third category you ask? Simply, they are the players that have plenty to prove — I’m looking at you Nery Castillo and Geovanni — to MLS supporters.

The Chicago Fire's signing of 26-year old Mexican International Castillo came as somewhat of a surprise. Not so much in that the Fire were looking to reconnect with a Mexican fan base that was drifting away with the departure of Cuauhtemoc Blanco, but that Chicago convinced a young player with high aspirations to come stateside. The loan away from Shakhtar Donetsk should help gain him playing time, but he misses out on potential Champions League experience for MLS.

Geovanni found himself out of a job after his previous club, Hull City, was relegated from the English Premier League after last season, and has been searching for a new home since early this summer. His arrival in San Jose is certainly a coup for the relatively small market Earthquakes, and would never have happened without the convincing arguments put forth by former Cruzeiro and current Quakes teammate Andre Luiz. Lured by the promise of a sunny and vibrant Bay Area, Geovanni welcomed the chance to move his young family out of England. He now has the opportunity to make San Jose relevant again in MLS.

Looking at the situation in Chicago, the ink on Castillo’s contract wasn’t even dry before the rumors of a second DP signing were already flying around the club. Instead of complementing the attacking player Castillo with a defensive midfielder, the Fire traded for similar attacking player in Freddie Ljungberg. Almost nonsensical, the young Mexican playing on a contract that pays him over $1.4 million a season would be fighting for space in the center of the Chicago attack with the ex-Seattle Swede.

I dare say that the timing of the two signings suggest that they were not made with each other in mind. We are already seeing that this is not working well for the Fire, as Castillo has been asked to play more as a winger, when he clearly is more comfortable as part of central midfield. In just his last game, where he featured for only 45 minutes against the Houston Dynamo, Castillo had no impact on the Fire’s attack. Chicago fans cannot be pleased with what they saw of his obviously disappointing performance down in Texas.

As for the other aspect of DP signings — the idea that they can provide “butts in seats” — Castillo is not paying any dividends in that regard. Chicago fans are clearly not embracing him in the same way they initially did Blanco. Filling Toyota Park will not be accomplished by just any signing from south of the border. That fact is even more evident on the road, where Castillo is simply not the draw that the charismatic and controversial Blanco was during his 2+ seasons in MLS.

So where does that leave Castillo? His mark in MLS will be measured by how much he can help in leading Chicago to the MLS Cup playoffs. Even in that regard, Ljungberg is likely to get most of the credit. But Castillo can comport himself well by excelling on the wing and creating scoring opportunities up top for Brian McBride, Ljungberg, and the other Fire strikers. Throw in a half-dozen goals over Chicago’s remaining 12 games, and Castillo makes his mark. Playing for just half a game, then being out played by your substitute — Calen Carr is certainly gaining my attention — will only qualify you as a disaster.

Over in San Jose, the signing of the 30-year old Geovanni was met was a resounding chorus of “hurrah!” from long suffering fans of the Quakes 2.0 version that has struggling to make a mark in the Bay Area. Where the Fire failed in meeting a need on their roster, the Earthquakes addressed a gapping hole in their line-up by signing the Brazilian striker. Since the injuries that pushed Darren Huckerby into retirement last summer, the Quakes have lacked for a creative force in their offense. Geovanni is no target forward — a position they are still lacking at — but he has proven in the past that he is very effective as an attacking midfielder or withdrawn striker.

And like the Castillo signing, Geovanni was not brought to San Jose to fill tiny Buck Shaw Stadium. That was never an issue for this team, as they have constantly approached sell-out crowds over the last 2+ seasons — not hard to do when your leased stadium barely holds over 10K supporters. Rather, Geovanni’s arrival in San Jose was all about winning games and qualifying for the playoffs. He clearly understands those expectations given his comments at his introductory press conference, and wants to contribute to the club as soon as possible.

The paperwork necessary to make him eligible to play was completed in record time, and Geovanni made his debut for San Jose as a late game substitute in their 1-0 win over the Los Angeles Galaxy. Geovanni was clearly lacking fitness, and made no impact in the match, but he did get a huge ovation from the Quakes faithful. It will take the Brazilian another couple of weeks to get up to speed, and at that point will definitely be inserted into the Starting XI for coach Frank Yallop’s side.

So what should Quakes fans expect from their first DP signing in franchise history? Nothing short of a dynamic force that plays the dual role of offensive instigator and goal scorer for a team that is in desperate need of a finisher. A goal + assist total over 10 for the remaining 11 games of the season seems a fair benchmark of success. With that level of production, the Earthquakes should comfortably qualify for the postseason.

The opportunities are there for both Castillo and Geovanni, but must be grasped and not just taken for granted. The expectations are high — rightly so — and the fans will not be forgiving if either team fails to make the playoffs. Deliver some November soccer for their respective clubs, and their signings should be considered a success. Anything less will be a failure.

Robert Jonas is a writer and podcaster at Center Line Soccer and a frequent contributor to CSRN’s Around The League MLS show. He can always be reached on his twitter @robertjonas.

