Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Buenos dias El Niño del Oro

Dynamo sent out this e-mail today about a downtown party Friday to welcome the Golden Boy to town. I kinda suspect this will be sparsely attended, but I plan on going anyway. The weather will be nice and if I'm lucky, maybe I'll score an interview. At the very least, I'll take some shots and post them here. Maybe we'll even get a stadium announcement, but I think the chances of that are zero to, well, zero.

Read more!

"Hey, where'd all the players go?" or "He's gone, he's gone...I'd pay the devil to replace him (Da or Nyet???)"

What follows is a long back and forth discussion between Playtherapy, Mister3d and myself on the migration of mid-market, or middle class, players out of MLS this offseason. Hopefully, this is just another chapter in a very long discussion. What do you think?


MARTEK: Found this on DuNord:

After nabbing 2 goals in 2 games for his new team Rheindorf Altach, Nate Jaqua has been called "a penalty-area cobra with a lion's heart" by a local paper. Their league must be awful, cuz he just isn't that good. But it's fantastic for Jaqua!

PLAYTHERAPY: Jaqua was also good @ scoring slop goals with the Dynamo. Slop is slop but looks good on the score sheet.

MISTER3D: Your nonchalant disregard of jaqua's talent flies in the face of the recent breathless panting we are losing mls talent to europe postings. Pickens, jaqua, ngwenya, gbandi, noonan etc. are not indispensable and will be readily replaced by younger cheaper players, do they deserve better, yes; but they are not huge losses. Something needs to be done to keep the middle class mlser but movement to and from our league and various other leagues is a sign of the strength of mls, no?

PLAYTHERAPY: Pant pant pant
You so right, me so horny. Seriously, you make an excellent point, I'm speaking out of both sides of me mouth. Another zinger is this may be healthy for the league.

Let's use your middle class analogy:

Upper Class A Players (starters on any team)- Ching, Twellman, De Ro, Donovan, etc.
Creame de la creme- top of the league.

Lower Upper Class A- Starters on most teams, but not best in the league.

Upper Middle Class- Starters, or good subs. Something lacking in their game, preventing them from higher status.

Middle Class- Good subs, occasional starters but you don't want them starting for too many games.
The kind of players you want on almost every game sheet, ready to come in if needed.

Lower Middle Class- Fair subs, perhaps youth to be blooded or situational players. Have some strengths but definite liabilities.

Upper Lower Class- Slightly better than reserve team- spot players on the rotation, occasional subs when there are injuries.

Lower Class- Provide roster depth but most of these will not get game time. A permanent fixture in the reserve league.

Lower Lower Class- Developmental player you're not sure if you'll keep or bodies you keep just to have a full roster- the first to be waived if needed.

Now, to borrow from Soccer Hooligan, here's who has left.

Chicago GK Matt Pickens - via free transfer Queen’s Park Rangers (England)
Lower upper class
Chivas- ALMOST but no work permit- Brad Guzan
Definitely elite- had he gone, would this change the worry factor?
Columbus- Marcos Gonzalez - via transfer Universidad Catolica (Chile)
DC- GK Troy Perkins - transfer to Valerenga IF (Norway)
Lower upper class
DC- Bryan Arguez - transfer to Hertha Berlin (Germany)
FC Dallas- DF Chris Gbandi - transfer FK Haugesund (Norway)
Middle to upper middle class
Houston- FW Joseph Ngwenya - SK Austria (transfer)
Between upper middle class and lower upper class. A second year under
Kinnear and Spencer might have elevated his game.
Houston- FW Nate Jaqua - via transfer SCR Altach (Austria)
Middle class
KC- FW Eddie Johnson - via transfer Fulham (England)
Lower upper class though sometimes upper middle class.
KC- DF Will John - via transfer Randers FC (Denmark)
Middle class
LAG- MF Clint Mathis - Ergotelis (Greece on transfer)
Middle class
NE- MF Andy Dorman – St. Mirren (Scotland on free transfer)
Upper middle class/ lower upper class until last year (middle class).
NE- FW Pat Noonan - Aalesund SK (Norway on free transfer)
Upper middle class in previous years. Last year upper middle to middle.
NE- DF Avery John - not resigned, currently a free agent (looking for lucrative
overseas transfer).
Middle class
SJ- (via expansion draft thru FC Dallas) DF Clarence Goodson - IK Start (Norway - free transfer)
Exceptional year- previously middle but last yr upper middle.

As replacements, we have the new foreigners, a new cast of middle class players yet to emerge (from the bench, reserves, or draft), or players who are returning from abroad.

How would you rank these players?

San Jose- Ramiro Corrales
Colorado- Chase Hilgenbrinck - free transfer from Ñublense (Chile)
RSL- Nat Borchers - via transfer Odd Grenland (Norway)

I agree, for other leagues to view the MLS as a cheap talent pool can promote league health- if adequate replacements can be found.

One of the things I've noticed about the league today versus 10 years ago is the present quality of the nonstar players- the middle class- so to say. During their championship runs, El Diablo, Moreno, and De Arce were surrounded by a cast of players that don't seem on par with the class I see today.

Is the talent pool deep enough to replace the listed players without a ripple- especially in light of the number of expansion teams on the horizon? I hope so. No matter what, many teams have not made the moves to replace these players (KC bring the most blatant violator).

MISTER3D: (Playtherapy), just copy and paste this to the blog and you have an excellent post. With everything right in front of my eyes this whole exodus issue warrants a little more stress and definitely needs to be monitored over the next few seasons, but as of right now no sweat. If the 2008 season play suffers along with the american player then this issue becomes a huge issue. As for jaqua scoring slop goals I would prefer it being done for the dynamo but oh well. I will miss noonan's intuitive sneaky play, can I even watch the revs without him...yes as long as they have shalrie joseph, but still.

MARTEK: Now, THIS is the discussion to be having out there, and the one that I'd love to have with the collective brainpower not just of the three of us, but multiple of our fell Bloggy McBlogmeisters.

