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Sunday, December 2, 2012

For Landon and David: LA Galaxy wins MLS Cup 2012

Photo credit: USA Today

It is only fitting, perhaps, that David Beckham's last game for the LA Galaxy would be at the tournament final and with an emphatic win. It's the stuff that dreams are made of. Beckham came to light the way for MLS, struggled in the first 2 years, was distant in the following 2, and brought it home in the final 2 with two titles for the Galaxians. But that's what it took to bring it home for him.

Landon Donovan did better. He won his 5th MLS Cup, added to his record as high-scoring player in the playoffs, and temporarily made us forget that he may be on his way out. It could have been different had he missed the go-ahead penalty in the second half, as he had missed a one-on-one with Tally Hall in the first half that would have given the Galaxy the lead. But Donovan was calm and collected and slotted home the penalty kick and gave LA its 4th title, tying it with DC United for most wins. He will go on an extended break now, perhaps not to return to the game.

This year's Houston was not like last year's. Brad Davis would start, Boniek Garcia was on the pitch alongside Ricardo Clark, and Will Bruin was a natural goalscorer. But Calen Carr made the difference in this game for the Dynamo both in offense and defense. He scored Houston's goal at the end of the first half and held Omar Gonzalez in check for the entirety of his time on the pitch. Sadly, he got injured, and the floodgates promptly opened for the Galaxy.

The real hero for the LA Galaxy, and game MVP, was undoubtedly Omar Gonzalez. He nearly single-handedly repelled every ball that came close to the Galaxy goal box, made up for some of Meyer's errors, and scored a wonderful tying goal that made the Galaxy's win possible. Gonzalez's tactical awareness and nose for goal is reminiscent of a young Carlos Bocanegra. Klinsmann may need to consider him as a candidate to man defense alongside Geoff Cameron. Indeed, Gonzalez could well have been playing in Europe by now had it not been for a terrible knee injury back in January.

As Robbie Keane scored the penalty in injury time, we saw curtains close on an American spectacle. This game had all it needed to have and more than we could have wanted. High-scoring, high tension, star power, drama on and off the pitch, love of the game, and saying goodbye. For Landon and David, that's what this truly means. And the two LA Galaxy aces leave with what they wanted: a Hollywood ending.

Friday, November 30, 2012

An Idol Rekindled: Barcelona SC Campeon de Ecuador

Photo credit: EFE

It has been 14 years since Barcelona Sporting Club, the marquee team from Guayaquil, Ecuador, last won the league. Fourteen years of struggle, bad coaching, political in-fighting, and fan disappointment. But it all ended yesterday when they were crowned champions of Ecuador, unleashing celebrations all over the country.

Barcelona had come to be dominated in recent years by the other big clubs in the country, such as LDU Quito and arch-rivals Emelec. Since 2011, however, the ownership by businessman Antonio Noboa and management by Zubielda, who built the team, and Gustavo Costas, who brought out the best in players like new-comer Narciso Mina, forged a unique understanding with the players that transcended to results on the pitch. 

Let's not forget that Barcelona SC is quite a popular club even though it has seen an extensive trophy-less stretch. They average 25,000 fans for home games and 15,000 for away games. No easy feat in any country. The "Toreros," as they are called, have seen their share of scrutiny and, at times, downright dislike by the national soccer media and the upper echelons of Ecuador soccer officials. There is a certain "Quito tilt" to soccer coverage in the country and the club has been able to break that barrier with this win.

As a child, I grew up watching this team week in and week out since most of my family were big fans of the squad. I, however, preferred certain other teams, for which I was often scolded. The derby matches I attended, the great "Clasico del Astillero," always fulfilled in its display of passion on and off the field. As fate would have it, my team almost always won, but I was happy to attend the Estadio Monumental in all its glory and watch the waves of yellow run up and down the general attendance stands. I admit that, deep down, I still hurt from Barcelona's win over Emelec in the 1989 Libertadores. So every time my team wins it is simply another attempt to make up for that loss--until they meet again in continental play.

In the end, I am happy for friends and family that have seen their dream come true, have cried with goals of glory, taken to the streets to celebrate, painted 9 de Octubre yellow and shown the country once and for all who really is the idol: Barcelona.

I dedicate this post to the great Mauro Velasquez Villacis and Javier Velasquez Villacis. I would like to thank the latter for his guidance in writing this piece and the former for inspiration in being a soccer fan.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Beckham Experiment Worked

Photo credit: AP

During the winter of 2007, the soccer world was shocked when it was announced that David Beckham would be joining Major League Soccer later that year. Although there had been hints of this eventually occurring near the twilight of Beckham's career, the sudden shift towards one of the up-and-coming markets in the world was nonetheless astounding. At just 31, Beckham remained in his prime to help the league get to new levels.

The English midfielder joined the LA Galaxy later in the summer, after a buzz was created around the league and the country. Even CNN had him on their front page when he announced his move. And Victoria Beckham (the Spice Girl) made a reality show about moving to America. The glam was here to stay.

On the pitch, things were different. Becks was plagued with injuries early on in his first games for the Galaxy, and would not show up at some of the games. This was besides the fact that every single MLS stadium was full for every Galaxy game, and most Galaxy games had been moved to the end of the season to maximize on the hype.

But did Beckham really change the league and the sport in the US? Yes, definitely. First, a new type of player was added to the choices for MLS teams. The Beckham rule, it was called, and it meant that teams were allowed to have one player beyond the MLS salary cap. Enter Cuautemoc Blanco for Chicago, Denilson for Dallas, Juan Pablo Angel for New York. Just like that, stars in their prime were coming to MLS.

But besides the influx in world talent, the MLS brand became international and, more importantly, Americans turned to the sport once more. And this happened at the right time because new cities started to sign up to be MLS hosts. Enter Toronto FC, the first Canadian team in MLS and a first in the world, then followed the return of the San Jose Earthquakes. Next came additions to Seattle and Philadelphia, which had pursued a franchise for a long time. Finally, the Pacific Northwest entered the picture with Portland and Vancouver, and eventually Montreal. 

With the new teams came a new type of audience. They were there to see the players but they were also there to enjoy the sport. Seattle and Portland have yet to have a non-sellout in their brief history. Player academies started popping up, encouraging young talent that eventually led to a successful Gold Cup 2007, Confederations Cup 2009, and World Cup 2010. It also led to players such as Altidore, Stuart Holden, Sacha Kljestan, Eddie Johnson to jump to European teams.

