Friday, February 29, 2008

Landon Donovan becomes US's all-time goal scoring leader

Mark your calendar, on this leap day 2008, Landon Donovan became the official 'king of all US male goal scorers.' Although the US did not play a match today, Donovan gets this honor thanks to FIFA recognizing a match the US played against Denmark as an official 'A' international game.

During the 20 Jan 2007 game, which the US won 3-1, Donovan scored a goal from the penalty spot in the 44th minute. US Soccer has counted this game as official all along, however FIFA wasn't so sure.

Denmark said they did not play their A team so it should not count, however US Soccer pointed to contracts the FAs signed that recognize the match as an official game.

After much negotiations, Denmark decided to fess up to it being an official game, thus it is in the FIFA books, thus Landon Donovan has more goals then previous all-timer Eric Wynalda.

Congratulations to Donovan.

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Portuguese striker Joao Pinto wants to play in MLS

If Joao Pinto gets his way, he will be playing in MLS this season. After training with Toronto FC last week, he terminating his contract with his current club SC Braga and appears to be in continual negotiations with the league. His statement on a move:
“I went to the USA for three days and the subject is practically closed."

“Portuguese football is finished for me. It was a sensational time for me and I am happy with the work achieved at Boavista, Benfica, Sporting Lisbon and Braga.”
So could Pinto be joining 2002 World Cup teammate Abel Xavier in MLS? If so, do the refs have something to fear?

Pinto has had some good years and has been an important part of many teams (including the team that won the 1989 & 1991 U-20 World Cups), however he has had a rougher time of it of late.

At 36 (the Setanta story incorrect tags him as 39) age seems to be catching up with him. During this current season, he has only started 7 matches with 2 subs for his club and has but one goal to show for his work. Last season his stats we similar with 17 starts, 2 subs and 2 goals.

If he does come to the league, Toronto seems like his likely destination, but I wonder about a couple things. First, how will his often-injured body react to playing on turf. Second, does TFC plan on teaming him with Danny Dichio? Both players can be good in front of net, but neither really have the speed that will catch defensives off their mark. Then again, last year TFC didn't have a great problem with getting balls in the final third, they just had a problem finishing them, so maybe speed is not that important.

One last thing, if TFC goes this way, it will be interesting to compare the results of Pinto with new Houston signing 21 year old Franco Caraccio.

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Thursday, February 28, 2008

Santino Quaranta humbled, wants to play again for DC United

After a year and a half away, Santino Quaranta wants to return to DC United, but does he have the maturity and discipline to make such a move happen?

Quaranta reputation as a slacker and a bit of a troublemaker, combined with his injury issues have lead to him bouncing between three teams in the last two seasons. When the Red Bulls finally cut him in January, no one was really shocked. However, the 23 year old is hoping to have a second act revival by winning a spot on DC United's roster.

According to Steve Goff, Quaranta has been working hard to get back into shape as he wants to prove himself to DC. He is currently on trial with the team and they will decided whether to offer him a contract after a warm up tournament in San Antonio, Texas, next weekend.

Quaranta has some fantastic skills when he's on, but he fell into the same hole as so many other young players with talent and became a bit of a classless diva (look no further then the salute he gave DC United fans on his first trip back to the capital after his trade to LA). However, if he is serious about this and if he sticks with it, he still has the possibility of many good, if not great, years ahead of him.

As far as the reaction from United fans, I'm going to guess that if he truly apologizes and then backs it up by some great play on the pitch, they will forgive him for his past actions.

If he does win the DC spot, he can expect to make less then the $105,000 he earned last year. Quoting GM Dave Kasper, "He would have to start a lot lower, and we've talked about it."

In the end, Quaranta has a big opening her to prove himself as a player and a person. If he fails for any reason he will have only himself to blame. I just hope doesn't because it would be a shame for him to be another Clint Mathis.

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Jurgen Klinsmann looking to baseball for help with Bayern Munich

Soon-to-be Bayern manager Jurgen Klinsmann was in Phoenix yesterday to watch baseball's Oakland A's train. His goal, pick team manager Billy Beane's brain on how to find quality talent.

Beane, who has a very low budget by Major League Baseball standards, is incredibly good at finding unknown talent by using a large set of statistics (called sabermetrics) to evaluate them. Klinsmann and other soccer managers are very interested in finding a way to creating a similar system for soccer.

Of course the biggest problem for soccer in trying to replicate this model is the lack of statistics, but Beane wants to change all that.
Beane is interested in finding statistical models that can help soccer teams evaluate talent, much the way the A's have used stats to target players to draft and sign. Beane has talked to several Premier League officials, among other soccer bigwigs, about combining resources to find inequities in the market that might be exploited. Because the A's ownership group also controls Major League Soccer's San Jose franchise (an enterprise that will involve Beane somewhat), any findings would benefit the Earthquakes.
If a stat system is every discovered for rating players, it would probably be a boom for the game, especially in developing markets like the USA where team's don't have a huge scouting budget. Not only would it give the team's a way on paper to compare players, but it would also give fans and sports writers endless numbers to throw around, which is one of the best things baseball has going for it.

That said, there is something really nice about not being able to reduce a player to a set of stats. I say that, but I don't have to run a team.

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Ronnie O'Brien leaves turf in Toronto for grass in San Jose

The San Jose Earthquakes have added two-time Major League Soccer All-Star midfielder Ronnie O'Brien to their roster. Last season O'Brien was one of the first big signings of expansion side Toronto FC.

He had a decent year when playing, however a knee injury kept him out for more then half the season. This injury is one of the reasons he decided to move to California, as San Jose will play their home games on grass instead of the turf used in Toronto, which should be less of a strain on his body.
O'Brien was attracted to the Quakes because of the grass playing surface at Santa Clara University's Buck Shaw Stadium. He had complained about the field turf in Toronto.
O'Brien is a quality player when he is happy, however if he feels jilted, his play can drop (see FC Dallas 2006). With O'Brien, the 'Quakes finally have a decent attacking option in their lineup. So far coach Frank Yallop has focused more on defense, which is important, however you can't win if you don't score. Although O'Brien is far from a goal-scoring machine (12 goals in 6 MLS seasons), he is good at starting plays. The question for San Jose now becomes who will O'Brien feed?

Toronto received San Jose's first round pick in the 2009 draft plus an undisclosed amount of money for O'Brien.

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$70,000 study to see if DC United stadium is worth it

The prospect of bringing DC United to Prince George's County in Maryland got a $70,000 boost as the state's stadium authority has order a study to see what impact the team would have on the local economy. Although this study will look at a number of issues, a location for the stadium will not be one of them.

The final report is not expected till July. DC United has promised to repay the state the cost of the study if they decided to stay in DC.

United has stated again and again that they would prefer to stay in the district, however with Mayor Adrian M. Fenty cool on the idea, they may be forced out of town. That said, Fenty has softened his position a bit of late, including using some public monies for the project, however there are still a number of outstanding issues.

In the end, this is a smart move by United, as they need to figure out exactly what options they have. I think most soccer fans would prefer United play in DC, but if they exhaust every effort to make it work and still cannot get it, they need to look elsewhere. Without a stadium, the team doesn't make money and without more money the league does not move forward.

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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

MLS Expansion - League to make 'major announcement' in Philly

As rumored, MLS will award the 16th franchise tomorrow afternoon to Philadelphia. MLS Commissioner Don Garber will join members of the local ownership group along with the governor and other political officials on Thursday at 2pm at Turbine Hall.

Fans are welcome to stop by and cheer on their new team.

Now the question becomes what to call the club. The main names floating around are the Philadelphia Athletics and Philadelphia Independence. Last week I placed a poll up asking what name folks preferred but both currently stand tied at 29% each (although 31% don't want either name), so there does not seem to be a fan favorite. It will be interesting to see if the owners try the Dynamo route and have a 'pick the name' contest or if they go with Seattle and just ask folks to submit names from which they will pick.

No matter what their name, they will start play in 2010, thus adding the final piece to the East coast rivalry (DC-Philly-NY-New England). Hopefully the close locations will allow fans to travel to more matches.

Congrats to Philadelphia and the Sons of Ben on getting this club.

Here are the full details:
Turbine Hall
The Wharf at Rivertown
2501 Seaport Drive
Chester, PA, 19013

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US men name final Olympic Qualifying training roster

After missing out on the 2004 Olympics, the US U-23 men are looking to redeem themselves by earning one of the two Concacaf spots for the 2008 Beijing games. With this in mind, Peter Nowak has called in a group of 24 players for his final training camp ahead of the March 11-23 tournament.

