Thursday, June 15, 2017

MLS Team Becomes First to Sign ESports Player in U.S.

It was bound to happen. Major sports teams in the U.S. are finding ways to incorporate Esports into their plans for the future. One team is already budgeting for it, NYCFC of MLS.

We knew Esports were a serious spectator entertainment option, as news trickles in week to week about different tournaments being promoted around the world, celebrity partnerships and million dollar leagues. I'm not sure whether or not we should call it a sport, because being athletic is not required, but as entertainment, it can't be denied. By the way, athletes don't always win at sports. Go back and look at John Daly's highlights for golf. I guess Esports ends up in the debate with bowling, golf, darts, billiards and others, on whether they are sports, or not.

In whatever form you decide to think about Esports, one thing seems certain, they are here to stay. The younger generations are the deciders now, and Esports is one of the best ways to connect with them. Any sport making a push to be more popular wants to have those Esporters and Eathletes along for the ride. I have profiled EA FIFA a couple of times on this site. It has been a transcendent product, intertwining all classes of people to the game of soccer, including those from the inner-city. And, it has become a form of competition as a spectator sport to real-life soccer. 

Saturday, June 10, 2017

USSF Should Forsake Participation in Qatar World Cup Qualifiers

It's a queasy feeling to think about the 2022 World Cup host government supporting ISIS. However, this is a reality. There are multiple Arab countries claiming Qatar is plotting terrorism, funding it, and harboring terrorists. Arab Gulf countries are now claiming foe status to Qatar.

This World Cup should never have been scheduled for Qatar in the first place. Possibly, it is the worst, most controversial, illegal sports decision ever made in the history of sports. Ultimately, it was the decision that brought down FIFA and Sepp Blatter.

I have said for many years now, that the World Cup should not be played in Qatar. My reasons were the same as many other rational human beings. A place like Qatar does not deserve the world's stage, when the environment there openly discriminates against women and gays. Women and gays don't have safe haven and can not improve their status because of ancient customs and modern laws. And, the slavery accusations and clear abuse of the workforce that has gone on there over the years in building the stadiums is just completely and utterly inhumane.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Frank Deford Didn't Respect Soccer

Acclaimed sports writer and sports documentarian, Frank Deford, died last week at the age of 78. Interestingly, he was exquisite in his writing on sports stories and sports idols, but he wasn't delicate in stating his opinions on the sport of soccer.

In his last commentary for NPR (National Public Radio), shortly before his death, he said, "Someone had to stand up to the yakety-yak soccer cult." His opposition to soccer was crystal clear. Basically, he didn't see soccer as a sport that could stack up with the 'Big 3' (football, baseball and basketball).

His seminal writing for why soccer can't be successful in the U.S. was written for Sports Illustrated in 2001, titled, "Not Our Cup of Tea." In the book review opinion piece, Deford counters arguments made by the authors of Offside: Soccer and American Exceptionalism. His does not hold back any punches. His basic premise is that soccer will never thrive in the U.S. because it's simply un-American.

Deford wrote, "We prefer offense in the United States. Soccer is defensive. Football added the forward pass. Basketball introduced a shot clock. We expect satisfaction in the United States. Soccer
celebrates frustration. Soccer developed outside the U.S., and unlike most everything else in the world, it lacks our influence."

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Sacramento Republic Hasn't Scored a Goal in Nearly 500 minutes

These days, it's tough to be a Sacramento Republic fan. The United Soccer League Division II team is in the midst of a futile scoring streak that has lasted close to 500 minutes. Officially, the streak is at 473 minutes. The Republic last scored six games ago in the 67th minute of a 2-1 victory on the road against the Tulsa Roughnecks. Since that goal, they've gone 5 full games, 90 minutes each, without a goal.

In U.S. soccer circles, Sacramento is considered a respectable franchise. A soccer-specific stadium has been approved for the downtown, as the public has been galvanized by soccer fever and the allure of MLS. In the minds of most American soccer pundits, Sacramento is the likeliest of contenders to be awarded a franchise in the next announcements from the commissioner's office.

With Sacramento's passion for soccer clearly established, a reputation for excellence is also trying to be established. Sacramento has already won a Division III title in 2014, beating Harrisburg City 2-0, in the final. The team averaged more than 20,000 fans in attendance during the playoffs that year. They won a regular season conference title in 2016. Clearly, soccer is being taken seriously in Capital City. And, this is why a long scoreless streak for the team is so disappointing.

Considering the amount of world soccer leagues that have come and gone and the amount of clubs in soccer history across the world that have come and gone, it would probably be really hard to track down the all-time world record for scoreless minutes streak. However, the MLS scoreless minutes streak is available and a good starting point for comparison. According to the Toronto FC list of records, back in 2007, that Toronto FC team went 824 minutes without scoring a goal.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Next Most Logical Rules Change for MLS-part II

How does MLS institute rules changes, if it must first get clearance from FIFA? ...Water breaks during extreme weather and regular weather was the hot topic of Next Most Logical Rules Change for MLS (part I). If the reason for the new rule protects the health of the players and is good for the game, as is the case for water breaks, then, just make the change and worry about the consequences later.

