Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Houston looking for big win in AggieLand

The Dynamo will make their stand in the Champions Cup tomorrow, but it will not be made in Houston. Instead the team will travel about a 100-miles north to Texas A&M to try and save their CONCACAF dreams.

Due to a lack of weekday parking, their normal home will not be available, meaning they will need the Aggies to step up and give this game a much needed pro-Houston atmosphere. With A&M being home to the 12th man, this should be an achievable goal.

As far as the game, Houston finds themselves down a goal and without captain Eddie Robinson or star goaltender Pat Onstad. Not to mention that Brian Ching is so only 50% and Brad Davis is hurting as well. Adding to their worries, Puntarenas will have midfielder Michael Barrantes back after missing the first match due to a red card.

This is not the way the Dynamo want to face this game, but you never get the game you want. For Houston to win this thing, they will need to attack, something they didn't do much in the first leg, and hope backup keeper Zach Wells has another fantastic showing.

All indications are that Ching will see time on the pitch, however he might not be a starter. Houston needs him as a target and playmaker up top. If Ching cannot start, they will need Paul Dalglish is actually do something. Dalglish has great talent, but he was absent during last week's leg.

The worst thing that could happen to the Dynamo would be to give up a goal early. With away goals counting as extra, they would not want to be in a situation where they need three goals to win the match. For this reason, the first 15-minutes should be a little low key, feeling out and looking for a break kind of play. Once Houston has settled down, something they really never did last week, they should be able to start finding openings.

As far as advantages, the pitch will be in much better shape, the weather should be a bit cooler and there is a chance two Puntarenas will not be allow to play due to work visas. Houston will need to exploit all three of these things to steal a win in this series.

The game will air live on Fox Soccer Channel starting at 9pm ET. Tickets are still available here.

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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

US wants 2018 World Cup

Just as England was getting ready to pick their mascot for the 2018 finals, word comes that the young upstart known as America wants to cool their plans.

US Soccer has voted to explore a 2018 World Cup bid, setting the stage for a possible showdown between the two countries. U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati, who played a major role in the 1994 World Cup, wants to make magic happen twice., but it will not be easy.

If all goes as planned, the World Cup will not be in Europe for 2010 or 2014. To ask those in Europe to travel off their home continent for a third consecutive final might just be too much to ask.

However, there is one factor that might make it easy for FIFA's to ask so much out of the Europeans, money. The 1994 World Cup is still the best attended in history and made everyone involved huge amounts of profit, and the US has only improved their spacious, luxury box filled stadiums since.

Add to it that it will have been over 20-years since the finals were played in CONCACAF and you might just have the makings of an upset.

That said, at least one person is suggesting that the true goal for US Soccer is 2014, not 2018. As the theory goes, the US would not look good if they made a play for 2014, which has been promised to South America (ie Brazil), but they know, like everyone else, the problems Brazil is facing when it comes to stadiums (they don't have any the meet FIFA's standards). So the idea is they get their house in order as far as plans and venues and raise their profile. If things don't go well in Brazil, FIFA turns to the US as a plan B, much the way they turned to Mexico in 1986 when Columbia* abandoned the cup.

But enough of the conspiracy talk, 2018 is shaping up to be an interesting race. If this all holds out, we could see two great bids from the US and England not to mention the possibility of a strong bid from Australia (and maybe a few others). It should be fun to watch it all unfold between now and 2012 when the host will be announced.

* edit - originally put down Venezuela instead of Columbia. Oops.

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Women finally getting their league back

After a long wait, the news is official, professional women's soccer is coming back to the US starting next April. The first year will see five teams play in LA, Dallas, Chicago and Washington, DC. There will be a 20-match schedule running from April to August with some sort of post season to fallow.

It is not a coincidence that all but one of these teams will play in a city with a current MLS club (although St. Louis might just have a MLS club before the first ball is kicked) as Major League soccer is helping push this undertaking. Also, AEG, who operates the Galaxy in LA, will also own the LA based women's club.

This announcement tops of years of work by Tonya Antonucci of Women's Soccer Initiative. When the WUSA went bust in 2003, she kept the dream alive.

For me, after almost two-weeks of being sick, this is a great story to return to. The USL's W-league is needed, but it is no substitute for a true top league for women.

Congratulations to all involved.

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Thursday, February 15, 2007

Houston holds on to Ching

Houston has kept star forward Brian Ching in a Dynamo uniform for up to three more years as Ching signed a one year deal with a possible two year expansion. In exchange, he will see his base pay increase from $160,000 to $200,000.

Ching and Dwayne De Rosario are a great combination for the Dynamo and this move insures that they will be terrorizing MLS defenses for a little while longer. Happy news for Houston, not so for the other 12 teams in the league.

The Dynamo are currently in Orlando where they will play the Chicago Fire and New York Red Bulls at Disney's President's Day Soccer Festival IX this weekend.

They will then head to Costa Rica for next Wednesday's Champions Cup clash against Puntarenas FC.

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Copa America draw - US gets a tough group

If the main idea of the US playing in the Copa America this summer was to see them face some difficult teams, well the wish has been granted. The US men have been drawn into Group C where they will face Argentina (28 June), Paraguay (2 July) and Colombia (5 July).

This is some serious competition for the red, white and blue and it will be very difficult for them to get out of their group. That said, it is not impossible. A reminder that the top two teams from the three groups advance as do the two best third place teams. Much like Germany, a lot will probably come down to how they perform in their opening match. If they can force a tie or pull off a shock victory, they will be well positioned, however, if they sink hard, it will be difficult to rise again.

