Thursday, April 30, 2009

Random MLS Links

Here's some random MLS related links for you to check out:

The Goal Blog at The New York Times has Brian Ching's Ultimate XI.

The Texian Army spent some time with Ade Akinbiyi after Saturday's reserve match against the Laredo Heat, and it caught the attention of the Burnley Football Club News.

The structure for the 2009 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup has been finalized.

The new MLS franchise in Philadelphia is set to announce its name and colors on May 11, 2009, and MLS Rumors believes the new club will be Union Philadelphia. Guess the old name of Pennsylvania Stoners isn't going to be revived.

As always, don't forget to check out the latest stories at MLS Talk, including my Preview of the Revolution - Dynamo Match this Sunday.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Changes Afoot - Now with MLS Talk

- Photo by Katy Umana

It's with some sadness that I inform you that Erin Dutka and myself will no longer be doing Dynamo reports for World Soccer Wrap, this week WSW decided to reformat its flagship show and end its use of local correspondents.

That being said, I am proud to announce that we have become an official part of the MLS Talk family and you will continue to hear our Houston Dynamo reports, including audio from post-match interviews and press conferences from both locker rooms at Robertson Stadium, on the MLS Talk Podcast.

From this point on, all of my commentaries concerning the MLS and American Soccer will be posted on the MLS Talk site, as well as any Houston Dynamo match previews and reviews.

I will continue to use this site for materials related to Serie A (I am still the host of World Soccer Wrap: Serie A), general issues concerning the Beautiful Game, and links, videos, etc. related to MLS and the Beautiful Game in the United States. One thing I look forward to doing with this site is to focus more coverage on the Beautiful Game in Mexico.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

All-Star Matches are Part of Soccer History in the U.S.

All-Star Games are as All-American as Chevrolet, mom, and apple pie. The most famous and storied All-Star Game in the US is, of course, the one belonging to Major League Baseball, which was first played at Chicago’s Comiskey Park in 1933. The NBA’s All-Star Game, which, like the MLB version, is a midseason game, runs a distant second, while the NFL Pro-Bowl, is an all but ignored after thought that could disappear and no would really notice, especially since it takes place after the Super Bowl and serves more as a hangover then as one last taste of gridiron until August.

The MLS jumped on the all-star bandwagon early in 1996, initially following the typical American model of pitting the best of one conference against the best of the other conference. In 2002 and 2003, the MLS toyed with the concept of pitting a unified All-Star squad against a visiting clause, returned to the conference versus conference format, but in 2005 returned to a format featuring an All-Star team playing a visiting foreign team. This summer, an MLS All-Star squad will take on a yet to be named visiting team at the Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah this July.

My impression from informal conversations with soccer fans here in the US is that they either love or hate that the MLS All-Star Game now consists of one MLS Squad taking on a foreign team; there is not much of a middle ground. What most fans don’t seem to know is that there is a long tradition in U.S. soccer of fielding all-star teams against visiting travelling teams, as well as American club teams playing these travelling teams. Additionally, a little known fact, is that U.S. all-star teams and some club teams did some international traveling of their own.

Here’s a breakdown of early All-Star matches involving U.S. soccer:

1909 - The Pilgrims from England toured the U.S. and played all-star teams representing New York, Baltimore, Pennsylvania League, and the New York Amateur League, as well as several club teams. The Pilgrims were essentially an all-start team from England with players from clubs such as West Ham United, Arsenal, Sheffield United, Queens Park, Rotherham Town F.C., Fulham, and Falkirk F.C., among others.

1911 - The famed Corinthians F.C. played all-star teams from Chicago and New York, as well as Toronto and Ontario, as well as several club teams.

1916 - The U.S. Football Association's All-American Soccer Football Club toured Sweden and Norway.

1919 - Not so much an all-star team, but Bethlehem Steel toured Sweden and Denmark - with a record of 6 wins, 6 draws, and 2 losses.

1920 - The St. Louis Soccer Club, made up of players from St. Louis, Philadelphia, New Jersey, and New York, toured Scandinavia - with a record of 7 wins, 5 draws, and 2 losses.

1921 - The All-Scots of Scotland played several club teams in the U.S.

1924 - The Corinthians returned to play several Philadelphia clubs and a Brooklyn club.

1926 - This year saw both the Hakoah All-Stars of Vienna and Sparta F.C. play U.S. all-star teams and club teams. Additionally, Worcester, Mass. played some travel games in England and Germany.

