Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Tackle Football Tempers Momentum of MLS

September swoons in sports have been historically associated with Major League Baseball teams. Depending on where you're from, you may have heard the words 'September swoon' as a representation of your baseball team's undesirable play in clutch time that can happen year after year. But, the term can now be applied to Major League Soccer, as its Tv ratings get set for the annual tumble.

MLS must improve on its Tv ratings in order to reach its goals. It wants to be considered as a 'Major League' sport in the U.S., but, arguably, it is only 'Major League' in name only because not enough casual sports fans are tuning in.

So far this year, though, MLS has seen positive results when it comes to ratings. The 2016 season has brought MLS its best bunch of consecutive weeks of Tv ratings in its history even without primetime games. With new television contracts in hand and consistent scheduling, MLS has done an adequate job in pursuing and retaining viewership. What is not clear is whether new fans to MLS are soccer fans who have not paid attention to MLS in the past or if they are casual sports fans.

So, what is the cause for being sent off the sports map/the 'September swoon?' It's an easy answer: College tackle football and Professional tackle football. College football's opening weekend saw the most ranked teams to fall in the sport's history. The NFL had six games decided by two points or less. The crowds for games were amazing, plus the images of fans tailgating, the fantasy football and the coverage by ESPN and talk radio just put tackle football over the top while baseball and soccer were sent to pick up the scraps.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Could Younger International Star Players Start Pulling Permanent Double Duty with MLS?

At what point will a significant soccer superstar from the European leagues negotiate a contract to be able to come to MLS during his off-seasons?

It's possible in the near future that younger players will leave the door open in their contracts for additional loan duty with additional salary in order to play in MLS during their off-season.

It seems like a Deion Sanders move.  Of course, we're talking the same sport, while Deion did two sports.

Sanders split his time between the NFL and MLB for several seasons.  He's the only person to play in a Super Bowl and a World Series.  From 1990 to 1995, he averaged playing in 13 regular season NFL games and 80 regular season MLB games.

So, where's our Deion Sanders for MLS?  I'd like to think Neymar, Messi, Ronaldo, Gareth Bale or Zlatan Ibrahimovic would be one of the guys to give it a try.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Beer Commercial Presses Hot-Button Soccer Topic

Is Tecate Light predicting a trend for soccer's future?

The ad is only :15-seconds long and has very few words. After a soccer player makes an obvious dive to try and draw a foul, the referee begins to take out a yellow card when he is influenced by the Tecate Light beer mascot who is looking on from the bleachers. The mascot gives an ominous stare and affirmative head tilt to show that yellow might not be enough punishment. The referee decides against the yellow and pulls out the red. The commercial is making a statement that the bold decision is to give the red card.

Before the dive, the narrator says, "This is the Black Eagle." Then, the dive happens. The narrator continues, "This is bad acting." After the red card is shown, "This is Justice" ends the soccer narration, and the controversy begins.

Since soccer's inception, dives and bad acting as exaggerations to draw fouls have not been properly addressed. Players intentionally try to deceive referees in order to draw a card on an opposing player, get a free kick or pk. In recent times, though, referees have been more aggressive in issuing yellow cards for misconduct that violate the spirit of the game. However, red cards have not been in vogue when it comes to diving. Tecate Light has its opinion; red is more deserving than yellow.

The NBA just enacted technical fouls a few years ago for in-game flopping and fines to go along with the technicals if video review shows it to be a way over the top flop. Another possibility for soccer is to have individual leagues resolve the diving situations on their own after the game with the benefit of video review, like the NBA. Review panels could determine whether a suspension is warranted for a player when they participate in unsportsmanlike behaviors.

Faking incidents in sports have never really been completely perceived as unsportsmanlike, but with so much modern technology to help get the calls correct, an argument can be made that feigning under any circumstance to gain an advantage is ethically wrong and should be a punishable offense.

One of the most infamous acting jobs done by a respected, famous athlete was when Derek Jeter of the New York Yankeess pretended to be hit by a pitch in a late-season game and then admitted it later on. According to Jeter, the instinctual bluff he made is "part of the game." Baseball might look at this act a little differently now with video review. A player might even get a suspension or fine for the same act.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Peter Vermes Supports Americanizing Soccer

In a recent piece for SI, Grant Wahl interviewed some influential leaders with MLS asking what they would change as commissioner of MLS.  Peter Vermes, the manager (aka head coach-manager was the title given in SI report) of Sporting KC, responded with an Americanizing soccer answer.

The only person to win MLS Cup as a player and head coach for the same team said he believes that MLS must treat itself as "Our League."

Vermes started off saying, "I would treat our league a little more like the NFL does (for its league). The NFL is lucky because they don't have FIFA to deal with and the US Soccer Federation (to deal with)."

He was adamant that MLS must try to act for itself and not wait around for FIFA and the USSF to dictate terms for soccer.

"This is our league and we have to do things that are good for our league," he said.

He commented that innovation here in MLS could end up getting picked up for leagues around the rest of the world.

"I think the rest of the world... would like to see (that) since it works here, it could work there," he said.

He opined a little more on feelings for how the rest of the world looks at the game.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

A History of Rules Changes in MLS, NASL

Just in case you've wondered about rules experimentations implemented in the past by MLS and NASL that were different from FIFA standard international play, the following two articles will help explain them in detail.

The first one from MLSsoccer.com provides insight on why USL Pro uses 5 substitutions and then transitions to rules changes in MLS from 1994-2003.  It does a quick review of the old NASL 35 yard-line rule adjustment before finishing with rule adaptations in college soccer and indoor soccer.

Click here to read, "The Quirky Rules Sometimes Used in the American Game."

A detailed history of rules differences put into play for the original NASL begins with some perspective on the controversial offsides rule that eventually led to new field markings.  There's also a description of how the shootout came about, variations on substituting and a change in the values of a win and goals scored.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Independent Soccer Film Festival Reveals Unique Stories

Beginning Tuesday, Sept. 13th, through Friday, Sept. 16th, at the Scandinavia House in the Manhattan borough of New York City, a film series looks at the global game from a wide-variety of perspectives. Kicking and Screening is an independent film festival designed to go beyond the goal-scoring and what happens on the field.

