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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

MLS 2009 Attendance stats week 20

Beckham's arrival begins to show its face in attendance statistics, albeit at a more muted scale this time around. For example, his game this week was at Kansas City and it wasn't held at Arrowhead. Instead, the match was held at an expanded Community America Ballpark (about 1500 more seats than normal). Notice that using the 09-08 difference plot we see that RSL has recovered to about the same attendance average as last year. Colorado is also recovering. Further, these two teams have not had the Becks circus come to town.

No Becks in MLS this weekend. Instead it's a sold out Rose Bowl for Galaxy vs Barcelona. A quality match for sure. How come we can't get these huge numbers to turn out for MLS matches? The World Football Challenge with Inter, AC Milan, Chelsea and Club America drew no less than 50,000 each for the games played. If we could get a good 10-15% of these true football fans then MLS would surely get a boost.

Another area that MLS should be working on developing is the Concacaf Champions League. DCU managed no more than a tie against lowly Firpo from El Salvador. An early exit... again? More on that on a later post.

Finally, to round this week's MLS discussion is the current MLS schedule. Whilst I question the setup (spring to fall instead of fall to spring as is done in Europe and most regions of the world), we also have to keep in mind venues like Colorado, Chicago and Toronto. These are usually in deep freeze from December to February. Sepp Blatter, president of FIFA, recently discussed MLS's schedule and why it wasn't attracting better players. Interesting points except for the obvious points mentioned above (Chicago, Toronto). He advocates a fall to spring season. Then again, there are plenty of leagues in Scandinavia, Russia, among others, that have a sizable break during the winter. This is something worth considering. You can catch Blatter's discussion below.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Replacements: US falls to Mexico

A word of caution. Never underestimate the power of a soccer power. Yes, Mexico is a soccer power. Relativistically speaking, of course. As I've said before, if the Concacaf were Conmebol then Mexico would undoubtedly be its Brazil. Years of history, two world cup tournaments as hosts. Quarterfinal losses in 1970 and 1986. Stars like Hugo Sanchez, Carlos Hermosillo, Jorge Campos, Luis Hernandez, Claudio Suarez. We can go on with this list. The point is you can't show up with your C squad and hope to come away with a win against an experienced B squad in Mexico. That's why the US lost today. That's the price to be paid for assuming that our "home turf" and "recent history" is enough to overcome the obvious: the Mexican side is far deeper in terms of quality.

It's true, we had the Confederations Cup right before the Gold Cup and our guys need to rest and/or get back to their respective teams. We also jump right back into qualifiers next month... August 12, against Mexico in the mythical Azteca. But why not play the guys that were obviously the subs in South Africa? Why not let Brad Guzan get a full slew of games? Why not keep Cherundolo for the whole tournament and call up Califf also? Why not keep Adu, Torres, Kljestan in the line-up? That would at least have been our "B squad." Mexico brought theirs. They stuck with Medina, Ochoa (a top goalkeeper), Miguel Sabah, Guille Franco, Carlos Vela, Giovanni dos Santos.

That's where the game was lop-sided. No one with enough experience and/or mileage was left in the US national team to play against a half-full Mexico. Yes, that wasn't the star-studded Mexican team on the field either, but they sure weren't pushovers. Digging into MLS is great, it's crediting our game and our league. Digging into the Mexican Primera is something completely different. Far more history and infrastructure. Not necessarily quality, no. It's the development of players and the competition within the league. It's the fact that relegation is enough to make a team fight that much harder for every game. It's the prestige of being in the Sudamericana or Libertadores.

I think that today was a lack of respect on several fronts. To the fans for using a C-squad against a top world soccer team. I love the guys that played, they are great players but they are also "potentials" at the moment and "supersubs" at best. It was also lack of respect for the rival... and they showed us why. It was lack of respect by Concacaf for scheduling what they know is a pointless rendition of a tournament that should only take place every four years and with rotating hosts.

In the end this game isn't that important in the world scene for all the points described above. August 12 matters. Anything short of a win by Mexico will be a disaster. Anything but a loss for the US will be further proof that our "A squad" is for real. I can't wait.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Another Cup, another final: US in the Gold Cup

If the Confederations Cup is considered the dress rehearsal for the World Cup for what are considered to be the top teams in the world then the "meaningless" Gold Cup is the dress rehearsal for the backup players in each team. Such is the case with US players like Chad Marshall, Stuart Holden, Kenny Cooper, Kyle Beckerman, Heath Pearce, Robbie Rogers, Troy Perkins, etc. These are all good players, yes, but they fall behind the Dempseys, Donovans, Bradleys, Howards, Onyewus and company.

