Friday, August 21, 2009

Adios Osorio! Barca Buying New York?

So much for a slow summer Friday.

Earlier today, New York Red Bulls Head Coach Juan Carlos Osorio quit the team with eight matches remaining in the MLS season. Osorio, who joined the club in 2007, took New York to its highest point, the 2008 MLS Cup Final, and it's lowest, a current 16-match winless streak across all competitions.

Osorio went 12-27-13 with New York in his nearly two years with the club. Assistant Head Coach Richie Williams (aka AMBOD: the Ankle Biting Midget of Death) will take over the reigns for the remaning league games. Williams guided the Red Bulls to a 4-3-2 record the last time he was elevated to Head Coach, in 2006 between the Mo Johnston and Bruce Arena eras.

It had been reported that Red Bull management was to relieve Osorio and Sporting Director and US Soccer Hall of Famer Jeff Agoos of their positions when the season ends on Saturday, October 24th.

Barcelona Buying Bulls?

Michael Lewis of reports today that famed FC Barcelona, who backed off entering MLS with a South Florida franchise earlier this year, may be interested in buying the Red Bulls from Red Bulls AG in Austria. says Lewis in his "Offside Remarks" column...
Earlier this season, I heard from a good source -- another source than the originating one for this story that the team was for sale. I could not get anyone else to verify it, so I was forced to let it die on the vine, so to speak. Word got out there and rumors surfaced that the team was for sale.

On Thursday night, I spoke to that damn, good impeccable source and he told me the news.

"Barcelona is talking about buying the team," the source said, the team meaning the Red Bulls.
For the many New York fans who have issues cheering for an energy drink, the notion that the altruistic Catalonian Euro Club Champion could own the franchise represents a truly amazing development. Despite Red Bull's insistance that the club is not for sale, these two pieces of good news provides a welcome buzz around the worst summer (and season) in club history.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

DuNord'ing it

I've have the honor of guest blogging Brucio's wonderful Du Nord today. Check it out for coverage of yesterday's US loss at Mexico, a look at the remaining Hexagonal games, and this weekend's MLS sked as well. Enjoy!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Summer of Soccer Rewind (Part 3 of 3)

For the past two days, The Kin of Fish has recounted this Summer of Soccer, the greatest, most visible season the beautiful game has had in the US, perhaps ever. This week, we've looked at the US Confederations Cup run, and the buzz around David Beckham's return to MLS. Today, with just hours to go before the US Men's National Team tries to get its first win ever at Mexico's Azteca Stadium, we look at the amazing support of Euro Club friendies that ended just last week.

Part 3: Big Clubs, Big Crowds

Despite the rants of the few remaining soccer haters in the national sports media, America is and has been a soccer nation for years. The US is a nation of immigrants, and millions of soccer-loving Americans with digital cable or internet access can watch dozens of top-flight soccer matches from Europe and South America on a weekly basis.

It's those fans than MLS has been trying (mostly unsuccessfully) trying to convert, fans who ignore their local sides in favor of the top flight leagues from overseas. In July and August, those superclubs (Sorry Alexi) once again filled stadiums from coast to coast, putting MLS crowds to shame.

Jul 18th: Seattle WA, Seattle 0-2 Chelsea: 65,289 (sellout)
Jul 19th: Stanford CA, Club America pks 1-1 Chelsea: 31,026
Jul 19th: Carson CA, Los Angeles 2-2 Milan: 27,000 (sellout)
Jul 21st: Pasadena CA, Chelsea 2-0 Inter: 81,244
Jul 22nd: Atlanta, GA, Club America 2-1 Milan: 53,600
Jul 24th: Baltimore MD, Chelsea 2-1 Milan: 71,000 (sellout)
Jul 26th: Foxboro MA, Inter 2-1 Milan: 42,531
Jul 26th: Arlington TX, Chelsea 2-0 Club America: 57,229
Aug 1st: Pasadena CA: Los Angeles 1-2 Barcelona: 93,137
Aug 5th: Seattle WA, Seattle 0-4 Barcelona: 66,848 (sellout)
Aug 7th: Toronto ONT: Toronto FC 1-5 Real Madrid: 22,089 (sellout)
Aug 9th: Landover MD: DC United 0-3 Real Madrid: 72,368

No wonder a non-soccer pal of mine who follows me on Twitter asked, "Is there futbol on every single night?"