The US has played Argentina 7 times with a record of 2 wins and 5 defeats, but one of those wins was a 3-0 victory in the 1995 Copa. They have come up against Colombia 14 times and have won3, lost 8 and tied 3. Paraguay is the only team in the group that has never beat the US as America has won 2 and tied 2 against them.

By the way, if the US makes it to the final game of the Gold Cup (6-24 June), they will have just four days to get to Venezuela and prepare for the match against Argentina. However, there is a good chance that Bob Bradley (or whomever is coaching in June) will have a number of different players in the two tournaments.

If Mexico is in the Gold Cup final, they will only have three days as they open against Brazil on June 27.

In the other groups, A has host Venezuela, Uruguay, Peru and Bolivia while B has champions Brazil, Ecuador, Chile and Mexico.

We all wanted the US to have more challenges and I'm happy to see it happening.

Ticket information has not beeen released.

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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Brazil tops no more; Italy ranked #1 - FIFA Rankings

Their domistic league might be in chaos, but Italy's national team is no ranked number one in the world, knocking Brazil out of the spot they held for 55-months.

The US managed to go from 31st to 28th with wins over Denmark in Mexico, while Mexico, whose only match was a 2-0 defeat, rose 2 spots to climb back into the top 20 at 19th.

Here is the top 20

RankTeamJan RankChange
5Germany 50
7 Netherlands70
9Czech Republic101
17Cameroon 11-6

The only team to drop out of the top 20 was Côte d'Ivoire.

What about Scotland jumping into the top 20? The US should try to line up some matches against them, Croatia and/or Ukraine done the line. Imagine playing them over there in late fall. Talk about a test.

Anyway, who did what in the standings. The big gains went to Guatemala (up 18 to 87), Trinidad and Tobago (up 19 to 68) and El Salvador (up 31 to 125). All three are CONCACAF teams.

The biggest falls were Eqypt (down 23 to 42), Nigeria (down 27 to 36) and Guinea (down 40 to 62). All three are CAF teams.

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W Connection 2-1 Chivas Guadalajara

Who would have thought a 10-man W Connection would get a result against CD Guadalajara in last night's CONCACAF Champions' Cup match?

The Trinidad & Tobago club was able to stun the Mexicans even after their goalkeeper Jan Michael Williams was red carded in the 19th minute for stopping a shot outside the area.

A man down and a big absence on defense should have been doom, but Connection was able to hold Chivas till the 60th minute when Omar Bravo headed in a goal.

But Connection did not retreat and in the 78th minute, captain Earl Jean headed in the tying goal. Then, in the 86th minute, to everyone's surprise, Connection was able to take the lead on a goal by Jose Luis Seabra.

These two clubs will meet on February 28th in the second leg of the tournament in Guadalajara. Chivas is still the safer bet, but Connection should not be counted out.


Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Mexico wants to host 2008 Copa America

Mexico wants to be the first non-South American country to host the Copa America and they want to do it in 2008. However there is just one problem, the next scheduled Copa is not till 2009.

Mexican soccer federation president Julio Compean explained his choice of 2008 over 2009 by pointing out all the other soccer tournaments already scheduled for that year. They include the FIFA Confederations Cup, the CONCACAF Gold Cup and World Cup qualifying. He thinks 2008 offers a greater opening as far as availability.

A South American Confederation official said they would look at the proposal.

As the Copa becomes more of a North and South America event (there is talk of having up to 4 CONCACAF teams) it is very likely that, eventually, it will happen somewhere north of Columbia, however 2008 seems a bit quick.

With Argentina next in line for hosting duties, I'd be very surprised to see this change happen. However, Compean has said Mexico will apply to host the 2011 Copa if they do not get it in 2008.

If the change did happen in 2008, I'm guessing it would be easier for US Soccer to attend since they will have no other commitments.

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Peru wants to use altitude for World Cup qualifying

Tired of missing the finals for 24-years, Peru is thinking of playing their World Cup Qualifying matches in the historic city of Cuzco, which happens to be a 3,300 meters (10,800 ft) above sea level in the Andes.

Both Bolivia (3,600m/11,800ft) and Ecuador (2,800m/9,200ft) play their home matches at high altitude and both saw some solid rewards from doing so. For 2006 qualifying, Bolivia earned all 14 of their points at home while Ecuador did not lose any at home (won 7 and tied 2) while only winning 1 and tying 2 on the road. The only road game Ecuador won was against Bolivia.

Peru currently plays their matches in Lima at sea level.

When you are playing in South America, you should use any legal tactics possible to give your side a home pitch advantage. Yes, Lima is beautiful and has a huge population but getting to the World Cup might be worth the trade off.

By the way, Mexico's Estadio Azteca is 2,200 meters (7,200 ft) above sea level. Helps explain why, of the 160+ games Mexico has played in Azteca, they have only lost 10.

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CONCACAF Champions' Cup Quarterfinals start tonight

Houston and DC still have a week till they face their first real matches of the year when they join in the CONCACAF Champions' Cup (CCC) Quarterfinals, but tonight when Mexico's CD Guadalajara and Trinidad and Tobago's W. Connection get the festivities moving.

W. Connection will play host and hope to use their speed and perhaps their stadium's condition to their advantage. Guadalajara will be happy to get out level and force Connection to make something happen back in Mexico on the 28th.

With the long history and success of Guadalajara, it is difficult to see them losing the series. However, Connection is a quick team and has worked hard over the last few weeks to get to the CCC Quarterfinals including a big 1-0 win over San Juan Jabloteh to earn this spot.

