We dream of football and the world is full of dreams

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

MLS 2010 Attendance stats week 1

I'm updating attendance stats (always on the right column for new visitors) for the first week of the 2010 season. Seattle is the gold (emerald) standard of the league. Another sellout crowd of over 36,000 fans. New York are, not surprisingly given the Red Bull Arena, also in the top of the list with a near-sellout of their new venue. LA, Chivas and Columbus could have done better but were still acceptable, especially the LA teams. KC and SJ sold out their small 10,000+ venues. We can't hardly wait to see their new soccer-specific stadiums. Dallas is the ugly duckling here... barely 8,000 fans and below 50% capacity.

Colorado opens this week (I will be in attendance), as does DCU and Houston.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

World Cup Memories: England

Back to our World Cup memories series. This time it's England, the birthplace of football, home to the best players and the best league. However true this may be, they have won the World Cup on only one occasion in 1966. This time they are pitted against the USA and open group play against them. England has also failed to win the Euro championship, having only reached the semifinals in 1968 and 1996. Their win in 1966 is riddled with conspiracy theories but their victory against West Germany 4-2 stands.

My World Cup memories of this storied team begin with the first tournament in my memory--1986. This was the tournament of Peter Shilton and Gary Lineker. It was the tournament of Maradona's hand of God. It was a tournament in which perhaps England should have reached the semifinals. They were pitted alongside Morocco, Portugal and Poland in the group stage. A loss to Portugal in the opener sent shivers down fans' spines, but a tie versus Morocco and a win against Poland were enough to see them through to the next phase. There, they met Paraguay and dispathed them 3-0 thanks to a brace from Lineker. Highlights include Lineker's goal in the 81st minute close to a half hour after Diego's masterful goal as well as the infamous one. Lineker's header looked reminded me of Pele's in the 1970 World Cup final against Italy. We should note that Gary Lineker was the top scorer of that tournament with 6 tallies.

In 1990, England was keen to erase bad memories from the previous tournament. They were placed in the group that included Ireland, Netherlands and Egypt and won the group undefeated, winning one and tying two. Next they met Belgium and defeated them 1-0 in extra time. A similar nail-biting match awaited them against World Cup surprise, Cameroon. England was down against the "indomitable lions" 1-2 when Lineker struck the equalizing penalty in the 83rd. A second penalty in the 105th minute, again by Lineker, sealed the game. Their semifinal match against eventual-champions Germany ended in a 1-1 tie, forcing penalties. Pearce and Waddle missed their respective shots and Germany won the shootout 4-3. The English would go on to lose their third place match against host nation Italy. Schillaci's penalty late in the game served to give the Italians their consolation prize; it also served to make Schillaci the top scorer of 1990.

England failed to qualify for USA '94 and returned in 1998 hoping to rekindle the magic of 1990. France '98 was David Beckham's tournament as well as Michael Owen's. They were placed in the group that included Romania, Colombia and Tunisia. They lost against the Romanians but victories against Colombia and Tunisia were enough to qualify them for the round of 16. It gets interesting at this point because they face Argentina. Memories and feelings from '86 were still ripe. Beckham's red card played its part in the match. They were tied 2-2, went to penalties and bowed out of the tournament.

Korea-Japan 2002 would serve to re-energize the team. They were in the "group of death" with Sweden, Nigeria and (yes) Argentina. They would go on to tie the Swedes and beat the Nigerians. Beckham exacted his revenge and scored on a penalty to defeat the Argentinians. A second-round goleada over Belgium pitted them against Brazil in the quarterfinals. After going 1-0 over the Cariocas, goals by Rivaldo and a young Ronaldinho concluded their stay in the Far East.

In Germany 2006, they had an "easier" group with Sweden, Paraguay and Trinidad and Tobago. England has been unable to defeat Sweden in a World Cup and this time was no different. They won their games against T&T and Paraguay. In the round of 16 they faced an unfamiliar foe--Ecuador. The English media was outraged that it had taken a lone goal by Beckham (off a free kick) to defeat this "limited" South American side. Rooney would miss the game against Portugal and Scolari's team took them into penalties. Both Lampard and Gerrard failed to score and England once again went home in the quarterfinals.

