Friday, January 30, 2009
As most of us die-hard fans had hoped, Jozy Altidore has moved (on loan) to Spanish second division leaders Deportivo Xerez. It couldn't come at a better time. Jozy was struggling for playing time at Villareal (current former club), and with good reason: The "Yellow Submarine" boasts the likes of Llorente, Guille Franco, Nihat and Giuseppe Rossi up front. Although a good majority of them succumbed to injury last season and Jozy got some playing time, his time on the pitch amounted to just 6 games and 1 goal. Now, however, comes a chance to play full matches for a team that could be headed to La Liga next season as long as they keep their form. Admittedly, this is by no means the high tier competition that he's been playing against but it is some competition nonetheless. I had also argued that the style of play in the Spanish second division (Liga Adelante) is above the of MLS not in terms of quality but of season layout and roster depth. I can say that any one team from MLS can beat an Adelante team. It's just about player conditioning that gives Altidore the opportunity for continuous top level play.
Xerez is also a team that up until now has been relatively quiet in terms of achievements. The team was founded in 1947 and had its best season in the 2001-02 season but failed to make it to the first division at the end of the season. What better chance for Jozy to have an outstanding season? Hopefully he'll play this weekend and maybe next weekend, then gets called up for the qualifier against Mexico, and why not.... scores on Mexico.
Now if only Adu got a chance like this.
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
Backlash. Reverse Beckhamania. Beckham haters. Call it what you want. His time in MLS is almost up. After scoring two great goals for Italian powerhouse AC Milan and hinting at a potential exit from MLS, things look bleaker for the league. I like to think about how comments such as "he only plays well when there's good players around him" actually do make sense in this case. Around him are Kaka, Pirlo, Gattuso, Pato, Seedorf, Ronaldinho... the list goes on. Who does he have in the Galaxy? Besides Donovan and maybe Lewis, not nearly enough (no bashing intended, I love my American players... just being honest).
Looking at comments on SBI's story about his latest Milan exploits, that is, the general commentary by SBI readers, one can gain a great perspective on what American soccer fans really do think about the aging superstar. A good deal of "I'm tired of this story," "this is great for the league," "I'm so glad he's leaving," and then there's the fact that readers pointed this out: CNN's front page reads "Beckham leaving US league already?"
Word is also out that the league would be selling him for $11 million. I say much more if they want to get a final whoora from his stay here.
Here comes the reality check... Is the MLS a joke to non-believers here and abroad? I hope not. Then again I have to remind myself that I started watching more games in the 2007 season when his move to the US was imminent. I got entranced in the style of play and the promise of new, exciting stars to come. Becks gave way to the "Designated Player Rule," which allowed teams to have one star beyond their salary cap. In came Juan Pablo Angel (excellent acquisition for NY although not a factor in ticket sales), Claudio Lopez (downgraded from DP), Marcelo Gallardo (wants out and should be leaving this Spring), Denilson (complete bust for Dallas), Blanco (best overall and much more as a player than Becks) and Ljundberg (we'll see how he does this season). I will keep a cool mind and be objective about this. Designated players abound and in this time of economic hardship maybe it would be a good idea to think small for a little while. Instead, let's dream of some other players that may come our way--Figo, Henry, Michael Owen, Jared Borgetti, Ronaldo, even Ronaldinho eventually. These superstars dream of having a quieter life as their careers wind down... and what better place than in a league that doesn't take up headlines except for when one megastar enters/leaves the stage. Beckham, as Timberlake cheesily put it, made Americans care "that much more" about soccer.
A sad end indeed.
In the meantime, let's enjoy his latest, typical, "Bend it like Beckham" moment:
Sunday, January 25, 2009
Whether just playing friendlies during the winter break (northern parts of Scandinavia lose sunlight completely) or sharing players, Scandinavian countries have become intimately tied to American soccer. Yesterday's friendly at Los Angeles' HDC between the US and Sweden proved to be an important test for the youngsters and some of the veterans from both domestic leagues. Sacha Kljestan showed how he's one of the top players in the US with a superb hat trick that will undoubtedly catapult him to a transfer to Scotish side Celtic.
Denmark is another country that likes to take winter breaks in the US and play friendlies outside of FIFA. But there is another side to the Scandinavian love affair with US soccer. . .