Here is the list:

GK (3): Dominic Cervi (Chicago Fire), Tally Hall (Esbjerg fB), Chris Seitz (Real Salt Lake)

D (8): Maurice Edu (Toronto FC), Hunter Freeman (New York Red Bulls), Kamani Hil (Vfl Wolfsburg), Patrick Ianni (Houston Dynamo), Michael Orozco (San Luis), Mike Randolph (LA Galaxy), Nathan Sturgis (Real Salt Lake), Marvell Wynne (Toronto FC)

M (8): Arturo Alvarez (FC Dallas), Benny Feilhaber (Derby County), Eddie Gaven (Columbus Crew), Stuart Holden (Houston Dynamo), Sacha Kljestan (Chivas USA), Dax McCarty (FC Dallas), Robbie Rogers (Columbus Crew), Sal Zizzo (Hannover 96)

F (5): Freddy Adu (SL Benfica), Jozy Altidore (New York Red Bulls), Chad Barrett (Chicago Fire), Charlie Davies (Hammarby IF), Robbie Findley (Real Salt Lake)

Not a lot of shocks on this list, however the inclusion of Michael Orozco of Mexico's San Luis is interesting. I think this is his first US camp as he has flirted with playing for Mexico (he was born in California).

Overall, the US has some great striker options and a solid midfield, however the defense, with the exception of Edu, doesn't show as much known talent. It is not that they are bad, they just seem a bit unproven.

The unproven tag continues to the goal as none of the keepers have much pitch time to brag about. Again, they are not bad, they are just not tested at the highest level.

Overall, this lineup should allow the team to get out of their group and to the final.

Nowak will announce his final 20-man tournament roster no latter then March 9. Although he can add people not called into camp to that roster, odds are he will not.

Here is the full schedule for the tournament (Tickets Florida, California):

Group A
USA
Panama
Honduras
Cuba

Group B
Mexico
Canada
Guatemala
Haiti

Date Matches Venues Kickoff Times
March 11 Panama-Honduras Tampa, Fl 5:30 ET
March 11 USA-Cuba Tampa, Fl 8:00 ET
March 12 Haiti-Guatemala Carson, Ca 5:30pm PT
March 12 Canada vs. Mexico Carson, Ca 8:00pm PT
March 13 Honduras-Cuba Tampa, Fl 5:30pm PT
March 13 USA-Panama Tampa, Fl 8:00pm PT
March 14 Canada-Haiti Carson, Ca 5:30pm PT
March 14 Mexico-Guatemala Carson, Ca 8:00pm PT
March 15 Cuba-Panama Tampa, Fl 5:30pm PT
March 15 USA-Honduras Tampa, Fl 8:00pm PT
March 16 Guatemala-Canada Carson, Ca 5:30pm PT
March 16 Mexico-Haiti Carson, Ca 8:00pm PT
March 20 Seminfinals Nashville, Tn 5 & 8pm CT
March 23 Finals & 3rd Nashville, Tn 1 & 4pm CT


ESPN Deportes will air all the matches live and ESPN306.com will steam them.

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Real get their Scottish striker

Real Salt Lake has been looking for a marvelous striker and they think they found one in a Scottish doctor.

Kenny Deuchar has decided to leave his Scottish club Gretna for the wide-open spaces of Utah. Deuchar can be a bit of a scoring machine as shown by his 6 goals in 10 matches while loaned out to St. Johnstone this past fall and his two goals this past Sunday against Glasgow Rangers. In fact, it was the goals against Rangers that convinced Real Salt Lake coach Jason Kreis that Deuchar was his man.
"He was a player we talked to a few weeks ago and knew there was a possibility of something.

"When you go to see a player play against Rangers and he scores twice, it tends to be a bit of an element."
At 27, Deuchar should have a number of good years ahead of him, so might this mark the final stabilization of the team's front line? Combining him with Argentine striker Fabián Espíndola or Robbie Findley should provide Real with a much better attack force then was shown in 2007.

Interestingly enough, Deuchar is also a doctor who worked one day a week at a hospital even while playing with Gretna, which he hopes to also do in Salt Lake.

Real has made some good moves this off-season and should finally be seen as a real playoff challenger. Combine this with their soon-to-be open stadium and it looks like the team from Salt Lake has weathered the worst.

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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Pan-Pacific Championship panned

The reviews of the first ever Pan-Pacific Championship are in and we've got a flop on our hands. Even with David Beckham and hometown hero Brian Ching on the pitch, the combined attendance for the two double-headers was a mere 38,215. On top of that, the field turf was horrible.

So what to make of this tournament? There was no feeling of pressure to win like in SuperLiga matches, so it looked and felt like the pre-season it is. Perhaps the biggest thing to come out of it was the realization by many in the US that the J-League in general and Gamba specifically is a quality outfit, but I doubt that is the direction MLS's marketing arm SUM wanted the attention to flow.

But all is not lost. Perhaps the PPC could live on just not in Hawaii. A rotational system between nations involved would probably increase attendance and make it easier to find a quality stadium.

Or maybe it should shift into a MLS vs. J-League competition. This would make sense to me as both are in pre-season and both have a league winner (Supporters' Shield/J-League Champs) and Cup Winner (MLS/Emperor's Cup) so it would be easy to select four sides?

A final idea would be to move it to the middle of the season like SuperLiga, although I don't know if the J-League schedule would easily allow for such a thing.

In the end, I enjoyed watching the games because they let me see what LA & Houston are experimenting with ahead of the season and they gave me a chance to see two foreign teams in action that I normally only read about. However, as much as I enjoyed it, if MLS really wants this to be taken seriously, major changes need to happen.

One last thing, I wonder if this lack of an audience for a Beckham event is the sign of a struggle ahead or just a momentary glitch?

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The Dynamo get a little more golden with Oscar De La Hoya

The MLS Champion Houston Dynamo have new owners, sort of. Boxer Oscar De La Hoya and business associate Gabriel Brener are set to purchase 50% of the club while current owners AEG will continue to control the other half.

AEG has placed the value of the Dynamo at more then $40 million, meaning this is at least a $20m investment by the two.

Interestingly De La Hoya, president of Golden Boy Promotions, and Brener, a Mexican investor with ties to the real estate industry in the United States, will only be the second Hispanic ownership group in the league (Chivas was the first).

No word yet exactly what roll AEG will continue to play, however I would guess they would take over stadium issues while the Golden Boys handle the team. My reason for this guess has to do with AEG's desire to have a concert venue in the downtown Houston area.

With the city ready to move on the Dynamo stadium idea, possibly as early as tomorrow night, and with the ownership issue looking to be settled, it appears good news is on the horizon for Dynamo fans.

The one question I still wonder is how will the Dynamo make money off this? With AEG looking to front $70-90m of the construction cost, they will want to keep a large amount of any profits. The team will save money by not needing to rent Robertson Stadium anymore, however they will probably only get limited percentages from non-soccer events held in the facility and as FC Dallas can tell you, it is the non-soccer events that make you the money.

However, even with these concerns, it is still great to see this move forward. Sure it will be another soccer venue with a stage at one end, but at least it is happening.

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Monday, February 25, 2008

2008 Concacaf Champions Cup schedule - Can Houston or DC win the region?

In just two weeks both DC United and the Houston Dynamo will play their first meaningful matches of the year as the final installment of the Concacaf Champions' Cup (CCC) gets underway. The winner of this the CCC will represent the region at the FIFA Club World Cup in Japan this December.

The tournament is made up of three stages with each stage being a two leg (home-away) affair. Here is the full schedule (all times Eastern - FSC will air all matches in the US, though some are tape delayed):

Quarterfinals
Leg 1
QF 1 - CD Motagua (Hon) 0-0 Pachuca CF (Mex)
11 March Estadio Tiburcio Carias Andino - Att: 35,846
QF 2 - Harbour View (Jam) 1-1 DC United (USA)
12 March Harbour View Stadium, Kinston - Att: 6,985
QF 4 - CSD Municipal (Gua) 0-0 Houston Dynamo (USA)
12 March Estadio Mateo Flores - Att:
QF 3 - Atlante FC (Mex) 2-1 Deportivo Saprissa (CR)
13 March Estadio Andres Quintana Roo, Cancun - Att:

Leg 2
QF 2 - DC United (USA) 5-0 Harbour View (Jam)
18 March RFK Stadium - Att: 12,394
DC United win series 6-1
QF 4 - Houston Dynamo (USA) 3-1 CSD Municipal (Gua)
19 March Robertson Stadium - Att: 14,348
Houston Dynamo win series 3-1
QF 1 - Pachuca CF (Mex) 1-0 CD Motagua (Hon)
19 March Estadio Hidalgo, Pachuca - Att:
Pachuca win series 1-0
QF 3 - Deportivo Saprissa (CR) 3-0 Atlante FC (Mex)
20 March Estadio Ricardo Saprissa, San Jose - Att: 23,000
Deportivo Saprissa win series 4-2

Semifinals
Leg 1
SF 1 - Pachuca (Mex) vs. DC United (US)
01 April Estadio Hidalgo, Pachuca
SF 2 - Houston Dynamo (US) vs. Deportivo Saprissa (CR)
02 April Robertson Stadium

Leg 2
SF 1 - DC United (US) vs. Pachuca (Mex)
08 April RFK Stadium
SF 2 - Deportivo Saprissa (CR) vs. Houston Dynamo (US)
09 April

Finals
Leg 1 - Winner SF 2 vs. Winner SF 1
23 April
Leg 2 - Winner SF 1 vs. Winner SF 2
30 April

The schedule means that if DC United advances to the end, they will host the second leg in all three rounds. Houston, meanwhile, will get to host the second leg only in the first round.

