Friday, January 27, 2006

The Good, The Bad, The Games on TV

There was quite a bit of MLS news this week, with former players joining clubs as assistant coaches, player drafts and trades, and rumors of the next expansion team (the Rocks?), but there was one positive development that wasn’t given enough attention in the media: the news that 16-year old MetroStars Youth Academy player Johnny Exantus was getting a shot to join the reserve team. “Johnny X” scored the goal that gave the Metros U-16 club the 2005 Super Y-league national championship, and his early returns from training have been promising. Should Johnny make the reserve side, his story will hopefully be the first chapter in the next phase of MLS player development. Currently, only a handful of clubs have developed youth soccer academies, but nothing will connect the teams to their communities more than developing local talent up into the organization. Much has been written about the inability of college soccer to properly prepare players for the professional ranks. By developing players from high-school age through academies and Super-Y League teams, to the reserve and first teams, MLS will not only produce better, younger players for parent clubs, but should be able to earn back their investment through player sales to European sides. Fans of all MLS clubs should be rooting for the X-man to make an impact.

On the down side, there’s AEG’s horrible decision to alienate a vital component of its fan base by naming the Houston club after a “year of infamy” in the eyes of the Mexican and Mexican-American fans of that market. Today’s Times Business section has the story of the marketing blunder. I realize there’s something of a paradox here. Much has been written about Mexican fans thumbing their collective noses at MLS, preferring to follow their home Mexican club instead. With the US-based Spanish-language networks televising at least 6 MFL matches every weekend, it’s been easy for them to ignore the American league. It would logically follow that those Hispanic fans wouldn’t take the time to vote for the club name on the Houston MLS web site. However, by alienating a large portion of the fan base with the name 1836, AEG will reinforce the notion that MLS is a “gringo” league that the city’s large Hispanic population won’t need to support. There are those that think the club’s name is no big deal, but frankly, did AEG not see the inherent controversy in selecting 1836? Why not just go all the way and name the team the Wetbacks? It was a bad, bad business decision.

Here’s the soccer to be seen in the Super Bowl’s donut week (all times et)

Saturday, Jan. 28
7:30am: ENG: Cheltenham-Newcastle, FA Cup, FSC
10:00am: ENG: Everton-Chelsea, FA Cup, FSC
12 noon: GER: Borussia Dortmund-Wolfsburg, FSC
12 noon: ITA: Palermo, Siena, GOL
2:30pm: ITA: AC Milan-Sampdoria, GOL
4:30pm: BRA: Palmeiras-Portuguesa Santista, GOL
6:00pm: MEX: Monterrey-Morelia, GALA
8:00pm: MEX: Chivas-UNAM, TELEF
8:30pm: HON: Platense-Victoria, GOL
10:00am: MEX: Necaxa-Chiapas, GALA

Sunday, Jan. 29
9:00am: ITA: Treviso-Lazio, FSC
9:00pm: ITA: Ascoli-Juvenuts, GOL
11:00am: ESP: Sevilla-Villareal, GOL
1:00pm: ENG: Portsmouth-Liverpool, FA Cup, FSC
1:00pm: ESP: Mallorca-Barcelona, GOL
1:00pm: MEX: San Luis-Toluca, UNI
3:00pm: FRA: Monaco-Lyon, FSC
3:00pm: ESP: Celta Vigo-Real Madrid, GOL
5:00pm: USA: USMNT-Norway, ESPN2, TELEM
5:00pm: ITA: Lecce-Milan, FSC
5:00pm: GUA: Comunicaciones-Jalapa, GOL
5:00pm: MEX: Club America-Pachuca, TELEF
7:00pm: ELS: Firpo-Once Municipal, GOL
9:00pm: BRA: Rio Branco-Corinthians, GOL

Friday, January 20, 2006

Another Marvell-ous Marv in the Big Apple

With Amado for EJ talk falling through, as it appears that the GAM is headed to the Wizards for Josh Wolff, The Lalas & Mo show sent El Lobo to the HDC for a reunion with former Metro & current Chivas USA coach Bob Bradley on draft day today. In return, the SuperClub on the Passaic got the first pick, which it used to snag U-20 and UCLA D Marvell Wynne. A good move? Time will tell, but before today, the Metro seemed pretty strong the back, with Graham, Hernandez, Regan, Parke, Mendes, and Stammler on the roster. With Amado and Gaven seemingly out the door, will Canero and Henderson be enough to pick up the midfield slack?

