Monday, May 30, 2005
A little disappointed
Preston North End, home to American midfielder Eddie Lewis, lost today in the final of the Division 1 playoff in England for the opportunity to play in the Premiership next season.

I'm disappointed for two reasons. One, Preston North End is one of two English teams I've seen play live in England (the other being Millwall and the third being Liverpool which I saw on their tour of the US last summer) and, secondly and most importantly, Eddie Lewis played for them.

I always root for the Americans to make it good and although I like West Ham (they're the focus of the new movie Hooligans starring Frodo) I was seriously rooting for Eddie to make it back to the big time after being unceremoniously dumped by Fulham after he helped them up.

Ah, well. Maybe next year.
Sunday, May 29, 2005
Thoughts from a football-packed Saturday
Thoughts in a bulleted format:


  • England 2 - US 1: The England 2nd team beat the U.S. 1.5-team 2-1. The first half was poor from US efforts as Man Utd cum West Brom. midfielder Kieran Richardson tried to acquire himself a richer contract with two goals. Alan Smith (not to be confused with the guy who found the theory of economics) is still a punk and I still don't like him. Though I was surprised to find out he was only 24.

    It was good of Il Bruce to give Dempsey the start as I think he and Bones are the future of American soccer. Donovan works best as a true 10 so I'm not sure what the deal is going to be with two attacking mids demanding playing time. Does this push Reyna out the door? Does he see the writing on the wall and is that why he chose to stay with Man City and train for next year?

    Hrm.

    Also, Eddie Pope was brutal yesterday. Not sure if he lost his spot permanently yesterday but Boca was much better when he came in.

    All in all, a meaningless result but would have been nice to beat the England B squad if only for international recognition. We're still not there yet.

  • If you haven't seen Carlos Ruiz's bicycle-kick goal against D.C., click on the link and see it now. Quite possibly the greatest goal scored in MLS history. Even better than Balboa's. And, once you've watched it, go vote for it as Goal of teh Week at MLSnet.com.

  • My boys at RSL screwed the pooch something hard on Saturday. Still drawing great crowds and I hope they don't disappear after a 3-0 shellacking from the boys from Chicago.

  • Is there a stranger group than the Fire this year? 5-4-1 which means only one draw. And at 16 points only five behind the unbeaten Revs in the East.

  • Well, that stranger group might be the Swamp Things. Any other week and Djorkaeff's strike is goal of the week but it's nice to see him get on the board. Even at 37 I think he's the best player in the league and it's handy that he and Abbe Ibrahim (the next breakout star in MLS) both speak French. It's handy to have an 18-year-old be able to learn from a master like Djorkaeff in a native language. It will only help him progress.

  • At the beginning of the season, I thought the Metros and teh Goats were going to be the worst teams in the league. Well, I was right on one account. The good part about that is that Colorado sucks so much that if RSL can play decently while their internationals are gone this summer (and that's saying a lot because the Monarchs can't score or defend well) then RSL is almost guaranteed that fourth playoff spot.

  • What's up with MLS attendance? For the most part, attendance has been steady no matter the records of the teams ... now this year it appears fans are staying away when the team sucks (Columbus) and showing up a bit more when the team is good (see recent attendance marks for teh Revs ... though not as many as should be there). This would be an important corner MLS will turn when fans care about the on-field results instead of seeing it as a nice night with the family. It moves from "good summer evening activity with the family" to "sport we're really following" and I think that's really important for MLS, especially in year 10.

  • The Rapids are the Clippers of MLS. I don't think they'll ever be good.

  • Let it be known that I made it out to a bar to watch the England-US game, got a little drunk and didn't text message the entire known world. I consider this an excellent achievement.

Friday, May 27, 2005
It's like 50 mini-NFLs!
Ok, so imagine for a moment that there was an NFL-quality league in each of the 50 US states. Fifty separate leagues that each had 20 - 30 teams (or more) and that each year the winners of each of those leagues got together (with possibly the second, third and fourth place finishers from those leagues depending on how strong the quality of play in the league is) to play a competition to see who really is the best.

Think now that each of these approximately 1,000 teams each had die-hard supporters that desperately want to be in this, well, let's call it a Champions League. Let's also say that TV loved the league since so many people watched and paid the teams who were in this league large sums of money the better the teams did in the competition. However, just making the league meant at least a sizable paycheck and happiness from your supporters.

Now imagine the Greensboro Football Team won the whole thing. Bedlam erupts. They're rioting on Market Street and Tate Street is decorated in green and gold (the official colors of this made up team -- honestly, I never got over the baseball team changing the name from the Hornets). The Mayor proclaims it a momentous day in all the land and no one goes to work. The entire city lines Friendly from Guilford College to Centre City Park and the team has a parade. Life is good.