I will have to take your word for it as to how much MLS has progressed since the 1990s, since I have to admit I did not follow the league in any significant way until Dynamo got here. However, I suppose I do not have to just take your word for it, as the view seems to be the consensus among those out there who have been following the league since its inception.

MLS has so many challenges in its development that are unique to it, at least in relation to other American sports leagues. The main one being, for the purposes of this discussion at least, concerning player development and retention. MLS has now progressed to the point where it has become an ideal place for a young player, whether American or furrin, to get valuable, intense and quality game experience. It is also a place where those who have found their greatest glory elsewhere, but still have something in the tank, can show of their still significant but declining skills for a variety of of reasons both personal and professional.

The phrase I used over on Center Holds It, that Dan Loney picked up and Jeff Bull highlighted, was that MLS was in danger of becoming primarily an under-23 and over-32 league. I believe we all share the dream of having MLS take its place among the great leagues in the world. There is no objective reason why MLS can not be every bit the league the Mexicans, Brazilians and Argentines have, not to mention La Liga, the Eredivisie, Serie A, Bundesliga and, yes, the EPL. I would even go so far as to maintain that MLS is already every bit as good as the Coca Cola Championship, the lower reaches of the EPL, the SPL (minus Celtic and the Huns), the Austrian Bundeliga, possibly the Eredivisie (Mr3D, Bradley's experience in the Mexico game giving credence to your argument here), the Portuguese Superliga and several others. (It's way better than the three-year-old A-League, judging not just from Dynamo's Sydney experience but from games I've seen on FSC.)

All of that being said, how does MLS get from its current situation to that promised land among the best in the world. Well, of course, it all revolves around the green, now doesn't it? It's damn easy to be called a visionary when you have a lot of money and spend it. And, conversely, no matter how visionary you are, without the money you become less like Pete Rozelle and David Stern and more like Phil Woosnam (former NASL commissioner).

Playtherapy, your list below of the range of middle class players who have left MLS in the last few months is revealing on several levels. Looking at purely on-field reasons, there is no reason why any of these guys would go to the Austrian Bundesliga, Scandinavian leagues, Greece to sit on the bench when they could playing much, much closer to their families and in their home countries. So what is it?

Well, anyone who is straining their brain on answering this question is trying too hard. Payday is more than just a mediocre candy bar. The increase in money these players get over in Europe is extremely persuasive on many levels. First, when a team like Preston North End, in the lower reaches of the Championship, can treble the pay of one of MLS' premier players, it's a very simple calculus. But it gets more deep than that. Second, players' No. 1 adviser on contracts is always their agent, who makes his or her money on the commission of the contract. Hence, here's someone who is highly motivated to get the player the best deal (most money) possible.

But third, a contract and career abroad, above and beyond the immediate remunerative qualities, gets that player seen by more European scouts than it does here. So the contract becomes an investment that is both immediately lucrative and could play out into a greater deal later on.

A player's average career is, what, 5-6 years, and how long is the player in what could be considered their prime during that period of years? And can injury or other factors beyond your control take it all away in a second? Yes. Thus, when you get a chance to sign for that much money, you are beyond foolish not to take it. Turning it down for some abstract concept of "loyalty" is laughable.

So where does that leave MLS? Clearly, they have hit a ceiling of some sort when you have so many of the type of players you listed here leaving. here is no need to panic and by itself this does not constitute evidence of disaster, but the situation outlined above is the long and short of a problem that is very real. MLS MUST pay their players more, must compete on the world player market, in order to develop. They MUST take steps away from their current price taker status or what you're seeing now is what you'll be seeing in MLS in 3, 5, 10 years and more.

There are no two ways around this very simple and obvious fact. Ignoring it means PlayTherapy will be able to make a list like this with every single offseason and summer transfer window. Only the names will be changed. Read more!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Naka's strike-a

And I would be remiss if I did not include this wonderful strike from my main Bhoy Shunsuke Nakamura in Celtic's 1-0 win over St. Mirren Sunday. That's the way to put that pasting from Barca in the rear-view mirror. Forza!

Read more!

Niño del Oro interview

Glenn Davis' blog has a fascinating interview (read it here) with incoming Dynamo minority owner Oscar De La Hoya. (And, of course, you can listen to the interview on Davis' Dynamo Power Hour podcast here.)I haven't wanted to post much on De La Hoya and Gabriel Brener's impending acquisition as the reports leave me somewhat confused about the business power structure, and the interview sheds no further light on this.

According to Bernardo Fallas' story in the Chron, AEG has the team valued at $40 million. De La Hoya will have a $10 million stake and Brener will have another $10 million stake. AEG, meanwhile, will still own 50 percent of the team. So the question is, who's in charge here? Hopefully, at the official announcement, which the story says could come by the end of the week, this question will be answered.

While I wholeheartedly welcome a guy like De La Hoya, who has done nothing but succeed in every thing he's ever done (much like this guy), my three main concerns are:

1. The power structure
2. No local ownership (though Fallas says Brener has family in Houston, and I know De La Hoya has multiple connections, to which he alludes in the Glenn Davis interview, in the city's vibrant boxing scene).
3. Will the Oliver Luck/Chris Cannetti/Dominic Kinnear/John Spencer on-field power structure be left intact or will De La Hoya/Brener start intervening?

One this last point, here's a great quote from De La Hoya in the interview, which is exactly what I, for one, want to hear:

“I think Coach Dominic Kinnear and President Oliver Luck have just done a tremendous job with the team. The team’s nucleus of players like Dwayne De Rosario and Brian Ching, obviously you have Pat Onstad who are incredible talented players who have had great success. You let the management take care of that, what they are doing now is perfect. No other team out there can say they are back-to-back champions and that is the thrill about our team. I say our team because it is not just Golden Boys team or AEG teams or MLS teams but it is the fans team and that where we want to keep it with the fans.”

Also, one other question, AEG has been trying to sell this team since they came in. Is their remaining 50 percent stake still up for sale?

Hopefully, more will be revealed when the sale is finalized.

But for now, here's another great quote from the Golden One:

"I can not wait to wear my orange jersey and be part of (El Batallon) crew that they have down there cheering on our team.”
Read more!