SOCCER/FUTBOL UN ESTADIO CALIENTE General view of Jack Warner Concacaf president, during the visit of Sub 17 World Cup FIFA delegates to the Caliente stadium at Tijuana./Vista general de Jack Warner presidente de la Concacaf, durante la visita de los delegados del Mundial Sub 17 de FIFA al Estadio Caliente de Tijuana. 21 November 2009. MEXSPORT/MANUEL MONTOYA Photo via Newscom
CONCACAF's biggest problem

Whatever the reasons you ascribe to the atrocious officiating rampant in the CONCACAF Champions League, be it simple slanted incompetence, conscience bias, or outright corruption, it is very clear that there's a problem. Whether that problem begs action on the part of fans, bloggers, and writers is a much more difficult question. Besides, how much effect could any action have?

The issue of effectiveness is essentially one of defeatism; if you believe that a "protest", be it via demonstrations of disgust in a stadium setting or through electronic means like emails and social media, is ultimately pointless because CONCACAF is opaque and intransigent, then throw up your hands and move along. While the goal of any action is results, in this case it's more about the show of force; MLS is growing, the fan base is ever more sizable and rabid, and CONCACAF should be made aware that there's a reason to listen.

By proxy, or in addition to the CONCACAF-aimed anger, clear message can be sent to USSF and other member federations that pressure must be placed on the regional body to fix the problem. This isn't about one call in one game, this is about a pattern of downright laughable decisions that impugn the credibility of not only the Champions League but everything else that bears the "CONCACAF" stamp. It's bad enough the the region is bathed in the noxious light of a unscrupulous star called Jack Warner, only yesterday again implicated in a World Cup ticket scam; that fans must put up their teams participating in a competition that too often smells of corruption is disgusting.

Make no mistake: CONCACAF's problems affect all MLS teams, present and future. It's easy to dismiss the "moaning" of one group of fans, particularly if that fan base isn't exactly popular with everyone else, but petty bickering should be set aside. If your team isn't in the competition this year, it might be next year or the year after.

The only valid reason to avoid making noise about this problem is denying its existence. I find that a difficult assessment to make.

Don Garber appears to be holding his tongue, likely in order to avoid upsetting the cart carrying the US World Cup bid, and we can assume US Soccer is following the same strategy. There's what should be, and then there's what is: Jack Warner is, and his displeasure at a American uprising could conceivably keep the World Cup from coming back to the US. But a presumed lack of action on the part of Garber, Gulati, and others in power should not deter anyone from voicing their concerns; again, the show of solidarity is just as important than any response by the powers that be. Make enough noise, and you're sure to be noticed. American and Canadian fans have never been better positioned to make themselves heard.

CONCACAF might never change. Corruption might always be par for the course. MLS teams might, in a practical sense, be best advised to suck it up and learn how to play within the broken (or perhaps bent) system. Luckily, none of that precludes fans, team administrators or commissioners from taking it upon themselves to make a speaking out clearly and forcefully. Adjusting in an effort to win is not mutually exclusive to speaking out that things must get better.

In this situation, we're all on the same team. Fan bias and recency may give it the look of a problem limited to a few teams in just 2010, but this is not the first year MLS teams have found themselves on the wrong end of suspicious decisions in this competition. Timing does not render the argument and concern illegitimate. This is not just a wine made from sour grapes. You can rest the problem will continue indefinitely unless the process of calling for something to be done begins in earnest.

If not now, when?

Meanwhile, I don't have time at the moment to comment on how poorly has handled the fall out. Let's just say it wasn't constructive.  

Columbus Crew - 2
FC Dallas - 0

Toronto FC - 1
Real Salt Lake - 2

New York Red Bulls - 3
San Jose Earthquakes - 1

New England Revolution - 1
Philadelphia Union - 0

Colorado Rapids - 1
Houston Dynamo - 1

Seattle Sounders FC - 1
Chicago Fire - 1

Los Angeles Galaxy - 2
Kansas City Wizards - 2

Chivas USA - 1
DC United - 1

Live Show: 08.26.10

Thursday, August 26, 2010 | View Comments
Soccer talk soccer talk!
Bringing this back - it's been far too long. And I'm actually giving you a bit of notice this time!

Listen here or at the MFUSA UStream page.

Starting at 8:30 PM Eastern
Skype: americansoccershow Skype Me™!
Phone: 858-769-5310 x255 (if it works)

Live Broadcasting by Ustream

SOCCER/FUTBOL LIGA DE CAMPEONES CONCACAF 2010/11 CRUZ AZUL VS REAL SALT LAKE Action photo of Javier Orozco of Cruz Azul, during game of the Liga de Campeones CONCACAF 2010/11./Foto en accion de Javier Orozco de Cruz Azul, durante el juego de la Liga de Campeones CONCACAF 2009/10. 25 August 2010. MEXSPORT/OSVALDO AGUILAR Photo via Newscom

The result may have been typical, Real Salt Lake becoming the latest MLS team to fall in Mexico, but the way it came about was anything but.