CORRECTION: Big Apple Soccer reports that it's Jason Hernandez on the way to Chivas, not Amado. Where will El Lobo wind up? Stay tuned...

At the pre-draft fashion show, Rob Stone noted that the Houston team name and uni will be introduced Wednesday in H-town. Hopefully adidas will add a unique color (orange, green, purple) to the MLS palette.

On the draft webcast, Commissioner Garber noted that an announcement for the league's 14th active club (a midwestern club) may be made in the 60 days. Does this mean that Peter Wilt's Milwaukee club will be a reality? St. Louis? Cleveland? Hmm.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Hendu Do Metro

In a trade announced today, long in the tooth midfielder Chris Henderson was acquired by the Metro from Columbus, in exchange for teenage D Tim Ward. Both Lalas & Mo have experience playing with Henderson, who currently sits in second place in all-time MLS stars, and seventh place in all-time MLS assists.

How does this change the Metro? Well, Ward, the team’s first-round draft pick in 2005, played in 13 league matches last year, starting 11, and tallying three assists. Ward was sixth among defenders in on-field minutes last season, behind Leitch, Agoos (both gone), Mendes, Regan, and Parke. With the addition of Taylor Graham to the squad, and MoJo’s late season crush on Jason Hernandez, Ward was probably headed to the reserve team for the majority of his 2006 minutes.

What does Henderson bring to the SuperClub on the Passaic? The Good: Experience, along with history of creating quality scoring opportunities. The Less Good: Not a whole lot of speed at a wing position that demands it. As Johnston & Lalas said, though, the team is looking for players that want to play for Metro, and they could certainly have done worse than Henderson. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Strong Enough Opposition?

Yesterday’s announcement that the US will take on Guatemala at the Deep Dish was welcome. It’ll be nice for the FCD faithful to see El Pescadito run around a bit, but I’m a little concerned about the lack of pre-WC friendlies on the docket. I mean, shouldn’t the Fed have started working on this immediately following our win over El Tri on September 3rd? Here’s the current ’06 schedule, with current FIFA ranks for each opponent.

Jan 22 vs. Canada, FIFA Rank: 84
Jan 29 vs. Norway, 38
Feb 10 vs. Japan, 15
Feb 19 vs. Guatemala, 56
Mar 1 vs. Poland at Germany, 22
Mar 22 at Germany, 16

In 2002, Bruce had the Gold Cup, plus a trio of matches in Europe to help prepare the troops. There were 14 pre-World Cup matches in total (*Gold Cup):

*Jan 19 vs. S. Korea, W 2-1
*Jan 21 vs. Cuba, W 1-0
*Jan 27 vs. El Salvador, W 4-0
*Jan 30 vs. Canada, D 0-0 (4-2 pks)
*Feb 2 vs. Costa Rica (Final), W 2-0
Feb 13 at Italy, L 0-1
Mar 2 vs. Honduras, W 4-0
Mar 10 vs. Ecuador, W 1-0
Mar 27 at Germany, L 2-4
Apr 3 vs. Mexico, W 1-0
Apr 17 at Ireland, L 1-2
May 12 vs. Uruguay, W 2-1
May 16 vs. Jamaica, W 5-0
May 19 vs. Holland, L 0-2

Rumor has it that there are four more matches in April and May yet to be announced. While Il Bruce won’t be able to meld his MLS and Euro-based players together until then, it’d be best to get the starting XI together to face top flight competition. Hopefully the opponents will be closer to the Japans and Germanys of the world than the Canadas and Guatemalas My ideal lineup: El Tri, Brazil or Argentina (top competition), Nigeria (Strong African team), and Sweden (top 15 & WC bound).

Heal fast, Mastro.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Metro Hot Stove Report

For a refreshing change, Jack Bell uses a majority of his weekly N.Y. Times soccer column to discuss the home town team, and today’s entry has lots of hot stove Metro morsels.

Apparently actions on the bus ride home from New England following the Metros’ playoff exit last October pointed a number of players toward Mo Johnston’s waiver list, which is sad. Players glad that the season was over? While it was a roller coaster during the last third of the season, you’d think everyone would want to make the best impression on Mo, though he’d yet to be named the team’s ’06 manager.

Out the door from the 2005 squad is Chris Leitch, Sergio Galvan Rey, Ryan Suarez, and Jeff Agoos (retired), and a host of reserve league players.

