Wednesday, December 19, 2007

MLS Expansion – $500 million for $45 million, the Philadelphia agrument

With MLS just weeks away from announcing which city will be their 16th, the Philadelphia idea has come down to a simple question, will the state invest $45 million of public money in a soccer stadium to move forward a $500 million waterfront development project?

It really is that simple as those involved say that without the stadium, the full waterfront development idea in Chester is pretty much off the table and MLS will turn to St. Louis as their newest team.

The state has a history of investing in sports stadiums (Lincoln Financial Field, Citizens Bank Park, Heinz Field and PNC Park), so it is not without precedent, however soccer is a bit of a tougher sell, even if it will lead to a larger retail, residential and office development. However, the state legislative session ended last week without funding, so it is up to Governor Rendell to find a way to make this happen.

Meanwhile, St. Louis is waiting quietly with everything lined up to go. Well everything except the final vote by MLS.

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MLS looking at top European clubs for 2008 All-Star match

Rumors have it that MLS has their eyes on four teams for the 2008 All-Star match in Toronto. Those clubs, in no particular order, are Liverpool, Bayern Munich, Barcelona and Real Madrid. Yes, the All-Star game is a bit of a joke based more on marketing then anything else, but if it has to be done (and it does), might as well get some top-level competition.

My favorite part of the article concerns the teams MLS has faced in recent years:
The MLS All-Star format typically pits the best of the North American league against a top European club. In the past three years, Chelsea and Fulham of the English Premier League and Celtic of the Scottish Premier League have appeared. Those recent participants pale in terms of quality and/or pedigree with any of the four now being considered.
Now my heart might not bleed Chelsea blue, but to say that they are not on the level with the four teams being considered for '08 is a little shy of the truth.

Anyway, as stated in an earlier post, I would guess Liverpool would be at the top of MLS's list, especially if the tails of George Gillett Jr. and a Montreal expansion team are true. However, I'd be willing to watch any of these four take on the best of North America.

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2008 Concacaf Champions' Cup Schedule

The draw is done and teams now know their opposition for next year's Concacaf Champions' Cup (CCC) quarterfinals.

1 Houston Dynamo (USA) - Municipal* (Guatemala)
2 Atlante FC* (Mexico) - Saprissa (Costa Rica)

3 DC United (USA) - Harbour View* (Jamaica)
4 Pachuca (Mexico) -Motagua* (Honduras)
* Host of first leg

The quarterfinals are a home-home series with the first leg taking place March 11-13, and the second leg the following week. The winners of series 1-2 and 3-4 will face off in the semifinals. The first leg for the semis will be staged April 1-3 with the second leg a week later. The final will happen April 22-24 and April 29-May 1.

The timing of the 2008 event is a bit more favorable for DC and Houston as it will take place just a couple weeks before the start of the season rather then a full month ahead like it did this year. That said, if either team goes the distance, it is very likely that they will play 11 meaningful matches in a month and a half (6 CCC, 5 MLS).

Winning the CCC earns the team a spot in the 2008 FIFA World Club Cup.

So here are the dates:
Quarterfinals - March 11-13, March 18-20
Semifinals - April 1-3, April 8-10
Finals - April 22-24, April 29-May 1

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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

MLS original looking to return

After spending the last few seasons in Norway, Ramiro Corrales is looking to return to MLS

Corrales was part of the inaugural San Jose team, but also had playing time with Miami and the MetroStars. However, since he ended his MLS years with San Jose, who then moved to Houston, the Dynamo have the rights to his MLS future. His stated reason for this move is family in nature. That said, Houston is not expected to keep him under contract.

Although Toronto and New York are stated as interested teams, I'm guessing Frank Yallop wouldn't might landing Corrales. The two last spent time together in 2003, when the Earthquakes, coached then as now by Yallop, won the MLS Cup. Oddly enough, that was also Corrales's most productive season.

Now I must admit, Corrales is a name that has kind of drifted away from my memory in the last few years. In his early days, I thought he might prove to be an interesting part in the US's defense (he did play a role in the U-20 & U-23 teams but never really did much at the top level*), but that has kind of faded. What I remember of him, I liked, so I'm happy to see him coming back to the league.