Adjusting the rules should definitely take precedence for protecting players from head injuries or concussions, and, as discussed in a previous post, MLS is already the best hope in solving soccer's concussion crisis. 

We are learning that the newer, more transparent FIFA is also a kinder, gentler world soccer governing body. Post scandal, it is more likely that FIFA will oblige common sense, rather than punish it. Especially so, because MLS is the guinea pig world Division I league experimenting with VAR (video assisting referees), to get the right call on challengeable instant replays. MLS has a distinctive relationship with FIFA now, which other leagues don't have.

The most aesthetically displeasing of all Soccer plays is the goalkeeper punt (punting is dropping the ball from the air with the hands with or without a quick bounce). It’s awful to watch. It hurts the flow of the game and looks out of place compared to the rest of the game. The inartistic nature and brute force of the kick doesn’t blend in with the rest of the skills that make soccer the world’s most ‘beautiful game.’ The punt delivers more than just concussions for the players who receive them with their heads. It subconsciously changes how the game is strategically played.

These punts happen when the keeper gathers the ball with his/her hands after a player from the opposing team has made contact with the ball pushing it towards the goal being defended by the keeper.  The keeper could have made a great save or it could have been incidental contact by the opposing team.  Either way, the keeper has the option to punt the ball to try and give his/her team an advantage going towards the other goal.  After gathering the ball, the keeper runs or jaunts quickly to the edge of the penalty box line, if they desire. Usually they are waving teammates down field and then the ball drops from their hands and is punted with as much power in the leg as possible (sometimes the punt will be directional with less power).  

Goalkeepers are the only players who have the ability under the rules to touch the ball with their hands. From the time as children growing up playing the sport, this has always been the most distinctive attribute to Soccer. Players don’t ever get to use their hands, only the keepers.  So why not keep it this way? Force goalkeepers to throw the ball down field after collecting it, rather than the option to punt. Their skill sets throwing the ball can still place the ball to the midfield line. 

Interestingly, as with the water break rule, a rule taking away punting from goalkeepers can also help the game of soccer gain more practicality and provide for more goal-scoring opportunities. This rules change would intrinsically reward the more skilled offensive team.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

NFL Instability Could Boost MLS, NASL

The NFL's reputation has taken a hit as some name-brand teams jump locations to try and find greener grass. After three recent franchise venue changes by the Rams, Chargers and Raiders, an argument can be made that the NFL is in a organizational slump. The 49ers didn't change their name, but their venue change two seasons ago to an hour and half south of San Francisco was just as dramatic as the other three teams. Really, it's four teams that have now moved cities and changed fan bases within three years.

The next NFL team most likely to move cities is Jacksonville. There are rumors to the demise of the Jaguars every year. Any team can try to leave their hometown, if there is a better financial plan ready for action somewhere else. Due to diminishing resources, some first-rate metro areas from the past don't measure up for staying on as an NFL hub. It's hard to imagine the Detroit Lions, Cleveland Browns or Cincinnati Bengals ever leaving, but the ebb and flow of metro area demographics puts some destinations on a more highly desirable list and others on a not-so-desirable list.

Consequently, every franchise location change from the NFL, NBA and the NHL has been an opportunity waiting for professional soccer.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

MLS Doesn't Bend During World Cup Qualifying

As 2018 World Cup qualifiers get going again Thursday, March 23rd through Tuesday, March 28th, most of the world's professional soccer leagues will be on hiatus until at least Saturday, April 1st. None of the elite leagues from Europe, South America or Liga MX are playing during these Qualifiers, from Thursday to Tuesday. MLS is the exception. MLS has three league games scheduled for Saturday, March 25th, including one on national Tv (UniMas), New York vs. Real Salt Lake.

Traditionalists say that MLS is acting in a counter-productive way by not following the international soccer calendar. Purists call the scheduling maneuver by MLS as disrespectful. But, it's not a slap in the face to FIFA. It's simply keeping the league alive in the minds of U.S. sports fans during the busy American sports calendar.

There's no downtime for the competition to MLS for U.S. sports Tv ratings. Besides WC qualifiers, there are other robust contests going up against MLS for Tv ratings during this time, including college basketball's March Madness and playoff positioning games for the NBA.

By going iconoclastic, MLS is setting a tone for its future and sending a message to the rest of the world. One could say that it is part and parcel to the Americanization of MLS. Whether it's having more than 20 teams in its league, having a playoff system to determine a champion, not promoting/relegating or scheduling games during WC qualifying, MLS has decided it wants to control what it can, when it can. Going against FIFA protocol may not be popular, but it could end up benefiting world soccer.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Atlanta United FC Poised to Make U.S. Pro Sports History

Expansion teams don't tend to make the playoffs. In tracing the modern history of professional sports in the U.S., it's rare to see teams making the playoffs in their first year of existence. Winning the title as an expansion team would seem near impossible in a league of more than 20 teams (The Chicago Fire achieved the feat in 1998 with 12 teams on board in MLS). Yet, after three weeks of the 2017 Major League Soccer season, expansion pro sports franchise, Atlanta United FC, looks like a serious championship contender.

Since the most recent change to winning MLS Cup was redesigned for the 2015 season, the top six seeds from each conference get entry into the tourney. So far, a #3 seed and a #4 seed have won the championship. Atlanta just needs to make the playoffs, and their outlook is decent for winning MLS Cup.

