Thursday, July 24, 2008

Repurposing condoms as soccer socks

Every now and then I read an article that catches me off guard and this is one such piece.

I turns out that the big soccer fashion trend in Cape Town, South Africa, these days is to wear condoms on your feet to keep your socks up.

The need for such an innovated way of using these prophylactics is the result of a lack of proper soccer gear, such as socks with elastic to hold them in place. Since condoms are distributed for free in order to help curb the spreading of HIV, it all makes sense.
Sivuyile Nqawe of the Lingelethu Football Association in Khayelitsha said it was to "ease matters for those who cannot afford expensive brands of football kit on their mission to sharpen their skills to become future soccer stars".

"It is just a creative method and it works to alleviate the situation. You just break a condom packet, grab and stretch it. Then you put it on your leg," Nqawe said.

"You will find that in most instances players bring a box of condoms to a match and share them among teammates for the same purpose."
Another example of necessity being the mother of invention.

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FC Dallas might lose Toja to Europe

Is Juan Toja about to play his final match as a MLS player?

Rumor has it that the longhair midfielder will fly to Romania tonight, after the All-Star match, to finish a deal with Romanian powerhouse Steaua Bucharest.

Then again, it is just a rumor. Accord to FCD coach Schellas Hyndman, "I expect him here to play against LA (on Sunday)."

Although this season has not been as strong as the first half of last year, Toja is still a vital part of Dallas's attack. If he does decide to move on to Europe, FCD will have a difficult time replacing him.

Then there is the ongoing speculation that teammate Kenny Cooper might also be soon to fly across the Atlantic. Those rumors have died down of late, but if both of these ended up being true, it is hard to see a way for Dallas to finish the season in a commanding fashion.

Is the face of FC Dallas about to change in a major way? We'll know within a week.

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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Brad Friedel sold by Blackburn

US keeper Brad Friedel has been sold, on condition, to an undisclosed EPL club for £2 million. The deal will only go through if the Rovers land another goalkeeper.

Aston Villa is thought to be the undisclosed team, which also happens to be the club linked with fellow American Brad Guzan. Could Villa be an all American stop shop soon or will Stuart Taylor clam a top spot?

Should be fun to watch.

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MLS expansion - 24 teams by 2013?

Canada's sports network TSN reports that "MLS Commissioner Don Garber will lift the original ceiling of 18 franchises and announce Thursday a new expansion plan of not less than 20 and up to 24 franchises by 2013-2014."

They add that, "Vancouver and Montreal are considered expansion priorities for Garber in 2011."

This is not the first time that similar rumors have jumped up, but let's say it is true that tomorrow will see a big announcement concerning expansion, what does it mean?

First off, if the league targets 20-24 teams in the next six years, they must do something concerning the player pool. What this means is more international players and an increase in the salary cap, but that starts bringing in thoughts of NASL. MLS has tried hard to stay away from any such comparisons but if this is their realistic goal, they will need to address it soon (quick note, MLS is in a much better financial state today then NASL ever was).

Next up, the schedule. Is the East/West divide soon to be gone in favor of a single table or might they break into two different leagues and never play each other except for in cup competitions (think old school baseball rules)? Also, how does Superliga fit into this? If clubs are playing 38-46 league games*, plus US Open Cup, plus Concacaf, plus MLS Cup matches, they could easy end up with almost 60 meaningful matches in a season so throwing on 3-5 more for Superliga would be asking a great deal. Is MLS ready to kill off a moneymaker?

Finally, there is the issue of television deals. The current broadcasts are a huge improvement over a few years ago, however it is time to push for more airing over non-cable channels. The fact that most games are not available for a large (perhaps majority) portion of the country hurts the development of a stronger fan base. What casual fan is going to go hunting for HDNet or Fox Soccer Channel, if they even have it on their cable system? If they can get a game or two a week on over-the-air, national networks, the perception of the sport will begin to change. Remember, if it wasn't on TV, it didn't happen.