Among this year's themes-the batch of movies cover political intrigue, a community metamorphosis, a surprise Euro Cup winner and how hobbyists show their love for the game.

Sports movies and documentaries are more popular than ever. Sports fans are attracted to the real-life struggles and interesting phenomenon that exist in sports movies. Respect for the genre has risen significantly over the last 20 years.

The world's sport deserves its own film festival. Kicking and Screening delivers thought-provoking art on soccer from several different contexts. It has established itself as a high-quality alternative for film fans and soccer fans. There are gems to be found for sure from their vault of 2014 and 2015.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Soccer or Football?: Heineken Settles the Debate

"I wasn't born in America and arriving here wasn't easy for me...I thought I'd never fit in, but over time-I gained their respect...I'm an American now."
"You got to prove yourself to make it in America...I heard that I'd never make it, but I proved them wrong."
"They said I wasn't born in the right country...but I earned their respect."

It's all about the journey, right? These statements sound like personal stories from newly minted citizens or from immigrants who have gone through Hell and back chasing their dreams to get to the U.S. and become successful.

Actually, these are some of the key phrases from Heineken's daring campaign, "Soccer Is Here." The marketing campaign has blitzed the soccer Tv landscape in the U.S. for the past few months with some adept, stylish and charming announcements. They were made with enough variety in them to keep the surprises going for a while for the consumers. I enjoy them and wish they had made more of them. Heineken has always been edgy when it comes to soccer ads.

What should the 'beautiful game' be called in the United States, Soccer, Football or Futbol? Heineken has taken its stance in the most elegant of ways with four spots, three :15-second commercials involving superstars David Villa, Landon Donovan and Carli Lloyd and one :30-second commercial made to highlight the supporter fandom culture of soccer.

It's the age-old argument for many soccer purists living in the U.S. Many would tell you the game should be called football here, even if American tackle football owns the moniker.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Soccer Friendlies in U.S. are a Sign of Disrespect

When will this 'friendly madness' in the U.S. end? From the looks of the most recent attendance figures, it might take a long while. More than one million fans attended summer soccer 'friendlies' in the U.S. this year.

I'd say blame some of it on the breadth and depth of the many growing metro areas throughout the country, especially ones without a high-level pro soccer team kicking around. These fake games are still creating quite a stir after breaking through the sports spectator clutter several summers back.

These international soccer exhibitions are supposed to bring a dose for how soccer is supposed to be, according to purist thinking. American fans should see how soccer can be the 'beautiful game' with uniforms from leagues, other than MLS. The most watched ones are teams from EPL, La Liga, Serie A and Bundesliga playing each other. Other ones involve a local team tries to play hero ball and beat the aristocratic foreign team.

The promoters of these events must think these foreign teams have tremendous appeal for U.S. sports fans because of their tradition as the soccer elite teams of the world. They invite them to participate in the U.S. because soccer traditionalists say they are superior. What the 'friendlies' really show us is how much farther soccer has to go to become mainstream. These 'friendlies' should not be as popular as they are. (I said a few years back that a broader FIFA Club World Cup is the best answer for handling the popularity of 'friendlies'.)

The pyramid of pro soccer in the U.S. has not completely solidified itself and has too many empty pockets around the country. People wouldn't have to get so excited about these 'friendlies' if they had pro soccer communities with rivalries and popular players who were noted for their outstanding abilities with the ball.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Will an MLS Goalkeeper Ever Duplicate the 'Scorpion' Kick?

The legendary Colombian goalkeeper, Rene Higuita, perfected the 'Scorpion Kick.'

As the ball approached the goal in the air, Higuita would get his body ready and perfectly time his action to flex his torso and bring his legs back together in the air to boot the ball out away from the goal.

While he is in the air, the entire play resembles how a scorpion looks, thus, the nickname.

Higuita was the Colombian National Team goalkeeper for several years in the late 80's and 90's and made appearances in the 1990 World Cup. He would have been in the 1994 World Cup, but he got involved with the druglord Pablo Escobar and made bad decisions. His wrongdoing led to time spent in prison. This time coincided with the '94 WC.

At first glance, the 'Scorpion Kick' looks like a novelty shot. And, it was. But, over the years, Higuita honed the art of the kick to reach such a high level, that he would use it in game situations in which the kick would act as a real save.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

MLS Benefits from 'Short Attention Span' Caused by the Internet

Study after study indicates that time spent using the internet is making humans less patient and more neurotic.

From the moment people are waking up till the moment they go to sleep, time spent with the internet changes how people react and behave.  Its effects are impossible to ignore. 

The speed of the information from the internet is making it harder for people to concentrate on other things in life that are slower to develop and take more personal time, like reading a book or watching a baseball game.

The same was said when television came along so many years ago.  But, the internet has one big difference than its TV counterpart.  The internet pushes people to multi-task as part of their daily routine.

Now, people are getting used to an overload of information.  There's not time for the mundane.

Major League Soccer can thrive among sports fans.  It provides a more condensed version of drama than the other 'big four' spectator sports, including college basket and football.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Copa Libertadores 2016 Final Has a Leicester City Feeling to It

Leicester City's run is over, but the memories will linger for lifetimes. For a tiny club from a suburban village of Quito, Ecuador, duplicating a miracle type of performance like Leicester's would be incredible, especially because it is happening in the same year.

Independiente del Valle, from Sangolquí, population 80,000 (give or take a few thousand) will be vying for the prestigious Copa Libertadores trophy. This is considered the 'Champions tournament' award for best team of South America. The winner of this tournament goes on to play in the year-end final FIFA Club World Cup.

Independiente del Valle will play another underdog (but not nearly as dramatic of one), Atlético Nacional of Colombia, in an aggregate home and home series starting this Wednesday.