However, only four teams from the North Carolina league get to play in the Champions League the following year. Since there were lots of injuries during the season, the coach couldn't quite lead the team to automatic qualification and the team finishes fifth in the league while bitter rival Lexington finishes fourth, it's highest ever finish and the Lexington Loogies earn automatic qualification.

Would you let Greensboro play in next year's Champions League?

Because that's exactly what's happening to Liverpool in Europe right now. The Merseysiders finished fifth in the very difficult English Barclays English Premier League but won the Champions League title in stunning fashion. Now there's a huge debate on as to whether or not Liverpool should be allowed to defend their title since the team did not qualify for the tournament under normal methods.

Granted, I'm biased, because Liverpool is my club but even I don't see how they can be let in the competition. Should the rules be changed that the winner automatically qualifies for the next title? Absolutely. Should Liverpool buy all sorts of great players with the fantastic purse they earned with the win and also sign Steven Gerrard to a lifetime contract? Without a doubt.

But they didn't win their way in. And unless each team in the Champions League for next year gives its approval for the Reds to be there (without sacrificing a team that did qualify), I don't see how it can happen.

Yeah, they're still playing
With the thoroughly amazing Champions League finale in Istanbul effectively bringing to a close the European club season, many people believe now is the time when everyone recharges their batters, goes on holiday to the Riviera (and not the one in Louisiana) and we pick up soccer when it starts to matter again in the fall.

Not true. And, with apologies to baseball marketing folk, that's why I love this game.

Did you know that during the time Major League Baseball is in its offseason, there are entire leagues running in Dominican countries and Japan? Mexico has an entire winter league! But those teams aren't made up of permanent players, just whoever they can get to play for them during the winter. Sometimes there are even American MLB players who join the team. But it's only to keep fit.

In soccer, the world plays on one of three different schedules. Most of Europe plays August - May, the US and other countries play April - November (which, really isn't that great here -- soccer is better in cold weather) while Mexico and Central American countries play a fall season and a spring season (termed the Apertura and Clausura Tournament). If we add in international matches (including Saturday's friendly between the U.S. and England in Chicago) and World Cup Qualifying ... well, soccer is year-round somewhere.

And this is what makes soccer great right now. Just as the Euro leagues wind down, Major League Soccer is just getting underway while World Cup Qualifying is in full swing in advance of next summer's big event.

American football is in the midst of an almost seven month offseason, baseball takes up to five months off (and they're still trying to get a World Cup-style event off the ground) and hockey is on permanent vacation. Basketball seems to go on forever but, really, if it's the same teams playing each other all the time, what's the point?

It's an exciting time for soccer in the U.S. There's always been the "we're only 5-10 years away" refrain from soccer die-hards but in this case it might actually be true. MLS is expanding by two in 2007 (and most likely by two more in 2009) which would bring the league to 16 teams. FIFA (international governing body of soccer) would like to cap top leagues at 18 (though we may go to 20). We're not going to have promotion and relegation in 10 years (which, really, is the most American idea in all of sports) but the games will be more exciting, in appropriate venues, and we won't be talking about whether or not the league can surive.
Thursday, May 05, 2005
ESPN -- We lead in American sports coverage ... screw the rest of the world

I watched SportsCenter for an hour this morning only because during the intro I saw Ambrosini's header to beat PSV yesterday and I was excited that SportsCenter would be showing highlights from what was an amazing, amazing game.

Fuckers.

Not only was there no highlight from the game, all they showed was the header which gave Milan the crucial away goal even though PSV had been the better side over both legs as highlight No. 3 in the Top 10 plays of the day. They did mention that it was from the "AC Milan, PSV Champion League game" but didn't mention it was the second leg of the semifinals (not that anyone watching but me cared).

But the worst part, the part that pissed me off, is just like yesterday (where they showed something in the Top 10 from the Chelsea Liverpool game (I think Jerzy Dudek's save on the free kick)), they adopted this stupid British accent and tried to use this horrible golf-isms ("that's a useful shot") and then went back to Coco Crisp diving to catch a baseball in a meaningless regular season game.

These guys and women on SportsCenter (Bob Ley, Suzy Kolber and every once in a while Brian Kenny excepted) are just hacks. It's tough to watch anymore because they expect us to watch more for them instead of for the highlights.

And nevermind that people who watch might actually like the world's game so we could mention that the second biggest competition in the world (behind the World Cup and probably slightly ahead of EURO) might deserve a mention. PSV even has an American on the team (who, admittedly, has gotten a lot of press for a soccer player recently)!

Argh. Fuckers. The lot of them.