We need to raise expectations for U.S. Soccer

In a few minutes the U.S. national team kicks off against Guatemala in Kansas City. Technically it’s not necessary to win as a draw will move them safely to the next round.  There was “technically” no necessity to win on Friday night either against Antigua and Barbuda, but they knew winning was crucial in order to avoid a must win game tonight.  They accomplished that.

The problem is on Friday they were forced into winning instead of playing good soccer.  They were forced into winning instead of improving.  Forced into winning instead of developing youth.  Forced into winning instead of playing the right players.

U.S. at Antigua and Barbuda

Friendlies are for the young guys, World Cup qualifiers are for the steely eyed veterans.  Friendlies are where you try new things and get the young kids a run.  I understand all that and know that the main goal is to qualify for the World Cup. The problem is the mentality that fosters for the future.  Not the mentality of winning, but the mentality of winning without framing it in the context of the opposition.  When Klinsmann chooses a team of the hottest players at the moment, even though they probably aren’t the best for the future, it stalls the progression of U.S. Soccer.

Klinsmann is forced to win, rather than be good. He has to win in order to keep his job. But a win against Antigua and Barbuda should be superfluous to that of improving the quality of soccer. It should be icing on a beautiful cake.  A game where points are expected but not so crucial you have to sacrifice the way you play in order to win. When you have to force a win against a team of that caliber it plays with the psyche of the players, and the fans.  It makes them think that grinding out a win against a sub par team is worth praising.

If the U.S. had taken care of business properly in previous games they would have been able to relax and play creative soccer and maybe even work in some young guys, the guys who will be peaking in 2014, instead of those lingering on the wrong side of 30.  Now, because every game is do or die, those young players only get minutes in friendlies and training, not in matches that really count.

Klinsmann mentioned in pre-game interviews his concentration on younger players, but he also spoke about the need to bring in the guys who are playing well at this moment.  It seems like his focus is on the short-term, as I guess he’s forced to do.

He had this to say:

“We always have an open-door policy that if something interesting comes up, we open the door and see where it could lead. For example, Eddie Johnson right now. He worked his way back into the picture. I was connected with Sigi (Schmid) and he mentioned him several times and he got this chance now and he took his chance. There’s a lot going on. At the same time, we want to improve the team chemistry and become more confident to push the whole game a little bit more forward. That’s a process that will take time anyway. It’s all about getting things done right now. It’s all about that game tomorrow night against Guatemala and beating them, winning the group and advancing to a very busy 2013.”

Admittedly, it would be devastating if the U.S. didn’t make the World Cup.  But as a team of veterans and players in “supposed” good form frolicked in the rain on a pitch that couldn’t handle the rain, or apparently soccer, the void of quality was shockingly apparent.  I know I’ve complained about it in previous posts, but I cannot accept excuses of a bad pitch or a tiring trip to a far off country with stifling humidity. Or a tough away atmosphere without the Nike balls and warm chicken soup that a player’s mom makes before every game, or whatever home remedy makes them play like a different team at home. I cannot accept it anymore.

I will accept a less than stellar performance on occasion, because that happens even with the “gods” of Spain, but I cannot tolerate, nor should any USMNT fan tolerate, these types of lackluster performances whether they win or not.

On a weekend when England chewed the tiny country of San Marino into a saliva soaked wad and spat them out through a straw splattering against the wall in a shameful heap, the USMNT, with a similar gulf in class meandered its way to a last-minute victory over their crumpled piece of Antigua, but left it lingering in their mouths, smelly and sour.

The U.S. is no England, but as a country, we’ll never reach those levels unless we hold our team to a higher standard.  I know people are out there theorizing and contemplating, but I ‘m talking about really questioning the state of soccer in the U.S.  Even though we won on Friday, it was a pitiful display of soccer.

Eddie Johnson after his goal against Antigua and Barbuda

I did like the inclusion of Eddie Johnson, which I discussed as an option over a month ago in, Klinsmann has a choice, no easy answer.

He not only found the goal, but apart from a few errant passes, looked really comfortable and confident on the ball.

I will also accept the difficulty of playing on a pitch the size of under-9 AYSO fields. A pitch like that can definitely act as the great equalizer.

That’s all I’ll concede though.

It’s about expectations. I know you can argue that a team who can win even when they play badly is a good thing, but this just didn’t feel like a good thing.  Aren’t we past the times of simply saying, “Oh well, we’re the U.S., and as long as we scrape out a few wins and qualify for the World Cup we’re happy.”?