1927 - Featured the return of the Hakoah All-Stars of Vienna to the American shores, as well as matches by Maccabi F.C., Real Madrid, National of Uruguay, and Worcestershire of England. Meanwhile, New York's Viking F.C. travelled to Norway and Sweden.

1928 - Palestra Italia F.C. and Glasgow Rangers F.C. traveled to the U.S. to play all-star and club teams. Palestra was a bit of an all-star team, made of players from Bologna, Brescia, Genoa, Milan, Padoga, Rome, and Turin.

1929 - Preston North End, which was in the English 2nd Division at the time, and Sabaria from Budapest both traveled to the U.S., while Worcester toured in England.

1930 - Argentina's Sportivo F.C. played the Hakoah All-Stars before a crowd of 5,000 at the Polo Grounds in New York, with the American side winning the match 1-0. Meanwhile Hungaria F.C. (M.T.K.) , Marte F.C. from Mexico City, Kilmarnock F.C., Worcestershire of England, and Scotland's Rangers all toured and played against all-star teams and club teams. Meanwhile the ASL's Fall River Marksmen toured Czechoslovakia, Austria, and Hungary; the ASL's Hakoah All-Stars toured Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay; and Germania Milwaukee toured Germany.

So, even before World War II, a soccer all-star tradition had been established in the United States. Not only did the land of plenty create a military force that helped defeat the Axis during World War II, but the post-war prosperity in the US resulted in an increase of European clubs spending their summers “across the pond.” Food rationing existed in much of Europe for years following The War, but as Liverpool discovered in 1946, there was no food rationing in the United States, and the U.S. became a summer destination for squads looking to bulk up their players.

In their 1946 tour, Liverpool played the New York Stars, Baltimore Stars, American League Stars, New England Stars, Philadelphia Stars, St. Louis Stars, Chicago Stars, and Kearny Stars. Puentes Grandes of Cuba also visited the U.S. that year, playing All-Star teams in New Jersey, Pittsburgh, New England, and Philadelphia.

Since 1946 the following teams have visited the United States and have played various all-star teams: Hapoel F.C. (Tel-Aviv, Palestine), Liverpool, Djurgarden F.C. (Stockholm), Slovan Bratislava, Atlante, Belfast Celtic, Kamaraterna (Sweden), Inter Milan, Scottish National Team, Manchester United, Hamburg S.C., Besiktas F.C., Atlas F.C., Jonkopping F.C. (Sweden), English FA XII, A.I.K. (Stockholm), Eintracht Frankfurt, Fulham, Glasgow Celtic, All-England, Stuttgart Kickers, Tottenham Hotspurs, Nuernberg F.C., Rapid City F.C. (Austria), Borussia F.C., Chelsea, Fortuna F.C. (Germany), Glasgow Rangers, Plymouth Argyle, Wacker (Austria), Rot-Weiss (Germany), Olaria (Brazil), Occidente S.C. of Guadalajara, Sunderland F.C., Grasshoppers (Switzerland), Sochaux (France), Police Stars (West Germany), Schwaben Augsberg, Everton, Aberdeen, F.C. Austria, Kaiserlautern (West Germany), Hapoel Tel Aviv (Israel), Manchester City, Hearts of Midlothian (Scotland), Kickers Offenbach, Blackpool, Napoli, Palermo, Helsinborgs (Sweden), Legia Warsaw, Vasco de Gama, Dundee, Petah Tikva (Isreal), 1st Saarbruecken, A.S.V. Nuernberg, F.C. Schalke 04, Wolverhampton, AGF (Denmark), SV Hamburg, Meidrich (Germany), Ronsdorf (Germany), etc.

I could go beyond that list, and trust me that list really only covers into 1965, but that would be beating a dead horse. So, my point is that there is a long a storied history of US All-Star soccer clubs playing visiting foreign clubs. So, instead of complaining about the MLS Mid-Summer Classic, might I suggest you embrace it, and enjoy it as part of the beautiful game’s tradition in the United States?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Country Roads, Lead Adu Home, Back to the Place where He Belongs

On Saturday in Monaco, A.S. Monaco beat Stade Rennes, 3 to 1, giving Monaco 40 points on the season thus far and securing a spot in the middle of the French Ligue 1 table. Sitting on Monaco’s bench, was one Freddy Adu, watching his team take on a Rennes’ squad that included the captain of the US National Team, Carlos Bocanegra. Despite suiting up on Saturday, Adu did not see any playing time.

