October 22, 2008

The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain

Portsmouth players are going to school to learn what the hell Harry Redknapp is actually saying. The French players shouldn't have too hard a time - the 'h' is always silent. Zing! Maybe Juande Ramos should send his players to school so they'll be able to understand him! Oh man, the hits just keep on comin'.

The exception proves the rule

Tottenham's loss to Stoke this weekend made a fantastic argument against instituting a salary cap in European soccer. For the past three years Spurs have brought in big names in order to topple the hegemony of the Big Four, but they currently sit at the bottom of the table, the only team yet to win a game this season. If this unlikely scenario holds, Tottenham will undoubtedly fire their coach and sell off the highest-paid players. Is this not the exact kind of situation the promotion/relegation system was designed to create?

Not to belabor the point, but let's review the tasks of the key members of a club. It is the job of the ownership to provide the funding and overall direction for the club. It is the job of the manager to effectively discover and motivate talented players. It is the job of the players to execute the plans of the manager. The clubs who succeed at all three are rewarded with trophies while the ones who fail are relegated to lower divisions. Currently Tottenham is failing at all three areas and deserve to fall out of the Premier League if they cannot produce more positive results.

Such an obvious example of incompetence would not be as clear with a salary cap in place. The mismanagement by Juande Ramos could be obscured with the excuse that he does not have the players he needs to execute his gameplan. No such excuse exists when the manager is allowed to bring in players with the talent of Luka Modric, David Bentley and Roman Pavyluchenko.

The spots at the top might be dominated by the highest spenders, but spending alone does not secure a trophy. Good management is vital, and Tottenham have proven that with the abundant lack they possess.

October 20, 2008

Opening Whistle 10-20-08

Photo of the Year. No, not the dog, the one with the corner flag. [100 Percent Soccer]

Last I checked, a shortlist didn't have two dozen players. It's more like five. [Mercury]

David Beckham allowed to train with AC Milan, which is good since AC Milan could use some publicity for no good reason. [Scotsman]

Jose Mourinho at least realizes he has a finite shelf life wherever he goes. [FourFourTwo]

Tottenham: Can't smile without you, can't expect sensible transfer market moves with you. [The Cannon]

October 17, 2008

Yet another reason nobody will miss Bolton

More proof for why I hate Bolton: they have to tempt their fans with beer just to show up. I can't wait until they're relegated. You might think I'm just being contrary but each fan (of the first 1000) gets only one free beer. Whoopee. I can think of a lot better things to give away at a Bolton game:
  • Any ball that ends up in the back of the net with the scorer's signature (don't worry, it'll be the other team)
  • A night out with your favorite Bolton player as wingman
  • The opportunity to design a jersey because they obviously need help
  • Tryouts
  • Hope

October 16, 2008

Opening Whistle 10-16-08

The seven bids for an MLS expansion team are in. Does Arthur Blank really think he has a chance? [MLS Expansion and Development]

Photoshop fun with Joe F*****g Kinnear! [Guardian]

If a Holiday Inn in Zimbabwe were to charge by the hour, I'd imagine it would have to give a different rate each hour to match inflation. [Unprofessional Foul]

Man, nobody is happy with the decision not to play this week's Champions League match at Vincente Calderon. [The Sun]

If Jamaica beats Canada by seven goals to knock Mexico out of the World Cup qualifiers, I will dance naked to Bob Marley in the streets of Toronto. That's a promise. [Sideline Views]

October 15, 2008

Blog Action Day

The theme of this year's Blog Action Day is poverty, a blight many soccer fans hear about but few experience. We'll hear about the superstar who came from a tiny, desolate village in Africa and feel amazement at their struggle for 15 seconds then chide them for missing a cross.

For every Didier Drogba or Emmanuel Adebayor, there are thousands of others left behind. For this reason I want you to go to Grassroot Soccer and see what you can do to help. Their mission is to stem the tide of HIV infections across Africa. You might be thinking, "Uhh, the theme today is poverty, moron," but consider this: when a child loses his/her parents to HIV, what chance does that child have of learning the skills necessary to rise out of the poverty to which he/she has been born?

Poverty is a symptom of a larger disease and there are several ways to work toward its defeat. I encourage you to visit my friends at Soccer Overload and Hugging Harold Reynolds to learn more about what you can do to reduce poverty in our world.

October 14, 2008

Aage is Norwegian for Eeyore

Norway's national team coach Aage Hareide sure is bad about firing up his players before their World Cup qualifier against the Netherlands. He's not playing the 'NOBODY RESPECTS US' card or even the 'We've got nothing to lose so let's give 'em hell' card. He's already resigned to his fate and hopes "they have a bad day."

Even worse, he expects the fans to understand their terrible, horrible, no good, very bad situation.
"I hope the home crowd understand how difficult this match will be. That will make it easier for them to support us then," said the Norwegian pansy.

Hey, Norway FA: fire this douchebiscuit today. He's embarrassing your country.

Image courtesy Cardboard Standups

The Epic Tale of Osasuna

In the faraway land of Pamplona, a traveling mage guild by the name of Osasuna wanders the land of Spain, seeking fortune and immortality...or at least the Copa del Rey.

These wizards conduct fierce battles against other nomadic tribes who want to claim the spoils as their own. In order to defeat these evil sorcerers, the mages of Osasuna must be able to cast spells that only defend themselves from harm but also those which inflict pain on their opponents to the point of surrender.

In six battles our heroes have only allowed a telling strike merely four times, yet in none of those duels have they emerged the victors. The benefactor for the Osasuna guild, Patxi Izco, has determined his young warriors need a new leader, a man who can teach both the protective and destructive arts.