I’m raising the bar of expectations.  At least in this little corner of the internet where only a few faithful come to read my rants.  I thank all of you that do, by the way.  This is just my opinion.  Maybe a bit harsh at times so feel free to comment if you think so.  Kick-off is literally in, oh, wait, there it is.  They are underway in Kansas City. Big ups to my little brother, who’s there in KC cheering on the USMNT as I write.

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The ‘diving’ drama starring Luis Suarez – One Minute Rant

I would have loved to move on to another topic but I was given no choice after Luis Suarez’s flopping massacre this weekend at Anfield.  The dive was so obscene it was a caricature of a dive.  It was a bad Saturday Night Live impersonation of Suarez diving.

Or maybe the Liverpool striker imagined a cape whipping in the wind behind him, and the “S” on the back of his jersey standing for Superman instead of Suarez.

Here is the video if you haven’t seen it.  Wait for the replay, but this way you can see it in the context of the game as well.

 

For some reason, on this one, Suarez wasn’t in the moment.  He acted instead of simply being.  Simply being would have still instinctively produced a dive, but it would have been far less appaling.  He might have even won the penalty.  Instead, he didn’t get the call, but somehow returned to action without even a warning from the referee.

Acting class Suarez.  You’re getting rusty.

The parallels raised in my last post, Phantom of the Opera in La Liga, have proven true in this case.

A dive in La Liga equally as bad, admittedly not in the penalty box went unnoticed, while this has become a source of public outrage.  Every news outlet has covered it and most have lambasted it.  That part is good.  The fact that people are speaking out about this type behavior is good.  It proves that although it happens in every league, in England this will only be allowed for so long.

Remarkably, Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers has taken a stance of support for Suarez.

“At this moment there seems to be one set of rules for Luis and another set for everyone else,” Rodgers told liverpoolfc.com. “I find it incredible that in nearly all the coverage about Luis Suarez this weekend, very little focus has been placed on the fact that he was actually the victim of a stamping incident within the first five minutes of the game.”

It is utterly unbelievable to me that Rodgers has not condemned Suarez or the act of diving in general.  At least in the most publicly courteous manner. He could have said this would be dealt with as a club and that he’s spoken to Suarez and that he feels confident something like this won’t happen again.  All that PR fluff we’ve become accustomed to hearing.

Then, he could have went on with his tantrum about the set of rules for Luis and another set for everyone else, blah blah blah.

Phantom of the Opera in La Liga – One Minute Rant

On a weekend when one dive stole all the headlines, another dive took place, although not in the penalty box, but far more egregious.  This was so bad it shouldnt even be called a dive.  The performance was by Deportivo player, Riki, and the venue was the Spanish La Liga match between Deportivo La Coruna and Sevilla FC.

The on-air commentator called it a Phantom of the Opera Tackle, which describes it far more accurately.

Then to my disbelief, the commentators made a quick joke followed by a silent pause as they seemed to be hoping viewers would forget, and then casually moved past the topic as if it didn’t happen.  I argue that if this was in England, or Germany for that matter, the announcers would have pounded this guy, he probably would have been carded by the referee, and other teams and fans would have pleaded to slap the player with a hefty fine.

There were mass appeals and criticism from pundits and fans last weekend, but they were all pointed at the Antonio Valencia dive in the Manchester United game at Liverpool.  Although his dive led to a penalty, making it more newsworthy, it wasnt the clear-cut cheating and hideous flopping simulation we saw with this Deportivo player.

Check it for yourself.  Sorry for the video quality.

Even though my previous post, Valencia accused of diving, already condemned the act of diving and those types of theatre in football, Riki’s (aka Riki Martin) performance was so appalling and more on par with underground public theatre than the broadway performance Valencia put on, that a one minute rant was in order.

This blunder has hardly been covered online as it was a game between two mid level clubs in La Liga and most people, including myself, brush aside La Liga, with the exception of the top 3 clubs. I only came across this tragedy by chance as I was writing another article and the droning beIN Sport commentators said the aforementioned phrase that caught my attention – Phantom of the Opera tackle.

Call me a theatre nerd, but as a fan of that classic musical I turned my attention from my computer screen to the television.  Not only was the reference valid because of the fall, but it became true on many levels as I noticed the player had a mask strapped to his head.  Granted, one of those clear protection masks, not the white plaster type mask associated with the actual musical, but nonetheless a priceless analogy, that I’m sure was not meant on that level by the commentator, but played on that level brilliantly.

The mask was either part of his costume and something he uses to win pity calls from referees, or if I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt, he suffered from an over zealous nose picking session.

As bad of a theatrical performance as this was, the assistant referee somehow fell for it.  He had a perfect unimpeded view and still waved his flag violently like a little tattle-tailing girl.