Both MLS sides will face the challenge of meeting teams in the middle of their season, but in the first round, Houston looks to have the tougher opposition. Municipal is a historic club in Guatemalan soccer and their current roster contains a large number of players from their national team, including Juan Carlos Plata. Also, chances are good that their 30,000 seat home stadium will be near capacity for this match.

DC should have an easier time with Harbour View as they are a good club but not a dominant one. However, the Caribbean winner has often given their first round opponent trouble, so United should not look past them.

Last year both DC and Houston had good runs in the CCC, only to fall in the second round to teams from Mexico. This year they have a little easier time of it as the matches start two and a half weeks later then they did in 2007, giving them more time in pre-season training to prepare.

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US Women know their road to the Olympics - Schedule

The US women know now who they are training to beat as Concacaf has released their 2008 Women’s Olympic Qualification. Six nations will take part in the competition for the 2 Concacaf spots in Bejing.

The teams have been divided into 2 groups of 3. The top 2 teams from each group will advance to the semifinals. Here is the full 2008 Women’s Olympic Qualification schedule:

Group A
USA
Mexico
Jamacia

April 2 - Mexico vs. Jamacia (7:30p)
April 4 - USA vs. Jamacia (7:30p)
April 6 - Mexico vs. USA (1:30p)

Group B
Trinidad & Tobago
Canada
Costa Rica

April 2 - Trinidad & Tobago vs. Canada (5:00p)
April 4 - Costa Rica vs. Trinidad & Tobago (5:00p)
April 6 - Canada vs. Costa Rica (11:00a)

Seminfinals
April 9 - A1 vs. B2 (5:00p)
April 9 - B1 vs. A2 (7:30p)

Finals
April 12 - Third Place (5:00p)
April 12 - Championship (7:30p)

All matches will take place at Estadio Olímpico Benito Juarez in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.

Although the US should have no problems making it through this tournament, the home pitch advantage for Mexico, combined with the short time between game number 1 & 2 (compared to Mexico), might cause a stubble in the first round.

My guess is the US will take group A with Mexico coming in second. Canada will sneaking by group B with Costa Rica claiming second. The big match will be the semifinal between Mexico and Canada as the US should easily handle Costa Rica (or T&T).

The finals are pretty meaningless in this one as both spots go to the teams in the championship match, but I still expect the US to end it on top.

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World Cup 2018 - Could Australia's bid fail due to rugby?

Although England is the front-runner for 2018 World Cup hosting duties, there are still a number of other countries in the mix. Perhaps the nation with the best outside shot of taking the finals is Australia, but first they will need to convince their rugby leagues to take a five week break.

For those that don't know, rugby is the king of sports in Australia and the owners (or at least main tenants) of just about every large stadium in the country. These are the same stadiums the Australian soccer federation will need to use if they are awarded the cup.

The problem is, the rugby season runs from March to the last weekend in September. Since the World Cup is played mostly in June, there is a conflict. FIFA is very demanding of pitch surfaces for World Cups (in Germany they barely let teams practice on the pitches ahead of the matches), so I really could not see them allowing other games played in the selected stadiums.

That means the ruby league would need to take a five-week break in the middle of their season to accommodate World Cup needs. The have changed their schedule in the past (most recently starting early in 2000 due to the Olympics), but as far as I can tell, they have never suspended their season (I am far from an expert on the AFL so I might be wrong).

The other option would be to shift the rugby games to different stadiums. However this too could be complicated as the ruby teams would surely lose money from playing in smaller stadiums and FIFA might not like the idea of having competition during their premier event.

So in the end, Australia's 2018 bid might come down to their rugby league. Will they be interested in completely changing their structure in order to help a sport that very well could become a challenger to their dominance of the sporting landscape? Or will they do like NFL owners in America and decide that the large amount of money they can get from the stadium more then makes up for the limited spike in soccer interest?

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Sunday, February 24, 2008

Osaka dominates Houston, wins Pan-Pacific title; Beckham shines in third place match

Houston 1-6 Gamba Osaka

Has Houston ever been tossed around the way they were last night against J-League Cup Champions Gamba Osaka? All over the pitch, the team looked the weaker side as Gamba's technical control combined with their lethal counter-attacks gave them the game. Brazilian striker Bare made the top defense in MLS look like amateur night with his unbelievable ability to sneak right past his mark and into one-on-one situations with Pat Onstad.

The good news for Houston, no team in MLS has a striker quite like Bare, plus this is pre-season so better to find out these issues now (Boswell still has a ways to go before he is fully integrated into their backline).

Really it was the defensive questions the linger the most for me as they were beat again and again on the break, which is a sign of poor marking and lack of communication. During 2007, Houston was one of the best at stopping breaks but they have some work ahead of them if they want to repeat such events.

Goals: HD: Ricardo Clark 11'
GO: Bare 14', 26', 60', Lucas 64', Bare 72', Masato Yamazaki 78'

Los Angeles Galaxy 2-1 Sydney FC

David Beckham was again the force for LA as Donovan and Ruiz both sat out. Really Beckham didn't do much different from Wednesday night, it is just that a) his team was finally able to control and finish has great service and b) the opposition didn't have the attacking talent to overly exploit LA's defensive weakness. Both LA's goals were the result of Beckham placing the ball right to the feet of the goal scorer.

Goals: LA: Ely Allen 3', Josh Tudela 45'
SFC: Brendan Renaud 42'


The attendance for Saturday night's doubleheader was 23,087, which is almost 10,000 more then were there Wednesday. This is much better but still looked a bit empty. Now that the first Pan-Pacific Championship is over the question becomes what to make of it? None of the four teams were fielding their best roster, which lead to a feeling of meaninglessness, but there was something of interest that came from these games. The way that Gamba played both MLS sides shows something as neither LA nor Houston could really contend with them. Perhaps the best thing that could come out of these few days in Hawaii would be more (as in any) meaningful matches between the two leagues. With the schedules running at similar times (March-Oct), it would seem like an opening is available.

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Friday, February 22, 2008

New York Red Bulls drop quality striker

Only two weeks after the New York Red Bulls signed him for the season, Francis Doe is no longer with the club.

"After evaluating our roster over the course of the pre-season, we feel that we have solid depth at forward and thought that it would be beneficial to part ways," Red Bulls sporting director Jeff Agoos said.

Doe came to New York late in the 2007 season and provided a great forward option for the team down the stretch. In his eight games (of which he started 4), he had 2 goals and an assist.

With New York stocked full of forwards and his poor pre-season, it isn't a huge surprise that Doe is gone, however I do wonder why the team couldn't find another team to trade him to. Is his new contract worth so much that others didn't want to use the cap space to land him?

It will be interesting to see if any other clubs come looking for him. Previous to his signing with New York last year, he tried with FC Dallas, but they didn't have a foreign player roster spot available for him.

He might not be a fantastic striker, but he does bring quality to any side that gets him.

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MLS Expansion - St. Louis not giving up on MLS dream

Jeff Cooper, the lead figure in St. Louis's bid to land a MLS side, has conceded defeat to Philadelphia for the 16th spot in the league and is now focused on winning the 17th.

"'2010 is what we're targeting,' Cooper said."

Since it looks like 2010 will be the year Philadelphia will enter the league, it appears Cooper sees little difference between spots 16 and 17.

His goal now is the same it has been for the last six months, find more investors. He says there has been lots of interest, but not enough have signed on.

For their part, it appears the city of Collinsville is stick with this project meaning that if Cooper brings a team home, the bulldozers will start digging right away on the 400-acre site.

Even without a team, Cooper will be involved with MLS via their marketing arm SUM as he is the owner of on of the new teams in the Women's Soccer League.

I've said it before, had Cooper come along with this bid three years ago, St. Louis would have a team by now. It is only due to the growth of the sport in the US that they do not. Kind of ironic that the city that can very easily argue itself as the cradle of soccer in America is hurt by the growth of the game, but that is the way it is.

My guess on this is Cooper will find some investors in the next few months and the league will go with them as number 17. However, the longer it takes, the more time places like Miami, Montreal, Las Vegas, Portland, etc. have to put together their bids, so Cooper better act fast.

If you are a fan in the St. Louis area, maybe you should follow the Sons of Ben model and get a supporters group together now. You could road trip to Chicago and KC games and make your presence know. I'm sure the folks at St. Louis Soccer United would love it.

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Houston gets young Argentine striker, is a stadium next?

The biggest concern for Houston this off-season has been the lack of forwards in the squad, but it looks like that is about to change.

The team is expected to soon announce the signing of Franco Caraccio from the Argentine Primera División's Arsenal de Sarandi. Caraccio appears to be just the type of player Houston coach Dominic Kinnear loves to work with as he has talent but it needs to be developed.