I know, I'm really jumping ahead of everything here, but if this is to be the path for the league, they need to make sure it is a success and these are the big three issues as I see them.

On the plus side, 24 teams means just about every large urban area in the US and Canada will have a team. Also, if they broke the FIFA limit for 24, what would stop them from going higher and adding smaller markets that show an ability to support teams.

* this assumes that teams play each other twice

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Montreal Impact best team in Canada

Toronto FC's slump continued last night as they only managed a 1-1 tie against the USL's Montreal Impact. With the point, the Impact won the Nutrilite Canadian Championship and earned a trip to the CONCACAF Champions League Cup, which begins next month.

Now the question is will this win have an effect on a possible move to MLS by Montreal? Impact head coach John Limniatis thinks it does.
The platform (for entering MLS) was already set...

I think, obviously, this helps. This just shows we're capable of competing ... From what I understand, we're aiming for the start of the 2011 season to be in the MLS.
The Impact organization has a lot going for it (stadium, rich owners, good fan base) and adding solid play against top-tier teams will only help them in their quest to land in MLS.

However, this failure by Toronto as well as the defeats suffered by MLS teams in the US Open Cup points to a very different issue, player salaries. With just around $2.5m to spend on a full squad MLS teams are very limited in the depth that they can bring in, thus the difference between the two divisions is not as pronounced as it should be. If MLS did up their pay level to around $5m a year, it helps elevate this issue.

Some might think that it is not a big thing that MLS teams often get toppled by USL clubs, however I disagree. League officials are usually quick to claim MLS as a world-class league, however what fan is going to believe them if top-level teams are consistently dropping games to lower-level opposition? In the perception race, these upsets need to become a rare bread.

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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Donovan still interested in EPL

Yanks Abroad reports that Landon Donovan's agent failed to deny a Sky Sports report concerning a possible move by the American to the EPL.

They then report this:
Donovan was recently quoted by the English media giant as saying, "The older I get and the more I play, the more I'm yearning for that highest level I can play at."

"I think the Premiership would be the best place the play."
Sounds pretty exciting and it has caused a bit of a buzz on the internet, however, the quote is actually almost a year old.

There is another part from the interview last year that was missed this time around: "At the moment I'm happy here (LA), at least for the next few years with Dave (Beckham) here. I want to be a part of this too. Not many people get to be a part of this, so I want to live it."

I bring up the fact that this is an old quote not because it means it is no longer valid or that a move will not happen, just to give it a context.

So what will happen with Donovan?

Well he is in a bit of a bind. LA doesn't want to let him go because they want a championship this year and without him, it probably is not going to happen. That would seem to suggest a delay in any move till December, however that means coming in halfway through the EPL season, which will make starts even harder to obtain, which could effect his build up to 2010 (not to mention his availability for qualifiers).

That said, it is time for him to return to Europe and see what he can accomplish. His work over the past six-months has been some of his best and if he is ever to reach the heights we all want him to, he needs to move.

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DC-Houston game postponed again

DC United vs Houston Dynamo
4 June
22 July
23 July?

Why is it that these two clubs can't get this game played? Last month is was rain that canceled it and tonight it is a lack of power. For the second time in about a week, RFK is having power issues and according to the Dynamo's blog, it will prevent the game from taking place tonight.

Instead, the two teams will try to get this game out of the way tomorrow evening, the night before the All-Star game.

I do not see any official report over this, so perhaps the Dynamo front office is wrong or maybe jumping the gun. Anyway, with the game suppose to start in about 4 hours, United better act fast to get the word out or else they might have some upset fans in the parking lot.

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Thursday, July 17, 2008

US Olympic roster - Guzan, McBride and Parkhurst overage Olympians

Peter Nowak has released his 18 man roster for Beijing and there are not a lot of surprises. As expected, Nowak went with Bad Guzan in goal and McBride up top. Both will give the team much needed depth in their positions with McBride providing a little bit more then Guzan.