As things sit now, Atlanta is in first place in the Eastern Conference (Orlando has yet to play its third game), with more than twice as many goals than any other team in the conference. Arguably, team goals scored is the most important statistic in pro soccer. With 11 goals, Atlanta leads the league in goals scored. Atlanta is led by top individual league scorer, Josef Martinez, an international designated player from Venezuela.

Atlanta has kick-started its career, by showing right away the kind of pep in their step fans can expect to see from game to game. It could be the story of the sports year, if it weren't for the lack of respect MLS has in the U.S. and how soccer rules are applied in guiding the sport's existence.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Is this the Year that Liga MX Succumbs to MLS?

If it does happen, if MLS finally overtakes and seizes the soccer mantle from Liga MX, the change may endure. Once MLS moves up the ladder of 'world league status', it might not be falling back down anytime in the near future.

It would be a watershed moment for MLS to pass its nemesis, that holds not only the 'popularity' card, but also the 'talent' card. Even according to Don Garber, the commissioner of MLS, Liga MX is the superior skilled league.

Becoming the best and most popular soccer league in the United States should be the primary goal for MLS. Considering all of the sports entertainment options competing against MLS, it must eventually solidify itself as at least the number one option for soccer enthusiasts in the U.S. As things stand, MLS is behind second place English Premier League and first place Liga MX in U.S. television ratings. 

It would seem that 2017 is the year for MLS to take advantage of its own good fortune and of Liga MX's blunders. Atlanta and Minneapolis metro areas, as expansion franchises for MLS, fill in some of the empty soccer areas on the U.S. map. With key territories of the Upper Midwest and Southeast now more under the umbrella of MLS, logic would dictate better Tv ratings.

Monday, February 20, 2017

FIFA 17 Video Game Challenges Human Soccer for Audience Share

Last night, while channel flipping during the primetime hours, I came across the FIFA 17 Ultimate Team Championship Series regional final on ESPN2. I found out the promotion with EA Sports has 1.3 million dollars at stake in prize money for the video game winners of FIFA 17.

I can say that the crowd was into it. The announcers sounded smooth and loquacious (Jimmy Conrad formerly of KickTv is a host). The technical display of 'the beautiful game' and the purity of the viewing experience of FIFA 17 is easy on the eyes. It's understandable to see why the public is down for it.

Is it more fun to watch soccer through a video game console of wonderment, rather than in a live stadium on natural grass and/or with real humans playing against each other on a broadcast for television? For some, their true answer is to watch a video game.

Wow, just what MLS needs, one more soccer competition, as if international competition and foreign leagues weren't enough. Video game competition can't even be called 'fake.' There's a tendency to call it 'fake', or to call human soccer as 'real'. but those terms would be too insulting to the video game makers, players and watchers. Simply put, video game soccer is one more avenue of soccer to digest.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Super Bowl Sends Powerful Message to MLS

This past Sunday's titillating Super Bowl underscores what Soccer in the U.S. is missing. The entertainment value was remarkable. Even without a rooting interest for millions of fans, American football is the sport that comes through under pressure. This past Super Bowl proved once again that football understands American sports fans expectations.

Granted, there have been some duds in Super Bowl history. But, football seems to have found a way to keep building a new fan base, year after year. Sunday's game will reinforce the NFL's reputation for being the best the U.S. has when it comes to professional sports leagues.

Generally speaking, MLS lacks excitement in its games, and in its playoffs. This past MLS Cup was won by a team that never had a shot on goal. Incredible! One could make the argument that the shoot-out at the end of that MLS Cup to settle the tie was exciting and entertaining, and I suppose any shoot-out is, but it took place after no goals were scored in 120 minutes of play.

The NFL has done an exceptional job at developing its game to give fans the most amount of drama possible.  NFL games come down to a climactic end so often, why doesn't this happen enough in MLS?

Many NFL rules changes were contributors to the New England Patriots' dramatic comeback over the Atlanta Falcons: overtime possessions, two-point conversions reinstated, farther extra-points, punishments for hits on the quarterbacks, time-management, replay rules and challenges.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Vibrant Metros Chosen Over Big Metros for MLS National Tv Schedule

You know the overweight guy that falls asleep in the bleachers and the sports broadcasters can't help themselves, showing him for a few seconds, usually surrounded by's an awkward moment. That awkwardness feels the same watching fans picking their noses or eating too much. It's like an invasion of privacy on fans who are simply choosing how to spend their leisure time. Apparently, it's easier to track down these uncomfortable fan situations when the stands are empty.

For this season, MLS is trying to avoid national broadcasts with empty stadiums. The league is passing over some of the bigger metro markets to focus on the markets that are thriving. The national schedule is emphasizing Seattle, Kansas City, Orlando and Portland while placing less emphasis on New England, Dallas, DC United and Chicago.

This is at least one good move by the league in trying to change the perception of professional club soccer in the United States. It's an attempt to grab casual sports fans and prove that the game is not boring. It may improve national Tv ratings. Usually, excitement at the venue translates to a better television viewing experience and less excitement will generally mean lower ratings.

