We dream of football and the world is full of dreams

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Blatter resigns but corruption will likely remain

Photo: REX
Dare we say it? Fifa is a corrupt institution and it goes all the way to the top? Can things be changed?

Answer is no. Not at the pace we have decided upon. At least not as the world's governing soccer body is concerned. Blatter was reelected and it's the equivalent George W Bush of four more years of "how the heck?" for a majority of the population. For Blatter that comes up to about 1 billion people, at least.

But Mr Sepp heard the people. Enough noise was made by everyone inside and outside of Fifa that he had no choice but to resign if he wished to live in some sort of dignity and to leave the organization at a time of transition. A planned escape perhaps?

And while his exit is a welcome sight for pretty much everyone, the inevitable questions about corruption remain.  How deep up the line did the corruption go? Was Blatter involved in transactions carried out by other individuals? Did he personally engage in this behavior?

The real test comes down to Fifa and its minions. Serious changes in culture are needed beyond incarcerating "top officials," even though this is a step further from anything the American government ever did about the culprits behind the financial crisis. Those were powerful, big banks. Here, we're talking about officials from various countries with enormous power on world football decisions, not to mention monetary assets.

How did Russia and Qatar fulfill their World Cup bids?  It's interesting how Russian authorities (including Putin) have labeled US involvement in the corruption charges as an overreach. And many of the overall corruption charges go towards granting Qatar's successful bid for 2022. Let's remember that the Persian Gulf nation has never participated in the tournament. 
And now charges have reached all the way to Ecuador with television rights for the Copa America in the next 3 tournaments, including Chile 2015, under question. Luis Chiriboga, president of Ecuador's soccer association, has been accused of millions of dollars in embezzlement. Even his son has been connected to suspicious activities worth millions of dollars.

How far does this rabbit hole go? Should we replace everyone in command just so the next generation of questionable individuals take charge? One can only hope this won't be the case and we can get back to enjoying the beautiful game on the pitch. For now, kudos to Loretta Lynch for her actions in exposing the top officials that have damaged world football.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

In Qatar 2022 only the club soccer economy loses

Photo: Getty Images

By now, if you are reading this then surely you know that World Cup Qatar 2022 will be played in the winter during the months of November and December. Uproar, concerns, disappointment in the soccer world. But who really stands to lose?

Business. Club soccer business. Seven years out and already major pieces are being moved, and, interestingly, one of the first outcomes is in the United States. The Fox Broadcasting Company acquired the rights to World Cup 2026 (yet to find a host) in what ESPN deemed to be an unfair move. But what prompted this change was something specific: November and December are crowded months for sports in America. Having to deal with consequences of the addition of a major sports tournament surely required extra recompense.

Scheduling of European and major South American leagues will be a bit of a nightmare. November and December are key months for decision making on the state of a team as they head into transfer windows. It's also a time of important games in the Champions League. Scaling back player break during the summer window might be a way to address this, as will restructuring cup competitions.

These soccer leagues and the international tournaments they take part in are lucrative businesses that depend on long term planning to maximize profit. Television rights, travel considerations, player compensation, mid-season injuries must all be accounted for. 

There are still seven years to make this work properly. Further, as Mr Blatter stated, this is a one time deal. World Cups will continue to be a soccer tradition after the trophy gets handed over in Qatar. Plenty of leagues around the world already take breaks in the winter, like the Bundesliga, Scandinavian leagues, MLS. Surely others can do this as well.

The question comes back to all of us, however. Why Qatar in the first place? Consider that even the Confederations Cup will not be held in the Persian Gulf country. FIFA has made it clear Qatar will be the host, no matter what truths may be out there, as clear as they are, for the reason this country was picked above other worthy nations.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

A simple question: would Altidore or Bradley ever go back to Europe?

Image: Toronto FC

Altidore just finished a move back to MLS to play alongside USMNT mainstay Michael Bradley at Toronto FC. A dream move for the club and the league. A respite for a forward looking to score (and play) regularly. A nightmare for Jurgen Klinsmann.

Scarcely a season removed from seeing his best field payer, Michael Bradley, retired from European football, now his marquee forward is heading stateside. Both, he opines, belong in a Champions League team. Not so much for Altidore, it seems, after scoring just one goal for lowly EPL team Sunderland in 1.5 seasons there.

And following Jozy is Brek Shea (Orlando City), Juan Agudelo (NE Revolution), Sacha Kljestan (Red Bulls) and Mix Diskerud (NYCFC). The latter, however, was a move suported by Klinsmann.