Caraccio has played on Argentina's under-20 national team, but was mostly a reservist for his club, meaning his experience level is limited making this a bit of a risk for the Dynamo. However, at just 21-years of age, it is a risk worth taking.

Instead of going after a known 30+ year-old, Kinnear has opted to go for youth. Caraccio will have a fantastic opportunity to showcase himself as the speeder striker along side Brian Ching. Combine this with the attacking styles of Stuart Holden and Dwayne De Rosario and the Dynamo again look great up top.

It also appears to be a double win for the club as it looks like they will get him on a free transfer and that he will sign a four-year deal at about $70,000 a year, meaning they should have some money left over for another player.

It is amazing how many things just keep going Houston's way on the pitch and it looks like another might be about to happen off the pitch.

During the whole Houston soccer stadium debate, the mayor has insisted that no property tax revenues would be used to build a home for the Dynamo, however it now appears he is open to using other city monies.

"I'm not saying we won't provide any public funds," White said. "What I am saying is we won't use funds that could be used for providing for essential city services, such as solid waste and parks and libraries and things like that, public safety."

So what does this mean?
White said if public funds were used, they will not come out of the city's general fund or involve new taxes.

The mayor discussed a scenario that would involve property taxes collected by a Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone, a special district in which rising property tax revenues are funneled back into the zone for infrastructure improvements to attract further development.

Some of the TIRZ monies could be used to reimburse the city for the land purchase, or possibly for a small portion of the stadium itself, White said.
To sum up, it looks like the mayor is willing to spend some city money to get this deal down. Yet another example of how much Houston wants a stadium downtown.

But the always great Bernardo Fallas points out another sign this move seems to point towards, as it could mean the sale of the team to the 'De La Hoya/Brener people' is almost done.

Could it be that the next couple weeks will see the Dynamo get new owners and a stadium deal? They should be so lucky.

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Thursday, February 21, 2008

MLS Expansion - Philadelphia to officially get team next Thursday - What to call them (with poll)?

After the Delaware River Port Authority signed off on the final piece of the Philadelphia puzzle yesterday, MLS appears ready to make it official, Philadelphia will be the 17th team in the league. The announcement is expect next Thursday (28 Feb) in Chester.

The new Philadelphia team will begin play in their 18,500-seat stadium in 2010. This stadium will be part of a $500 million complex of stores, restaurants and housing in Chester.

The decision is no surprise to anyone paying attention, but as with all things, nothing is official until it is official. This move means St. Louis is now focused on winning the 16th spot. It is not known at this time if the stadium deal the St. Louis group had worked out with the city of Collinsville is still on (it was dependent on MLS awarding the group a team).

As for Philadelphia, it looks like the Sons of Ben finally will have a team to call their own, now we just need to know what to call said team.

According to this MLS video (opens Windows Media Player), the names the SOBs want are either the Philadelphia Athletics and Philadelphia Independence. Which one do you prefer?

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LA gets dumped by Osaka, Houston smash Sydney - Pan-Pacific Championship Semifinal wrap

The first round of the Pan-Pacific Championship is over and if there was any surprise, it was just how poorly LA and Sydney played. Houston and Osaka put together quality performances so the final on Saturday night should be a good game.

LA Galaxy 0-1 Gamba Osaka

If LA fans were hoping to see a new look to their club, they were sadly disappointed. The best thing they can say about the club is Donovan and Ruiz were not in the lineups, so it is not really a full test.

That said, neither of those players play in the backfield and that is where Gamba was smacking the Galaxy. The LA backline of last year was in full force as they consistently missed their marks, failed at their clearances and were otherwise schooled by Gamba's Mineiro. It also didn't help that new keeper Steve Cronin looked shocked for the first 15 minutes (he did improve greatly after his opening mistakes).

Up top, nothing. Time and time again Beckham would provide great service only to see the forward turnover the ball within two touches. Obviously Carlos Ruiz will give the team a much better chance up top, but the lack of depth from the bench could unhinge the team as the season progresses.

LA did look a lot better in the second half, but that was due in large part to Beckham dropping back and getting more involved in the defense. Interestingly enough, Beckham also moved into a forward position for chunks of the second half, which did give LA much better looks in front of net. I don't think this was an official thing as much as Becks just getting tired of his passes going nowhere with the forwards. On a non-Beckham second half note, backup keeper Josh Wicks had a strong outing, but he didn't take as many shots as Cronin (13-5).

Gamba proved themselves to be a fantastic technical team with just about every player capable of placing balls right where they need to go. Their speed also gave LA fits and their three attackers were constantly causing 7 or 8 LA players to drop back to defend.

Goal: GO - Mineiro 5'


Houston Dynamo 3-0 Sydney FC

Houston still has it. The team that we last saw winning the MLS Cup was back in good form last night. Their defense was tough, their midfield was smart and their forwards were troublemakers. That said, they were playing a Sydney FC side that didn't even have enough players to dress a full 18, so make of this what you will.

Brian Ching looks to be back from injury as he was finding spots and setting up shots. Dwayne De Rosario is a monster and his shots from outside the box only seem to be getting better (his goal was marvelous). Chris Wondolowski knows how to make his runs and will challenge for a starting spot no matter whom Houston brings in. Stuart Holden continued his great times on ESPN by getting yet another goal. Ricardo Clark and Richard Mulrooney were outstanding.

Okay, you can pretty much run down the Dynamo roster and give everyone a good mark, but I'm not sure how much of that is due to Houston being fully together or the lack of play by Sydney. If there is a dark spot for Houston, it might be Boswell who was not tested much but when he was, make a couple little mistakes that others had to fix.

The only other negative that came from this game for Houston is the possible injury to De Rosario as he came out in the 58' with what appeared to be a pulled hamstring in his left leg.

Goals: Dwayne De Rosario 27', Stuart Holden 28', Chris Wondolowski 43'


So what about the PPC? It is obvious none of these teams are taking it overly seriously and with only 15,128 people showing up to watch (and a lot of them left after the first game), it seems that the locals are not amazed. Perhaps that will change for the Saturday games, but in the end, this tournament has a long, long way to go before people start to care. I just find it odd that ESPN will air these matches but don't fight to get the Concacaf Champions Cup games. I guess I just don't understand television.

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Blanco-Edu fight - Has the real Blanco finally showed up

When Cuauhtemoc Blanco signed with the Chicago Fire last year many of us wondered how many red cards he would earn. In a huge surprise, he got none during his 14 games and only earned 3 yellows. So has Blanco let go of his John McEnroe type image? In a quick answer, no.

During last night's exhibition game with Toronto FC, Blanco and Maurice Edu nearly came to blows in the first 15-minutes. Then later in the match, Blanco got into a shoving match with Ronnie O'Brien. Finally, the real Blanco has landed on US shores.
The Mexican striker was so fed up with Toronto's Maurice Edu in the first 15 minutes that he slammed into him with his shoulder. Edu responded by taking a swing at Blanco, which failed to connect. The two players were restrained and then given yellow cards.

Things remained heated throughout the match, with Blanco later shoving Toronto's Ronnie O'Brien because he thought O'Brien was fouling him. Even players from the Fire's bench exchanged words with Toronto players in the match.
Blanco is a very talented player but his lack of flair ups last year seemed a bit strange. A big part of Blanco's game is the psychological tricks he plays on opponents, trying to get them overheated, hoping it leads to either a mistake or a card. It appears he will not be continuing this trend in season number two.

By the way, the game ended 1-1 with Calen Carr getting the Fire goal while the first overall pick from the 2007 MLS Supplemental Draft Jarrod Smith evened it up for Toronto.

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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

LA, Houston, Sydney & Osaka - A Pan-Pacific Championship preview

The first ever Pan-Pacific Championship (PPC) tournament kicks off tonight when the LA Galaxy take on J-League Cup Champions Gamba Osaka at 11pm ET/8pm PT in Honolulu, Hawaii. Both teams are in their pre-season, so who knows what will come of this match.

MLS insists this is a very serious international competition, but with only five months to plan it out, no big reward at the end and three of the teams out-of-season, it is hard to see it as more then a friendly. Then again, perhaps the desire to earn starting spots along with Sydney FC's desire to avenge their recent dumping out of the A-League playoffs, some quality soccer could break out.

Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of reasons to watch these games, I just don't expect them to be as tough as the upcoming Concacaf Champions Cup outings. I want to see if LA can find a way to tie together their bunch of rag-tags with the high priced boys of Donovan and Beckham (and Ruiz but I believe he is still recovering from surgery). For Houston, I'm hoping to see what is going on with their front line and how well Boswell fits in. But my interest is not limited to MLS sides as I will also have a lot of fun watching Gamba and Sydney since they are teams I often read about but seldom get to see.

Long term, the PPC could become something amazing, pitting a number of developing leagues against one another to see where they stand (especially if they can land some big dollar sponsors), but for the next few days, I just hope to see some good games.