Monday, February 25, 2008

Mark Van Bonehead video

I first saw this incident late last night on a replay of the game on FSC. A tight, tough, hard fought game had this drama which just made the whole night for me. Saw this video over on Soccer by Ives this morning and felt it meshed perfectly with the previous post below. Just awesome.

Here's Ives' great take on it:

In Germany, not only is touching a referee a major offense, even insulting one with a gesture is risky. Consider Bayern Munich midfielder Mark Van Bommel, who disagree with a call by referee Lutz Wagner. Rather than simply shout at the referee, Van Bommel tried to sneak in an "Up yours" while Wagner was walking away. Unfortunately for Van Bommel, Wagner must have known he was up to something and turned around just in time to catch him.

The scene, which must play out in schools across the country, was the funniest moment of the weekend, and has to be seen to be appreciated.

The best is Van Bommel running off the field clearly upset at being caught doing something so dumb. Who knew the Dutch midfielder was only 12 years old?

In short, don't mess with referees.

I'm with you Ives.

Read more!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

A soccer video well worth watching

Perhaps getting knocked around by by a 10-foot-tall Brazilian at the Pan-Pacifics (just how big a guy is Bare anyway?) has me just a little bit whack right about now, but it got me to thinking that this, along with Soccer Made in Germany, was my very first exposure to the game (which probably explains a lot).

But after seeing it again, I wonder how well this guy would do against such heavyweight competition:

Read more!

A very simple final thought on the Pan Pacific Championship

After watching that whole final, I only have one thing to say:

How much would it cost to get that Bare guy on our team? If you can't beat 'im, buy 'im. It's the American way.

Oh wait, one other thing to say:

After watching Bobby Boswell get burned on all four of Bare's goals, I hope that Boz takes those lead shoes he was wearing and hurls them into the nearest volcano before leaving the islands tomorrow. Of course, he might have been able to move just a little faster if he wasn't so damn captivated with ball-watching, but seeing as how this is preseason and all, I'm willing to let him blame it on the shoes. In two years, I've yet to see the Texian Army or El Batallon turn on one of our own, but if Boswell plays like that during the regular season, he's going to get an earful in at least two languages whenever Dynamo is defending the north side.

So remember Bobby: Shoes. In the volcano. Now. Read more!

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Just what is the USL's future anyway, not to mention soccer in the US?

In the wake of the Austin Aztex' announcement that Everton Hall of Famer Adrian Heath (see the Soccernet story here) is going to be the team's new head coach, I got to wondering about the future of the United Soccer Leagues and it's ultimate relationship to MLS. The future I see is a bright one, not just for the USL, but also, ultimately for MLS and teams, or at least those who choose to exploit it, around the world.

In the Soccernet story Heath is quoted thusly:

"I am overjoyed at the opportunity to Coach the Austin Aztex. I have had several offers recently to coach in the English League but the chance to build something from scratch with Phil was just too tempting to turndown. I have followed U.S. Soccer closely over the past few years and believe the game here is about to take-off and I want to be a part of that."

Like Heath, I too believe that soccer in the US is about to take off (indeed, I think, to continue the NASA parlance, the spaceship has cleared the tower already). I also believe that MLS, despite its completely wrongheaded labor policies, will take its place among the top four major sports loops in North America (Some may say five, but in all honesty, I don't see the declined NHL reversing its fortunes anytime soon, if ever.) However, I have to wonder, if Heath truly believes or completely understands how the USL will be a major part of this developing situation and, if so, what role the league, and its various levels, will have.

It's easy to understand Heath's enthusiasm, and it's also easy to understand his possible misperception of the American situation. Without promotion/relegation (for Playtherapy's excellent posts on this "forbidden" subject, visit here and here.), the question of USL's eventual role is particularly apt. In Heath's world, of course, circuits exist in a ladder to be ascended and descended in a merit basis annually. Here, though, this is not true, and in all likelihood, for better or worse, never will it be.

The Austin Aztex present a particularly interesting case, and for the purposes of this discussion, a fabulous lab in which to pursue this issue. The team, which will field a U-23 side only this season in the USL's Premier Development League (along with the Houston Leones, of course) doesn't begin full play until 2009, but is owned by Phil Rawlins, who is also an owner and director of Stoke City FC an English League Championship side. The Potters are in terrific position in their promotion campaign to the Premiership for 2008-09, which will definitely affect the Aztex and present a situation unique (to my knowledge) in American soccer.

Check out this note from the Stoke City Web site on their arrangement:

The Austin Aztex will have an official affiliation with Stoke City which will begin immediately. The affiliation will include the English club holding their summer training camp in Austin, scouting for talent both locally and across the US, exchanging players with the Aztex and sharing best practices between the two clubs.

This situation brings up a series of questions. The fact of the matter is that USL will remain, for reasons too numerous to detail, a minor soccer league in the United States. MLS is, and will be, the top flight. And yet, the USL's Aztex will be the only US side to have a direct pipeline to the English Premiership, the so-called best league in the world.

(Similarly, USL-2 side Crystal Palace Baltimore has relationship with League Championship side Crystal Palace FC, not currently in position to go to the Premiership, but the situation bears noting in this discussion.)

What then is the USL? Minor leagues are by their nature developmental leagues, filled with players looking for the opportunities to develop their skills at the next level up, or those playing out their careers because they can't quite hang it all up just yet. USL definitely fits this bill, but for whom is the talent being developed?

Should an MLS team establish a similar relationship with a USL club? The league has talked about expanding into, among other cities, San Antonio. It does not tax the imagination unduly to posit a situation where a proposed San Antonio USL club (the Alamo?) has a relationship to, say, the Houston Dynamo exactly the same as Austin/Stoke City. The benefits of a "Dynamo/Alamo" alliance would be enormous, of course, but what about USL? In American baseball, Branch Rickey established the first true farm system as general manager of the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1930s Quick local history: The Houston Buffs were the last stop before the bigs. Pepper Martin, Dizzy Dean and Country Slaughter, among others, were all Buffs before joining the Redbirds. (Interestingly, the Buff Stadium site is now occupied by a Finger Furniture Store, directly across I-45 from the University of Houston and Robertson Stadium, Dynamo's current home.) The Austin/Stoke City relationship seems to be similar. Players will play at Austin until needed by Stoke City, or at least, until needed by Stoke City's reserve squad. But does this fit in with USL's vision? What is the USL's vision?

