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Monday, December 29, 2008

Dempsey's Redemption


He's back. Sort of. After months on the Fulham bench, [Furman's own] Clint Dempsey has won his place back in the starting lineup. He has scored 4 goals this season. Not bad for an attacking midfielder/forward in the EPL. Dempsey steadily made his way back to the starting lineup amidst an interesting season for Fulham, already in the top 10, and slowly and inexorably making its way out of the relegation ghost that looms in the background for at least 14 teams in the EPL every season (big 4 don't count and Everton and Aston Villa). Why all the fuss? Well, as can be seen from places like SBI and Goal.com, a lot of die-hard American soccer fans care about their wonderboy (myself included). Sure, he's not Altidore in a flashy team like Villareal or Edu and Beasley at Rangers. Dempsey is a lot more like what Americans should be in Europe. He, along with Michael Bradley, Onyewu, Bocanegra, Cherundolo are in mid-table teams without the big stars and where players with true talent can shine. I'm not saying our boys don't belong with the big fellas but we have to realize that the American market is nowhere near as deep as Argentina and Brazil's. I bet that most teams in the world have at least one or two of these nationalities (that's another blog entry). Back to the point... Mid-table teams like Fulham can also be very visible windows for our players so that the big teams can realize their potential without shelving them except for one or two games per season. Dempsey's last two goals came against mighty Chelsea to tie it up 2-2.
I know there's a lot of room for discussion but to me Dempsey is, at the moment, the most complete player in the national team pool. He can attack, dribble, pass, defend, and celebrate. His touches are nothing short of brilliant these days. Best part is we have him for at least two more World Cup rounds. I caught a glimpse of him this October when the US beat Cuba 6-1 in a qualifier and I immediately noticed his pace, awareness, and workmanship. I wish he had scored on that day but I bet I'll get to see it sometime in the future.
Dempsey hails from Nocogdoches, Texas close to my home state of Louisiana. After playing for Furman from 2001-2003 (17 goals in 61 games) he went 8th overall in the MLS draft of 2004, picked by the New England Revolution (11 goals in 62 games). In 2007, Dempsey moved to England to play for Fulham FC of the Barclay's Premier League. Back then Brian McBride and Bocanegra still played for the Cottagers. His only score in his initial season with Fulham came against Liverpool in May of the same year, earning the club 3 points and saved from relegation. The 07-08 season saw Dempsey score 6 goals and was the club's second leading scorer. This season he already has 4 goals in 15 games (not all starting). Internationally, he has scored for the US on 13 occasions, once at WorldCup 2006 against Ghana and last scored in September of this year at Chicago in a game against Trinidad and Tobago.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

LIGA GRANDE


It seemed a dream not too long ago.... an Ecuador club playing for the ultimate crown in world football. And yet if we throw aside the veil of football normalcy we come across a sight seldom seen, none at all predicted, and yet very much a reality. Liga Deportiva Universitaria de Quito, also known as "Liga" will face off against Manchester United in FIFA's Club World Cup.This contest, to some, is little less than a nuisance for European giants like Barcelona, AC Milan and Manchester United and commentators such as the lively Tommy Smyth caution about the Reds performance in the EPL when they've been thrust into this competition. True, the EPL will not see a respite this coming holiday season as leagues in Spain and Germany, not to mention the whole of Latin America are but at its heart the Club Championship still designates the world champion in terms of club competitions. I find it shortsighted to regard the Uefa Champions League as the ultimate club trophy. Does it give you the right to be named world champs? No, it doesn't. In the Americas you also have an older and much more traditional competition in the Copa Libertadores. Concacaf has its own competition as well, as do CAF (Africa), AFC (Asia), and OFC (Oceania). I agree that it is a bit convoluted to bring all these champions to a short two-week torunament in which the South Americans and Europeans get a bye on the first round while skipping out on countless teams swelling with tradition and tallent. That, ladies and gentlemen, is what the World Cup is about. Clubs are important, yes. Everyone has a favorite and emotions run high nonetheless. Pele once said that the future of football would be the clubs and not the countries and that we should concentrate on clubs. Seems odd coming from the man that made the "verdeamarela" so synonimous with soccer worldwide.
But back to the point. Liga beat Pachuca (Mexico champs, Concacaf) by the score of 2-0 in the semifinals in a game that Pachuca deserved better luck in (as well as more help from the ref). Manso's goal in the starting minutes was probably offsides but Luis Bolanos' free kick was a golazo worthy of Beckham, Roberto Carlos, Ronaldinho and Hristo Stoichkov. Bauza's trick with the double wall (Liga players shielded the ball from the Pachuca players before the kick) was a stroke of genius. Excellent defense and some none-calls finished off a wonderful night (morning, thanks to DVR). Liga's cinderella story continues all the way up to facing probably the best team in the world... Manchester United. United beat Gamba Osaka of Japan (AFC champions) by the score of 5-3 today. Liga has seen the likes of San Lorenzo, Boca Juniors, Fluminense, Estudiantes this past year but Rooney, Van der Saar, C. Ronaldo, Giggs, Vidic, Tevez, Ferdinand, Berbatov, Scholes, Andersson, Nani and Co. are another level still. This club final is probably the most (technically) lop-sided match the tournament has seen yet. Previously it had mainly been Conmebol giants like Boca Juniors that faced off against teams like AC Milan. And yet surprises still abound. In 2006 it was modest Internacional de Porto Alegre (Brazil) that beat the FC Barcelona of Ronaldinho, Deco and Eto'o. Anything can happen. That's sports. That's soccer. That's futbol.
Game will be on Fox Soccer Channel at 5:30AM Sunday

Monday, December 15, 2008

No Football? No problem!!!


Fantasy, that is. After seasons among the top places in gridiron football fantasy leagues and a few titles, I finally crashed out of the playoff race. So my season was cut short by a month. Or was it? Thanks to my newly acquired virtual soccerbuds (Ives, Goff, BigSoccer, MLSRumors), and actually and more importantly Ives Galarcep of ESPN's Soccernet, I'm able to continue my fantasy play. This time, of course, it's the footy variety and more specifically the EPL (English Premier League). The website is on the official EPL websited at fantasy.premierleague.com and you get 11 starters plus 4 subs. Ives' league has hundreds of players (teams) so a different format is in use as far as points awarded, teams and players. There is a salary cap allowed (100 million pounds) per team and you're allowed to buy any 15 players that fall inside your cap. Points are awarded based on shutouts, goals scored, assists, plus other miscellaneous bonus points. Unfortunately, I did not learn my lesson from fantasy play in that you do not go with your heart and this cost me dearly since I had Felipe Caicedo (Ecuador), Clint Dempsey (USA) in my initial team. Dempsey is playing more these days but was watching from the bench during the first couple of months of the EPL. Caicedo never made it to the first team this season and is probably going to leave the club. So I had to make several changes in my lineup as I learned the game and this cost me points. In this fantasy game you're allowed 1 transfer per week and I had to use 3. That cost me 20 points. I might be in the top 10 if this had not happened. Still, I made up considerable ground in October, going from 250something to the top 30. Lately I had a couple of not-so-good weeks with little help from my strikers. I've made several changes, including adding van Persie, Defoe, Arbeloa, Laursen. I've stuck with Valencia (Ecuador, Wigan), Lampard, Terry, Van der Sar, Agbonlahor, Denilson. Some of my better fantasy pickups are the Marney-Geovanni tandem. Geovanni, specifically, is a good fantasy started as he tears it up with the impressive recently-promoted Hull City. The bench also has Tim Howrd (USA, Everton) for good measure. You are allowed any number of formations as long as you have 3 defnders, 3 midfielders and 1 striker as minimum. My current team has a 3-4-3 line-up with Van der Sar at goal, D: Arbeloa, Laursen, Terry; M: Denilson, Geovanni, Lampard, Valencia; F: Defoe, Agbonlahor, Van Persie. I'm in 49th place after this past weekend. We still got another 5 months worth of football here and I may yet win it all (I heard Ives has prizes). So.... no gridiron? no problem.... Football/soccer rules!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Soccerbud: Max Bretos