This run by Independiente del Valle can be best put into perspective by just stating that it beat two legendary clubs from Argentina and one great team from Mexico in route to the final. Unbelievably, both Argentinean stalwarts, Boca Juniors and River Plate, and Pumas, were all taken out in the rounds of 16, quarters and semis by this unlikeliest of contenders that wasn't even playing Ecuador's First Division a couple years ago. In fact, Independiente del Valle barely made the tournament. They were part of a handful of teams forced to play an additional round in Copa Libertadores that not all clubs had to play.

Monday, July 11, 2016

No Team Recaptured a Scoring Lead in Euro Cup, Copa America

Recapture a lead from a losing position means: Get the lead, lose the lead beyond a tie, gain the lead again (1-0,1-2,3-2 is the minimum possibility for recapturing a lead).

It's pretty unbelievable to factually state that none of 83 matches for the 2016 Euro Cup and Copa America had a team recapture a scoring lead. Really, it's an indictment on the rules for the sport of soccer. How can this be that the 'beautiful game' we all love so much is organized in a way to make it so difficult for the world's best players to score goals and regain leads in a game?

Out of a total of 32 games in Copa America, there were no lead changes at all. Teams only tied once after being down more than one goal (Ecuador tied Peru 2-2) and teams never went ahead in a game after being down. Again, to reiterate, no team ever took a lead after being in a losing position.

Out of 51 total games (no third place game) in Euro Cup, there were five lead changes, all from only one goal down: England retook Wales 2-1, Croatia retook Spain 2-1, France retook the Republic of Ireland 2-1, Iceland over England 2-1 and Wales over Belgium 3-1. There was was one match with a team coming back to tie from two goals down, Czech Republic/Croatia ended 2-2. In the only match to trade goals more than two times, but with no lead changes, Portugal/Hungary ended 3-3.

The average goals scored in Copa America was 2.78 and Euro Cup was 2.08. The two finals produced an average of .50 goals per game. There was a 0-0 final in Copa America that went to penalties and a 1-0 final in Euro Cup.

Scoring goals is the crux to the problem, but to just say a 'lack of goal-scoring' alone wouldn't completely describe the problem. When we talk about why people watch sports, scoring is the biggest factor for watching or one of the biggest. It usually is a culmination of events that signifies success on the field for players and success off the field for fans. This success 'off the field' for fans can have a lot of different meanings. Scoring brings a level of satisfaction, engagement and togetherness. Overall, the effects of low-scoring games makes watching a lot less enjoyable.

The game of soccer is setup for comebacks and surprise pullout victories just like all the other popular team sports, but it is much rarer to take place than in those other sports. Teams in soccer should be able to muster the will to go ahead in a game after blowing a lead while the other team figures out how to get back to the drawing board and regain the lead again. Unpredictable events and lead changes in sports matches are dramatic and a huge part for why sports fans feel entertained while watching sports.

The game of soccer is flawed in its design with the present rules. The mastery of the game lends itself to a final scoring outcome that is undeserving when considering the skills needed to play the game at such a high level. Frankly speaking, the game needs changes because fans deserve better.

How ridiculous and how wrong can a sportswriter be than Tim Vickery of ESPN when he opened a piece on the effects of the first goal for the Copa America final between Chile and Argentina, when he wrote 'One of the most fascinating aspects of football is that, as a low-scoring game, any match has the potential to unfold in a number of different ways, often depending on who scores first.'

Monday, June 27, 2016

Review: New IFAB Website Provides Overdue Transparency

FIFA has long been considered a non-transparent entity and was confirmed as a criminal entity last year when all of the indictments, guilty pleas and resignations took place.

Interestingly, not too long after FIFA's re-start from ex-president Sepp Blatter's reign of incompetence to the new and improved president Gianni Infantino's version for running the world's sport, there is more clarity and interpretation for the rules of the game.

The new governance of FIFA has decided that part of the overhaul for its image and for the good of the game is to give emphasis to its division that focuses on the official 'Laws of the Game.' The IFAB (International Football Association Board) now has its own website, facebook page and twitter handle @THEIFAB.

And, of course, from my perspective, as the most prominent Americanizing soccer proponent in the U.S., this renewed interest on the rules of the game from FIFA is long overdue. It proves just how far behind the old regimes under Blatter and his predecessors were. They hid their ole boys club behind as much status quo as they could find and this included keeping the game stuck in neutral to keep the masses content while being hoodwinked.

Throughout my writings on this website, I have tried to show the link of a corrupt FIFA and how little the rules have progressed over time. For me, its ironic that the first major point of responsibility from this new FIFA governance under the auspices of IFAB was to update all of the 'Laws', which was completed by early March of 2016. The IFAB website confirmed FIFA's perspective with an article of the title 'New revision of the Law Book to reduce controversy and confusion.'

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Should Brexit Influence which Countries Play in Euro Cup 2020?

With the decision now determined from voters of the United Kingdom to move away from the European Union (EU) member state alliance, does it mean that the UK areas, England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland (Gibraltar is included, as well) should be disallowed from competition in UEFA (Union of European Football Association)?

Surely, the most prevailing answer is "No" from world soccer fans. This is mainly due to the close history the UK has had with UEFA. It would almost seem silly to think of UEFA without the UK. Purists or traditionalists wouldn't even consider the issue because of the blinders they have on. I mean, how could anyone ever consider kicking the UK out of UEFA when the sport was invented and built up there for more than a century and a half? In fact, these are the only four areas of the world along with delegates of FIFA that board the IFAB governance for the rules of the game.

In my opinion, the issue to boot the UK from UEFA deserves a deeper discussion for sure. Most casual soccer fans don't associate politics with soccer, yet us fervent ones know there is plenty of world politics taking place in the world's most popular game. It would be naive to think otherwise.