So what about tonight?
LA Galaxy vs. Gamba Osaka
11pm ET/8pm PT
TV: ESPN Classics
Web: ESPN360.com

All eyes will be focused on David Beckham to see if he is finally at 100%. Once they are assured of that, I expect eyes to shift to their defensive line and new goalkeeper as Gamba's forward Lucas Severino will be giving them pains.

If LA is to bounce back from 2007, they are going to need to start with their defense as they gave up the second most goals of the league (48), while Gamba was the J-League's top scorer by a large margin (71 in 34 games).

Prediction: LA 1-2 Gamba


Houston Dynamo vs. Sydney FC
1:30am ET/10:30pm PT
TV: ESPN Classics
Web: ESPN360.com

Hometown hero Brian Ching will love this match, which should make him even more dangerous. But I'll be more interested with his partner Chris Wondolowski. Does he have enough to be a true starter?

On Sydney's side, I'm not sure who is even going to be there. Defender Tony Popovic is always someone to watch as is D/M Mark Milligan, but I'm not sure who will challenge the tough Dynamo backline.

Prediction: Houston 2-0 Sydney

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Onyewu loves US-Mexico derby, wants next match in DC

Oguchi Onyewu, who has been in much better form the last couple months, loves to play Mexico because it brings out so much.

“Obviously the rivalry is there and it’s a derby in terms of CONCACAF, so we get up for those games.”
...
"The emotions are gonna be high for those games just because of the rivalry which has been going on for quite some time.”

And as much as he enjoyed the 70,000 fans in Houston for this month's meeting, he hopes the next time the US takes the pitch, they do it 'in front of a true home crowd.'

“I hope we play (next) in D.C. We need to play in our nation’s capital. I don’t know the last time we played there; I think it was 2004.”

“We don’t have a national stadium but still, I think we should play in our nation’s capital every once in a while (as other national teams do)."

There is a lot of talk about DC hosting a US men's event with most of it colored by the ongoing DC United stadium situation, but Onyewu is right, the national team should play in the nation's capitol from time to time.

For the record, the last time the US team played a match in DC was 14 October 2004 when they smashed Panama 6-0 in a World Cup Qualifier. The crowd for the Thursday night match was 19,793.

So it seems the Gooch is pushing for RFK to host US Soccer's top-5 opponent tentatively scheduled for June 8th, but as he says, "It’s not me who decides where we play though; I’m just a soldier on the field."

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Salt Lake want to snag Brazilian from Australian side

Real Salt Lake are hoping to do in 2008 what DC United did in 2007 and grab a quality Brazilian from Australia's A-League. The player Real has in mind is Queensland Roar's striker Reinaldo.

Reinaldo has been with the club for a little over two season, but really only came into his own over the second half of the current campaign. He has proven to be quick and smart with the ball and can cause havoc with any back line.

If Salt Lake can land him, it should give them a force up top, however, there is something standing in their way, the Colorado Rapids. Yes, their Rocky Mountain rivals hold the right of first refusal due to the allocation list.

Needless to say, both clubs would like to have Reinaldo's service, so the question becomes can Colorado offer him enough to go with them? With the recent signing of Christian Gomez (around $350k) along with the salaries of Mastroeni ($280k), Kirovski ($200k), Petke ($126k) and Hernandez ($130k), Real might have a little more money to throw around (the five players mentioned make up a little less then half of the Rapids total cap).

Hopefully one of these two clubs with land Reinaldo because I think he could bring something really nice to the league.

To see what kind of goal scorer he is, take a look at his goal in this video (play starts around :22).

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Houston stadium deal delayed

The city of Houston is giving itself an extra week to consider the proposal to purchase land for a Dynamo soccer stadium.

The City Council will look at the $15.5 million land deal on Wednesday but is expected to delay any decision to next week. If the city goes ahead with the purchase, they will acquire 5 blocks just outside of downtown currently owned by former Councilman Louis Macey. They are trying to get hold of the sixth block by swapping already owned land.

Although the main hope for this deal is to land a stadium, there is no guarantee that the Dynamo will build a stadium on the location. It is also not know if the city would sell or rent the land to the team.

It does seem that the city is very much hoping to make this happen, provided no tax dollars go to actual construction, so the pressure is on the Dynamo organization. The number one reason for the team's move from California was a lack of a stadium deal. Now it appears that a deal is coming together, however it might be the team that keeps it from happening.

AEG has said in the past that they are very interesting in building a stadium, however they also want to sell their Houston franchise to focus on their other club the LA Galaxy. Since MLS wants teams to own the facilities in which they play, if AEG does sell the team, they would have to work out an agreement over the stadium with new owners, but this could take some time to accomplish (look no further then the year long delay with the New York Red Bull stadium after AEG sold the team).

So in the end, we have a situation that appears to be more common then ever in the league, a city ready to help make a stadium happen (Houston, Miami, St. Louis) but either the team or league holding back.

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Friday, February 15, 2008

Andy Herron back to Chicago

Last year the Chicago Fire were lacking in anything up top. This year, their cup seems to be running over as they have added Andy Herron to their lineup. This is his second round with the team.

The move means Chicago now has Calen Carr, Tomasz Frankowski, Chris Rolfe, Patrick Nyarko, Chad Barrett and Herron ready to play in the forward position. This is an embarrassment of riches.

So what is the team missing? One could argue that the answer is everywhere else on the pitch. Their midfield was a little short last season while they have thinned out a bit in defense. Also, with Pickens heading overseas, they now need a backup keeper.

With a number of MLS sides needing help up top, don't be surprised if the Fire get a more then a few calls over the next month.

One last thing about this move, it should make the Fire's second game of the season that much more entertaining as Herron might again be on the pitch with Jay Heaps of New England. Here's what happened the last time the two got together. Herron was fined $3000 and suspended four games after this incident.

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Feilhaber not moving to Houston

US international and Derby County benchwarmer Benny Feilhaber is not going to Houston. Although the midfielder is interested in a possible loan deal to a MLS club, the Dynamo will not be his team of choice.

This should come as no surprise as Houston already has more midfielders then they know what to do with. It is in the striker position that the MLS champs are lacking, so why go with a midfielder, even if he is as talented as Feilhaber.

The one way this might have worked is moving DeRosario up top along with Ching, but DeRo has said that there is no plan for such a move.

Feilhaber could still end up in MLS with San Jose and Chivas good possibilities. Chivas has a lot of quality in their squad and Benny could fit in just right. Teaming him up with Jesse Marsch and Sacha Kljestan (not to mention Ante Razov and Jonathan Bornstein) would give them an 'all-over' feel.

With San Jose, he would pretty much become their heartbeat as the team is still very under whelmed when it comes to players (especially when it comes to attacking players).

In the end, it doesn't really matter where he goes as long as he gets some playing time. Although he looked good against Mexico last week, he obviously wasn't ready to be a starter.

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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

MLS Expansion - "It's definitely Philly"

"'It's definitely Philly," said a Major League Soccer source, declining to be quoted by name in advance of an official announcement. 'It's the market size, the ownership group. These are wealthy people. They're going to be strong owners.'"

Failing some sort of 'impossible-to-foresee cataclysm', Philadelphia is set to become the 16th MLS team. League officials and the new team's ownership group have spent the last two days finalizing the draft version of the expansion agreement, while the ownership group has also been talking with Pennsylvania officials concerning how exactly they can use the $47 million in state funding.

This move is in no way unexpected, as the league has wanted to be in Philadelphia since it began in 1996, they just could not find a way to make it work.

St. Louis is the big loser in all this, but lead investor Jeff Cooper is not giving up on the dream as he is now focused on the 17th spot. It is not clear if the city of Collinsville will change their level of support, as most of it was based on landing a team.

No official date has been set for such an announcement, but my guess is right around the start of the MLS season at the end of March.

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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Is England really counting on Concacaf President Jack Warner to deliver the 2018 World Cup?

The English FA is fighting hard to win the 2018 World Cup and they are willing to put their team into the mix to make it happen. Last week news surfaced that they are trying to organize a friendly in Trinidad & Tobago to celebrate the centenary of the local federation.

Why is this of interest? Concacaf President and Fifa Vice-President Jack Warner just happens to be from T&T and is very, very involved with their federation. He also happens to control 3 of the 24 votes on the Fifa executive committee and has a major influence over the three Latin America members, all of whom will be voting on the location of 2018.

The interest level jumps up a few more notches once you look at some of Warner's past statements, specifically this classic, "England - who invented the sport - has never had any impact on world football. England at no time has had the love and support of Europe. For Europe, England is an irritant."

What is he saying now? "[The] fact is that what I did say was nothing but the reproduction of opinions and background whispers offered by false friends in Europe.

"Numerous European football grandees have often made depreciative remarks about England in the past. What I did was merely to state them and share them with the public at large."

See, no change of opinion, he was just passing along information that other bad people had told him.

So everything is happy for jolly old England right? Well maybe not so much as Jack Warner has this habit of getting himself in situations that don't look to be just right, which brings us to Dominica.