Yeaes! Kinda sounds like the waiter/manager guy from the Simpsons [if you're a true fan of the series]. And yet that is Max Bretos' claim to fame besides his Bretos moments on FSC (Fox Soccer Channel). The guy definitely has to be the most MLS-enthusiastic color commentator if not just plain MLS fan. More so than Rob Stone (ESPN). The man is so excited by the American game that it gets me more into the matches than I would be otherwise. Just today I watched a "season recap" of the Columbus Crew's run for the trophy. I must admit that it was nice to hear his commentary during the short but entertaining 22 minutes of the program with each goal and game in the Crew's winning season. MAx works on MLS broadcasts, Argentina League play, Italian Serie A, Concachampions, as well as other assorted international games. Max is also a professional wrestling broadcaster, and although I may not be a fan of the "sport" I can definitely see him fitting in. The most memorable "Yeaeessssssssssssssss!" by Bretos had to be during the 2007 Concacaf Gold Cup in which Benny Feilhaber scored on a beautiful volley against Mexico, propelling the USA to the championship and a spot in this year's Fifa Confederations Cup to be held in South Africa next summer. So, keep it up, bud... I enjoy the MLS that much more thanks to you.

Monday, December 8, 2008

What happened to Kaviedes?

Arguably one of the most notable soccer players in Ecuador's history, Jaime Ivan "El Nine" Kaviedes has always been on the controversial side of the game, both on and off the pitch. While no Dennis Rodman or Ray Lewis or Diego Maradona, Kaviedes has had his share of interesting moments. He is by far, however,
my favorite Ecuador player.



First, a bit of history for those not familiar with the star:
Born on October 24 1977. He has appeared internationally for Ecuador on 53 occasions, scoring 16 times (most recently against Peru in 2007 in an inspired 5-1 win for the 2010 qualifiers). One of his goals came against Uruguay in 2001 sealing a 1-1 draw with a beautiful header that sent Ecuador to its first appearance in a World Cup at KoreaJapan 2002. Of note is also his partnership with Agustin Delgado during the 2002 campaign but being relegated to the bench thereafter with the development of Carlos Tenorio, Felipe Caicedo and Christian Benitez. Kaviedes is also well known for his antics at the 2006 World Cup in which he wore the number 10 jersey and came on as a supersub in every game. He scored against Costa Rica in what surely must have been one of his dreams. After the goal, he slipped out a yellow Spider-Man mask in reference to and memory of striker Otilino Tenorio (died in a car crash in 2005).

Kaviedes started his career with my favorite club, Emelec, in 1998 scoring 43 goals in the process and earning him an international award. I was witness to two goals scored against arch-rival Barcelona SC of Guayaquil at the Capwell stadium. His prolific goal-scoring led him to Italian Serie A side Perugia. He scored 4 goals with them and was transfered the following year to Celta de Vigo of Spain. Six games with that team were not convincing enough so he was sent to Mexican side Puebla, scoring 5 goals in 17 games. Next came stints at Valladolid (Spain), FC Porto (Portugal), and an eventual return to Ecuador to play for Barcelona SC. There he rekindled his scoring and led Bracelona to the quarter finals of the 2004 Libertadores. Along the way he also played for Deportivo Quito, briefly for Crystal Palace (Barclay's Premier League), Argentinos Jrs, Bracelona again, then El Nacional of Quito in another inspired season (15 goals). His last club was LDU Quito for the present year. A tumultuous relationship with the LDUQ owners and stakeholders meant a permanent absence from any sort of soccer action.
So what's happened to him? Along the way, he was continuously pursued by Ecuador media as their prodigy son and questioned for his methods, absences, extravagances, and personal life. He admitted to suffering from depression on more than one occasion, featuring in Revista Estadio magazine's cover story "Mi Verdad" [My Truth]. I too am partially on the blamers side since my comments were referred to on Ecuador's "Tiro Libre" sports show when I had emailed a note saying the man was being immature (can't quite remember why but I think it had to do with his lack of discipline towards his institution). Clearly the man is guilty of certain things (family problems and neglect, unexplained absences from team practices are some of the allegations against him) but the rest is purely personal. This only adds to his certain mystique and continues to fascinate people such as myself. The man has overflowing talent but is frustrated by his personality, which he lets get the better of him at times. Ultimately, however, his days as a star may be waning. Moves to Lebanon or English League One teams will allow him some playing time but, sadly, not to a return to the national team. I hope to get to see him in action again some day soon. I hope, as many other fans do, that he returns to Emelec to finish his career there and maybe have the team succeed internationally like it hasn't done since the late 90s. Cheers to you, Nine. I hope you're doing well.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

MLS season rewind: a look back


Winners and losers:
On the W side...
1. Columbus, Schelotto and company ran through the season burying teams like DC and LAG on their way to a Supporters shield and an MLS Cup. Sigi Schmid is the best coach in MLS and an X factor for any team in the league. Seattle, there could be a rosy future in hand. Outlook: Keep the Argentinean, add another one (Palermo?) and keep a strong young squad to restore MLS's name in the next Concachampions.
2. New York's up-and-down season ended with a bittersweet end. Their unlikely quest for glory came after losing Altidore to Villareal and Reyna to retirement plus a long list of injuries. Van Den Bergh held this team together for Juan Carlos Osorio and Cepero (plus some luck) delivered NYRB's place in the final.
3. Real Salt Lake bought up some new faces (Morales, Mathis, Espindola, Olave) that took them all the way to the play-offs, not to mention a wonderful new stadium in Rio Tinto that I feel should be used against most Concacaf foes for the Nats (except Mexico, of course).
4. KC rejoiced in their make-shift yet cozy Community America Ballpark, effectively moving out of Arrowhead and clearing the way for a real stadium. Lopez and an appearance in the play-offs worked out well for them. Arnaud's play impressed enough to play in the national team.
5. San Jose won its place back in MLS and a smaller but effective stadium (like KC's) paved the way for a season in which they were contenders given the ineptitude of the western conference.
6. Chicago held its own, added Brian McBride to an already swelling attacking front with Blanco and Rolfe and reassured their defensive play.
7. Toronto FC started out well but eventually collapsed due to their long list of international players. Still, the best attendance in the league and a great manager made them a good team to watch this season.
The L side...
1. Galaxy. Gullit never really liked it in LA and Lalas' awful picks did the team in. Team Beckham-Donovan played great offense but stumbled in their defense worse than the Detroit Lions. Sean Franklin was a bright spot, as were Donovan's goals and an eventual move out of the league.
2. Houston is on this side because they allowed themselves to be beaten out by the Red Bulls. Their team has great explosiveness but maybe it's time for something new.
3. New England was awful this year thanks in part to losing Twellman and Ralston to injuries plus a horrible showing at the Concachampions. Clearly, they did not care about the regional tourney.
4. DCU had an unfortunate fall from grace this year. The eternal MLS contenders fell appart due to injuries and an innefective Marcelo Gallardo, a streaky Emilio, and bad goalkeeping. Concachampions was another failure.
5. Chivas is a difficult side to categorize because they also succumbed to injuries throghout the year. Kljestan and company found a way to win games and that led them to the play-offs once again. They reside in the losers columns simply due to their horrible failure in the Concachampions... beaten out by (ehem) a Panama side?
6. Colorado was flat all year long. Gomez should not have left DCU and both teams paid for this. Conor Kasey's return was a bright spot.
7. Dallas was awful to watch this year. Davino's entrance was inefective at best and then again it really doesn't matter because no one came to watch the games. If you look at the stats column on the right you'll see that they were down by 2500 seats from last year.