FIFA is one of the main catalysts for how countries around the world interact with each other. There is evidence of this in all of the international tournaments, including the World Cup qualifying process. FIFA, without making too much political noise, determines which member association each country is placed into and thus which countries make up the competitions. It might be that the member associations send out the invitations, but FIFA is the ultimate entity in charge of all the member associations.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Panini Sticker Set is Best Way to Get Ready for Copa America

I was checking out at Walgreens the other day and I spotted the Panini Copa America booklet and box of sticker packs right close to the checkout counter. I was stunned. I couldn't pass it up. I bought the booklet for seven dollars and 10 packs for one dollar each.

Panini is an Italian card company and most of the language on the packs and booklet are printed in Spanish first. Of course, on the internet, you can get a box of stickers delivered to your house in a matter of a few days and put a whole set together for a lower price. But, I've decided to buy a few packs every now and then and let the card collecting and anticipation for the tournament build up together.

I enjoy rooting for the Ecuadorian National team more than any other soccer team (I have residence there because my wife is Ecuadorian). Overall, rooting for Ecuador hasn't been a letdown at all, in fact, it has become increasingly exciting through the years. Ecuador has been to three of the last four World Cups. It has never won the Copa America, which makes this year even more special, as they have a serious chance of making a run for the title. Currently, Ecuador sits at the top of the South American World Cup qualifying table.

As I live in South Texas, I will probably cross the border to watch a Mexico match at a sports bar. It's fun to watch Mexico play in Mexico, even if it is only Tv. There are plenty of players to support from Mexico that play beautifully, like Oribe Peralta, Andres Guardado and Chicharito (Javier Hernandez). I've gotten used to these players and I root for them. I'll miss Giovanni dos Santos, who declined to take an invitation to play.

Friday, May 20, 2016

As NBA Discusses 4-Point Goals, Soccer Doesn't Even Consider 2-Point Goals

Two of the greatest long-distance shooters in NBA history were today for a New Yorker piece today on whether there should be a four-point goal in basketball. Larry Bird and Reggie Miller provided fodder for how the game may or may not play out in the future.

Larry seems open to the idea, while Reggie does not.

As for soccer, the only time I've ever heard any considerations for a two-point goal is on this website, in an article written by me and referenced by me more than a few times since.

I'd be thrilled to hear from two icon long-distance goal-scorers of soccer on how they would feel about a two-point shot. Two who come to mind are David Beckham and Zlatan Ibrahimovic. I'd say Ibrahimovic has had some of the all-time longest and most powerful shots to break the plane and Beckham has had more banana corner kicks than most to make it through. What would they and some others say?

The four point goal talk has taken off only because of the great Stephen Curry. He has transformed the game of basketball and superstardom. He is a beloved figure in sports because he is not the biggest athlete in the world, but puts up some of the most amazing shots that somehow make all net. My favorite is when he shoots and stops looking so that he can start walking back or stare at an opposing player-dude doesn't even have to follow his shot. He's feeling it.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Pelé and Akon Chime in on Hot Soccer Topics on TMZ Sports

Apparently, TMZ Sports has expanded its soccer coverage with some in-depth interviews. Could it be that TMZ Sports is turning into a more serious brand of sports news?

I don't think so, but both of these clips were interesting takes on current affairs in soccer. With more of these kinds of interviews, TMZ Sports could transform itself into a more serious sports news agency. Possibly, this could be a niche-interview famous athletes and artists about hot sports topics, instead of just giving the juicy gossip.

Recently, TMZ Sports put some tough questions to Pelé regarding the chances for U.S. to win a World Cup and whether the U.S. is on the right path, or not, with head coach Jurgen Klinsmann. Pelé, the greatest ambassador the sport has to offer, answered with a historical perspective, and with his own insight as a former club player in the U.S. for years.

In another segment, TMZ Sports took on the controversy of the 2022 World Cup, and whether it should be played in Qatar, or not. The questions were put to a music icon. Akon accepted the challenge gracefully and put forth a not so popular answer, but backed it up with a cultural perspective. Akon is definitely a huge and knowledgeable soccer fan.

The last time I remember TMZ being involved with soccer, it had to do with the famous models/wives of MLS players, David Beckham and Robbie Keane.

TMZ is a respected entertainment news organization and has broken numerous dynamic American events, including the death of Michael Jackson and most recently, the death of Prince. TMZ has earned its reputation, in an industry that is hard to be trustworthy.

As for sports stories that have been broken, TMZ has been all over it (in its own distinguished, eccentric and unchallenged ways), including;

Thursday, April 14, 2016

MLS Missed Thursday, Non-NBA Schedule Opportunity

Thursday's biggest sports headlines belonged to the NFL. A huge draft board trade involving the number one pick and the newest en vogue NFL team, the L.A. Rams, combined with the upcoming season schedule release for all teams made for compelling sports news.

It could have blown away all the competition, if not for some juicy basketball headlines. The only league able to compete with the NFL was the NBA, which was able to stay close with the Kobe retirement game of 60 points, the Golden State Warriors record-breaking 73 wins talk and discussion of the playoffs matchups.

Both these leagues had no games scheduled. Another league with no games scheduled was MLS. And, yet, here I was without my basketball fix and ready to find an MLS game to watch. Instead, I had to settle for the Democratic debate.  Ughh!

Also, going on in the sports world, baseball was in full swing, so, at least there were some MLB highlights. And, for hockey fans, the playoffs were an easy pick on NBCSportsNetwork.

When will MLS learn how to promote its game in the most opportunistic ways? It's all about scheduling. The sport can't keep having season after season without making its mark on the sports calendar of the casual sports fans.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Video: 80's Movie Describes Soccer's Awe

There may never be a more touching description of Soccer's power to affect the masses.  In the 1985 movie, Vision Quest, the late actor J.C. Quinn, playing Elmo-a blue-collar guy with friendly advice, gets the honor of handling some beautiful writing.

Vision Quest is a movie about a high-school wrestler, Louden Swain, who pursues a match with the state's best wrestler.  In it, Quinn tells Mathew Modine's character, Louden Swain, about one of Pelé's fantastic goals.