But are these developments really due to Beckham. Partially, yes. The influx of media coverage, attention, sponsors, expansion money, allowed for the erection of new stadiums in major markets such as New York, as well as classic MLS teams like Houston, Kansas City, Colorado and mid-decade expansion team Salt Lake. Suddenly, new stadiums were full and money could be diverted to further player development, expansion of the DP field, and increased marketing.

Finally, let's remember that new web pages were added to the soccer internet traffic, including this very blog, and others like the now-defunct mls-rumors.net, and increased attention to professional blogs like Ives Galarcep's soccerbyives.net, Steve Goff's Washington Post page, among others.

So, did the Beckham experiment work? Yes, but it depends on how you define it. Bigger league, bigger names, better players such as Thierry Henry and Rafa Marquez, new venues, international attention, increases in player pool for the national team. And goals from Becks' signature free kick. Who doesn't like that?

So now, with word that Beckham will play his last LA Galaxy game in next month's MLS Cup final versus Houston, the league is ready to jump onto better things. Beckham is no longer necessary to fill stadiums, nor is his name a per-requisite for television coverage. The league is here to stay and with new rivalries that will keep the sport going for decades to come. So, thank you, David, for helping to grow our league and the sport in the United States.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Bradley, a general, and USA ties in Russia

Photo credit: ESPN

There were several subplots in yesterday's international friendly between the USA and Russia in Krasnodar: Josh Gatt and Joe Gyau were new call-ups, Altidore was returning, an army of youngsters headlined the team, and Timmy Chandler had another chance. In the end, the most important part of Team USA was Michael Bradley and he was instrumental in earning the US a 2-2 tie versus the Russians.

Starting from the back, Tim Howard was superb and once more showed why he's one of the top 10 goalkeepers in the world. The score could easily have ended up 5 or 6 to 2 in favor of the Russians. Pure instinct in positioning and impeccable reflexes mixed with great communication saved Team USA time and time again, especially early in the second half in a scene reminiscent of the Americans' win at the Azteca. Without Timmy, this team would struggle.

The defense was supposed to be closer to the ultimate starting group: Chandler was back and ready to take up the right back spot, Johnson was healthy and the left back position is his, Cameron has continued his rise at center back and paired up well with Bocanegra. The aging Boca, however, saw his game end early with an injury. Clarence Goodson, the next best player, came in. Goodson didn't have a good night, however, including the penalty he was forced to concede. Johnson was exposed several times tonight and Chandler didn't show the flair displayed in earlier matches with the USA.

At midfield things were a bit different, and perhaps confused. Three defensive midfielders were trotted out by Klinsmann: Danny Williams, Jermaine Jones and Michael Bradley. At times, the three stumbled in figuring out who had which man and who was supposed to attack. Jones was very active in the attack, however, and led to important crosses. Williams had a less stellar night and a mistouch allowed Russia's opening goal.

The 4-3-3 formation had Herculez Gomez and Josh Gatt on the outside and Jozy Altidore as the center forward. Jozy did much better in this game than in recent qualifiers, a cause for him missing out on the final two games in the tournament. He still had some moments of absence and showed trepidation when controlling the ball, perhaps due to his recent form with the national team. 

The brightest new start today was surely newcomer Josh Gatt. A member of Norway's champions, Molde, Gatt has been showing excellent speed and talent in the Tippeligaen. This was enough for Klinsmann to call him up to qualifiers, although he was injured, and ultimately to this game. Gatt showed his speed, but more importantly, he showed that he has passion for the game and an understanding of his position on the pitch. 

As happens in many friendlies, substitutes tend to be difference-makers. Such was the case with Agudelo and Diskerud. Juan Agudelo's headed back pass to Michael Bradley allowed the Roma man to unleash a superb shot that defeated the Russian goalkeeper and tied the score at 1-1. Diskerud would go on to tie the game at 2-2 in stoppage time in similar fashion to Bradley's goal, with Terrence Boyd as the provider.

Michael Bradley controlled this match. When the score was down 0-1 he managed the midfield and stopped the Russian attack. When he needed to come forward, he did so, and it always turned into a dangerous situation. He scored the equalizer in a dramatic, world class manner, from outside the area. He also set up the second goal with a well-placed long ball to Terrence Boyd. As Alexi Lalas argued, it was his economy at positioning that set him apart. Dempsey may be the offensive key for the United States at the moment, but Bradley is undoubtedly the engine at midfield and a general on the field.

Player Ratings:
J. Jones............6
D. Williams.......4.5

Subs: Diskerud (7), Agudelo (7), Edu (5.5), Kljestan (6), Boyd (6), Goodson (4)

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Final 2012 Timbers game: the live experience

It was a historical day in the Rose City today. The crowd at Jeld-Wen Field saw the San Jose Earthquakes' striker Chris Wondolowski tie for the most goals scored during regular season (27), a record set by Roy Lassiter during the inaugural MLS season back in 1996. The goal came from a soft penalty kick on a bad call by the referee in response to Steven Lenhart's apparent foul by Donovan Rickets.

Regardless of the method, Wondolowski got his 27th goal and will go down in history as one of the most consistent goal-scorers the league has ever seen. He has now been the top scorer in MLS for two seasons: 2010 and 2012 and has amassed 64 goals for San Jose.

As for the Timbers, this was a different kind of game. Without a post-season to play for and Cascadia Cup already won, this was more of an exhibition game in which the players kept on performing for the sake of maintaining a high profile on the wake of Caleb Porter's arrival as the new head coach. There was little flow through the middle of the park, with Chara constantly being blocked and Nagbe largely ineffective for long periods of the game. Steve Smith provided a spark on the left side and Bright Dike always looked dangerous, if without as many chances, although his perseverance allowed for Portland's tying goal that left the final score 1-1.

The real winner today was the crowd. We sat at a completely different vantage point at the stadium today, closer to the Timbers Army. This provided great views of most of the field and kept us dry from the drenching Pacific rains. The best part, as always, was the atmosphere. Every seat was full even though this game didn't matter competitively, even though it rained heavily at times, even though there were a myriad college football games to watch on TV. 

Jeld-Wen field is a magical place. Outside, its creeping vines rise up the walls above the front gates and turn a pinkish orange tint with autumn. Inside, the crowds smile and you can see babies and children carried by their parents. You also see the more raucous groups belonging to the Timbers Army or the casual group of avid fans. It is a place of diversity where soccer is king. This city, after all, is Soccer City USA.

Thanks, Portland Timbers, for another season of memories.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Ecuador on its way to World Cup 2014

Photo credit: AP

At the close of the first half of the marathonic, 16-game tournament in World Cup qualifying, Ecuador found itself in second place, behind only Argentina. The Atahualpa Stadium is a fortress once more and the team is 5 for 5 so far, totaling 15 points. Additionally, the team has secured two points abroad: ties to Venezuela and Uruguay. The losses were to last-place Paraguay and Argentina.