A good portion of youngsters, be it recent college graduates or standout MLSers, end up in leagues from Denmark to Sweden to Norway. Why is this? Partly because these players will undoubtedly earn more at these modest teams than they would in the MLS. Leagues such as Sweeden's can also act as a window for certain players to begin to make their mark in Europe. One such player is Charlie Davies: he has been playing with Hammarby since 2007, scoring 19 goals. Other players included in this list are former New England defender standout Michael Parkhurst who recently signed with Nordsjaelland, 2009 College draft top pick Marcus Tracy (Aalborg, Denmark), Danny Califf (Midtjylland, Denmark), Troy Perkins (Vålerenga, Norway), Ryan Raybuld (Gefle, Norway), Clarence Goodson (IK Start, Norway) Lee Nguyen and Will John (Randers, Denmark), Tally Hall (Esberg, Denmark), plus a few others throughout Scandinavia.
Many out there argue that Scandinavian leagues turn out to be "black holes" for our players. I can't say I agree. There's more of a chance to grow in Europe than there is in a USL side or MLS bench. In the end, if growing in soccer knowledge isn't enough then it is the financial side that can push our players to these Nordic leagues. Who can argue with that? In the meantime, Scandinavia, send us some of your players this way. Ljungberg is a nice start.
Sunday, January 18, 2009
The record is set. Sort of. Maybe there's still some time for Kaka and AC Milan to consider the consequences of what could be a record-breaking $150 million transfer to Abu Dhabi-owned Manchester City. There are many things to consider with this turn of events, if it occurs. Opponents of this move include Beckham and AC Milan teammates (Pato, Ronaldinho), the Milan fans, and even Hull City boss, who remarks that this is not football when a team can buy any player it likes in order to win. Even then, however, we can look at other sports like baseball (Yankees, Red Sox, etc) and Abromovich's own star-studded Chelsea that have not shied away from admiting they have bought the best players. MLS is not alone (Beckham, Blanco, Gallardo), even if the teams don't really pan out as winners. Right now, Man City boasts Robinho, Elano, Jo, Wright-Phillips and they are looking all over the world for more stars. Who can stop them if they have bottomless pockets in this present age when capitalism has failed?... unless you control the flow of oil. And yet that's the other story line to follow here. Italy is in economic crisis like the rest of the world and the city of Milan and the club are also looking for ways out. It is high ranking officials, ultimately, that may decide the fate of the former Fifa player of the year (2007). Also to consider is the fact that Kaka leaving may pave the way for a permanent move for Beckham, even if Milan aren't looking to spend the cash.
Surely, this is a test of mind over matter, money versus heart, and pure capitalism may have the upper hand.
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
Ever since Beckham decided to make a loan move to AC Milan for a ridiculously short period of time (January-mid March) there have been plenty of rumors and speculations about his future in MLS. Last month I ran a poll for my faithful readers to gauge their thoughts on Becks' future. I believe the end result was something like 80% for and 20% against. I can understand some of the animosity towards the player for whatever reason: cheesy, pompous, over-the-top, spice boy, whatever. The point is that no other player in the world has transcended the soccer-society boundary in America since Pele. Just today, Soccer Insider remarked about the lack of soccer commercials in the United States and while this may be true, if you stick Beckham in there should not be a problem in terms of endorsing anything from his own men's fragrance to Gillette to Pizza Hut.
So what's at stake here? Clearly, MLS's visibility in the world stage, the quality of play, and most importantly, the attendance. Right now, a variety of usual suspects are weighing in on Beckham's ultimate decision: arguing for his impending exit are former Galaxy president Alexi Lalas, current teammate Kaka and even color commentator and former Tridnidad and Tobago goalkeeper Shaka Hislop. Others, like former French national and Chelsea player Frank Leboeuf and the player's own spokesman have remarked that the England star will stay with the Galaxians. Ultimately, for me, I think at least one more season with the Galaxy should be considered. Now, with Bruce Arena at the helm, the Galaxy may have a shot at the playoffs and even at the title. What makes for a better ending than that? How about a game broadcast on national TV (ABC) of a final between the Galaxy and another foe (maybe Chicago) for ultimate MLS glory? So what are the pros and cons of keeping Beckham here?
- Continuing international exposure of MLS
- New, marquee players joining the league
- International play in the Libertadores
- More media coverage
- More stadiums and causal fans
- Beckham's future with England in peril
- Keeping Landon Donovan with the Galaxy (long shot, actually)
- Too much attention for just one team
- Beckham circus
- Continuing flood of maxed-out veteran stars into the league
Wednesday, January 7, 2009
Just yesterday I received a pleasant, albeit unexpected phone call. It was the Carolina Railhawks on the line wanting to know about my experience at the game, input I might have and the kind of media I'm most in contact with (that being XM, FSC/ESPN, the Internet). Granted, I've only been to one Railhawks game, last year, against the Red Bulls in what I hoped (and my wish was granted) would be Jozy Altidore's last season with MLS. It was a great experience, a great although uneventful game, good family atmosphere, some scattered Hispanics reminiscing days of futbol, and even some rowdy fans pulling for the men in orange on the far side of the stadium (WakeMed Soccer Park).