Looking forward: Columbus' win should open a few eyes (and wallets) since they won with a blue-collar team in accordance to their place of birth. New York should learn from this experience and perhaps opt for a playmaker of Schelotto's quality to bolster their attack. Same goes for the rest of the league. A second DP player might work wonders for the MLS. Columbus did it without one but Schelotto sure deserves a raise.
Less players, more money. More senior players in the squads, no reserve games and higher wages may work as a start in today's economy. MLS has its ways and sometimes it pays out.
Bring back Becks next season. The league needs him one more time in Bruce Arena's tuteladge and perhaps the team can finally reach the top. Donovan deserves his break in Europe so let's not try to keep him here. Another marquee forward might do the trick this time around since we also know Arena will be reconstructing the defense.
Lastly, there's Seattle. Fans and all. Ljundberg and Jaqua are also nice in this squad. In the end, expansion sides are a toss-up in this league where every team has a shot at being number one. It is the way of things in America... always different from the rest of the planet.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Rise of CONCACAF


Originally I was going to call this entry "What happened to Mexico?" but I would be selling short the upswing in play by Central America and the Caribbean. Indeed, the so-called group of death that included Mexico, Honduras, Jamaica and Canada proved to be just that. Up until the last minute of yesterday's matches there was a chance that either Jamaica, Honduras or even mighty Mexico might be left out of the final round of World Cup Qualifying. I put an emphasis on "final round" because it highlights the fact that that team would not even make the top 6 of the Hexagonal. The group ended with Honduras on top with 12 points, followed by Mexico with 10 and Jamaica with 10. Mexico went through with its higher goal differential but just the thought that the top team in Concacaf could have been left out was enough for the media to jump on the story and question the Sven Goran Eriksson, the technical staff, the players, and even Mexican soccer in general. My take? Mexico is not to blame. They have more than capable players in elite leagues around Europe even though some of its younger players aren't seeing time on the pitch (Vela, Dos Santos). There is a reason why this group was called the group of death. It's difficult enough to win in Honduras of late, period. Jamaica rarely gives points away at "the Office" (national stadium) and they have a good team as well. This group came down to who took the most points and goals from Canada and how much the top three scored on each other. Jamaica and Mexico came away from Canada with 1 point each while Honduras managed all 3. Ultimately, Mexico's 3-0 rout of Jamaica on Aztec soil was their ticket to the Hexagonal. So put Mexico against Guatemala or El Salvador and their place in the finals would have been assured as it was for Costa Rica and the US.
I think that we need to be more creative in the way we speak about our national teams and how they are the cream of the crop compared to so-called "minnows" of the Concacaf conference. Clearly, Honduras, Jamaica, T&T and Canada are all worthy foes. It will not be an easy run in the Hexagonal for any team and at this point all teams are expendable. Costa Rica's position is a toss-up since they have not played against more demanding foes so we can't be sure what their position will be in the next round. Expect a few surprises and maybe a major upset. Bring on the Hexagonal.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Neven Subotic and the US National Team


There has been much speculation regarding one Neven Subotic--an outstanding defender of Serbian roots, American citizenship and German residency--and which country he might represent in the near future as Africa 2010 slowly creeps up on us. I have alluded to this particular situation on previous entries and I still believe he would be a great asset to the United States. Just recently it was mistakenly reported that Subotic had opted to play for Serbia instead of the US or Bosnia (also eligible). This, however, was quickly retracted when Sunil Gulati, the US Soccer Federation Prez himself, issued a communique saying that USSF had spoken with Subotic's representatives and claimed such claims to be "untrue." Earlier attempts by Germany to claim him were thwarted by FIFA due to a technicality involving his status with US youth squads.
So why all the fuss? Some facts: Subotic was born in Yugoslavia, spent his childhood in Germany and his teenage years in the USA since 1999 (Utah, Florida). He attended (and represented) the University of South Florida, played for the US U-17 and was eligible although not selected for U-20. He has spent the past couple of seasons in the German Bundesliga, playing for FSV Mainz (4 goals in 34 games) and most recently for powerhouse Borussia Dortmund (5 goals in 13 games). Clearly, the US backline can use a man of his stature and nose for goal. But here's my take on this debate and I'd like to pick Subotic's brain for just a second. . .
Serbia, former Yugoslavia is clearly no Germany in world footballing terms, but then again the US isn't Yugoslavia in footballing terms either. Yugoslavia reached the semifinals in the 1930 amd 1962 World Cups and runers-up in the 1960 and 1968 UEFA Euros. Let's not forget that Croatia was also once part of the Communist Yugoslavia and their 3rd place finish in France 98 is noteworthy. Many attributed most of the former Yugoslavia deep player pool to playters such as Davor Suker (Croatia) and Savo Milosevic (born in Bosnia, played for Yugoslavia/Serbia). Confusing, heh? And it should be, because Subotic also has the posibility to represent Bosnia, although his Serb parents strongly suggest Serbia as his team.
All in all, I think it comes to this: right now both the US and Serbia have chances of advancing to World Cup 2010. The US may have it easier against foes from CONCACAF whilst Serbia is paired up with none other than mighty France and on-again off-again Romania plus the feisty Austrians. I venture to suggest that Subotic will pick a team that has already qualified or is on the verge of qualifying for FIFA's biggest date, if he follows his football greed... if he follows his heart is another matter altogether. Clearly, the man will be a starter no matter whom he plays for. As for us USA fans let's cross our fingers and hope that France and Romania get the better of Serbia (Serbia has yet to snatch points from either one). We lost Rossi to Italy even though the boy was born in Jersey and now he's scoring regularly for Villareal and will feature alongside Luca Toni in the full national squad. Hopefully this will not be the case with Subotic.
Here he is in action:

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Do the Crew!!!


At points in this MLS season I had badmouthed the Columbus Crew fans, labeling their franchise as one that could be moved elsewhere especially given that they did away with a portion of the stadium seats to make room for a stage. I always had faith in their team, however. Blue collar, hard working, compact, no huge stars. It's a classic underdog story. The once-Boca player Guillermo-Barros Schelloto pulls the strings in a most-Argentinean manner rekindling the days of Ortega, Veron and Co. Robbie Rogers is the American starlet that featured in the Olympics (without much impact). Hesmer is the goalie with mistique, Moreno the default #10, accompanied by US international and surfer Frankie Hejduk, plus Eddie Gaven, Nigerian Olympic medalist Emanuel Ekpo, and a host of other characters make up the new MLS bandwagon team. MLSRumors founders and current proprietors are also big Crew fans. It was a steady rise to the top for Sigi Schmid's team, both on the pitch and in the stands. They steadily made their way to the top brushing aside Chicago, DCU and the Revs. Their top form earned them a Supporter's Shield title (League championship, so to speak, based on regular season standings, a place in next year's Concachampions and a berth at next week's MLS Cup. So let's toast to the most hardworking team in the league! Being smart in terms of youth-experience balance, staying away from a DP, and ultimately winning the day through the impecable job done by Schmid has trully brought this team to the main stage at last. Here's to one of the original MLS 10 that actually kept their [at times regarded as silly] name. Bring it on, RSL/NY. A new champ will be crowned and maybe, for once, it will be the right team.
A few moments with the Crew (Guillermo always in the mix):

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Jozy Altidore scores for Villareal

Typical Jozy. Composed, oportunistic, confident. A low shot to the left of the 'keeper and Jozy's European career just got a major boost. Hopefully it's the first of many. Hopefully he can be loaned to a smaller club so he can get more playing time but it's great to see him score for the yellow submarine!

