RSL Cup blog taking a long much needed break

I've been a fan of Real Salt Lake since it joined MLS and took to the field in 2005, and I've been a fan of MLS since it began in 1996.

However, over the past couple of years, and especially the last several months, I've began to see the ugly underbelly of this sport. Most likely it has always been there and I was just too naïve to see it, but I cannot not see it anymore.

I'm taking a much needed break from the sport of soccer. I may or may not be back. I may or may not update this blog, I don't know. It would be a shame since I've had it up and running for almost 10 years, but the fun I once had just isn't there any more.

Hopefully you fare better.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

NASL continues to build on strong foundation

( 10-28-10)

On the eve of the USSF D-2 Pro League final between two NASL clubs, the Carolina Railhawks and the Puerto Rico Islanders, the NASL announced that it will be hosting its AGM for the 2011 season on November 7 - 8, in Miami. Committed to play and grow at the second division level, the NASL members will be covering several topics including tentative schedule for next season, league staff and future expansion.

The NASL, while busy planning for the 2011 season, was surprised by league member Rochester Rhinos’ announcement earlier this week that they plan to play at the USSF third division level (USL PRO) despite their multi-year commitment with the NASL. The NASL is evaluating all of its options and will proceed accordingly. “It’s unfortunate that the Rochester Rhinos, a team with such a successful track record over its fifteen year history at the second division level, is stepping down to third division," said Aaron Davidson, CEO of the NASL.

Rhinos switch to new league

(by Paul Kennedy 10-25-10)

The Rochester Rhinos, the 2010 USSF D-2 Pro League regular-season champions, are leaving the NASL for USL PRO, the United Soccer Leagues' new professional division, where they will be joined by the Austin Aztex, who were second in the overall D-2 Pro League standings and will move to Orlando, where they will be known as Orlando City in 2011.

“The Rochester Rhinos are one of the top soccer success stories in North America, and it’s only fitting that they continue to add to their accomplishments as a member of USL PRO,” USL president Tim Holt said in a statement. “The tradition between the Rhinos and USL dates back 15 years, and no other team has enjoyed the level of success Rochester has achieved during that time. This is a great addition for USL PRO.”

Aztex president Phil Rawlins said the move from Austin to Orlando was "a very, very bittersweet decision for us. The fans in Austin have given us fantastic backing and fully deserve pro soccer." He said the club had been actively seeking to broaden its investment base for the past 12 months.

USL PRO hopes to have as many as 20 teams playing on a regional basis in 2011.

The core consists of teams from the USL-2 ranks, including the 2010 champion Charleston Battery, Pittsburgh Riverhounds, Richmond Kickers, Harrisburg City Islanders and Charlotte Eagles. Dayton Dutch Lions, a first-year PDL team in 2010, will also play in the USL PRO.

Three teams are based in the league's Caribbean Division: Sevilla Puerto Rico, River Plate Puerto Rico and Barracuda FC of Antigua & Barbuda.

With the departure of Rhinos and the MLS-bound Vancouver Whitecaps, the NASL, which is seeking Division 2 sanctioning from U.S. Soccer, is down to a core of six teams -- Carolina RailHawks, FC Edmonton, Miami FC, Montreal Impact, FC Tampa Bay and the Puerto Rico Islanders -- in its initial filing with U.S. Soccer.

Austin Aztex confirm relocation of franchise

( 10-25-10)

It was confirmed today that the Austin Aztex have accepted an offer from a UK led consortium to acquire the Aztex USL franchise, which involves the relocation of the team to the City of Orlando, Fla.

“We have been actively seeking to broaden the investment base for the Aztex for the past 12 months. It has proven extremely difficult given the economic climate,” Aztex President Phil Rawlins said. “Our first and overriding preference was always to keep the Aztex in Austin. But after we exhausted all our options this has not proven possible.”

“I know the new investors very well -- they are football people and have been interested in working with us for some time. They like what we have achieved on the field and in the community,” he continued. “However, they made it very clear that their investment was contingent upon the team relocating, citing Austin’s lack of a soccer specific stadium with any corporate facilities, the inability to sell alcohol at games and the geographical isolation of the team within the new USL-Pro League. In short, they didn’t see Central Texas as the right market for the team and their future plans.”

And into the picture walked the Orlando.