The overage selection that could benefit the most from this experience is New England's Michael Parkhurst. Since the US's backline is probably going to have a lot put up against it, especially if they advance to the knockout stage (hello Argentina), a solid showing by Parkhurst could get some European suitors.

Overall this roster represents the best the US has to offer in the under 23 group at this moment.

As far as MLS teams go, they account for 10 of the 18 with the Houston Dynamo, Real Salt Lake and Toronto FC each losing two players for the games.

Here is the full roster:

GK (2): Brad Guzan (Chivas USA), Chris Seitz (Real Salt Lake)

D (5): Patrick Ianni (Houston Dynamo), Michael Orozco (San Luis), Michael Parkhurst (New England Revolution), Nathan Sturgis (Real Salt Lake), Marvell Wynne (Toronto FC)

M (7): Freddy Adu (SL Benfica), Michael Bradley (SC Heerenveen), Maurice Edu (Toronto FC), Benny Feilhaber (Derby County), Stuart Holden (Houston Dynamo), Sacha Kljestan (Chivas USA), Danny Szetela (Brescia Calcio)

F (4): Jozy Altidore (Villarreal), Charlie Davies (Hammarby IF), Brian McBride (out of contract), Robbie Rogers (Columbus Crew)

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Thursday, July 03, 2008

Columbus wants to improve team but MLS's hurt feelings might get in the way

The Columbus Crew want to improve their team by bringing in a quality player from Norway's first division. So what's the problem? The player is Pat Noonan.

Noonan left the New England Revolution after the team decided not to offer him a respectable contract extension at the end of last season (they offered him less money then he made in 2007). Because he was out of contract, Noonan was able to move to Norway without a transfer fee, which means the Revs retained his MLS rights.

For their part, the Crew are willing to pay Noonan a salary similar to what he was earning previously in the US, plus pay a transfer fee to his current club and give the Revs something for his rights, however MLS is not happy. Why? Coach Sigi Schmid has the answer:
"A player that can turn down an offer from the league, go overseas on their own volition and then we as a league have to buy them back," Schmid said. "That's bad business and MLS doesn't want to be in the habit of doing bad business. That's completely understandable."
Schmid is playing the good sport here because really the only thing bad about this whole situation is that New England tried to hardball him in the first place (they would not trade him, thus he had to take their deal or get out of the country).

Noonan is a quality American striker who wants to be treated with respect. The fact that the league and the Revolution failed to do so should not be held against him or the Crew.

Instead the league should get past the hurt feelings caused by someone calling their bluff and do what is best for the sport.

The idea that a team can hold back a player that they no longer have under contract is one that must change or we can expect to see more young American players skip over their domestic league in favor of third tier competition overseas.

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Jaqua might return to Houston, at least for a little while

It looks like the Dynamo might be about to solve some of their offensive problems as Nate Jaqua has been offered a contract to return to Houston.

Jaqua left Houston during the off season for a spell in Austria, where he put up some great numbers (5 goals in 10 apperiences). Even with these quality results on the pitch, his club decided not to offer him a new contract.

Houston has been chasing him for awhile now, but it looked unlikely until they added a little twist to the offer. As part of this deal, Houston will promise to trade him to Seattle FC for the 2009 season.

Jaqua is from Eugene, Oregon, and very much wants to play in the Northwest.

It is not clear if this trade will be part of the expansion draft.

This is a smart move by Houston as they need another striker. Sure it will hurt losing him to Seattle, however they will have seven months to find a replacement. Who knows, maybe by then Caraccio might be ready to show something.

It is even a smarter deal if this will count towards the expansion draft as then they will not have to worry about losing any other players.

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Ngwenya on trial with Bayern Munich, was Klinsmann rumor true?

Former Houston Dynamo and Zimbabwe international striker Joseph Ngwenya is on a three week trial with Bayern Munich, which seems to prove a rumor that circulated back in January when Ngwenya moved to Austrian side Kärnten. The rumor had Jurgen Klinsmann 'hiding' Ngwenya in Austria until he took over as manager of Bayern.