It's interesting that now all of these World Cup players are taking part in the January camp and early-year friendlies. It didn't quite pan out in Chile versus a domestic-based team. Hopefully it will be a different story against Panama.

So, to the main point of this article. Would any of the above players ever move back to Europe? Perhaps if the right offer is there?

It's actually more likely that European teams won't be interested. At least not in a player like Altidore, who was extremely streaky on both sides: lots of goals for AZ Alkmaar, very few for Sunderland/Bursaspor/Hull/Villareal. 

For Michael Bradley it's a different story. If he regains his former, pre-2014 form, and he has a good Copa America, then a big team might come calling. On the other hand, the lad seems to be through with playing in Europe, having gone from Holland to Germany to England to Italy. He know's he's good. He can score at the World Cup. He's tired of not being a starer.

The case for Brek Shea and Sacha Kljestan is fairly clear. For Shea Europe is just not for him. Kljestan just wants to come home.

But Agudelo and Diskerud could still go back accross the pond, and deservedly so. Once again, it will be up to their form in the international stage that will determine their club level fates.

As for Bradley and Altidore, it's probably already too late to go back. But why do it anyway? Just because Klinsmann says so? They are just fine in MLS, regardless of what USMNT EU purists might say. Remember Landon Donovan, the legend? We had our local star stay local and still set trends. There's nothing wrong with staying in MLS.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Lampard, Gerrard, and the new MLS veteran superstars

Photo credit: MLS

Lampard is coming. Finally. Really. The news broke yesterday that the former England national team captain and Chelsea FC superstar would be donning the NYCFC crest during its first season in MLS this year.

Why all the fuss? It is another reminder that, to the rest of the world, MLS is still a second class league.

My argument here is this: if you sign with a team, don't you want to start playing with the team as soon as the season starts? That would mean that if you were on loan during the fall, then you could join the team's pre-season in February and eventually start play in March. Doesn't sound difficult, right?

Not for stars like Beckham, who went on loan to AC Milan during the first half of the year in 2009 and did not return to the Galaxy until the summer window. Now Lampard follows the same path, even thought it was stated that he would start playing for NYCFC in March.

We get it. The EPL is a prestigious league and you want to play through to the end of the season. But it's disingenuous to announce that a player will start on time when the reality is another. It's better to be upfront about it. The loan is for a full season or half a season. Period.

It's just a bit upsetting that these marquee players, or their representatives, ignore basic concepts of courtesy. Is it because MLS is still not considered a serious league? From experience at the World Cup, that sentiment needs revising in the international sphere.

Now don't get me wrong. I love the idea of Lampard, Gerrard, Kaka joining the league and I'm looking forward to seeing them in action. I'm just asking for some respect for our 20-year old league.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

More late game woes and USA surrender to Colombia

Image: ISI Photos

Team USA lost to newly-promoted powerhouse, Colombia, by a familiar score of 2-1. Why familiar? The U.S. played with strength and belief and new faces but a top team still steamrolled the USMNT for the majority of the game.

The worst part about this loss was how it came. They lost it at the end of the game when they could have walked away with a galant tie. That part wasn't as much Colombian magic than the same game management problem that robbed the team of wins in October.

It's true that friendlies are about careful observation and experimentation. Yet Klinsmann has shown time and again that he will experiment the day of the game. One thing that could have gone better for the team in Brazil was a sense of longevity and cohesiveness. That goes out the window with 6 substitutions.

Let's face one thing. We can blame the October friendlies on the multitude of substitutions inthe second half, completely different teams won't play the same way. Against Colombia he turned to John Brooks and Jermaine Jones. While the latter always imposes himself in a match, the former was a head scratcher for sure.

Colombia is Colombia. I haven't seen a team play so seamlessly since the Spain we all knew and loved from a few years back. So, in reality, the game was Colombia's to lose. And, truthfully, there should have been a penalty called in their favor also, which would make the 2-1 result a moot point.

The game against Ireland is a more interesting game in that it is technically "winnable" if Klinsmann plays his cards right and sticks to a stout defense. Rubin needs to play, for sure, and maybe he can get his first goal. Altidore has the tools to dictate a match and will look to these friendlies to catapult him to a new team on January.