What's next in 2010? The USA, Slovenia and Algeria. They have an advantage over the US in that several of their players are in the Premier League. This may also count against them, however. Slovenia and Algeria had more trouble accessing passage to the tournament and, as such, can be considered relative "minnows." Do remember that the Slovenians knocked out Russia and that Algeria defeated Egypt (African champions). We're likely to see plenty of Rooney (arguably playing his best soccer at the moment) and Lampard and Gerrard. If this sounds familiar, well, it should. England is in need of new talent. Will it be Walcott? Sean Wright-Phillips? Will the team be hampered by the loss of Beckham or distracted by the Terry-Bridge drama? We won't know until they play their opening game--against USA. We will build on this later.

Becks' PK in 2002:

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Confesions of a soccer fan: Jamaica in France 98

On a previous post I had promised I would bring you something a little different. My mentor here in Boulder, Colorado is a huge soccer fan. She grew up with the game in a soccer nation: Jamaica. I chronicled our trek to see a Rapids preseason match that did not materialize. Here, I present some words she wrote 12 years ago to the Rapids River Ratz fan club highlighting her experience in France 98. I only hope someday I can share the same type of story. I've been to many soccer games but not World Cup.

Her words:

One bright spot in British soccer

By Arlene Laing

If you have never been to a World Cup match, you are missing a wonderful experience. As John (Wright) wrote, the atmosphere at these kinds of events can be electric if the fans are in the right mode and they were for the Jamaica/Croatia match. Too bad we can't say the same for the Reggae Boyz. They forgot how to play basic soccer.

The papers reported that about 105 coaches left from England to Lens and included many English and Scottish fans. They blended in with the party atmosphere of the Jamaicans (those resident abroad and those who flew from Jamaica). Their behaviour was the antithesis of the trouble makers at the England/Tunisia match. A busload of English teenagers were next to us and they said that they wouldn't go to see the English play only the Jamaicans. They were all painted with black, green, and gold.

People were cheering us on all the way from London to Lens. Outside and inside the stadium was like a big international carnival. People of all nationalities were singing, playing music, and dancing together. Many Croatians fans arrived wearing both Jamaican and Croatian merchandise. A local band dressed like the Blues Brothers worked the crowd with some bluesy reggae. My cousins and I made a banner (green with yellow flourescent paint that should have been visible to the left of the Croatian goal in the first half). It will probably be in many photos and on the local TV station because some people started playing music and dancing in front of it. I brought a small tambourine and the middle was beaten through by the second half of the match.

Most of the Jamaican play (or lack thereof) was embarrassing to watch. We were screaming at them to put defenders on the posts for the corners and freekick but to no avail. You could see the goals coming from a mile away. All the goals were from set plays and we were out of position The only consolation (if it can be called that) was that the mistakes that lead to the last two goals was not caused by one of the regular amateur Jamaicans but by one of the professional new additions (what the people in Jamaica are calling "waggonists") who had been waiting for England to call him. I hope he doesn't play in the next match and that the other guys play with more fire against Argentina (who did not look as good as expected in their first match). At least Mexico held the Concacaf flag high. Here's hoping for better results for Jamaica and the US.

Friday, March 26, 2010

MLS 2010

Just a few thoughts as we open MLS' 15th season. That's right... 15th season. It seems like just yesterday we were talking about Carlos Valderrama, ridiculous shootouts, countdown clocks and team names like Clash, Mutiny, Burn, Fusion. Not anymore. After the Beckham experiment blew up and simmered down, MLS rose from the ashes with Seattle as a flagship of success. The Sounders posted the highest average attendance ever for an MLS soccer team last season (>30,000) and are poised to break that record once more.

On the field things have also changed. Although Beckham may be hurt and Blanco is on leave at Mexico's Veracruz (hoping for a spot in the World Cup), rising stars like Christ Pontius, Freddy Montero, Sean Franklin and Marvell Wynne are quickly proving that the league can produce quality players. Former graduates include Eddie Johnson, Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard (ringing a bell yet?). This surge of talent is complemented by veterans like Kasey Keller, Freddie Ljundberg, Landon Donovan, Juan Pablo Angel. This is what makes this league stronger every year.