The good news is his time in Europe was not a failure and he is not coming home with his tail between his legs. Instead, he is returning after several good seasons and at an age that will allow him to play some more quality seasons.

*I seem to recall him playing in one 2004 World Cup Qualifier and causing a penalty kick, but I might be wrong about that.

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US's road to 2010 World Cup a bit more defined

The US men now know their schedule for the semifinal round of World Cup Qualifying, provided they make it past Barbados or Dominica in the second round (games to be played in June).

In the semis, the team will play a round robin format against three other teams, for a total of six games. The red, white and blues will open up on the road for their first two outings, then come home for three and finish with an away meeting. Here are the dates (all 2008):
20 Aug - Away
06 Sept - Away
10 Sept - Home
11 Oct - Home
15 Oct - Home
19 Nov - Away

Although none of the teams have been decided, it is likely that the group will contain the US, Guatemala, Trinidad & Tobago and Cuba. The top two teams in the group will advance to the finals in 2009.

The finals will involve a round robin format of 10 games with the top three teams advancing to the 2010 World Cup while the fourth place team will play the fifth place South American side for a trip to South Africa.

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Monday, December 17, 2007

Liverpool might be MLS All-Star opposition; is owner also looking at Montreal MLS expansion team?

Liverpool has been asked to be the opposition for the 2008 MLS All-Star Game in Toronto as part of their American tour. The game seems to be designed perfectly for the club, as they will play in a very red stadium that normally hosts a team sponsored by Carlsberg.

But the interest in soccer in Canada might not end at this one off match as Liverpool co-owner George Gillett Jr. seems to be interested in a Montreal MLS expansion side. Gillett already owns the Montreal Canadiens (hockey), so he has contacts in the city.

This is all speculation at the moment, but if someone like Gillett (billionaire with soccer knowledge) is truly interested in making a team happen, it could probably work out. I mean, imagine how much fun Don Garber would have talking about Liverpool FC being tied in with MLS.

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Dynamo sign manager till 2010

Fresh off of leading his team to back-to-back championships, Dominic Kinnear has signed a 3-year extension to his contract, which will keep him in Houston till 2010.

This move assures the Dynamo consistency at the top over the next few seasons, which will be important as today's marquee players start to age, but perhaps the best part of this move is keeping him out of reach of other clubs.

Kinnear has made great work out of picking up players that are a bit down on their game and turning them around while also maintaining the team concept. His ability to see what his team is missing, or will be missing, finding a replacement and working that player into the system is matched by few others in the league. Add to it that he plays an interesting, fan-friendly style of soccer and you have just about everything you could want in a manager.

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Friday, December 14, 2007

Fabio Capello is England's manager

It is official, Fabio Capello will manage England. This news is of no surprise as Capello had agreed in principle 48-hours ago to head the team.

He will begin work on 7 January as part of a four and a half year contract that will take him through Euro 2012. His first match will be against Switzerland on 6 February.

Capello replaces Steve McClaren, who has been thrown into a pit somewhere in Dorking. His contract is for £6.5million annually, which is about £2.5million more then Sven-Goran Eriksson earned.

This is an excellent move by the English FA. Capello might not push the envelope as much as some of the other contenders would have, but he knows how to form a team. He brings with him an excellent staff and a vision that McClaren never had.

One last note, Franco Tancredi (goalkeeping coach) has his work cut out for him.

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KC Wizards all but have their stadium

Today is a good day for fans of the Kansas City Wizards as they have all put wrapped up a stadium deal. Last night the Kansas City, Missouri City Council unanimously approved the city's portion of a $949 million redevelopment project at the site of a former mall (roughly $273 million). Included in this project is an 18,500-seat soccer stadium as well as 12 tournament-quality soccer fields.

The final approval to make everything official is expected in February when state officials will decide issues related to state-level tax incentives. With most of the state leadership signaling their support for the plan, it is expected to pass.