MLS Attendance stats final week 2008


Hello, everyone. Final week was last week. Sorry it took me a little bit but it's been a busy month for me. Things should be easier from now on and other random statistics will be computed to show different trends. This year was about equal to last year (check out the difference plot, particularly the total). It was lower by about 97 seats or about 0.52%. Meaningless in statistical terms. Looking at the distribution for total attendance in pie chart format we see that DC and TFC share the majority of percentage (both with 17%), with Chicago (15%) and New England (15%) also showing respectable numbers. It's unfortunate that Columbus is lower (13%) given their sensational season.
Out west we see an obvious winner in the Galaxy (22%) due to the Beckham crowds. A modest Houston comes in second (15%) while RSL and a surprising Chivas (14%) are next in the pecking order. FCD is dissapointing again at 11%, lower than San Jose--their attendance numbers are inflated by games at the McAfee Colisseum. Elswhere, in relative attendance terms it seems that stadiums, on any given week, were about 70-80% full in the east. That's not a bad number compared to previous years. The west would be slightly lower at 60-70% on weekly basis, their numbers enhanced by LAG.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Diego Armando Maradona: from God to Coach


Just yesterday the soccer world was shocked (good/bad), even though it had been a possibility, to hear that Diego Armando Maradona would be the new coach of the Argentinian national team. "Diego," as he's simply known in most soccer-literate places is synonymous with soccer due to his personality, play, memories, and political views. If Pele is the King of Football then, Argentinians argue, Maradona is God. I'm torn here because I grew up watching Diego completely tear it up in 1986 (hand of God and best goal ever in the 2-1 game against England in the quarterfinals), then saw him cry at Argentina's loss to Andreas Brehme's questionable penalty in the Italia 1990 World Cup final against Germany, and fall from grace in 1994 after scoring against Greece while subsequently testing positive for doping. I was also in vigil when his life was threatened due to substance abuse and other health problems 2 years ago. Further, his political stance annoys me (pro Castro and Chavez, no to the US).
I question the wisdom of his appointment as a coach, however, since he has no real previous experience. Given his past history this will either be an amazing run for Argentina and further proof of his status as a sports deity or a catastrophic fall from grace far greater than Hugo Sanchez's for Mexico's Olympic qualifying in 2008 or even Diego's own failure in 1994. Still, I'll cheer him and Argentina on (except in fixtures against Ecuador or those that might affect its fight for a place in 2010).
Cheers, Diego. And may the force be with you.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

MLS Attendance stats week 30


One more week after this and then more in depth analysis of the season as a whole with caveats about the playoff attendance numbers. It's a weird number to have, but 31 is the allotted number of games for every team (there are 14 teams in the league). Barring any last minute supercrowds at Columbus, New England, Dallas and Colorado, it's safe to bet that this year will fall short of last year's mark but only by about 100 seats (~1%). That's a minuscule amount in the grand scheme of things but certain places like Dallas have seen drops of more than 14%. My weekly difference of 2008 minus total 2007 shows the trends in a clearer manner (see yellow bar graph on right column). To counter that places like LA, Chicago and Houston have seen increases of up to 7%. We can only speculate how these numbers will change next season if Beckham doesn't return until mid-May.

Finally, to synthesize some of the latest numbers in terms of my patented relative attendance, I've decided to post high resolution plots of the median relative attendance, i.e. how full the stadium was on any given matchday. In the east TFC rules the land at 100% for almost every match, KC follows due to its relatively small stadium, and DC and Chicago also show good numbers in the high 70s and 80s. The Red Bulls below 60% is a bit troubling. Let's see how these numbers hold up when the new stadium opens.
For the west LA tops it with most matches as sell-outs, plus San Jose's small stadium. Some surprising numbers include that for Colorado at more than 60% as well as a recovering RSL at 60%. Numbers tend to be smaller in the west for whatever reason.
I will rejoin you with the last installment of MLS attendance stats. Please click on the ads and help support the website ;)

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Becks on loan to AC Milan: the dangers of a short season


April to October. November for the ridiculous playoffs. That's the MLS season. Some wonder why teams like the New England Revolution, DCU, Chivas USA with players like Marcelo Gallardo, Twellman, Sacha Kljestan could possibly lose to lowly Panamanian Tauro or Caribbean side Joe Public. No wonder Beckham will be going on loan to AC Milan for the duration of the long MLS break. Who's to blame? That's complicated. Assuming the loan is for the winter months and that Milan officials are expecting him to play for the remaining of the season in 2009 and possibly the UEFA cup then he would effectively be missing two months our of the 2009 MLS season (April and May since April 15 marks the end of the MLS transfer window) and possibly March if MLS officials decide on a longer season. In all fairness, continuous competitive play would keep Becks healthy and in good standing for future call-ups to the national team by Capello. In terms of the MLS, however, Becks's move would hamper ticket sales and credibility in the league both domestically and abroad.
Some of the "blame" could go to the salary cap currently imposed at MLS. I say "blame" because in reality it's not such a bad idea. I think that the minimum should be raised, however, from $9,000 to at least $30,000 and while also raising the team-wide cap by at least 2 times as much whilst at the same time keeping the competitiveness that reigns in MLS. Let's not forget that many European leagues are starting to look at MLS's salary cap as an important way to cut their expenses and encourage more competitive leagues instead of having the same 4 teams always at the top of the table and always present in the Champions League.
Another factor is the general lack of depth in MLS. When a team like Man City loses one or two forwards, they still have players that would be indisputable starters in other teams (Nery Castillo, Felipe Caicedo). Here in the US if DCU loses Moreno or Emilio they sometimes turn to midfielders like Quaranta.
There's definitely a danger in the Becks loan to Milan. Some say the move could be permanent at the end of next season. That would be atrocious for the league since they would lose the new fan base that may have taken a few more years to become permanent. Still, the LA Galaxy's ridiculous record (no playoffs for two seasons and over 50 goals against this season) is easily another factor. Ultimately, if Beckham goes, everyone loses here in the US and the only consolation prize may be the Designated Player rule--maybe adding an additional one won't hurt. Bringing players like Henry, Ronaldo and Figo may attract some fans but nowhere near as many as Becks brought to our shores. A longer season a-la-Europe may be a tough sell at this point but then again so is the idea of a single table due to the extreme distances between cities in this country. Another option is the two tournament style league that dictates, in South America and Mexico, places in the Concachampions, Sudamericana and Libertadores. Gazidis and Garber have hinted at future changes in scheduling. That is a start. But with the Becks dilemma and poor showings internationally, things suddenly look difficult for MLS... and they're thinking of expansion cities.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

CONCACAF Revolution 2: Pirates of the Caribbean


In a previous post I had stated that the whole of central America would make a splash in WCQ. I stand corrected. With Guatemala's awful loss at lowly Cuba, El Salvador's ridiculously easy group with Costa Rica (always a favorite) but with Haiti and Suriname (!), Honduras' unraveling in the group of death and a resurging Jamaica with wins at "the office" (Kingston national stadium) against both Mexico and Honduras, things suddenly swing away from Central America to the nations of the Caribbean. So much for all the promise the youngsters from Guatemala, Panama and Honduras showed in Olympic qualifying and an awful Canada that failed to get its act together. Granted, Jamaica still needs a little help from Mexico in the aztecas' visit to Honduras and at least a 6 goal difference against Canada when they visit Kingston next month, but they suddenly look very good. Mexico is forced to win or tie versus Honduras in order to get in, which makes that match even more special. T&T looked good yesterday against a very young and inexperienced US squad that lacked killer instinct with a nullified Kljestan, quiet Torres and poor central defenders. Gooch and Boca still have a job, sadly. Even though I was watching 4 games at once, I still saw enough of the US game to realize that they were not trying quite as hard as they could have. Dwight Yorke definitely has some years in him but the former Man. U. player can still score, as he proved yesterday. I really doubt the US will go down to Guatemala when they play next month at what is sure to be an ice box in Commerce City, Colorado. I agree with Steve Goff that T&T in the next round would be better than Guatemala for venue purposes in the home matches (most cities qualify). Jamaica is also better for the US in the hexagonal, especially if we play them in say, Utah or Colorado. Jamaica has their fans and stadium on their side and can arguably sneak into 4th place at the hexagonal where El Salvador looks, for now, to claim the cellar. So, as it sits, the hexagonal could look something like this:
USA
Costa Rica
El Salvador
Mexico
T&T
Jamaica
Barring any further upsets, count Mexico in and perhaps Honduras as well if Jamaica fails to score on multiple occasions against Canada. Guatemala needs a miracle to top T&T. From there I think I like USA, Mexico, Costa Rica and Jamaica (Honduras). Agreed?