Although on the surface the qualification chances may seem high, important obstacles remain. The second half of qualifying has stronger visiting teams like Paraguay, Argentina and Uruguay. Ecuador managed positive results in the 2002 and 2006 qualifiers: wins versus Argentina and Paraguay and ties versus Uruguay. The same could not be said for the failed qualification for 2010: tie to Paraguay and loss to Uruguay. The key will be the game against Paraguay in March, where a win could put the team at 20 points and much closer to making the competition.

The real shift comes from winning abroad to weaker teams like Peru and Bolivia. For the last three qualification cycles, Ecuador has won 6 points away from home from both teams. This, thus, is the real key to the qualifiers. At 26 points, a win or tie versus Argentina and Uruguay at the Atahualpa would all but assure the team of making it to Brazil.

As good as the first act of qualifying has looked, it is not a reflection of the true possible outcomes. Narrow wins against Colombia and Bolivia, as well as losses at Argentina and especially Paraguay, show that the team remains vulnerable and sometimes hangs on thanks to a penalty kick. Antonio Valencia, Christian Benitez and Felipe Caicedo will need to come up big in those away games and they will also need to keep their heads cool so as not to be suspended for key matches.

Ecuador has displayed clean, speedy attack with intricate passing and glorious lofted balls from Valencia. The center of the pitch has been well managed so far and the attackers are better this time around than 2010. There may not be a Tin Delgado here but Caicedo and Benitez pack a dangerous one-two punch. The back line, however, is prone to mishaps and the center backs tend to leave a good deal of open space between them when the fullbacks engage in the attack.

There are always plenty of surprises in qualifying and this time Ecuador hopes to become one of them by advancing in a more prominent role. Chile, Colombia and Uruguay are the direct rivals this time around, with Venezuela having increasingly better chances. Stealing points away from these teams is most important, as is keeping the Atahualpa a fortress to get a possible 9 more points at home.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Made and Broken: USA defeats Guatemala

Photo credit: Getty Images

It was a make or break moment the likes we haven't seen since the 2002 qualifiers. The US national team needed at least a tie versus Guatemala to advance to the final Hexagonal of Concacaf qualifying for Brazil 2014. They made their case and they broke Guatemala by 3-1 in what could easily have been a more dominant score.

As with political campaigns, this game was about coming out punching. Team USA pressed from the first second but a mishap in communication between Cameron and Bocanegra meant that a lofted ball got to Pescadito Ruiz's boots for an easy one-on-one versus Howard for the former MLS player. 0-1 wasn't the way Klinsmann wanted it. But Bocanegra answered back 5 minutes later thanks to a headed assist by Dempsey.

And yes. Dempsey returned tonight with a vengeance after critics categorized him as dull and ineffective at Antigua and Barbuda last Friday. An assist and two goals later and the Tottenham Hotspur ace has once again carried team USA.

There were a few kinks in the defense today, something that Klinsmann will need to continue to work on after so many months of trials. Does Bocanegra retain his spot? Can Tim Ream or Omar Gonzalez break into the fold? As for left back it is Fabian Johnson's spot but in his absence a person like Eric Lichaj should be considered ahead of Edgar Castillo or Michael Parkhurst, simply because of what he did with the position when he had it. Right back is Cherundolo's position and one that can be manned by the likes of Lichaj, Sean Franklin or, if ever, Timmy Chandler.

The offense clicked today for Klinsmann. Possession, passing and calculated moves was what we saw. Graham Zusi has been a revelation and we should expect interest from Europe in the coming months. In the absence of Landon Donovan and Brek Shea he has performed with etiquette and flair. It was a vision of a post-Donovan era, but we will need the all-American for the Hexagonal and, if we're lucky, for the World Cup as well.

Eddie Johnson and Herculez Gomez did their job as strikers but the talent that Jozy Altidore, Chris Wondolowski and Terrence Boyd possess cannot be forgotten. Indeed, we will need all of these players in the ten games reserved for next year's Hexagonal. Somewhere in that time a true stable lineup will finally be drawn by the US coach and some semblance of continuity can finally reign over the national team. This is sorely needed and perhaps the root of some of the more deplorable games in the qualification semifinals we just experienced.

Player ratings:
M. Bradley.............7.5
D. Williams............5.5

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Grimace and Grin: USA wins in Antigua

Photo credit: AP

There was a collective grimace today as we watched the United States Men's National soccer team wait until stoppage time to score the second goal and defeat Antigua and Barbuda. Yes, Antigua and Barbuda. This wasn't Trinidad and Tobago or Jamaica or even Cuba. No, it was a cricket-loving, island nation of only 85,632 people. 

The grin came at the welcoming return of Eddie Johnson, whose career had been in decline after an ill-fated transfer to Europe and numerous loans in Britain and Greece. His positioning for the goals today was just what Klinsmann had wanted.

And yet, for the most part, as the television monitors closed and opinions began, it became certain that this national team had just had one of its worst performances. By virtue of beIN Sport being the sole proprietor of all the away USA matches, this game was not available for me. However, I was still able to keep up with plays through Twitter and other media and I saw the highlights afterwards. Where was the fighting spirit in these players? Even in the condensed version of the game the only ones enthused with being there were Michael Bradley, Zusi and Eddie Johnson. Everyone else was simply at work.

What happened to the team that won in Slovenia, Italy and Mexico? Those were the vintage Klinsmann games. Then again, with Bob Bradley the semifinal qualifying round was over at the fourth game with four straight wins and USA ended up taking the Hexagonal, reaching the final at the Confederations Cup and winning the group at World Cup 2010. Suddenly, for all of us that dreamed of something better than Bradley, the next step is hardly one in the right direction. 

Many of us were Klinsmann believers from the start, but stumbling into the final game before the Hexagonal is no way to repay faith. Yes, Concacaf can be difficult, but not for the USA or Mexico. It hasn't been that way for the past 10 years. Then again, Mexico just slipped into the Hexagonal last time around and Sven Goran Erickson lived for a couple more matches. The Aztecas regrouped under Aguirre and built one of the better teams in the world over the last 4 years. Could the Americans do the same? 

There is another truth to speak of here. Yes, Eddie Johnson was the savior and Gordon the provider in today's match. But what happens against a team like Mexico or Costa Rica or Panama? Or at the World Cup? Are we still not going to field Altidore or Boyd or Lichaj for the games that matter most? When Donovan, Shea, Fabian Johnson and Edgar Castillo go down, the first thing to do is to replace the players with those that matter. The team lived today without replacements, but just so. What if this scenario occurs again in the Hexagonal? Wait, we're not there yet either.