I almost didn’t rant about this because it infuriates me so much and I didn’t want to bring attention to the fact that somehow this still takes place on the professional level, and in a top European league.  Granted, I shouldn’t expect much from La Liga, but come on Spain and La Liga.  You guys know how to play football.  Why continue to do this, why, why, why?

Because he got the call and got away with it.

My one minute is up, not counting the video of course.  Okay, maybe slightly longer than one minute.

American Tim Howard an integral man at Everton, even when he’s left out

Everton goalkeeper Tim Howard has been in great form lately with a clean sheet against Swansea City last weekend that included a series of crucial saves.  That and the fact that Howard has started in 189 consecutive Premier League matches gives critics reasonable grounds for questioning why he was left out of the mid-week loss to Leeds United in the Capital One Cup.

That criticism has been angled at Everton manager David Moyes, with the most outspoken of critics being former keeper of the goal at Goodison Park, Neville Southall.

He’s made his opinion clear.

“When I looked at the game against Leeds on TV I was looking to see if it was Tim playing, then thinking ‘Why have they left him out?’ Southall said, adding, “It’s pointless. Outfield players I can understand, but once a goalkeeper gets in that groove you want to leave him in there.

“If you’re number one, you’re number one and it’s up to you to play yourself out of that position.”

Michael Regan/Getty Images
Everton Manager David Moyes

These cup games are often played with a lower priority, or as an opportunity to rest first team players and give the youngsters a chance, especially for a club like Everton with a smaller pool of top players to choose from.

I’m not sure that Howard would have saved the game, but it is worth questioning when although their squad isn’t as deep as the likes of Manchester United, these cup games are a good chance, and most likely their only chance, to win a trophy.  Clearly Moyes gives more credence to the league and this Saturday’s matchup against Southampton.

In the midst of criticism from Southall and others, it seems the United States number one is on board with Moyes and understands the long-term goals and ambitions of the club.

“We have a limited budget compared to everyone else so competing is tough, but I believe we can earn a Champions League place if we can put together a run like we did from Christmas to the end of last season,” Howard  said. “That is what we will deem a success, and our consistency will be key.”

A cup trophy for Everton would be great, but with their impressive start in the league, if there is even a remote possibility they can sneak into the top four that should absolutely be their main focus.

Everton is an interesting club that has managed to stay competitive in top flight football for many years, but has never excelled to the next level.  It’s difficult given their financial limits, but maybe this year they’ll push the bank account just a bit in an attempt to reach a Champions League spot.  It’s a very tough ask, but I like that Howard, and hopefully Everton, at least have that goal, although probably more of a dream, in their sights.

The American goalkeeper is contracted with Everton until 2016.  There’s been talk of him moving to a Champions League club in the near future, and then ending his career after 2016 in the MLS.  As much as he’d be a welcome addition to the MLS, I’d like to see him end his career in England at the highest level.

In an interview back in July by Fox Soccer It seems Howard would prefer that his Champions League dream happen with Everton.

“I can tell you this. There are certain people who I know who have made the switch to a certain club just to play Champions League, and they get bombed out of the Champions League,” Howard said. “Or they sign a four-year contract and they only play Champions League one year, and then they’re miserable at their club and they’re back to square one.

“My current contract will take me to the age of 37, which will be ten years at Everton, and that would be a time when I would certainly like to think about finishing up. Maybe play a couple more years, but certainly before the age of 40 I’d like to be in a suit doing something else.”

Sounds like an Evertonian with no plans of leaving in the short-term, unless the perfect offer comes along.

The stranglehold on cash at Everton is loose enough to keep Howard around, but do the owners have the same aspirations for Champions League football that he does?

If they sell any more top players in the near future, without replacing them, we’ll know the answer.

 
Read More of the Southall interview at http://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/everton-fc/everton-fc-news/2012/09/27/tim-howard-should-not-be-rested-by-everton-fc-says-neville-southall-100252-31915769/#ixzz27hNZKSwd

Valencia accused of diving, but in the end football suffers

The dark underbelly of the beautiful game occasionally rears its ugly head and inevitably leaves a lasting mark on the sport.  Any time there is a dive, especially in a heated contest between two storied clubs like that of Manchester United and Liverpool, an exhausting spectacle of public discord takes place.

The game was tied at one goal each.  Antonio Valencia charged into the box with a clear chance at goal but instead decided to take another touch, giving Liverpool fullback Glen Johnson enough time to gain ground on him and attempt the tackle from behind. Goalkeeper Pepe Reina did a good of cutting down the angle creating a dilemma for Valencia.  Either take the shot and most likely see Reina parry it away, but maybe into the oncoming feet of Van Persie, or lean in, wait for the warm breath of a defender on the back of his neck and “draw” the foul.

