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Juventus v New York and the folly of catering to Eurosnobs

Posted on 20 April 2010 by ASN Staff

As you may have heard by now, Juventus Turin will visit Red Bull Arena May 23 to play an exhibition match against the New York Red Bulls.

These exhibitions are at best short-term solutions to generate a bundle of cash that can then be reinvested in the all-important “grass roots.” But like many short-term solutions, you can’t help but wonder about negative fall-out. Do the Red Bulls really want to cultivate an audience of this type for a one-off event that is unlikely to generate any kind of sustained interest in the team itself?

Read the full story at ASN’s New York Red Bulls page
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Michael Fucito Goal Celebration

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Fucito winner saves Sounders at Qwest

Posted on 18 April 2010 by Kyle Alm

The gray Seattle sky served as an appropriate backdrop for the Sounders on Saturday. Both teams started quickly in the first half and had chances to score, but the game became quite slow with both teams seemingly content to play from their defensive half when the other team had the ball. After 91 minutes of dreary dullness that seemed so pervasive during the Sounders vs Kansas City match a single bright spot stood out. Michael Fucito netted his first goal as a Sounder after coming on in the 85th minute for Steve Zakuani. It was first goal that Kansas City has allowed all season, first goal in stoppage time in Sounders history, and probably the first assist off of a throw-in. Evans to Fucito. Substitute to substitute.

“I saw Brad had the ball and I just kind of ran through trying to stretch them. It was a great throw great pass, and I turned and I was one on one with the goalie, hit it, and you know, I finished it well, it was unbelievable.”

Michael Fucito goal celebration

The fans at Qwest erupt as Michael Fucito scores the winner in the 92nd minute.

I wonder if the Wizards defenders are going to receive calls from their old coaches asking them about how Fucito got so open? Fucito had no one around him and only needed one touch to beat Jimmy Nielsen for the winner. Fans at Qwest who had been loud all game suddenly exploded with delight.

But it only took a few moments for the Sounders to show weakness as Kansas City promptly came down and shot the ball just wide of Kasey Keller’s post. That would have been a major letdown. Talk about the air going out of the building. Questions galore at that point.

There are still plenty of questions about the starting lineup that the Sounders put on the pitch. Ljungberg was not sharp today, nor was he sharp against Real Salt Lake last week. His touch was heavy, he isn’t going to beat anyone off the dribble and his passing was off. He was called offsides at a point late in the game that cost the Sounders a scoring opportunity. Sounders coach Sigi Schmid in his post-game statement was quick to mention how well Vagenas controls the ball in midfield and how important it was to his game plan against KC. It worked. Despite a couple of dangerous turnovers that lead to KC chances. Still Vagenas’ mistakes didn’t hurt, so he can be forgiven.

Now that we are four games into the season I’ll revisit my Seven questions for the Seattle Sounders 2010 Season post from the beginning of the season.

Nate Jaqua: I’ve heard he’s “training,” but he’s not going to be playing real soon, probably in a couple of weeks. Hasn’t had a chance to produce.

James Riley: Riley has been solid since he has been back. He does give players a lot of space up til the edge of the box. Hasn’t hurt him consistently that I can tell.

Fredy Montero: Has really improved getting the ball to his teammates with the exception of Freddie Ljungberg. For some reason the two best players on the pitch are never on the same page. He’s got assists and goals and will be in the running for a Golden Boot if he doesn’t transfer to CSKA Moscow or wherever the next rumor takes him.

Steve Zakuani: Major improvement, may be having the best season of any Sounder, Montero has a major stake in that argument. But Zakuani hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down. That yellow card today was silly, he should have put his hands on the ref. In his defense the ref did come towards him and I think Zakuani was letting him know he was close enough, but I digress. Zakuani is a dangerous player and has continued to show improvement from game to game.

Freddie Ljungberg: Truculent at times, talks to the ref too much, and hasn’t been able to sync up with Montero well, which is a tragedy when you think about how much better the team would be. In the past I thought that the problem was with Montero not releasing the ball early enough or not looking for passes but I am wondering if Freddie Ljungberg has more to do with it that I would like to admit.

Kasey Keller: Solid in goal. As usual. No worries there.

Corner Kicks & Set Pieces: Ugh. This needs it’s own post later this week devoted to this subject. I’ll just say that they are probably productive compared to the rest of the league and are really lacking in creativity, there are few instances where the ball doesn’t go exactly where you expect it to. A little misdirection can be a good way to find some space.