"Aratoha milacho torneda! Zap! You are now relegated!"

Jose Antonio Camacho, the fate of this guild lies in your hands. To be continued...

Opening Whistle 10-14-08

Cow balls. That's all I have to say; you'll click on it. [Football Shirt Blog]

Keith Harris has a cooler job than you do. [ESPN]

An interesting look at which clubs owe which banks. Oh, and Bolton may be screwed. [Guardian]

Italian fans just suck all over. [Scotsman]

Houston and Madrid, sister cities. [MLS Rumors Rumors]

October 13, 2008

The stock symbol is IGNT

With England's FA threatening to boycott a friendly against Spain because of slurs suffered by some of the English players four years ago, I thought it was time to take a look at the rising costs of racism. We will assume a flat fee per player. Otherwise I have to break out the exponential graphs and nobody wants to look at that on a Monday.


Slurs against five players: $88,340
Cost of slurs per player: $17,668


Slurs against one player: $26,500
Cost of slurs per player: $26,500 (If that was hard stop reading now. Please.)

That comes out to an average rate of increase of 10.67% (trust me, I have an MBA). What a return! In these troubled economic times, racist idiots are the only people we can truly count on. Invest in ignorance today!

Opening Whistle 10-13-08

OK, finally back in the saddle. Time to get crackin'...

Bernd Schuster got bored during the international break, so he just had to start sh*t again. [The Sun]

If you haven't seen the Jamaican goal that beat Mexico, see it now while we can still be friends. [The Original Winger]

Maurice Edu still rocks the red jersey in digital form for all the Canadians longing to have him back. [FanHouse]

Yes, FIFA could make the world a slightly better place, but then 25% of this blog wouldn't exist. It's all about priorities. [Independent]

Congrats to the Vancouver Whitecaps, your 2008 USL Champions! [Globe and Mail]

October 10, 2008

We have a visitor, mind your manners

Thanks to a hectic travel schedule, you get an extra special guest post. Today's author is Jeff Tobin, who writes for American Soccer News.

“Failure is an Option”

The top things I learned about being an unpaid soccer journalist:

The Polish media like to embarrass themselves and they are completely self-unaware of this fact. Not ALL Polish media, but at least the guy who was allowed into the David Beckham and Bruce Arena press conference after their loss on September 25th.

During the press conference, while journalists were instructed to ask questions to Bruce Arena first, a gentlemen who introduced himself representing “Polish fans from Europe” asked Mr. David Beckham (swoons – the “reporter” not Beckham), “How is it in the United States and what do you think of Morrissey?” The latter part of the sentence may or may not be true but I listened to the recording 12 times and it still sounds like he asks about Morrissey and I now can’t get the hook from “The More You Ignore Me the Closer I Get” which could be fitting but “There is a Light That Never Goes Out” could also work in this case. Beckham obliged because he may be the nicest and richest man I have ever met, but he provided a standard, “I have enjoyed my time here.”

A mocking energy filled the room for moments as Grant Wahl, Luis Arroyave, and about a dozen poorly placed photographers snapped away as a man, a right-footed soccer player, answered a question that was barely appropriate last summer, unless you work for US Weekly. There are stupid questions.

Another thing I learned is that the Galaxy has a great opportunity to make my favorite blog, http://failblog.org/, next to this one of course.

The Galaxy had been deemed a “Superclub” by former General Manager Alexi Lalas in the past and currently, they are on pace to not make the playoffs AGAIN despite having Beckham and Landon Donovan. Not making the MLS playoffs is hard to do in one year, but two years!? Yahoo Seriously folks.

This is what Arena had to say to me directly as I asked him about his playoff chances in front of paid journalists, ““I feel confident that we are going to give it a great effort. I can’t tell you whether we are going to do it (make the playoffs). Obviously we are a bit behind the eight ball and all we can try to do is make progress as a team and go out and perform up to our capabilities each and every week. If we win tonight, we are 3rd in our conference. We aren’t that far behind. If we don’t win games, we don’t have a chance. It’s likely we’ll need to win three of them to have a chance.”

One down and three more games to go as LA failed last week against the Columbus Crew: The same Crew that is coached by Sigi Schmidt. This is the same Schmidt that was fired from the Galaxy even though he won the championship and had a first place team. Pile on the fact that Donovan and Beckham will be away on international duty against Cuba and Kazakhstan leaving Pete Vagenas, Greg Vanney, and Edson Buddle to beat Toronto to even have a chance to stay in consideration of the playoffs.

Lastly, Chad Barrett, who has a chance to break the 10 goal mark in MLS against the Galaxy, will have a chance to help his team make the playoffs. This is important because, besides John Thorrington and possibly Jon Busch, I have never seen a player take losses and defeat the way Chad Barrett did in his time in Chicago. He suffered for his team giving all of his blood, guts, and body salt while usually leaving them on the field in the 70th minute mark. You can’t blame a guy with low sodium content for not being able to go 90. He hustled all game, chased every ball and when the team won, he was ecstatic regardless if he scored or not. If he didn’t score , he would often call himself out especially during his slump after the demolition of the Red Bulls on May 25th. He was a class act for Chicago and his competitive nature will be missed.

And in life and blogging, you want to end on a positive note.

October 9, 2008

Please stand by...

Sorry for the lack of posts yesterday. The same's going to hold true today and probably into Friday. Stupid real life taking over. If you're good I'll bring in a guest blogger.