Unfortunately, a better reputation for national MLS viewing won't help local broadcasts for teams who can't fill their stadiums. And, better local Tv ratings for MLS games are an integral aspect for claiming the league is robust. All of the Tv ratings for MLS need to improve.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Next Most Logical Rules Change for MLS

USMNT's Graham Zusi, at World Cup 2014
The soccer world seems a little shaken up after last week's declaration by FIFA's Marco Van Basten, head of the Technical Development department, who said he is overseeing possible rules changes for offsides, amount of playing time, substitutions, how fouls are handled and deciding tie games. Pundits, players and fans are curious to see the direction FIFA is headed in trying to provide for more 'intentional game action.' This is the perfect time to look at the next most logical big rules change likely to happen in MLS.

What I think should take place in coming seasons in MLS is just an extension of what has already been taking place in past seasons from Liga MX, MLS and the most recent World Cup, water breaks at the 30th and 75th minutes.  Even the Premier League instituted water breaks because of the pressures of not being considered as having 'safe' conditions to play under. It all has to do with the rising temperatures, due to global warming.

The Brazilian court ordered water breaks for the World Cup. It just makes common sense. Typically, in all games throughout the universe, without breaks, the only time players take drinks of water is when a player is down and injured on the field. How ridiculous is that and how ironic.

Water breaks have been happening in MLS since 2011. It only makes sense to carry them on from season to season without having to discuss things further. But, I'm suggesting that the water breaks happen regardless of how hot the weather gets. That's right, regardless of playing in a dome or playing in fall weather, let's have water breaks! One per half seems about right, to get things started.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

NASL 'Shootouts' Considered for World Cup 2026 Is a Sign of Changing Times

ESPN's report on FIFA considering a change to how soccer may settle tie games for World Cup 2026 is a bit of a game-changer. The rules change would attempt to manage the additional groupings formed from the increase of 16 more countries competing. Ties from games and from the standings could be managed depending on the amount of goals scored during 'shootouts', similar to how it was done in the old NASL. These shootouts show off skills performed by an offensive player trying to score on a goalkeeper in eight seconds starting from 80 feet away.

This change and others being considered from the technical development department of FIFA, headed by Marco Van Basten, indicate a new direction for the organization. A page was turned on 40 years of corruption under two presidents when the indictments came about in 2015, thanks to Loretta Lynch, the U.S. Attorney General who lead the investigation. It seems the new transparency from FIFA has also brought a lot more progressive thought and ideas.

Purists will more than likely scoff at these new and old ideas, especially the shootouts. Their stomachs are probably turning just thinking about something so American being instituted into world soccer. But, it is hard to argue with the sport being perfect the way it is. The Seattle Sounders winning MLS Cup without a shot on goal or no teams retaking a lead from a deficit in two tournaments, Copa America and Euro Cup, clearly demonstrate that soccer has issues within the essence of the sport. It should be played to be as entertaining as possible for fans, not played to be incapable of the very basics needed to make a highlight happen or to have a shift in momentum.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

A Competition is Brewing: The NFL vs. MLS

Within hours of San Diego losing its American football Chargers, the commissioner of MLS was professing his admiration for San Diego as a destination soccer city metro area. Don Garber, MLS commissioner, has said the same of St. Louis, too, stating that sports teams that leave their hometowns create a vacuum and MLS has a better chance to succeed in those places.

There's an argument to be made that the Seattle Sounders' success is in some part due to the absence of the Seattle Sonics of the NBA. Along the same lines of debate, Atlanta United of MLS has their first season this year and may be able to transfer fandom from the relocated, former NHL Atlanta Thrashers team.

There is a pattern showing up across the American sports spectator landscape. This pattern is becoming more evident, soccer matters and it can win hearts over after they've been stomped on and broken. I expect that after the Raiders leave Oakland for Las Vegas that Oakland will join St. Louis and San Diego in vying for a franchise spot in MLS.

Monday, January 9, 2017

MLS Will Have to be the 'Chosen League' to Evolve the World's Sport

It's hard to believe that not too long ago, there weren't two point conversions in the NFL or three-point shots in the NBA. 

As sports fans in the U.S., we have gotten used to our sports evolving. In recent years, each of our major sports have consistently looked for ways to streamline and make their sports better games to watch and fairer to the players playing them. There can be no doubt that each sport has made fundamental changes to modernize and be more attractive to watch for fans. In fact, all of them at the professional level, the NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB, have rules committees in the off-seasons to govern over changes that may need to be made to improve viewing and spectating experiences for fans. MLS is not able to govern its own rules for soccer because of FIFA constraints.

Also, MLS is not in the same position as its counterparts from pro leagues of the other sports in the U.S. because MLS is not considered the primary leading world league of its sport. There is stiff competition from other soccer leagues around the world that MLS has to contend with year-round. These other leagues with better reputations for skilled play are smoothly accessible on cable Tv. There are periodic national team and club tournaments also available on cable Tv. All of it creates a surplus of soccer to watch and puts a label of 'insignificant' on MLS. Unfortunately, its a label that won't be shaken easily.

For the foreseeable future, MLS is a league that will be played primarily to and for American and Canadian fans. This is the reality of MLS. Unlike its counterparts, the NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB, a larger majority of MLS fans will be U.S. or Canadian raised. Typically, having American consumers is not problematic for selling a product. Surely, with enough clients to sell to, a high-quality product that people want will be successful. The problem for MLS is that too many people snub their noses at them in favor of other soccer around the world. 