“Together with the City of Orlando, the new owners approached us about relocating the franchise to Central Florida. As much as we would have loved to keep the Aztex here, it’s proven impossible to find local business leaders who are willing to invest alongside us and who believed in this market.”

The team will relocate in time for the beginning of the 2011 season and will play in the new USL-Pro League. Head Coach Adrian Heath and all the retained players will be making the move with the team.

“This is a very, very bittersweet decision for us. The fans in Austin have given us fantastic backing and fully deserve pro soccer. I know many of our fans and their families personally and they will know that our decision to relocate has been taken with a very heavy heart. I know many people will be bitterly disappointed but we have been left with no local options of backing.”

“I would like to thank all the loyal Aztex fans for their support over the past three years. However, the new investors made it very difficult for us to turn down their offer. They bring much needed additional capital, expertise and connections. They have plans to add another professional sports team to the franchise which will give us year round revenue potential. Their goal is to build up the soccer operations so that we can pursue an MLS franchise in the next few years.”

Pro divisions are merged

(by Paul Kennedy 9-9-10)

United Soccer Leagues, which has operated second- and third-division leagues since its move into pro soccer in the mid-1990s, has merged its First and Second Divisions into USL PRO, a single league property for 2011, signaling a ceasefire in the battle for control of Division 2 soccer.

Team owners and league officials met in Tampa on Wednesday to lay the groundwork for the 2011 debut of USL PRO.

USL operated a six-team USL-2 (third division) in 2010. USL-1 lost many of its members in a dispute between USL's ownership group and club owners, who formed the North American Soccer League. Ultimately, U.S. Soccer did not sanction the NASL. Instead, it is operating the D-2 Pro League with 12 teams while new guidelines for Division 2 soccer were formulated.

Those guidelines include minimum standards for the wealth of owners and the size of the markets and stadiums.

It remains to be seen if a league will be formed to meet these Division standards.

The Portland Timbers and Vancouver Whitecaps will move to MLS in 2011 and the Montreal Impact will join MLS in 2012.

On the other end of the scale, several D-2 Pro League clubs are believed to be struggling to stay afloat. AC St. Louis's sister team, WPS's St. Louis Athletica, folded in mid-season.

Besides the three MLS-bound teams, only one minor-league team -- the Rochester Rhinos -- average more than 4,000 fans a game.

USL CEO Alec Papadakis says the new USL PRO will solve many of the problems that have plagued minor-league soccer, whose ranks have shrunk in recent years.

“After much analysis of the current landscape we’ve chosen to combine our synergies into a single professional league that will operate within financial and competitive models that make sense,” Papadakis said. “The USL PRO business plan is the first below the MLS level to give team owners a realistic roadmap to profitability. We need to focus on the future health of soccer in North America, and the USL PRO model addresses many of the issues that have led to the instability of men’s professional soccer below the MLS level.”

USL PRO hopes to emphasize regional competition, though the challenge will be able to build regional divisions outside the USL-2's base on the Atlantic coast.

Garber: We’re looking at changing the playoff format

(by Greg Lalas 10-30-10)

This season, with two teams from the Western Conference switching to the Eastern Conference playoff bracket, there has been much talk about possible changes to the MLS playoff format. On Saturday evening at halftime of the FC Dallas-Real Salt Lake Western Conference Semifinal match at Pizza Hut Park, MLS Commissioner Don Garber confirmed those changes are coming.

“It is kind of odd when you have teams moving from conference to conference and we're looking at making some changes,” he told Fox Soccer Channel. “We're going to have more teams in the league over the next couple of years, and I think there are many more exciting ways that we can do this. Everything in the past worked well—it might continue—but let's open it up to making it even better.”

In each of the past three seasons, teams from one conference have switched brackets. In 2008, the New York Red Bulls switched brackets and wound up winning the Western Conference playoff crown and a trip to the MLS Cup. Real Salt Lake repeated that feat in 2009, winning the Eastern Conference playoff title and eventually beating Los Angeles in the MLS Cup.

This year, the Colorado Rapids and San Jose Earthquakes, who finished 5th and 6th in the Western Conference, respectively, are taking part in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

One of the options often mentioned is going to a single table, a move Garber rejected, just as he has many times when asked the same question.

“Everyone around us pushes the single table,” he acknowledged. “At the end of the day we want to create more rivalries. We like the fact that you can be crowned a conference champion. We like the fact that as the league gets bigger and we spread across two different countries that we can keep these local rivalries. And conferences are, in our view, the way to do that.”