He chose the latter.

In the days following the clash at Anfield, Glen Johnson has unequivocally proclaimed his innocence in the matter, and also went as far to claim that Antonio Valencia cheated and knowingly took a dive in an attempt to win a penalty.

According to the Liverpool Echo, Johnson stated, “I’ve watched it 50 times in there, not that I needed to – it’s not a penalty,” said the 28-year-old.  “I didn’t touch him. I collided with Pepe, I didn’t touch Valencia at all.

“It’s cheating at the end of the day. You don’t expect people to do that. This is one of the best leagues in the world and you’ve got people doing that.”

It’s slightly inflammatory, and maybe unwarranted to call this out-and-out cheating, but in Johnson’s case, the claim is understandable.

These types of penalties or dives or cards, or altercations, as we’ll call them, hurt the game, almost beyond repair. Especially in America where any hint of this effeminate style of play, immediately gives credence to the American doubters just looking for a reason to disavow it as a man’s game.

Even though basketball is littered with flamboyant acts of theatre by guys twice the size of most footballers, Americans often don’t equate the two.  Basketball players are always leaning in and drawing a foul, and flailing and yelling at the brush of a single finger across their forearm.  However, these lessons in drama have never been branded with the hideous and embarrassing term – Diving.

The game of football has suffered from the desire for flair and the push to give every opportunity for the talented trickery of players like Cristiano Ronaldo to be on display.  The game should be allowed to flow and be played at its height of beauty, but penalties and fouls, when given in this fashion, tarnish the game.

The straight red card given to Liverpool midfielder Jonjo Shelvey earlier in the game against Manchester United hurt the sport as well, but in a different way.  This was a foul that should have been given and branded with a card, but of the yellow variety.

Safety of players is of course important, but Shelvey was just going in hard for a 50/50 ball, and admittedly caught a bit of the player but not with the malice and disregard a straight red suggests.  Next time he might decide not to go in for the tackle and take away part of the excitement and risk we all look for in the sport.

There is a place in the game for the aggression and brut of hard-nosed tackling alongside the flair and beauty of creative passing football.  A combination that’s always been the selling point of the English Premier League, arguably the only league that has successfully integrated both into the game at the highest level. There is a growing outcry echoing through the fandom of this great league as it begins to lose sight of that exciting combination in favor of the style most prevalent in leagues like La Liga in Spain and Serie A in Italy.

Not that the EPL, or European football in general, place a strong priority on the image portrayed in America, but instances like this definitely aren’t helping.

Read More http://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/liverpool-fc/liverpool-fc-news/2012/09/24/glen-johnson-accuses-antonio-valencia-of-cheating-to-win-penalty-which-led-to-man-united-s-victory-over-liverpool-fc-100252-31899501/#ixzz27VITYBPe

Kelvin Kuo/US Presswire

Parity in Major League Soccer a good thing?

Kelvin Kuo/US Presswire

Kelvin Kuo/US Presswire
LA Galaxy have the highest payroll in the MLS

LA Galaxy currently sit 3rd in Major League Soccer’s Western Conference with 46 points ahead of Saturday’s match against Toronto.  Overall in the league, combining both conferences, they would be tied with Real Salt Lake and Houston Dynamo in 7th place, only bettering those two clubs by goal differential to claim sole ownership of the 7th spot.

The question:  Is what seems like a league wide strive for parity bringing down the MLS, or at least weakening it?

The Galaxy are easily within the top 5 places in their conference as required for a playoff berth.  But does the split conference system and the promise of playoffs create an attitude of mediocrity within the team, and a level of acceptance with fans and club ownership? When compared to that of European leagues.

This type of finish would never be allowed or accepted by any of the top clubs in Europe.  If Manchester City finished 7th this season I guarantee their boss, Roberto Mancini, would be on the chopping block.

The Designated Player situation is also designed to create parity, but instead brings in over-age players paying them more than their worth, and in fact does the opposite.  In a previous post, Drogba almost drained more money from the MLS, similar issues with the MLS and more specifically the Designated Player problem are discussed.

The Galaxy, with three designated players, are the league leaders in terms of payroll, and the reigning MLS champions.  Shouldn’t more be expected?

The club has more than three times the payroll of the Seattle Sounders, a team currently above LA in the standings. Of course the season isn’t over yet and a lot can still happen with five games remaining.  The Galaxy have been in good form recently with three league wins in a row, but have been overwhelmingly bland this campaign.