Kansas City hopes to open their 2010 season in the new stadium, which is about 8 miles from downtown (click on above image to see the proposed development). After all the struggles the team has been through, it is really amazing how this has all come together.

On a side note, it is interesting that this happened on the same day that Wizards' season-ticket holders got to pick their seats at their temporary home in a baseball stadium. Also, who would have ever thought the Wizards would get a stadium deal before DC United?

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MLS Expansion - Philadelphia still without state money for stadium

The Pennsylvania state Senate has adjourned for the year without approving the funding for a soccer stadium in the Philadelphia area. With a decision on the next MLS expansion team expected no later then the end of January, time is running short for any sort of deal to take place, however the Senate Majority Leader said that an agreement might be reaching over the break or they might be able to find money elsewhere in the budget.

MLS has made it clear that without stadium funding, Philadelphia will not get a team, so the state doesn't have that much longer to make something happen. That said, panic is not in order as just about every stadium deal so far has looked dead up to the last moment when suddenly everything comes together.

Still, with the St. Louis bid just waiting on MLS approval to move forward, this lack of action has got to make people in the city with the arch happy.

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MLS Expansion - Seattle passes 10,000 season ticket mark

In yet another example of the power of soccer in Seattle, the MLS club that is still 15 months away from their first match has passed 10,000 season ticket deposits. This is an outstanding number that could easily end up above 15,000 before everything is said and done, which would fill a large portion of the bottom bowl at Qwest field.

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DC United get Veron

After months of whispers, it looks like it has happened, DC United signed Juan Sebastian Veron. This deal is worth $3-4 million a year.

As shown in this summer's Copa America, Veron will give United even more power in the midfield, but he does have a tendency to slow teams down. This might not be a major issue, but it is something to watch. Even with his lack of pace, he is very dangerous due in large part to the way he reads a game.

However, Veron has had a number of injuries over the last couple months that have greatly limited his playing time for Estudiantes. They have been minor, but still, after the whole Beckham '07 farce, even with a number of months till his first match, his recovery is an issue.

It will be interesting to see how Veron works with Fred and Gomez (then again, maybe this is a sign that Gomez is soon to go) in the midfield. I could see the three giving United a style that could really throw teams off since each brings something different to the mix, however, if it doesn't work right, there could be a major mess.

Overall, this looks like a good signing for DC and the league. It brings in another quality player who still has some good years ahead of him. Also, Veron is someone who is technically good on the ball, which is an aspect the league has been trying to improve.

So welcome to the fifth designated player in league history.

Update: And now we take down all the welcome signs and put away the hats and noise makers as Veron appears to have rejected DC's offer, saying “It was a lot of money, but in my situation the best thing is to do things in life that give you satisfaction ... the fans here are superb and I want to stay with my friends.”

At least MLS has a quote about it with 'a lot of money' in it. A nice change.

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Thursday, December 13, 2007

MLS Expansion - Is a team in Miami just a few votes away?

The idea of moving back into Florida might make a few MLS fans a bit squeamish as it didn't go so well the first time around, but if a few votes workout, it might just happen.

The City of Miami is looking into funding a new soccer and baseball stadium on the current sight of the historic Orange Bowl (which will be torn down) as part of a multibillion-dollar proposal put forth by Mayor Manny Diaz.

As far as the soccer stadium, it would cost $100 million and seat 25,000. The proposal calls for the cost to be divided between the city and MLS (or whomever owns a new Miami team). However, the main reason the city is interested in building the soccer stadium is to provide an additional funding source for a 6,000-car parking garage they will need to build for a baseball stadium as Diaz said they need 25 additional events annually for the garage to break even.

This whole proposal, which includes many, many things not related to these stadiums, faces its first vote today as the Miami commissioners decide whether to move the multilayered plan forward. If they do, they will begin to review major pieces of the plan next Tuesday. As part of the funding plan, the city will not float bonds to pay for any of this, so it will not face voter approval (how happy is Don Garber to hear that?).

If this does happen and the city votes for a soccer stadium, it is pretty safe to say MLS will show up soon after and that might not be a frightening as it sounds.