The midfield pool, for one, just became much more crowded and starters, subs, and call-ups will have to be based entirely on form and quality of team (Europe-based will get the nod nearly all the time). Added to Dempsey, Bradley, Adu, Clark, Feilhaber, Torres, Kljestan, Edu and (hopefully) Jermaine Jones, are Holden and Rogers. Holden would probably take over Kljestan's spot. The once great prospect has faded slowly into obscurity. Also note the omission of DaMarcus Beasley. He has also lost his form... and his place.

The deal up front is a bit easier. Ching is still the target forward, although his finishing hasn't been great lately. Kenny Cooper is, to me at least, a better option than Conor Casey. The back line has some nice backup options: Goodson, Marshall have stepped up and are capable of standing in for Bocanegra, Onyewu and DeMerrit if required.

And now comes the final. Against Mexico. Again. This time it's none of the starters save for Dos Santos, "Memo" Ochoa, Carlos Vela, and Brian Ching. B side versus B side. A chance for more heroics and for some also a chance to be included in the 23-man squad in 2010.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

MLS 2009 Attendance stats week 19

All east slew of games this past week. Lots more attendance with Becks, albeit only half of what it was on his debut at Giants Stadium back in 2007. Still, the 23238 figure was the highest for any games with Red Bulls this season. It serves them well for being sooooo bad this season (only 2 wins!). I'm highlighting the match's attendance and how it influences the general pattern in this time series.

Elsewhere it's nice to see so many people turn out for the international games. A near-full Rose Bowl at 81,000+ for Inter-Chelsea is not bad. No love for MLS, though. I was in a discussion at soccerbyives.net about what the MLS all-star game should be about. Besides its token American existence (what is it with all-star and pro-bowl games in this country?), and instead of MLS all-stars versus Everton, why not play MLS all-stars versus true world all-stars. I'm talking Messi, Ibra, Kaka, Ronaldo, Evra, Lampard, Terry, Ribery, the whole bunch. Now that's a game worth watching!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Ecuador: A few observations from a soccer nation

Ecuador, the place of my birth and the reason soccer runs so deeply in my veins. I'm giddy when Ecuador wins, pathetically upset when they lose but at the same time I remind myself that we were always the underdogs. Behind Bolivia and Peru and only superior to Venezuela. Now I cheer for the USA with just as much candor. It is my home and has been so for much longer than Ecuador ever was. When it comes to clubs, however, Emelec is my favorite team. And this is much to the dismay of both the Velasquez and the Mera families (fans of Barcelona SC de Guayaquil).

Added to all of the above, I am also related (nephew) to the great Mauro Velasquez Villacis, author, commentator, friend of Pele and Alberto Spencer. I spent a few precious minutes with him in his majestic soccer vault, where he stowed away detailed statistics on all the major games of the world, descriptions of every goal Pele scored, news and notes and biographies of countless soccer personalities. Today's posting is not so much about him but more on what people there think of the US game, important recent events and past stars. I spoke with uncle Mauro as well as other fans of the beautiful game. The questions are generic and the answers are the general feel from all the interviewees. Here are a few words from them . . .

What do you think of the US national team?
Very solid. Great faith in their game and extremely focused. They stick to the game plan.

And what about the future of the US in soccer?
They can only get better from here. They have the seeds and the infrastructure.

Is Cristiano Ronaldo really worth the millions Real Madrid spent on him?
Yes. There is no one else like him.

What about Argentina? Maradona?
Maradona's appointment was just a stunt. He can't coach. He wasted away his brain cells through years of drug abuse. Argentina won't go far with him as coach.

What do you think of the current Ecuador national team?
Felipe Caicedo is not working well for the team. He's too erratic and not dangerous enough and does not compliment Benitez.

And Liga de Quito's triumph in the 2008 Libertadores?
There is a difference between club and country. Most answered they did not care for Liga's success since it's a club and does not represent them (most were Barcelona or Emelec fans). I feel otherwise. It was a triumph for Ecuador soccer, one that added to the national team's success in 2006. I wrote more about this on another blog entry.