LA manager Bruce Arena has had many successful seasons, and the suggestion is not that his job should be in jeopardy, especially because the Galaxy can finish strong, have a good playoff run, and make all questions asked in this post null and void.  But isn’t that part of the issue?

If the Galaxy for example, make the playoffs and have a good run, although playing very average over the course of the season, everything will be forgotten.  A good run in the end is great, but teams in the MLS with the money and talent of the Galaxy should strive to be a powerhouse.  It seems that type of attitude and do-or-die mentality is often missing in Major League Soccer.

This site chooses to focus on the state of American soccer in the world of European football and because of that admittedly makes tough comparisons, but that’s the way you get better, by going up against the best and learning from your losses and shortcomings.

Should there be more scrutiny and a strive for excellence, as if stated by the league, they want to improve the quality and world-wide reach of the league?

There are countless ways to improve the MLS, and it has improved over the years, but it seems molding it after European leagues, and encouraging a few teams to be powerhouses, would be a good place to start.

UEFA group stages begin while CONCACAF drags on – One Minute Rant

As the UEFA Champions League group stages swing into action today another Champions League game, of the CONCACAF variety, takes place tonight on the other side of the world,  but far from the level and prestige that its analagous name would suggest.

Before 2008, The CONCACAF Champions League was known as the CONCACAF Champions Cup, but has since increased the field to 24 teams in an attempt to mold itself after the UEFA Champions League.  Of course the prize money is pocket change compared to that of its European based cousin, but it’s still a good step to improve the quality of football in the region and bring attention to North American and Central American clubs.

The problem is no one cares.  Sometimes it seems as if the clubs themselves don’t care, especially the MLS clubs.

Houston Dynamo at Olimpia in Tegucigalpa, Honduras on 8-31-12

These games are often played by reserve squad players who don’t get a sniff of regular season action and in front of empty stadiums with managers like Bruce Arena looking sleepy and as if he’d rather be sipping a mojito on his patio in sunny southern California. Instead he’s grumpily stuck in the swampy humidity of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, watching players that may never factor into his first team run amok on a muddy chewed up pitch.

The amount of prize money will never be what it is with UEFA, nor should it be based on the level of competition, but MLS clubs should at least make an effort.  The league has made a clear statement that they don’t place any priority on these games, but then why play them?

There have been a couple of instances with Real Salt Lake showing sufficient dedication with a run in the 2010/2011 tournament only to lose in the final, but this isn’t a rant about instances, but about the concept as a whole.

Why degrade the image of the MLS any further by sending scantily skilled squads to the likes of El Salvador and the depths of Mexico only to give a half-hearted performance and thereby forcing fans to listen to the game commentators continually squabble about how hard it is for MLS teams to travel to these parts of the world.

It’s a great idea to have a tournament that brings the best clubs from the region together, but either don’t compare it with the Champions League by claiming the same name, or if you do, elevate it at least to a respectable level.

People seem to show up to watch the finals, but other than that, it’s in desperate need of sponsors, fans, exciting football, or at least quality football, and most importantly MLS clubs to show at least a sliver of interest.  It might help to think about shortening the name as well. Really, CONCACAF is the best acronym they could come up with?

The LA Galaxy have released their starting line-up for Wednesday’s CONCACAF Champions League game in Puerto Rico.  Of course many of the normal players are excluded, with the exception of Landon Donovan, who to be honest is probably using this as more of a brush-up to get back to full match fitness.

Bruce Arena was on the receiving end of some warranted criticism last season for playing such weak squads in these games.  Admittedly, he has turned it around slightly this campaign always managing to stick a couple first team players on the pitch just to appease his critics.

Even in UEFA Champions League matches, top clubs rest players in favor of league play on occasion, but there is still an underlying strategy and desire to win, a quality glaringly absent in the CONCACAF version of this great tournament.

Dempsey fights claims that he ‘manufactured transfer to Spurs’

Dempsey in first game for Tottenham after move from Fulham

Minutes after Clint Dempsey was introduced late into the Tottenham game this weekend at Reading, the on-air commentator remarked at how he didn’t like the way Dempsey had “manufactured his move away from Fulham.”

Dempsey was rather close-mouthed about the whole scenario, staying silent during much of the transfer saga and leaving it more open to hearsay than maybe he should have.  It still seems a bit rash to conclude he manufactured his move across town to Spurs.

There were reports as early as last season’s winter transfer window that a possible move away from Craven Cottage to a top four or five club was in the cards for Dempsey.