The final match in the semifinal phase of Concacaf World Cup qualifying is versus Guatemala, with whom the US is now tied in points at 10 and the same goal differential. A win provides safety and redemption, a tie will do and a loss could be enough depending on Jamaica's at-home match versus Antigua.Not once in the past 5 World Cup cycles has this occurred. Our players have the talent, they just need the guidance to funnel their strengths.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Wisdom and Worry: Altidore not called in for qualifiers

Photo credit: ISIphotos.com 
The latest of the Juergen Klinsmann surprises came earlier today when the roster for the most important qualifiers was released: Jozy Altidore and Terrence Boyd left off the squad. This is potentially the most important snub in Klinsmann's short history with the US squad. Instead of those two players we have Alan Gordon and Kyle Beckermann. 

As soon as the national team players were announced on the web, Twitter and Facebook erupted with anger, surprise and contempt. How is it that one of the best forwards US has isn't called up for these games? Why does Alan Gordon get the call? 

Jozy Altidore has enjoyed perhaps his best start to a season in his short career: 8 goals in 7 league games and a goal in cup competition. And yet, for all his accolades in recent European play, Altidore has not scored for the national team since a penalty kick versus Slovenia in November 2011. He has looked a bit lost at times with the national team and not much of a threat. Some argue that this is because he has had no service in the US squad compared to the total football practiced in the Dutch league. Whatever the reasoning might be, the truth is that he is too valuable to not be a supersub at the very least.

Then we have Terrence Boyd. The German-American was surprisingly left off the squad despite having a standout first season with Rapid Vienna, including a key goal this past weekend. The 21-year old has 5 goals in 9 games in league play so far this season. If anyone can offer a last-minute change of pace, it is definitely Boyd.

Then there is the inclusion of Alan Gordon. The 30-year old has hardly made an impression with the US squad and has been spotty, at best, with his whirlwind MLS career. Gordon started with the USL version of the Portland Timbers and joined the LA Galaxy in 2005. He was with the Galaxians during the initial phase of the Beckham experiment and had good moments with the team. It wasn't until his recent form with San Jose that his career really made a positive change. With 9 goals this season in the high-scoring team, although not starting every game, his stock seemed to rise with the US coach. But is he really a better option than the near-record-setting Chris Wondolowski?

The addition of Brek Shea and Klye Beckermann also prompt some head scratching. Shea has been nursing injuries lately and not playing much for less-than-perfect FC Dallas. Beckermann enters this team in a bit of a surplus role as defensive midfielder, considering that Bradley, Jones and Danny Williams could all feature with the squad.

If this were just a friendly it would be called an Alan Gordon experiment (thanks, Grant Wahl). But this isn't that kind of game--two games in fact. A failure to win at Antigua and Barbuda this Friday would set the stage for a must-win match versus Guatemala next week. And if things turn out badly it would mean missing out on the final Hexagonal tournament, and yes, no World Cup 2014. Really? Yes. 

So not having Altidore or Boyd will remain what it is: wisdom in picking the right players at the right time and a worry that this could by Klinsmann's last couple of games with the US national team.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

American Breakthrough: Dempsey scores for Spurs

Photo credit: Action Images

Some dreams are worth dreaming. Some scores are bigger when the game ends. Some players are just special. That was US international Clint Dempsey today for his new team, Tottenham Hotspur. Dempsey scored the game-winner against Manchester United at the famed Old Trafford and re-wrote the role of Americans in premier club soccer.

Clint Dempsey's goal was special for several reasons. Besides the obvious significance of the rival, the very fact that the game was at Old Trafford and one that the Spurs had not won since 1989 elevates Dempsey's goal. Additionally, it brings Tottenham up to 5th place after a 3-game winning streak. It is a credit to Villas-Boas for acquiring the US international and starting him in important matches.

Dempsey has a knack for scoring important, if we may say, scavenger goals. He seems to always be at the right place at the right time and has the presence of mind to adjust the speed and strength of his shots in order to break the goal line. This is what has made him such a threat during his career. Dempsey took his time and remained focused during a transfer season that he saw as his last chance to play for a major team in Europe. An 11th hour move to Tottenham was what he deserved, and after starting 3 matches, he found the back of the net in style.

This is an American breakthrough because of who Clint Dempsey plays for, for his abilities on the pitch, and the path behind him. He elevates other Americans abroad playing for important teams like Michael Bradley (Roma) and Jozy Altidore (AZ Alkmaar) and sets up higher expectations for future United States talent. Dempsey has given us his share of important goals, from recent games in World Cup qualifying, to his goals for New England and Fulham, to unforgettable strikes versus Egypt and Spain at the Confederations Cup 2009, versus England at World Cup 2010, and the winner versus Italy on Italian soil earlier this year. He has added to his repertoire today by scoring for his latest, and most impressive club in the best soccer league in the world. Dempsey is pure American magic and we haven't seen all he can do yet.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

MLS Attendance Statistics Week 28

As the MLS season begins to wind down, a few locations in the attendance arena show some real patterns compared to years past. Nowhere is this more a fact than in New York. The Red Bulls may have 3 designated players in Thierry Henry, Rafa Marquez and Tim Cahill, but big bucks and a shiny, recently-built stadium haven't translated into the filled arenas seen in Seattle, Portland, Kansas City, Philadelphia and Houston.

New York's deficit compared to last year now stands at almost 3000 seats. This is after a considerable positive jump in the past two years following the completion of RBA and the signing of Henry and Marquez. So what is it? Quality on the pitch? Hardly, in my opinion. Accessibility of venue? Nope. Style of play? Maybe. New direction for team? Perhaps. We will see after this season is complete. Maybe New York needs the other New York team to start playing.

Another sore spot for MLS these days is Toronto FC. The once-gleaming venue for full stadiums and ardent fans, has now run into its 6th year of mediocrity. The team has yet to make it into the playoffs and the fans have begun to notice. What was once 100% attendance has since become 80%. The same fate could be in hand for the Timbers if they are unable to capitalize on a dedicated fan base.

The numbers:

Team Average Relative Median
DC 13833 71 14131
KC 19296 104 19422
NE 12690 63 12523
CLB 14140 69 13651
TOR 18480 80 18773
CHI 15956 80 16914
NYRB 16744 66 16464
PHI 18217 98 18412
HOU 20850 95 21423
MON 23100 114 19223
LA 22309 83 21731
CHV 13285 71 13594
DAL 13590 66 12203
SJ 13633 130 10525
COL 14975 83 14987
RSL 18897 94 19341
SEA 42327 110 38934
POR 20438 100 20438
VAN 19409 92 19394

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

3 points: USA defeats Jamaica

Photo credit: Reuters

It may seem that it would be written in the stars for the United States: playing at home in a qualifier on the 11th anniversary of 9/11. So much pride, spirit and desire. And the men in stripes did not disappoint. Team USA got their win and vengeance over Jamaica after a shock loss in Kingston last Friday, and they are now in better position to qualify for the next round of World Cup Qualifying.