What do these sparkling attendances for top-flight soccer clubs tell us? Certainly there's an massive desire to see these sides in the US, regardless of what any mainstream media outlet will tell you. What's less clear is the appetite for supporting teams that many soccer fans view as less-than-major league, on a weekly basis.

Now some franchises (Seattle, Toronto, LA, DC, possibly Salt Lake) have seemingly found the magic formula to bind the teams to their communities and generate sizeable crowds even in adverse weather conditions. Clearly, many clubs like Dallas, New England, Colorado, and my horrendous New York Red Bulls have lost the scent, bordering on irrelevancy in their markets, in many cases ignored by the local sports media that "covers" them.

Now, MLS will never be the NFL. Never. But as the league is negotiating with its players' union over a new collective bargaining agreement, and with all the expansion fee money that's rolled in over the last few years (with more to come), now is the time to raise the salary cap. Signing some decent European or South American talent will be key to attract those... dare I say it... Eurosnobs to kick the MLS tires once again.

In the early days of the league, international stars like Valderrama and Etcheverry, along with the top American players of the day (Ramos, Wynalda, Harkes, Lalas) gave the league instant credibility. In 2009 there are many fewer international stars, and lots of young poorly-paid Yanks looking to impress and move to Europe. Only with an increased investment in the on-field product will MLS successfully leverage the Summer of Soccer league-wide in terms of generating attendance, growing television ratings, and signing more sponsors in this down economy.

And about that match...

Yes, the US has never won at the Azteca, or within Mexican borders. Yes, our boys should have lots of confidence after their Confed Cup performance. Yes, Landon Donovan is in TIP TOP FORM. Still, if you can't breathe, you can't breathe. I'm hoping for a point today, but won't be down if the Yanks lose to Mexico. Two winnable home games (v. El Salvador and Costa Rica) should mean six more points to add to the US' current ten. We're in great position to make our sixth straight World Cup Finals, win, lose, or draw at 4p ET. My prediction: a 1-1 draw, with Dos Santos and Davies finding the net.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Summer of Soccer Rewind (Part 2 of 3)

In a three-day series ahead of Wednesday's US-Mexico tilt, The Kin of Fish is looking back at this amazing Summer of Soccer. Yesterday we reviewed the US Men's National Team's run to the Confederations Cup Final. Today we look at the biggest story in American Soccer in July... the return of David Beckham to the LA Galaxy.

Part 2: Of Books and Boos: Beckham Returns

What soccer (and American soccer) in particular needs is a little drama, and Sports Illustrated Senior Writer Grant Wahl delivered that drama in spades last month with the release of The Beckham Experiment: How the World's Most Famous Athlete Tried to Conquer America.

The book is like no other in its examination of life inside an MLS club, with all the intrigue, surprise, and humor you'd expect from a television soap opera. Wahl deftly mixes interviews with former Galaxy GM Alexi Lalas, who comes off as a man of vision whose power gets usurped by Team Beckham; Alan Gordon, the embodiement of the struggling underpaid MLS journeyman, trying to stay afloat financially; and Galaxy star Landon Donovan, whose comments questioning Beckham's commitment to the Galaxy created as big a "media firestorm" as any event in MLS history.

The only point of view missing is David Beckham's of course. Wahl states that Beckham's people wanted to be paid for Goldenballs' participation in the project, which may be standard practice in the UK. Beckham himself called the book "unauthorized" during his press conference before his first 2009 MLS match. All in all, The Beckham Experience is a must-read for any fan of MLS, of American Soccer, or of David Beckham. It's the first real major-media look behind the scenes of the hush-hush single-entity league, and Wahl's portrayal of the day-to-day life of MLS players is both enlightening and entertaining.

Of course, the book brought more attention to American soccer and MLS, though Beckham and LA (and a woeful NY squad) drew only 23,000 fans to Giants Stadium on July 16th, his first stateside match. The 2007 and 2008 NY-LA matches drew 66,000 and 44,000 respectively. Beckham-mania certainly seemed reduced in his third MLS go-around, though LA has drawn decent crowds in Kansas City and New England.