Commentary by The Cup

How freaking long is MLS going to shove this conference crap down our throats?! Nobody gives a crap how many conference championships DC or LA have. No one gives a crap that Chicago won the the Central Conference championship back in the day. There are three domestic titles a team can go after, MLS Cup, Supporters Shield, and the US Open Cup, period. We don't need conferences to decide those titles. A single table is all we need. Get it through your head MLS!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Barcelona's Pinto gets 2-game ban for fake whistle

( 10-29-10)

Barcelona goalkeeper Jose Pinto has been suspended for two Champions League matches after faking the referee's whistle to fool an opponent into thinking he was offside.

UEFA says Pinto was guilty of "gross unsporting conduct'' in an Oct. 20 match against FC Copenhagen at Camp Nou.

Pinto is banned for the return match in Denmark next Tuesday and an away match against Greek club Panathinaikos on Nov. 24.

The 34-year-old 'keeper whistled, causing Copenhagen forward Cesar Santin to stop as he ran through on goal in the 26th minute when Barcelona led 1-0. The Spanish champion eventually won 2-0.

Copenhagen complained to UEFA that Pinto's action violated "all principles of fair play and respect for the game.''

Monday, October 25, 2010

Galaxy rally, clinch Supporters' Shield

CARSON, Calif. (AP) David Beckham and Juninho scored to help the Los Angeles Galaxy rally for a 2-1 victory over FC Dallas on Sunday night.

The Galaxy (18-7-5) will face Seattle in the playoffs after winning the Supporters' Shield for finishing with the league's best record.

"Tonight was a step forward," Galaxy coach Bruce Arena said. "We haven't been in a game where we've been forced to show up, play hard, fight and scrap for everything we could get. We did that tonight."

The Supporters' Shield is the first trophy that the Galaxy won since Beckham joined the team in 2007.

"I've won quite a few accolades and awards over the years," Beckham said. "But for us, it's not over. We want to go all the way and we want to win everything."

Atiba Harris scored for Dallas (12-4-14), which will play defending MLS Cup champion Real Salt Lake.

"I think any of those four teams could end up in the championship game," Dallas coach Schellas Hyndman said. "We would have won the Supporter's Shield last year with the points we have. That's just a compliment to all the other teams that are doing so well."

Juninho broke a 1-1 tie in the 46th minute. Dallas defender Zach Loyd headed Landon Donovan's aerial pass to Juninho, who volleyed it into the net from 18 yards.

Harris gave Dallas a 1-0 lead in the 22nd minute with a 5-yard header off Eric Alexander's left-wing cross. Alexander began the play by intercepting Galaxy defender Sean Franklin's attempted clearance.

"To my surprise, they came out with all their guns," Arena said. "We had to keep our concentration for 90 minutes."

Beckham tied it in the 33rd minute. Donovan pushed Dallas' Jackson Goncalves away to steal the ball near the left end line and passed to Beckham, who fired a low 23-yard shot between goalkeeper Dario Sala and the left post.

Donovan received his league-leading 16th assist, a career high.

Edson Buddle had two chances to tie San Jose's Chris Wondolowski for the league lead goals. But in the 67th minute, Sala used his right hand to block Buddle's 7-yard header off Beckham's corner kick.

In the 68th minute, Sala dropped Beckham's corner kick but Buddle shot the loose ball wide of the right post.

Wondolowski finished with 18 goals.

Unlikely RSL result makes final match vital

(by Layton Shumway 10-24-10)

If you turned off Saturday's match between Real Salt Lake and the Colorado Rapids before the 90th minute, you probably felt safe in assuming the Rapids would hold onto their two-goal lead.

You were wrong.

Thanks to an embarrassing gaffe from Rapids goalkeeper Matt Pickens, an unnecessary foul in the penalty area by Rapids defender Brian Mullen, and cool composure from RSL striker Alvaro Saborio, the Rocky Mountain Cup will stay in Utah for another year as the match ended in a 2-2 draw.

The unlikely result and its ramifications on the MLS Supporter's Shield race between RSL and the L.A. Galaxy have the U.S. soccer world buzzing.

Rapids coach Gary Smith called the result "farcical," criticizing referee Ricardo Salazar for calling a crucial penalty so late into stoppage time.