"Last month Warner presented himself at the Dominica Football Association, demanding the resignation of the chief executive, Dexter Francis, and the dissolution of the DFA's executive board. Dominica, which has only 500 registered players, complained to Fifa about what it called his 'illegal' actions."

As the Dominican FA put it, "He tried to bully us in our little country."

Fifa looked over the events and ruled that Warner went well beyond his authority and that "the Dominica FA and the Dominican football community [that] the associations committee fully recognizes the democratically and rightfully elected president, Dexter Francis, and his board as being in charge of the football association and the organisation of football in Dominica."

Could this finally be the issue, unlike so many before, that brings Warner down? One reason it might is Warner counts on the small countries like Dominica to stay on as Concacaf president. If these small countries start to see him as a bully, they could bail on him and open up the confederation to new leadership that might not be so willing to except a friendly in return for World Cup votes.

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MLS boss Garber talks about Houston stadium, international players/competition and profit

MLS Commissioner Don Garber had a few things to say about just about everything in the league when he talked with the Houston Chronicle. Overall, he likes where the league is at and the direction it is heading. As far as specifics, there were not a lot, but what few there are, are very interesting.

Since the interviewer is from Houston, the Dynamo topped the conversation list with their long sought stadium deal being the major issue. All though he didn't have any new news to spread, Garber was encouraged by the city's decision to purchase land for a stadium. He did point out that the recently finished Philadelphia deal took three-years, however said they will not wait 6-7 years for a stadium in Houston.

He also said that Houston will not see a MLS Cup or All-Star Game without a stadium saying, "...we have so many stadiums coming online in so many cities, my commitment to those cities and those owners who have made great commitments to build those stadiums is to bring them our premier events." I guess DC will not be seeing another MLS Cup for a little while.

As far as a possible sale of the team slowing down stadium talks, Garber doesn't think it is true. In addition, he would like to see an ownership group made up of locals takeover the team, but it is not a necessity since a number of other teams are owned by folks not from their market.

On the non-Houston related front, Garber thinks that at some point MLS will need to reevaluate all the international competitions that currently crowd the schedule, but in the mean time these games are needed to bring in more of the 'Hispanic or Latino community.' However, one tournament the league likes but appears unwilling to jump into is the Copa Libertadores. "It would be great to compete in Libertadores. Right now our focus is to win (CONCACAF's) Champions League and make it to the FIFA Club World Cup." This seems to be the club level argument of the Gold Cup/Copa America discussion from last summer.

All this is interesting, but the biggest two pieces of information, for me at least, have to do with Garber's take on developing American players and profitability.

When asked about all the foreign players coming to MLS and how this may hurt the league's goal of growing homegrown talent, the commish said, "We can't sign a player who might not want to play in MLS or is not worth what he thinks he's worth to play here versus going to the second division in Norway, for example. We have to make business decisions that are right for our product, right for our television partners, right for our sponsors and right for our fans."

The first part is obvious, if an American doesn't want to play in MLS then he is not going to play here. The second part seems a bit, um, condescending. Seeing how a large number of players that have signed overseas in recent years are players make less then $100,000 a year in MLS, it is hard to argue that they are not worth more. A good argument can be made that MLS is a more competitive league then Norway or other second/third tier European leagues, but when it comes to money, MLS is still behind. Instead of admitting this and saying that it is something the league needs to work on in the future, Garber attacks the players. Not the classiest way to go.

But let's end on a good note. He takes down the 'money-losing business' argument so many soccer detractors use against the league perfectly by pointing out that they are still in an investment mode and pointing out how many people are looking at buying into the league. If MLS were failing, why would people put money into it. To make it a little simpler to understand, you've got to spend money to make money and we are still spending money.

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Monday, February 11, 2008

Houston to face Sydney in Pan Pacific Championships

The MLS Champions finally know who they will face in the inaugural version of the Pan Pacific Championships (PPC) next week in Hawaii as Sydney FC won the right to represent the Australian A-League after they were knocked out of the playoffs this past weekend.

Sydney FC is a tough team with some quality to it, however, they are in the middle of a major roster problem as they currently have only 16-players available for the trip. This along with their shock playoff defeat, should give the upper hand in the match to Houston, however the Dynamo are still in the early stages of pre-season and have some injury issues of their own to deal with.

The PPC will involve two semifinal games with the losers facing off for third place and the winners go for the cup. The other semifinal match will see Japan's J-League Cup winner Gamba Osaka take on the SuperLiga runner-ups LA Galaxy (Pachuca were invited as SuperLiga winners but turned it down).

All four matches will take place in Hawaii with kickoff times at 6pm HT (GMT -10)/11pm ET and 8:30pm /1:30am ET (semis 20 Feb, finals 23 Feb). I can't find anything definitive, but I read somewhere that ESPN Classic will air the games in the US. Update: It is official, Adrian Healy and Allen Hopkins have been handed the horrible assignment of February in Hawaii as ESPN Classic and ESPN360.com will indeed air the matches live in the US.

It will be interesting to see how the teams treat these games. With LA, Houston and Gamba in pre-season mode and Sydney lacking a bench, who knows what we will see out there. Then again, a trophy is still a trophy, so maybe everyone will step it up.

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Denilson gone, what did MLS learn from the first DP failure?

On Friday, Denilson made it official, he is done with FC Dallas as he signed with Brazilian side Palmeiras. It is no shock that he is gone as FCD basically told him take a big pay cut, thus no longer being a designated player or don't come back. Since Denilson likes to make money, he decided to move along.

So what lessons can be learned from the first departure of a designated player? Basically don't bring a high profile player into a system that does work well with that player. Also, just because a player was on a World Cup winning team doesn't mean it will make a difference on the pitch or in the stands.

FC Dallas had a pretty tight midfield during much of the first part of the 2007 season, but then it all started to fall apart in September. This was not due to Denilson alone, as they also had some injury issues, but his odd fit with their style didn't help. He tried some fancy footwork, but his passing was off and his fitness never really seemed right. The fact that the team went from battling for the Supporters' Shield to middle of the playoff pack during Denilson's time with the club shows that things were not right.

In the end, someone was bound to make a poor choice with their designated player spot (I'm sure some New York fans will argue that Reyna is another example of this), so let's just hope the league as a whole learns from this.

When Beckham and Blanco were signed, some called it NASL part 2, but both these players accomplished what the league wants from DPs (ticket sales and pitch play (okay Becks hasn't done much on the second one yet)), while other DPs, Angel and to a lesser degree Reyna, at least made something happen on the field. Denilson did neither and seemed to just be around for the paycheck. The good news is FCD was able to cut their losses quickly thanks to a smart second year option in the contract.

With Denilson gone, that means the league again has five DPs.

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Sunday, February 10, 2008

US vs. England - March 28 at Wembley

The source might not be the most impressive but there is a report out of England that the red, white and blues will meet the three lions at Wembley on March 28 (hat tip SBI). Before the Mexico match this past week, US soccer boss Sunil Gulati hinted at a top 20 opponent ahead of the June 4th meeting in Spain.

If this does come to be, it means the US men will play Spain, Argentina and England in a two-week period ahead of their first World Cup Qualifier. Add this to the matches against Mexico, Sweden and Poland and the team will have played 6 of the top 25 in FIFA's rankings this year (with three of them on the road). Not a bad total.

As far as England, this match seems tailor made for David Beckham to earn his 100th cap. The Galaxy play at home on May 24th and then in Toronto on May 31st, so he could fly out on Sunday and then have a much shorter trip to return to the club by the next match.

This would be another fantastic get if it comes to be and might even end up on network television.

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Friday, February 08, 2008

2008 Beckham schedule (the other Galaxy players will be there too)

The Beckham tour schedule has been released and he is hitting all the MLS cities this time around. The question, however, is will this sequel be able to live up to the hype of the original? Find out at a city near you for the light cost of a grade A soccer ticket.

And with nothing more to add, here it is, the Los Angeles Galaxy's 2008 schedule:

03/29 - Saturday @ Colorado Rapids 7:30 pm

04/03 - Thursday San Jose Earthquakes 7:30 pm
04/13 - Sunday Toronto FC 3:00 pm
04/19 - Saturday Houston Dynamo 7:30 pm
04/26 - Saturday Chivas USA 7:30 pm

05/03 - Saturday @ Real Salt Lake 7:00 pm
05/10 - Saturday New York Red Bulls 7:30 pm
05/18 - Sunday @ FC Dallas 2:00 pm
05/24 - Saturday Kansas City Wizards 7:30 pm
05/31 - Saturday @ Toronto FC 3:30 pm

06/07 - Saturday Colorado Rapids 7:30 pm
06/14 - Saturday @ San Jose Earthquakes 7:00 pm
06/21 - Saturday Columbus Crew 7:30 pm
06/29 - Sunday @ D.C. United 12:00 pm

07/04 - Friday New England Revolution 7:30 pm
07/10 - Thursday Chivas USA 8:00 pm
07/19 - Saturday @ New York Red Bulls 6:30 pm
07/27 - Sunday @ FC Dallas 6:00 pm

08/03 - Sunday @ San Jose Earthquakes 12:00 pm
08/14 - Thursday @ Chivas USA 7:30 pm
08/21 - Thursday Chicago Fire 7:30 pm
08/30 - Saturday @ New England Revolution 7:30 pm

09/06 - Saturday Real Salt Lake 7:30 pm
09/13 - Saturday @ Kansas City Wizards 7:00 pm
09/20 - Saturday D.C. United 8:00 pm
09/25 - Thursday @ Chicago Fire 8:00 pm

10/04 - Saturday @ Columbus Crew 7:30 pm
10/12 - Sunday Colorado Rapids 5:00 pm
10/19 - Sunday @ Houston Dynamo 6:00 pm
10/26 - Sunday FC Dallas 12:00 pm

Overall, this is a much easier schedule for the team then last year since they don't have a majority of their schedule crammed into the final two months. Even more amazing, there is not a single week where they play two games and there is only one road trip that lasts more then one game but two of those games are in California, with one of them against Chivas and they have over a week break between the final two road games (7/19 @ NY, 7/27 @ Dallas, 8/03 @ San Jose, 8/14 @ Chivas).