If this all pans out, this could prove to be a brilliant move by Klinsmann. Then again, if Ngwenya fails to perform, it might all be for not.

By the way, Klinsmann noticed Ngwenya while watching him train with the LA Galaxy back in 2005.

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Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Kansas City Wizards hit with sexual harassment lawsuit

The good news that has surround the Wizards over the past week (late win against, and by, Real; comeback win in US Open Cup; re-signing of Josh Wolff) looks to be at an end as the team's management has been accused of “pervasive and regular” sexual harassment.

Kathryn Carver filed the lawsuit on Monday against the Wizards' ownership group OnGoal as well as 'Greg Cotton, executive vice president and general counsel for OnGoal, and Robert Thomson Jr, the company’s vice president for marketing and communications.'

The suit alleges, amongst other things, that:
•Cotton and Thomson would review the Facebook and MySpace sites of prospective female employees to determine whether they were “hot enough” to be hired.

•Cotton allegedly said of one employee, “She is the dumbest person I have ever met, but she is worth keeping around for the scenery.”

•Male employees held “drafts” of young female employees with whom they would want to have sex.

•During a team-sponsored trip to Las Vegas, Thomson told Carver she was “hot,” complimented her physical attributes and said he wanted to have sex with her, she alleged.
It is far to early to figure out if these charges are true or not, but it is worth watching, especially as the Wizards move forward on their stadium development.

Obviously, if these accusations prove to be accurate, Cotton and Thomson need to be dismissed and a major restructuring of the whole OnGoal organization must happen. In addition, the league would need to figure out punishments, such as the loss of allocation money, that they can place on the team.

Bad times in Kansas City.

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2008 US Open Cup - Third Round sees three MLS teams go down

Last night is the perfect example of why I enjoy the US Open Cup so much. Seeing all these underweight teams try to out punch MLS sides really is enjoyable. Sure, the MLS teams see this as little more then a reserves match, but it is still good fun.

As bad as it is that MLS teams dropped three of the eight games last night, it is actually much better then last season when five top teams fell. The biggest surprise of the night took place in Maryland where Crystal Palace Baltimore (USL-2) bounced the Red Bulls out of the Open, even though they played down a man for an hour.

Ranking just below on the shock level was the Dynamo losing on kicks to the Charleston Battery (USL-1), even though Houston played up a man for 50 minutes and up 2 men for 15. Really, the defending MLS Champions were up two men for 15-minutes and could not find a way to get a goal. Not only that but the Battery's Osvaldo Alonso was still giving the Dynamo fits in the second period of overtime (Alonso must be on Kinnear's radar after last night). I think Dynamo forward Franco Caraccio summed up the whole night for his club when he collapsed to the pitch in shame after having his penalty kick stopped, thus giving the Battery the win.

The only other lose came in Seattle where the Sounders showed Chivas USA the exit. The goats have not won a USOC match since beating the Charlotte Eagles (USL-2) on 13 July 2005. This streak includes a defeat by Roma FC of the USASA.

There was almost something big in Dallas, however FCD was able to get a late stoppage time goal to take Miami 2-1.

Kansas City also needed a little rally as they were down 2-0 in the 67' minute before coming back to tie and send it to extra time where they piled on two more goals for the win.

DC United needed two goals via free kicks from Marc Burch to take down the Rhinos of Rochester. Both New England (last year's USOC champ) and the Fire (perennial USOC powerhouse) easily saw off their foes for the evening.

Here is the full list of results:
FC Dallas (MLS) 2-1 Miami FC (USL-1)
Charleston (USL-1) 1(4-3)1 Houston (MLS)
DC United (MLS) 2-0 Rochester (USL-1)
Carolina (USL-1) 2-4 Kansas City (MLS)

CP Baltimore (USL-2) 2-0 New York (MLS)
New England (MLS) 3-0 Richmond (USL-2)
Chicago (MLS) 4-1 Cleveland (USL-2)
Seattle (USL-1) 2-0 Chivas USA (MLS)

These results move the numbers a bit when it comes to higher versus lower ranked teams. Before last night, it stood at 19-2 (90.5%) for those higher ranked, but now is at 24-5 (82.75%).