It's difficult to properly frame the collapse that saw the defending MLS champs lose 5-4. RSL conceded four times in the final twenty minutes of the match. There's simply no way to sugarcoat that, even if the MLS side had a legitimate complaint about a disallowed goal in the first three minutes (Will Johnson incorrectly ruled offside when he put in a rebound) and a Cruz Azul goal earned from an illegally taken restart (the ball still rolling when the Mexicans played it).

The conditions at Estadio Azul were horrific after a monsoon nearly made the pitch unplayable; passes died, clearances fell short, and neither team was able to play the type of game to which they're accustomed. That said, Real Salt Lake responded well to Cruz Azul's opener and controlled the game for most of the first 75 minutes.

Then disaster struck. The type of disaster that is such an integral part of MLS failures south of the border. Javier Orozco scored three times in a twenty minute span and a 3-1 RSL lead turned into a 4-3 deficit. A Will Johnson goal gave RSL real hope of salvaging a draw, but Chaco Gimenez found himself alone at the top of the box on the other end and didn't miss. Cruz Azul 5, RSL 4, final whistle.

So how do we process this? Part of an MLS curse, RSL simply giving up in the final minutes, or an indication of some deeper problems that will always have MLS sides crumbling in the face of adversity? Is there a wider conclusion to be drawn or is this just another in a long line of coincidental occurrences going against the American sides?

Hell if I know. Really, it's nearly impossible to explain how a good team, which RSL clearly is, can fold so dramatically with the game in their grasp. Being better for 75 minutes doesn't matter if you can't close, and this MLS team couldn't close. Does that mean the next MLS to take a lead into the final fifteen minutes in Mexico will suffer the same fate? No, not necessarily, but it will certainly have us wary when they are. MLS fans who root for the league in general terms in this competition have been bitten too many times. I'd imagine that if you support one of the teams involved, foregoing watching your team play in Mexico might be a boon to your health.

The task doesn't change for RSL, and there was never any assured belief that they'd get points in Mexico when the group stages started. But the psychological blow for both them and MLS fans is devastating; as I wrote earlier today, RSL was carrying the MLS banner with them to Mexico, and short of being blown out, there's really no way they could have failed to do it proud any more. I'm tempted to call this a fluke and try to move on; but this is FMF v. MLS, and while I have no delusions about the latter approaching the former in overall quality, I do think MLS is good enough threaten Mexican dominance in the near future. That's difficult to say tonight, and I'll admit it seems farcical at the moment, but I'm hanging on to my belief nevertheless.

For all those reveling in the RSL collapse, either because it validates their dismissive attitude about the league or because they simply find join in the distress of others, tonight was a "Nelson moment." For the rest of us, those that feel connected to MLS as a league in addition to any team-specific allegiance and are therefore affected by its failings against Mexican teams in a somewhat irrational way, embarrassment and shame are part of the package.

Which is unfair and unfortunate, really. We shouldn't have to hang on every international match like it will make our "little league" legitimate, because there's no reason to believe it's not. The measuring stick of the Champions League uses a flawed system; when that's pointed out, it sounds like an excuse. If an MLS side beats, or were to beat, someone of consequence, too much is put into the result. We're damned either way, both in terms of the league's reputation and in our own self-worth, simply anxious to have some tangible evidence to point to when questions of the league's value come up.

So it sucks that RSL drowned in failure on a waterlogged field in Mexico City. Not just because they lost, but because they lost so disastrously.

Meanwhile, that MLS banner is a mud-covered rag laying in a puddle in Estadio Azul. For now, anyway.

SANDY, UT - AUGUST 14: Real Salt Lake poses for a picture before a game against the Columbus Crew at an MLS soccer game August 14, 2010 at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah. Real Salt Lake beat the Columbus Crew 2-0. (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)

With Columbus coming up short (or getting robbed, depending on your perspective), Real Salt Lake is the next MLS club with a shot at breaking the Mexican O-fer when they face Cruz Azul in Mexico City tonight (8PM ET, FSC). After being burned so many times, it would be foolish to feel confident about their chances; nevertheless, RSL is carrying the MLS banner into Estadio Azul, and it's important that they put in a strong showing.

A point would be a bonus. Three might signal the end of the world and set off an explosion of articles declaring that balance of league power in CONCACAF is shifting (not that it would be true, necessarily). Simply taking the Los Cementaros down to the wire and giving them an epic fight, as Columbus did in their loss last night, would be a step in the right direction. If if it's not RSL that stops the streak, playing Cruz Azul evenly for ninety minutes would be more evidence that the breakthrough is coming. The better the MLS reputation in Mexico, the more evenly the league can compete in the region for talent.

RSL are the defending league champions. No offense to Columbus, last year's Supporters Shield winners and more rightly the league's best representative, but what the champions do matters most; when MLS and Primera fans who didn't watch the game see the score tomorrow morning, their perception will be influenced by RSL's title. If RSL lays down and is run over in the difficult environment of Mexico City, it will only reinforce the belief that MLS is a weak league that won't be challenging Mexican club dominance in the region anytime soon. But if RSL manages a draw, a win, or goes down at the death on a fortuitous break for Cruz Azul (which we can only hope won't be referee-aided), the reputation of MLS will suffer much less.