In an interview with the Denver Post, Mullen claimed he "got elbowed right before the kick, kind of shocked me" as an explanation for getting tangled up with Real defender Jamison Olave.

Even RSL players recognize how fortunate they were to escape with a tie.

"Did that really happen last night?" RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando posted on his Twitter profile Sunday. "By far not our best game and we know that...That said, I'm so proud of how we believed and responded to being two goals down."

Meanwhile, all eyes will be on the Galaxy's match with FC Dallas Sunday evening at 6 p.m. MDT. The Galaxy are currently tied with RSL in the standings, but a win or tie would vault them back into first place. A Galaxy loss gives Real the Shield based on tiebreakers.

Dallas has little to play for, as they are locked into the third seed in the Western Conference. But they can determine their playoff opponents. If they win, they can deny the Galaxy the top seed and avoid a trip to Rio Tinto Stadium in a matchup with RSL.

Former RSL striker Jeff Cunningham could be instrumental in the match, as reports that Cunningham may start rather than fill his usual substitute role.

One way or another, it has been a record-setting season for Real Salt Lake, as they set league marks in fewest goals allowed and tied for best home record, going undefeated.

By Sunday night, they could add the franchise's first Supporter's Shield to the tally.

L.A. Galaxy vs. FC Dallas

Sunday, 6 p.m. MDT, at Home Depot Center, Carson, CA

Real Salt Lake beats Cruz Azul, wins CONCACAF Champions group

(by James Edwards 10-19-10)

Under coach Jason Kreis, Real Salt Lake is a goals-driven team.

One of their objectives this summer was to become the first MLS team to win a CONCACAF Champions League match in Mexico. It came close, but instead coughed up four goals in the final 20 minutes of a monsoon to lose a heart-breaker to Cruz Azul.

It more than made up for it Tuesday night at Rio Tinto Stadium, and in the process checked another first of its list.

In the final group game of the Champions League for both teams, RSL picked up an emphatic 3-1 victory in front of stadium record 20,463 fans to win Group A with 13 points. It is the first MLS team to finish atop a CCL group.

"It's kind of nice to get a little payback," said Rauwshan McKenzie. "They're coming here thinking they're going to put one on us, but we just held our ground and showed them what home field advantage is."

Getting the job done with a make-shift line-up that included Will Johnson starting on defense and teenager Luis Gil starting as well — against Cruz Azul's first-choice line-up — speaks volumes about how confident Real Salt Lake is at home. The victory ran the club's unbeaten streak at home to 32 straight in all competitions.

"Winning the group the way that we did with our second team, against their absolutely first team in our stadium in front of a pretty hostile crowd says a lot about the guys we have on this team," said Johnson. "It was a lot of fun to be a part of. It was a huge accomplishment."

Real Salt Lake will now turn its attention back to MLS play this weekend as it tries to win the MLS Supporter's Shield.

RSL had already secured passage into the Champions League quarterfinals regardless of Tuesday's result, so Kreis had the luxury of resting most of his regulars for this weekend's game in Colorado.

Not surprisingly, Cruz Azul took advantage by dominating possession early.

"A lot of the first half we were a little bit tentative again. I thought there were more opportunities for us to play and possess and we were doing quite a good enough job," said Kreis.

With an estimated 50-50 split in the stadium between RSL supporters and Cruz Azul supporters, nerves were to be expected from RSL's youngsters.

One player who didn't demonstrate those nerves was Paulo Junior. In his first start for Real Salt Lake he scored twice, including the all-important first goal late in the first half.

His second goal doubled RSL's lead in the 67th minute, and rookie Collen Warner increased the lead to 3-0 four minutes later.

Against any other team a three-goal lead is safe, but not necessarily at Cruz Azul.

The visitors pulled a goal back on a wonderful finish by Cesar Villaluz in the 71st minute, and RSL keeper Kyle Reynish came up with a huge save in the 83rd minute to keep the score line at 3-1.

"I just can't say enough about the contributions of the players that came in, and they have for the past six weeks," said Kreis.

Pablo Campos had a great opportunity to put RSL in front in the 32nd minute, but his penalty kick was saved by Cruz Azul keeper Yosgart Gutierrez. Campos was fouled in the box by Adrian Cortes following a great piece of individual skill as he beat three defenders.

Even though the experience of Johnson and Andy Williams made them more logical choices to take the PK, Campos insisted on taking it but he was denied.