The movie develops many characters while telling a story of persistence and eccentricity.  Elmo's descriptions of the goal and how the crowd reacted are a reminder of why Soccer is referenced so often as the world's 'beautiful game.'

This part of the movie is Louden's wake-up call for that night's wrestling match against state champion, Brian Shute.

Louden was moping around, feeling sorry for himself after losing his girlfriend, when he stops by to visit with his co-worker, Elmo.  They know each other from a big hotel, where Louden works part-time doing room service and Elmo is full-time as a cook.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Thousands Flee Guatemala Ahead of Tuesday's Qualifier vs. U.S.

Every day for the last several years, children are leaving Guatemala without parents and traveling through Mexico to cross the border into the U.S.

Since word got out a few years back about a 2008 human trafficking law that gives rights to unaccompanied alien children (UAC) coming to the U.S., three countries have witnessed an exodus of their citizens fleeing North. Children from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, as well as families from those three countries, are coming here to escape violence and poverty.

It's a heavy dose of irony and politics that make the matches between the U.S. National Team versus the National Teams of these three countries so fraught with intrigue. How can it be that these games should even be played when one country is losing its citizens daily so they can escape to live in the other?

Making things even more interesting, Guatemala won the first encounter versus the U.S. in qualifying for the 2018 World Cup, a few days ago. This means the U.S. is taking in a lost generation from Guatemala and taking a beating on the field, too.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Will U.S. Fail to Qualify for 2018 WC?

In round four of group C of the North, Central, Caribbean qualifiers for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, the U.S. finds itself in 3rd place with three games to go. Only the top two from the group advance to round five.

It's the halfway point for the group and the U.S. finds itself behind Trinidad/Tobago and Guatemala.

The U.S. is in a tough spot in their qualifying process, and arguably, they are playing in the easiest of the three groups.  None of the other two groups have a complete also-ran like St. Vincent/Grenadines in their group. This is a country/team that has lost all three of its matches by a total score of 13-3. Out of all 12 countries, it is the only team to have no points thus far in the round.

Each country has played each other one time. But, because of the lack of St. Vincent/Grenadines as a threat to any of the other three teams, the U.S. must consider Trinidad/Tobago and Guatemala as assured of three more guaranteed points. Therefore, the U.S. has to step up and beat Guatemala in its next game for sure or risk the possibility of not getting through to the next round and thus, not qualifying for 2018.

As the points stand, if the U.S. tie versus Guatemala, then, much of their qualification rides on their game versus Trinidad/Tobago.

A tie against Guatemala may not be good enough because it leaves open the chance that each of them win against St.Vincent/Grenadines and Guatemala versus Trinidad/Tobago ends in a tie, leaving the possibility of the U.S. 'outside looking in' for qualification.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Latest ISIS Attacks Hit #1 Ranked Soccer Country in the World

The world is mourning for the lives lost and the innocence taken from a historically peaceful European capital and country.  After the shock of Wednesday's attacks by ISIS in Brussels, Belgium, civilized communities around the world have to again bear witness to a 21st century reality. For despondent, delusional intentions, Islamic extremists are trying to make a permanent mark on free societies by attempting to take away people's aspirations and normalcy.

An overlooked irony to these latest cowardly acts of violence is the fact that Belgium is presently considered the best country in the world playing soccer, according to FIFA rankings.

I use the word 'irony' because Belgium has the world's attention for the moment. Discounting the last year and a half, people familiar with how Europe has functioned over the last sixty plus years, since World War II, know that Belgium has always been considered a very small, but safe country to travel through. And, Belgium has never really been considered on the world's stage for athletic prowess. There have been two outstanding Grand Slam lady tennis champions, Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin. But on the Olympic stage, Belgium has been relatively quiet.

And, yet, there is Belgium atop the rankings board for the world's best known and most competitive sport.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

MLS Owners Wish They Could Act Like NFL Owners

NFL owners met this week to do something that MLS owners can't do. They had their annual rules meeting. Rules were changed for tackle football by the owners to adapt the game to meet its obligation for safety, sportsmanship and entertainment value.

Every year, NFL owners are tackling issues to improve their sport. This is the norm.

NBA owners do the same thing in their yearly off-season and usually do less than the NFL, but they still get things done, if the game needs revision. One thorny issue for NBA owners not changed last year, however, likely to be addressed this year, will be the intentional fouling rule that effects the pace of the game.

MLB owners...same thing. They've got the power. And, they're trying to figure out how to change rules to help their pace of play, too. From year to year, MLB owners make the least amount of changes among the 'big three', but who knows, that could change at anytime. It's nice to have the ability to effect your game, if need be.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Ecuador Playing for More than World Soccer Stature

2014 WC Squad
Ecuador has unassumingly made its march up the ladder of the world soccer rankings and currently sits at number 13.  After making its first World Cup appearance in 2002, Ecuador has tried to make it a habit of playing in World Cups. They have appeared in three of the last four, including one breakthrough out of group play into the knockout rounds (It just so happened that England bested Ecuador, 1-0, when David Beckham decided to bend one for the ages).

The two South American qualifiers this week find Ecuador at home versus #43 ranked Paraguay and away versus 8th ranked Columbia. The biggest news of all for Ecuador is that they sit atop the qualifying standings, undefeated with no ties-all wins. So far, Ecuador has raised eyebrows around the world by going four for four in trying to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

As my wife is from Ecuador and I lived there for two years, I tend to follow the national team. I still remember one of my favorite Ecuadorian soccer players of all time, Otilino Tenorio (Spiderman), who I wrote about several years back. 

What I've noticed and appreciated so much about Ecuador's National Team has been its humility blended with talent. It's no secret that most of the team have been black players (Afro-Ecuadorians) since the World Cup run started in the early 2000's.  These black players, to a man, have played soccer on a world stage with a cultural weight on their shoulders.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Seven Soccer Stars Who Play Like Steph Curry

The biggest compliment the soccer community can give to the best basketball player in the world is a soccer tribute:

Steph Curry has earned one.