So no pressure on Kreis and company. I know that the traveling squad was essentially a full-strength one, but I have no inkling of what team he will send out. Will he go the route of Warzycha and rely on a B-side to fight for a point with the league schedule headed for crunch time? Or will he go all out and flex the Lakers considerable muscle despite the uphill battle ahead?

Because it will be uphill. Even if RSL is lucky enough to avoid the type of questionable officiating that infected the Crew and TFC matches, they'll be facing a Cruz Azul team looking to make amends for their loss to TFC last week in a difficult environment (though I'm guessing their won't be a large hostile crowd).

I'm sure I'll feel like a masochist when I sit down in front of the television tonight to watch RSL, a team I'm rather fond of, take the field in Mexico. Last night's events will be fresh in my mind as I hope against hope that the MLS champions make some headway in the battle for respect.

Reynaldo Anderson (R) of Panama's Arabe Unido fights for the ball with Gabe Gala of Toronto FC during their CONCACAF Champions League soccer match in Panama City August 24, 2010. REUTERS/Alberto Lowe (PANAMA - Tags: SPORT SOCCER)

Two MLS teams on the road in CONCACAF, two disappointing results. Even if each had an air of inevitability, the way things with down leaves a bad taste in the mouth. Toronto, starting with their best player on the bench, played poorly and suffered the wrath of disastrous CONCACAF officiatingin their 1-0 loss to Arabe Unido. Columbus, without their strongest team as well, played well enough to earn a draw with Santos but succumbed to an added time goal. The Crew had their own poor refereeing to deal with when Andy Iro's goal was wiped away after a bizarre sequence. It would be easy to call MLS teams "snake bit" in Central America and Mexico, but that implies a strong element of luck; both losses last night had just as much to do with human error as they did with bad fortune.

With a night to sleep on the events in Panama, the whole debacle is still as galling as ever. Arabe Unido's propensity for diving and simulation was always going to make the game difficult for us to watch and difficult to Toronto to win. Make no mistake: TFC didn't play well enough to deserve much of anything, though the way in which they lost Nick LaBrocca ten minutes into the second half gave them little chance to steal a point. In the end, Preki's mistakes were only compounded by the officiating; still, TFC fans and MLS-backers should feel aggrieved, considering the atrocious, near criminal, performance of referee Marlon Mejia.

Columbus, meanwhile, did not deserve to lose to Santos. Alas, it's the way of things of MLS en Mexico; though, if Iro's goal hadn't been taken off the board because the Fourth Official failed in his duties by letting a player without a number take the field, it might not feel so unfair. Official incompetence stealing the goal, especially in light of the fact that Renteria was forced off for a jersey change after having his eye opened up by a Santos elbow that did not result in a foul, is again par for the CONCACAF course. The rightness of the resulting call to take the goal away matters less because referees in the region long ago lost the right to the benefit of the doubt. We're well beyond happenstance and basic innocent mistkes. This feels like a pattern. The Santos goal, the ultimate punishment for a Crew team that played so gamely while doing their best to hold on to the draw, was the typical injustice.

The weight of the Mexican curse might rest more lightly if MLS teams were not consistently running into questionable refereeing.

We're practically numb to this sort of thing at this point, having seen these referees bottle game after game in the region. When nothing that happened in Panama is a surprise, it's a clear sign that this tournament and the referees of the region (yes, all of them: it's called guilt by association) are nothing more than a cruel joke played at the expense of the Champions League's credibility and the possible commitment of MLS teams to winning it.

How can we (and be we, I mean me, just yesterday expressing disappointment at Columbus' traveling squad) fault any MLS coach for bagging games in Central America and Mexico when the same thing happens over and over? Why not take the opportunity to give your front line starters a rest when it's likely, hell almost certain, that the referee with turn the game into a farce?

I'm beginning to wonder if we're approaching a tipping point. Don Garber says it's important for MLS to perform well in the Champions League, but coaches are clearly hesitant to give everything they have in a competition that has so many inherent problems, including the poor officiating. Fans are besides themselves over repeated examples of refereeing incompetence. Winning the competition is an important symbol of Major League Soccer's progress, but why should its teams be forced to climb a hill made so much steeper by CONCACAF ineptitude.

Would anyone, MLS, USSF (which admittedly would be pot-and-kettle on the referee front), or the fans, call for a boycott of the tournament? If this continues, and the disillusion grows, something is bound to break. I'm not advocating a boycott of the Champions League by MLS teams, especially not while knowing my feelings are colored by the recency of it all, but it's not beyond the realm of possibility that someone will.

In the end, let's give CONCACAF credit for one thing: they managed to get Crew and TFC fans to agree on something. That might be a first.