It was on July 19th, though, that Becks' relationship with American fandom hit its nadir. Playing in his first home match of the year, Beckham, incensed by the fan group LA Riot Squad's needling, Becks challenged a fan to come down and take him on. When one jumped from the stands to the field, Beckham tried to play it off as if he wanted to shake the fans' hand. The ugly incident made sports television around the world, and exposed the huge rift between the Becks and American fandom. Most fans believe that #23 will only be here until the end of the season before heading back to Europe, no matter how "committed" he says he is to LA for now.

Becks wants desperately to make the 2010 England World Cup Squad, and coach Fabio Capello has stated that Beckham needs to be back playing in Europe by December to even be considered. Sadly, if Becks had waited until after WC 2010 to join MLS, he'd be more authentic in his claim to want to grow American Soccer. He just headed over the pond three years too soon.

What makes Beckham's 2009 run with the Galaxy different, of course, it that for the first time in three seasons the club is actually winning. The Gals had won three straight before Beckham's arrival, and is 2-0-1 in MLS since Becks has been with the squad. In fact, LA is the hottest team in the league right now, and is challenging Houston for the top spot in the West. The Galaxy in great shape to end the club's three-year playoff drought, and could make a run at the title. That'd be the send off Becks, and LA fans, could only dream of.

Tomorrow, I'll take a look at the successful European club friendlies that have taken the US by storm over the past few weeks, and share thoughts on the ultimate match of the Summer of Soccer, the US visiting the Azteca in tomorrow's World Cup Qualifier with Mexico.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Summer of Soccer Rewind (Part 1 of 3)

By any standards, the Summer of 2009 will go down as one of the most memorable seasons in American Soccer history. Between the US Men's National Team's improbable run to the Confederations' Cup Final, the release of Grant Wahl's The Beckham Experiment" and the re-entry of David Beckham to the LA Galaxy, The Gold Cup, and the massive crowds that have attended top-notch Euro club friendlies, there was more buzz, more visibilty, and more soccer in America in the last few months than any other time is recent memory.

Over the next three days, I'll recap the season that brought soccer highlights and talk to the forefront of America's sports consciousness, which will culminate on Wednesday's afternoon, when Mexico and the US meet in a World Cup Qualifier at the Azteca in Mexico City.

Part 1: The US Makes its Mark on the World Stage

Pundits call the FIFA Confederations Cup the "world's third most important national team tournament" after the World Cup, of course, and the European Championships. For the US Men's National Team, the Confed Cup started horribly, with losses to Italy and Brazil that caused many to wonder if the Yanks truly belonged in a tournament of the Confed Cup's caliber, and whether Bob Bradley was fit to be the US coach.

The June 15th group stage opener vs. defending World Cup champion Italy started reasonably well for the US. The Yanks carried much of the play and had some quality chances before Ricardo Clark was ejected on a straight red card in the 33rd minute. A Donovan pk before halftime gave the US a surprising lead, but NJ native and burgeoning Italian star Giuseppi Rossi took over the match upon entering in the 57th minute. Rossi's two goals added insult to injury as the Yanks folded in the 2nd half and lost 1-3.

The Brazil match three days later did little to instill belief that the Yanks would extend their stay in South Africa past the group statge. The US played frightened and intimidated, and a horrendous giveaway by DeMarcus Beasley led to an end-to-end counterattack and goal by Robinho which put the Yanks in a 2-0 hole. Add another red card by Sacha Kljestan and a second half goal by Brazil, and the US had its collective head down, ready to head home with zero points and a -5 goal differential. Stateside, American pundits and fans had the pitchforks and torches out for Bob Bradley's head.

Say what you want about Bradley, but the US coach was able to remove any negativity from his squad's psyche ahead the Yanks' final group match with African Champ Egypt on June 21st. Needing help from the other group match, The US got goals from Charlie Davies, Michael Bradley, and the struggling Clint Dempsey... and NO red cards. The 3-0 win shocked Egypt, raised eyebrows across the soccer world, and when Brazil routed Italy, advanced the US to the tournament semifinals on the goals-scored tiebreaker.