Fox Soccer Channel will air the game tape-delayed starting at 11pm ET.

The winner of this series will take on the winner of CD Olimpia-DC United series that begins next Wednesday the 21st in Honduras.

Much like Houston, DC will face the problem of still being in their preseason while the other teams in the competition have been playing meaningful games. Add to it that they have to start on the road and you've got the makings of some real bad possibilities.

However, the good news is they play the final leg of the series at home where their fans can give them a bit of a push, especially if it comes down to overtime or a penalty shoot-out. If United has 20,000 faithful screaming away at RFK stadium on March 1, CD Olimpia will have a much tougher time of it.

For Houston, they will play in a stadium that only holds 5-8,000 on the campus of Texas A&M, so they should be able to fill it up (calling all Aggies).

If you are a fan of soccer in America and you live near either of these sites, you should head out to the game. If we want American teams to be taken seriously around the world, we need to start winning some international competitions and we need to show them that, as fans, we know the importance of these matches.

DC and Houston are going to play against very hostel crowds during their road portion of the quarterfinals, it is only fair that Olimpia and Puntarenas get the same thing when they come to America.

You can find tickets for DC United here.

For Houston's home game at Texas A&M, tickets are available here.

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South Africa and their illegal coach

I keep waiting to hear some good news out of South Africa in relation to the 2010 World Cup, but it seems not so good stuff is all we get.

What does it say about a soccer federation that is organizing the biggest single sport event in the world if they cannot get the paper work together to get their new coach the proper work visa? Former Brazil coach and new South African manager Parreira faced possible arrest if he attended a soccer match due to visa problems.

However, the bigger charges might be brought against the South African Football Association (SAFA) for hiring an illegal. Home Affairs Department spokeswoman Cleo Mosana said, "The charges will be against the employer, which means SAFA. The charges will be laid at a police station. There is a process that is under way."

Some are jumping to the SAFA's defense saying that the system is setup in such a way as to make it near impossible for businesses to hire foreigners, but in the end, it is yet another black eye for South Africa's World Cup effort.

If you can't figure out how to get a visa for someone after agreeing to pay them $250,000 a month, well perhaps your priorities are in the wrong place.

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Monday, February 12, 2007

Twellman reenlists with Revolution for four years

Forward Taylor Twellman has signed a four-year contract with the New England Revolution. Twellman will see his salary double from about $180,000 a year to $375,000 for the first two years of this contract. He will receive a raise based on performance for his third year and $450,000 in his final year.

Twellman knows how to get goals in MLS. Hopefully with the improved competition and better rate of pay, he will be able to improve his speed and make quicker decisions, thus making him a force on the national team as well.

"He has been our leading scorer since joining the team and we look forward to him being our and the league's top scorer this coming season," coach Steve Nicol said.

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England ready to bid for 2018 World Cup

The excitement is building towards an event 11-years away as the English government has said that it is willing to back a bid to host the 2018 World Cup.

Chancellor Gordon Brown said, "with the Olympics in London in 2012, hosting the World Cup in 2018 would make the next decade the greatest in Britain's sporting history."

No big surprise that the government is willing to play ball as England has hosted just one World Cup and that was way back in 1966. The fact that 1966 was also the only time England has ever won the great cup kind of let's you know another reason they would like to play host.

Anyway, my favorite line from the article is this: "It would also be the natural turn of a European nation after South Africa in 2010 and, it is thought likely, a South American location in 2014."

I love lines like that. By 2018, it will have been 16-years since Asia held the finals, 24-years since CONCACAF and forever for Oceania, yet 12-years is a natural turn for European nations.

But back to England where only six current stadiums are big enough, at present, to host the events. Those six are Wembley, Old Trafford, The Emirates Stadium, St James' Park, City of Manchester Stadium and Villa Park. I see that they are being optimistic that in 11-years the renovation to Wembley is finally finished.

All joking aside, if the finals are to go to Europe in 2018, England would make an excellent host.

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US Women getting ready for Algarve Cup

Fresh off their win at the Four Nations Tournament, the US women are getting ready to head back into camp to prepare for the Algarve Cup next month.

US head coach Greg Ryan has named a 28-player roster for the Feb 14-21 camp in Carson, Calf. The roster is full of familiar names as only two players have yet to earn a national team cap (Rachel Buehler of Stanford and Keeley Dowling of U of Tennessee).

The Algarve Cup is the biggest yearly women's tournament and is only surpassed in prestige by the World Cup and the Olympics.

This year, 12 teams will meet in the Algarve region of Portugal between March 7 and 14th. The teams are divided into three groups. Groups A&B are the higher ranked teams while Group C is more of a second tier.

Teams play a round robin in their group, with their final group positioning deciding what playoff spot they play for. First place in A&B play form the Championship, second in A&B play for third and third in A&B play for fifth. The first place team in C plays the better fourth place team from A&B for seventh and the second place team place the worse team from A&B for ninth. The last two teams in C play for eleventh place.

Here are the groups:
Group A
Germany, Norway, France, Denmark
Group B
USA, China, Finland, Sweden
Group C
Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Iceland

The US will open against China on March 7. This will be a difficult test, even though the two sides will have played each other just a month earlier. The US then gets Finland (March 9), which should be the easiest of the three matches. Then comes the big show down with Sweden (March 12). There is a very good chance that the outcome of this game will decide the group.