Whatever that vision, it is easy, and not just a little bit exciting, to see a future where the MLS' budding reserve sides, and reserve circuit, are rendered obsolete by a relationship with USL squads that turns the lower division's leagues into an MLS feeder or farm circuit. An MLS team could place reserves on their USL squad, where they could play full, somewhat meaningful seasons. The senior clubs could then call up whomever was needed whenever they're needed, send down whomever needs to go down, etc. The mechanics of this are well-established in Major League Baseball by now, so there would be no need to reinvent the wheel here. What is needed is a vision of player development at multiple professional levels that fits American geographic realities and business models, in essence, a professional farm system.

The reality is that promotion/relegation of teams is not going to happen in the United States, not now, not ever. But promotion/relegation of individual players, now there's a reality we can all get behind, regardless of our feelings on the other issue. What's more, if the Aztex/Stoke City and CP/Baltimore situations are copied, then it will put MLS into business competition with the best sides in the world, while never once straying from US shores. And furthermore, and perhaps more importantly, MLS' developmental players will be in competition on the field with up-and-comers from and heading to overseas teams. It is easy to see ho this situation is a winner for MLS, USL and the American soccer player.

So a USL future as farm system to the world? Now that would be a storyline worth following for decades to come. Read more!

Friday, February 22, 2008

Waibel, Statham. Separated at birth?

Take a look at it yourself and tell me if I'm not making this all up.

All-around Mr. Tough Guy with a heart of gold (and four MLS championships) Craig Waibel and Brit movie tough guy Jason Statham, currently starring in The Bank Job.

Every time I see that guy (generally on late night TV when I have better things to do, like go to bed) I think, "Holy God. It's Waibelinho! No, wait. Yes. No....." Anyone else have the same reaction?

Read more!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Pan Pacific-it's only preseason, it's only preseason.

I was able to watch most of the Galaxy/Gamba Osaka match and the first 45 of the Dynamo/Sydney FC contest. I must remember to temper my reactions with the mantra, it's only preseason, it's only preseason, and early preseason at that, but...damn!

Clearly the soccer gods have audited David Beckham's karma balance sheet and have concluded that some readjusting is in order. The man is in some sort of shiny soccer purgatory and it is painful to watch. He is paying for something and the gods must have their play. The match last night was awash in moments of pure malice from the fates.

One of the better of these illustrative moments came in the first half when Beckham's well-placed cross found the chest of a dumbstruck Kelly Gray and the ball thumped innocently to the ground, a threatening moment turned into painful comedy.

It's not that I want the galaxy to win, on the contrary but I would prefer them to lose courageously. I can only imagine what is going through Beckham's mind as all these earnest simple plodders huff and puff about him. What must Ruud Gullit be thinking?!

The artifical field simply played the galaxy; there were moments where I expected the team to pick up the ball and forfeit. As I sympathetically watched I made a mental note to adjust my expectations for the second game. How can I put this gently, the field played the galaxy but somehow the dynamo played the field.

The class difference between the PPC MLS teams was evident simply in this regard alone. I think Gamba Osaka will bring more to the field than Sydney FC, for a variety of reasons, but the field was the field and this speaks volumes of the galaxy's skill set.

Here comes the mantra, it's only the preseason, it's only the preseason and it's wise to remember how the Dynamo looked sharp and electric in the 2007 preseason Concacaf Champions Cup and then was anything but in the opening months last season.

Putting aside all this useless commentary, it was fantastic to be once again watching the dynamo run around. Oh how I missed that raver's hunter's orange burning itself into my eyes. Viva Naranja!
Read more!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Go get your earplugs and heart meds

Saw this over on Steve Goff's wonderful Soccer Insider blog. I know it's several days old now, but still, this reaction is beyond great, from Barnsley's 2-1 win at Anfield last weekend.

And for those of you who are Liverpool fans, fear not, here you go (Playtherapy, this is for the K boy.):

Read more!

So, just who are the Boys in Blue anyway? A Q&A

Earlier this week, through the wondrous miracle of the Internets, at which all footy fans genuflect in gratitudinous awe, I held a back and forth question and answer session with Aussi blogger extraordinaire The Football Tragic's Mike Salter. Salter blogs regularly on all things A-League, but most specifically on Sydeny FC, Dynamo's opponent in the first round of the Pan Pacific Championship. (The two play at 12:30 a.m. Houston time tonight.) Salter sent me five questions about Dynamo, an I sent him my five to learn more about Sydney. (To read my take on Dynamo, check out his excellent site here.) And what follows below, in an effort to promote cross-cultural understanding and blah, blah, blah, are Mike's answers to mine.

1. Who is Sydney FC? How would you characterize the team and its style
of play?

Sydney FC is currently the only side in the A-League (our new national league) that represents Australia's largest city; we've been in existence since early 2005.

The team is a bit of a mix of old and young, with not much in between. Players like Steve Corica and Ufuk Talay were around in Australia's then domestic league in the mid-nineties, and have returned after various wanderings overseas; then there are the likes of Alex Brosque and Mark Milligan, who have been touted as future stars of the national team. The playing roster is made up mainly of Australians; currently our foreign players are Juninho (ex-Middlesbrough), who won't be making the trip to Hawaii, another Brazilian called Patrick da Silva, who has not had much first-team action this season, and a Northern Irish midfielder called Terry McFlynn, who has been a mainstay of the team.

Although we've had four different managers in our first three years, the team's style has only changed superficially in that time. We play without a great deal of width, often resort to long balls when closed down by quicker opposition, and rely quite largely on Steve Corica (and more recently Juninho) for creativity in midfield. On the upside, we're very tenacious, physically strong across the park and tend to fight our corner until the final whistle.