October 8, 2008

Opening Whistle 10-8-08

"I know whose clothing they'll be getting for Christmas." Because nothing says cool like Championship football. [Canada.com]

Looks like I'm not the only one battering Blatter. This guy says it much better, though, since he's a professional and all. [Times Online]

Hope you weren't planning on seeing a Ligue 1 game at the end of this month. [The Offside]

Grant Wahl's book on Beckham and LA Galaxy is going to be awesome. [FanNation via Going to the Mat]

I just want the shirt. [Forza Futbol]

October 7, 2008

UEFA Cup Draw Analysis

Group A

Manchester City
Racing Santander

Schalke and Manchester City should make it through easily. I'm going to give the last berth to Racing since they and PSG are in roughly the same place in their domestic tables and La Liga, as we all know, is a hell of a lot harder than Ligue 1. Oh, and Twente are disqualified on account of Steve McClaren being their manager.

Group B

Hertha Berlin
Metalist Kharkiv

The top three clubs in this group spend just as much time in Champions League, so I'm going to be boring and say they advance to the knockout rounds. But before we move on, I have a question for the Bundesliga aficionados: why does Berlin not have a stronger team? Munich, Bremen, Stuttgart, and even Hamburg have experienced more success over the past decade than Berlin. What gives?

Group C

Standard Liege

Probably tied with Group F (who you will see soon) for Group of Death status. It's just a shame Racing Santander couldn't have found their way into this group and taken Partizan's place. Sampdoria's current form gives me the opportunity to not automatically throw in the top three teams. Standard Liege take their place at the knockout rounds, especially given their Champions League qualifier against Liverpool.

Group D

Spartak Moscow
Dinamo Zagreb
NEC Nijmegen

Tottenham have received a draw they could potentially escape. Luka Modric will get to face his old club, Dinamo Zagreb, which is always fun. I hope that one's in Croatia. Udinese should walk in this one with no problem. I think the final spot comes down to which team in the Spartak/Dinamo match gets home field. That's code for "I have no idea what's going on."

Group E

AC Milan

I'm still rejoicing over AC Milan's demotion to the UEFA Cup. I just don't like them. They'll advance past the group stage, though, along with Heerenveen and Portsmouth. Crouch and Defoe have formed the classic big man/small man forward partnership and will only get better as the season progresses.

Group F

Slavia Prague
Aston Villa
MSK Zilina

I'm not just saying this because it's Villa, but why are all these Premier League teams in the fourth pool? Oh well, I still think they'll make it, but just barely. Hamburg is assuredly in since they're three points clear of the rest of Bundesliga. Ajax, OUT. Klaas-Jan Huntelaar is going to be on everyone's January wish list at the rate his team is falling. Slavia Prague get the final spot.

Group G

Club Brugge
FC Kobenhavn

Umm, yeah, this group hardly matters. Valencia rock; we all know that. Club Brugge would go to the top of the Belgian league if they were to win their game in hand...but it's Belgium. Rosenborg and FC Kobenhavn (Copenhagen, obv) are from Scandanavia, soooooo, whatever. And finally, Saint-Etienne isn't even in the top half of the Ligue 1 table right now. Let's go Valencia, Brugge and Kobenhavn just so nobody has to travel to Norway in February.

Group H

CSKA Moscow
Deportivo La Coruna
AS Nancy-Lorraine
Lech Poznan

If Groups C and F are the Groups of Death, then I hereby declare Group H the Group of Cupcakes. Let's start from the bottom. Lech Poznan are a Polish side, so they've got about a 0.00002% chance anyway. AS Nancy-Lorraine is even further down the French table than Saint-Etienne. Feyenoord wouldn't even qualify for the Intertoto Cup playoffs if the Dutch season ended today. Deportivo are firmly in the middle of the La Liga table. CSKA Moscow is the only team in this group that's playing well at all right now, currently second in the Russian leagues, so they're in by default. I guess I'll go with Deportivo and Feyenoord as the final two teams because it just doesn't matter. Why couldn't Villa have gotten in this group?

Thanks for the image, Wikipedia!

Sepp Blatter's Narrow Worldview

It's only fitting that my 100th post on this blog address the globalization of soccer, one of the biggest issues and one I care strongly about.

Sepp Blatter has called once again for the provincialization (I think I just made up a word) of soccer, calling for tighter restrictions on club ownership. Had Blatter simply called for better oversight of club finances to ensure every owner or group of owners has enough resources to keep their clubs afloat, I would have applauded his prudence. Unfortunately the FIFA president has decided to leverage the current economic climate to forward his personal agenda. Blatter has long wished for European soccer to return to the days of hyperlocal sport and there is no better opportunity to see that wish come true.

From a financial viewpoint, his argument is sound. Club owners are responsible for the livelihoods of thousands of people. A sudden downturn in an owner's financial situation could cause a chain reaction, threatening the continuity of the league. One idea: no individual is allowed to own an entire club unless the prospective owner can show the league that the money needed to run the club is in a sufficiently low-risk and liquid place. The idea is to minimize risk by either diversifying or guaranteeing the cash flows needed from outside the team. As soccer clubs become big business, monitoring them as closely as any comparable firm is the only direction that makes sense.

I wish Blatter had stopped with the financial argument. Instead he used the global credit crunch in an effort to convince the European Parliament that his bygone ideal should be resurrected. Blatter has called for owners to have a "link with the area," using Swiss property law as a reference. The president of FIFA wants the world's game to enact laws similar to a country that minimizes its interaction with the rest of the world. Why this man was elected to his position I have no idea.

Blatter needs to understand the game cannot be localised any longer. I guarantee the people who can afford Premier League/La Liga/Serie A teams made their money through business in multiple countries. The leagues themselves have become behemoths because of their international presence. To allow only locals the benefits of a global phenomenon shows a lack of understanding of the current economic landscape. Blatter's policies, if enacted, would shrink the game and deny opportunities to countless players and others whose fortunes are tied to the game. I will rejoice when such a small-minded man is no longer in charge.