Rookie Class: Fucito got us three points today, I’d say that the 2010 Rookie Class for the Sounders is meeting or exceeding expectations for being productive. Estrada hasn’t had a breakthrough yet. Fucito remarked that his second game was a more settled affair for him. The same will also be true for Estrada .

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J’accuse! A rant against MLS media practices

Posted on 14 April 2010 by Nathaniel E. Baker

Fans of Major League Soccer are by now surely familiar with its new Web site, the ineptly-named MLSsoccer.com. The site is by all definitions a complete mess–so much so that MLS commissioner Don Garber himself saw the need to publicly apologize for it.

But that problem is well-documented at this point. Presumably, MLS is even doing something about it. The larger, less forgivable offense in my opinion is the site’s purpose. Specifically, MLSsoccer.com has taken to “break” news on its own. To wit:

MLSsoccer.com confirmed Tuesday that an MLS club is working on signing the Frenchman in a transaction that could take place during the summer transfer window.
MLSsoccer.com, April 13

A source close to New York Red Bulls management has confirmed to MLSsoccer.com that the club intends to purchase a third designated player slot, as allowed by the recently expanded DP rule.
MLSsoccer.com, April 14

Here is an organization (MLS) that for whatever reason has decided it needs to turn its official Web site into a news portal. That its area of coverage is identical to its end product (MLS) is in itself fine–after all, just about every organization’s Web site has a “news” page where it supplies updates on its activities. But MLS takes this a step further. Actually two steps. It cloaks its news updates as independent reports and has these compete directly with the myriad of actually independent news services (including this one) that already cover the space. Then, if that weren’t bad enough, it touts its own reports as “exclusive” stories and goes as far as to cite “sources”!

Can you say conflict of interest? USsoccerPlayers.com, itself no stranger to potential issues like this, has the following assessment:

What the League is actively doing is working on making themselves everybody’s direct competitor…Being able to scoop other outlets alongside providing media relations? That’s a tricky choice and one that could end up working against what was once upon a time the goal. The best possible coverage nationally and in the local markets. There’s a reason that normally means supporting the media rather than taking their place.

The sad thing here is that MLS never really gave supporting the media much of a try in the first place. The league seems to think it is dealing with issues of national security the way it safeguards information and generally stonewalls around media requests great and small. But MLS not only isn’t national security, it effectively has no competitors it needs to guard information against. It’s not like a rival U.S. soccer league is going to spring up out of the blue and compete with MLS for a player’s signature. Or that the Securities and Exchange Commission is going to launch an investigation into insider trading.

After 14 years, MLS has made scant inroads with the general U.S. public. Most people are barely aware the league exists at all. For sure, the sporting landscape is extremely crowded and competition for eyeballs is fierce. But interest in soccer is on the rise, as evidenced by the growing popularity of European leagues and U.S. national team matches. MLS as a league has to date failed to capitalize on this. Sure, it’s successful in select markets (Toronto and Seattle, basically) and deserves credit for that. However to sustain this success, and grow it to where it genuinely captures the imagination of the greater North American public, the media is going to have to play its part.

MLS has either failed to realize this or bungled the execution–badly. The greater mystery is why league brass thinks it is doing anybody a service with this latest attempt. Because as far as I’m concerned, doing nothing whatsoever would be a vast improvement at this point. A cheaper, less embarrassing one, too.

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Houston Dynamo must sign Joseph Ngwenya

Posted on 13 April 2010 by msimspon

Houston Dynamo fans are not used to seeing their team lose at Robertson Stadium, as they did Saturday night against the Galaxy and they certainly are not used to seeing them play so poorly. To illustrate, ‘no one’ is currently in the lead in the man of the match vote from that game. With Brian Ching and Cam Weaver out with injuries the team clearly lacks firepower up front. One man can change that. His name is Joseph Ngwenya and he has been on trial for a week. ASN’s Michael Simpson explains why the Dynamo needs to sign Ngwenya.

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Questions about DC United point to a season of surprises

Posted on 25 March 2010 by Steve Long

Santino Quaranta ©ASN

DC United coaching staff have been testing Santino Quaranta as the team’s creative midfielder this preseason. It is part of a larger plan to broaden DC United’s attack this season and its success (or failure) will directly influence the team’s acquisition targets at midseason.

ASN’s Steve Long reports from the nation’s capital.

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Have the defending MLS champs done too little this off season?