If last year's LA schedule was all about crunching everything they could out of Beckham, then this year's schedule is all about giving the team a chance to show what they can do.

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Thursday, February 07, 2008

2008 MLS schedule is out

Major League Soccer has released their full 2008-season schedule. Each of the 14 teams will play 30 regular season games. All teams will play each other twice (one home, one away) for 26 matches. The other four matches will be played against different intra-conference teams with a premium placed on rivalries. This represents the closest MLS has ever come to a traditional single table type schedule.

The season will run March 29 - Oct 26 for 31 weeks in total.

You can find a full schedule here.

Just like 2007, there are four national broadcast partners this season, airing 113 regular season games. In total ESPN2 will air 27, Fox Soccer Channel 32, HDNet 30 and TeleFutura 24.

Fox Soccer Channel will kickoff opening weekend with a doubleheader on Saturday March 29th. ESPN2 will have a doubleheader of their own on Thursday April 3. Big shock, both of those doubleheaders will feature the LA Galaxy. In total, LA will have 20 of their matches shown on national TV, including one on ABC when they travel to DC on June 29 (the full breakdown is FSC 5, ESPN2 5, HDNet 5, TeleFutura 4, ABC 1). Right after this game, ABC will air the Euro 2008 finally live (wow!).

Playoffs dates are:
Conference Semifinals Leg 1: Oct 30 - Nov 2
Conference Semifinals Leg 2: Nov 6 - Nov 9
Conference Championship: Nov 13 - Nov 16
MLS Cup: Nov 23

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US men to face top 5 team in June; World Cup Qualifying host city shortlist released

President of US Soccer Sunil Gulati announced that the US men will face a top 5 FIFA ranked team June 8th in the Northeast (edit note, the linked article says Northwest, but it is indeed the Northeast). Although he did not hint at the team, I think I have a good guess.

The current top 5 are Argentina, Brazil, Italy, Spain and Germany. Since all three European teams qualified for Euro 2008, which starts on 7 June, it is pretty safe to rule them out, which leaves the two South American powerhouses. The US men just played Brazil in the fall, and although I'm sure a lot of money was made out of it, I have a difficult time seeing the men in yellow back on US soil so soon. Which leaves me to guess the team for early June is Argentina.

As far as where? New York is the obvious choice provided they put down grass, but US Soccer loves Foxborough, which has no national games on the 2008 schedule. DC can also make a case, but US Soccer might be saving RFK for a qualifier. I would think Giants Stadium would land this one (combined with a Red Bulls game), but the Kraft family has a strong gravitational pull on the soccer federation.

Gulati also mentioned the possibility of adding another game in Europe ahead of their 4 June match against Spain (could this mean the training camp will be held in Europe?). After 2006, the federation promised harder tests for the men's team and it looks like they are delivering again on that promise.

The other bit of joy Gulati shared with us is the list of possible Wold Cup Qualifying sites for the semi-final round. RFK Stadium (DC), Pizza Hut Park (Dallas), Home Depot Center (LA), Dick's Sporting Goods Park (Denver), Qwest Field (Seattle), Toyota Park (Chicago) and Crew Stadium (Columbus) are the locations in the running for the three home games the US men will play if they advance to the semifinal round. Likely opposition is Trinidad and Tobago, Guatemala and Cuba.

US Men's 2008 schedule:
19 Jan - US 2-0 Sweden
06 Feb - US 2-2 Mexico
26 Mar - US at Poland
04 Jun - US at Spain
08 Jun - vs. someone
15 Jun - vs. Barbados-Dominica winner at LA (8pm ET/5pm PT)
21/22 Jun - at Barbados-Dominica winner

If they beat Barbados-Dominica winner
20 Aug - Away
06 Sep - Away
10 Sep - Home
11 Oct - Home
15 Oct - Home
19 Nov - Away

Looks like a very busy year.

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US 2-2 Mexico - Player Grades

US 2-2 Mexico
The US got outplayed last night and probably should have lost the game, but Tim Howard was just not having any of it. So what is the biggest thing we learned last night? The US is in serious need of some outside backs. Mexico was just racing it in with no interruption till they hit the Bocanegra-Onyewu wall.

There was also the bright spot of Jozy Altidore who appears to have come of age. His skill on the ball along with his speed should make him the striker we have been looking for.

Here are the grades as I see them:

Starting XI
Tim Howard (GK) - Just outstanding. Put himself where he needed to be and grabbed any ball that came near. Keeping after the ball even when Bocanegra collided with him just proves what he can do. Guzan is good but he's not unseating Howard anytime soon. A+
Drew Moor (D) - Not a good night. He was getting beat on the run of play and was the one marking Magallon on both goals. His one bright moment was the setup of Altidore's goal. C-
Carlos Bocanegra (D) - Held his ground well and covered for the mistakes of outside backs. Brought some good physical play to it all. A-
Oguchi Onyewu (D) - This was the Gooch's best match in a long time. He was commanding in defense and smart with his play, plus there was the header into the side pocket for the first goal. He still needs to work a bit on his speed, but so does most of the team, and he needs to try and limit the fouls. A
Ramiro Corrales (D) - Another 'not ready for prime time' back. He was sloppy on the ball and got turned over and over. One good thing, he kept on his mark during set pieces. C
Landon Donovan (M) - Where was he? The only time he really touched the ball was on dead balls and he didn't do a very good job with them. Okay, he did pop the ball back over to Gooch for the first goal, but other then that, nothing. C+
Ricardo Clark (M) - He held his own against a very strong Mexican midfield. He didn't shine but he also didn't sink. Decent passing but needs to control the game more. B
Michael Bradley (M) - A man of extremes. At moments he was fantastic and at others he was giving the ball away. The good outweighed the bad, but there is still a lot of space to improve the gap. B
Bobby Convey (M) - Much like Donovan, Convey was lost on the night. A couple decent touches are not enough. C
Jozy Altidore (F) - Jozy more then held his own in his first big international test. He was a little cold at the start but then he started wrecking Mexico's defense. He still has some work to do on his positioning but the technical skills are there. How great was it to watch a US forward get a goal during the run of play? A-
Clint Dempsey (F) - Wowed on the disallowed goal (what a finish) but other then that didn't do much during the game. Maybe this had something to do with it being around 4am London time, but nothing fantastic. C+

Subs
Freddy Adu (M) - On for Dempsey in the 63'. He brought some control to the game and showed a little creativity but he still has a way to go to earn a start. His passing was pretty solid. B
Benny Feilhaber (M) - On for Bradley in the 63'. If this is what he can do without any playing time for his club, imagine where he would stand with some serious minutes. His footwork was really strong and he controlled the pace of the game. Really, why is Derby not playing this man? A-
Eddie Lewis (M) - On for Convey in the 70'. Much better then I expected, seeing as he was not in camp due to injury, but still past his best days. If the team is looking for speed, Lewis is not the answer, but he was still better then Convey. B+
Maurice Edu (M) - On for Clark in the 79'. He brought in the energy needed towards the end of the match, but didn't really have a lot of time to settle. Did a decent job slowing down the Mexican advance. B+

Subs not used: Pat Noonan (F), Michael Parkhurst (D), Brad Guzan (GK)

So overall, the team did well down the center but was missing out wide. They also need to improve their passing skills in order to control the tempo. So where do we go from here? With so many problems on the defensive outside are injured Jonathan Bornstein and Steve Cherundolo the big winners of the night? Was Donovan's slump due to Mexico's increase coverage of him or did the lack of pre-game smack talk keep him from bring motivated? Is there any excuse for not starting Altidore in every possible match? Did the new home jerseys make you think this was just some sort of pickup game outside the golf club?

One final thing, the call by ESPN last night was so much better then what it once was. The topic of conversation was almost always focused on what was happening or just happened on the pitch plus there were moments when the commentators said nothing. They still need to work on some of their camera angles and play backs (I never did see Dempsey offside on his goal), but still a great improvement.