The US has dominated the tournament since 2003, however, last year they fell to Germany in penalty kicks. In all, the US has played in 7 of the 13 Championship matches, winning four of them (2000, 03, 04, 05). They are currently tied with Norway for the most titles.

Here is the US roster for camp:
GOALKEEPERS (3): Jenni Branam (Placentia, Calif.), Briana Scurry (Dayton, Minn.), Hope Solo (Richland, Wash.)

DEFENDERS (8): Rachel Buehler (Del Mar, Calif.), Lori Chalupny (St. Louis, Mo.), Keeley Dowling (Carmel, Ind.), Tina Frimpong (Vancouver, Wash.), Heather Mitts (Cincinnati, Ohio), Christie Rampone (Point Pleasant, N.J.), India Trotter (Plantation, Fla.), Cat Whitehill (Birmingham, Ala.)

MIDFIELDERS (8): Yael Averbuch (Upper Montclair, N.J.), Shannon Boxx (Redondo Beach, Calif.), Angela Hucles (Virginia Beach, Va.), Carli Lloyd (Delran, N.J.), Joanna Lohman (Silver Spring, Md.), Marci Miller (St. Charles, Ill.), Leslie Osborne (Brookfield, Wis.), Aly Wagner (San Jose, Calif.)

FORWARDS (9): Lauren Cheney (Indianapolis, Ind.), Danielle Fotopoulos (Altamonte Springs, Fla.), Natasha Kai (Kahuku, Hawaii), Kristine Lilly (Wilton, Conn.), Casey Nogueira (Cedarburg, Wis.), Heather O’Reilly (East Brunswick, N.J.), Lindsay Tarpley (Kalamazoo, Mich.), Abby Wambach (Rochester, N.Y.), Kacey White (Arlington, Texas)


US-Mexico grabs great TV ratings

Last Wednesday's US-Mexico match saw the highest ever non-World Cup oriented ratings for the US team. Over the whole match, ESPN2 earned a .7 household rating, or 800,000 viewers. However, during the final 15-minutes, the game averaged a 1.0 household rating or 1.1 million viewers.

To put that in perspective, the number one cable program last week was WWE Raw with a 3.6 rating while American Idol often gets an 18 rating. Also, ESPN's Monday Night football averaged about a 12-13 household rating for 2006.

The numbers against those three forms of entertainment might not look so hot, but when you look at normal soccer ratings of .3, it is a marked improvement. Also, all three of them represent top rated shows.

A little added bonus to the numbers, since they were higher at the end, it means people who were just flicking by stopped to watch. It's a good thing the final 15-minutes saw some of the best play of the night.

Over on Univision the match also set records with more then 6 million total viewers, making it the second most-watched Spanish-language sports cast in history.

Here is the information on the great Univision numbers:
It beat the Super Bowl among Hispanic Adults 18-49, Men 18-49 and Total Viewers.

For the entire night, Univision was the second largest broadcast network among all Teens 12-17 with 573,000 viewers (beating ABC, CBS, NBC, CW), the third largest broadcast network among all Adults 18-34 with 2,074,000 viewers (beating CBS, NBC, CW), the fourth largest broadcast network among all Adults 18-49 with 3,617,000 viewers (beating NBC, CW) and the fifth largest broadcast network among all Persons 2+ with 5,931,000 viewers (beating CW).

In Los Angeles, the entertainment capital of the world, nearly 1.2 million viewers watched KMEX-TV’s broadcast of the USA's shutout win to make it the highest-rated program of the night beating out “American Idol,” “Lost” and “CSI: NY.” Additionally, the U.S. victory was the No. 1 ranked program in its time period among Men 18-49 in San Francisco and Dallas, and No. 2 in New York and Chicago (again, against competition like "American Idol," "Lost" and "CSI: NY").

Soccer still has a long way to go before it becomes a ratings powerhouse, but events like this show, that with good promotion and quality play, people will watch.

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Friday, February 09, 2007

St. Louis closer to getting a team

St. Louis is not getting Real Salt Lake, but their efforts to land the club might have moved them a bit closer to finally having a club of their own.

Real owner Dave Checketts had nothing but good things to say about their efforts.

"I spoke with (MLS) Commissioner (Don) Garber today,'' Checketts said, "and told him that I spent the last couple of weeks exploring sites and talking to Jeff Cooper, and I said, 'Don, we've got to get a team there. It's absolutely ready for it.' Even though this didn't happen, we've got to find a way to get a club there. My view is it is really ready to embrace a team. There's more passion for soccer there than any place I've been."

St. Louis needs a team like few other cities in America and MLS would be wise to give it to them.

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Welcome to the new Arsenal

Long the subject of rumors, it looks like the Colorado Rapids are about to become real Arses as they are set to announce a "groundbreaking international soccer partnership" with Arsenal of the English Premier League.

It looks like this deal will mean "the teams play against each other in friendlies, work on coaching initiatives, and develop players" and will also lead to a name change for Colorado. It might also mean that Rapids owner Stan Kroenke is becoming a shareholder in Arsenal.

The name options are Arsenal Colorado or Colorado Arsenal. Personally, Colorado Arsenal sounds better to me, but it really matters little. Expect the team's colors to change, again, to the maroon seen in their new logo.

It also looks like Colorado is going to start making use of this partnership soon as the club just announced yesterday that they are going to England from March 8-13 for pre-season training. And where will they train? "Fernando Clavijo’s side will be training at the Arsenal Football Club’s Training Center at Colney."