Then, there's the problem in the U.S. of getting more fans to embrace the sport. Even with all of its penetration into popular culture over the last several years, soccer is still perceived by many casual sports fans as boring or 'lacking scoring.' 

The FIFA bribery, embezzlement cases that led to the indictments showed an enormous gap in leadership. For decades, the organization responsible for guiding and administrating the world's sport deliberately maintained a status quo to avoid having to deal with outside influences. During this very long period of time, American influence was more than likely considered as undeserving, naive, gullible nonsense. Why would FIFA ever have to consult for American purposes?

Thursday, January 5, 2017

China Poised to Beat MLS on Global Reputation

Carlos Tevez of the Shangai Shenhua
After reading the latest from the New York Times on China's plans for improving as a soccer nation and competing globally for world status, it's safe to say that China is one more thorn in the side of MLS's challenge to become recognized as a soccer super power. As of now, most pundits would consider the soccer super powers to be the English Premier League (England), La Liga (Spain) and Bundesliga (Germany). Notches below the super powers are most likely considered Ligue 1 (France), Serie A (Italy) and Liga MX (Mexico). It seems MLS is fighting to be on par with these leagues below the super powers, but, are not quite there yet, even according to their own commissioner, Don Garber. 

Really, we already knew of China's potential to become a soccer super power. The Times article only solidifies what we already knew and shows us how much their government is willing to get involved to prove it. There are multiple offers from Chinese clubs out there every day to appeal for star players. It is rumored that Cristiano Ronaldo turned down 300 million to play in China. One star player who would have been an outstanding attraction for the MLS audience is Carlos Tevez, the Argentine striker. He is signed, sealed and delivered to Shanghai Shenhua.

MLS has done a fair job in branding its league here in the U.S. and it will continue to do so. However, it is painfully obvious, that this league will never be the best the sport of soccer has to present to the world in the next 50 years or so, like its counterparts, the NBA, NFL, MLB and NHL have achieved. Currently, each of these other mainstream U.S. team sports leagues are considered the best of the world, and, they are likely to stay that way for years to come.

China pretty much guarantees MLS will stay on as a niche league from the world's perspective. Chinese teams will continue to outbid MLS teams for prime players and its league will continue to improve with homegrown talent as the country builds from within, with its government plans. The majority of revenue that MLS brings in will more than likely always stay from U.S. consumers, not from abroad.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The Americanization of MLS Continues

When it can, MLS is showing the world that it will do as it pleases for its own league, regardless of FIFA suggested protocol. In the few areas that FIFA does not control about leagues, MLS is blazing an independent path from the status quo of the other major world soccer leagues.

For example, there are other leagues in the world with playoffs after the regular season; Liga MX from Mexico is a prominent country/league to use them. But, end of the year playoffs to determine a champion is unusual and goes against the grain of the traditional leagues. The English Premier League is typically the league of choice when it comes to FIFA expectations for how soccer should be represented to the world. MLS has made a conscious choice to go its own way on the 'playoff' variable and has aligned itself with its neighbor, Mexico.

The argument against playoffs is to say that regular season play has diminished value, which may be true. However, with a runaway first place team in a traditional league without playoffs, the end of the season becomes anti-climactic. Arguably, MLS playoffs are the best reasons to watch the league. They are exciting with controversy at times and are less forgettable than regular season games.

MLS has driven the administration of its league according to what works. The single-entity philosophy, in which owners are working together running their teams to see the league succeed as a whole over any individual team, has functioned well enough over the years to provide opportunities for continued growth of the league. Also, for operational purposes, MLS has decided how 'designated players' (usually star players from other leagues around the world) are signed by teams with specific allotments and how many slots can be filled.

While some people would argue that single-entity is un-American in its ideals, more common to socialism than capitalism, it can also be viewed as analogous to regulation of the stock markets. The league is following American ideals in everything it can control and single-entity has been the agreed system for how to keep a steady return on investment without too much risk involved.

Another big soccer issue that MLS has yet attached itself to has the smell of going rogue. So far, there has been a refusal to do as the other famous leagues do when it comes to promotion/relegation. It's a dead concept as far as MLS is concerned.

MLS believes it is bound to the rules of the sport on the field as governed by FIFA, but anything outside of the field is up for interpretation. This is how MLS has decided to go way past the FIFA recommendation for 20 teams in a given league. The EPL and other famous leagues may have 20 teams, but there is no formal declaration by FIFA for how many teams should make up a league.

Monday, December 19, 2016

FIFA Club World Cup Should Expand to 32 Teams

After witnessing hardly any news this past week for the 2016 FIFA Club World Cup won by Real Madrid yesterday via a Cristiano Ronaldo 'hat trick', I thought it might be a good idea to have a refresh on this article I wrote from 2012.

As Real Madrid takes on the Los Angeles Galaxy in a friendly that means nothing, it is appropriate to reflect on how to get these teams together for a match that means everything.

Even though this exhibition is played for pride and practice, it is a noteworthy event. It pits two of the most recognizable franchises in present-day international club Soccer against each other.