It was no secret that although Dempsey enjoyed his football at Fulham he had a strong desire to play at the highest level possible and preferably at a Champions League contender.  It seems as if Fulham stonewalled him on this one by holding out for more money, or hoping to delay things long enough to keep him around, or maybe in some attempt to snub Liverpool.  We’ll never know the full story as Dempsey has taken the high road on this one and chosen not to lash out at his former club, simply explaining he didn’t appreciate the manner in which things happened.

“I’m disappointed in the way I was portrayed, in the end, with Fulham,” Dempsey said. “I always wanted to play at the highest level possible. That was never a secret. That’s something I always said. It would be a dream of mine to play Champions League and you want to play on the best team possible to try to get there. That’s definitely a team with a lot of quality in it, but now it’s all about the team that I’m with.”

Fulham manager Martin Jol was outspoken about the situation, claiming Dempsey refused to play and that although he had high regard for the American, he didn’t appreciate the way he conducted business.

According to, SI.com, Dempsey said, “I did not refuse to play. There were some things that were said that were not true.”

And he added this in regards to speculation that he was slighted by Liverpool, “I wish them the best,” Dempsey said. “It’s a team that has a lot of history and a manager who did a great job with Swansea last season. I liked the way they played.”

It’s unfortunate that Fulham, or more specifically Martin Jol, chose to add fuel to the fire, instead of standing up for their star player, or simply remaining quiet until it was settled.  Obviously Fulham want to keep their top players, but they should have done their best to keep their opinion in-house.

It’s hard to know for sure in the rumor mill that is the transfer window, but clearly some aspects of the deal were mishandled by Fulham. Whatever the reason, Dempsey got a bad rap for doing what any player with his credentials would do; try to play for a top club and preferably one in the Champions League.

In all honesty he stayed longer that some thought he should.  As an influential player and dedicated servant to Fulham he probably could have handed in a transfer request a couple seasons ago.

However it went down, this still goes back to a previous post, Dempsey undervalued?, and begs the question that maybe he was undervalued, at least by the top clubs.

In Fulham’s defense maybe that was part of the issue. They valued him much higher than any of the other potential clubs, therefore creating a sticky situation. Obviously a low to mid-level club would have snatched him up, but when you limit yourself to a select few, and start comparing yourself with, or force a manager to rate you next to the likes of Steven Gerrard, the young Joe Allen, Lucas, and many other top footballers at Liverpool, it makes a very difficult scenario for all parties involved.

Many pundits said that Liverpool needed a player like Dempsey and should have made a stronger bid for him, and seeing the way The Reds have started the season, it’s hard to make a counter argument.

Whatever the story, I can’t agree that he manufactured his move. He simply asked for the opportunity to better himself and play at the highest possible level, which based on his form last season is a warranted request.  He shouldn’t be vilified for that desire and as they say, thrown under the bus, by a club he served for over five years.

It’s all over now and hopefully Dempsey can settle in at Tottenham and put these claims behind him.

The making of a national pastime and adopting another – Feature

America prefers to do things a certain way, its own way.  Most times this is a desirable trait, and part of what makes Americans unique.  Other times the American way of adaptation and singular ownership can be akin to jamming a square peg in a round hole.  This sometimes detrimental characteristic surely applies to sport.

America however does take rightful ownership of one sport, at least as it’s played in its current form, a game of boys as it’s often called, steeped in the history of the country itself, as is any national pastime.

England, although similarly owning the rights, at least in part, to a sport proclaimed as the world sport can also make claim to having a small hand, really more like a finger or two, in the conception of America’s game.  But, as both sports are so widely varied, they have striking similarities.  Not in how the game is played on the field, but how the game is revered and understood in the countries, and in the culture.

There is no replicating the meaning of baseball to America, just as there is no re-creating the beautiful game of football to include the profound significance held by its birthing nation, or group of nations.  Both sports have their genesis, at least as they are played in their present form, in the mid 1800’s.  Of course early interpretations with sticks and balls and bags and kicking were experimented with much earlier.

Fulham’s Craven Cottage in 1923 – FulhamFC.com

Both countries hold onto these sports, these traditions, these memories, these heroes, these often crumbling structures where every brick and seat have history wrought through its fibers, with such possessive fortitude that it makes participating in them as an outsider almost impossible.

Unfortunately, over the years America’s pastime has slowly faded into the background of newer sports like basketball, and most notably one sport, that although called football in America goes by the same name everywhere else, except with “American” plopped in front to decipher it from the game they created.  America has decided, among many other changes, to take the game of world football by a different name, which given language differences and an already popular sport of the same name, makes sense.