Now They Are Getting It

Tuesday, August 24, 2010 | View Comments
SANTA MONICA, CA - AUGUST 19: (L-R) Kyle Martino, actress Eva Amurri and actress Julia Jones arriveat the after party for the opening of Louis Vuitton Santa Monica to Benefit Heal the Bay at Annenberg Beach House on August 19, 2010 in Santa Monica, California. (Photo by Michael Buckner/Getty Images)

Editor's Note: New MFUSA contributor David T. Hammons has impeccable timing, and presents his perspective on why "Soccer Talk Live" represents a step forward for soccer in the United States.

by David T. Hammons

Kyle Martino is on the verge of offering Fox Soccer Channel and the newly-found American soccer fans something that this sport desperately needs to keep them interested in "The Beautiful Game."

News Corporation's Fox Entertainment Group, which owns Fox Soccer Channel, now comprehends what will attract more Americans to watch their shows - Americans want an American product.

Martino, a former member of the United States Men's National Team, has decided to leave ESPN and to join FSC and host their new show, Soccer Talk Live.

Fox Soccer Channel has decided that this is the perfect time to cash in on the success of the 2010 FIFA World Cup by producing a show purely dedicated to the American game - and not the other "bigger" European or South American leagues.

This proves to be a bit of brilliance by Fox Soccer, because they are bringing a young, bright individual who understands the American point of view.

Martino, who had a six year stint in Major League Soccer, comes across as a hearty, grassroot-American that has played on every level of soccer that this country has to offer.

Whether it was the youth and high School soccer in Connecticut, collegiate soccer at the University of Virginia, or professional level with MLS he will be able to connect to each and every player on those different levels.

This is not to slate Nick Webster or Eric Wynalda, who co-hosted the now-canceled Fox Football Fone-in, in anyway, but having a someone like Martino who has played at each level in the States offers something completely different to their first-time viewers.

Like Wynalda, Martino will offer honest opinions, but he does it in a way that most Americans soccer fans can and will relate to.

However, there is nothing more a proud American dislikes than a cocky Englishman, which Wynalda acted like, and his predecessor, Steven Cohen, clearly was - but that is what the producers wanted back then - not now!

Fox Soccer Channel needs to have British commentators and critics, but for the new soccer fans here, they cannot are not able to relate to them with their different terminology like someone born in Connecticut would offer.

However, being an American does not necessarily mean that you will strike a relationship with the adoring soccer fans and two prime examples of this were Max Bretos and Allen Hopkins, who both could not leave the Los Angeles-based company quick enough for ESPN, or as Dan Patrick refers to it, The Evil Mothership.

Of course, Bretos and Hopkins both appreciate soccer, but their selfish demeanor was very easy to read, and to a growing sport, that is the exact opposite thing that they need and fans were turned off by it.

With one of the major networks, News Corporation's Fox Entertainment Group, now completely on board, soccer should start becoming one of the major sports here in the United States.

Follow David on Twitter

I took in my first bit of the now two-week old "Soccer Talk Live" on Fox Soccer Channel last night. Hosted by ex-Crew and Galaxy midfielder Kyle Martino, the show is the direct replacement for the relatively long-running "Fox Football Fone-in." Unfortunately for Soccer Talk Live, I can't imagine it will last quite as long as its predecessor.

Martino is a competent enough host. He's got charisma, and despite a bit of put-on game show-host-like persona, appears to be the right man for the job. If you buy the idea that a soccer-themed talk show is worth the effort, than Martino in the host chair is a good place to start. It's too bad then that everything else around him is a disaster.

Fox Soccer Channel has a reputation for being notoriously cheap. Soccer Talk Live certainly feeds that rep, with a set that screams "public access"; despite a decent concept, STL's success is almost more dependent on the the visual presentation than the quality of its content. Martino could fantastic (he's not, but is getting better), and the guests could be top-notch, but if the show looks like it's emanating from a public access studio, it will all be for not. Right now, that's exactly how STL looks.

Meanwhile, I'm left to wonder why FSC felt the need to put this show on live. Yes, they've woven in live viewer questions through social media and email, but instead of adding to the interview in question they tend to bring it to a grinding halt. The mechanism for interjecting the questions from email and Twitter, a holdover from FFF in the form of a female presence set off to the side of the main set, is clunky at best and more accurately put, completely unnecessary.

If the show is going to be live, the logical step would be to add a studio audience; several times during the portion of the show I watched, Martino's one-liners fell flat or came off forced because there was no audible reaction from the guest(s). A studio audience, even a small one, would give the show a warmer and more engaging feel.

Not that I imagine it would be easy to find such a group.

Two items I didn't see enough to comment on: Martino's sidekick, a soccer-loving comedian named Bredan Hunt, and "Fast Lane", the feature portion of the show with Temryss Lane out at the Miss Galaxy pageant. It would be unfair of me to give an opinion on what they bring to Soccer Talk Live without having seen them first hand.

I'm intrigued by the approach to Soccer Talk Live, and I applaud whichever mind at FSC conceived of the concept. The show will have difficulty gaining traction because it attempts to meld soccer and pop culture, but the effort is commendable; taking the steps to break the nerdish shackles that too often confines soccer in the US is a wonderful idea. Perhaps FSC is the wrong venue for the show because its viewership is almost completely made up of obsessed footy fans who would prefer to hear only discussion on games, tactics and transfer rumors, but there should be room for a show like Soccer Talk Live in the growing American soccer scene.