The apparently star-crossed story of Freddy Adu is familiar to most American soccer fans. Born in Ghana, Adu moved to the United States as a young boy, when his mom won the Immigration and Naturalization Act’s “Green Card Lottery.” Adu’s raw soccer talent was so recognizable that he was the first pick in the MLS’s 2004 SuperDraft, going to D.C. United. On April 3, 2004, Adu was a second half substitute in a match against the San Jose Earthquakes. While there is some dispute concerning Adu’s actual age, Adu was reportedly 14 years old when he made his first MLS appearance, making him the youngest player to ever appear in a professional team sport in the United States since at least 1887.

Despite the high expectations and promising skills, Adu’s MLS career can best be characterized as being in the wrong place at the wrong time. While American culture tends to give lip service to the concept of individualism, American team sports have a tendency of being suspicious of any player, especially a young player, who, like Adu, shows too much personal flair on the playing field. During his first couple seasons at United, Adu was a yo-yo, bouncing from the bench to a starting position and back to the bench so often that he was fined for complaining to the press about his playing time. By the 2006 MLS season, Adu secured himself a starting position in United’s midfield, and it appeared that he was on the verge of a breakout season in 2007. But in December of 2006, United traded Adu to Real Salt Lake where he would once again have to start from scratch to prove his worth on the pitch.

When the 2007 MLS season started, Adu was a starter for Real Salt Lake, but he only managed to score 1 goal in eleven MLS matches. That the cause of Adu’s woes at Real Salt Lake may not have been solely on his shoulders was evidenced by his performance in the 2007 FIFA U-20 World Cup, where he scored 3 goals and served as captain of a team that beat Brazil and made it to the quarterfinals.

Adu’s performance for the USMNT U-20 team caught the attention of Portugal’s S.L. Benfica, which paid a $2 million transfer fee to obtain Adu from the MLS. While American soccer fans hoped that Adu’s natural talent would be nurtured and enhanced at Benfica, fate stepped in and Fernando Santos, the club’s coach who had championed the Adu transfer, was sacked and replaced by Jose Antonio Camacho. Reports indicate that, on the whole, the coaching staff was pleased with Adu’s skills and training ethic, but during the 2008 summer transfer window Adu was loaned to A.S. Monaco for the 2008/09 season, with an option to make the transfer permanent.

American soccer fans who were disappointed with Adu’s minimal playing time at Benfica hoped that Adu would finally see more serious playing time in Europe since Monaco’s managing owner, Jerome de Bontin, studied in the United States and has strong business ties with the country. In his time since his move from Portugal to France, the young American midfielder/striker has yet to start a match and has only seen action in nine matches. Adu has not scored any goals, but he has two shots and managed to get one yellow card. With only 6 more matches left in the 2008/09 season, it is unlikely that Adu will see a significant increase in his playing time at Monaco.

Whether Adu ends up making a permanent move to Monaco or returns to Benfica, unless he has a breakout summer with the U.S. National Team during the Confederation Cup and its World Cup Qualifiers this summer, history indicates that it is unlikely that Adu will see increased playing time in the 2009/10 season in Portugal or France. As it is, despite scoring against Guatemala last November in a World Cup Qualifier, Adu has not dressed for the National side’s most recent World Cup Qualifiers, with Adu’s lack of playing time at Monaco the seeming excuse for his diminished role with the USMNT.

The time has come, especially after the recent squabble with A.C. Milan over David Beckham, for U.S. Soccer to man up and assert itself on the international club scene. If American talent, like Freddy Adu, is wasting away as a seldom used sub or reserve on a club in Europe, U.S. Soccer needs to voice its concern and take the necessary steps to get that player moved, on loan or permanent transfer, to a club where he will get plenty of playing time.

When Europe’s transfer window opens this summer, U.S. Soccer should champion a deal that will net Adu playing time, even if that means pressuring the MLS or USL into bringing him back to the States for a short summer loan. If MLS or USL balk at any proposed transfer/loan fees, U.S. Soccer should step in and help fund said fees. Since the MLS has shown a willingness to bend its complicated transfer and acquisition rules in the past, it should do so again to ensure that Adu would end up with a coach who won’t be afraid to rely on and nurture Adu’s talent, and guarantee him significant playing time. Ideal locations for Adu in the MLS would be with Sigi Schmid and Seattle Sounders FC, Frank Yallop and San Jose Earthquakes, Curt Onalfo and Kansas City Wizards, or Dominic Kinnear and Houston Dynamo, just to name a few.