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

USA vs Cuba: The live experience

Lots of goals. Lots of fun. Lots of people. Plenty to digest from Jozy's goal to Beasley's 2 goals, Donovan's composure, Torres' first game, Ching's perfect possitioning, and a stout defense with Boca, Dolo, and Gooch as impenetrable pillars in the back. But what else did I take from my first experience at a US World Cup qualifier? The fans, the feelings, and the joy of football. It was enough to get my wife and the other female in our group excited enough to yell and chant with us boys and take lots of pictures and memories.What else stood out for me? Diversity. Both on-field and in the crowd. First we have a team that's the most varied in the world... Where else will you get a team with last names like Adu (Ghana), Altidore (Haiti), Torres (Mexico), Kljestan (Serbia), Ching (Hawaii, Asian background), Bocanegra (latin american background), Onyewu (African background), as well as usual suspects like Howard, Beasley, Donovan, Pearce and co.? Only in the US. And only in the US will you get a crowd like we had. I saw plenty of people with Asian backgrounds, Caribbean, African, European, Latin American and the like... and we all cheered for the USA together and sang the national anthem together.

It was a lovely experience and we also got a treat from a full national squad that showed why the US is the top nation in the Concacaf region. Enjoy the pics and the video (not mine, by the way) of Jozy's goal.

For an even more personal view of the game in all its splendor check out a buddy of mine's blog. He's got some nice caveats about the DC area and the whole experience as a novice (like myself) at a world cup qualifier.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

MLS Attendance stats week 28


Back again after a brief respite. Probably will join you next week as the season winds down. There's only 3 more weeks of play after this week. I'm including the mean vs media plot to show some of the more recent happenings in league attendance. DCU was boosted by its last game at home, and they can forget about any further play until next season unless something miraculous happens. No more DP (Gallardo) this season. The guy played okay so no fuss with him, people. He wasn't a complete mess like Denilson. More important is my current focus on Dallas.

The team has very legitimate chances of advancing to the post-season since only 5 points separates them from the Goats and there are 9 points to be had still. They have one more home game against TFC and somehow I doubt they'll have more than 40% of seats full at the Pizza Place they call their stadium. It's sad since they also boast one of the league's top scorers and potential national team star Kenny Cooper (Bradley has yet to name him to the squad and fans are upset). Cooper has 16 goals this season and is second only to record-breaking Landon Donovan (19). Clearly, something needs to be done at the big D if they want to both keep their franchise and/or earn respect. You'll note that they have the lowest mean and the lowest median. Both point to the same huge problem. But I just work with the numbers here people, as sad as some may look. I say bring in another DP player. Maybe a Mexican figure with stature or someone that people actually care about seeing.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Jose Francisco Torres and the new American wave


Yes, that's right. Pachuca's Jose Francisco Torres has elected to play for the United States instead of Mexico and will (might) feature in the upcoming qualifying games at RFK and then Port of Spain. This occurs after being insistently courted by both the US and Mexico for some time now.
Some facts: Torres was born in Texas but has Mexican descent. He decided to skip high school when a good opportunity to train and possibly play for a major Mexican league team (Pachuca) appeared. The 20-year-old has played 20 games for Pachuca scoring once. He also scored during the now defunct Concacaf Champion's Cup against none other than DC United.
So why's this important? Well, it comes on the heels of American-born Giusseppe Rossi's choice to play for Italy instead of the US. That's right, the same Rossi that has been lighting it up with Jozy Altidore's Villarreal as well as the Italians at the Olympics. Another target the US is after and may lose to Germany is Yugoslav-born but somehow American, Neven Subotic. This kid currently features for none other than Borussia Dortmund of the German Bundesliga, having played 4 games and scored 3 goals. Let's keep in mind that he also played in the US U-17 and U-20 teams and the University of South Florida. He's eligible to play for Bosnia (birth), Serbia (ethnicity), Germany (residency) and the US (citizenship). What a mess, right? Point is he hasn't made up his mind yet. Maybe Torres' choice (or dissention if you're Mexican and angry about it) will have some impact in Subotic's decision. The US is riddeled with Americanized players: Preki, Dooley, Adu, David Regis, Tab Ramos, Feilhaber, to name a few historic or still playing. Let's keep in mind that some of the current players are not American in direct descent. These include Onyewu, Reyna, Altidore, Kljestan, Orozco, to name a few. But then again, why are they not fully American if they weren't born here. This whole thing can be a bit silly at times.
What do I think? Well, in an age of nationalized-to-be-with-a-national-team mentality, I think it's perfectly fine to snag up as many players for the national team pool as you can. In the end it's all about the money and, to a lesser extent, the prestige in the world scene. Very few countries remain purists these days, and that includes Spain (Marcos Senna), Portugal (Deco), Italy (Camoranessi), Mexico (Vuoso), France (Trezeguet), Germany (Klose). There's no salary caps with national teams so why not have an all-star side? Of the countries I just mentioned and except for Klose, all those players are ether Brazilian or Argentinian originally. When it comes to soccer, the world is mostly Argentinian and the rest is Brazilian... but that's another blog.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

The younsters: Part II, playing time


Jozy Altidore went to Villarreal (second only to Real Madrid in Spain's La Liga last season and currently unbeaten in the Champions League including a game tied at Old Trafford against Man U) and saw only a second half against Depor earlier in the season. Freddy Adu escaped the Benfica reserves to join France's modest side Monaco only to be used as a last minute substitute. Michael Bradley is fighting for a spot on the German Bundesliga's Borussia Mönchengladbach. Eddie Johnson has fallen out of favor with soccer as a whole and thusly became relegated to English Championship side Cardiff City. He has yet to score a goal for the second division team, much less start. Bryan Arguez has not dressed for Hertha Berlin in God knows how long. Added to these are a long list of national team regulars that include Dempsey, Convey and Pearse that have struggled for a spot in their respective European clubs. So what's wrong? Lack of confidence? Stage fright? Coaches? Whatever it is, it needs to stop. The players must be active with their teams (as lowly as the team may be) in order for them to be at top form. This is especially true realizing that our direct rivals south of the border have impressive players in Europe that are seeing significant playing time, including Omar Bravo and Andres Guardado of Deportivo and Carlos Vela of Arsenal. I would venture to suggest that Jozy be loaned to a more modest European team that will see him get more time on the pitch and get more accustomed to the style of play. Even so, the game he did play in showed his abilities and only nearly missed a couple of shots. What a shift in events could have occurred if those shots had found the back of the net. Well, there's my rant. And I'm not alone: Ives Galarcep of ESPN and Steve Goff of the Washington Post are also very concerned. Let's hope the winds shift soon enough. In the meantime I will rejoin you for another MLS stats post and then for my experiences at DC next week when the US plays Cuba for the world cup qualifying.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

MLS Attendance stats week 25


Back to business. Yes, data is a little dated (by a week). Expect another delay before the next installment of MLS attendance stats. For this week I wanted to have you pay close attention to New England's attendance. Notice that they have a higher than normal average (17.751) and also a good change from last year (+964). However, NE suffers from inconsistent attendance. Note that their median is 12,060 and that they've had 3 games less than 10,000. Columbus has enjoyed better attendance in the past few games due to their amazing form. I also leave you with a look at the mean vs median for the eastern conference. Except for NE and NYRB, most teams have pretty steady numbers by these standards.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Sixto the Magician