In soccer, it's hard to put together a streak of long-distance goals. Creativity and ingenuity on the field is not all that common, either.  Steph Curry type of players are not abundant in any sport, His type comes along once in a generation.

Steph Curry's prodigious long-distance shots and all-around talent on the hardwood got me thinking about which current soccer players are similar to him on the field.  I came up with a list of seven that approach what he does. Most of them are the 'obvious' ones.  In fact, some of them are heavily influencing this year's UEFA Champions League.

All of them are infamous for their playmaking abililities, just like 'Amazing Steph.'

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

FIFA Corruption Lasted More than 40 Years

Blatter and Havelange, 1982.
According to the FIFA admission released yesterday, corruption in regards to the selling off of marketing rights for tournaments, has been going on since the presidency of Joao Havelange. He was the president of FIFA before Sepp Blatter took over in 1998.  With this admission, we can assume the organization has been tainted since 1974, when Havelange became president. This is more than one third of the organization's existence. FIFA was born in 1904.

The organization hasn't been a trusted world entity for more than 40 years. This means that all the actions of the organization should be questioned since Havelange's reign.

Part of the lingering skepticism over how the organization has operated during all these years should also include the administration of the game. It wouldn't be fair for us to only analyze the bribes and to not take into account all the other affairs of the organization that can be doubted, as well.

It is safe to say, that in both presidencies, Havelange and Blatter, there was an overwhelming sense for sticking to the status quo in all aspects of soccer.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

ESPN SportsCenter Promotes Liga MX Rivalry Match

The promotion I saw wasn't on ESPN Deportes. I saw it on the regular, powerful ESPN channel, clear as day on Saturday morning.  A full day and a half ahead of the scheduled game, a segment of SportsCenter was dedicated to Chivas Guadalajara versus Club America. Apparently, this is Liga MX's biggest or most important rivalry, something I didn't know.

I was a little stunned when I saw the segment because I've seen scores from Liga MX on the ticker from ESPN, and I've noticed a few profiles over the last couple of years focused on popular Mexican soccer players, but I don't recall any specific time from SportsCenter allocated to a particular Liga MX game.

Times have changed and marketing strategies for ESPN have changed, too.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Steph Curry, Warriors Drown Out MLS Opening Day

It's not just the Golden State Warriors drowning out MLS, it's a confluence of factors. But, the amazing Warriors of the NBA are definitely the headlining story in the American sports world.

Another MLS season is among us, and yet again, the mainstream sports media world couldn't care less.  There's more coverage of MMA-UFC 196 and the captivating, surprising losses of Conor McGregor and Holly Holm than any story lines for MLS opening day.

While I believe and most U.S. soccer pundits and writers believe that MLS is a respectable league with some interesting rivalries, mostly revolving around the Galaxy and Sounders, the needle doesn't seem to move year to year in terms of excitement from the mainstream media.  I judge this from watching plenty of ESPN shows and listening to national radio sports talk.  Let's not forget, ESPN has a vested interest, so one would think it's plenty fine to incorporate MLS into their shows (like Pardon The Interruption or Around The Horn), but rarely is MLS featured.

MLS is moving vigorously to add more teams and advertisers are already on board with the league. But, the U.S. pro soccer league doesn't seem to be able to move past the 'niche' label.  The sport has its challenges in reaching the masses level.  And, while it's not the only sport with challenges to meet the masses, those masses of fans don't appear to be anywhere on the horizons.  MLB is doing well in its local markets, but not that well, nationally. It's safe to say, the NHL is also a niche market, similar in many ways to MLS.

At every turn, on the national sports calendar, MLS has its competitors. College basketball's March Madness finds success every year. And, the Masters golf tournament has just become a juggernaut again with its new blend of young champions.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

MLS Best Hope In Solving Pro Soccer's Concussion Crisis

Heading a soccer ball has probably been resulting in multiple minor concussions on youth players to professional players for decades.  A bunch of minor concussions put together with the occasional major concussion can add up to long-term slowing of the mind. Like tackle football, the issue had been neglected within the media and also in the soccer industry, until recent years.

A few key episodes have increased the onus for change in the game to prevent further brain damage on players. The first being the ongoing investigation over the last several years into the virtues of tackle football. It has been a quintessential American sport, so the forefront of concussion research in sports has been acceded to the U.S.

Due to what happened in the final of the 2014 World Cup, having nothing to do with heading the ball, concussions in soccer got a higher profile.  Then, yesterday, we hear that Brandi Chastain will be donating her brain to science after death.  This was definitely a headline for the subject of concussions in soccer.

The USSF has already put new rules into place for kids heading the ball.  It must do the same for professional soccer.  Without FIFA input, the USSF should direct MLS to do whatever is necessary to correct the rules of the game in order to prevent concussions on pro players.  This aspect of the sport should be non-negotiable.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Which MLS Team would Make the Best Fit for Ronaldhino?

In Pursuit of a Living Legend:

There are few worldwide legends of soccer. They just don't come around often.  It takes a lengthy career and an abundance of beautiful plays and goals.  Ronaldhino qualifies as one, for sure.  In fact, it can be argued that his style of movement with the ball, his fakeouts, his passes and his overall innovative style changed the modern game.

In MLS, most would agree that David Beckham and Landon Donovan are the only past legends of soccer to have played in the league.  I think an argument can be made for Thierry Henry and Didier Drogba (still playing now for the Montreal Impact) to add to the list. Ronaldhino, though, is a no-doubter.

So, when is he going to sign?  Presently, he is without a team.  However, literally, every league in the world would love to show him off.

