Friday, May 12, 2006

It's Not Just Our Problem

It’s a common complaint among American soccer fans that ESPN, and local professional sports news outlets (print, online, and TV) offer spotty coverage of MLS and soccer in general. If you’re reading this, you know that the internet has afforded U.S. soccer fans a place find each other, to debate, to make a buck, and to build a community. Though our numbers are small in comparison to fandom of the “four major sports,” there is certainly consensus that the NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL make up the pinnacle of American sports.

Or do they? You may be aware that the Stanley Cup playoffs are in their 2nd round, but outside of the markets where US-based teams are still alive (Northern New Jersey, Raleigh, Anaheim, Buffalo, and San Jose), there’s apparently little interest in the NHL. Hockey has always been known as a local sport and a tough sell on national television, and recent TV ratings illustrate that point. Television ratings from the weekend of April 29 and 30 finds NBC’s NHL broadcasts 7th and 10th on the week’s sports broadcasts, behind the NBA, PGA Golf, NASCAR, WWE, and Poker on NBC (!). Landing in between Saturday’s and Sunday’s NHL telecasts were on NBC “Sports Special” and LPGA Golf.

Orlando isn’t an NHL market, but the Orlando Sentinel’s Mike Bianchi (HT: Soccer Daily) on Wednesday asked why the NHL gets so much attention on ESPN in the form of nightly highlights and coverage. He surmises that national sports editors are from an era when hockey mattered to a larger portion of the public. Think about it. 30 years ago, much more of the US population were in hockey-playing towns (NY, Boston, Detroit, Chicago, Philly, LA, St. Louis, Minnesota, Pittsburgh, Oakland). 60 years ago boxing, horse racing, and baseball ruled the sports pages. Could it be that hockey is one day relegated to the 2nd tier leagues where MLS, the WNBA, and Arena Football reside? Can MLS step up to fill the void? D surmises that MLS has already surpassed the NHL. Time will tell.

MLS’ Big ‘To

Welcome Toronto FC into the league. I’m still not convinced that helping our Northern neighbor’s national team is in the best interest of the MLS, but Garber & Co. can’t be faulted for going where the money is (even at a discounted exchange rate). I’m glad the community steered the power that be away from naming the club “Inter Toronto.”

Wanderers in Town

Is this the week that New York gets three points at one sitting? The wandering Chicago Fire comes to the rainy swamp on Saturday night, and given the lack of buzz around the winless Red Bulls, I’d be surprised if NY draws a five-figure crowd. Anyhoo, here’s my breakdown:

The Chicago forwards vs. the Red Bulls’ defense:
Chris Rolfe and Chad Barrett vs. Marvell Wynne, Carlos Mendes, Jeff Parke, and Steve Jolley (and Tony Meola). Rolfe is turning into a bone-fide star, and he and Barrett have scored five of the Fire’s seven goals in ‘06. Take away DC’s tattoo of the Red Bulls on April 22nd, and New York has let in only three goals in four matches. The loss of injured Taylor Graham hurts in the middle, but a rested Tony the Tiger could make the difference here. Advantage: Push

The Red Bulls’ strikers vs. the Chicago back line:
Youri Djorkaeff and Jean-Phillipe Peguero vs. Logan Pause, CJ Brown, Jack Stewart, and Ivan Guerrero (and Zach Thornton). With both Mike Magee and Edson Buddle listed as questionable, JPP gets his second start for NY up top with Youri. Chicago’s a different team without injured defensive stalwart Jim Curtin, and with NY’s week off to get on the same page, this may be the week that the Red Bulls hit the net. Advantage: Push

The Midfielders:
Thiago, Chris Armas, Diego Gutierrez, and Justin Mapp vs. Seth Stammler, Danny O’Rourke, Chris Henderson, and Amado Guevara. If Armas represents the National Team of the past, Mapp represents the future. Seasoned vets Thiago and Gutierrez are rarely rattled. They won’t be scared of NY’s bunch, especially if El Lobo is in one of his moods on Saturday. Advantage: Chicago