Opening Whistle 10-7-08

Can't be worse than Enron, right? [Unprofessional Foul]

WPS is already miles ahead of WUSA's exposure. [Sun Sentinel]

Will Arsenal actually wear these jerseys? I sure hope so. [Arsenal Sigs]

Argentinian coach not sure how many times he's been asked to step in. Yep, that's the kind of commitment to detail that ensures a winning side. [FourFourTwo]

UEFA Cup seedings obviously do not give current domestic performance much weight when seeding. [Independent]

October 6, 2008

Premier League Power Rankings, Week 7

Some might say it's a week late, but Hull proved themselves not to be one-hit wonders and have taken their rightful place in this week's Power Rankings. As always, tell me how much I suck in the comments.

Team Rk (Prv) Points Remark
Chelsea 1(1) 17 Don’t let the 2-0 scoreline fool you; Chelsea dismantled Villa mercilessly and showed the rest of England what they're capable of.
Liverpool 2(2) 17 Another injury time winner, this time courtesy of Dirk Kuyt. Where does their luck stop? Oh right, Skrtel is out for months with a PCL tear.
Man U
Man Utd 3(3) 11
Wayne Rooney continues to shine as Blackburn are easily dealt with. If Man U win their game in hand they would be in 3rd.
Hull 4(10) 14 Hull for Champions League! Also, how crazy is it that no one is hailing their defeat of the other half of the North London Derby as something special?
Arsenal 5(4) 13 Fabregas saved them from dropping out of the top four, but no team could use the international break more than Arsenal.
Aston Villa
Aston Villa 6(5) 13 So, yeah, about that unchanged lineup every game. Might not be the best idea after all.
Man City
Man City 7(6) 9 For a team that is supposedly built around its defense (at least it was last season), losing after building a 2-0 lead is inexcusable.
Portsmouth 8(12) 12
How does Peter Crouch get horizontal like that? Must be some magic he shares with Jermain Defoe: the two have already combined for 11 goals.
Sunderland 9(11) 8
Tough luck against Arsenal, but the rest of the month sees the Black Cats playing three of the bottom four teams. Seven out of nine points is the bare minimum if Sunderland want to challenge for a spot in Europe.
Blackburn 10(9) 10 The Rovers were helpless against Man U, but manager Paul Ince's complaining about the refereeing and Man U's payroll won't help the club get its confidence back.
Wigan 11(8) 8 The Latics got screwed, but that happens. Now Steve Bruce has to keep the squad focused so they don't find themselves in a relegation battle.
West Brom
West Brom 12(13) 10
Enjoy the victory over Fulham while you can; after the international break you're headed to Old Trafford.
West Ham
West Ham 13(7) 12 The Hammers had a chance to go to the top of the table but failed. At home. Against Bolton. Yep, the 'new manager' bump has definitely worn off.
Middlesbrough 14(16) 9
A 1-0 win on the road should give this team the burst of confidence it needs before welcoming Chelsea in two weeks. At least, that's what Gareth Southgate will tell everyone.
Bolton 15(18) 7
A 3-1 win despite only having one-third of the possession? A win is a win, but Bolton aren't clear yet.
Stoke 16(17) 4 Stoke don't appear to be all that bad despite their record. Maybe they can get out of the relegation zone when Spurs come to town after the break.
Everton 17(14) 8
No Carling Cup, no UEFA Cup, and now only three points out of the drop zone. That new owner better get there, pronto.
Fulham 18(15) 6 Shut out by a newly promoted side. One point clear of relegation. It's the same old song and dance: Fulham manage to achieve no progress every season.
Newcastle 19(19) 5
A draw at Everton isn't a bad start for Joe Kinnear. But the more important question: How did the postgame press conference go?
Tottenham 20(20) 2 The last time Spurs were this bad the Titanic sank. Life has a way of coming up with some really obvious metaphors.

Roman Abramovich is his own navy

eclipseIf you're worried about Russia because of Putin, you're looking the wrong way. Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich is building a $400 million yacht of yachts, named Eclipse because he wants his ship to eclipse every other ship on the sea. A few features:

- Armor plating and bulletproof glass in his cabin

- An escape submarine in case pirates board the ship

- A missile defense system

- I'm going to say it one more time. THE MAN HAS INSTALLED A M***********G MISSILE DEFENSE SYSTEM ON HIS PERSONAL BOAT

I'm going to take a wild guess, but methinks if you install such outlandish features on a boat it becomes, ironically enough, more likely someone will try to attack it. Of course, Abramovich has little to worry about: more than 70 former SAS soldiers will be on board to ensure Chelsea can continue to buy its way to another Premier League title.


Image courtesy of Andrea Planet

La Liga makes my head hurt

It's a Confused button! So funny!Sporting Gijon might actually be good, despite the drubbing they received all last month. They won 2-0 at Mallorca, a whopping 734 miles away (including a ferry ride!) despite the following stats:

- Three shots on goal (Mallorca had nine)

- 28% Time of Possession

- Three corner kicks (Mallorca had eight)

In honor of such bizarre results, I hereby give you an official song for the season: "Makes No Sense at All" by Hüsker Dü . I don't think Bob Mould would mind.

husker du - makes no sense at all

Found at skreemr.com

Opening Whistle 10-6-08

Martin Jol is on top of the Bundesliga. As if Spurs fans weren't angry enough. [People's Daily Online]

Speaking of Bundesliga, I wouldn't be surprised if Michael Bradley was regretting his decision to join it. [Football 365]

Looks like the fans followed the White-Out instructions. [The Offside]

I wonder if college soccer has good tailgating. [Don't Tread on Me]

We should have seen this coming. [Soccerlens]

October 3, 2008

Friday Soccer Roundtable, Part 4

We're just about done here at the first ever Federation Soccer Roundtable of Awesomeness. Thanks to all of the panelists for indulging me. I thought the last question should be a little more lighthearted: it is Friday, after all. So why not end on a hateful note?