Bell notes that MoJo is searching for quality players that have no transfer fee attached to them, like USL1 MVP D Taylor Graham, and Dundee United’s MF Peter Canero. Johnston may be looking at Canada’s former Milwall D/M Adrian Serioux.

Anticipating a shovel hitting the dirt sometime this year, Bell notes that the Metros are moving their headquarters from Secaucus to Newark, just across the Passaic River from the Harrison stadium site, by April 1st. We can also expect to see the ’06 Metro jersey modeled on Jan. 20th at the MLS Superdraft in Philly. As for when fans will be able to buy them? 60-90 days, perhaps?

Michael Lewis’ excellent Big Apple Soccer notes that El Lobo is pissing off Metro management by playing for his Honduran old club, Motagua, and that Harrison will “probably” have natural grass, and that a late ’07 opening (perhaps too late for the MLS season) is the current target.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Seven Wishes for the Perfect Soccer Year

Strrecchhhhh. Yawn. Ok. After six weeks in hibernation, it’s time to kick The Kin back into action. The year’s first week is always a time for optimism. The year ahead is a clean slate, filled with possibilities. How can 2006 turn out to be a perfect soccer year? Read on for things I’d like to see…

1. The Metros break ground in Harrison, NJ.
Yes, it’s been six months since the presentation in front of the Harrison public library, since the soccer balls neatly arranged to spell 2-0-0-7, since mayors and congressmen and Nicky S. & friends told us that finally, FINALLY the Metros would have a home of their own. Since then, not a whole lot has happened, so those soccer balls would seem to be at least a year off from reality. Yes, the quasi-governmental agencies involved have passed motions to get the residences and parking deck to be built adjacent to the stadium, and yes, a sign has been erected near the site, but to date, nary a shovel has hit the ground. Hopefully that will change, and soon.

2. Houston embraces their team
Word out of H-town is that there are already 1,000 requests for season tickets for the former Quakes at Robertson stadium. Hopefully, with Luck, (pun intended) the squad will land a decent local TV deal, have smart outreach to the Hispanic population, and benefit from positive coverage my the local media to generate buzz, attention, and attendance to watch a terrific team take the field come April.

3. Chicago sells out the Bank early and often
Watching the Bridgeview Bank Stadium spring up before our very eyes has been an absolute joy. With luck, the BBS’ interior will be completed as quickly as the outside to meet the club’s June target opening date, and hopefully the Fire House will be filled all season long.

4. Oh yeah, and players too.
I have to believe that the MLS cartel is taking the US community’s call for a loosening of the purse strings seriously. In my perfect 2006, MLS will announce at the Superdraft in Philly on the 20th that the league’s salary cap will come with one “superstar” exemption. That’ll still leave time to use the open transfer window to snag some Euro and/or South American talent for this season. Without Freddy mania, or “Season 10” to hang the marketing hook on this year, MLS needs to create some buzz. A few mid-level names a la Youri D. for each club would go a long way toward generating some excitement.

5. A Surprise from the Youth
No, there aren’t a whole lot of spots for Germany on Il Bruce’s roster. But with the Nats camp underway at the HDC, here’s to hoping an unsung young name (Brian Carroll, Heath Pearce, etc.) gets a chance in the early friendlies and shows that he belongs. It’ll bring hope for the future, even if this unamef player doesn’t get in a game in Deutschland. By the way, if you haven’t seen Heydude outlast his team in “The Beep Test” at Nats camp, you must. The guy just doesn’t age. Must be the spirit of Jah or something.

6. Open Cup Upset for the Ages
What a better way to thumb their noses at MLS than the reincarnated PDL San Francisco Seals, with much of Earthquake fandom behind them, qualify for the Open Cup in their first year and advance to the fourth round, when they defeat the LA Galaxy in penalties. The match is played at a sold-out Spartan Stadium in July. After the game, the city announces that the Quakes will return in ’07, with an SSS to open by ’09.

7. The Big Stage
Here we go.
US 2-1 CZH
US 0-0 ITA
US 3-2 GHA
US 1-0 CRO
US 2-1 FRA
US 0-0 GER, Krauts win on pks.

Respect. Attention. Ratings. Admiration. Positive press. MLS Attendance gains. New Bruce Contract. Love. Love. Love.

Can’t wait to get started.