Elsewhere for the team, Bedoya and Diskerud were impressive, as was Kyle Beckermann. Why he didn't play more in the latter games of the World Cup, we will never know. Fabian Johnson and DeAndre Yedlin might need to switch spots. Yedlin is becoming a speedy menace at midfield and is another gem for Klinsmann as we move forward into the regional tournaments and, eventually, to a place in Russia 2018.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Klinsmann: The most divisive figure in US Soccer history

Image: Getty

The title of this blog should make it clear. Klinsmann is and has been quite a divisive figure for the sport of soccer in the United States. His hiring came as no surprise in mid 2011 when Bob Bradley was let go after a disastrous showing in the Gold Cup. Klinsmann would remake Team USA and would give it the world presence it deserved.


Klinsmann's tenure was rocky at first, with 3 losses and 1 tie in the first 4 games. After that came great showings in friendlies versus Italy, Mexico, and Slovenia, interspersed with lackluster performances in the beginning of the CONCACAF qualifying rounds.

But Klinsmann pushed the envelope of what could be achieved. He got the most out of Altidore, and introduced and reintroduced players like Geoff Cameron, Mix Diskerud, John Brooks, DeAndre Yedlin, Julian Green and Joe Corona. He set a record for the USMNT in consecutive wins at 12, won the Gold Cup 2013, and delivered the U.S. to Brazil 2014.

Up until the pre-World Cup friendlies, most things could be forgiven. And yet, there were fissures in his relationship with some of the players and, especially, with MLS.

It started in August 2013 when Clint Dempsey made a surprise move to the Seattle Sounders. Klinsmann was not happy that his captain would no longer be playing in Europe. Michael Bradley's move to Toronto FC in January made things worse. Klinsmann was very clear in his disappointment. It was not competitive enough in MLS and their form would suffer.

What really broke things for him with many fans was his exclusion of Landon Donovan from the World Cup team. Many, myself included, thought the decision would haunt him at the tournament. In a way, it did. Altidore's absence due to injury after the first game and an ineffective Brad Davis stick out as reasons the best player the U.S. has ever produced should have been a part of that squad.

But Klinsmann's recent remarks about more players needing to be in Europe and MLS not being enough drew the ire of one Don Garber. Garber was rightly insulated by the coach's words on player development. 

But what is the real truth behind Klinsmann's divisive nature? Just ask the fans. Some argue that MLS is great, should be supported and is getting more and more impressive every year. The crowds in Portland and Seattle make this point clear.

And then there is a vocal minority that sustains that the only worthwhile soccer exists in Europe, that Klinsmann is absolutely correct and that Michael Bradley needs to go back to Europe. I heard this from a soccer fan in small town Florida: Klinsmann is right, MLS is not good enough, and, surprisingly, Landon Donovan isn't as good because he never played abroad. I suggested that he look at the statistics. Donovan has scored more goals than anyone else for the USMNT.

So there it is. Surely, if you are a soccer fan in the U.S. then you fall under one of those two categories. You side with Klinsmann or you don't. Divisive indeed.


Saturday, October 11, 2014

Thank you, Landon

Image: Getty

Landon Donovan played his last match for the U.S. Men's national team tonight in a game versus Ecuador in East Hartford, Connecticut. He didn't score but sure got close. There was spectacle while he was on the pitch and his teammates wanted it for him.

Altidore served Donovan the perfect ball and he Landon struck it well. The post, however, disagreed. The rest of us, all of us, wanted it for him. 

But Landon gave us so many goals already with the national team. 57 of them, actually. Some were expected, some spectacular, some made us dream, some made us cry. There was the second goal in the 2-0 versus Mexico in 2002 and a passage to the quarterfinals. There was also the goal versus Mexico that clinched the qualification to Brazil 2014. And, of course, the goals versus Slovenia and Algeria in 2010. 

Donovan's goal versus Algeria encapsulated what it is to be an American soccer player. The goal started from the bottom up, from Tim Howard's pass, to teamwork between Altidore and Dempsey, to Donovan's sublime final touch off a rebound. It was meant to be and it was meant to be dramatic. Americans love drama and Donovan wrote us the script.

Andres Cantor put it well during his narration of the goal. The goal was and had to be scored by America's franchise player. 

Tonight we say goodbye to his presence on the pitch for the USMNT. True, he was missing at the World Cup and it would have been nicer for his career to end with another tournament. And yet, in the end, Landon chooses his own path, as he did by staying in MLS and foregoing a career in Europe. He knew it was his time to end this journey. Landon chose to say goodbye at 32 with his head held high, still scoring, still smiling, still dreaming.

Thank you, Landon, for helping us dream of soccer.