It was, however, a tale of two halves. Not necessarily the temporal halves, but the before and after the goal was scored. Before the goal, the US held 79% of the possession, hit the post three times and was denied, miraculously by Dwayne Miller twice. Most of all, the US looked great throughout the first half with Zusi, Cherundolo and Danny Williams looking especially impressive. 

After the goal, the Americans looked disinterested and, at times vulnerable. Marking became sloppy and Dempsey could not get forward with clarity. It could have been so much more if they had kept the same tempo going. It may have been a perfect match altogether.

If the Americans had had Michael Bradley or Donovan on this night, the score could easily have been much more emphatic. Even so, however, nothing in the first 55 minutes made us feel that those two legionnaires were absolutely necessary to win; the score might have been 4-0 by the end of the night. 

The forwards did their job tonight. Dempsey held the ball, looked dangerous and demanded respect. This gave Herculez Gomez more room to roam, strike, open spaces and ultimately stand up to take the free kick that gave the US the victory. Altidore's insertion late in the game gave the front line more stability and a way to hold up the play.

The midfield clicked tonight. Even Jose Torres, long-heralded the playmaker by Juergen Klinsmann, looked clear and precise in his passes and his shots. Danny Williams excelled at defensive midfielder and outshone recent efforts by Edu, Jones and Beckermann. Graham Zusi has made a case for himself as a good option on the wing with great passing ability and a superb shot. We will see more of him in the future. Jones was probably the weakest link tonight but he held the Jamaicans back and took a few knocks in the process.

The defense was rather stout with Cherundolo and Bocanegra back in their respective positions. There is no arguing that, for the moment, there is no replacement for Bocanegra, only approximations, and we need Boca for matches like these. Cherundolo has also made a clear point that he is still the man to beat at right back unless Timmy Chandler joins the team or Eric Lichaj improves further.

The ball is now clearly in the US' half for qualifying. A trip to lowly, feisty, and eliminated Antigua and Barbuda and a home match versus Guatemala. Win both and the US advances. Jamaica and Guatemala will face each other next in Central America in a match that could decide their fate in this group. No team can take anything for granted anymore. This is where it ends and it begins.

Player ratings:

F. Johnson.........6

Subs: Edu (6.5), Shea (6), Altidore (5.5)

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Historical Inconsistency: Jamaica defeats USA

Photo credit: Reuters

Jamaica shocked the United States in a historical first-win over the Americans in the continuation of World Cup qualifying. Just a month ago we were talking about the historic triumph of the US over Mexico at the Azteca Stadium. Consistency? Yes, consistency in inconsistency.

Most of us were deprived of this match due to the limited nature of TV coverage (beIN Sport is on DirecTV, Dish Network and Comcast on a limited basis). And maybe that is a good thing. While scrambling to find a suitable online signal during the first half, it was clear in the second half that this would be an uphill battle for the US. Most of the possession was Jamaican and Dempsey's goal came way too early.

The second half was hardly reminiscent of the wins versus Italy, Mexico or Scotland. Instead, it was more like the 0-0 tie in Canada, except that Jamaica could penetrate with resolve. Edu and Jones were routinely exposed and Johnson did not maintain a hold on the left flank. Where was the virtuous Geoff Cameron? Even Howard can be faulted for Jamaica's second goal. That's the kind of strike that Howard has for breakfast any given weekend in the Premier League.

As far as the forwards, both Altidore and Gomez looked highly ineffective. Indeed, the most lively player on the pitch was the person with least action in the last 3 months: Clint Dempsey. Now it is also true that Maurice Edu did not see much action in the past few months, and yet he was also thrown into the mix. And yes, Edu was superb versus Mexico at the Azteca, but this is a highly-meaningful match and his role as a defensive midfielder was crucial to keep Jamaica from scoring.

Was the absence of Michael Bradley really that important? After tonight it seems that is the case. His presence, driving spirit and steadiness was missing in the midfield. It's true that he wasn't in Mexico, but that wasn't a competitive match and the players were only fueled by pride and failure was only momentary. A world cup qualifier is an entirely different animal and it deserves respect, always.

Klinsmann made several bold moves today. From the benching of Carlos Bocanegra and choosing Parkhurst instead of Steve Cherundolo or Jonathan Spector, to the switch to a 4-4-2 formation. It did not pan out and suddenly the Messiah coach is on the brink of missing out on World Cup 2014. There was a comment today, "we don't deserve to be in the top 50 after the Jamaica match." I'm not sure I agree, but it's true that if the Americans are unable to win the next three games, they may be watching the rest of qualifying in 2013 from home.

In the past a game like today's was a wake-up call. For good teams that is always the case. Now it's time for the US Men's National Soccer Team to prove us all wrong and show us that it is indeed a good team.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Buy American: from Dempsey to Edu

Photo credit: @SpursOfficial
The most highly-regarded American international--Clint Dempsey--finally made a move out of mid-table Fulham FC of the Premier League to Tottenham Hotspur of the English Premier League during the closing minutes of transfer deadline in Europe. This after 5 stellar years with the London outfit and scoring 23 goals in all competitions during the 2011-2012 season. And even though his move was deserved, and that he flirted with teams like Liverpool and Arsenal, a more impressive effect has occurred: top European teams are buying American.

It's true that this has happened before with the likes of Jozy Altidore making a move to Villarreal and Onyewu to AC Milan, but the back-top-back transfers of Bradley and Dempsey should have American fans excited. Now comes word that Maurice Edu, a top competitor and long-time player for the ill-fated Glasgow Rangers, is joining forces with Geoff Cameron at Stoke City. A new American Premier League team is born. If you were to start both at center back then you'd have the tandem that came away with a shutout at Estadio Azteca in the US' first ever win over Mexico on Mexican soil. Great selling point, right?

Dempsey and Edu weren't alone today and in the recent weeks. Up-and-coming Terrence Boyd, a player with no professional experience prior to his recent games with the US U-23 and full national team, signed with legendary Austrian team Rapid Vienna and became a starting striker that already has 4 goals in all competitions. Add to this Alejandro Bedoya's move to Helsingborg, Mixx Diskerud's loan to Rosenborg, both whom have scored key goals already, as well as Onyewu to Malaga of the Spanish Primera, and we suddenly see that buying American is getting quite fruitful for teams in Europe.