Same gable at Craven Cottage today – FulhamFC.com

Even with as much passion as America has for the simplicity of a game played with a wooden stick and a hardball, it slowly tears down the bricks and facades of this national pastime, rebuilding it with the new and corporate sponsored.  While to the contrary England embraces theirs, wanting never to unnecessarily lose any piece of history, with a club like Fulham holding on with all their might to a tiny decaying ground aptly called Craven Cottage, nestled on the River Thames, leaving no room for expansion.

America has been able to hold onto Fenway and Wrigley, but there’s no telling how much longer.  I know Craven Cottage could eventually suffer the same fate as Yankee Stadium and the old Tiger stadium in Detroit, but for now it stands fairly similar to how it stood in 1923.

Craven Cottage today from Putney – FulhamFC.com

The national pastime will never go away in the States, but as it fades, the country looks to a sport from another country, not quite embracing what makes it uniquely their pastime, and instead trying to do the same it’s now doing with baseball.

It’s difficult to understand why America is set on making the game its own, instead of just making it a game that America adapts to and excels at, or strives to excel at.  It’s not that the U.S. hasn’t made great strides as a relative newcomer to the sport, because they have, but it’s about the way the youth grow up in the sport, the way universities change the rules, and the way the professional ranks try to short cut the path to footballing greatness, instead of learning from how other countries lived the sport in order to grow it.

It’s one thing to birth and grow great footballers, it’s a far more difficult task to also create a world-class professional league.  Both have only been done by a few countries, and they’re all European.  The South American countries have figured out how to do the first, with much improvement required on the latter.  Although economies and the wealth of the populations have a lot to do with the latter, explaining the difficulty for those countries.

That’s why these questions are, if you will, allowed to be asked of America.  Because it’s a country of 300 million people with no shortage of infrastructure and rich and wealthy middle class citizens to support the cause.  No shortage of world-class athletes.

In fairness, it is beginning to improve.  We are starting to see some form of reverence towards the sport with a handful of European influenced stadiums and youth developmental programs.

Americans will always have a certain love and passion for the dirt and gritty brawn of baseball, and the head bashing strength of American football, and that shouldn’t be extinguished.  There are certain nuances about the game of baseball and an inherent sense of the game, the smells of leather and pine tar and freshly laid chalk that strike deep in the bones of any former player or die-hard fan that cannot be understood overnight, so why should the football of Europe be any different. We should however, as a country of sports fans, attempt to understand by opening our mind to this game and to the history of the game, a game that constantly flirts with the impossible.

It’s only a matter of time, and it’s already begun happening in small instances, when the biggest and fittest and strongest of American athletes choose the game of world football, or soccer, as their pastime.  It will never replace baseball, nor should it, or American football for that matter, but it can be developed as a strong and beautiful man’s game, if the powers at be take the right steps.

It’s not right or wrong, or good or bad, but a certain aspect of the society in America has clung onto soccer, and interestingly, not the same demographic or part of society necessarily as in England for example. In Great Britain the sport is considered a rough and tough man’s game, of course along with Rugby, but football with the added element of finesse and artistry to make it appeal to all types.

America’s view, in majority, not of course to soccer fans, but as a whole, is that it’s a game of lesser athletes or at the very least, lesser in masculinity.  As a footballer and avid football fan, I of course, and many I know do not feel this way, but the sentiment still remains in a surprisingly high percentage of the population.  Now, some will never be won over, but part of the problem is soccer in the U.S. has been scarred by a rather unfortunate case of identity crisis.

The game is, and has for many years, been portrayed by the media and soccer elite as if it’s between two minds.  It’s often sold as being a great developer for the smaller less athletic kids to simply get in shape and be active; something safe that your kids can do after school.  Then as professional leagues grew and as World Cup teams and Olympic teams were created, there was an attempt to persuade the public that it’s a game for real athletes, for men. (This article isn’t in reference to women’s soccer in America, which on the world stage is ranked much higher)

American football fans and baseball fans took this approach as an assault on their game, on their passion.  Somewhere along the line the message got lost.

Eric Wynalda scored the first goal in the history of the MLS for the San Jose Clash in 1996

In the early 90’s, as I was growing up in the game, there weren’t networks like Fox Soccer or channels that showed European football or how it was played. We relied entirely on the image and message put out there by the U.S. soccer federation and our local soccer clubs, unless we happened to be in a family or setting that sought out football on the European stage.

Soccer is no doubt getting stronger, and youth academies in the mold of English clubs are popping up all over, and there is a real movement, but it’s very difficult. It may take another generation to wipe out the confused and jumbled identity of soccer that was portrayed for so many years in the U.S.  America shouldn’t try to package it like baseball or American football, but simply go back to the roots of the game.

