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.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Invader on the pitch

A frog decided to get into the game during the Honduras vs USA game in Miami earlier this year.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Arsenal immortalize NYRB's Henry with statue unveiling

Bronze statue outside Emirates commemorates goal vs. Spurs

(by Simon Borg 12-9-11)

It was a moment that even moved the usually stoic Thierry Henry to tears.

English side Arsenal FC unveiled bronze statues for three club legends outside the club’s home at Emirates Stadium in London on Friday, including one of the New York Red Bulls forward, who scored a club-record 226 career goals for the Gunners.

"I never thought in my wildest dreams that I would have a statue like this in front of the stadium of the team I love and support,” he told reporters.

The statue immortalizes Henry’s now famous celebration after a dramatic goal against London rivals Tottenham Hotspur in November 2002.

"The way the statue is gives the perfect example of the love I have for the club," he said, "me kneeling facing the Emirates Stadium and Highbury behind is amazing."

When he stepped up to give a short speech, Henry shed tears in front of the crowd gathered outside the Emirates.

"I know I don't show emotions often,” he said after a pause. “Some of the time some of the press used to kill me for not showing emotion. But there you go I'm showing emotion right now for the club I love.”

The ceremony was held as part of Arsenal’s 125-year anniversary celebrations that will take place on Saturday. Henry’s statue joined relics for ex-manager Herbert Chapman and defender Tony Adams.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Monday, November 28, 2011

Fret not

Javier to Portland guy, "Fret ye not, for we too once sucked."

Friday, November 25, 2011

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Don't airbrush Beckham's legacy

(by Jeff Carlisle 11-23-11)

As the final whistle sounded Sunday at the Home Depot Center, Major League Soccer could rest easy. After more than four years of waiting, the league at last had its David Beckham moment.

The Los Angeles Galaxy had claimed their first MLS Cup since 2005, and Beckham, despite an ailing hamstring, had been in the middle of it all. With fans singing his praises, a clearly emotional Beckham soaked in the adulation, telling ESPN's Rob Stone, "I'm glad all the hard work this season has paid off, because we've been incredible."

The sight of Beckham hoisting the MLS Cup will leave an indelible image in the minds of those who witnessed it, MLS commissioner Don Garber among them. "I think the whole David Beckham experience would not have been fully complete without a championship," Garber said in a telephone interview. "Now we can close that chapter."

But there's one problem with iconic moments -- they tend to be accompanied by an airbrushing of history. This appears to be taking place with Beckham.

This is not to question the wisdom of bringing Beckham to MLS in the first place. Financially, the deal has proved to be a winner by almost any measure. "In signing Beckham, MLS basically made a big down payment to accelerate the global notoriety of the league," said David Carter, who serves as executive director of the Sports Business Institute at USC's Marshall School of Business. "They were willing to engage him on a variety of levels with respect to marketing; his helping market the Galaxy and the league to be this ambassador that everyone has talked about. Along the way I think that has certainly helped with respect to bringing in other players and elevating the global awareness of MLS."

But in terms of on-the-field matters, the relationship was rockier. Whenever Beckham was asked to choose between his MLS commitments and his personal desires, he did what was best for him, especially as it related to his international ambitions. As recently as January, Beckham was itching for a loan to EPL side Tottenham even though his previous loan spell with AC Milan had ended with his tearing his Achilles tendon and resulting in his missing all but 11 games of the 2010 MLS season. The Galaxy, in a rare display of backbone, quite rightly rejected their star's desire to play at White Hart Lane.

Let's also not forget that in 2009, Beckham decided that he was having such a splendid time with the Italian giants that he opted to extend this loan until midsummer, missing half the MLS regular season. To Garber's credit, he admitted the league hadn't always helped itself in the face of Beckham's offseason dalliances.

"It was frustrating that the [2009] offseason loan went further into the season," Garber said. "We also underestimated the pushback from fans as well as the risk of injury. In retrospect, I wish we hadn't done it. But it did build a closer relationship with David and eventually allowed us to achieve more of our goals."