It remains to be seen, of course, how some of these moves will pan out. Bradley, aside from a recent injury, slid right into a starting role for Roma and has made a difference so far. So has Cameron. If Dempsey can crack the starting 11 for Spurs and if he can score consistently, then American soccer will finally have taking that extra step to become a provider of top talent for the world's most beautiful sport. And World Cup 2014 is right around the corner.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Stoked: The Rise of Geoff Cameron

 Photo credit: NBC Sports

Geoff Cameron has had a swift change in his career during the past year. Once a defensive midfielder for the Houston Dynamo of Major League Soccer, he was switched to center back when his teammate experienced an injury. After that, his poise, versatility and style quickly caught the attention of Juergen Klinsmann and he cemented himself as an option at the center back position.

Klinsman's choice of Cameron as a center back was key in the development of the national team since the top choices Bocanegra, Onyewu and Goodson aren't getting any younger and Tim Ream was relegated to the League Championship in England. Orozco Fiscal also hasn't shown to be a reliable option and George John and Omar Gonzalez have seen their form drop due to injury or other distractions. In any case, Cameron's recent games since his first start versus Venezuela earlier this year haven proven that he's exactly the type of player that can succeed internationally.

One key match that finally sealed Cameron's appeal to US national team fans and his new employer, Stoke City, was the game against Mexico two weeks ago. There, Cameron paired up with soon-to-be-teammate Maurice Edu at center back and helped win the game for the United States in a location the had never been conquered in the past. Cameron denied Chicharito Hernandez on several occasions and had a superb saving header that could have ended as an own goal. It was a true Kodak moment. 

Both Cameron and Edu have similar qualities as versatile defensive midfielders that can also play in the defense. In the case of Cameron, he is a more withdrawn defender than Edu, which can be advantageous for a mid-table team like Stoke City.

Today, Cameron debuted for Stoke City in a game versus legendary Arsenal. And he succeeded. Not only did Cameron keep his poise, he also looked in control at all times, was never intimidated by the lights of the Premier League and had great tackles, passing and his trademark offensive throw-ins. Stoke City have won a valuable asset in this player and his being with the "Potters" at the world's best league can only further cement his position as a starter for the national team in the coming years.

Good luck, Geoff. We are cheering for you.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Azteca falls and USA defeats Mexico

Photo credit: Getty Images

Today the soccer world witnessed history: the USA defeated Mexico on Mexican soil for the first time in history. The Estadio Azteca will never be the same again for American players or fans of the game. Once a mythical and almost indestructible fortress, now the belief that Team USA can beat anyone anywhere is palpable.

There are some basic things to understand about this game. First, neither team was at "full strength," although Mexico fielded most of its starters except for Dos Santos and Salcido. The US, on the other hand, did not have Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore or anyone from its classic defense: no Bocanegra, Onyewu, Goodson, Cherundolo, Bornstein or Lichaj. Instead today we were treated to the Geoff Cameron show and an unlikely partnership with Maurice Edu. Fabian Johnson, the new left back option, shifted from left to right and allowed for Edgar Castillo to slide in at left.

The defense worked. Maybe it was luck on several chances, maybe Cameron really truly is the real deal, and maybe Chicharito has lost his step. Any way you look at this, it wasn't exactly a game that the Mexicans were looking to lose at any point, not after winning the Olympics and having been unbeaten against the US in 24 tries. No, today the back four held their line well and hustled for every play. And when Cameron didn't get there Howard kept us in the game.

We should also recognize that the offense had its ups and downs and didn't quite work with Torres as the playmaker and an ailing Donovan fresh from a Superclasico win by the Galaxy over Chivas USA. When Beasley and Boyd were inserted into the game, things clicked better but an enabler was still needed. Enter  Brek Shea, and just as he did in last year's game versus Mexico, one play from the flank allowed for a nifty pass from Boyd to an unlikely hero: Michael Orozco Fiscal.

Orozco's goal said it all for the US. This was a team win and it didn't matter who scored the goal. It didn't have to be Donovan or Shea or Gomez or even Boyd, it didn't need to be flashy and over the top. All it had to do was cross the goal line and inflate the net behind Gillermo Ochoa. This was a true American win, a win about team work, about strength and athleticism, about belief in yourself and your companions, about a dream that can be reached.

Mexico will claim that Dos Santos (both of them) along with Oribe Peralta and Corona at goal will make the difference next time these rivals meet. Perhaps, yes, but consider that the USA will also have Altidore, Dempsey and Michael Bradley along for the ride. Hopefully the teams will meet again, twice, if they qualify for the Hexagonal in World Cup Qualifying with a chance to prove it all over again in a competitive match. All of us on both sides of the border can't wait.

Player ratings:


Subs: Boyd (7), Beasley (6.5), Zusi (6.5), Shea (7), Orozco (7), Corona (N/A)

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

MLS Attendance Statistics 2012 Week 24

A short update. This time of the year brings a lot of outside teams in preseason matches versus MLS sides. It's also a time of unbearable heat for most of the country. This even includes Portland, where the mercury was in the 100s for their game on August 4th. Unlike places with higher moisture like in the east coast, every single seat was taken at the game.

The numbers:

Team Average Relative Median
DC 14178 73 14287
KC 19382 105 19600
NE 12980 65 12857
CLB 14858 73 16024
TOR 19089 83 18944
CHI 15563 78 15757
NYRB 17351 69 16464
PHI 18416 100 18412
HOU 21287 97 22039
MON 23620 116 18435
LA 22729 84 22143
CHV 13559 72 13822
DAL 13335 65 11702
SJ 14464 138 10525
COL 15074 83 14987
RSL 18680 93 18702
SEA 41418 108 38709
POR 20438 100 20438
VAN 19442 93 19727

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Gold Medal: The Ascent of Mexico

Photo credit: AP

The Mexican U-23 Olympic team won what no other Mexican team had one before: a gold medal at the Olympics. This occurs on the trail of two impressive wins in the U-17 and U-20 World Cups. This is a well of talent rising over the competition and right now they are poised for even greater achievements.

There are a few particulars with this win, if we're to play devil's advocate. It can be argued that the Aztecas won only one game of consequence against a competitive team: Brazil. Getting through a group consisting of South Korea, Switzerland and Gabon would not be difficult for a talented Mexican U-23 squad. The quarterfinals against Senegal and semifinal against Japan also didn't put them into contact with more experienced teams like Great Britain, Spain, Uruguay. And yes, all three of those didn't quite make it far either. And yet, as we know now more than ever, in the Olympics all bets are off.

