The Decade American Soccer Arrived

As the sun sets on the 00s, it is worth an initial look back on the decade that was and some thoughts on the decade that will be. While politically, economically, and socially this will be seen as one of the worst decades in memory, when it comes to soccer, this is the decade that American soccer finally arrived.

1. USMNT became a respected, even feared, international team.
As the decade began playing the United States was seen internationally, as playing Trinidad or New Zealand. We were seen as a push over, a minnow of the soccer world. This lack of respect was vividly demonstrated in the BBC’s 30 min lead in program to the USA-Portugal 2002 world cup game, where Gary Linnekar and Alan Hansen never even talked about the US team. Now, following the confederations cup and more and more Americans playing abroad, there is a genuine respect for the US side coming from the vast majority of English commentators. We are no longer seen as a push over. Moreover, during this decade the US-Mexico rivalry reached another level, with the US overtaking Mexico as the Kings of CONCACAF, evidenced by winning in the 02 round of 16 in the World Cup, the 2 World Cup qualifications of the decade and the 07 Gold Cup, which sent the US to the Confederations Cup. This rivalry is shaping up as one of the best international soccer rivalries in the world. We are not world beaters yet, but we are among the stronger of the second tier of soccer nations.

What does the next decade hold? The progress over this past decade has been remarkable and that should continue. However, I think few will expect the US to win a World Cup this decade, but as 2020 draws to a close we will begin to creep into the conversation. There will be some setbacks. And I think one of the three tournaments will be seen as really disappointing, but overall the national team like the game overall will continue its rise.
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Even with Everton loan, Donovan unlikely to move to Europe permanently

Donovan's European dream unlikely to be permanent; Photo by W. Jarrett

Its finally official, Landon Donovan will join Everton on loan in January. Donovan will return to MLS in time for the season opener on March 27. This move is great news for Donovan as he comes into a side that can and will use him. The move is great news for our World Cup hopes because Everton plays all the top teams during Donovan’s stay and he will get on the field experience against opening foes England. Despite this very positive step, Donovan is unlikely to ever make a permanent move to Europe because it’s hard to imagine a big club willing to meet MLS’s valuation on a 28-year-old attacking midfielder that is the only American star playing in America.

Everton Manager David Moyes worked hard to secure Donovan’s services for his side ravaged by injuries and stuck in the wrong half of the table. Moyes is looking for “players to come in and hit the ground running, not need a month or two to get ready,” so it looks like he intends to get Donovan on the pitch early and often. Donovan’s pace, experience, and versatility should allow him fit in pretty well with Everton’s other players; I can see him adding the attacking midfielder to compliment Tim Cahill the Toffees have been lacking since Mikel Arteta went down with repeated knee injuries.  Continue reading

Interpreting MLS’s Offer to Stuart Holden – It’s PR

MLS offered Stuart Holden a considerable salary increase to lure him to resign with the league. Holden who was making just $35,000 this past season was offered an approximately 10 fold increase, ie $350,000 to resign with the league. What to think of this?

While this sounds like a good offer, this is really a public relations jester from MLS. Stuart Holden could have resigned at the beginning of the year but refused and played for a measly 35 grand so that he would be free to sign with a European club in the offseason. Holden has garnered a lot of interest from practically every club in Scotland, including Rangers. But since Holden could be signed on a free transfer it is likely he could be signed by a team from one of the bigger leagues. While $350,000 is a good salary for MLS, this is small beer compared to what he could get paid in Europe. If MLS were to offer to make him a designated player and pay him around the 1 million mark it could have a bit more appeal, but even with that Holden could still likely make more in Europe. So by offering Holden a new offer and having Holden turn it down this will enable MLS to save some face for losing such an up incoming star. This is similar to when the Washington Nationals sought to resign Alfonso Soriano – a move that bought some goodwill.
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Philadelphia’s Momentum Growing

There has been a lot of activity going on in Philadelphia. Their new coach, Peter Novak, has pretty much telegraphed his approach to next season: defend first and then scrap for goals. This is a team being built from the back.

The industrious Greg Seltzer, of No Short Corners and of Soccer365 has a great scoop reporting Danny Califf will sign for Philadelphia. This is a great signing for Philadelphia. Califf is a quality defender and will immediately be one of the best defenders in MLS. One question is what his salary will be – I assume he won’t be a designated player, but is he getting paid on par with Europe.

By most accounts Philly’s expansion draft was solid, if not a bit perplexing. Novak did not go for some of the more notable names, such as Bobby Convey and Frankie Hejduk, but got some good defensive players and some decent young prospects. The recent signing of goalie Chris Seitz is also a very solid move – he looked legit in the under-20 World Cup in 2007 and his been waiting his turn behind Nick Rimando in Salt Lake. Continue reading

MLS Cup rewind

It was a rather unattractive chippy affair that was unfortunately interrupted by frequent injuries. In extra time both teams looked exhausted and stopped moving the ball around. All in all was not a great game to watch and seemed destined for a draw and those evil -yet dramatic- penalties. In the end the league was pulling for a Galaxy win, but ESPN got their dramatic choke highlight with the Donovan miss. Congrats to RSL for a great playoff run.

A few more thoughts:

At the end as the game got stretched Donovan should have been up top, instead of mired in the midfield. He is the only one with the pace and the skill for LA to get behind the backline and finish. Have to question Arena there.

As good as the Seattle crowd was, MLS cup finals should not be played on turf. The turf fields makes it harder to control the ball as it skips and bounces all over the place. At times it was clear that neither of these teams regularly play on the surface, as throw balls were badly weighted rolling comfortably beyond their targets.

RSL gave the absurdly slow LA backline fits, but Robbie Findley couldn’t really find the quality to make the backline play – except of course for his scrappy goal. RSL outplayed LA that last part of the game and looked more likely to score.