Scoring summary:
USA: Oguchi Onyewu (Landon Donovan) 30', Jozy Altidore (Drew Moor) 40'
Mexico: Jonny Magallon (Pavel Pardo) 35', Jonny Magallon (Carlos Salcido) 47'
Attendance: 70,103

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Wednesday, February 06, 2008

US-Mexico - Starting lineups

Kickoff it just about an hour away and we have the starting lineups.

Here it is for the USA:

---------Altidore-----Dempsey-----------

Convey---------------------------Donovan

------------Bradley----Clark-----------------

Corrales------------------------------Moor

----------Bocanegra---Onyewu-------------

-----------------Howard--------------------

Bench: Guzan, Parkhurst, Edu, Feilhaber, Lewis, Adu, Noonan

And here is Mexico's starting XI:

-------------Bautista----De Nigris-----------

Vela--------Pardo-----Torrado---------Arce

Castro------Marquez--Magallon----Salcido

------------------Ochoa----------------------

Bench: Michel, Rojas, Pinto, Cacho, Dos Santos, Naelson, Villaluz

Should make for an interesting match.

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US vs. Mexico - Who needs to perform?

US vs. Mexico
9:30pm ET/6:30pm PT
TV: ESPN2, Univision (Spanish)
Internet text call: US Soccer

The final super event of this very super week is here at last as the US men get ready to face off against their friends to the south. Everything points to this being another great installment of the cross-border rivalry, but all things are not equal in the US camp as players are jockeying for position on coach Bob Bradley's roster.

With that in mind, I give you the pressure list of who needs to perform tonight against Mexico. This list is based on where I think players currently stand in the race for the spots as well on other attributes such as leadership, skill and play with their club team. I have listed all 21 players on the roster, however only 17 at most will see playing time.

And away we go:

High Pressure
Ramiro Corrales (D) - The outside back positions are still a toss up and he needs to show in order to climb the list.
Benny Feilhaber (M) - With no playing time at his club, he needs to prove that he still deserves a spot with the national team and maybe show his club that they are be better off with him on the pitch.
Stuart Holden (M) - A first call into camp is great but he needs to show that he deserves a second.
Drew Moor (D) - Much like Corrales, Moor is fighting for an open position and he needs a good night to move up the list.
Pat Noonan (F) - His best moments against Sweden where with Twellman. Since Taylor is off due to injury, he needs to prove he can play well with others.
Michael Parkhurst (D) - Last year was a wonderful year for Parkhurst, now he needs to wow at the national level. To make an argument for his inclusion in the big games, he must make a statement tonight.
Heath Pearce (D) - Pearce is in the top two for his spot but his lack of playing time for his club combined with desperate need for a quality left back put the pressure on him to prove that he should be there instead of moving another player from the center.
Eddie Robinson (D) - Trying to earn a center back spot is difficult and although he did great against Sweden, if he wants to convince Bradley to push Gooch or Bocanegra to outside back, he needs to repeat this against the storm that is Mexico.

Medium Pressure
Freddy Adu (M) - Talent is in him, now he just needs to explode. Bradley will give Adu time to develop, so the made pressure on Adu is earning future starts.
Jozy Altidore (F) - He looked amazing against Sweden, now he needs to prove he can do it at the highest level.
Ricardo Clark (M) - Depending on how other players shake out, there might be a good opening for a controlling center mid player and Clark could fill that well.
Bobby Convey (M) - The past couple years have been hard on Convey due to injury, which has caused him to drop in the overwhelmingly strong midfield. He needs to turn in some good minutes to show that he is back in full.
Brad Davis (M) - Another player trying to earn a spot in the middle, but Davis's not-so-secret weapon is his skill on free kicks. Since the team has a need for a dead ball specialist, this could be his in.
Landon Donovan (F) - The top scorer in US history needs to prove that he can be consistent both with his play and leadership. Good news for Landi, he loves to beat Mexico.
Maurice Edu (M) - Yet another midfielder trying to push up. He is great at finding his position but his ball skills need some sharpening.
Oguchi Onyewu (D) - Gooch is still tall in the center but his form has been less then great of late.

Low Pressure
Carlos Bocanegra (D) - The defense is built around Bocanegra and that's not going to change anytime soon. The question now is does he stay in center or move out wide?
Michael Bradley (M) - Everywhere this kid goes, he electrifies. He can read a game and turn it on one strike. A wonderful season in Europe means he is a major part of the team for some time to come.
Clint Dempsey (F) - His scoring and technical abilities are only getting better at Fulham, plus he can play up top or in the middle. Unless coach Bradley hates America, Dempsey is here to stay.
Brad Guzan (GK) - For now, he is the number two, so the only pressure may be convincing Bradley not to call in Howard for some of the lesser qualifiers later this year.
Tim Howard (GK) - Nothing hints at him losing the top spot, especially with Guzan playing at least one more season in MLS.

Overall, the position that I will be watching most is forward simply because the team doesn't really have a killer striker. It is amazing how few goals over the last couple years have come from forwards during the run of play. Simply put, the US cannot compete with the best in the world if they do not have a big threat up top.

Altidore is often mentioned as that threat, and it looks like there might be something to that, but until he has a few more games such as this under his belt, we will not know for sure.

It will also be interesting to see how the backline works out. Will they be able to shut Mexico down or will the keepers need to come up with a number of quality saves and will there be some shifting of center backs to the outside?

My prediction for the final: US 2-1 Mexico

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Tuesday, February 05, 2008

All the US-Mexico madness you can stand

US-Mexico
9:30pm ET/6:30pm PT
TV: ESPN2

If a 30-minute pre-game and 2-hour match is not enough to quench your cross border soccer thirst, don't worry, US Soccer has you covered. In addition to the broadcast on ESPN2, you will be able to watch the final press conference pre-game stadium warm-ups and post-game show live on ussoccer.com.

Today at about 5pm ET/2pm PT, Bob Bradley and goalkeeper Tim Howard will meet the press for one last time. Tomorrow at about 8:30pm ET/5:30pm PT, they will provide a live look-in on the stadium warm-ups and after the match (about 11:30pm ET/8:30pm PT), they will air a post-game show (which will also stream on ESPN360.com).

And as if that was not enough, there will also be a Studio 90 Pre-Game show at 5pm ET/2pm PT, plus ESPN Classic will reply the last year's 'friendly' meeting at 12pm ET/9am PT.

If you need addition hype for this match, you might as well just get on over to Houston and grab one of the few remaining tickets.

Got to hand it to US Soccer, they know how to exploit this rivalry to the fullest.

Here the full list of events in easy to use order:

5 Feb - Live Pre-game Press Conference (ussoccer.com) 5:15 p.m. ET
6 Feb - USA vs. Mexico – Feb. 7, 2007 (ESPN Classic) 12 p.m. ET
6 Feb - Studio 90 Pre-Game (ussoccer.com) 5 p.m. ET
6 Feb - Live Stadium Warm-ups (ussoccer.com) 8:30 p.m. ET
6 Feb - ESPN2 Game Broadcast (ESPN2) 9 p.m. ET
6 Feb - Live Post-Game Show (ussoccer.com & ESPN360.com) 11:30 p.m. ET

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Edmond, OK, to get a pro soccer team?

The endless talk of MLS expansion is a fun game, but it is not the only one it town. The USL-First Division is also looking at increasing their numbers, which brings us to Edmond (just north of Oklahoma City), Oklahoma.

The league recently sent a letter to the mayor concerning their interesting in placing a team in the city for 2009, they just need to find some interested investors.

Here is what the mayor had to say:
"We are interested to begin exploring opportunities to expand United Soccer Leagues (USL) into the City of Edmond. I welcome you to encourage ... potential investment groups to bring USL to Edmond in 2009.”

O'Neil said the city has always been interested in a professional sports team, particularly soccer.

"Now we have to see if there is viable interest from private investors,” O'Neil said. "If there is genuine interest, then we need to get others involved.”
If there is interest and they can find ownership, they will probably play their games at 10,000-seat, University of Central Oklahoma owned, Wantland Stadium.

Oddly enough, USL's interest in Edmond sprang from the city's failed bid to land a MLS team back in 2004. Hard to believe that Oklahoma City was in the running at the time.

The hopeful addition of Edmond to USL is part of the league's plan to put more teams in 'the middle part of the county, including the Southwest and Midwest.' Seeing as MLS is pretty much focusing on the costs these days (with some exceptions), this seems like a good plan. They have already added a team in Austin, Texas for the 2009 season, so an additional team in Oklahoma would make for a great rivalry.

The league is also in 'active negotiations with groups in Omaha, Phoenix and San Antonio.'

USL might not have the glitz, glamour and TV contracts of MLS, but it is a very important part of growing the sport in the US. People love cheering for a local team and since MLS cannot reach everyone, USL will need to fill the void. Add this to the chance of seeing a local side take on a MLS 'giant' in US Open Cup competition and you've got a wonderful publicity machine.

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