But concept alone is not enough to carry them through, and without a significant investment on the part of FSC or their coporate overlords, I have trouble believing that Soccer Talk Live will be with us for too long. FFF was easy because it leaned heavily on direct viewer interaction via the phone, essentially operating as a radio show on TV. Soccer Talk Live is a much more difficult show to pull off, and while Martino is capable, the infrastructure around him might make it impossible to do the show well.

I expect STL will get better, perhaps much better, in the coming weeks. I may even give it more of my time, if only because I don't have anything more important to watch on Monday nights.

Just as long as their not playing that terrible Trivia-plus-cornhole game. What was that?

COLUMBUS, OH - AUGUST 21: Head coach Robert Warzycha of the Columbus Crew gives his players last minute instructions before they play against the Colorado Rapids on August 21, 2010 at Crew Stadium in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

That imposition known as CONCACAF Champions League is back tonight for two MLS teams. The Crew are in Mexico to take on Santos Laguna, a match that should represent the next best chance for MLS to break their Mexico curse.

I say "should" because the Champions League as imposition means a weakened Crew squad will be on the field tonight. No Guillermo Barros Schelotto. No Chad Marshall. No Danny O'Rourke, and a number of starters planted on the bench. Robert Warzycha is coloring his decision as a strategic one, implying that the three points bagged at home against Municipal last week allows for the approach.

And we wonder why an MLS team has never won in Mexico.

Warzycha's logic is fairly sound, don't get me wrong. But his strategy takes all the anticipation out of the game. The chances of the Crew shocking Santos now are essentially nil, and even a draw would be somewhat shocking. Without both their best offensive and defensive player respectively, the Crew are dead men walking against a side with an early lead in the Apertura.

So what to do? The game kicks off at 10 PM Eastern, making it a rather late night if I choose to sit up and watch what seems like a foregone conclusion. On the other hand, I feel obligated to watch as a champion of MLS and fan of the league desperate to see a breakthrough in Mexico. Stranger things have happened in the history of the game than a less-than-full-strength MLS side winning in Mexico; but that specific strange thing has never happened, and I don't expect this will be the night.

I guess that means we'll continue to wait. It's a bit sad that one of the league's top teams heads to Mexico essentially conceding that they can't win, that their institutional (MLS being the institution) lack of depth dictates a pragmatic approach that involves leaving their two best players at home. Columbus is one of the teams that we should believe can break the curse. Not this time.

C'mon Real Salt Lake.

Say No To a Russian World Cup

Monday, August 23, 2010 | View Comments
World Cup bid season is in full effect, with FIFA delegations visiting the bidding nations to assess stadiums, infrastructure, and the like. Nothing with FIFA can be assumed to be on the up and up, but the process seems pretty straightforward - each nation takes the bigwigs around to a few venues, shows them the requisite good time, and the delegates head back to Zurich to mull over who should get the 2018 and 2022 tournaments.

The United States' turn is coming September, but for now it's Europe that's showing off. England and Russia are the main combatants for the 2018 bid, and FIFA's assessors are touring the former as we speak. But it's the latter that concerns us today; Russia is player, and Sepp is making sure to let everyone know what the world's biggest country brings to the table:

"You cannot deny Russia if they bid for something. They are more than a country. They are a big continent, a big power."

A big power, sure. But a big power where racist banners are hung in the ground of one of the capital city's clubs long enough to be photographed. Per Daryl of World Cup Blog comes this image from a Lokomotiv Moscow match over the weekend:

I'll admit it's difficult for me to swallow the visceral reaction I'm having to this image, and the resulting vitriol I want to spew in the direction of the Russian bid. But I'm with Daryl. Russia should under no circumstances receive a World Cup as long as racist behavior like the above is tolerated at Russian Premier League stadium, whether it's for five minutes or two hours. In fact, if Sepp had any stones whatsoever, he should make clear that Russia's bid will suffer because of the Lokomotiv Moscow fans. I'll leave aside for now the deeper issue of apparent latent racism in Russia, something on which I'm not informed enough to write.

FIFA is coming off a successful World Cup in a nation that suffered through Apartheid for decades. South Africa, despite the concerns voiced during the buildup, put on a great tournament that stood as a symbol for how far the country has come and the promise it holds. Nelson Mandela's presence at the final was a sign of South African pride and unity for the whole world to see, and did the country good; taking a World Cup just eight years later to a place where banners like the above fly in the year 2010 makes a mockery of everything we saw this summer.

I truly, truly, hope FIFA's not stupid enough to make that mistake.

England for 2018. And than the US for 2022, naturally.