Tena's Mexico team did what it needed to do. It got an impressive 29-second goal to get the match started in the first minute, continued to pressure and held a strong line against the likes of Rafael, Neymar and Hulk, and wasn't shy in their counters. Oribe Peralta showed why he's a rising star and he buried Brazil with the second goal late in the game. 

If the United States had a breakout tournament and game against Spain in the 2009 Confederations Cup, then today Mexico proved they have the talent to make history in world soccer. And although this may have been a junior squad, the fact that their developmental teams have won the recent major tournaments is sure to be turning a few heads. The senior team can now capitalize on players like Peralta, Dos Santos, and add Chicharito Hernandez and Barrera to the mix. Suddenly Mexico looks like a team that can reach the semifinals at the World Cup, or maybe even the final. Mexico have proven that they are now the contenders that this soccer nation has always wanted to be and always knew it could become.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Redeem team too: US Women win Gold at London 2012

Photo credit: US Presswire

Redemption. Not because the US Women's national soccer team did anything wrong at last summer's Women's World Cup, but because they were the better team but were cruelly defeated by penalties. Redemption because today's win wrapped up a perfect tournament in which they defeated every team and outscored them 16-6, where at the World Cup they lost twice. Redemption because they were booted by Brazil in 2007 only to redeem themselves with the Gold Medal in 2008. Redemption because the American style of soccer was upheld and showed why this country sets the trend in the women's game as countries like Brazil do for men.

And today we had the usual suspects clinch the tournament: Alex Morgan with her nifty pass for the first goal and opening lanes for Rapinoe and Lloyd, Wambach for her presence, Solo for her reflexes, Rapinoe for her tireless work on the flanks, Buehler, LePeilbet, O'Hara and Rampone for holding a tough line and pressing forward when needed, Shannon Boxx for her spirit, Tobin Heath for her speed, and Carli Lloyd for being a number 10.

Yes, Carli Lloyd made the difference today by scoring the two goals that won the game 2-1. It wasn't the youthful energy of Alex Morgan, the commanding experience of Abby Wambach or the darting runs of Rapinoe. It was the number 10, the Pele, Zidane, Landon Donovan of this group. She made the difference in the final like all great midfielders do. Zidane scored twice against Brazil in 1998, Pele delivered 1958 to Brazil, and Donovan saved the US Men in 2010 twice. Always in the background working and always there at the time of need. Carli Lloyd may not be as flashy as Morgan or Wambach, but she knew how to win this game and redeem her team.


Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Alex Morgan Rises and US advances to Gold Medal Final

Photo credit: Stanley Chou/Getty Images

Somehow the US Women's national team always find a way to make things dramatic, amazing and magical. If last year's last gasp Abby Wambach goal versus Brazil was breathtaking, today's overtime game-clincher by Alex Morgan was pure fantasy. 

The high-scoring Olympic semifinal versus Canada was a far cry from the match we saw in Portland last year. Canada took the initiative and Christine Sinclair scored a hat trick to bring her team within reach of the Gold Medal final. But Megan Rapinoe, Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan answered back every time Canada went ahead on the scoreboard and sealed it with the fourth goal in the 123rd minute.

If Megan Rapinoe is the new engine in the midfield for the Women's team, then Alex Morgan is its new weapon. Her savvy treatment of the ball, scavenging positioning and uncanny nose for goal settles her as a perfect number 9 player and a great complement to Wambach. Let's face it, this will soon be Morgan's team as Wambach, 32, eases her foot from the soccer pedal.

Alex Morgan's clinching goal is a testament to a different kind of player: less power than Wambach or Mia Hamm but a lot more finesse. Her header cradled the ball and gave it enough speed and traveling arc to ease over the Canadian goalkeeper. She put it exactly in the one place it needed to be. That is how you win tournaments.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

In the Olympics all bets are off

Photo credit: Getty Images

Spain, world champions and two-time defending European champions, crashed out of the London 2012 Olympics tournament today after a defeat against Honduras. This is a team that includes David De Gea (Manchester United), Jordi Alba and Christian Tello (Barcelona), and none other than Juan Mata (Chelsea). Unfortunately, this wasn't enough to beat either Honduras or Japan... really?

Yes, really. Remember that this is the U-23 tournament with 3 over-age players per squad. From history in the past two decades, when it comes to junior tournaments, all bets are off. Nigeria, for example, won the 1996 tournament and played the final in 2008. Mexico has won the U20 and U17 in recent years. So why should the Olympics be any different?

It doesn't end with Spain, however. As good as Mexico is, South Korea held them to 0-0 in the first match, and UAE played well against both Uruguay and Great Britain. But the biggest story so far in this tournament has to be the rise of Senegal. The quarterfinalists from the 2002 World Cup have made this their tournament by tying Great Britain and demolishing Uruguay. Their match against UAE should be further prove on how far they can go.

That Spain is out of the tournament this early and Uruguay is looking vulnerable, basically opens the way for Brazil to win its first Olympic gold medal in the sport, one that they have never won before. It opens space for Mexico as well as Great Britain to obtain medals. The Concacaf side has been quite keen on this tournament given their recent form in other junior competitions. And Senegal? Why not.

Friday, July 20, 2012

MLS Attendance Statistics 2012 Week 20

The summer void is upon us with oppressive heat that clears seats in stadiums throughout the country. Why some teams choose to play under unbearable East Coast conditions is beyond most of us. And yet the players must go on playing in virtual saunas that can't possibly be good for their health. How about scheduling matches in the evening?

As far as the statistics, not much has changed. New York looked to be making up for lost ground but the latest matinee match erased their gains. Houston looks to have lost some of their initial spark in attendance and are now below the 100% mark in 3 games out of their last 4. However, these are still 90% full thanks to the BBVA Compass Stadium.

Elsewhere, Montreal is having a hard time attracting fans to the newly-renovated Stade Saputo, and this has taking down their numbers considerably so that the median is 17112. This, after selling out the Olympic stadium for the LA Galaxy match and their opening game. Short honeymoon?

For some perspective, below is the 2012-2011 difference. Notice that the major population markets are down relative to last year, especially New York. Unlike Seattle and Portland, Vancouver has seen some minor ups and downs and don't quite sell out their stadium on a weekly basis.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Catching up to Mexico: Bradley to Roma

Photo credit: AS Roma

For most American soccer fans the news is already out there: Michael Bradley will be joining the legendary Italian club AS Roma. With this momentous news is a new beginning for US Soccer and what it means to be an American player in the world stage. It also means that the US is catching up to Mexico in sealing blockbuster moves in Europe.