Back when the Miami Fusion were in the league (1998-2001) they had some weak attendance numbers, but was in large part due to them playing at Lockhart Stadium in Fort Lauderdale, some 26-miles away. If a new team went into the Orange Bowl site, they would be in the heart of the city, about a mile from downtown. This does not mean they will be a success, but it does provide them with a better chance then playing in Ft. Lauderdale.

As with any proposal that involves public money, who knows what might happen, but it does seem like the mayor is pushing hard for this. I don't have a clue if this is a good thing in the long run for the people of Miami, but if you are a soccer fan in the area, you are probably happy to see this taking place.

But how does this influence the possible expansion of the league into St. Louis or Philadelphia? I don't think it has any affect on the league in the next couple months as no ownership group has officially stepped forward and a final decision on the funding might not be known for some time. However, Miami would provide a very temping pick for the next round of expansion, especailly if the league put in $50 million towards building the facility, which makes the competition for the 17th and 18th teams that much more intense.

One final thing, some people have suggested calling the new soccer stadium the Orange Bowl, which seems like a fantastic idea to me.

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DC sends Boswell to Houston gets keeper in return. Poll - Who did better?

And the trading of the Wells is done.

Bobby Boswell, the 2006 MLS defender of the year, is heading out of the nation's capitol for the warmer weather in Houston. In return, United gets goalkeeper Zach Wells.

First off, this is an excellent trade for both teams. With Cochrane moving on to San Jose, the Dynamo need a good center back and although Boswell did not have a great 2007 campaign, he still has the talent and will probably recover in 2008, while United got a keeper to replace Troy Perkins when he jumps to Europe during the winter transfer window.

That said, it looks to me like the Dynamo are taking the bigger risk with this trade. Yes, they still have the wall that is Pat Onstad in goal, however between his back issues and his age (he will turn 40 next month), the likelihood of him going down is a bit higher then most MLS goal minders.

Wells has a great deal of potential, as he showed during Houston's Concacaf Champions Cup run, and could step in for Onstad at any moment. With Wells gone, the Dynamo now need to find a quality backup keeper (as does United as they did not Jay Nolly's contract) that will probably see at least a few meaningful games in '08.

For United, the loss of Boswell will disappoint a number of fans but it will probably not affect their play on the pitch very much as his poor 2007 caused the team to work around him, if you will. Also, DC lose $20,000 of salary space as Wells comes with a $50,400 price tag while Boswell is a modest $30,870 (that number is shocking to me), but they do get conditional pick in the 2009 MLS SuperDraft. That said, when Boswell is on, he can run a backline like few others in the league.

One last bit of note, it looks like Wells will be called into the US men's training camp in January.

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Wednesday, December 05, 2007

MLS 2008 Season - First two weekend fixtures

The 2007 season might only be three weeks past, but it is time to look forward to 2008. MLS released most of the fixtures for the first two weeks. The year will begin with a bit of a return to tradition, as the two MLS Cup finalists will face off when Houston travels to New England. Here is the full schedule:
March 29-30
LA Galaxy at Colorado
Houston at New England
Toronto at Columbus
Chicago at Salt Lake
DC at KC
NY-San Jose (match might change)
Chivas at FC Dallas (March 30)

April 3-6
New England at Chicago @ 8pm CT(April 3)
San Jose at LA @ 6:30pm PT (April 3)
Salt Lake at Chivas (April 5)
Columbus at New York (April 5)
Toronto at DC (April 5)
Dallas at Houston (April 6)
KC-Colorado (No exact information on this one)

So in case you missed it, there are two matches taking place on the first Thursday of the season (April 3). The times work out to make it look like there will be two matches on ESPN2 that night. Will this be a one time event designed to attract attention or will we see more of this in the future?

Interesting note about the first week of games, four of the five teams with the lowest 2007 attendance numbers open at home (KC, Colorado, Columbus, Dallas) while only one of the top six gets to play host (New England). Guess they are hoping a first week kickoff to get their numbers up.

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