CARSON, CA - JUNE 15:  Eddie Johnson #9 of the USA warms up prior to the 2010 FIFA World Cup Qualifying match against Barbados at the Home Depot Center on June 15, 2008 in Carson, California. USA defeated Barbados 8-0.  (Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images)

I'll admit it, I have a soft spot for Eddie Johnson. I know he has mostly underwhelmed to this point in his European career, and there's really no reason to believe he's suddenly going to become a top American striker. He hasn't always been the most well-adjusted player mentally, and for all his physical gifts, his play is hardly a credit to American soccer or an indication he'll be back in the USMNT first team any time soon.

I can't help it, I still root for GAM.

And that's exactly why I didn't react to Eddie's comments about the lack of respect Americans receive in England as most probably did. Eddie's perspective is certainly skewed; he hasn't played well enough to get into the first team at Fulham, so he sees the road for Americans in England as pitched in an uphill direction. These comments could be easily parsed as Eddie playing the victim.

Although I think he's probably right to a point.

Eddie goes on to praise the style of new Fulham boss Mark Hughes, while also making sure to say "all the right things" in regards to his ability to get on the field for the Cottagers. This means nothing, really, since all athletes are trained to parrot these type of statements when asked about their prospects. But Eddie does have a chance to impress a new manager, and while he hasn't dressed for Fulham in their first two league matches, it's not impossible that he features at some point during this campaign.

Unlikely, maybe, but not impossible.

Anyway, I wish Eddie luck. I hope he explodes in a flurry of Premier League goals and manages to defeat the insidious bias against American players in England. I hope the Mark Hughes era at Craven Cottage gives him a chance to justify the club's purchase of him and by proxy improves Major League Soccer's standing as a place to find quality players at reasonable prices (except for Donovan - he'll cost you).

Check it out, the new American Soccer Show. Zach and I chat about Bradley's situation (such as it is), Donovan sticking around and what his Twitter picture says about him, a few Yanks over in Europe staking claims, MLS in the CONCACAF Champions League and more.

The American Soccer Show for download.
The American Soccer Show on iTunes.

The American Soccer Show has a Facebook page now, so if you could "like" the show there, that would be great. Also, check out our t-shirt store if you've never been - there are also a few new designs there.

As always, thanks for listening - I've debated putting the show in these posts in an inline player, so let me know if that's something you'd like to see.

The President of the U.S. Soccer Federation Sunil Gulati answers a question from a reporter at a news conference in Irene June 9, 2010.  REUTERS/Brian Snyder  (SOUTH AFRICA - Tags: SPORT SOCCER WORLD CUP)

In light of the "news" that Bob Bradley is interested in the manager's job at Aston Villa, I've been pondering the approach of US Soccer to their as-yet-unresolved head coach situation. If Bradley is actively searching for a new gig, whether he has a legitimate shot at landing at Villa or not, it is incumbent upon US Soccer to search out possible replacements simply to cover themselves should Bob instigate the divorce. But the crux of the matter is still Bradley's status in the eyes of Gulati; what factors are the Fed considering in making a decision on Bradley, and how does his level of interest/disinterest in staying on play into those factors?

In addition to the general discontent coming from the fan base, the matter of "settling" comes into play should he be retained; Bradley clearly wants to take the next step in his career path, and US Soccer has shown no rush to sign him up for another cycle. If Bradley is unable to land another job, or if US Soccer wants to move on but does not have a viable alternative in mind, then an extension will look like a result no one really wants but is forced to accept. In the end, that may hamstring Bradley going forward, or serve to raise the level of discord in the fan base to a fever pitch. US Soccer has proven to be resistant to outside pressure before, but with the second four years of the Arena era having ended so poorly, patience on the part of everyone will be short.

US Soccer has already made their bed. Bradley's contract remaining in place until December gives the illusion that time is on their side; with months to go, there is seemingly no reason to rush into a decision. But with friendlies on the post-World Cup calendar (one in the books, more to come), the Fed gives the impression they're dragging their feet. Every friendly is an opportunity to improve, evaluate, move forward; if Bradley is not going to take the team into 2011, then US Soccer is failing to properly take advantage of those opportunities. FIFA has set aside the dates, and US Soccer is using them; why not then have some semblance of certainty at the most important job so they don't come off as simple money grabs? Can US Soccer afford to let those dates go by, effectively throwing the rest of 2010 out as part of the process?

The elephant in the room, or ghost of an elephant perhaps, is the candidacy of Jurgen Klinsmann. The dance that ended so poorly in 2006 still looms large over any possible talks with the German legend. Nevertheless, many US fans hopeful the second time will be the charm, believing Klinsmann to be just the guy to take the US to the next level. With Bradley's status still undetermined, and the public nature of the negotiations four years ago, perhaps US Soccer is either refraining from exploring the Klinsmann option again, or is keeping a tight lid on any discussions.

Or did US Soccer learn a lesson? I find it difficult to believe that the same issues that torpedoed Klinsmann's hiring back in '06 aren't still in play. If Gulati and US Soccer were unwilling or unable to meet Klinsmann's demands then, why would they be more likely to do so now? Unlike '06, the outgoing manager, who isn't outgoing quite yet, didn't burst into flame on his way to the exit; the impetus to make a splash or hire a big international name is much less, meaning Klinsmann's leverage is also not as great. If both sides hold the same hard line they did four years ago, there's not even reason to come to the table.