The more involvement between MLS and the EPL (and other major leagues around the world) the better. These agreements allow MLS players an opportunity for improvement and a greater chance of recognition from across the Atlantic. For the clubs of Europe, this allows them to expand their brand. One of the hardest challenges soccer faces in America is the fact that the best don't play here. However, if MLS can get folks interested in their league because of the connection to other leagues, they will be on to something wonderful.

The formal announcement of this agreement will happen today at 3pm ET.

Update: Colorado will not change their name, just their colors and Stan Kroenke is not buying into Arsenal.

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Thursday, February 08, 2007

Real Salt Lake is alive

The Utah House has passed a $35 million bill today that pays for a parking garage and land for a stadium and Real's stakeholders voted unanimously to accept the deal and stay near Salt Lake. The last thing that is needed is the governor's signature and Real Salt Lake will officially be off the list of the dead.

Just 10 days ago, it looked like the team was set to be sold and moved out of Utah, but tonight owner Dave Checketts has to be toasting the news with some good champagne.

The new stadium will be built in Sandy and is expected to open in 2009 on July 4, 2008, with a match against Real Madrid (edit-Checketts still opens the stadium will be ready by then, just 17-months from now).

Just how close the team actually came to moving to St. Louis we will never know, however a spokesman for the governor said, “Frankly, we’re racing the clock. St. Louis keeps sweetening the deal.”

It is obvious the group(s) in St. Louis trying to land a soccer team is serious. Let's hope that soon enough they too will be drinking some bubbly.

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US player review and more

A couple of days ago, I posted my list of the pressure all 20 players on the US roster were facing against Mexico. This is how they lived up to that pressure.

Heavy pressure
Jonathan Bornstein (D) - Nailed it. The first half saw a few mistakes, but that second half was near perfect. He has earned himself a few more call ups. Grade: A

Landon Donovan (M) - Finally has a good international game. He proved that he still has the spark in him and that he is good on dead balls, however, the first half was still very disappointing. He is now going in the right direct, but he still has a way to go before he is where he needs to be. Grade: B-

Eddie Johnson (F) - Very little playing time and got very few balls. He didn't really change the game, but he did see the need to push forward. Good news is he did not look bored out there. Grade: C

Justin Mapp (M) - Had a great seat to watch the game. Grade: Bench

Brian Carroll (M) - Came in for Dempsey in the 75th and didn't really do much. No faults but did not stand out. Grade: C

Ricardo Clark (M) - Made some good passes and shutdown a few attacks. Needs to work on his feeds. Grade: B

Medium pressure
Joe Cannon (GK) - Almost got called on when Howard landed on a nail during warm up, but in the end saw no action. Grade: Bench

Chris Albright (D) - Not a good night for Albright. The longer he was in there, the easier he got beat. He was the weakest part of the backline. Grade: D

Bobby Boswell (D) - I think he won the 'sexiest man on the bench' vote. Grade: Bench

Jimmy Conrad (D) - Outstanding night for Conrad. He proved himself a leader and an inspiration for the team. Again and again, the big plays were a result of him. Grade: A+

Bobby Convey (M) - Was rusty and had a weak first half, but woke up and made some awesome runs in the second 45. Was surprised to see him go the full 90, but he looked good doing it. Grade: B+

Chris Rolfe (F) - A sad night for Rolfe. He didn't push the line, he didn't make his runs, his touch was slippery and he never threatened. Sure the midfield wasn't feeding him much, but he didn't make anything close to happen when he had the chance. Grade: F

Taylor Twellman (F) - No time on the field might have raised his stock as his competition didn't look so great. Grade: Bench

Josh Gros (M) - As Albright's sub, he brought some needed calm to the position, but he didn't make anything big happen or not happen. Grade: B-

Low pressure
Pablo Mastroeni (M) - He providing some much needed flair in the second half, but his first 45 were not pretty. He was able to hold the team together as captain, but he should have provided some better balls for Donovan and Rolfe. Grade: B-

Tim Howard (GK) - The first 10 minutes were rough but after that he was alive. He kept placing himself just in the right spot to stop the few shots Mexico got through. Grade: A

Carlos Bocanegra (D) - Although not the best he has ever been, it was still a good outing as he cleared some danger away and kept the first half from becoming real bad. Grade: A-

Clint Dempsey (M) - Mexico did a good job of keeping him off the ball and the few touches he did get were only average. No running at people and an early bit of exhaustion made the Deuce look a little out of place. That said, it seems he is more focused on finding a starting spot at Fulham then worrying about his place with the US and that is the way it should be at the moment. Grade: C

Bob Bradly (Coach) - He did something at halftime to wake the team up, but it still seemed strange that he waited so long to sub out some of the players. I mean Albright and Rolfe should have been gone at halftime. Still, he won and his team looked good doing it so more power to him. Grade: A-

ESPN2 (Broadcasters) - So much better. It is amazing what calling the game instead of talking about endless asides can do for a broadcast. It is obvious Dave O'Brien has picked up a few things since the World Cup. He still has room for improvement, but he actually talked about techniques with some knowledge, so I'm happy about that. Also, the pre-game was actually worth watching. But the best thing of all, just about every time the ball was in the final 1/3 of the pitch, they were actually talking about the action on the field. It really does make the game better. Added bonus for not bringing on Alexi Lalas to talk about Beckham or anything else like that. One last thing, Allen Hopkins was nice but I missed Brandi Chastain. Grade: B+

Sunil Gulati (US Soccer President) - The halftime interview did not look good for him. He keeps pushing back the goalposts on the date of his decision to hire Bradley fulltime or not and he is starting to look mighty foolish. His reason seems to have something to do with possibly hiring the manager of a European club team, but who knows. After months of interviewing and thinking, it appears Gulati is no closer to deciding on the direction of the national team then he was when he fired Bruce Arena last July 14. Grade: C-

I listed Eddie Robertson on my initial list, but he was dropped from the roster. Bryan Namoff took his place, but he did not see any game time.