2. Sydney just lost a hard-fought game against Queensland earlier this
month in the A-League playoffs at the end of what seems to have been a
turbulent year, rife with coaching changes and personnel moves. How
hard is it going to be for the team to get up for this tournament? Are
they taking it seriously?

It's an interesting question. I have a feeling that some of the players will be treating it as a holiday, but having said that, there are a few whose contracts (I believe) are up for renewal or renegotiation soon, and they won't want to slack off too much.

3. Speak to some roster issues. Specifically: Who are Sydney FC's key
players for this tournament? Which players who starred for the team
during the season will not be making this trip? How hard will it be for
the team to cover for those absences, if any? Who do you expect to do
well in Hawaii?

Our key players are midfielder Steve Corica, Alex Brosque up front, and Mark Milligan and Tony Popovic at the back. Corica is a class player, good on the ball and an excellent passer, but he is getting on a bit. Brosque has scored plenty of goals this season, often while playing in a lone striker role which doesn't suit him, but he's been out of form of late (as I'm sure you noticed in the tie against Queensland!). Mark Milligan, who performed very well for the Socceroos at last year's Asian Cup, has also had a nosedive in form recently; Tony Popovic is a Socceroo veteran who had a shaky start to the season but has stepped up in recent weeks.

Juninho will be absent for the Hawaii tournament, but we have coped without him at other times this season, so we'll have to do so again!

4. Speak to the A-League as a whole. How would you rate the league on
the world stage? MLS, for example, has grown every year and is finally
establishing itself, but is seemingly forever in danger of becoming
mainly an under-23 and over-32 league. Does the A-League have problems
like this as well?

Yeah, we're in a very similar situation. There are youngsters just breaking through (Nathan Burns, Robbie Kruse, Nikita Rukavystya) and returning ex-Socceroo veterans (Tony Vidmar, Craig Moore, Tony Popovic), but most of the better Australian 24-30-year-olds are in Europe. The crowds have been encouraging, though, and the standard of football is not as bad as it's sometimes portrayed by our more snobbish local media.

It's hard to compare the league to others in terms of standard without some direct competition; we beat LA Galaxy in a friendly game last year, but the Galaxy were hardly going at full throttle. In the Asian Champions League, our teams (so far) have looked more or less on a par with comparable teams in China, Japan and Korea, which is also encouraging.

5. What do you hope Sydney FC gets out of this tournament, that is apart
from two wins and a trophy? Would a win here carry any momentum for the
club in its offseason?

A chance to build our brand (and that of the A-League), a decent hitout, and a few good tans. Our pre-season doesn't start until July, so in that respect it's sadly not all that relevant.
Read more!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Movement on building Dynamo Park (WITH PICTURES!)

The Chronicle's story about the city of Houston starting their purchase of five blocks just east of downtown (not really "five downtown blocks" is it since it's east of US-59?) is really, really good news for anyone who's interested in getting this stadium built. Simply put, without the city owning that land, there's no way the stadium deal gets done in such a great location, so deal with Dynamo in place or not, this is an incredibly positive development.

(The pictures I have run up here before, but it bears running them again. They are of the site in question, six blocks (the city plans to barter for the sixth) bordered by Texas and Walker streets on the north and south, and Hutchins and Dowling streets, just east of U.S. 59.)

But of course, that's not going to stop the Chron's Bernardo Fallas in his blog from trying to get a complaint fest going. In it, he faults AEG for not responding quicker to the news, again blames the company for the slow pace of this stadium deal because they're trying to sell the team and generally makes sure to put the negative spin on things. What is it with that guy? This is not the first time he's done this, so I think a little perspective is once again in order:

1. City buying land on the edge of downtown with the express purpose of turning it eventually into Dynamo Park? Good. Fallas does correctly point out that the city beginning the process of purchasing the land before the stadium deal is done is a sign of Mayor White's commitment. True, and more needs to be made of this. Both Carolyn Feibel's story and Bernardo's blog should play up this angle more. Instead, the story has a headline that talks about a delay, when in fact there is no such thing. The "delay" in the headline refers to the fact that Council will consider the land purchase Wednesday, but probably not have a vote until next week. This is not a delay in any way. This is the way City Council works. Calling it a "delay" is disingenuous at worst and just plain wrong at best.

2. AEG trying to sell the team? Good. What do you want them to do, keep it while focusing all of the attention on that other team they own, the one with Beckham's husband on it? I am all for them selling the team and there's no time like the present.

3. Slow pace of the deal while both are going on at the same time? Welcome to the real world Bernardo. He may think that business deals get done overnight, but in truth, when you're talking about this much money at stake, the pace is glacially slow to say the least. This deal has gone from Nowheresville to the city announcing its intent to spend $15.5 million almost overnight by City of Houston standards. This town never moves faster than this. Never. We knew this was going to happen when AEG brought the team here. There is nothing new here and i both happening at the same time makes the pace go slower, then that's what it does.

4. Major stadium construction negotiations so far without any public acrimony? Unbelievably, almost scarily, good. Bernardo was not here in this city when the negotiations about building the Astros' playpen were going on in the 1990s. That had to go to a referendum, and it passed by this much, though it eventually resulted in Minute Maid Park, Reliant Stadium and the Toyota Center in a series of deals that are nowhere near as beneficial for the city coffers as the Dynamo Park deal figures to be. These negotiations, by contrast, are going slowly (as did the Astros' thing, as we should all remember) but with everyone on the same page and all disagreements, what ones there are, in private. That is, except for what Bernardo is trying to get going on his blog.

I know much has been written about this in the last 24 hours, but I just wanted to add my $.02 as well. There is absolutely nothing, and I mean, nothing in all senses of the word, not to be optimistic about here. Of course, there is still no deal here either, as we would all like for there to be. But patience is more than a virtue here. It is a necessity. My favorite comment so far came from "Chris" on Fallas' blog:

Bernardo, I can't decide which is driving me more crazy. Waiting for the Dynamo to get some help up top to relieve Wondo and Ching or waiting for the Houston City Council and Mayor White to get the Stadium deal done and started. I have friends who sarcastically claim soccer is prt of a conspiracy to make Americans learn patience and delayed gratification since scoring is less frequent than any other sport, but these types of patience testers are getting to me.