He last played a few weeks ago in a friendly for Barcelona.  Hold on, not that Barcelona.  In Guayaquil, Ecuador, playing for the local club, he was introduced to a sellout crowd in only a way that a legend like him could be.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

'FC' On Its Own Hasn't Won Yet in MLS

Any team coming on board with MLS, may want to think twice before giving a moniker of 'FC' only.  As it stands now, only Toronto FC, New York City FC and FC Dallas, have the singular nickname.  Other clubs use 'FC', like Sounders FC or Whitecaps FC, but, of course, it sounds completely different following a chosen nickname.

There seems to be a trend going on with metro areas in the hunt to get to MLS.  Either some have already adopted 'FC', or you hear it in rumors swirling in soccer circles on the social media circuits. LAFC is next up coming in to the league. Atlanta FC is a distinct possibility.  San Antonio FC is official in the minor leagues.  St. Louis FC is the hot gossip.

Borrowing nicknames is a marketing strategy that teams deploy to recruit soccer fans who lean traditional. Connecting to a European nickname or utilizing 'FC' is a decision of trying to belong to the world community of soccer teams.

How much does an original nickname matter when it comes to performance on the field?  There's probably no correlation, but the influence of a nickname can affect a community. It can raise spirits and be a point of solidarity. Timbers and Sounders are two that come to mind.

Combined with performance, nicknames can have a carry-over effect on culture.  Galaxy and Cosmos are definitely two that have matched big city expectations.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

MLS Bends Like Beckham for Qatar

It feels like MLS is standing idly by while David Beckham maneuvers and manipulates his Miami franchise with the help of Qatari money.  This is a travesty. There is a moral dilemma related to Qatari investments into MLS that should be corrected.  And, it's an issue being ignored by the media.

Is Beckham too influential in soccer and too intimidating for MLS to stand up against, in order to do what's right?  Is he above reproach?  MLS must want Beckham involved with the league so much that they are willing to sell their souls to the devil.

It's as if no one wants to say anything about what's happened over the last 9 months, since the FIFA downward spiral began, and how much Qatar bribes had to with it all.  It seems Beckham is too influential of a soccer figure for MLS to put any restrictions on his strategies for implementation. A successful Miami team takes precedence against all potential perils.

In 2013, there was an article labeling Beckham as an 'Arabian Figurehead.'  That article had to do with him going to play for the Paris St. Germain club, owned by Qatar investors.  Interestingly, though, the label he earned from a few years ago as a player still seems appropriate today for him as an executive.  He backs the 2022 World Cup staying in Qatar.  It's logical to think his backing is due to his dependency on Qatari investments for his Miami club.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Time for an All-American FIFA

It certainly doesn't appear like FIFA is blowing things up and starting over, like it probably should. If the organization could begin again, American influence should be a priority for planning its future.

But, wow, what extraordinary irony there is, in that the one person best suited to push present-day FIFA to the brink has taken up the diminutive game of Futsal, as his devotion.

Apparently, he doesn't know it or doesn't realize it, but Mark Cuban could single-handily take out FIFA.

FIFA is in the most vulnerable position it will ever be in.  It's ripe for the taking.  A more ethical competing soccer organization could put up new parameters for how the world's game should be organized going forward and take jurisdiction away from FIFA permanently.  By simply putting a marketing plan together for a 2022 World Cup (call it something else) in the U.S. to compete directly against Qatar, the new soccer global organization can become the de facto authority.

For the first time in a while, Mark Cuban, didn't think big enough.  Why go for the little game, when you can own the big game?

Friday, February 12, 2016

What is the MLS End Game?

Years ago, I wrote about MLS growing to possibly 36 teams. It's time for a re-examination.

A lot of the traditionalists and purists would argue that MLS tries as hard as it can to go away from the world order of how pro soccer leagues are supposed to be administrated. They're not happy with playoffs at the end of the season and no promotion/relegation.

I've even heard rumblings from traditionalists in the soccer blogosphere that they think MLS is absurd for trying to introduce instant replay technology on its own.

But, what really gets the purists irked is how the league has grown itself past the exact, measured amount of teams that are supposed to play in a league.  World leagues are not supposed to be more than 20 teams according to these supposed experts.

On this one point, I think MLS may try to mend things with those worldly soccer know-it-alls.  I hypothesize that the MLS end game is 40 teams, two 20 team conferences.  MLS can achieve a few things with a 40 team, two conferences league.  Automatically, they can explain how important it is for them to have 20 team conferences to conform to world type standards.  Their excuse for two conferences is an easy one to explain.  The country with Canada is too big for only 20 teams.

What two conferences of 20 teams also does, is set the schedule straight.  This puts them on target for a 38 game season, just like the other world leagues.  Or, if they want to do an MLB interleague thing, they can add ten games for a 48 match schedule.  Every year, those 10 games can be switched out for different interleague competitors.

Obviously, the two winners of the conference playoffs can face off in the title game (MLS Cup).

The single most important reason for why the league needs to get to 40 teams is to spread its brand. There is still an emptiness for MLS when it comes to Tv ratings.  It struggles mightily in getting a television audience.

The 'big 3' of  football, basket and baseball (MLB, the NBA, the NFL and college football) are still dominating at high levels.  MLS will still have troubles establishing its prominence with casual sports fans with 28 teams, which is where they have already claimed they will be in a few years.

But, with 40 successful teams, there may not be a way to deny the league of its presence in American and Canadian culture.

Now, the fun stuff, speculating on which metro areas will have teams.  This is how I see it:

Monday, February 8, 2016

Weak EPL Season Opens the Door for MLS

MLS and its teams have to be alert to any and every opportunity to convert fans over to watching them. Obviously, this includes casual sports fans.  And, definitely, it also means the traditional soccer fans of world leagues, like La Liga, Bundesliga and EPL.

Of all the world leagues, arguably, EPL is the most influential and most followed league for American soccer traditionalists.

As for this 2015-16 season, EPL is suffering on a few fronts.  A typically underachieving club, Leicester City, with a much lesser reputable brand is at the top of the table.  This is a team that has been bounced time after time from the upper divisions due to relegation.  Some may argue that Leicester City is a great story for EPL, but I would disagree.