That's right. Sixto Vizuete, coach of the Ecuador national team. 5 qualifiers, 2 wins, 3 ties and 0 losses. Unbeaten against Argentina (in Buenos Aires, no less) and Uruguay (Montevideo). Things are farm from being over and there is still a lot of terrain to be covered in qualifiers. A game against Chile in Quito awaits "la tricolor" in October to close out the first 9 matches of the herculean 18 match road devised by Conmebol as a prelude to FIFA's World Cup. But why is it so important at this point? Well, the old order that included Reasco, De la Cruz, Kaviedes, Tenorio and Co. have stepped aside for a new group of players that have carried out a renaissance of Ecuador futbol. The same few that helped Liga de Quito to Ecuador's first Club Championship form the backbone of the team--from Urrutia to Bolanos to Cevallos and Guerron. Cevallos is actually a 37-year-old veteran of the 2002 campaign but has enjoyed renewed spirit and play, not to mention an uncanny ability to stop penalties.
Back to Vizuete. Here's a coach that came out of nowhere. He played for Deportivo Cotopaxi (didn't know they existed but apparently they were in Ecuador's first division for at least one season). He coached the youth systems of the ESPOLI team and then the U-17 national side. This is where it gets interesting, for after failing to enter the U-17 World Cup he coached the same team that won the Pan American glod medal and thus the first ever footballing title for Ecuador. Following that came his opportunity as interim head coach when Luis Fernando Suarez resigned after 3 straight losses and a goal differencial of -10. Suarez, coach of Ecuador in the 2006 qualifiers and the World Cup failed to earn a single point in 3 games in the Copa America in Venezuela 2007. Suarez was a good coach but very single-minded and uninventive when every team learned his scheme. The 2010 campaign with him was terrible in that he lost the opening match in Quito to Venezuela. Losses to Brazil (Rio) and Paraguay (Asuncion) were understandable but the margins were a bit ridiculous (5-0 and 5-1).
Enter Vizuete. 5-1 win against Peru with just two days from the resignation of Suarez and his last game with the team. He was given full coach status earlier this year. Then came a 1-1 in Argentina for a game they could have won in Buenos Aires before an unfortunate tying goal in the 4th minute of stoppage time. An unfortunate 0-0 followed against Colombia in Quito and my fears (and another 13 million's) arose again. But the past couple of games showed that he's a masterful tactician, at least for now, with impressive defensive performances. A goal differential of +6 under his tutelage doesn't hurt either. Added to that are 3 friendlies: 3-1 vs Haiti, 0-2 vs France (Paris) and 1-0 vs Colombia (New York). So for those nay-sayers out there, this coach has defeinitely played a good variety of foes and his only loss came against mighty France in Paris.
In short... I'm a fan. I hope to remain a fan. I'm still very doubtful about our chances for a direct entry into South Africa, but a 5th play-off spot against CONCACAF may be within our reach if the team continues to perform as it has for the last 5 matches.

Friday, September 5, 2008

MLS Attendance stats week 23


Sorry for the long skip in attendance info. I have a life too and there were several loose ends I had to tie up. I'm gonna make this one brief...
As we start looking towards World Cup qualifying not only in the CONCACAF but in CONMEBOL, UEFA and beyond some of the strain in attendance numbers may be felt as fans are notified that their favorite player will not be on the pitch. Then again, an electrifying performance by team USA in the semifinal round of CONCACAF may attract more attention to the national league. Also, let's keep in mind that that other football has taken to the fields as well and plenty of attention will go there as well, not to mention ugly lines on fields that should not be used for soccer. Added is the end of a long summer hiatus in the world's top leagues, i.e. England, Italy, Spain, Germany, and Co.
So what does this slew of factors mean for MLS attendance? From my humble numbers/analysis.... not much. Not yet, at least. Or maybe, just maybe MLS has finally found its niche and worry should be placed on the international status of the league (the Concachampions, salary caps, designated players).
One more point before I go... Columbus. Notoriously low in numbers for most of the season has shown great promise in the past few games as their great form has transcended onto the stands. The last 3 out of 4 home games have had numbers above 16K, and 2 of those, against KC and FCD weren't exactly against high-caliber oponents. I leave you with the Crew's individual numbers.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Concachampions: straight apathy or are we that bad?


Concachampions, i.e. the newly formed "champions league" of the North, Central America and Caribbean Federation (CONCACAF) has started with a fizzle when it comes to MLS. Apathy? Yes, perhaps. The Concachampions (as the media likes to call it) happens to lie at a crossroads of final games in the regular season for MLS (and yes, no actual "league" like in European soccer) and the play-offs. Teams like New England (2nd in the east and arguably one the best teams in MLS) and Chivas are preparing for the gruellengly annoying post-season. The Goats are actually out of play-off contention so you'd hope they would at least try against a limited Panamanian side. So there's the scores: Joe Public 4 - NE 0. Think SuperBowl and the Miami of last season against the unstoppable Patriots (prior to the superbowl). Then think Miami beating New England 60-0. Weird, heh? That's right. That's how it went down tonight. NE players didn't take it seriously and lacked any cleanliness in final touch, Matt Reis looked like he was playing with kids in his backyard and the defense was more interested in the upcoming football (gridiron) season than in this game.
Chivas was a bit different. Preki played a sneaky game with lots of attacking options. So what happened there? Well, theirs is a different tale. . . Kljestan missed a penalty early in the game (yes, the same hero of the Olympics), the Tauro (Panama) goalkeeper wasn't ejected, and Jonathan Bornstein was red carded. And where some teams would have come back from such adversities to win a match against a "group of friends," as Andres Cantor likes to call them, from Panama, the USA Goats faltered and faded and remembered that there is much more to play for inside MLS.
What's wrong with this picture? Well, this tournament was suppose to showcase the American league's dominance (if at least a 2nd to Mexico) in the region. We are left with DC and Houston. Those are more dominant sides that know how to play abroad and get the results needed. The group stage will be played in the midst of end-of-season games and play-offs and we're left wanting more answers from our MLS officials. I agree with claims that the league's teams are just not deep enough and that the way the pay goes these days there's not much room for improvement. I'll give them that much. But they should also remember that winning this tourney gives you the opportunity to play competitively against the best in the region and that the end result of winning the title lets you play against the best in the world in the World Club Tournament.
MLS must not look inwards. Some attention should be payed to the scheduling of these Concachampions games but the rest is up to the teams and to the fans. Let's move on from the baby days of a wannabe league that everyone scoffs at. We have real stars these days and export real stars worth $10 million. Club football doesn't end with MLS but instead becomes more with international tournaments. WHy is it so nice then when Barcelona plays Manchester United? It is my hope that we can address some of these issues soon or stars that were toying with the idea of MLS play may think twice and choose to play in the Emirates, Bahrein, Saudi Arabia or Quatar*.