A high level of skill will be on display.  Players with important resumes, uniforms and reputations will be on the field to show off.  Classic touches on the ball and classic fashion collide.

The solution to getting these teams together all the way, beyond just the glitz and show, is a bolder vision of the Club World Cup.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

MLS Cup 2016 Will Forever Be Remembered as the Championship Won without a Shot on Goal

Toronto FC fans bundled up at MLS Cup 2016
Saturday's MLS Cup should never be forgotten. It should be about lessons to learn for how MLS must take responsibility and leadership on making changes to its game going forward.

The better team didn't win the Cup, but that's why they play the games. There are plenty of times in U.S. sports history when it can be argued that the better team didn't win in the championship game. 1983's NCAA basketball championship won by Jim Valvano coached North Carolina State on the last play versus Houston's Phi Slama Jama comes to mind.

The problem in this soccer championship won by the weaker team is that the Seattle Sounders had zero shots on goal and won on penalty kicks after an additional 30 minutes of overtime play. (They went 120 minutes without making a shot on goal prior to the penalty kicks.) They won with defense, which is fine. That's how the Denver Broncos won this past Super Bowl over the Carolina Panthers with Von Miller, a linebacker/lineman, taking MVP honors. But, when a team can't threaten a goal with the very basic act necessary to be considered as offensive in nature, more scrutiny with regards to the rules of the game must be analyzed.

We must understand how this could happen. Kicking a ball towards the opponents defending goal shouldn't be so difficult that it doesn't happen, ever. It's inexcusable. And, I'm not just referring to it not happening in a championship game. If the two sides are of the same degree of professional ilk, shots on goal should take place in every game of a professional league.

I'd rather not watch a 0-0 match, especially in a championship, but if it is an exciting one, with plenty of creativity and shots on goal by foot or head, I'm alright with that. However, no shots on goal, in the most important match of the year is alarming, especially considering that pro soccer in the U.S. struggles to maintain an identity in the busy sports calendar. Many pundits speculate that few goals in soccer is why the mainstream public keeps away. How many games could fans put up with one or both teams not getting shots on goal?

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Legacies on the Line in MLS Cup 2016 for Bradley, Altidore

What earned Landon Donovan his nickname of 'Legend' wasn't his time in the Premier League or Bundesliga. Leagues in which he became one of just a few Americans to have scored goals. And, although he is the all-time leader in goals scored for the USMNT, I'd have to say that his accomplishments as an all-time great with the team is not his most noteworthy achievement. His moniker of 'Legend' took hold as he won six MLS Cups and became its all-time leading goal-scorer.

Donovan became a cultural icon because of the combination of his stellar USMNT play and his contribution to several MLS Cups. No other American soccer player comes close to approaching the status of Donovan and may not for a long, long time. Only a player that dominates and helps win a World Cup for the U.S. could surpass Donovan's records and reputation.

However, there are a few players that could make their marks on American soccer forever by winning an MLS Cup. Two of those players take the field this Saturday for Toronto FC as they go up against the Seattle Sounders for the grand prize, MLS Cup. It seems quite natural that Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley should be together in this pursuit. Donovan had David Beckham, why shouldn't Bradley and Altidore go for it in tandem?

Could Bradley and Altidore ever unseat Donovan and Beckham as greatest MLS tandem?

What a shame Clint Dempsey isn't playing for Seattle this Saturday. Get well soon, Clint. Arguably, Dempsey, Altidore and Bradley are the three next greatest American players after Donovan. They are numbers two, three and eleven respectively for all-time goal scorers of the USMNT. And, they are all notable assist leaders for the team.

Friday, December 2, 2016

What About Promotion 'Without' Relegation for MLS?...part II

Is this the perfect time for USSF to reorganize 'Division 2' and include a Promotion only tool?

There are new developments and transitions taking place in the minor leagues of pro soccer in the U.S. The NASL is in tumult and its complete demise may not be far away. Its rival, USL, appears ready to take over the mantle of 'Division 2', the highest level of pro soccer below MLS. There are rumors of all the NASL teams moving over into USL and rumors of the New York Cosmos closing its doors for good. USSF is involved and reigning over some of the key decision processes for the leagues because it is the organization that creates parameters for how leagues must exist.

If the remaining teams from NASL do move over to USL, it may have close to 40 teams in it.

The most interesting dilemma for the next level, Division 2, is how to manage a competitive league with a significant amount of teams playing as 'reserve' teams. Reserve teams are the minor league partnerships for MLS teams, playing for experience at the highest level possible.

As the soccer minor leagues in the U.S. readjusts to a new landscape, one of the lingering issues that many soccer fans feel has not been fully addressed is promotion/relegation. As MLS grows to 28 teams for sure, according to commissioner, Don Garber, there remains speculation for how many more teams will come into the league. As I've written before, I believe there could be a total of 40 someday, with two conferences of 20 teams each. My belief is that MLS needs more teams than MLB, the NBA and the NFL because it needs to break the mainstream barrier.

Whatever the settled number of maximum teams ends up being for MLS, some well-populated metro areas will still be out of luck for entry into the league.

Friday, November 25, 2016

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.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Is Soccer Better to Watch in a Dome?