I know it will be hard for MLS to put marketing and publicity on the backburner and instead focus on a placement that will enable the best development of Adu’s talent, but for the love of the future of the beautiful game in the United States, it is time to bring Freddy home where he can play and develop, even if it is just for a couple months.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Live Chat - Dynamo v. Rapids, 2pm Central

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Celebrate the Diversity of American Soccer

- Gilbert "Gillie" Heron

In the world of the Beautiful Game April 15th is most known for Hillsborough, but in the United States, April 15th is best know for one of the most significant sporting and cultural moments of the 20th Century. It was on April 15, 1947 that Jack Roosevelt “Jackie” Robinson made his debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers, forever breaking the color barrier that kept Americans of African descent from playing in the MLB. It should be noted that in addition to breaking the baseball color line, Jackie Robinson was among the earliest African-American soldiers to become commissioned officers during World War II.

During those 60 some odd years that the MLB kept black players out of its league (and occasionally taking the time to bash soccer as a foreign sport), the various professional and semi-professional soccer leagues scattered across the United States had, for the most part, more to worry about then the skin tone or pigmentation of the players. Maybe it was the path that Jackie Robinson forged in the three years since his debut, maybe it was the fact that soccer languished in a world with little press attention, or maybe it was a combination of those two factors (and other factors), that when the U.S. returned to the international stage at Brazil ’50, that the presence of Joe Gaetjens, who played for Brookhattan in the American Soccer League, on the U.S. National Team apparently caused little, if any, raised eyebrows in the press or the powers that be in U.S. Soccer. After all, Jamaica born Gilbert “Gillie” Heron had spent the 1940s playing for the Detroit Corinthians and Detroit Wolverines, and was labeled the “Babe Ruth of Soccer” by Ebony magazine in 1947. Heron, the father of musician Gil-Scott Heron, moved on to become the first black person to play football in Scotland, where he scored a goal for Celtic in 1951.

In the years since Joe Gaetjens scored the winning goal against England at Belo Horizonte, numerous players of African descent have played for the U.S. National Team, including Cobi Jones, Tim Howard, DeMarcus Beasley, Jozy Altidore, Eddie Pope, Tony Sanneh, Jimmy Banks, Desmond Armstrong, Oguchi Onyewu, Robin Fraser, Roy Lassiter, etc. While incidents of racism occur, for the most part, black soccer players in the United States have been spared the types of vicious comments made by fans that were not happy to see color barriers in baseball or in European football busted, many of these players, like other serious soccer players in the U.S., have had to endure the anti-soccer comments made by their peers who to understand the game.

While soccer may not be the most popular sport among African-Americans, a segment in which even the great American game, baseball, has lost traction, African-Americans have played an integral role in the development and evolution of soccer in the U.S.  So, on this day when we remember the victims of Hillsborough and the historical watershed that occurred when Jackie Robinson took the field in a Brooklyn Dodgers uniform, let us also remember and respect the diversity that has made and will continue to make soccer in the U.S. the Beautiful Game.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Mid-Week Video Break

Some video from the weekend that was:

Let us not forget:

Monday, April 6, 2009

The New Donate Button

After long consideration, as well as discussion with my producers in Los Angeles, I have now added a PayPal Donation link on the right side of the screen. This is for people interested in donating money to help me cover expenses for covering the Houston Dynamo, Serie A, and other soccer related events in my region. While this is not a nonprofit venture under the IRS rules, you can rest assured that I will use this money to keep providing high quality coverage of the Beautiful Game in the US, and possibly abroad - like covering US at Mexico in the World Cup Qualifying.

Since I cannot provide tax write offs, I can provide exclusive, unedited audio, and other exposure to people who donate. Do you want to hear Dominic Kinnear's entire post match press conferences unedited? I can provide that.

I appreciate any support you can give, and no matter what, I will continue to provide you with the best coverage of the Houston Dynamo and Serie A as possible.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Jose Mourinho on Chiambretti Night, April 1, 2009

This week, Jose Mourinho made an appearance on the non-sports show Chiambretti Night, in an effort to reach out to the Italian public, if not the press.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Advice from The Special One

Love him or hate him, you cannot ignore Jose Mourinho, because he is the proverbial moth drawn to the media spotlight. This recent FIFA International Break found the Special One in the United States as he prepared for the World Football Challenge, which will be occurring here this summer. While paving the way for Inter Milan’s first appearance in the United States in 40 years, Mourinho took some time to talk to the press about a variety of topics, including the MLS and the state of soccer in the U.S.

On the whole, it seems that Mourinho has a much more realistic view on the state of the Beautiful Game in the U.S. then a number of pundits and journalists on both sides of the Atlantic.