Why play college soccer without stoppage time ending the game with a buzzer, and with continuous subs and different rules altogether, essentially trying to conform to the rules and ideals of other sports that Americans already follow.  The MLS has had such a block when it comes to discussing the idea of relegation and promotion, or a season on the same yearly schedule as the rest of the world, or a single table league, and instead favoring the split up conference system employed by every other American sport.

Sheffield F.C. in England – Worlds oldest football club

Let’s learn from the people and countries that created the sport and made it what it is today, not chart our own path, at least not this once.

As a country that is just as proud of our overwhelming superiority at baseball, we should understand the sacrifices, and credence to history it takes in order reach that level of excellence.

I, as much as anyone, stand up for what this country is, and was founded on, and would like to see U.S. soccer become great, and the MLS an elite league on the world stage.  But first the game of soccer has to meld in with the ideas and theories and history of European football and stop trying to make it American.

Just make it good and the rest will follow.

State of soccer broadcasting in U.S. – One Minute Rant

The state of soccer broadcasting in the U.S. is improving but still largely deficient when compared to other sports.  Networks like Fox Soccer have done an outstanding job of bringing more recognition to the sport, especially the English Premier League, but there’s still a lot of polishing needed in terms of broadcasting quality.

Fox Soccer Channel has no problem pulling in the die-hard soccer fans but to get to the next level and really up the profile of the sport in the country they need to pull in the occasional fan who’s lingering on the fence of watching the Dodgers game, a re-run of Seinfeld, or a fuzzy sort of clumsily commentated soccer game.

Fox Soccer although a little late to the HD club, is now a member, and for the most part has solid commentators, especially when they use the feeds from England with British commentators.

However, some of their lower profile Champions League matches, MLS matches, and any lower level college games leave much to be desired in the way of commentary and play-by-play.

beIN SPORT…  Just their name and brand identity are confusing. The U.S. vs Jamaica World Cup qualifier they broadcasted was a dismal failure and if any of those fence clingers happened to tune in, forget about them coming back for the next one.  The video quality was horrible and it took me back to 1995 making me double-check to make sure my HD TV wasn’t switched out with an old tube TV while I was in the other room.

beIN SPORT is a welcome addition to the soccer fan, and I am thankful to have another network dedicated to the sport, but come on, sort things out before you go on the air.  The commentators were clunky, the play-by-play guy initially acting like an uneducated juvenile on the sport and then later offering his opinion and analysis as though a former professional.  The in studio anchor of sorts, formerly of the Fox Soccer Fone-in show, is good and I know can handle herself on the air but she was an epic failure on this night.  I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt and chalk it up to nerves, but it was uncomfortable to watch.

Also, the set looked like a late 90’s LA night club trying to be futuristic.  I kept thinking they must have originally started the network in the 90’s but it went under and when they started back up, from all appearances 2 hours before the U.S. Jamaica broadcast, they just dusted off all their old cameras, sets, on-screen graphic generators, and said hey, yeah, we can start a soccer network.

It should be noted they claim to be an “International Sports Network” so I’d assume they will broadcast other sports, and that their European football broadcasts are of of higher quality.

The problem for the U.S. is this type of rudimentary broadcasting turns off new soccer fans or those baseball and basketball fans that come over to the dark side because the U.S. is playing in a World Cup qualifier, and they figure it’s worth checking out.  Luckily ESPN covered the follow-up game between Jamaica and the U.S. in Columbus.

According to the beIN website, they have the rights to all away U.S. national team World Cup qualifiers.  I’ll give them another chance, out of necessity.

It proves that it’s not so much about a network’s knowledge in the sport, but about a network’s knowledge in broadcasting.  ESPN was very tentative at first about their involvement in soccer, but have since welcomed the sport into their family and acquired rights to an increasing number of English Premier League games, MLS games, U.S. National team games, and of course the World Cup.  Ian Darke and Steve McManaman are far and away better than any commentators on Fox Soccer or beIN SPORT, not to mention Taylor Twellman has done a good job and made a name for himself as a color commentator.

Fox Soccer is great and I watch it non-stop, but they need to improve a few things with the broadcasting quality if for no other reason to better sell soccer in a country where many sports fans already poo-poo the sport.

That being said, they do have some great analysis guys in Eric Wynalda and  Warren Barton, just to name a few.  They have also recently updated their studio sets this season to be on par with ESPN, which is great. If they continue improving they will no doubt grab more eyeballs, but they need to stay on track, and I’m sure they will.

Sorry, a littler longer than my usual one minute rant.

(I’ll do more of an in depth fact based follow-up on be IN SPORT and their ownership)