A few questions remain: Can MLS compete internationally? Can stadiums outside of Seattle and Toronto be filled with fans? Can new franchises be sustainable? All will be addressed by the league in due time and we may see glimpses of this on the present season.

Watch out for rising stars like Danny Mwanga and Jack McInerney in Philadelphia's new team, as well as Opara in San Jose, among others. New signings and/or designated players (expensive guys like Beckham) are on the horizon and something tells me we're likely to see them right after the World Cup...Henry, we're looking in your direction. Also, behold the majestic Red Bull Arena and the cozy PPL Park.

A great opening game tonight and Seattle showed why they may be the team to beat this year.... Let's have a great season!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

MLS preseason: the live experience

Well, sort of. Due to inclement weather, the game never took place. It was perhaps the Rapids' last unofficial preseason match before their debut at Chivas USA this Friday. The game was against a local Colorado college team [will add name here] and it took place at one of the Dick's Sporting Goods Park's complex's many practice fields. A satellite picture will show you just how many fields there are (just look for it in Google maps).

So today isn't as much about the game or even the players... it's about being an American fan of the world's game. I was in the company of my mentor and her husband (I'm currently in Boulder as part of my degree) and we were there to watch their son play in his first competitive match since recovering from injuries. It had been quite a long time, I was told. The man, I unfortunately didn't get a chance to meet him was part of the Rapids' opposing team, so we were likely going to cheer for his team.

We made the trek down from Boulder to Commerce City (Northeast of Denver in their oil refinery sector). At the time it was a steady rain/snow mix. It would become one of the Front Range's legendary spring snow storms (still snowing heavily as I write). We had only his word as to the status of the game, and last we heard, it was going to happen.

My first impression was the scale of this soccer-specific structure...from the outside. State-of-the-art facilities with a great design and an extensive set of 24 practice fields. The field in which they would play (#20 on their map) was in excellent condition aside from the slush being zealously cleared of by a type of reverted snow-shovel cart. Weird stuff. I wish I had had my camera. I will have an opportunity to see the stadium in all its splendor at the Rapids' opening match next month.

Sadly, due to the nature of today's game, stars such as Cummings, Mastroeni and Conor Casey were absent. This was an understandable precautionary measure to safeguard their marquee players. Indeed, today's rapids contingent was only 15-or-so strong. I was right up next to them, however, and they walked around me as they left when the match was "canceled." Long story short... when the referee arrived with his bag of balls it took only a few minutes for a final decision. Never mind that both teams had been running around, stretching and prepping. No scrimmage is worth an injury for an athlete.

It was sad that the game ended before it started. The moral of the story is how myself and two others (very much soccer fans) went out of our way to witness a game that never materialized... only for the love of the game (and for them, for their son). My mentor is a Jamaican native and I will share with you some extraordinary words she wrote years ago about her experience in France '98. That, however, is a separate blog entry.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

World Cup Memories: Greece

Greece is a relative new-comer to world football and, as so, makes this entry relatively short. Greece has entered the World Cup only once before this summer's tournament (1994). They have also been to the Euros on only two occasions (1980, 2004). And yet, as I write this I'm also reminded of their dream run at the 2004 Euros, beating both defending-champions France and hosts Portugal (twice). Indeed, never underestimate the Greeks.

Greece's place in my World Cup memories is unfortunately based only on their 1994 outing. They were put in a group that included fellow-newcomers Nigeria, Bulgaria and Maradona's Argentina. This would become Diego's last official tournament. Greece actually started off against the mighty Argentinians. It was a 4-0 thrashing with a Batistuta hat-trick and Diego's last-ever goal wearing the Argentina jersey. His celebration after a wonder goal from the edge of the area is now regarded as iconic. Greece went down by the same score against Bulgaria, and yes, this was Hristo Stoichkov's tournament, and yes, he scored twice. Finally, it was Nigeria's turn, and the new African fan-faves did not disappoint and went on to beat the Greeks by the score of 2-0.