A couple of years ago, Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez completed a move to world superpower Manchester United and a gulf began to open between Americans and Mexicans in world soccer. True, the developmental teams have been sensational for Mexico: U17 and U20 world titles and a chance at gold at this summer's Olympics. The US, however, failed to progress to either one of the latter two events. Still, some of the older stars, and in some cases younger, have begun to make splashes in the European market: Altidore (AZ Alkmaar), Dempsey (Fulham), Edu (Rangers), Danny Williams and Fabian Johnson (Hoffenheim).

Of the above, the more impressive ones are Edu and Altidore. And yes, Rangers is now a thing of the past so Maurice, Bedoya and Bocanegra will need new homes soon. Altidore, however, made a dream move to Holland to play for a former champion with a storied developmental structure. For Clint Dempsey, his 17 league goals and 23 in all competitions, compounded with an end to his contract next year, means another blockbuster move might be on tap for US Soccer. The leading candidate at the moment is Liverpool.

But back to Bradley. Michael, the son of former US coach Bob Bradley, has had a steady rise through the world of soccer. From a modest start as a 16-year old at the New York/New Jersey Metrostars to a record-setting stay at Heerenveen of the Dutch Eridivisie (17 goals in one season) to Bundesliga outfit Borussia Moenchengladbach, and finally to Chievo Verona of the Serie A. Once in Italy, his work ethic and on-field value sky rocketed and he attracted the attention of major Italian clubs, including AS Roma.

The fact that Michael Bradley is only 24 further elucidates the significance of his transfer to the Eternal City.  This is, to date, the biggest move by any US player since Onyewu's ill-fated time at AC Milan. And by "biggest" we mean in significance and not in price. Altidore will take the price tag with his $10 million transfer to Villarreal. This is Roma, three-time champions of the Serie A, a frequent Champions League team and the home of players like Francesco Totti, Gabriel Heinze, and Daniele De Rossi.

So yes, in a way, the US is catching up to Mexico in its proliferation of well-respected talent. Where Dempsey ends up next will only further enhance this statement. After this, players like Fabian Johnson, Danny Williams, Terrence Boyd and other, younger stars may get to shine abroad. And with that the gulf in talent between Mexico and the United States will begin to close again.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Dissolving the American Rangers

Photo credit: SNS Group 
At one point the Glasgow Rangers was the ultimate American soccer destination for a sizable fraction of Yanks playing abroad. From Claudio Reyna and DaMarcus Beasley as the more classic representatives to Alejandro Bedoya, a promising young US star. Scarcely a few months ago, however, debt and tax problems forced the team to go into administration and was demoted by league members to the Sottish third division.

So what are the Americans to do? Along with Bedoya are two automatic starters for the national team: Carlos Bocanegra and Maurice Edu. None of these players are keen to return to MLS and there is a future in Europe still. For Bedoya, even a return to the Swedish first division would work. Edu could have a chance in bigger markets in England, Germany, Italy and Spain. For Bocanegra, a move to the Mexican Primera wouldn't be so bad.

It's sad to see such a storied club like Rangers go down in such a drastic manner. This is, after all, the Manchester United, New York Yankees of Scotland. For the Americans, however, it means perhaps less lucrative deals wherever they end up. Still, for a player like Maurice Edu, a move to a bigger club with more chances at being in the Champions League is a plus. Bedoya's lack of playing time meant less chances with the national team, so a move to better on-field opportunities is a welcome one. In the end, this unfortunate event might end up benefiting each of the players and the national team itself.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

MLS Attendance Statistics 2012 Week 17

Briefly catching up with MLS, which is in full swing after the international break. There are consistent patterns in attendance numbers stemming from how well a team is doing, especially as compared to recent seasons. DC United, for instance, has seen a steady increase in attendance given their winning ways this season. The same can be said for Columbus, Chicago and Colorado.

Some of the negatives include New York's struggles at Red Bull Arena, although the latest match was a sellout, and Montreal, which has seen attendance numbers that are relatively low for a debuting team. Indeed, as soon as Saputo Stadium opened, there have been three games in a row well below 15,000. Interestingly, places like Seattle and Portland sell out every game, and Salt Lake, Philadelphia, Houston and Kansas City have full stadiums almost every game.

The numbers:

Team Average Relative Median
DC 14132 73 14131
KC 19353 105 19876
NE 12254 61 12523
CLB 14141 69 11978
TOR 19036 83 18911
CHI 14756 74 14163
NYRB 17161 68 17114
PHI 18399 99 18367
HOU 21632 98 22039
MON 26495 130 19223
LA 22483 83 21836
CHV 13291 71 13816
DAL 13252 65 12203
SJ 16509 157 10391
COL 15396 85 15269
RSL 18820 94 18780
SEA 39514 103 38399
POR 20438 100 20438
VAN 19123 91 19271

Monday, July 2, 2012

Espana: Supernatural champions

Photo credit: Getty Images

Spain defeated Italy in the Euro 2012 Final by the score of 4-0. In doing so, the Spanish broke new ground by being the first team to win two Euros in a row and 3 major championships in a row (World Cup 2010 included). And they did so in style.

The Spanish fantasy with the tiki-taka passes, intricate moves and never-ending possession is enough to make any opposing squad scramble to gain a foothold in a match. In group play, the Italians scored first against the Spaniards and frustrated their attack patterns. By the final, however, Vicente del Bosque had figured out a new way to deal with the Italians: shut down Pirlo and Balotelli. With this, Montolivo and Cassano were isolated and the Italians lost their primary weapon: building Balotelli's game.

Aside from the mastery in placing the right pieces against the Azzuri, was the 6-man midfield, which Del Bosque corrected: It's three attackers. A 4-3-3? Why not? It's a 4-6-0 in disguise with Silva and Iniesta as co-anchors for Fabregas. And it worked. In fact, it worked during the whole tournament.

Re-writing midfield-attack strategy is just one facet of the Spanish game. For when they see that a change is needed, a number 9 like Torres can step in to deliver. Up 2-0 versus Italy late in the second half, El Nino came in to finish off the game. Juan Mata, the new rising star in this team, put the game away with a 4-0.

Spain is about fantasy, about goals, about us liking the game for what it's supposed to be: quick, direct, and fun to watch. This is arguably the best national team ever put together, at least for the last 4 decades, if we are to count Pele's Brazil in 1970. But this team is more complete from goalkeeper to forward. They know how to win and they do so in style.

The Spanish national team has broken record after record in recent times, but one in particular remains: no European team has ever won a World Cup in the American continent. That Brazil is hosting 2014 just makes things more special. If there is a group of players that can break this record, then it must be pure dream, fantasy, supernatural. And right now, Spain is riding high on being magical.