* Those are all fine leagues with fine pay by the way, just not anywhere close to the USA soccer fans.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

MLS Attendance stats week 21



It's nice to see the girls get it done in the Olympics. In the meantime the USMNT does their job in Guatemala amidst ridiculous claims that Lewis' facial gash was unintentional when the replay clearly shows the Guatemalan extending his elbow maliciously. To each his own, I guess. And what about the MLS? In the meantime life rolls along and numbers remain average at best (~75% for the most part. Becks and the Galaxians "visited" the Goats and once again sold out the HDC. Chicago continues their run of good form with another near-capacity showing thanks in part to Blanco. McBride should technically keep a good chunk of the crowd coming once Cuau leaves for his homeland (they sorely miss him... just look at WCQ highlights of Wednesday's match against Honduras).
As I had promised previously and keeping with the attendance median theme, I decided to calculate medians for the relative attendance. So, instead of just showing what the median attendance is for each team (which effectively negates the Beckham factor for the other 13 teams in the league), we can now see just how full a stadium is during most of the matches.
I'm including two additional plots here, one for the East and one for the West. Back east New England and Columbus are isolated with low attendances. Notice that New Englands relative attendance average is much higher due to the Brazil doubleheader. DC's numbers are also brought down a bit and from my "star power" analysis Gallardo doesn't seem to be drawing that many fans. New York remains below average even after the Becks crowd, and after last weekend's 11K+ crowd things aren't looking that much better. Also note that KC's numbers are bolstered by their smaller stadium.

The West has the same stories with interesting caveats: RSL's numbers used to be among the best in the league and their lack of form, until just the past couple of months, has taking its toll on numbers. Maybe the new stadium will bring new and old fans alike. Chivas is also showing why its critics are being so harsh and are calling for rebranding and relocation. FCD hasn't been notoriously good in terms of attendance and this analysis also touches on that. Finally, Houston's numbers are low mainly due to its capacity (27K) but generally enjoys crowds that would readily fill 80-90% of smaller SS stadiums.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

MLS Attendance stats week 20


OK, enough with the Olympics and the latest Olympic failure. Back to MLS. It was a slow weekend all around as the total attendance stats show. Attendance was average even in relative terms (~75% for the east and ~65% for the west). Keep in mind that there was no Beckham circus this past week and that a good amount of players were missing due to Olympic call-ups. Most notable was the low attendance for the Colorado-TFC game although it should not come as a surprise. Pleasant surprises were the numbers at New England (19K+) and New York (15K+), with an exclamation point on New York since the fans saw their team win decisively.
You'll note that I have eliminated a couple of the ads on the right column and permanently added medians to the list. From several threads on BigSoccer.com, it became evident that an important way to show MLS attendance trends minus Becks was to take out the outliers that changed the means and relative attendance for teams like San Jose, DC, and New York.
Additionally, I thought it would be nice to look at the percentage of the total numbers that each team accounts for in a pie chart, this time for the western conference. You'll note that teams match up pretty evenly throughout and this also compares to the numbers seen in the average and median attendance plots. LA leads, of course.

USA-Nigeria: so much for the afterlife


Mistakes that cost us a trip to the history books: needles fouls, two at the end of the game versus Holland (one by Bradley to see him miss tonight's fateful game and one by Holden that set up the tying free kick), then another one by Orozco in the beginning of tonight's game that saw a red and left team USA with 10 men and zero options. Missing Adu also hurt since Kljestan was lonely in the midfield and Feilhaber was useless when he stepped in for Altidore (?). It is clear to me now that Adu and Bradley are important pieces of the American puzzle for our future outlooks, that more discipline on the pitch is needed, and that our over 23 players like Donovan, Beasley, Bocanegra, Onyewu, Dempsey and even Eddie Johnson still have a job and for pete's sake... give us something to be proud of in the qualifiers!
So last night I went to be before 10, did not sleep well and woke up around 3:30, saw a terrible game until Nigeria scored its second goal and then went back to bed. Much better now physically but hurt mentally just like Jamie Trecker's rants and Steve Goff's subtle report on the game. We, as I stated in the last post, had our hands on history and all we needed was a measly tie. It slipped away from us like the Titan's last play in the 2000 SuperBowl or the Cubbies' fateful ball [that Alou could have caught] in 2003 in the Bartman incident or like Ecuador's near-historic win in Argentina on a June 2008 night that allowed a tie the very last second of the game in stoppage time.
Today is a sad day in sports, folks. Let's carry on with everyday duties.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Olympic Dreamz


That's right, the "z" is to get people's attention because that's what this US Olympic team deserves. From Jamie Trecker's lukewarm, although generally positive overview of the game to Ives Galarcep's excitement with the realization the potential of this squad, to an impressed Spanish-speaking media liking the team's chances, the US Olympic team's 2-2 tie versus Holland in the second game of group play was nothing short of spectacular although with a sobering end. Granted, I was only able to watch 60% of the game due to DVR malfunction, I saw enough to be happy with the style of play and the lack of stage fright and lack of respect for their foe (yes, I said it). It's important for these youngsters to realize that, as Trecker put it, this isn't the famed clockwork orange that trounced World Cup finalists Italy and France. This was another U-23 team just like them. As I like to say to people when I discuss soccer comptetitions: when it's not the full national team playing all bets are off. That is why Nigeria won the Olympic tournament in Atlanta and why Mexico's U-17 won that tournament.
Back to the Americans: Flashes of glory from the Freddy Adu we all had such high hopes for back in 2003, Altidore's opportunistic brilliance, Kljestan's masterful play, Bradley's presence, Holden's quick moves, Parkhurst's steadiness, Wynne's pace, all came together in a spectacular performance. I was, thankfully, able to catch some of the highlights online even though youtube isn't allowed to broadcast. This, I feel, is one of the most important results for the national team to date. Here they have laid the groundwork for an appearance in the quarterfinals and a chance for glory on the olympic podium. It's close to what they did in 2002 when they reached the quarterfinals. Now only Nigeria remains in the horizon. This Wednesday morning at 5AM ET the game will be broadcast on USA network of the Olympic soccer HD channel if you have that. DVRs are a plus but make sure you set it correctly and allow for overtime, etc. We will be missing Bradley and Adu, the engines of our midfield, but Nigeria will be missing key defenders as well. It's time for Kljestan to show just how good he is and why he belongs in Europe. Feilhaber has a shot at redemption in what is a likely start for him. Szetela is another player to watch in place of Bradley. To me this game is like US-Mexico in 2002. So much is at stake and so much is to gain. A tie or a win sends the US to quarterfinals. Losing is not good enough unless Holland fails to win against Japan. Enjoy and succumb to your superstitions.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

MLS Attendance stats week 19

Amidst constant squabbling between clubs and national sides and FIFA's position being overturned by outside forces (Sports oversight committee), I bring you a new installment of MLS attendance statistics. Hopefully Messi will be able to play with Argentina and we can have a tournament for the ages. Given that, MLS goes on and attendance numbers are beginning to lean to the positive end for more and more teams as the Becks circus visits town. DCU's faithful still show up in strong numbers (18K) and TFC enjoys the usual full house. Chicago also saw a full house with "el emperador" Claudio Suarez facing off against Blanco. The Fire's numbers have enjoyed a nice upswing this season with constant numbers and a 500+ difference from the end of last season. Adding McBride to the mix at the end of the month will keep the numbers up.

This week's emphasis will once again be a look at the medians. This time I created a plot that compares Median vs Average for the Western conference.









I'm also adding the general median numbers for both conferences in high definition (just click for a full page view) to put everything in perspective. As always, general numbers are constantly updated every week and are on the right column... just scroll and enjoy!

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Sore losers


I had to get my word in on this because it's just ridiculous. What sore losers were the Atlante players at the end of last night's SuperLiga match against New England Revolution. For those of you unfamiliar with the SuperLiga: it is a tournament between the MLS and FMF (Mexican league) that pairs up 4 teams from each league in groups that play each other during the start of the Mexican Apertura tournament and the middle of the MLS tournament. It's worth nothing internationally and has limited attendance. I think it would be more appropriate if it were a playoff for spots in the Conmebol's (South American conference) Copa Sudamericana or Copa Libertadores. I don't really see its viability.
Back to the content about last night's match. In my view, the Revs dominated play, scored a legitimate goal and won the game outright. This morning on XM Deportivo (in Spanish, of course) I heard the Mexican media completely trounce the game official(s). They complained of having Mexican teams always lose favor in Concacaf and in Conmebol. In Concacaf they insist that there is a prejudice since Mexico has the most dominant league. I looked at goal.com (in Spanish click on the button for the language at the top of the page) and they didn't say anything about it being unfair, however. Maybe it's something strictly for the Mexican media. They also said they doubt Mexican teams will continue playing in the SuperLiga if such treatment continues to happen. Some of the local XM Deportivo commentators insisted that things were being blown out of proportion and that being based here (XM personnel), they should support the MLS.
Interesting stuff. What do you guys think?