That's all for now. I was enlightened by my soccer talks during my brief stay in Quito and Guayaquil. I will have a couple of posts dedicated to Mauro Velasquez Villacis. Stay tuned.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Becks is back, does it matter?

Yes and no. Yes, the stadium in East Rutherford tonight was near MLS-capacity (25K) but nowhere near the 56,000+ that attended the first Beckham Galaxy-Red Bulls match in 2007. Back then it was all shining lights and bright dreams in a season that saw Goldenballs play a total of 5 MLS matches. The figure for the same match last year was closer to 40K. Granted, this year people either hate Beckham or hate a cellar-dweller New York team reminiscent of 2007-2008's EPL team Derby County.

No, it doesn't matter that Beckham's back. Not for the Galaxy. Not for Bruce Arena, who has managed to lose only 3 games this whole year, even if it came at the cost of 7 ties. This team is no longer built around the pricey Englishman. It has a solidified midfield with Kirovski, Mike Magee, Eddie Lewis, Birchall and Donovan. Its attack has been amplified with the addition of 2004 Rookie of the Year (and injury prone) Alecko Eskandarian. Edson Buddle and Alan Gordon are decent attackers as well which, compounded with Donovan's ability to slide into forward, makes for a significant threat to the opposing team. The back line has also been reinforced with the introduction of veterans Greg Berhalter and Tony Sanneh, and surprising rookies DeLaGarza and Omar Gonzalez. We're also not counting the injured Kovalenko and Sean Franklin in this list.

So the question is this... Does the Galaxy need Beckham? Not really, but his experience adds to what is, at the moment, a solid team. Does MLS need Beckham? Only if his intentions are clear and benefit the league. Do the fans need Beckham? Yes... one word: drama. For more of this go pick up "The Beckham Experiment" by Grant Whal, an excellent read from what I've heard and something the league has needed for a good while now.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

MLS 2009 Attendance stats weeks 16, 17 & 18

Stats are back! Another quick one, but I wanted to get everyone updated. Now that Becks is about to return to at least 7 different venues, attendance numbers are sure to go up. Will he stay around for another season or is MLS's Beckham experiment over with already? I'm getting word that Goldenballs may be on the verge of inking a program that would allow him to play for AC Milan part of the year and with the LA Galaxy for the other part.

As far as some high def attendance analysis, please look at the plot included here. We can see how certain events like pairing up Gold Cup games and/or high profile friendlies can cause spikes in attendance (New England, blue line). The same can be expected once Beckham comes around town.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Gold Cup 2009: From B teams to amateur sides

Concacaf has chosen to have a biannual tournament with its conference members. Fair enough. But here's the deal: only one of the two tournaments qualifies the winner to the Confederations Cup (played last month with the US as representative due to their title in 2007), the tournament is always played in the US (no Mexico, Central America, Caribbean nations can host it), and the tournament (at least the second one) has very little in the form of top stars and important players from the more prevalent countries, i.e. Mexico, USA, Honduras or Costa Rica.

So is it an important tournament? Hardly. Is it overkill? Yes. Is it worth it? Only as warm-up and/or practice for B-teams from Mexico, the US and other Concacaf teams. Am I alone in this line of thought? Absolutely not. There is a score of players and coaches (including Bob Bradley and "el Vasco" Aguirre) that have decided to call B-squads that sometimes look like C-squads. The US itself was allowed to call up or dismiss various players due to the tournament's close temporal proximity to the Confederations Cup. Dismissed have been Steve Cherundolo, Charlie Davies (to join a new club), Freddy Adu (disappointing Gold Cup after no appearances), Michael Parkhurst, among others.

And the list goes on in terms of Gold Cup bashing. Prominent commentators like Andres Cantor and his Futbol de Primera crew have publicly voiced their concerns for this tournament seemingly meaningless nature. The quality of the competition is simply not present. Shouldn't we limit this tournament to a 4-year interval like the Euros and Copa Americas? Shouldn't it be a top flight competition with Donovan, Guardado and other stars as prominent participants? Shouldn't the host nation be rotated the way it is everywhere else?

In the meantime, it seems that all is definitely not well with Mexico, even in a medium-grade dress rehearsal like Gold Cup 2009. Now Javier Aguirre is showing his discontent with the mess that is the Mexican national team. The footage below shows a sore point in Mexican soccer: a tie with lowly Panama and a foul (a foul?) by the coach Aguirre. The man will serve a 3 match suspension.