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US 2-0 Mexico - Game Wrap

The coaches might be different by the score remains the same as the US continued their control of Mexico on US soil.

The big hero of the night was Jimmy Conrad (pictured). Not only did he get the first goal, but his defensive play was superb, his passes were smart and his leadership abilities shined. Time and time again, Mexico took it to the US in the first half, only to have Conrad play a key part in breaking it all up. Chris Albright had more then he could handle against Jared Borgetti, but Conrad was able to place himself in the right spot multiple times to cover.

But Conrad was not the only good show on the night as Jonathan Bornstein, Tim Howard and Carlos Bocanegra put in their share, which is good because Mexico was attacking all night long. With the offense being absent for the first half, it was up to the defense to calm the team and they did.

Still, Mexico did not score just because of America's blanket defense, they were also unable to finish at least three balls that rolled right in front of goal with no defenders near by. The frustration only grew with every missed chance.

Thankfully, the second half was not just a defensive story as Convey, Donovan and Pablo Mastroeni all woke up enough to start moving the team forward. There were still way to few good chances at goal, but they were able to finish two of them, so it was a split.

Donovan's corner for the first goal was perfectly placed making it easy for Conrad to get a head on it. The second goal took an odd bounce at the start, but Donovan's run was perfect. He split two defenders, drew out Oswaldo Sánchez and just knocked one home. That is the Donovan we all want, decisive and smart.

In all, the team was still lacking up top as both Chris Rolfe and, to a lesser degree, Eddie Johnson failed to show. The midfield had their moments, but seemed unable to play in close confines and lost control of the ball much too often. The defense was solid, but still allowed a few too many really good opportunities.

This was better then the Denmark game, but there are still many places for improvement.

One last note, Oswaldo Sánchez is a thug and US Soccer should send tape of his post second goal activities to FIFA. In case you missed it, he tried to trip Eddie Johnson as he was running over to celebrate Donovan's goal. Thankfully for Johnson, much like his goalkeeping on the night, Sánchez's was a failure.

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Wednesday, February 07, 2007

US-Mexico Preview

USA vs Mexico
8pm ET (8:25 kickoff)
ESPN2, Matchtracker

So what to expect from Phoenix? Probably a whole lot of excitement to start the match, after that, not so sure.

Mexico and new coach Hugo Sanchez want a win bad and have been smack talking too much to not give more then everything to the game. They will come out looking for an early goal or a chance to get Mastroeni and/or Bocanegra in early card trouble. The sellout crowd will be at their backs and the US will probably open a little stale.

If they can find the net in the first 15-minutes, it will be a long night for the US. However, if they are held or if the US takes the game to the Mexican half of the pitch early, the odds shift to the American side of things.

The backline for the US should be solid with Bornstein and Albright out wide and Bocanegra and Conrad holding down the center. This should give Bornstein the space and support needed to slow the attack and feed the ball to Mastroneni.

From there the red, white and blue will look to Convey and Dempsey to take the ball up, but what after that? Will it be Donovan and Johnson upfront? Neither has had much form of late. Johnson has speed, but his touch is off, so it does little. Donovan can be so much, but has not realized it in much too long. Maybe put Twellman instead of Johnson, but his international experience is lacking and the recent injury will not help that. That leaves Rolfe. He's not as fast as Johnson, but he has good instincts and should cause a few worries for Mexico.

That said, I would be very surprised if the first goal came from an American forward. Actually, I would be surprised if it came from anything but a deadball. Mexico still has trouble defending against corner and freekicks near goal so if Donovan can get one in a good spot, there is a great chance for a finish by Dempsey, Albright, Convey or someone else.

That said, the US has had some trouble marking players on deadballs as well. I would not be surprised to see each team get a goal off a freekick.

Where the US should be able to exploit Mexico is the start of the second half. It seems that the US always comes out of the locker room with at least a few good minutes (at least under Bruce Arena) while Mexico often restarts soft. If an early second half goal happens, it will make for a great next 20-minutes.

In the end, I don't see either side shining so bright. There will be a few memorable moments, but around the 70-minute mark, things will be dying down (although I would love to be wrong about this).

US 1-1 Mexico

Guess at US starting lineup:
For - Johnson, Donovan
Mid - Convey, Mastroeni, Clark, Dempsey
Def - Bornstein, Bocanegra, Conrad, Albright
GK - Howard

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Real Salt Lake stadium vote might come today

With a Friday deadline hanging over their heads, it looks like the Utah Legislature might hold the required vote to force Salt Lake County to use certain taxes to assist in stadium development today.

Yesterday the state Senate extended a Salt Lake County lodging and rental car tax for another 10 years, and earmarked $15 million in tourist taxes to buy land for the soccer stadium.

Now the House has to vote. And, the bill has to be passed by Friday for the team to stay in Salt Lake.

Real Salt Lake owner Dave Checketts has promised the team will stay in Utah if the bill is passed. However, should the bill fail or not pass by Friday, he has a very credible offer from St. Louis to buy the club.

Just a few more hours till we know for sure if Real Salt Lake lives or dies.

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Tuesday, February 06, 2007

US Men, who needs to perform?