With the visitors dominating possession, it could've been a disastrous miss.

Fortunately for Campos, Paulo Junior came to the rescue in the waning minutes of the second half as the speedy striker split a pair of Cruz Azul defenders and chipped the ball over the keeper.

Both RSL and Cruz Azul advance to the two-leg quarterfinals of the Champions League on Feb. 22-24 and then March 1-3. RSL will open on the road and then host the second leg against a yet-to-be determined team.

"It's a step in the right direction. We won't stop here. We need to make strides to get further in the tournament come spring," said Kreis.

RSL's Title Ambition

(by Clemente Lisi 10-12-10)

If there was ever a team that was molded in the image of its coach, it’s Real Salt Lake. Calm, composed, and focused, RSL's squad is an extension of what Jason Kreis has preached in practice and from the sidelines over the past two seasons.

Unlike the type of soccer we've seen lately from around the World, Kreis emphasizes expression over suppression. Real wins games with a focus on teamwork, but this time around they're also making it look good.

“I want there to be some indication that we are trying to play the way that we play,” said Kreis, who has coached the team since retiring as a player in 2007.

Just 37, the boyish-looking Kreis still looks like an active player after emerging from the locker room at Red Bull Arena following a scoreless draw Saturday against New York. Although the draw probably ended Kreis’ dreams of winning the Supporters’ Shield, given to the MLS team with the best regular-season record, he said it was good result against the Eastern Conference leaders.

“I am pleased with that,” Kreis said when asked about his players’ commitment and energy level as the match wore on.

Last season, Kreis had relished the role of underdog. He milked it for all it was worth when he coached the #8 seed with a losing record on a Cinderella run that ended with his players lifting the trophy. For Kreis, it had been - as he put it at the time - all about “collective success” and creating “the most-dominant home-field advantage” in the League.

This season, Kreis’ recipe for success has a similar epilogue: repeat as champions. He may have a roster deep enough to capture a back-to-back next month in Toronto.

In reality, Real has no big superstars or flashy Designated Players on its roster. Instead, RSL is a blue-collar team that’s built on a strong work ethic. Kreis has done a fabulous job molding the squad into a cohesive unit ready to do battle against any team.

“The difference between the top-seed and the last playoff seed is very little in this League,” Kreis said about the MLS playoffs. “We never have to underestimate any opponent.”

A team that is focused on scoring goals, Kreis’ attacking options are many. Alvaro Saborio, Fabian Espindola, Javier Morales, Robbie Findley and Kyle Beckerman have all been used as part of Kreis’ offensive arsenal. The US-born Findlay and Beckerman, in particular, are having a great season and could re-enter the National Team picture once the playoffs come to an end.

RSL may have ended up surprise champions, but this year they have looked like contenders from the start. Despite having to do double-duty between MLS and the Champions League, resilient Real keeps getting wins after playing 14 games over a period of 56 days going into this past Saturday’s road match In New York.

During the team’s arduous schedule of MLS and Champions League games stretching from August 7 to October 2, RSL traveled nearly 22,000 miles – not to mention the occasional flight delay – in its jaunt across North America. To be able to play that many games in the final third of the MLS season is proof that Real Salt Lake is a team that withstand almost anything.

As Real Salt Lake aims to repeat, the team has had a record-breaking season. Real Salt Lake is in the midst of a 24-game unbeaten streak at Rio Tinto Stadium, where it has not lost since May 2009, while yielding a league-best 18 goals through 27 games. At the same time, the team reached the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals last month as it tries to add more silverware to its trophy case.

Real Salt Lake may have to do what it did last year: win the title by getting hot in the playoffs while playing on the road – something that doesn’t worry the players.

“We know that when we have to go on the road in the playoffs that we can win,” goalkeeper Nick Rimando, using last week’s 2-1 road win against the New England Revolution as an example. “It’s a confidence boost for us.”

Unlike, for instance, the Los Angeles Galaxy, RSL has momentum on its side heading into next month’s MLS playoffs. At the same time, Kreis has juggled his lineup between both MLS and Champions League games - taking a calculated risk by resting key players at times - in an effort to keep his roster healthy during this marathon season of games.

“We’ve done something that we wanted to accomplish from the start of the season,” Kreis said of the season so far. “We have to continue to look forward.”

Jaime Moreno tribute

Houston getting into the tifo mix

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Who's Al?

And dude should have painted over his nipples.