To what's in store for the Greeks in 2010? Argentina (again), Nigeria (again), South Korea. Not an easy group at all. Then again, Hellas may have a chance given Argentina's troubles in qualifying and Nigeria's short-comings at the African Cup of Nations, and South Korea's inability to break into the second round outside of home turf. Their weapons includes Nuremberg's charismatic Charisteas, Liverpool's Kyrgiacos, Bologna's Moras, Celtic's Samaras, and Salpigidis of Panathanaikos.

Was 2004 a football aberration or does Greece have what it takes on the world stage? Are they going to rely on defense and become another Italy or will they play more aggressively? Their victory in the playoff against Ukraine was boring at best and a snoozer for sure. Sadly, neither team deserved to be at the World Cup aw, say, Russia, Ecuador, Egypt, Sweden.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

World Cup Memories: South Korea

South Korea were always the perennial Asian representatives in the World Cup, and even though I don't remember them from 1986, I remember them fondly as a fast, tireless crew. South Korea has appeared in the tournament on seven occasions before. They became the first and only Asian team to reach the semifinals and have won the Asian Cup in 1956 and 1960.

Memories of 1990 are scarce since they were deemed to be one of the "easy teams" in the tournament. They played the part and went three and out in the tournament losing games to Uruguay, Belgium and Spain.

In USA 94, things were a bit different. Korea had evolved into a firepower in Asia and also due to increased domestic play. They had an impressive match against Spain, coming back in the final five minutes to tie the game 2-2. They had a chance at surpassing the group stage with a victory against lowly Bolivia but they were thwarted by the "altiplano" side and settled for a scoreless tie. Next came a game against champions Germany. The game was set to be a slaughter as Klinsmann and crew were up 3-0 on the scoreboard at the half. The Koreans fought back just as they had against Spain and scored two goals early in the second half, giving them enough breathing space to dream. It was not to be however, but it did expose Germany's weaknesses (which Bulgaria would exploit later in the tournament).

Going into France 98 knowing they would play co-hosts in 2002 made the South Koreans hungry for good results. However, they were pitted against world veterans Holland, Mexico and Bulgaria. Two losses by wide margins against Mexico and Netherlands sank their hopes of advancing. A tie against Belgium was only a consolation.

If Asia as a whole was deemed to be the weakest confederation (outside of Oceania), then 2002 would prove us all wrong. Both Korea and Japan capitalized on home-field advantage and Korea would take their game all the way to the semifinals. 2002 was also the time for Park Ji-Sung to step into the spotlight (now a regular with Manchester United). Korea is actually a pretty special memory in this tournament since they were pitted against the USA. A dominant 2-0 win against Poland set them up for a decisive match against the Americans (which had beaten "contenders" Portugal). They started losing that match thanks to a goal from Clint Mathis but they would come back to tie the game. The last group game was against Portugal and all three teams (Portugal, USA and Korea) were depending on the outcome of the match. Park's goal in the 70th minute dispatched Luis Figo's side and, at the same time sealed their place in the second round, as well as the Americans.

This is certainly where the magic (and controversy) begins. Korea was pitted against three-time world cup winners, Italy, in their first game outside of group play. Christian Vieri's early goal was a dagger in the hearts of Korean fans, but, true to their fighting ways in 1994, Hyeon's goal in the 88th sent the game into extra time. Frencesco Totti would be ejected on a second-yellow for a soft dive in the area that would have resulted in an Italian PK. Later, Tomassi would be ruled offside although he clearly wasn't. Jung-Hwang would make it 2-1 in the 117th minute, unleashing a festival in the streets. Asia finally had a team in quarterfinals. The game's result was largely blamed on Ecuador's own Byron Moreno (the referee), and conspiracy theories suggested that FIFA wanted Italy out and Korea in to ensure a host nation would advance in the tournament.

Korea's game against Spain would spark further controversy, as it was Byron Moreno officiating once more. The game ended 0-0 and went to penalties, where the host nation prevailed. Their semifinal game against Germany resulted in a loss thanks to a late goal by Michael Ballack. Their luck also seemed to have run out when they lost the 3rd place match against Turkey.

In 2006, Korea was armed with several weapons playing their trade both domestically and in European teams. They were pitted against France, Switzerland and Togo. It started well for the Koreans, beating newcomers Togo and tying a struggling (at that point) French team. An eventual loss to Switzerland proved to be the difference, as France ended with 5 points, the Swiss with 7, and Korea with 4.