Posted on 24 March 2010 by kali

Jason Kreis shows his gameface ©Julia Harper/ASN

Consistency is the theme for defending MLS champions Real Salt Lake as the team heads into the 2010 season. Jason Kreis‘ team returns nearly all of the players who were on the pitch in last year’s MLS Cup final. Still, there are questions, primarily about the team’s attack, central midfield and depth. There’s also the matter of the schedule to deal with; RSL, a team that won just twice on the road in 2009, hosts but one game before May.

ASN’s Kali Korbis reports from Salt Lake City.

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A time of mixed emotions, particularly for New York

Posted on 19 March 2010 by ASN Staff

A metaphorical cloud hangs over Red Bull Arena... ©ASN/Scott Marsh

Fans of New York’s Major League Soccer franchise, toughened by a decade and a half of hardship, are no strangers to misery. If their team’s 15 years of dreary existence at the East Rutherford, N.J., Meadowlands accomplished anything, it certainly made them (at least somewhat) immune to such negative emotions. But now is not a time for negativity.

Or is it? There are reasons to believe the curse that has hung over the team since its inception is not dead or even dormant, but healthier than ever–and indeed plotting its cruelest joke yet. The MLS labor impasse leaves a dark (metaphorical) cloud hanging over Red Bull Arena. Just when the New York Red Bulls franchise is ready to break free of the doom and gloom that has forever haunted it, fans are faced with the very real possibility that the season could be postponed (or worse) by a players strike.

Read more at ASN’s New York Red Bulls page
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Don’t call Donovan a hypocrite for wanting to stay at Everton

Posted on 07 March 2010 by Nathaniel E. Baker

So Landon Donovan wants to stay at Everton FC.

Will Donovan return to the Galaxy?

The 27-year old LA Galaxy forward has been on loan at Goodison Park since January. He’s done very well, better than just about anybody had anticipated. He now wants to extend the loan, perhaps permanently.

This makes Donovan a hypocrite in the eyes of many, because he criticized David Beckham for wanting to do essentially the same thing one year ago. Lest we forget, Beckham went on loan to AC Milan and had such a great time he tried to get out of his contract with the Galaxy.
But there are some fundamental differences between the two situations, which make the “hypocrite” label unfair in my opinion.

The main difference is this: Beckham came to the U.S. as a self-proclaimed ambassador of the sport. He was supposed to put Major League Soccer on the map in the U.S. It was seen as a “retirement move” for Becks, who by that time was well past his prime and anyway had been dropped from the England national team. He of course denied this but said all the right things about being wholly dedicated to growing the sport in this country. For a little while, Becks even embraced the role enthusiastically–until he found out he could still figure in the England national team if he played elsewhere. This made Beckham’s move selfish and disingenuous. He came to MLS promising one thing but turned his back on this mission as soon as a different opportunity became available.

Donovan is clearly no saint either. But he never proclaimed himself an ambassador of the sport and never took it on himself to grow MLS’ stature in this country. So he’s not going back on his word by wanting to stay at Everton. And if Donovan were to leave, the effects on MLS would be far less deleterious. Neither the league nor the Galaxy count on Donovan to fill stadiums and sell merchandise. Yes, he raises the level of the game and obviously the Galaxy are a worse club without him. But seriously, how many Americans are likely to check out an MLS game on Donovan’s account? A few hundred? Tops? Compare that to what happened during Becks’ first year, when attendance skyrocketed anywhere the English midfielder played.

Donovan is at a completely different stage of his career as well. He has more to gain from a move to Europe at this point than Beckham does. For Donovan, this is about growing into the best possible player he can be. For Beckham, it’s about holding on to a last shot at vainglory. England don’t even need Beckham and are probably better without him. Without Donovan, the U.S. have little chance of advancing out of their World Cup group.
Was Donovan wrong to criticize Beckham for wanting to stay at Milan last year? No, though he eventually backed off these statements. Calling out Beckham was the correct move for somebody in Donovan’s position of leadership–both at his club and in MLS as a whole. Wanting to stay in Europe himself does put this in bit of a curious light, but only if you don’t know about the circumstances involving Beckham’s move to MLS.

Once you take those into account you realize it’s apples and oranges.

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In defense of Red Bull AG

Posted on 02 March 2010 by ASN Staff

Red Bull Arena, in all its glory ©Scott Marsh/ASN

Make no mistake: That sparkling new stadium on the banks of the Passaic River in Harrison, N.J., would not have come into existence without a certain Austrian energy drink company. Hate on the “brand” and its goofy Eurotrash logo all you want. ASN’s local reporter gives Red Bull its due–for the stadium, at least.