For all the talk of Beckham's stellar 2011 campaign, the year was witness to more selfish behavior when he missed a May 25 league match against Houston to attend Gary Neville's testimonial. Granted, the two are close friends, with Neville acting as best man at Beckham's wedding, and it was ultimately Galaxy manager Bruce Arena who made the decision to allow his midfielder to go. But it was Beckham who put in the request, again showing little respect for MLS. Incredibly, Garber doesn't have a problem with it.

"Beckham is a global icon who is connected to the broader world of soccer and cultural things like the royal wedding," he said. "Some events are bigger than the league. That's the price you pay for exposure.

"I am convinced that if he was playing for Real Madrid, they would have let him go [to Neville's testimonial]. It shows respect for soccer culture, and it is those types of events that make the game so special. I can understand people scratching their head over that, but not everyone understands the importance that those games have to players."

With all due respect to Garber, it's inconceivable that if Beckham had made that request to Manchester United, manager Sir Alex Ferguson, or former Real Madrid and current England manager Fabio Capello would have agreed to his request. Ferguson likely would have responded by kicking another shoe in Beckham's direction. It should be noted that such events are scheduled with the European calendar in mind, so such conflicts are avoided. That doesn't mean that MLS and the Galaxy should be the ones to take a back seat and reveals that in the fifth year of his contract, they still displayed something of an inferiority complex when it came to their most famous player.

Such criticism isn't intended to cast Beckham into the role of villain. His behavior is especially difficult to reconcile when stacked against his in-game efforts this season. Given his profile and salary, he should have been the Galaxy's best player, and he was. We're talking about a player who displayed an immense level of competitiveness and had no qualms about playing injured, hardly the attitude of someone coming to MLS for a vacation.

It's possible that despite the arranged-marriage nature of his relationship with MLS, Beckham grew to appreciate the league in the end. But given how relentlessly on-message he is in his limited dealings with the media, that's difficult to gauge. It's a shame the paying public wasn't witness to more 2011-like displays by the former England captain.

Then again, with the passage of time and given the way Beckham finished out his initial five-year contract, none of his indiscretions may end up mattering, at least on the surface.

"I think ultimately because of the way it ended, the soccer perspective will also come to be known as a success," said former Galaxy general manager and ESPN television analyst Alexi Lalas. "That's the nature of images and perception. All that stuff rolled into one night where everything went according to script and, from a Galaxy perspective, as perfectly as you could want it to go."

But if MLS is to continue to grow after Beckham leaves -- and given the intense interest from clubs like Paris St. Germain, that could take place soon -- it's important that his impact be judged on the totality of his tenure in the U.S., both good and bad. MLS wasn't in need of saving when he arrived, and the same is true now. Certainly there is a Beckham component to many of the league's growth initiatives, but to ignore his (at times) condescending treatment of the league only obscures the smart decisions MLS has made that arguably will have a bigger long-term impact. And if Beckham is given all the credit, that will only serve to foster the false belief that the league will crumble when he's gone, a perception Garber is keen to avoid.

"The level of play continues to grow," Garber said. "The number of star players is up to 20. We've expanded by seven clubs since Beckham arrived. We've opened nine new stadiums and added lots of new sponsors. Beckham has been a part of the story, but he's not the only driver. You look at the success of the three teams in the Pacific Northwest. None of those players have Beckham on their roster."

That is the message the league should be driving home even more. And years from now, if Beckham is remembered as having helped achieve those things, even given the stumbles that dotted his stay here, that will be a worthy legacy.

2011 end of year table

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Young hool

This kid actually scares me a little.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Does big-name Galaxy's MLS Cup title signal a new era for league?

(by Steve Davis 11-21-11)

The symmetry of it all was simply outstanding, almost too storybook to believe it could occur by happenstance.