The Railhaks belong to America's so-called "second tier" (lower division) United Soccer Leagues or USL-1 [a reader actually commented it is an alternative league to MLS and that is correct]. After reading up on them I found that they have several divisions including player development, women's leagues and tryouts. They, of course, compete in the US Open Cup, one of the oldest soccer competitions in the world and which pairs up amateur, semi-pro and professional teams in a cup-style format. The USL has teams in the United States, Canada and the Caribbean. Two of these teams, Montreal Impact and Puerto Rico Islanders, advanced through the play-in and group stages of the Concachampions and are now in the quarterfinals. Only Houston made it through out of 4 MLS teams.
I alluded to MLS's recent failures when addressing Concacaf competitions previously and I will not dwell on it here. Instead, I want to point out the obvious high level in the USL. They continuously feed players into MLS and ingest players from the league after their time in MLS competition has expired due to age or performance. But is there a real, true relationship between the leagues? Short answer is no with a but since MLS does, indeed, prick off the best of the best from USL. And yet, after some serious sleuthing, I found that there are a lot of concerned fans of the game out there either on BigSoccer or personal/professional blogs that are collectively annoyed at the lack of relationship between these two institutions. I've read a lot about the youth development in MLS and US Soccer in general but USL seems to be putting a lot of emphasis on this. They also become a repository for college graduates that don't make the grade in MLS or abroad. Reading through MajorLeagueSoccer magazine I've seen the great progress made with the youngsters, there is certain difficulty in transitioning youth development into first team status. Not too long ago it was individuals pointed out how Kassel of the New York Red Bulls saw significant red tape when trying to make a move to MLS. So, besides the attention to detail in the USL, why aren't there more avenues for cooperation? Unlike Minor League Baseball and how its teams are affiliated with MLB clubs, no such format exists between USL and MLS. Given that Americans are obsessed with "drafts" from collegiate institutions and that promotion/relegation has no chance to ever fly in this country, it would only be advisable, if not imperative, that a tighter bond occur between USL and MLS. College drafts, especially this year, do offer an excellent avenue for new players to join the league, but as Steven Goff of the Washington Post has alluded to recently, the omission of a reserves tournament and lowering the number of players in MLS teams will mean very few options for a gifted round of individuals that in the past generated players like Clint Dempsey and Maurice Edu. Generation Adidas, is another avenue for our youngsters that allows them to not count against MLS rosters but there are only a limited amount of spots.
Once expansion teams are fully integrated into the league, spaces will become even more scarce and a partnership with USL gains more attention. Already we've seen some involvement when teams like Seattle Sounders make the jump to MLS and feed in players from their USL squad, but this is not a widespread practice. Clearly, as the Concachampions has shown, there is considerable skill available in America's lower division and it falls upon MLS to learn how to tap into this resource in a much more seamless manner. In the meantime I think I'll enjoy the Railhawks play the Revs in March. At least I get to watch some soccer sometimes.
Friday, January 2, 2009
Hello, everyone. I wanted to thank you from the bottom of my heart for making this website a popular blog with frequent visitors. So far I've been able to attract anywhere from 600-1000 hits every month through my commentary and in-depth statistical analysis of MLS attendance. Why do I do the attendance? I like to remind myself that the league has space to grow and, like many MLS fans out there, I want to see full stadiums to get the full effect and show that soccer really does have a place in this country. I also feel the graphics paint a good picture of how crowds view the game and maybe influence future practices such as skipping the sweltering summertime temperatures that our players go through or even show the exciting effect that new venues have in place of cavernous NFL stadiums. I'm excited by the prospect of Red Bull Arena later this year in what I hope will be a new soccer cathedral worthy of second-place New York Red Bulls and a new venue for our national team. Looking ahead to this year presents Seattle's entry into MLS, Freddie Ljundberg and other potential DPs throughout the league, MLS exports like Landon Donovan (Bayern Munich), the closing of World Cup qualifying throughout the world, the Confederations Cup in South Africa with an American presence for the first time, continental tourneys like Concachampions, Champions League and Libertadores. So a happy New Year to all and a thank you for making futbolusa.net possible.