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MLS players need to back off

Posted on 24 February 2010 by Nathaniel E. Baker

Don’t get me wrong, in principle I agree with Major League Soccer players. They deserve either guaranteed contracts or some semblance of free agency. They deserve higher minimum salaries. They deserve a higher salary cap. They deserve better accommodation on road trips. They deserve these things and probably several others as well.

But guess what? This isn’t about those principles. It’s about something bigger, namely sustaining top level professional soccer in the United States. That is what the players are threatening to undo with their strike.

Okay, so maybe some MLS team owners are making money on the players’ behalf. Show me one (functioning) for-profit business that isn’t. More importantly, how many millions of dollars have these ownership groups sunk into the league over the past 15 years? How long were they operating at a loss? Were? Apparently all but three teams are still losing money.

To limit this hemorrhaging somewhat, MLS created a single entity structure. Its legality was challenged–and upheld–in court. Owners understandably want to stick with this structure and are committed to doing so. Well, they have it with the current collective bargaining agreement so they’re willing to continue operating with it in place, at least for the 2010 season.

Obviously the players are none too happy about this. They were expecting raises and improved “working conditions” for 2010 and would not get either in this scenario. Union leadership would rightly be decried as ineffectual. Having already threatened a strike, however, the union may need to go this route to save face. If they don’t, it’s likely owners will withdraw whatever concessions they’ve offered so far in negotiations.

Some players say these concessions don’t amount to anything anyway. Fine. But here’s the thing: The players have no leverage. First of all, let’s see them get everybody to agree to go through with this. For an overwhelming majority of them, a strike will mean no income. A few might get job offers in Europe or Latin America or elsewhere, but the league would still need to consent to a move. If it does (doubtful), work permits are extremely difficult to come by for players who are not capped by their national teams (which again is most of MLS). That leaves NASL and the second division. I’m told there is no legal restriction on MLS players joining these leagues if there is a strike, but how willing will those teams be to hire striking players? And if players think salaries and working conditions in MLS are tough, let’s see how they like the NASL, where several teams are on the brink of bankruptcy.

More importantly, how can they know a strike will even have an effect? MLS could hire replacement players. There are 17 million soccer players in the United States. Think they’ll all honor the picket line, if MLS calls with a job offer? Think again. (Note to MLS: I can play goalie and will gladly do so as a replacement player).

But the greater harm would be to the viability of professional soccer in this country. Because with a sparking new arena in its biggest market, a successful franchise in Seattle and another due to begin play in Philadelphia, MLS is finally finally on the verge of a breakthrough with the American public. A strike would put an end to this. It would set U.S. soccer back 15 years to an era when playing professionally wasn’t even a real option.

The argument that the current structure needs to be dismantled for the good of professional soccer in the U.S. is nonsensical. Fact is that the players have clearly said they are willing to work within the confines of the single entity structure. If they go back on their word now they’ll look like hypocrites. But that’s the least of it. The league simply cannot afford to have teams engage in bidding wars for players. Do people really think MLS can turn into the English Premier League overnight if it simply “removes the training wheels“? A few more expensive players per team might do a bit for quality of play over the short term, but over the long term the only thing that can accomplish that is a more ingrained soccer culture and youth development. And the only thing that can bring that is a sustainable professional league.

More importantly, who knows if the league’s existing owners and investors would even agree to continue their involvement if the single entity system is scrapped? They’d probably drop out altogether. Where would professional soccer be then? Back to 1984 is where. Some critics of the single entity structure may not be old enough to remember what it was like being a U.S. soccer fan in those days. But if they were to ask some of us who lived through it they would undoubtedly get a very sinister answer.

So yes, the union has overplayed its hand with talk of a strike. And overshot its goals. They’re not going to get free agency for all the reasons mentioned above. Yet, if it weren’t for that the two sides would really not be far apart. The league has claimed it is willing to give some ground on guaranteed contracts and player movement. Players should have jumped on that instead of playing hardball for something they weren’t going to get in the first place. It might be too late now. Doesn’t matter. Players should return to the bargaining table, hat in hand, and try to salvage whatever they can. They’ll probably end up with something they feel is grossly unfair and exploitative. Too bad. That’s what most regular folks have to deal with nowadays–provided they’re lucky enough to have jobs in the first place. And we don’t get to play a sport for a living.

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