Soccerbud: Eric Wynalda


Truth be told, one of my more cherished soccer moments had to be the free kick* taken by Eric Wynalda against Switzerland at the USA '94 World Cup. For some wild reason (I was a kid and living in the USA prior to the internet and with little info on soccer) I hadn't taken into account that the world cup would take place in the United States before I (we) decided to spend the summer in Ecuador. Back then Ecuador was still a lowly semi-pro soccer nation beaten out of existence by teams like Bolivia and Uruguay.
Wynalda had to be my favorite player for the US squad. Alexi Lalas, Cobi Jones, and Tony Meola also caught my eye during that famed soccer event. Back then I used to side with Germany (noting my background in a German elementary school while growing up) and never sided with south american sides (Colombia, Brazil, Argentina). Thus, the USA's win against Colombia (yes, the demise of Escobar after his own goal comes to mind) saw me as the lone cheerleader in a living room full of Ecuadoreans.
Wynalda did more for US soccer than most will admit these days. He has been outspoken and ousted from ESPN for his flowery language and unfortunate references (repeatedly referred to C. Blanco as a player "he loved to hate" while praising him for his abilities on the field; also referred to flares in Bridgeview's Toyota Park as "looking like California" during its unfortunate wild fire stint a year ago). Wynalda also wrote his name in soccer lore with the first ever goal in MLS with the [cheeselly named] San Jose Clash. His goal scoring record for the national team (33, I believe) was only recently broken by Landon Donovan. I'm happy to say that his outspoken nature has not gone away and he will continue to grace us diehard soccer fans through the written medium in the MajorLeagueSoccer mag (yes, I subscribed). His latest rants deal with the coaching crisis in MLS and how he feels the better coaches are those who have risen through the MLS ranks as players in the league (Kinnear, Nicol, Preki, Nowak) and that supercoaches like Ruud Gullit simply won't work in the league because they aren't aware of its many facets (salary cap, long-distance travel, etc). I actually like Gullit and I think he may work . . . but that's another blog entry.

*I'll have video highlights of the goal once youtube starts working properly. You can view it here.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

MLS Attendance stats week 18


I concur with my BigSoccer soccerbuds that not much has changed this week in terms of attendance. A few small caveats, however. Dallas saw it's attendance values go up thanks to another sellout Beckham crowd. That also effectively brought their numbers up for the 08-07 difference and their deficit doesn't look quite so bad. Only Columbus and KC remain in attendance difference limbo and both teams have yet to see Becks come to town. The difference from the total final numbers for last season is actually just 289 below. It's safe to assume that final numbers may well be higher than last season's and echoing BigSoccer, this should be the second best attendance record since 1996 (founding of MLS). Some have postulated that maybe we shouldn't be counting that season either.
This time around I wanted to go a bit more in-depth into some of the graphical statistics. Previously I had compared relative attendance to average attendance numbers. I'm doing something similar with the plot on your right except this time it's average attendance vs median for teams in the eastern conference. This is also a way to show how one Beckham game can alter a team's mean attendance but it's median will still be quite small. Such is the case with New England although their higher mean is actually due to a double header with a Brazil international game at Gillette Stadium. When Becks comes to town the numbers should be even higher, effectively masking out the true nature of their poor attendance for a team that is unstoppable this season (minus Twellman!). The plot also reveals that although New York has seen its share of <10K games (2, to be exact), the majority of their games have actually been respectable. DC's median lags behind its mean while the opposite is true for the Crew, who saw the lowest attendance for a single game this season at 6733. KC's average is actually slightly less than its median and this even in an already small venue. TFC rules, enough said (and I'm far from being Canadian).

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Commentary: Tuzos USA??


Since my buds over at MLSrumors are taking their time with this one, I thought I would break the news to the english-speaking world. The show Futbol de Primera on XM Satellite Radio's XM Deportivo had a report with an interview with Pachuca president Jesus Martinez in which he asserted that Pachuca is working closely with both MLS and USL with the possibility of bringing the franchise to the United States and putting a team in one of the above mentioned leagues. You can listen to it on the fdpradio.com website under "Jesus Ramirez y los proyectos de Pachuca" (in Spanish: Jesus Martinez and the Pachuca Projects). This is reminiscent of our report about CD America looking to do the same thing with MLS. I hope more information about Pachuca and MLS/USL will surface in the next few days. I thought that CD America coming to the MLS would be interesting, but with Pachuca I'm beginning to think we're pushing it a little. This is an American league, as some readers of this website have made clear in the past, one or even two teams loosely bound to teams abroad is one thing. We don't want to turn the MLS into another mexican league plus some original MLS teams. Personally, I'd like to see a Barca USA or Boca Jrs USA before another Club America or Tuzos USA. As far as them going to the USL , be my guest(they already have teams like Crystal Palace USA). That's something worth tapping into and can create a formative league for an ever expanding MLS, especially noting that the league is on the verge of adding two additional Canadian teams. But that's a story worth an entire blog entry.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

MLS Attendance stats week 17


The Becks parade continues to rage on in the Eastern conference, bringing numbers much higher than in the beginning of the season. Although the New York-LA game may not have been as high in attendance as it was last year, it was large enough to bring NYRB's season average above that of last year's (see the 07-08 plot difference). Because I know a lot of you out there in bigsoccerland like to see other aspects of statistics, I'm including median plots for the east and the west in high definition (just click for full page). Note that NY's median is still higher than 15,000 even though they had two games below 10,000 this season. Their relative attendance currently sits at 69%, much better than NE, RSL, CHV, DAL.

New England's meager attendance shows its ugly face in the median analysis (KC not included do to a smaller stadium). Even so, NE's attendance is not much differend than it was a year ago for the entire season (see difference plot). I've also read that KC's game with LA will be held at Arrowhead. This should put another inflationary figure into the Eastern conference and effectively raise KC's average to make it look more like San Jose's out west (>120% relative attendance). Therein lies the Achilles heel of relative analysis and this has prompted me to come up with a relative median that I will introduce in the coming weeks. Such a number will, hopefully, do away with the inflationary effects of switching venues. This isn't the same problem with DC, NE or NY since their inherent MLS capacity is already twice that of SJ and KC.
Just wanted to remind everyone and to alert new visitors to the site: all numbers are based on official public MLS numbers and all plots are on the right column.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

MLS Attendance stats week 16

Week 16 update. For this week I decided to change the "MLS capacity" for the Houston Dynamo from 32,000 to 27,000 per the suggestion of a reader. I had been wondering about this for a while since Houston's numbers were lower in relative terms when compared to the other teams out west even though their average attendance was second only to the Galaxy. This change added 10 points to Houston's relative attendance pushing it up to 62%. It may have changed the overall numbers but only for the relative plots and only when Houston had a home game. As a highlight this week I'm including a relative vs average attendance plot for the western conference, similar to what I did for the east last week. You'll notice that the numbers tend to cluster around 15K for averages with varying levels of relative attendance (lowest for Chivas and highest for Colorado). Still, notice that the difference plots show that Chivas is one of only 3 teams exceeding the 2008 numbers. These numbers, as you know, are transient and we can expect important changes in the next few weeks. LA-NY on Saturday should shift a lot of numbers for New York and in general terms as well. I expect Chivas to remain strong for the rest of the season, keeping in mind that they still must "host" Beckham and the LA circus.