I remember the last time the Montreal Impact played in Olympic Stadium, in a CONCACAF Champions League final, versus Club America from Mexico. I saw something then that got my attention, too.

On Tuesday, there were plenty of games from Europe's Champions League to watch. But, I was more excited to watch a different match pitting teams from a country outside the U.S. I had wanted to see the Montreal Impact play Toronto FC for a few reasons. The match kept me connected to MLS, and I got to watch players I'm familiar with, such as Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley and Didier Drogba. I expected to see fast-paced action and a lot of goals. The match didn't disappoint with a 3-2 final score.

Frankly, I was more interested to watch this soccer experience, also, because I knew it would be at the sold-out, indoors Olympic Stadium in Montreal with more than 60,000 spectators watching. The domed Olympic Stadium has hosted some fun Impact games in its recent history. I've noticed that the crowd helps to provide an exceptional atmosphere and the ball moves quickly on the carpet (artificial turf), skidding with more bounce. Good to great players can make the passes sharper and anticipate runs better.

There is something about this combination of crowd experience and artificial turf that creates a beautiful, more engaged soccer. I think it can be compared to an American football experience in a dome. Remember the Kirk Warner quarterbacked St. Louis Rams 'greatest show on turf' and how it changed American football. Many pundits would argue that American football is more fun to watch in a dome. There are no weather conditions to deal with, the players move faster and crowds can be phenomenal.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Should MLS Stop the Clock on Out of Bounds Plays Like the NFL?

With a newer, more transparent FIFA leadership, MLS should be allowed to make subtle rules changes to its game, like the NBA does for basketball. The NBA puts its own twist on how rules are applied, deviating from FIBA, the international arm of basketball. For example, FIBA rules allow players to knock the ball off the rim after it touches the cylinder. The NBA considers this to be a goal-tending violation.

Under the old FIFA guard, any changes without permission came with threats of 'rogue league' status and consequences to players (see 'History of Rules Changes...). Now, MLS is a willing guinea pig for FIFA, ensuring that VARs (video assistant referees) get the calls right during a game. So, with a more modern, contemporary relationship with FIFA, MLS should have the leeway to do other rules changes to ensure its game gives audiences the best suspense possible.

One change that would be beneficial to soccer would be a direct steal from the NFL. During the last two minutes of the first half and the last five minutes of the second half in the NFL, the clock stops any time a player goes out of bounds with the ball. Part of the results from this rule is that teams are able to get more strategy involved in the waning moments to make scoring more proficient.

If soccer adapts this NFL rule, electronic scoreboard keepers up in the far reaches of stadiums should have to stop the clocks (I also say take the timekeeping away from the referee) on soccer balls going out of bounds. And, if stopping the clock on out of bounds plays are initiated, it would just behoove MLS to take another step forward with regard to the last two minutes of the first half and the last five minutes of the second half. Why not just stop the clock on all dead-ball scenarios, such as direct kicks, fouls, etc... (Essentially, the NFL does this too already.)

Friday, November 11, 2016

With Trump, 2018 World Cup Just Got More Interesting

The final phase of World Cup qualifying for North American, Central American and Caribbean countries (CONCACAF region) begins today. Of the six remaining teams, three are guaranteed a spot in the 2018 WC and a fourth entry will be possible after a playoff vs. an Asian Confederation team.

The pressure heats up significantly, beginning today. Making a WC appearance is critical for all countries of the world, but for the U.S., it is a role that needs to be fulfilled because the public is now used to the U.S. qualifying every four years. The U.S. has qualified for seven World Cups in a row, making the quarter-finals once at the 2002 South Korea/Japan WC, in its best finish of the seven.

Being part of the WC every four years carries a reputation for excellence in soccer. The U.S. joins other countries around the world, such as Germany, Argentina, Italy, Brasil, England and Mexico, as expected to qualify. The U.S. is in an elite group, whether the soccer pundits want to admit it or not.

Where the WC takes place has always been an interesting aspect to the history and pageantry of the WC. Now, as politics has taken center stage for the past year, and the rise of Donald Trump to president of the U.S. has become a reality, Russia as host of WC in 2018 carries even more intrigue.

Monday, November 7, 2016

When Canada Matters to the World's Sport

Canada hasn't mattered much for sports in the U.S. in a long time, but that has changed in 2016 with one Canadian team guaranteed to make it to the MLS Cup final. This is a big deal because no Canadian team has been in a team sports final since the Vancouver Canucks lost the 2011 Stanley Cup final of the NHL.

However, this is not an issue of just a guaranteed appearance in a final. These two Eastern Conference teams, Toronto FC and the Montreal Impact, are playing the most beautiful soccer of all the MLS teams in the playoffs thus far. The Western Conference semifinalists, Colorado Rapids and Seattle Sounders, deserve credit for advancing too, but they haven't been a ton of fun to watch, like Toronto and Montreal.

Now that Didier Drogba has resolved his issues of playing time with the coaching staff, he has resumed playing at legendary status. He can come in and immediately, pardon the pun, make an Impact, assisting or scoring. Playing alongside Ignacio Piatti, who counters elegantly and seems to always be around the ball near the goal, Drogba has a chance to add to his legacy with an MLS title. One of the fastest men in MLS, Dominic Oduro, who is unpredictable for defenders to guard, is a complimentary piece for Piatti and Drogba and is a driving force for scoring goals.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

What would be the Best MLS Cup for Casual Sports Fans?

Back during the David Beckham days, the league really needed the LA Galaxy to find its way to the MLS Cup. The allure of Beckham partnered with the greatest U.S. scorer of all-time, Landon Donovan, gave MLS some drama for the casual sports fan that hadn't really existed prior to Beckham's arrival. David Beckham's star attraction moved the needle more than anyone else had in MLS history. There was intrigue for whether he would win titles for the Galaxy like he had for Manchester United and Real Madrid.

Does the league still need the LA Galaxy to reach the Cup final? I would argue that 'yes', it does. To get casual sports fans engaged, to keep the sport moving towards mainstream, there is always a best Cup final scenario. This season, like so many others, would best be served with the Galaxy in the Cup final because they have the most well-established and well-known players scoring goals with creativity.

Donovan's return late in the season has not been a huge sports story, but he is one of the few household-known soccer names. He is the #1 all-time MLS goal-scorer. And, his legendary career would grow even more with LA in the final. Robbie Keane's influence on the league, also, can't be ignored. He is currently the 13th all-time leading goal-scorer in league history. Add Giovani dos Santos to the mix, a major star player from Mexico, and even with their elder status, all of them have tremendous ability to make magic happen around the goal. Additionally, there is the tremendous story of the best openly U.S. gay team athlete in Robbie Rogers, the will of Mike Magee in his return with the Galaxy and the curiosity for whether the once-great Steven Gerrard will make a contribution along the way.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

ESPN's 'Ultimate' Insult towards MLS

Due to ESPN's reputation for innovation and comprehensive sports coverage, its Ultimate Standings of professional sports franchises by ESPN the Magazine should be considered as an outstanding measurement for the superiority of North American sports teams. It appears to be the most thorough modern survey of its type conducted, covering topics such as how fans view their respective team's players/coaches/owners, the chances to play for a championship and seeing the team perform live. The polling for ESPN's Ultimate Standings has been going on now for 14 years.

Using the results from these 'Standings' as a reference point, all North American sports fans can make their arguments for best overall teams when arguing with each other or talking heads can do the same on sports talk shows. This is what ESPN has tried to do with these Standings, settle the argument to some degree. And, they have broken things down by including all the teams in one poll and by sport in another poll.

ESPN is heavily invested in MLS. In fact, ESPN continues its coverage and broadcasts of the MLS Playoffs throughout November. It could be argued that no other network has been a bigger partner to MLS throughout its history than ESPN. But, with all that said, MLS was not included in the 'Ultimate Standings.' What a travesty for MLS to have its league be treated in this way.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Can Five New Stadiums Push MLS to Mainstream?

Overshadowed by the NFL, college football, MLB playoffs and now the NBA, it's easy to understand how difficult it is for MLS to break through and reach mass amounts of casual sports fans. There was practically no mention Monday on sports talk shows of the regular season ending and the playoff match-ups set.

Accomplishing mainstream status is not a straightforward task for MLS and could take decades more of marketing the public for it to happen.

A great opportunity to send its message of how worthy MLS is as sports entertainment comes in the next two years, as five brand spanking new stadiums open. Orlando, Atlanta, Minnesota, D.C. and Los Angeles are all on target to rally soccer fans and create more demand than supply. But, even with converted sports fans coming over and supporter groups leading the way, there's still plenty of doubt whether mainstream will come soon after these stadiums are filled and games are under way.

The league will be at 23 teams, still seven teams short of matching the NBA, NHL and MLB, so there will still be a lack of national ubiquity in comparison to the mainstream leagues, including the NFL with 32 teams. However, this issue of mainstream seems to be more about respect than it does about plurality. Mainstream media don't seem to consider MLS topics to be any kind of sports talk topic of conversation.

One could say that there's too much other 'soccer' to talk about, like the European leagues, Champions league play, National team cups/qualifiers or 'Friendlies.' MLS gets lost in the soccer shuffle. I don't think this is the reason, though, because these soccer topics aren't sports talk fodder on Tv or radio anyways, unless it's a specific soccer show.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Video Series Spotlights Soccer 'Movement' in U.S. and Canada

Part obsession and part contagion, soccer is definitely making its case for mainstream in certain sections of the United States and Canada. A unique blend of fandom has been consummated with a hysteria of grass-roots marketing.

These cultural counterweights on the American sporting landscape are finally getting some respect from a specialized documentary series from, called 'The Movement.'

There is no doubt that soccer has a touched a nerve with sports fans in the U.S. and Canada over the last several years. The momentum has been building for some time with a freshness and contemporary vigor that fans from other sports can't completely understand.

It could be that the Seattle Sounders are the official turning point for soccer's fashionable turnaround over the years in the U.S. and Canada. Shortly after Seattle's entry into MLS, Portland and Vancouver came about to give Seattle a run for best soccer city.

KickTv used to have the role for getting to know the soccer outsiders. One video took a look at a day in the life of the Portland Timbers Army, arguably the most unique, passionate support group of MLS.

Thursday, September 22, 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.

Sunday, September 18, 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 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.

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 '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 lose 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.

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.