Which team do you hate the most and why?

Josh: One team I've always hated, and received crap for it, is Liverpool. I have just never felt that they deserved to be considering in the top four or regarded as one of the world's best. When did they last win an EPL title? The '80s?

I've always though Jamie Carragher was ridiculously overrated. When Peter Crouch was there, oh man, what a freak show that guy is. Dirk Kuyt? Ugh. Xabi Alonso? Please. The whole You'll Never Walk Alone thing, totally overblown.

Even back in the day. On my FIFA computer game Steve McManaman and Robbie Fowler were garbage. And that comeback in the UCL title game v. AC Milan is the only decent thing they've done in my lifetime. Lucky.

While these days I respect players like Gerrard and Torres, I'll always root against the Reds.

ü75: Personally, it's all Manchester United. In the EPL, my team is Arsenal, but they are by no means my favorite team overall. That honor goes to Aberdeen in the SPL. That would be the Aberdeen who won the Cup Winner's Cup in 1983 under the guidance of Sir Alex Ferguson. Hmmm.

Hell, I pulled for Manchester United in 1999 and sat there in disbelief when those two goals went into the net. So, where did it go wrong with the red devils and me? It's hard to pinpoint, I guess, but it grew over time. Now, every time I see that red-faced tw*t, my blood pressure rises. Every time they outspend the rest of the league for a player, I go apoplectic. Every time they fail, I cheer and laugh. Why? It doesn't make sense. They are simply the strongest team out there, at least of the leagues I watch. And it's that "us against the world" mentality that Ferguson instills in the team. He did it at Aberdeen, and he's done it even more effectively in Manchester.

Some of the blame must also go to that guy. That guy who knows much less about the game, but is much more vocal than I. That guy is almost always a Manchester United fan, at least in my neck of the woods. That guy is the equivalent of your local, vocal Yankees or Red Sox fan. F*ck them, and f*ck the teams they support with their ignorance.

American Villan: I thought I'd finish the roundtable with my own two cents on the matter, kind of like the late, great Dick Schaap would do on The Sports Reporters. Like Josh I also hate Liverpool, but I figure I'll go after a much different target, Bolton.

I know, hating Bolton is akin to hating someone's 3 year old nephew: he gets in the way and you'd prefer he's not around, but I really can't stand them. Their jerseys always suck, they're one of the few teams in England whose stadium is named by the corporate sponsor and they're holding a place in the Premier League that could go to a much cooler team...or at least one that gives Villa more derbies.

Anyway, hope you've enjoyed the roundtable as much as we have. Have a great weekend!

Friday Soccer Roundtable, Part 3

Halfway done. With any luck this has made your Friday go a little more quickly. With any unluck (what's the opposite of luck, anyway?) your boss has yelled at you for not finishing those TPS reports by the end of the week. Next question:

MLS appears to be suffering greatly in the CONCACAF Champions Cup, most notably in the New England Revolution's thrashing at the hands of Trinidadian side Joe Public FC. What is/are the main culprit(s)? And yes, not being any good is a perfectly acceptable reason if you think MLS just sucks*.

Mustafa Redonkulous: Being thrashed by a 90s R&B group is never acceptable. I see no fault
in your reasoning, sir.

Dave: I think the main culprit is that MLS doesn't pay the players enough to care about about this new Champions League. Everyone finally realized this during Superliga, and I suspect that the Revs looked at their paychecks after that competition and thought, "You know what? If this is how you want to treat us, then from here on out, we'll start caring when you pay us to start caring."

So not only are teams not deep enough to compete in both MLS and the Champions League, but the players have no financial incentive to perform. Part of the problem here is that MLS is modeled after the NFL. It's a closed system where everyone gets the same amount of TV money and everyone has the same tight limits on salaries and roster sizes. Thus, the competition is even, parity reigns, and everyone has a chance at winning MLS Cup.

And that would be just fine -- if MLS Cup were the only trophy in town. It's not. The way MLS is set up, though, clubs are practically programmed to treat MLS Cup like it's the only prize worth winning. That won't work in the long run.

If MLS wants to get serious about competing in the CONCACAF Champions League, it needs to loosen the reigns a bit and allow clubs to add more talent and depth. That means a higher salary cap, larger rosters and better compensation for players in international club tournaments. It also needs to get rid of Superliga, which is a meaningless made-for-TV trinket. (I've actually heard talk that Superliga might replace the Mexican Interliga as a pathway to Copa Libertadores. Really? The Revs can't even win in Trinidad, and now you want to send them to Brazil and Argentina? Yeah, good luck with that.)

Mustafa Redonkulous: Spot on.

Ric: There are many issues, but at the forefront is the league's order of priorities. One problem is that the MLS clubs rarely field a true first team for this, but I think this will change by the next time. When it was the Champions Cup, it did not have the breadth, prestige, or benefits, as it does now as a true (but baby) CL.
Last night's match (Houston-Pumas) was great; the entire tournament will benefit with more like that. I would say that the MLS clubs need to plan more carefully and further ahead for these midweek matches, to have the top talent and healthiest players when time to play, in balance with their regular-season matches.

ü75: I think David has the main points covered. Personally, I am apathetic to yet another competition within the zone. The sooner the powers that be either scrap it or turn it back to strictly knockout, the better. None of these American teams need further fixture congestion while playing a league in the North American summer. The league schedule itself is already rather compressed when you see that the MLS clubs play a few less games in a six month period than clubs do in a European season, which takes nine.