With just 24-hours till the great US-Mexico rivalry reunites in Arizona, it is time to figure out what US players need to show the most if they want to continue wearing the read, white and blue.

It is true that every time a good player steps out on the pitch, he has something to prove, however, some guys have a little less pressure then others. Below is my look at where each of the 20 men on the US roster stand in the pressure cooker.

Heavy pressure
Jonathan Bornstein (D) - He had an amazing début against Denmark and looked great last year for Chivas, but with so few caps and an interim coach, he needs to prove he really does have it in when it is really needed

Landon Donovan (M) - It is hard to imagine a US team without Donovan, however, with his last good international game coming back in Sept. 2005, it is time to ask if this is really the person around who the team should be built. Good news for him, if there is one team that can excite him, it is Mexico.

Eddie Johnson (F) - Two years ago, I would have never thought Eddie would be in this position, but time can change a lot. He has looked bored in all but World Cup international play and seems unable to get past whatever block is on him. With the offense needing a big reboot, if Eddie doesn't make something happen, it might be time to look elsewhere (see Cooper, Kenny)

Justin Mapp (M) - He has been good in domestic play and made some marks versus Denmark, but with just two caps and a flood of midfield players, Mapp needs to show.

Brian Carroll (M) - Much like Mapp, he is new, but not too new, so he needs to prove that this is a place he deserves to be.

Ricardo Clark (M) - He could almost be Carroll's twin.

Medium pressure
Joe Cannon (GK) - With Matt Reis looking a little less then the best against Denmark, Cannon has a chance to become the MLS based goalkeeper of choice. Now, will he see action?

Chris Albright (D) - He is close to a mainstay with the team, but he has not looked dominating and has had trouble controlling the backline in his last few matches. With younger talent pushing up, he needs to show what his experience has to offer.

Bobby Boswell (D) - Yes, he only has two caps, but his play in those two as well as his play with DC have placed him right were he needs to be. If he can have a good showing tomorrow, he might just have an open invitation to future camps.

Jimmy Conrad (D) - The team wants Conrad to be the leader, much in the style of Reyna. Mexico is a fine way to prove that you have what you need.

Bobby Convey (M) - Looked good last summer and into the fall, but then came the injury. I'm sure he is fine, but no better test then a hard played game.

Chris Rolfe (F) - With no real expectations, he doesn't really have to worry about letting folks down, however, unless he makes some noise, he's not going to get noticed.

Taylor Twellman (F) - The only thing saving him from being in the 'heavy' category his is improved play at the end of 2006 and his hernia surgery. He still needs to prove that he is not just a domestic league player, but with less training time then the others, even a so-so performance will be seen in a good light.

Josh Gros (M) - Another player who doesn't really have a lot expected of him. Little pressure, but also an opening. If he can get some interceptions and setup a few plays, he will earn a smile.

Eddie Robinson (D) - See Gros, however, with Cuauhtemoc Blanco on the pitch for Mexico, Robinson could become an instant hero if he causes Blanco's tamper to explode resulting in a red card.

Low pressure
Pablo Mastroeni (M) - I went back and forth on this one. He has not been in the best of form, but he has been good enough. With his ability to track back, it will be hard to replace him.

Tim Howard (GK) - There are some good goalkeepers available, but Howard is tops till he proves he should not be.

Carlos Bocanegra (D) - If he is healthy and available, he is in the lineup.

Clint Dempsey (M) - As the current star of US soccer, he could crap in Bob Bradley's salad tonight and still be called in tomorrow. He has proved he can play in the big games, now he just needs to prove he can do it even if he is a bit jet lagged.

Talking about Bradley, he's under more then a bit of pressure himself. I hope that the outcome of this game will not decide his future, but one cannot say for sure. New Mexican coach Hugo Sanchez knows he has a big opening to regain the crown of CONCACAF and he wants to use it. Sanchez has other games that he will use to test out players for the summer cups, what is most important to him are the headlines Thursday morning. If Bradley is a good coach, he will use this against them.


MLS teams and national TV

On the schedule, all 13 MLS teams are suppose to be equal. They each play 30 matches with 15 at home and 15 on the road. However, one place where all teams are not equal is national TV broadcasts.

Here is the breakdown by team of games airing on ABC/ESPN2 (ESPN2), TeleFutura/Galavision (T/G), Fox Soccer Channel (FSC) and HDNet (HD):

New York545418
New England434516
Toronto FC125311

No surprise that LA and Beckham have the most games on national TV (25 out of 30!), but I am a bit taken back by FC Dallas in the second position. Perhaps Hoops Nation is starting to take off. I would have thought Chivas or DC or maybe Chicago would have taken that spot. True, those three teams are not far behind FCD, however, about a third of Chicago's and DC's games are on HDNet. I'm not knocking HDNet (I hope MLS helps them gain some subscribers because what I've seen, it's a damn good station), but of the four TV options, they reach the fewest eyes.

No surprise to see KC down at the bottom of the list since, up until last weekend, there was a chance that they would be playing on a high school football field and they were not that great last year, but I am a little surprised to see so few Toronto FC matches. I know, they are new and not American, but since they have their own stadium, I would have thought it might make for some interesting TV.

Real Salt Lake and Columbus were two of 2006's worst teams, so, again, not a surprise that they do not see much national TV time (actually, if it wasn't for HDNet, you would be hard pressed to find the Crew at all).

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2007 MLS & 'Beckham' schedule

At long last it is here, the 2007 MLS schedule. All 195 regular season matches will be played between April 7 and October 21.

