Saturday, April 14, 2007

US Soccer Snob's Bi-Weekly Update

MLS Opening Weekend
Colorado Rapids opened their great new facility in grand fashion scoring two first half goal, both by newcomers, and holding on for a 2-1 win over last years Supporters Cup (yes I know it is actually a “Shield”) winners, DC United. Colorado fielded five new starters and was rewarded with Herculez Gomez delivering a goal and a man of the match performance. He also appeared to chair the Fred MLS welcoming committee by delivering some shoves, taunts and bruises to the Brazilian debutante. This also marked the first ESPN/ABC telecast for the year. With Honest Eric suspended for being honest, Julie Foudy’s voice managed to suck most of the life out of the TV broadcast. My favorite color commentary was when she reacted to a play with “Wow” followed by a long silence as pro broadcaster Dave O’Brien was expecting a bit more color. The broadcast was also dragged down by the corny “Famous Freds” montage. Nothing will convince the so-called red-blooded American’s that soccer is a pansy sports like a segment that features the music of Right Said Fred. Last on my list of broadcast no-no’s experienced was the incessant invocation of the word “sell-out”. I don’t think the producer realized that they were doing a TV broadcast, where every viewer could see the sparsely populated corners. I could understand if there were many no-shows because of the weather. I’d expect that, however when you see that all the areas that are sparsely populated were the last areas that are sold, it is clear that it isn’t a sell out. For a league that has come under fire for it’s past inflation of attendance figures, touting that so called “sell out” did nothing to make any one think the old days are gone!

Yes, there were things I did like about the broadcast. The half hour intro was very nice. Stoner did a good job as always, and the segments were well put together. Although, I am already getting sick of it, Dick’s Sporting Goods put together a heck of a nice commercial. The lettering on the seats of the stadium looked great. Why has it taken so long for an MLS team to get this done? I don’t want to hear any excuses about stadium ownership, leases, etc. MLS teams are the primary tenants, if they want to paint the seats with their names or logos they can do it. This should be a “Game First” Initiative. The entrance of the teams down the stairs was, if nothing else, interesting. I prefer the middle tunnel at Toyota Park, but the stairs look cool too. Colorado did a great job of having room for a stage, but not, explicitly having a stage as part of the stadium. ABC/ESPN did a solid job of micing the fans. The fans and the supporters group were in good voice all game, despite the noticeable departure of fans at halftime. The re-vamped halftime show was great too, with the MLS stats and even EPL action focusing on the league leaders and teams with American rooting interest.

I was unable to catch much of the FSC broadcast so I’ll have to chip in on that at another time. The LA-Houston tilt was marred by some camera troubles, however, I think that late Sunday afternoon time slot is great! Pre-HBO, post most baseball, not much sports competition. In addition, Chicago and many other cities with big Hispanic populations will have this broadcast on free TV. Quite a coup (or re-coup) for the league. Unfortunately the premier broadcast ended a 0-0, but the first half featured highly skilled football that had a definite attacking flair to it. What was also evident was the respect the announcers had for Donovan. Most players were referred to by their first and last names; however Donovan was routinely called “Capitan Landon”. It reminded me of the emphasis; the Mexican announcers would put on Hristo Stoitchkov’s name in the past. That sort of emphasis is not offered with out a great deal of respect.

MLS Thursday Night Football
Great to see the league in Primetime. This is a major upgrade from Saturday afternoons (AKA – the MLS Player June-August Bake-a-thon.) While it is good to see some pressure being put on an MLS side by its home fans, it is still the home opener. LA controlled the bookends of this match, but strangely the FCD O didn’t get kicking until their DM Marcelo Saragosa was injured in the 29th and replaced in favor of Aaron Pitchokolan (much to my fantasy joy). While Pitchkolan didn’t have much involvement in the attack, Saragosa absence seemed to move Dallas’ emphasis to the offense. The Hoops owned middle of the match, but their domination in that timeframe meant they deserved the victory in my book. Coopers goal off a wicked Nunez cross was top shelf stuff. What an upgrade from Foudy to Wynalda. I actually listened to the entire broadcast! Honest Eric for the most part was great, but he didn't do his homework on Jaqua last night. I certainly didn't feel like Yallop was scolding him by moving Nate to right mid in the second half. This was arguably Jaqua's most effective position for the Fire last year. While it was great to see LA's first round draft pick, Robbie Findlay, get a goal last night (due for a raise?), LA fans certainly weren't happy that it took nearly 180 minutes for the Gals to open their season account. The nice crowd of 23K+ let the Gals have it at the end of the 90.

Make sure you know what you are talking about
An April 11 column "Style over Substance" in the Newcastle Evening Chronicle an unnamed writer refers to so called "MLS journo" Wendell Brown as a "hack" for stating that “Players here need a style icon and Beckham is the perfect size to wear Dolce and Gabbana, Versace, Prada and Gucci." Ironically, the Newcastle writer proves to be a hack as a simple Google search reveals Wendell Brown to be Fashion Editor for Esquire magazine! Not surprising given Newcastle's standing amongst fashion epicenters (about three clicks south of Detroit.) Yet again, the UK press proves its lack of knowledge about MLS football at the expense of a cheap joke.

FSC and CBC step up to the plate
Props to the FSC for sticking with the USL through a three year agreement signed this week. Hopefully this and the strengthened MLS coverage will lead to additional coverage of Open Cup. I know this is a bit of a stretch, but any US soccer coverage is good promotion for the other two contracts. Toronto FC signed a strong 14 game pact with the CBC.

Developmental Player’s Salaries
I was involved in a spirited discussion this week with some of my soccer pals about this topic. As many of you know, MLS developmental players aren’t exactly tracking down Goldman Sachs money managers to handle their assets. Most, probably can’t even open bank accounts! During the conversation I came across as a cold hearted prick. Which is probably true, but hey someone has to or else we would have a league. Where I was coming from was two fold:
1. Market Forces - the lawsuit (backed by the NFLPA) against single entity was defeated because MLS said, "You don't like it, there are hundreds of other leagues in the world to go play in." The problem for young players is that unless a US player heads to a top tier foreign league, they've largely been forgotten by the National Team and MLS is leveraging this. I'm sure Michael Bradley's recent USMNT performance sent shivers down MLS’ spine.
2. Pay for performance - these developmental players have not shown anything yet, so why narrow the gap between them and proven performers who are also being pays relatively low salaries. There have been plenty of players that have stepped up to the plate and have been rewarded by the league. I think this provides massive incentive for these players to perform well. And who in MLS, aside from maybe the top ten players, are really being paid their worth? Mapp? Mastroeni? Cooper? Ruiz? Nary a player in MLS is being paid what they are worth on the world market.(See point 1)

In summary, would I like to see Developmental Players get paid more or get more benefits, sure. Will they get paid more in time, no doubt. However, there are really no great incentives for the league to do this now. As more and more drafted MLS players opt out of the league, the MLS minimum will be pushed higher. This issue has become a major issue in recent years, with players opting to play for some European based squads that would have a tough time with MLS reserve sides.

The Soccer Hour with Glenn Davis

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