Beyond that, either get a competition where we can hemispherically challenge ourselves, or let the idea die.

Josh: I think we all know that the MLS clubs don't take the CCL or Superliga as seriously as league competition. But this is no different than all the crazy tournament in Europe.

The Premiership teams don't always field their strongest teams in, say, the Carling Cup. Didn't Arsenal start a teenage team the other day and still win?

The main culprit is the depth on the MLS teams. The drop in talent from the starters to the reserves is drastic. I'm not sure if it's the talent pool or a salary cap issue, but the teams don't have enough "bullets" per se to win in each competition. And not caring, of course, doesn't help either.

*This does not mean I think MLS sucks. I just wanted our panelists to feel they had to right to express strong emotions without retribution if they existed.

Friday Soccer Roundtable, Part 2

Hope you enjoyed the first batch of answers. Here's our second question, fresh out of the oven.

Where are the next two cities in which you would like to see MLS expand? Do you even think MLS should expand? Feel free to use any city in the US or Canada as a destination, even if an MLS franchise already exists there.

Ric: Where I would like to see as the next 2 cities is different from where they are likely to be.
In two weeks will be the deadline for applications for those who want to apply for a 2011 franchise (the next open availability). The next two cities, already approved are Seattle (2009) and Philadelphia (2010), making 16.
More teams are needed in the Midwest, so St. Louis is favored for the 17th city. Also, since there are 3 new Canadian cities competing for 2001, one of those is certainly possible for 2011. My best guess is that the west coast city of Vancouver would be the favorite of those, due in no small part to Steve Nash's participation. He is also involved in the Montreal effort, so that could go either way, but his name recognition and dedication says to me that MLS will want to fast track in that case.
The cities where I would most like to see teams are Miami and San Diego, but those will occur further into the future. I support all of the efforts, and feel that the table could and should go to 24 teams, with carefully managed growth.

Up here in Seattle, I'd love to see Portland get one of the teams -- although it's probably a bit of a long shot. It'd continue a long-lived and emotional rivalry between the two cities up here in the Pacific Northwest.

Portland calls itself Soccer Town U.S.A. and I'm sure the people there would embrace the team. The Timbers of the USL are a great draw. The city has only one other professional franchise, the Trailblazers of the NBA, and the league schedules are complete opposites. Not to mention no big colleges. So I'm confident the stands would be full and it would be a great fit.

Even if they need some public money, I believe they'd get it. Plus, MLS teams could go two-for-one on flights up here.

For the second team I'd say either St. Louis or Montreal. I could say Vancouver, but that's just getting greedy for the Northwest.

Another team in the Midwest seems a bit redundant, so I'll settle for Montreal. Some of the same arguments for Portland apply. It's a large market without a lot of competition from other professional sports teams. The NHL schedule is also opposite to MLS.

Plus, besides crazy hooligans, the other Canadian franchise is doing pretty well for itself.

Dave: As a USL club supporter, I'd like to see Vancouver and Portland get in next, because that would save my Carolina Railhawks a whole lot of money in travel costs. In fact, if USL clubs on the East Coast never have to travel further west than St. Paul and Austin, that has the potential to make USL even more competitive with MLS.

I'm wondering how much the success of USL clubs the CONCACAF Champions League will affect some cities' interest in moving up to MLS. Look at Montreal, for example. The Impact already have a 13,000-seat stadium that fills up regularly. They only have to outplay Vancouver and
Toronto a couple of times a year to get to the CONCACAF Champions League, and they look like a favorite to get through to the CCL knockout stage this year on current form. Would they trade that for a salary cap, a smaller roster and a visit from David Beckham once a year? Would that even make sense from an economic standpoint?

For U.S. cities, it probably would. Imagine for a moment, though, if a few millionaires with money to burn decided to buy into USL instead of MLS. After all, you could build a USL-1 club and a decent stadium from the ground up for far less than the $30M that MLS is asking for an
expansion fee, and you'd probably have enough left over to build a side quite capable of winning the U.S Open Cup and getting to the Champions League -- again, without the salary and roster constraints of MLS, where teams aren't deep enough to handle success.

You'd have to think that MLS has no choice but to increase its salary cap and roster size limit just to prevent something like that from happening.

ü75: If the MLS remains at it is set up now, I'll say that Portland and St. Louis deserve their shot. But I'll give myself some wiggle room in possibly adding a third to my argument.

First of all, I just want to posit that I think MLS will not become a top tier league unless it decides to regionalize. The US is a vast country, and too much of any potential profit goes to travel. That money could instead be used to lure CONCACAF's top players away from their national leagues, and to keep the American second-choice, those who currently go to, say, Denmark, within MLS. Without going too far down the road, I'll just say that the American big four --the leagues that can afford nationwide travel--started in that way. NBA in the Midwest, NFL the same as well as east coast, MLB was mostly an east coast enterprise, while NHL (in here for the sake of argument), had their Original Six all in close proximity to the Canadian-American border. When one considers that one matchup considered to be a regional rivalry--Chicago-Columbus--involves greater travel than the EPL's longest roadtrip--Portsmouth-Sunderland--you can see how the breadth of our country makes it hard for real rivalries to develop.

Regionalizing would not have to mean contraction of clubs, but instead a sort-of Ma Bell breakup, with a championship at the end. The two leagues, presumably East and West, would play each other only in a Championship, kind of like the AL and NL used to in baseball. This would greatly cut down on travel as well as possibly give rise to that MLS rarity--the away fan.