Colorado will host DC United for the opener on Saturday, April 7 at 3:30pm ET live on ABC. The alphabet network will also broadcast the finally on Sunday, November 18 at noon.

Between these two dates, there will be at lease 111 other live broadcasts of matches.

ESPN2 starts off Thursday Night Soccer on April 12 at 10pm ET, while Fox Soccer Channel begins their Saturday Night soccer opening day (April 7) with Chivas playing host to Toronto FC. HDNet will also start their season on April 7 when the Red Bulls travel to Columbus. TeleFutura/Galavision will air 25 Sunday games beginning with LA against MLS Champions Houston Dynamo in April 8.

If you want to buy tickets, look here.

So what about Beckham?

He moves to LA starting in July and is expected to make his first appearance in August. Interestingly enough, all but one game in August is an away game, which means his home debut might be against Chivas USA on a Thursday night ESPN2 game.

However, if I had to make a guess, I would think Beckham would begin his American experience on August 9th in DC. The reasons are simple, great rivalry and the game will be live on ESPN2. By the way, of the 11 Thursday night games ESPN2 will air between Aug 2 and Oct 18, LA plays in 5 of them. What an odd coincidence.

Needless to say, if you are a LA fan, you will not have a difficult time finding them on national TV

Here is the "Beckham" schedule:

July 21 - Chelsea (friendly) - live on ESPN
July 24 - Pachuca (SuperLiga)
July 28 - Chivas de Guadalajara (SuperLiga)
July 31 - at FC Dallas (SuperLiga)

Aug 5 - at Toronto FC
Aug 9 - at DC United*
Aug 12 - at New England Revolution**
Aug 18 - at New York Red Bulls***
Aug 23 - Chivas USA*
Aug 26 - at Colorado Rapids**

Sept 1 - Real Salt Lake****
Sept 8 - Colorado Rapids***
Sept 13 - at Chivas USA*
Sept 16 - Houston Dynamo
Sept 19 - at Real Salt Lake****
Sept 23 - FC Dallas****
Sept 27 - at KC Wizards*
Sept 30 - at Columbus Crew****

Oct 3 - at Vancouver Whitecaps (friendly)
Oct 7 - at Houston Dynamo**
Oct 13 - Toronto FC***
Oct 18 - New York Red Bulls*
Oct 21 - at Chicago Fire**

* - ESPN2
** - TeleFutura/Galavision
*** - FSC
**** - HDNet

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Poland's match-fixing probe grows

The two-year probe into Poland's soccer league continues as the government has suspended the board of the national soccer federation and appointed their own. The probe has unearthed so much corruption that FIFA is considering banning all Polish teams, including their national team, from international competitions.

Perhaps the most interesting factor in all this is Poland's joint bid with Ukraine to host Euro 2012. UEFA will pick the host in April and the possibility of having your national team suspended might not be the best way to win this thing. Then again, one of the other possible hosts is Italy and they are not looking very good at the moment either (a joint Hungary and Croatia is the other option).

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Monday, February 05, 2007

Utah forces stadium on Salt Lake County - Real stays alive

It looks like the death of Real Salt Lake was announced a bit too early as the Utah state legislature is set to force Salt Lake County to build the infrastructure for the soccer stadium or loose a bunch of tax dollars.

The new deal calls for the county to pay $1.1 million a year for the next 20 years.

If the county does not agree, they will lose the funds for the stadium as well as money from other county taxes.

"For the first four years, that money is already earmarked to pay the bonds on the Salt Palace, unlike the earlier deal the county turned down, this new deal will force the county to cut some programs to pay stadium costs."

What a way to get a stadium deal. The Mayor of Sandy Tom Dolan has to be happy, as he has wanted this all along, however, 70% of the county residents were against the plan.

If this plan does go through, Real will need to kick up the public relations work to help improve their image with their new neighbors. They must remember that these people upset over this decision by the state are the same people they need to come see events at their home.

The biggest losers of all have got to be the soccer community in St. Louis as they, once again, are left without a team.

So welcome back from the dead Real Salt Lake. Let's hope that in a couple years you'll be host the team from St. Louis in your bungalow in Sandy.

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Sunday, February 04, 2007

De Rosario wants to play for Toronto

Canadian Dwayne De Rosario plans on playing for Toronto FC, however, he is in no real hurry to make it happen.

"I feel that one day I will be wearing a Toronto FC uniform," said De Rosario, who won an MLS championship last season with the Houston Dynamo.

"I'll be proud to represent the city where I was born and raised."

But De Rosario also stressed that he wasn't about to abandon the Dynamo, with whom he signed last off-season. He loves Houston, he says, but loves his hometown too. "I've found a home here in Houston," said De Rosario, 28. "I don't want to take respect away from Houston. (But) it's no big secret that I'm from Toronto."

At 28 years of age, De Rosario's odds of going overseas are next to none, so finishing his career back home makes since. I think he recently signed a two-year extension with the Dynamo, so it will not be happening anytime soon, but if he wants it to happen, chances are MLS will make it happen.

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Kansas City has a home for 2007

It looks like the Wizards will have a place to play in 2007 and it will not be a high school football field. The team plans to make it official on Tuesday that they will return to Arrowhead Stadium for 2007.

Arrowhead was thought not to be an option due to renovations, however, it looks that enough of it will be available to host Wizard's matches.

Sure, this will mean seeing a huge stadium look empty with just a 10,000 fans in it, however, it sure looks better then seeing a professional team play in a 6,000-seat facility meant for high school football.

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