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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.