Indeed. But if I had to predict, I would say that both the sale and the stadium deal will be done before the end of 2008. I will even go out on a limb and predict by Labor Day both will be finished. If I'm wrong, I'll write a pro FC Dallas post, and for those of you who know me, you know how hard that will be!! Read more!

Monday, February 18, 2008

At least Dynamo's checks don't bounce

Wow! No wonder Tony Caig was so eager to come back to the States. Above and beyond playing for MLS' premier side, Dynamo's new reserve keeper got to escape the financial maelstrom that is soon-to-be-relegated Gretna.

According to this piece on the Setanta site, Irons players will not be paid this month after owner Brooks Mileson got admitted to hospital, meaning he can't authorize the payments. So not only is the club completely moribund in the Scottish Premier League, the players, who apparently are expected to show up now just for the sheer joy of it, can't even look forward to their paychecks.

Nothing's going right for those guys. According to the Setanta piece, the "Borders side are currently nine points adrift of Kilmarnock in eleventh place and were unfortunate not to narrow the gap at the weekend. Only a controversial refereeing decision denied them a late penalty before Motherwell made it 3-1."

Maybe shirt sponsor Subway will kick in for some timely traveling meals. An Italian BMT for a win, Turkey Sub for a draw and Garden Special with milk for a loss. Play for it boys! Play for it! Read more!

Jaqua scores in Europe!! Let's hype Nate and give Jozy a rest.

This is what some of our former forwards have been up to lately and all I can say is...well done and good luck.

It seems Ngwenya hasn't seen any time yet and his team is still flirting with relegation.

I never before noticed the dalglish/australian shepherd separated at birth resemblance.

Check out the latest stadium news out of Houston....incontrovertible evidence of positive ambiguity. Read more!

UST to show soccer documentary Tuesday

For those of you in the Houston area with some time on your hands Tuesday afternoon, Mister3d found out about this great opportunity for you. The University of St. Thomas will be hosting a presentation of the documentary The History of Soccer: The Beautiful Game from 12:30-2 p.m. at the campus' Tiller Hall. The event is free and open to the public and looks like a great chance to indulge your soccer jones prior to the Pan-Pacific Championship's opening round Wednesday/Thursday.

If you don't want to follow the link, here's the quick rundown:

Center for International Studies Film and Documentary Series: History of Soccer, The Beautiful Game
Tuesday, February 19, 2008 12:30 PM to 2:00 PM
History of Soccer The Center for International Studies and the International Studies Society present the Spring 2008 Film and Documentary Series.

"The History of Soccer: The Beautiful Game" will be shown at 12:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 19 in Tiller Hall, Room 116. Some people believe soccer is a matter of life or death. Some believe it’s more important than that. For those in the latter camp, this documentary is a definitive celebration of the sport. What Ken Burns’ Baseball is to America’s national pastime, this historic collection is to “football.” Packed with such never-before-seen footage as the first images of soccer captured on film (in 1897), every single goal from every World Cup Final game as well as interviews with legends Pelé, Maradona and Zinedine Zidane.

The purpose of this media series is to share with UST students relevant and reliable information through the broadcasting of films and documentaries on a variety of topics from politics and economics to culture and the environment. Whether American or Foreign made, acknowledged by experts or unknown by the public, these films and documentaries will be selected by an advisory board integrated by CIS students and faculty based on the international relevance of the topic and the relative neutrality and objectivity of the actual product.
Cost Free and open to the public
Location Tiller Hall, Room 116
Address 4004 Yoakum
Contact Diana Garcia, 713-525-3530
Sponsored By Center for International Studies

Read more!

Hula action aplenty for Dynamo

The Dynamo arrived in Hawaii over the weekend in preparation for the Pan-Pacific Championship this week. The Dynamo Web site has an update on what they've done, especially how Brian Ching is doing his best Lord of the Manor bit.

Canoeing the length of the island, soccer ball in hand? My reaction: Awesome dude, but if you pull a muscle doing that, I'll never forgive you! (For a piece on how big a local celeb Chingy is over in the islands, check out The Offside Rules' take on it here.)

Bernardo Fallas is passing on what he calls a controlled leak on his Soccer y Futbol blog about Dynamo having an agreement in principle on signing some unknown South American striker. My personal hope is for Brazilian forward Reinaldo from the A-League's Queensland Roar. For those of you who did not see his amazing goal against Sydney FC a couple of weeks ago, I've posted it again below. Dude is flat out something else.

Read more!

Friday, February 15, 2008

How good is the Mexican League? Muy Fantastico!

Continuing the theme of Mister3D's excellent post from below, check out this video of the best goals from FMF's Apertura 07. MLS is awesome and is easily among the top regional leagues now, but this fascination with Europe is depriving American fans of some truily amazing futbol over on Univision and Telemundo, as well as GolTV. A feast for the eyes:

Read more!

MLS turning on and tuning in

Dave Lifton over at the US Soccer Players Association has an absolutely fantastic Q&A with MLS and Soccer United Marketing executive producer Michael Cohen. (See the full story here.) Thanks to for the tip.

This story is a great rundown on everything from why Brand Beckham (and the other guys on the field, remember them, the Beckettes) will be getting so many nationally televised games to the mechanics of camera angles, as well as formerly radical US TV coverage ideas that are now being emulated around the world.

Here are a few of my favorite highlights:

USSoccerPlayers: You were talking about working with people who are experienced in producing soccer. How do you balance the expectations of the casual American fan, who is used to a specific way of watching sports on television, with those of an American soccer fan?

There’s a natural maturation of what’s happened in our broadcasts. Over the last 12 years, we’ve all realized that maybe we shouldn’t spend our energy on trying to rein in the ‘casual fan’ on our MLS broadcasts. The telecasts are going to be designed not to shut out the average sports fan, but a little more to the point where we are going to go towards the soccer fan.