I don't doubt that Bradley would be as committed as ever should he sign an extension and remain USMNT head coach. But I do wonder what public perception might be should he stay on after outwardly stating his interest in a job elsewhere; not only does US Soccer take an image hit for bringing back a coach who would prefer to move on, but the job itself is diminished because it appears no one interested and qualified stepped forward. To this point, no possible replacements have surfaced in anything other than shaky rumors and wishful thinking. Does that mean no one wants the job, or is Bradley's status holding up the process of lobbying/recruiting that might otherwise take place?

My general sense has been that most people view balance of power as fairly one-sided. If US Soccer wants Bradley back, he'll be back; with nothing but weak links of Bradley's name to jobs abroad, his perceived leverage is almost non-existent. But Bradley does have a bit of power in one sense; because his contract runs until December, and because he can use the time to throw his name into various hats in England and elsewhere, he effectively forces US Soccer to make a unilateral decision to let him go with his contract still in effect or sit on their hands until the contract runs out. The former is more palatable if a replacement is ready, but if US Soccer is waiting to flesh out Bradley's future before searching out candidates, there can't possibly be anyone ready to step in on a permanent basis.

That might mean another interim coach, ala Bradley in the first half of '07. I'm sure the natives would be mighty restless if that should come to pass; the need to install an interim manager could rightly be viewed as an inability on the part of US Soccer to fill the job in a timely and successful manner. There would be no Klinsmann dance and resulting broken hearts to explain it away this time around.

If US Soccer comes to the realization that they have no other options, or none that would be a clear step in a different/positive (this is subjective, of course) direction, then Bradley should probably be retained. But Gulati planted a seed of doubt with his post-World Cup comments, and bringing back a man that engenders ambivalence in the fan base on his best days is hardly a way to raise the profile of the job and the team. That the coach himself was itching to test different waters before signing only heightens that problem; if everyone involved appears to want to a different outcome, another cycle of Bob Bradley as USMNT manager looks like a marriage of convenience. It's difficult to build excitement around a marriage of convenience.

With eight year regimes few and far between, and the end of Arena's time a bad memory, there's always the chance that Bob doesn't make it through another four years. If Gulati and US Soccer have any reason to conceive of that possibility, renewing marriage is probably not such a good idea.

FC Dallas Under the Radar

Monday, August 23, 2010 | View Comments
Aug. 08, 2010 - Frisco, Texas, United States of America - 08 August 2010:  Brek Shea of FC Dallas fights for position in front of the Philadelphia Union goal. FC Dallas won the match against Philadelphia Union 3-1 at Pizza Hut Park in Frisco, Texas.

It's easy to forget about FC Dallas. Since the first incarnation of the MLS Earthquakes landed in Houston and became the Dynamo (and continued their winning ways), the Dallas club has been Texas' "other team." Add in the small issue of FC Dallas' poor attendance and the lack of real star power, and the club formerly known as "the Hoops" is the afterthoughts of afterthoughts. More than anything, there's just not much there to draw the eye, unless you know what you're looking for.

Which means I'll give you pass if you haven't noticed that the 2010 version of FC Dallas is a pretty damn good team. Schellas Hyndman, the former college coach that surprised most by sticking around this long, has his team up to third in the Western Conference and fourth in league overall with a game in hand on everyone above them. FC Dallas, believe it or not, will be a real threat when the playoffs roll around, because despite of their lack of home support, they play well at Pizza Hut Park. They're stingy enough (third best in the league with just 17 goals conceded) and dangerous enough that no one will want to face them.

David Ferreira is a legitimate MVP candidate. Brek Shea is getting USMNT fans excited as he continues to improve as a young attacking player.

Let's focus on Shea for a moment: the Texan midfielder's growth is obvious, and perhaps the one aspect of FCD's season that hasn't slipped under the radar. Shea is tall and mobile, good with both his head and feet, and at just 20, still has plenty of room for improvement. More important than the glimpses of quality he's displaying is the consistency with which he's showing them; Shea is regularly one of the best players on the field for FC Dallas, a sign that he's quickly maturing as a professional.

Dallas' inability to draw a decent crowd, unless the reigning European champions come to visit, is well-documented. FCD is at least on the case, having hired former SUM executive Douglas Quinn to revamp the club's image and put more people in the seats; but it's simply shameful that a team this good, arguably among the sleeper candidates to lift the MLS Cup, attracts such paltry numbers. When FC Dallas was poor or mediocre, the attendance issues were a problem but a more understandable one; now that they're playing well and headed for the playoffs, it simply reinforces the fact that the club's issues have little to do with the on-field product and everything to do with marketing, stadium experience, and distant location.

It's tough to enjoy a televised match from Pizza Hut Park because of the empty seats and library-like atmosphere.  But make no mistake, the soccer can be good, and FC Dallas themselves are fun to watch play.  It's just too bad more people in Texas don't realize it.

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