The Coaches:
The Fire’s Sarachan has to wish he’d be in Cary with the national team rather than with the Fire in rainy East Rutherford. I think the jury’s still out on his effectiveness, but he has a talented squad with a good mix of veterans and youth. NY’s Johnston has to inject his team with pride if he wants his first victory of the year. He doesn’t have the talent through the lineup as does his opponent. Advantage: Chicago

NY is rested, and presumably Chicago will be tiring of the road, but the match will be played in front of a small crowd at a rainy Giants Stadium. Advantage: Push

New York can win this game by keeping it scoreless until the last ten minutes, poking in a goal, and holding for dear life until the final whistle. I don’t think that’s going to happen. 2-1 to Chicago.

On TV:

With the EPL complete, there’s a little less on the tube this weekend, but check it out (all times EDT):

9:30am: GER: Hamburg-Werder Bremen, FSC
2:00pm: FRA: Rennes-Lille, FSC
4:00pm: MLS: Dallas-Houston, ESPN2
4:00pm: ESP: Espanyol-Real Sociedad, GOL
4:30pm: FRA: Bordeaux-Marseille, FSC
6:00pm: URU: Danubio-Penarol, GOL
7:00pm: MLS: New England-Chivas USA, DK
7:30pm: MLS: New York-Chicago, MSG, DK
7:30pm: MLS: Columbus-Colorado, HDNet
7:30pm: MLS: DC United-Kansas City, DK

8:00pm: ELS: Aguila-Isidro Metapan, GOL
9:30pm: MEX: San Luis-Toluca, TELEF
10:00pm: MLS: Los Angeles-Salt Lake, DK
12mid: INT’L: Mexico-Congo DR, GOL

SUNDAY, May 14
9:00am: ITA: Cagliari-Inter Milan, FSC
9:00am: ITA: Reggina-Juventus/Milan-Roma, GOL
11:00am: ITA: Lazio-Parma, FSC
1:00pm: ECU: Dep. Quito-LDU de Quito, GOL
3:00pm: BRA: Figueirnse-Fluminense, GOL
5:00pm: URU: Wanderes-Nacional, GOL
7:00pm: BOL: Blooming-The Strongest, GOL
11:00pm: ARG: Boca Juniors, Olimpo, FSC

Monday, May 08, 2006

32 Days to Go and Simmering

Sorry for the absence, real life intrudes from time to time.

On the treadmill at lunch time today, I was struck by the soccer intrusions around the 11:30am SportsCenter replay by:

1) A promo for next Wednesday’s Champions’ League Final
2) An ad for the film “Goal: The Dream Begins”
3) A promo for the World Cup

Combine that with last week’s US roster announcement, the recent wire story on our fearless leader’s “awareness” of the importance of the Mundial and a the trailer of the Greenestreet Film’s “Once in a Lifetime” documentary of the Cosmos, and you’ve got nice little soccer groundswell bubbling up a month before the World Cup.

Of course, every time the big show rolls around you’ll get the tired, played-out “Americans don’t get soccer,” column in the daily rags, but with the matches played in the afternoons (mornings on the West Coast) this time around, the tournament will be a lot more accessible to casual fans.

On Bruce’s Men

Can’t say I have any beefs about Arena’s roster selection, but I let out an audible gasp when I saw Conrad & Ching on the roster. Suffice it to say that both players will be choices of desperation. Can’t imagine either will see playing time in the Nats’ first two matches. Really bad news about Hejduk missing the trip. Albright doesn’t have the same skill set, and I don’t see a lot of difference between the Virginia product and Conrad.

The New York Red Blahs

A posting on the Metrofanatic board asks “Are the fans dead?” Frankly, after all the changes made over the last few months, an 0-1-4 record on the field (with only 4 goals scored) and two weeks between matches, I have to say, “probably.” There’s very little to be excited about with this team, and with Chicago (four-match unbeaten streak) coming to the Swamp this Saturday, things won’t get any easier. After RB shot the proverbial promotional wad for the April 8th home opener, there’s been little evidence the team still exists. There’s no news on the team’s “Director of Soccer Operations.” I still think the logo’s cool, though.