Bully for you (and us) Mikey Mike.

It's the same thing with producers, directors and play-by-play guys. We’d have people who weren’t doing hockey or volleyball that night, so they’d do soccer. Now we have people who are dedicated to soccer, and understand the intricacies of the game. You don’t have to have as many seminars and discuss what offside is.

In 1996, our director Doug Wren, who is one of the top directors in sports, had this vision of bringing more cameras down to field level so that when the ball went out of bounds, we could shoot the faces and the jerseys to build this brand, and try to turn these guys into stars.

We got a little bit of grief for that. There were people involved with the league who were fans of the international game that said, ‘That's not how it's done. And that low camera is blocking 15 seats.’ We were in 60,000-seat stadiums in most cases, and we didn't care that we were blocking 15 seats because we weren't filling them anyway. But if you watch the 1998 World Cup in France, there were more low cameras on the field than there ever were before. So we weren't going to be afraid to be aggressive, and in some cases, that was maybe copied.


The other example started in 1999, when the first soccer-specific stadium opened in Columbus. The Hunt Group gave us a blank piece of paper and asked us where we wanted to put cameras. We didn't want to be at 60-65 feet, which is FIFA's standard play-by-play camera coverage. We wanted to get the game down to 40-50 feet. We are starting to do that in every stadium we build now.

Again, the purists came after us, saying that’s not how it’s done in Europe. But now, Chelsea is putting the new main play-by-play camera position at Stamford Bridge at just over 20 feet. Allianz Arena in Germany just sent me a DVD comparing their camera positions at the 2006 World Cup, which was close to 70 feet, to what they're using for Bayern Munich, which is 35-40 feet. It just makes sense to make the game more intimate. The days of seeing 22 dots on the screen are done. You can’t do that if you’re trying to market a sport.

And finally:

It seems every year, there’s a little something new on the telecasts, like the yellow offside line. Is there anything new in store for 2008?

Cohen: In Fox’s pre-game shows, which we’re thrilled with, there will be an increase of locker room shots and pre-game interviews. The studio show they did was a tremendous asset to the league. It gave fans the ability to go inside the game. Building on that success is something Fox is able to do.

With ESPN, we’re happy with the selection of JP Dellacamera and John Harkes because they’re giving the game back to the fan. This year, they’re going to add super slo-mo cameras, which helps enhance the game coverage. When you see foot movement, ball movement, and great saves in super slo-mo, it’s probably the single biggest enhancement that we should be focused on throughout our broadcast. Over 12 years, you play with overhead cameras and animations, and ultimately it comes down to how you best cover the game. And we’re all in agreement that the more super slo-mo cameras you have, the better.

ESPN is also going to introduce a player tracking system by a company called Sportsvision to do a virtual 180-degree re-creation of the play. This was the ‘synthetic video’ that you saw at the US-Mexico game. It’s a good tool because it doesn’t cut away from the game action. But for analysis purposes at halftime or post-game, you’ll see the play in a cool way.

It goes back to the fact that we’re not trying to break away from the game, ever. We’re just trying to improve how the game is covered.

Read more!

Ridiculously good soccer! Why aren't we watching?

In the handful of years before the Dynamo arrived in Houston, there was a soccer quickening priming my life in a variety of ways such that when I found myself somehow looking from the outside in as my town became MLS vested I embraced club soccer and MLS with an unaccustomed and unexpected passion. Here I was in a cold exile from my humid lands and club soccer, subconsciously infused with incipient jungle bayou swamp longing, infected me like dengue fever. My soccer consciousness in the BD era, before dynamo, consisted of a relaxed and easy fandom for the USMNT which was really only exercised during the big world or regional cup tournaments. 2006 changed all that.

MLS has made me a better USMNT fan and as I was miraculously and gratefully able to move back to Houston thus enabling a true immersion in soccer, (nothing beats club soccer, nothing!) I can now say that I love I gay?

Living as I do in Texico, mexican soccer has always existed in my life; viewed more as something peripheral and anthropological than as something vital and personal. Mexican soccer was quickly passed over for the wacky magic of Sabado Gigante or the brute salaciousness of some other univision/telefutura show but in no small way the liga mexicana, especially the much hyped and loved el super clasico, served as my first recognition, pale flickering and moth-like as it was, of the passion and power of club soccer.

Now that soccer and more significantly club soccer, viva naranja!, has claimed my soul, I now fully undestand and appreciate the gravity of mexican soccer and I have to ask........Why the hell aren't more american soccer fans watching?

The league is accessible without cable or an expensive premium sports package, it's on our continent, and it's a world class league that happens to employ a postseason playoff system as MLS does.

Remember watching with pleasure on Feb. 6th as Clint Dempsey occasionally maneuvered himself out of tight situations with flair and skill? Remember? Hell! I watched a match on the 13th pitting, if there was an overall table, the fourth team in Toluca versus the number 14 team in Cruz Azul that had gorgeous creativity and skillful flair employed all over the all players... all match long.

i can recall at least ten amazing moves and passes that would make Dempsey eat his liver in the first 45 alone. These two teams never stopped attacking each other and the movement and runs off the ball were brilliant. The gameplay flowed from player to player, team against team for a full 90 minutes.

Remember that break Bobby Convey had in the first half of the mexico/us game? Yeah, the one where he had space in front of him and he needed to make a run into the middle but inexplicably he tried to take the ball to the wing because his brain was screaming at him, "must put in a cross! Put in a cross!" The moment was lost as was possession. We need to send some guys to mexico so they can learn the flowing creative balling type of soccer I watched on wednesday night.

Soccer is simply one huge game of playground basketball and success lies in the players' movements off the ball, setting up each other with runs in and out of space. How many times did you scream at the USMNT during the mexico game, "Somebody make a run! Make a run." (playtherapy's in game jozy observations) As I watched the Toluca and Cruz Azul players buzzing around the field linking up with one another diagonally, vertically, horizontally and every which way--it was beautiful.