Tournament broadcaster ESPN began to turn on its hype machine ahead of the US' David v Goliath matchup with European Champion Spain in the semis on June 24th, and with good reason. Spain hadn't lost a match in its last 35 outings, and was on a 14-match win streak. The newly invigorated Bradley created a masterful game plan, with teen phenom Jozy Altidore up top. Altidore's amazing goal off Casillas in the 27th minute not only won him a trip to the EPL, but gave the US the confidence to defend with gusto. Dempsey's punishing goal in the 72nd gave the US the unlikliest of victories against the number one team in the world, and the American Sports press took notice, comparing the win to the 1980 US Hockey "Miracle on Ice."

The Confed Cup final, against Brazil, had the benefit of being scheduled on a Sunday afternoon devoid of other sizeable sporting events in the US. ESPN was relentless in its promotion of the match, using all of its media forms (TV, radio, mobile, web) to attract viewership. On the field, the match was a dream start for the US, with Dempsey scoring early, and Charlie Davies and Landon Donovan executing a picture perfect counterattack to give the Yanks an early 2-0 lead. It'd be hard to imagine the tongue-lashing that the Brazil squad received by coach Dunga at halftime, and the 5-time World Cup champs started the 2nd half on fire, taking less than a minute to halve the US' lead. Brazil poured it on as the game wore on, getting the winner from Lucio just six minutes from time.

In addition to the Yanks' silver medals, Clint Dempsey took home the Bronze Ball awards for his three goals, and Tim Howard won the Gold Gloves award for his stellar play in the Egypt, Spain, and Brazil matches.

Despite the loss, the US' grit earned tons of respect around the soccer world, and viewers, too. the final against Brazil drew a 2.6 rating, translating into nearly 4 million viewers and made the match the most-watched non-World Cup match in ESPN history. SportsCenter presented the match as the number one story of the day, spending 7-8 minutes on match coverage.

The mainstream sports media picked up the story as well. Despite the obligatory "what does it mean?" articles and columns, some of the soccer-hatingest cronies begrudgingly gave US Soccer its props, and noted that perhaps the US was slowly turning on to soccer.

The US team's Confederation Cup performance elevated awareness of the sport among the general sports fan, but getting to the next level took one of the most famous names and faces in the world today.

Tomorrow I'll review Wahl's The Beckham Experiment, and look at the good, the bad, and the ugly (and very ugly) of David Beckham's return to MLS.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Nothing Left to Play For

It's come to this. With last night's humiliating 2-1 home loss to Trinidadian club W Connection, the New York Red Bulls have shot the rest of this horrible 2009 season to smithereens. With nine meaningless league matches to play, the worst season in MLS history will come to a merciful end on Saturday, October 24th against visiting Toronto FC.

To date this year, the Red Bulls have stumbled and bumbled their way to a collective 3-17-5 overall mark, with a 2-15-4 record in league play. The club is currently on a 14-match winless streak, dating back to a 4-1 home win vs. Western Conference cellar-dweller San Jose on May 8th. In fact, two of New York's three wins have come vs. the not-as-bad-as-NY Earthquakes. The other victory came at home vs. RSL in April.

Despite dead-man-walking coach Juan Carlos Osorio's reputation as a defensive coach, the 2009 Red Bulls have given up 2+ goals 52% of the time, and 3+ goals in 30% of matches. Up front, though, the team has been spectactularly woeful. New York has been shut out in almost half of its outings (11 of 25 games), and scored a single goal only seven times as well. That's almost three out of four games with no or one goal. Atrocious.

Who's to blame? Certainly Agoos and Osorio, but for my money the departure of left wing midfielder Dave van den Bergh is most responsible for the team's offensive demise. in 2008, vDB provided quality service to Juan Pablo Angel, was an imposing presence in the box, and started many scoring plays, recording 5 assists. van den Bergh complemented speedy right winger Dane Richards, and helped the club score 42 goals in 30 matches. This year, with two-thirds of the season gone, NY has scored just 24 times in 25 games.

So where does the club go from here? Much has been made about New York's long history of coaching changes (11 in nearly 14 seasons). A recent trip to Austria didn't generate the dismissal of Osorio and Agoos. With a gorgeous new stadium ready for an April 2010 opening, and dwindling attendance in a lost season, what can be done to save this franchise from its' wretchedness? A new coach and GM for sure, but who? New players, but who? Another DP? One thing's for sure. The 2009 Red Bulls have been a failure unlike any its poor fan base have ever seen.