“I’ve been quite impressed. I lost a game with Chelsea to an MLS team, they lacked precision but showed enough quality. I think it’s good for American football when some of the boys play in Europe - and they’re playing every week in the Premiership, in the Bundesliga. Their inclusion is good for them, good for the [US] national team because then they go back to the national team and bring the experience of high level football in Europe. MLS loses without the best talent, they go down, the players go to Europe, they leave MLS, but you cannot have everything at the same time.”

Mourinho stated that he watched last year’s MLS Cup and found it to be enjoyable. He understands that one of the problems facing soccer in the US is that the sporting culture of this country revolves around baseball, American football, and basketball, and it is not easy to compete with these sports. But, the U.S. is a country built on immigrants and there are large communities in the U.S. that love soccer, and it is those communities that need to be invested in, presumably, by the MLS and US Soccer.

I agree with Mourinho that the MLS’s focus for fan growth should be on the existing soccer fans in this country, not just the immigrant communities but all of the native born who get up early on the weekends to watch the Premier League and other foreign leagues. Something Don Garber initially recognized when he took on the role of Commissioner of the MLS. Of late though, it seems that MLS on the whole has lost sight of this concept and it’s only the media and marketing savvy teams pursuing this goal. I can understand someone who has never watched soccer having no interest in the MLS, but people who follow football teams in Europe, Mexico, South America, Asia, etc., should be given a reason to go to a local MLS or USL match.

According to Mourinho, the MLS should not invest in just one big name player from Europe, like David Beckham, but rather the MLS needs to bring in two real players from Europe for each MLS team and several coaches from Europe. What’s interesting is that Mourinho initially talks about the MLS having to do this without controlled budgets or financial walls. He believes that the MLS needs to view this as an investment in its future. On first blush, it seems that Mourinho is advocating that the MLS follow the path forged by the NASL, but then he goes on to state that the players and coaches who come to the MLS need to come here with the goal of making an impact on the sport here in the U.S., of growing the game, not with the goal of making a bunch of money then going back home. To sum it up, Mourinho states: “People coming here must have the mentality of give more than receive. More worry about giving and not going home with pockets full of money.” (Don’t worry, it isn’t lost on me that Mourinho is taking a shot at Beckham too.)

I like Mourinho’s thinking, but I fear that in this world the almighty Dollar, Euro, or Pound is the driving force. Maybe, one day, there will be some players willing to come to the US for the primary purpose of growing the Beautiful Game on our shores, but I fear those players might be in the twilight of their careers, with little gas left in their tanks.

The more interesting component of Mourinho’s statement is his suggestion that the MLS bring in more coaches from Europe. I suspect Mourinho was thinking that more MLS teams should be coached by Europeans, but I would prefer it if the coaches brought in from Europe are brought here not as head coaches, but as assistants who can work with MLS players on their technical skills and soccer IQs. Instead of spending a large amount of money on bringing over head coaches, such as Mourinho, who would have too many difficulties adjusting to the financial and bureaucratic constraints on acquiring players and building a squad, the MLS would be smart to lure aware coaches/teachers from the youth academies or lower rungs of the European coaching hierarchy. These coaches could focus on developing and enhancing the skill sets of the MLS players without having to worry about the big picture issues of fielding an MLS team.

It is refreshing to see that someone with the stature of Jose Mourinho has paid attention to the MLS, can be critical without bashing the game here, and can provide serious suggestions on what can be done to grow the game in the US. Some diehard fans of the MLS might not appreciate everything Mourinho has said, but his comments should not be ignored. There is still work to be done on growing the MLS’s stature in the U.S., some of that work needs to be done by the people drawing paychecks from the MLS and some of that needs to be done by the fans of not just the MLS, but of the Beautiful Game. I really do not care if the MLS ever achieves the stature of the NFL or MLB, but I do want the league to reach a point where nobody can seriously call it a Mickey Mouse league ever again.

In the end, Mourinho stated:

“To come here - we have nothing to learn from you about our game – we have nothing to learn. But we have a lot to learn from you about sports. Not about our sport, but about sports and about sports organizations, sports investments, sports marketing, sports merchandising. We have everything to learn from you.”

Well, in exchange for teaching the rest of the world about the business of sports, let’s be willing to let them teach us about improving the product on the pitch. I think that would be a fair trade. The history of the Beautiful Game in the U.S. is long, proud, and oft forgotten. Let us not be too proud to ignore the criticism and advice from The Special One.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Video Friday

After a week of some good International Matches, club football returns to Europe this weekend, and of course the MLS continues with Matchday 3 for most teams. The Houston Dynamo will be taking on DC United at RFK on Saturday at 6:30 pm central time.

Here's some videos worth watching: