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 MLSsoccer.com, 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 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.

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.

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.

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, 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.