Enough digression. Portland is an obvious choice here. The Timbers have a long standing tradition, and a long-term rivalry with next year's newest MLS team in Seattle. They have a passionate fan base already installed, and, should they get out of the baseball park, would provide great atmosphere to the league. Think Toronto FC, but American.

St. Louis is a more sentimental choice. St. Louis was the original de facto home of soccer in the US. Bringing a team there would be a nod to the history if the sport in this country. A history that weaves back into the early parts of last century, and not only back to Paul Caligiuri sending us to World Cup '90.

The wiggle room is this: St. Louis should not be an expansion team, but instead the relocated team from Kansas City. KC has only moved backwards since their initial inclusion in the MLS. Think of their inclusion in the MLS as a thank you to Lamar Hunt. Unfortunately, the city never took to the team, and now they play in a minor-league baseball park on the western edge of urban KC. There has been some talk of the team moving to a new stadium in the Overland Park area, but no construction has started. At least they avoided moving to a high school football stadium, as was once thought.

So, if KC moves to St. Louis, where to put a new expansion team? NYC. Derbies are wonderful things, and despite the LA one getting tagged a Superclassico well before its time, that is a well-attended game, no matter the relative standings of the two teams. Also, as I think is important to the league, it would set up an actual rivalry on the East Coast, with away fans encouraged to trek across the city to support their team.

Friday Soccer Roundtable, Part 1

No links this morning, I've got something better...

It's Friday and odds are you're barely paying attention at work. Today you're in for a treat, a four-part roundtable featuring some of the best soccer writers on the series of tubes. We've got Mustafa Redonkulous from Deuce of Davenport, ü75 from Unprofessional Foul, Josh from The Beautiful Game, Dave from Dave's Football Blog and Ric from MVN.

Question #1: Let's start with the Premier League: They fielded the two finalists in last year's Champions League and three out of the four semifinalists. More billionaires are interested in buying a team in that league than any other in Europe. Will the Premier League begin to dominate Europe or is this just the ebb and flow of the game?

Mustafa Redonkulous: Seems to me that the Premier League is going to be on top for a while. Most top players want to go to England at some point in their careers. TV contracts are pumping more money than ever into the league. The most potential for worldwide exposure is in England as well.

If you look at the other major leagues in Europe, there isn't as much money or prestige beyond one or two teams. Ligue Uhh is nothing to speak of. The Bundesliga while getting better in terms of play doesn't have the exposure or money on the level of the Premier League. Team ownership in Spain seems to be a clusterf*ck with member owned teams, dicey elections and finances as well as supporters that make Newcastle's look almost rational. Italy...well who would want to mess with that? So shady. Serie A has been eclipsed by La Liga and the Premier League.

The fact is that the Premier League has more worldwide exposure, the best players (although that's debatable) and more money to be made than any other league. Owning a Premier League team is a status symbol. It also seems that it's easier to buy a team in England than on the continent. It's also easier to turn an above-average team into a big club. See Chelsea. That said, it's not easy. See Spurs and watch Man City. It's just easier in England.

Josh: I think last year was an anomaly. Despite a wealth of talent and resources, the English domination of 2007 won't be replicated like that year after year. The EPL teams were able to stay healthy throughout the Champions League season and some beneficial draws also played a part in their dominance.

I don't think either Chelsea or Manchester United will be as good this season.

Let's not forget that England has only won two Champions League titles in the last nine years. Only three times since 1985. The attention the English dominance received last year was due, in part, to how rare it is for one country to dominant as such.

But that said, the Premiership is clearly separating itself as far-and-away the top league in the world. In a short time these last couple years the prestige and allure of England has skyrocketed. Even Italian mainstays like Del Piero and Buffon have been linked strongly to the EPL.

It's a league that the best want to play in. And the money is starting to be distributed more evenly throughout the middle-of-the-pack teams. While it may not dominant like last year in European competition, English league soccer could be as strong as ever.

ü75: The EPL (suck it, Barclay's) may sit atop the heap for a while, but will not maintain that position long enough to be considered the long-term dominant league in Europe. Leagues, like the teams in them, have a tendency to bubble up to the top, then slide away as another usurps them. The way I see it, there are three reasons that this will happen to the EPL in European competition.

First, much is made of the billionaire's playground that the EPL has become. However, I don't think that the league will keep the interest of most of the new wave of owners for very long, save for one team. The reason being that there will always be something wonderful and new to go to the top of the list for money men. I'm guessing we see an average shelf-life of about 10 years for any of these owners before they divest themselves.

Also, if one of these teams wins the Champions League early into the tenure of new ownership, the luster will be lost even quicker. If, say, Chelsea had done so last season, then struggled, I think Abramovich would jump. And what if a single owner, a la Abramovich (hate to keep picking on Chelsea), runs into a financial, legal or health-related mess? You only need to look north of the border at the relationship of Brooks Mileson and Gretna to see just how tenuous time at the top can be if one guy is pulling all of the financial strings.

As for which team with rich ownership is in it for the long haul--Manchester United. Sick as it may make me to say it, the Glazer sons will be around long after their old man kicks the bucket. They are fans of the club from well before the time they bought in. Can Liverpool, Manchester City or Chelsea say the same for their owners? No.

Secondly, the English game does not lend itself to some of the excesses that other continental teams enjoy. Those teams get special dispensation from organizational bodies, the government, or, in the case of the Spanish clubs, from banks whose directors are in deep with the club. These types of breaks cannot be taken lightly. The difference in quality between these clubs is razor thin at this level, and free money or government turning a blind eye to shenanigans involving the running of these clubs may take continental teams over the top. As long as what happens doesn't make too many waves, it will be allowed to pass. The FA seems to have a bit more backbone than other associations, and this cannot help its teams in the long run.

