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Friday, February 21, 2014

What will happen with Chivas USA?

A bomb dropped on Major League Soccer yesterday. The league is buying Chivas USA from Jorge Vergara and plans to keep the team in LA, for now. But let's not kid ourselves--we saw this coming.

If anything, a Chivas rebrand might be the best thing that could happen to the league if it really wants to move on to better things. Since 2005 the expansion side has tried to turn LA into a city of two soccer teams. For a time it worked and Chivas had serious quality when Preki was coach. Since then, however, the team has struggled and has been a type of "assured-points game" for stronger teams whenever they played.

The original intent with Chivas USA was to provide the significant Mexican presence in Southern California with a team they could truly call their own. The "Rebaño Sagrado" was the perfect fit, it seemed, since it is one of the most prominent teams in Mexico. 

One of the more curious things about the early Chivas USA was the inclusion of a heavy Mexican developmental contingent, which in retrospect was more of a stunt aimed at the local population than dealing with soccer reality. It was believed that Mexican players had an advantage being developed in a soccer community but this never translated into quality on the pitch. This, in addition to a parade of coaches, added to the misery experienced by the LA team.

But does Los Angeles really need a second soccer team? Are there really enough Chivas USA fans out there or were they always de facto Goats fans because their main team was Chivas Guadalajara? The latter is more likely to be the case.

Indeed, a case can be made that The American Goats was an experiment and that, however flawed, offered something fundamentally different from the glamor of the LA Galaxy and all that it means to the city. Chivas was often an afterthought only to be brought up for the so-called SuperClasico. And yes, at times those games were fun when Sacha Kljestan, Jonathan Bornstein and Brad Guzan played for the Rojiblancos, but the "derby" never quite caught up and was overshadowed by the Portland-Seattle rivalry when it arrived.

A move away from the LA area would serve the former Chivas team best and would benefit both the Galaxy and the league as a whole. And the team need not move too far. San Diego has been hoping to land a tier 1 soccer team for a while now, and deservedly so. It is a town rich in soccer culture and a strong market with Mexican influence that would provide a great fan base.

Los Angeles continues to run the soccer world in this country.  From Galaxy II's development in USL to the rebranding of Chivas. What else can the City of Angels give to American soccer?

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Blatter should not be FIFA President again

Photo credit: Vive Deporte
Ever since 1998 there has been one true constant for FIFA: Sepp Blatter. He has been elected president 4 times and has hinted he will run for a fifth term. Can FIFA and world soccer afford this?

The answer is no simply because FIFA really deserves new ideas, a new face and a window to a future that has been elusive for at least a decade now. The world of soccer has sped by us so fast in the last four World Cup cycles that it is difficult to fathom a tournament without a breakout African nation, social media magic and the ever expanding worldliness of the game.

And while Blatter may have facilitated some of the more progressive moves in world soccer, such as a rotating World Cup and removing the automatic spot from the previous champion, the pace of evolution has been excruciatingly slow. Soccer should have had goal line technology a decade ago and should be able to have at least six substitutions per game.

A revolution is required for this sport we love so much. While big money interest has taken the World Cup to an unlikely place like Qatar and kept the Club World Cup from becoming relevant, non-European markets like USA and Brazil are becoming more attractive to top stars, the latter which has recalled non other than Ronaldinho in recent years.

What is needed is someone that will advance the laws of the game at a faster pace. It's time for soccer to come out of the shadows of the 1960s in terms of most regulations. There are better ways to make the game more clear, enjoyable and fair without subtracting from its speed. That's what a new president should bring, and if it is Blatter, then these necessary changes will need to wait another couple of World Cup cycles.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

MLS back in Miami

Photo credit: Fox News Latino
Last week it was announced that Major League Soccer would be returning to the Miami area, thanks to ownership by David Beckham and, possibly, Bolivian billionaire Marcelo Claure, founder of the Miami-based wireless distributor Brightstar Corporation, and the “American Idol” producer Simon Fuller. The team would start play in 2016 or 2017 with the latter being more likely.

Back in 1998 we got the welcome and expected news that MLS would be expanding to Miami with the Miami Fusion. It was a logical step given the diversity in the city and the importance of the sport for various sectors of the population. Miami Fusion was strategically contracted by the league in 2001.

For many years Miami has been a particularly difficult market for sports, let alone for soccer. One of the keys, it seems is the location of the stadium. Lockhart Stadium in Fort Lauderdale, where the Fusion played, was too far for the likely target population to come in large enough numbers. Becks and company will need to take this into consideration.

But Mami brings many things to the game. Proximity to Latin American and Caribbean nations has made this a vibrant gateway city and its location makes it perfect for international matches and player development. Indeed, one can argue that the talent exists in the streets of the city and waiting to be discovered.

David Beckham will bring name recognition as an owner. His contract with MLS as a player in 2007 had a clause in it that provided Becks with a discount on a franchise, should he ever be interested in having a team in the league. Can he work some magic to get this team going?

Another thing the former England captain will have is an ability to attract top talent and to lobby for an expansion of designated players. One can imagine a 4-5 designated player team, perhaps with one or two of those being reserved for American stars. Star power is what attracts in Miami, much like LA. This is where the future lies for Beckham and the sunshine city. So, MLS, welcome to Miami and bienvenido to Miami.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Zusi and Wondo win it for USA vs South Korea

Photo credit: LA Times
The US Men's national team defeated South Korea yesterday in a tune-up game for the World Cup that also served as the end point for the January camp. It was an all around good showing for the squad and a few questions were raised, positively.

It is nothing new to see Chris Wondolowski scoring poacher goals. Scoring them internationally has been a bit more difficult when facing more relented sides. Although South Korea is a step up from say, Belize, it is still no Ghana or Portugal or Germany. And yet his poaching, right moment at the right time style might just be enough to send Wondo to Brazil.

Yesterday we wanted to see something breathtaking from players vying for a spot in 2014 and a sort of accreditation for those we know to be on the plane regardless of what happened on the pitch.

We wanted Yedlin to light it up in the right side, for Luis Gil to create plays and score goals, for Brad Davis to score a free kick and for Mike Magee to show why he's one of the top players in MLS. We wanted to see some Diskerud magic, solidification of the Besler-Gonzalez partnership and settling the question that is Zusi or Donovan.

We got very little time to see Yedlin, although he looked self-assured. Luis Gil was unfortunately rarely visible. Brad Davis played well but didn't make enough of a dent to assure a spot in the final 23.

For many fans out there, Mix Diskerud was who they wanted to see. But they wanted the magic of the Gold Cup games, the Russia game and, especially, the Mexico game. Instead we got only flashes. And this is because of the type of midfield Klinsmann prefers, a flank-friendly and interchangeable attack type of soccer. Diskerud approaches more of a Number 10 role in his inventiveness and positioning.

For all the praise deserved by Wondolowski, most of the attack really came from Graham Zusi. His play led to Wondo's second goal and he was active defensively and offensively, winning balls and serving lofted and grounded plays. Indeed, you can expect him to remain with the squad, if not a starter, when June comes around.

Sporting Kansas Ciy didn't just give us Zusi, it also gave us Matt Besler. He partnered well with Gonzalez at center back and cleaned up messes left behind by Brad Evans, who may be seeing his right back spot slip away.

The team moved as a unit yesterday but still lacked enough offensive bite, something we hope Dempsey, Altidore, Bradley and Johannsson can bring. The back line had some scares, and that's where it gets interesting. As Alexi Lalas pointed out: "Ghana will score on those plays." Indeed.