There's a stupid rumor that Benny Feilhaber may end up in orange, for the sake of the USMNT let's hope it's the orange of the jaguares de chiapas.

So all you anglophiles and sycophantic euro soccer lovers go ahead and watch fox soccer channel on 2/23 as fulham v. west ham or derby v. wigan desperately grind about the field spraying prayerful long balls hoping for a miracle goal. I'll be watching monterrey v. atlas or guadalajara v. san luis and hopefully some nutmegged readers will join me and we can get some answers to the question of why aren't we watching.
Read more!

The Crazy Talk Express just crashed into a wall

Geez Louise, you walk away from BlogWorld for one day and the next thing you know you start seeing reports on Dynamo adding yet another talented, underplaying midfielder (who we'll leave anonymous here so as not to fan the flames, but who'll we'll call Shmenny Shmeilhaber) because you know, why do you need keepers, backs and forwards in the modern game when 11 midfielders will do just fine! What's more, so sayeth some reports, Dynamo will be using their DP money on the guy.

So everyone's favorite Costa Rican and soon-to-be US citizen, the Chronicle's own Bernardo Fallas, rides to the rescue on his Soccer y Fútbol blog with the following clarifications and information: No Shmenny, no DP, yes to a forward (possibly next week, possibly Central American, possibly South American, but, knowing Dom Kinnear and John Spencer, only if the guy holds a Scottish passport that is), $100K from San Jose in the Ramiro Corrales deal and Dwayne De Rosario reams the Canadian National Team a new one. Great, great stuff.

One thing I missed yesterday is the game report of Dynamo's 1-0 preseason win over the San Jose Earthquakes 3.0. In one of my favorite game reports ever, Chris and Steve Wondoloski's dad gives a rundown of the game here. (The Mercury News' story is here, while the Chron's two-fer game story/Ramiro Corrales piece is here.) Apparently, despite the 1-0 score, it was a near-total smackdown. The posted a nice photo gallery of the game at its Web site. Hey, do the EQuakes even have 11 players yet? According to Papa Wondo, Dynamo will play Cal-Berkeley today before they go against the Quakes again tomorrow in Frisco, er, San Francisco.

On DDR's rant against the CSA (here) our favorite Maple Leaf could not be more spot on. Anyone who saw that team during the Gold Cup last year knew immediately how close they were to competing at the US/Mexico level. And I'm sure there are STILL some Canadian fans holding a grudge about the call that led in large part to their losing to our Rattlers. Canada needs only strong leadership to be a regional player, and possibly, power, and when arguably Canada's best player in national history calls you out, you had better listen. Oh Canada, Oh Brother.

And apart from calling out his national team, this is easily my favorite DDR quote from the week so far. If that guy starts leading with his words AND his play, this season is going to be a lot of fun:

You definitely won't see me as a striker. I don't want to get anyone comfortable with me at that position and I don't want to get comfortable at that position. My job is in the midfield, and the only time I'll move from there is when someone earns the respect and beats me out of the position. At the end of the day, I'll do what I can to help the team. If Dom wants me to play forward for five or 10 minutes I will consider it, but as of right now my duty is in the midfield and we have forwards that can play. We have Chris Wondolowski, we have Brian Ching and new guys we picked up and it will be a good time for them to express themselves and showcase their talent and their ability on the field.
Read more!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Holy Leones! USL PDL roaring into town

Somewhere along the line, I lost track of the fact that the Houston Leones, a member of the USL's Premier Development League, will take the field for the first time ever in 2008. They'll play just 32 miles southwest of downtown in Richmond, which, as part of southern Fort Bend County, is one of the fastest growing areas not only of Houston, but also of the entire nation.

So who, are the Leones? According to the team's Wikipedia page, the team was formed last year by local real estate and construction bigwig Juan Carlos Hernandez, whose son Juan Carlos Jr., was a goalkeeper in the Cruz Azul youth development teams. The USL's page on the team has some wonderful up by the bootstraps background info on Hernandez, which is all very nice.

The team, who apparently is affiliated with Cruz Azul, will play at the The Soccer World Center, a 17-acre soccer-specific facility with three fields (including a 4,500-seat stadium field that is expandable to 8,000-10,000) that was built by Hernandez. The team's home opener, however, is unfortunately scheduled. They will open against the New Orleans Shell Shockers at 7 p.m. Saturday, May 3. However, that same night at Robertson Stadium, Dynamo will host Chivas USA, only the Orangemen's second home game of the season, though 6th MLS game overall. My guess is that the Leones will find out right away what the words "WoTF put together THIS schedule?!?" means. The only other direct scheduling conflict right now (Dynamo's SuperLiga sked for July has not yet been released of course) is May 31 (Dynamo host Red Bulls).

Still, the rest of the schedule might be OK. Here's a quick look:

May 3 7 p.m. NO Shell Shockers at Soccer World
May 10 10 p.m. at Austin Aztex (who are playing a PDL sked before their full USL-1 team takes over in 2009)
May 16 9:30 at El Paso Patriots
May 17 9:30 at El Paso Patriots (so says the sked. Can this be right?)
May 24 7 p.m. Mississippi Brilla at Soccer World
May 31 7 p.m. El Paso at Soccer World
June 1 7 p.m. DFW Tornadoes at Soccer World (ANOTHER back-to-back!)
June 6 8 p.m. at Baton Rouge Capitals
June 7 8:30 p.m. at New Orleans
June 14 7 p.m. Austin at Soccer World
June 28 7 p.m. Laredo Heat (defending PDL champs) at Soccer World
July 4 7 p.m. Baton Rouge at Soccer World
July 5 7 p.m. Mississippi at Soccer World
July 12 9:15 at Laredo
July 17 8:30 at DFW
July 19 6 p.m. at Mississippi

Personally, I think this is pretty cool to see the development of the next generation. And if these guys can get games against the Dynamo Academy players, so much the better for everyone around here. The Leones are, unfortunately located waaaaay out int he suburbs, but if the team can be successful at developing all the unrecognized soccer talent around here (and believe me, there is a lot of that), then more power to them. Read more!