Thursday, January 31, 2008

MLS: Ready to Get Philthy

Viva la public-private partnership! Reports out of Philadelphia today are that the Pennsylvania state legislature will kick in the coin needed to fund the Chester, PA stadium project, paving the way for an imminent announcement that the City of Brotherly Love will host MLS' 16th active club.

For fans of the league, and especially the Philly supporters' group Sons of Ben (SOBs), this clearly is the best of times. Say what you want about Philadelphia fandom, (they're classless, they booed the Pope), they are extremely loyal and get behind their local clubs. Fans of New York and DC will clearly enjoy the new geographic rival and the stadium design looks fantastic.

Will MLS use the entry of club #16 (in 2009, or more likely 2010) to realign into a single table?

Perhaps the league will consist of four, four-team divisions:
Atlantic: DC, New England, New York, Philly
Midwest: Chicago, Columbus, Kansas City, Toronto
Central: Colorado, Dallas, Houston, Salt Lake
Pacific: Chivas USA, Los Angeles, San Jose, Seattle

However you slice it, today's announcement is another step in the long, slow growth of the league, and soccer in America. Congrats, Philthadelphia!

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Behold the New US Jersey...ugh

Can't say that I'm enamored of this pajama-looking kit. The horizontal stripes give the US a softer look that the "Victory"-inspired home shirt the team wore for the '06 World Cup.

The two-toned panels take me back to the early 1980s Land's End catalog. It in word.... eccchhh.

What do you think?

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

More Games (and More and More)!

Yesterday Concacaf rolled out their newest of new continental tournaments: The Concacaf Champions League. 24 regional sides will battle for nine months starting this August for supremacy of our top-heavy region and a date at the 2009 World Club Cup in Japan. Is the new CCL an improvement over the Concacaf Champions' Cup? The CCC has been held as an eight-team Springtime tournament over the last few years. Let's compare the two on a few levels:

1) Club Involvement: In the current CCC format, Caribbean and Central American club sides plod through three months of playoffs from October through December to reach the "final eight," so switching to a 24-team format won't include that many more clubs that weren't already involved.

The 16-team preliminary round of the CCL will include clubs from MLS, Mexico and Panama (two each); three from the Caribbean, and one each from Costa Rica, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Canada, Beliza, and Nicaragua. The eight teams given byes to the group stage: two each from MLS and Mexico, one club from Costa Rica, Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador.

2) Timing: By scheduling the first rounds of the CCL from August-October, and the knockout rounds in February-April 2009, the Confed is making their club championship even less in tune with the MLS season. Not only will advancing MLS teams need to stay match-fit through the off-season, but the first stage will take place smack in the middle of the playoff stretch run and the MLS Cup playoffs.

3) Television: With four participating MLS squads, the CCL could generate some relatively strong ratings. Not sure how many would tune in to see Chivas USA take on FC Belize in the first round, however. The CCL should provide plenty of MLS-FMF matchups in the group stage, though, which should attract an audience based on the strong Superliga ratings of this past season.

4) MLS Fatigue: And what's to come of the SUM-created Superliga? Will too much USA-MEX club ball in the next twelve months squeeze the life out of all these competitions? What of the US Open Cup? Here's a brief calendar of the extra competitions MLS clubs will face this year...

-February, Pan-Pacific Championship: LA & Houston (2 games each)
-March-April, Concacaf Champions League: DC & Houston (up to 6 games each)
-July*, Superliga: DC, Houston, Chivas & New England* (up to 4 games)
-July-October*: US Open Cup, All MLS teams but TFC (up to 5 games)
-August-October, Concacaf Champions League: MLS teams TBD (bet on DC, HOU) (up to 8 games this year)

* Timing/teams to be finalized

So Houston, the league's two-time defending champion, could play as many as 24 non-league matches, in addition to the team's 30 MLS games, not including playoffs. I'm all for building a soccer culture in the US, but that's way, way too many for a 28-man roster to handle.

Now I've been a huge US Open Cup supporter in the past, but with faced with such a schedule, I'd give teams taking part in the Superliga or the CCL a pass out of the Hunt competition.

Such a move would further dilute the visibility and quality of the nation's longest-contested cup competition, but if we want our boys to have a realistic shot at reaching Japan to take on the worlds' best clubs, we need to give them every advantage.

Of course, we can't forget what's to come in 2008 on the National Team front:
-February (Olympic Qualifying)
-June (World Cup Qualifying, 1st round)
-August (Beijing Olympics)
-August-November (World Cup Qualifying, semis)

...and, of course the first 14-team MLS season in history.

Strap yourselves in for games, more games, and even more!

Monday, January 07, 2008

Fearless 2008 Predictions

Ah, January, where it'll be 60 degrees in NYC today. Where Coach Bob's boys started camp in a foggy downpour. Where new RBNY honcho Juan Carlos Osorio is scouting his native Colombia for more players that the NJ-based Colombian community will ignore.

What's to be for next 12 months of soccer ahead of us? Let's gaze into the crystal ball together & see what we find...

The January US MNT camp will produce another boring result against a Scandinavian side, this time Sweden, at the HDC. Maurice Edu shows flashes of promise once again.

The US will continue its stranglehold on El Tri on February 6th in Houston. Osvaldo Sanchez rips his own face off, leaving only a flaming skull.

Houston loses in the CONCACAF Champions Cup Final to Pachuca.

The Pennsylvania legislature runs out the clock on the Chester stadium project, much to the chagrin of AEG's Nick Sakiewicz, who realizes that he'll never, ever get to build one of these things. St.Louis is announced as MLS' 16th team, to kick off on 2010. 15 sides will play in '09.

March 20th, Nashville: The US beats Guatemala to qualify for the Beijing Olympics.

The LA Galaxy, with a healthy Goldenballs behind them, wins 9 straight matches to open the MLS season.

The Kansas City Wizards draw better in a minor-league baseball park that they ever did in Arrowhead.

The new San Jose Earthquakes average 6,000 fans in Buck Shaw stadium.

Brad Guzan, Jozy Altidore, and Eddie Johnson all transfer to Europe over the summer.

A fluke goal in the opening minute gives Barbados a 1-0 lead in its June WCQ series vs. the US, but the Yanks finish the Caribbean nation 8-1 in aggregate. Landon Donovan scores to become the single all-time US goal scoring leader. Eric Wynalda weeps.

The Lenape Indian tribe claims ownership over the Red Bull Park site in Harrison, and stages a sit-in to prevent construction of the stadium. The are removed by NJ state police after a 60-day standoff.

September 6th: The Yanks draw 1-1 with Cuba in Havana to open the CONCACAF semifinal series. The US still finishes on top of the group.

Johnny Exantus joins the Red Bulls.

15,000 season tickets are sold for Seattle FC's inaugural campaign.

Claudio Reyna plays in 20 matches, enough to get the Red Bulls to the playoffs once again. There the team suffers a six-straight first-round exit.

Los Angeles defeats the Chicago Fire to win the MLS Cup. ABC rejoices a record viewership for the final.

That's just a taste of what's to expect from the year to come. Can't wait for it to get going!