In 2010 they will play against Argentina, Greece and Nigeria in what could be considered a group of death of sorts (mid weight considering the South Americans play of late). Park is hoping to take his stellar Premier League game to new heights and the Asians are out to prove that they can advance in a World Cup outside of their own soil. Also in the team are Sung-Yong of Celtic, Chun-Yong of Bolton and Kim Nam-Il of Tom Tomks (Russia).

Highlights from 2002 game vs Italy:

Thursday, March 11, 2010

MLS player strike?

MLS Player's Union and MLS league officials have failed to reach a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). Among points in dispute are player salaries and the ability of teams to deal with individual players instead of the league itself. I thought I would weigh in a little bit on the matter. Instead of focusing on some of the politics and details involved, I wanted to touch on how a player strike in Major League Soccer would affect the league, players, teams, fans, and the sport as a whole in this country.

If we think back to NHL and MLB, we cringe at the possibilities when it comes to MLS. NHL lost broadcasting. MLB was paralized and even President Clinton threatened to intervene. MLS would be left in shambles, no?

Consider the possibilities: Philadelphia has a brand new team with a brand new stadium and ardent fans waiting for soccer to finally make an appearance in their city. What do you do if your league doesn't even play? Seattle, a solid team that sold out every game last season, is in danger of losing fans, money and credibility. What do we say to Portland and Vancouver (set to begin play next season)? What do we say to further expansion of the league if it's in danger of collapsing?

Finally, what happens to the players? Where will they go? How do they retain game fitness? What will happen to our national team? The USA has a third to a half of its players in the domestic league. This may spell doom for the country's chances at the World Cup.

And what about international progress of the league? Will foreigners continue to laugh at us... maybe even stronger now?

These are several points worth considering. Indeed, hard decisions to come. The player's union and MLS are continuing talks but a strike may be inevitable if a new CBA isn't reached.

Some numbers to consider:

NBA: $4,900,000
MLB: $2,866,544
NHL: $1,460,000 (used to be $1,830,000)
NFL: $1,250,000
EPL: $1,162,720
MLS*: $90,000????
AFL: $85,000
WNBA: $55,000

MLB No Cap - Highest Team Payroll- Yankees $208 Million
NFL No Cap - Highest Team Payroll- Raiders $152 Million
NBA $60 Million
NHL $57 Million
MLS $2.3 Million

Bud Selig MLB $14.5 million
Roger Goodell NFL $10.3 million
Gary Bettman NHL $5.9 million
Don Garber MLS $3 Million

NFL national TV package rights: $3.085 Billion/year
MLB national TV Package: $416m/year
NBA national TV package: $400m/year
NHL US National TV package: $75m/year
MLS national TV package: $1.5m/year.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

US vs Holland: step by step

Today, the USA played the #3 ranked team in the world, the Netherlands, and although it wasn't a positive result, the game still had certain value for the team. Bob Bradley himself said he had learned "a few things" from the match, especially given Beasley's performance and companionship for Jozy.

Yes, the final score was 1-2 in favor of the Dutch, but let's explore that a bit further: the first goal occurred due to a misguided move by Bornstein when he tugged on the shirt of a Holland player and created a penalty for the opposing team. The second goal was due to brilliant play by Sneijder, Huntelaar and company, and although Howard may have had it, an unfortunate bounce (off Bornstein) deflected the ball to the back of the net.

But the Americans bounced back near the end of the game. Even though Donovan was muted during most of the game (perhaps through clever marking or maybe fatigue due to Everton play), players like Bradley, Edu, Holden, Torres and especially Beasley, created the situations and provided Jozy with the ball. The American's goal came due to sheer perseverance and by Captain America, Carlos Bocanegra. It was a set piece, America's secret weapon.

Jozy Altidore once again showed his class, but he was missing a counterpart. It may be interesting to see him paired with Donovan or Dempsey if charlie Davies is unable to come back. Holden's early injury was a blow to the team's attack, but Beasley stepped up and may have sealed his place in the team for South Africa (as long as he gets minutes with Rangers).

Player ratings:
Johnson (NA)