It does look like home field advantage was reinstated. During the second round, home sides only went 3-5, but yesterday saw only one visitor walk away with a win.

Here is the schedule for next Tuesday night's round of eight:
Chicago Fire at DC United (Boyds, Md)
Crystal Palace (USL2) at New England (New Britain, Conn)
Charleston (USL1) at FC Dallas
Kansas City at Seattle Sounders (USL1)

Can Crystal Palace bring down two giants? Will the Battery take out both teams from the Lone Star state? Will Seattle give another MLS team an introduction to soccer in the Northwest? Can DC finally beat Chicago in a playoff situation? It will be fun to find out.

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Friday, June 27, 2008

Houston 1-1 FC Dallas - Bad call by ref still doesn't excuse all the missed chances

Houston Dynamo 1-1 FC Dallas

In ESPN's continuing effort to deprive soccer fans of the chance to actually watch scheduled events, the sports network pre-emptied the first half of last nights outing due to an overtime basketball game. I understand the need to show the basketball game, but why not throw the MLS match over to ESPN Classic or is the viewing audience for a 15 year old, middle-weight boxing match really so great that it would be a crime to do such a thing?

Anyway, to the game itself. Houston spent most of the first half looking like the team that won the last two MLS Cups with Stuart Holden and Bobby Boswell both having a standout game. The team caused trouble for Dallas all over the pitch, but they could not get that final touch till Brian Ching got on the end of a perfect Craig Waibel cross. Still, with the way FCD played in the first half, Houston has no excuse for not being up by two or more.

The second half saw FCD switch from 4-4-2 to 3-5-2, which closed down a lot of Houston's attack, at least for a little while, and allowed Toja more freedom and created open spaces, which Kenny Cooper exploited for his excellent goal in the 62'.

Then came a call so horrible it really killed the excitement of the game for me. Holden broke loss and was running right at Dallas's goal when Pablo Ricchetti brought him down from behind. Let's see, Ricchetti was the last defender, it was a scoring opportunity and Ricchetti did not come anywhere near playing the ball. This is the easiest red card to give but Kevin Stott failed to deliver. Had Stott gone by what the rules say, the final 15-minutes of this game probably would have been very different.

Even though the Dynamo were cheated, they still cannot blame this one mistake for their failure to earn all three points as they had at least two easy chances early in the second half that should have put the game out of reach.

By the way, I'm sure FCD fans will point to the failure of Stott to call another foul later as an excuse for his earlier blown call. Late in the game (I think it was the 90'), Boswell appeared to clip Dominic Oduro from behind under similar circumstance to Holden's event (except Boswell was actually trying to play the ball). The only problem with this argument is if Stott had made the red card call earlier, this play probably would not have happened. That said, Stott should have called a foul, but did not, probably as a makeup call.

This tie means the Western Conference continues to live in chaos with just 5 points separating first from sixth. It also means Houston now has seven ties, which is the same amount that had all of last season.

HD: Brian Ching (6) 21'
FCD: Kenny Cooper (8) 62'
Att: 16,933 (including about 30 FCD fans)
Video Highlights

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Asain 2010 World Cup Qualifying final group draw

The two groups have been drawn for Asia's final round of World Cup Qualification. Each group has five teams with the top two from each group advancing to South Africa. The third place teams in the groups will meet in a two-legged playoff with the winner playing the champion of Oceania.

Here are the two groups:
Group A

Group B
South Korea
Saudi Arabia
North Korea

Although both groups have their difficulties, it looks to me like Group B is the tougher one since three of the teams made it to Germany in 2006 (S Korea, Iran & Saudi Arabia), plus North Korea is always capable of a surprise.

Group A seems designed perfectly for Australia and Japan to make it through.

Group play starts on 6 Sept and runs through 17 June 2009.

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