It is a great story for sure in England because something like this hasn't happened in so long in the history of the EPL, or ever.  But, from a U.S. perspective, it seems different.  The superpowers of EPL is what attracts the fans and American traditionalists.

Another difficult obstacle for EPL to acknowledge this 2015-16 season is the lack of star power on the field.  There are few movers and shakers playing in the EPL.  There's no Messi or Ronaldo.  It's hard to make an argument that any one player in EPL is earth shattering right now.  It feels like there are plenty of journeymen or past stars.

Lastly, and possibly the most disappointing, is the lack of scoring.  After 250 games, there have been 649 goals for an average of 2.6 per game.  This is down almost .2 per game since 2010.  It's down almost a full two goals since the beginnings of the league, more than 100 years ago, but that's a different story, altogether.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

No Americans Running for FIFA President

Should the U.S. lead FIFA?  Should FIFA relocate its headquarters to the U.S.?

Many people would argue that the world's sport should be run by Americans.  After the last six months of indictments on FIFA officials, soccer executives and marketers, there is a natural reaction to think about putting soccer in the hands of Americans.  After all, it is the American judicial system that has finally revealed the corruption to the world.  Loretta Lynch, U.S. Attorney General, is a hero in the eyes of those who were incredulous over the Qatar pick of five years ago for World Cup 2022. 

Ironically, it was a woman who brought down this 'old boys club.'  (And, by the way, no women have been indicted.)

There are seven men running for FIFA President in February with Michael Platini possibly not being allowed due to his suspension.

American ethics and values are on full display during this whole FIFA ordeal.  The U.S. is the one and only country in the world willing to take on the embezzlers.  It is the one and only willing to investigate with time and money to confront the cheaters.  Soccer has been corrupt for decades or possibly since the inception of FIFA.  Now, things will have to change and things will have to be transparent.  Too many soccer executives in FIFA will be too scared of the long arm of U.S. law.  It's just not worth it to be in that kind of a position and scam more kickbacks when the U.S. is going to take your freedom away and throw you in jail.

So, with all the changes that will surely be made, why aren't there any Americans running for FIFA President?  I wouldn't want any from present-day USSF to be involved because I don't trust any of them after Chuck Blazer's exploits and their probable knowledge of other FIFA wrongdoings.

Who would be an outstanding American candidate?  Maybe a former President or present-day humanitarian would do.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Soccer Needs Its Own "McFarland, USA"

As far as inspiring team sports movies go, Disney's McFarland, USA is a heck of a movie. It pretty much presses all the right buttons. The underdogs rise up and win. And, they do it with dignity and grace.

There was excellent character development and the plot moved quickly.  A two-hour movie didn't feel too long and Kevin Costner did an excellent job portraying Coach White, the one who had the idea to start the McFarland high school cross-country running team.

There have been plenty of sports movies made over the years that have had the right blend of movie magic.  But, the ones based on true stories seem to have a little more grit to them.  This genre has brought us Remember the Titans, Hoosiers and Glory Road.  McFarland, USA joins this elite group.

The fight in McFarland, USA comes from high-school immigrant Mexican-American kids who harvested crops before and after school and still found time to practice their running.  They beat other teams that had much more comfortable lives.  It's an amazing story.

McFarland, USA reminded me of how much further soccer has to go to dazzle audiences in American movie theaters.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

10 Rules Changes to Enhance MLS

Amendments are meant to assist the shortcomings that have followed the game under FIFA's watch.

FIFA has been slow to evolve.  This is not anything new and just about anyone would agree.

American sports fans have high demands for their sports and they insist on common sense and the best possible drama in every match.

Ten (10) Proposed Rule Amendments/Changes for Professional Soccer:

I. Each 45-Minute Half counts down to 0 seconds:
a. Games may result in a tie.
b. Games played in overtime are decided by first goal scored (Golden Goal).
c. Overtime is considered 15-minutes of continuous play after the end of regulation.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Will FIFA Reconstruction Expedite the Americanization of Soccer?

After the FIFA implosion of 2015, will the reconstruction of the organization allow for progressive ideas to give the game a higher scoring average?

Any talk about the Americanization of the game carries one central tenet: scoring must increase.  In order for the game to be a year-round success with casual American sports fans, more goals will always be the answer.

After the dust has settled, I expect FIFA to remain in charge of the sport of soccer and I don't expect a lot of changes to the way it governs.  But, I do expect Qatar to lose the 2022 World Cup.

Purist and traditionalist fans of soccer (the ones who don't want any rules changes and think the game is perfect the way it is) have been ignorant to the fact that they have been supporters to the corruption of FIFA all along.  

If FIFA had been a transparent organization over the last forty years, the rules of the game would have already progressed considerably.  

Monday, June 8, 2015

Will Water Breaks Make Their Way to MLS Permanently?

Originally published August of 2011.

In Mexico's First Division and throughout all of its leagues, water breaks at the 25 and 70 minute marks are becoming more common.  These breaks are decided by the weather.  If officials see the weather as very hot, they are allowing for these breaks to occur, so players can hydrate and play on effectively.

These water breaks are causing quite a stir in staunch Soccer circles in Mexico because there are many who believe the breaks are being manipulated by television stations to interject commercials and what started off as the perceived right thing to do for the players, has turned into a marketing ploy by those in positions of power.

There is debate as to whether these water breaks (really, rest breaks-because FIFA allows players to go to end lines and get water during play or any stoppage) should be allowed in the first place, but evidently they've been happening for a number of years.  Those who support the game in the most legalistic of principles believe the breaks should not be allowed because they go against FIFA edict. Then, there is the group who doesn't mind the breaks, but not for TV purposes and then there are those who don't care either way.

Water breaks have occurred on the most rarest of occasions in MLS, too.  How hot is too hot and will this become a factor in American Soccer?

Video:  Water breaks are not shown (they are indicated on MLS website), but announcer describes heat from the first seconds and then again, 30-seconds later.