LA have two high quality attacking players in Donovan and Beckham, and Buddle showed some ability, but other than that the squad is pretty weak in attacking options. How is it that they haven’t scored on a Beckham corner? Ball after ball goes into the box but no one is there to get on the end.

MLS playoff wrap: Beckham in, Sounders out, goals lacking

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David Bechham leads Galaxy into MLS Semis; Photo by Cal Menda

The first round of the MLS playoffs are in the books and executives at ESPN and MLS are breathing a sigh of relief as David Beckham (oh, and the Galaxy) made it into the conference finals. The bad news is that the Seattle Sounders crashed out to an extra time goal by Houston’s Brian Ching, denying MLS a marquee Western Conference championship. Perhaps of greater concern, however, should be the dearth of goals in the three weekend matches.

Galaxy wins Battle of LA: Landon Donovan converted a second half penalty to give the Galaxy a 1-0 victory over Chivas USA and put them through 3-2 on aggregate. The move that led to the penalty was set up by a beautiful 60-yard Beckham cross-field pass. But that was the extent of the beautiful game at the Home Depot Center in a tense affair that was long on energy and short on creativity or finishing. Chivas went down in the first round for the fourth consecutive year and left their coach ruing a host of fizzled attacks, “We made poor decisions all night in the final third. They were there to be beaten, but we didn’t make the play and they did. It’s as simple as that.” Continue reading

MLS Weekend: Playoff Preview

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The big question going into the weekend is whether there will be more upsets.

Real Salt Lake upset defending champions Columbus Crew. This column by Eric Altshule at MLS Talk I think hit on interesting point that Columbus hadn’t actually played a meaningful game in a long long time, while for RSL almost all of their games the last few months have been defacto playoff games – most notably RSL’s win in the final game of the regular season against Colorado. Columbus did what they needed to do score 2 goals, but then they gave up three goals unanswered bending to the pressure. Real Salt Lake is going into the next round with nothing to lose and with their confidence sky high. Right now RSL would be favorites in my eyes against either Chicago or New England.
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Benni McCarthy should be an MLS target

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With MLS growing and becoming more competitive there are likely going to be a number of teams that will be very aggressive this offseason – with many looking to fill a designated player slot. With that in mind, news out of Blackburn should draw some attention from MLS clubs: Benni McCarthy wants out. MLS clubs should give him a call.

McCarthy has not been playing at Blackburn largely due to Sam Allardyce’s tactical approach that often relies on a single target striker. Allardyce has empathized with McCarthy’s plight and said he would be willing to let him go in January. McCarthy’s agent has also confirmed that McCarthy, who is from South Africa, wants to leave in January to get regular football prior to the World Cup.

The catch will be both that Blackburn will be looking to get some money in return and that McCarthy appears to have suitors in the bottom tier of the premier league. Allardyce has said, “There is a price to be met if someone wants to buy Benni McCarthy.” But McCarthy, who moved from Porto in 2006 for 2.5 million pounds, is now 31 and Blackburn won’t be expecting nearly that much in return. Furthermore there are indications that they wouldn’t want to sell him to any relegation rivals. That would seem to eliminate the places that McCarthy would most likely go, making MLS a potentially attractive option for both.
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Sounders, not Beckham, leading MLS into the future

Sounders

Seattle Sounders inaugural game ticket and scarf; Photo by Dave Nakayama

This post is the first in a series looking at the success of the Seattle Sounders and how it can be replicated in other MLS cities

Its finally official, David Beckham will once again join AC Milan on loan after the Galaxy’s season is over. This has been by far his best season in MLS and the Galaxy are in the playoffs for the first time. But the loss of Beckham’s star power will not hurt the league at all. The Seattle Sounders are building a much stronger bond with their fans than Beckham ever did in any part of the U.S., and they are leading a Seattle sports revival and pointing the way forward for MLS.

It is certainly true that the conditions in Seattle were ripe for success – the area has a very strong youth soccer program and had been high on the list for MLS expansion for years, the Seattle Sounders USL team had been in existence since 1994 with decent following, and the principal owner of the USL franchise is part of the ownership group for the MLS team. Expectations were high, but no one could have predicted the extent to which the Sounders have succeeded or the way the locals have taken to the team. So how did they do it, especially without a soccer-only stadium or world soccer superstars? Continue reading

MLS and ESPN should work together to schedule transatlantic doubleheaders

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ESPN studio show could anchor transatlantic doubleheaders; Photo by Bob Oroshi

Coming on the heels of a pulsating MLS playoff opener in Seattle, it’s a big derby weekend for soccer on ESPN with Arsenal v Tottenham on Saturday morning and the first Beckham playoff game on Sunday afternoon. Those two games are both pretty strong draws, but there is more that ESPN and MLS can do to capitalize on top European leagues to build audience share for American soccer: schedule transatlantic doubleheaders.

The north London derby is always one of the most exciting games of the year and is probably the second biggest rivalry in English soccer behind Liverpool v Manchester United. The energy and passion on display—even at the normally subdued Highbury—will bring an electric atmosphere into American’s homes on Saturday morning. The Gunners total domination of Spurs over the last decade has taken some of the impact out of the game, but also added bite for Spurs fans desperate to beat their hated rivals in the league for the first time in a decade.

On Sunday afternoon, MLS and ESPN will finally get what they’ve been waiting for since the Beckham experiment began, a showcase playoff game with its most marketable star. Even though John Harkes erroneously calls it a superclassico, the LA derby will feature both Beckham and Landon Donovan in the first game of what many supporters of soccer in America (Chivas USA and other Western conference fans aside) hope will be a long playoff run. Continue reading