Finally, and this ties in a little to other countries and their organizational bodies, the English league is tough. Sure, some games come out easier than others, but every game demands concentration and effort to get a result. While Real Madrid probably had little fear of Sporting Gijon midweek, the same cannot be said of Arsenal and Hull. Slip ups like Arsenal's threaten the possibility of Champions League play the next year. And while the cast of characters from England every year remains largely the same, much like the big continental leagues, the energy expended making sure that happens is greater. Simply put, the Champions League money is so necessary to run these clubs that reaching it is much more important than winning it.

I figure the EPL has about another five years of this level of strength before it goes belly up. Look for Spanish clubs--Real, Barcelona, and maybe Villareal, to take over at the top of Europe.

Dave: The Premier League is sort of like the NBA, in that football was created in England, and therefore its top league has all the glam and self-importance that goes along with it.

Is it really all of England that is on top right now, though, or is it just the Big Four? Look at the shattered dreams of Tottenham Hotspur and Newcastle and tell me anyone would want to be there right now. The Big Four are the Big Four because they're in the Champions League, and I think that carries far more prestige than any domestic league.

In the future, you'll see fewer top players going to England just for the sake of going to England. Many would probably prefer the prestige of European football over the glitz of English football, especially if it suits their style of play. Sure, players will ask themselves if they would rather be in Madrid or Middlesbrough on a Saturday night, but they'll also ask themselves which city offers them the best chance of letting them play on a Tuesday or Wednesday night. Which city do you think they'll pick then?

October 2, 2008

Open letter to future foreign MLS players

Dear Foreign Soccer Player,

Did you catch the Barcelona-Shakhtar Donetsk game yesterday? Barcelona won 2-1. Leo Messi scored the game-winner after a throw-in that Shakhtar believed should have gone to them: Shakhtar kicked the ball out of play because they had a man down, but the player was not truly injured and one could argue that Shakhtar were trying to run out the clock.

The circumstances around Shakhtar Donetsk's anger at Barcelona perfectly encapsulate the largest problem soccer will have gaining a foothold in American sports culture. Gamesmanship is nothing new to the U.S. but faking an injuy is anathema to the rugged ideal we place on our athletes. When talking to my friends who aren't soccer fans, diving invariably comes up as a major reason they can't watch the game. I understand that soccer's continuous gameplay and clock give more incentive for this kind of behavior, but such an excuse will not work here.

But don't think we're all Puritanical and want our athletes to act like robots (unless you're talking to a 80 year-old baseball fan). We love when players say outlandish things to rile up the other team or make up crazy celebrations when they score. Faking an injury and then bouncing up after the magic spray treatment? Not cool. We'll think you're a giant prima donna b*tch.

So, to recap: Trash talk all you want. When you score, come up with the most creative celebration possible, even if some find it offensive. Just stay off your back unless you're actually hurt and the fans will love you.

American Villan

Opening Whistle 10-2-08

Steven Gerrard cooks aromatic sea bream? I don't even know what that is. [Daily Star]

William Gallas would have made a great Steinbeck character. [The Run of Play]

An impassioned plea to bring MLS to the former Confederacy. [Gwinnett Herald]

I have to admit, I think I'd support this action. [MLS Rumors Rumors]

Wow, that's like the equivalent of $100,000 in European soccer. [KNBC]

October 1, 2008

The word of the day is...whine!

Scream!Wow, today is shaping up as Act Like a Brat Day in Europe.

Ernesto Bronzetti, Milan's scout in Spain, must really hate Ronaldinho. Days after #80 scored his first goal for AC Milan, a gamewinner against Inter, no less, Bronzetti has come forward to admit Arsenal's Emmanuel Adebayor was Milan's first choice.

How does this benefit Bronzetti in any way? If he had spun it to make it look like he did an excellent job of convincing the Milan brass that Ronnie's best days weren't over I could understand. This just sounds like he's denigrating his own region. Maybe he hates Spanish cuisine and he wants a transfer. Or a chianti is more palatable than a tempranillo. All I got. Your theories are welcome in the comments.

The Dutch are so tempermental at this age

SneijderWESLEY SNEIJDER: Robin, why are you such a big meaniehead? I wanted to kick the ball!

Van Persie
ROBIN VAN PERSIE: Well you can't, you're a poo face.

SNEIJDER: Nuh uh! I'm rubber, you're glue, whatever you say bounces off me and sticks to you.

VAN PERSIE: Noitdoesn't! Noitdoesn't! Before you said that I made myself invincible.

SNEIJDER: Yeah, well before that I made myself double invincible! Plus infinity!

VAN PERSIE: You still look like a butt.




Images courtesy of The Sun, Futbol91 and Amy Sandoval

Opening Whistle 10-1-08

Commodore must have been a bigger video game system in England than the U.S. [The Best Eleven]

Demands rumored to include a bathtub full of cream cheese. At least now that's the rumor. [The Beautiful Game]

So sad, Slammin' Mike Ashley is only looking to make double what he paid for Newcastle instead of almost four times the amount. [The Original Winger]

It's a good thing when your national team's problems are the same as everyone else's and not, you know, all about getting your head blown off. [Guardian]

Mourinho is less funny ha-ha and more funny tragic. [Reuters]

September 30, 2008

Who's the boss?

Sad PolandAre you a European country with a stable football association?

Do you have stadiums that will be ready to handle large crowds by 2012?

Do you have enough money, blow and hookers to satisfy the UEFA and FIFA bigwigs?

If you answered yes to all of the above, you could host Euro 2012!

Please direct inquiries to:
M. Platini
Nyon, Switzerland

Make sure to tell him how much you love the new Europa League name.