For all the hullabaloo over designated players in Major League Soccer, none of these salary-exempted luminaries had won an MLS Cup before Sunday. Beckham's arrival in 2007 marked the beginning of a new day in MLS. The so-called "Beckham rule" delivered big names to MLS, and that helped deliver ever bigger crowds and fatter TV contracts to a burgeoning league. But none had been able to deliver a championship to their employers.

Houston won in 2007 with no DP on the roster. Since then, Columbus, Real Salt Lake and Colorado claimed MLS Cups, all with no DP services.

That changed on a raw and rainy night at the Home Depot Center, were Landon Donovan, Robbie Keane and, of course, David Beckham finally pounded out the DP breakthrough. All three Galaxy DPs had something to say about the outcome, each playing a part in the 16th MLS Cup's only goal.

Donovan's intelligent run put him on the end of Keane's killer pass. Beckham started it all with another telling ball out of the midfield, this one into Keane, the Galaxy's latest DP arrival.

Donovan scoring in MLS Cup finals is nothing new. He already had three goals while collecting three previous MLS Cup rings as he led L.A. onto the field early Sunday evening -- literally leading the team out of the tunnel with a spirited, flat out sprint to midfield, well ahead of his striding teammates. So, with his latest MLS Cup trophy, Donovan joined Jeff Agoos, Jaime Moreno, Dwayne De Rosario and Brian Mullan in the four-Cup club.

Afterward, Donovan quickly deflected praise toward Beckham, a man with whom Donovan once had an ugly, public spat.

He mentioned that Beckham had pulled a hamstring earlier in the week. The Galaxy tried hard to conceal Beckham's injury, telling reporters the former England captain was missing practices due to a cold. Now, the hamstring injury (and its extent) will surely be written into the larger Beckham lore.

"The way David has played through some pretty serious injuries the last few weeks, it inspired me a lot," Donovan said. "It inspired a lot of us to just get on with it."

Donovan won the game's MVP award, but it was Beckham who ran the show Sunday. Beckham performed with such verve despite what he called a hamstring "tear," one suffered Tuesday in practice. You could quibble with the narrative, perhaps, one perhaps tipping towards the overly dramatic, but not with Beckham's big performance.

While Donovan was fairly quiet until the goal, Beckham was in charge of his team's highly organized midfield. He nearly put Keane through twice with great, early balls out of the midfield, seeing the gap and the pass before Houston's center backs could even begin dropping off in anticipation. His corner kicks were arriving with the usual devastating force; how Galaxy striker Adam Cristman missed a wide open header off one Beckham deadeye corner kick delivery, only he could say.

At other moments, Beckham's ideas were bright and alive, even if he saw passes into the penalty area that teammates didn't see in time. None of that surprised Galaxy coach Bruce Arena, who was effusive in his praise for Beckham.

"David is a champion," Arena said. "I've been around great athletes and great competitors in my life, in different sports. This guy is as good as they come. Unbelievable desire to win, to compete. He's a great teammate, a great person. What more can you say about a guy like this, about what he's brought to this league and this organization?

"He gutted it out tonight," Arena said. "He obviously wanted to be there tonight, and my hat's off to him."

Now, of course, the questions must be answered of Beckham's future. He won a crown in his final year with Manchester United, and claimed another in his final year with Real Madrid. And now, in what might be is final MLS year, he's won yet again -- perhaps ushering in a new era along the way.

What will Beckham do, and when will he do it?

"We need to sit back and relax, enjoy the moment, then decide what I'm going to do," Beckham said, mentioning several times that he just wanted to "enjoy tonight."

"I might talk in past tense every now and then [about MLS], but it doesn't mean I'm not coming back," he said. "I need to decide what's best for me, what's best for my family, and then we'll see."

Said Arena: "Whatever he decides to do ... I support him, 100 percent. He's earned that."

In the bigger picture for MLS, is the league moving into a new stage, where DP attachment becomes a virtual requirement for championship consideration? Will it take a bigger financial commitment now, with ever more teams wading deeper and deeper into DP waters? Even Houston manager Dominic Kinnear, whose club has been one of the kings of frugal success, wasn't sure.

"It's hard to say," Kinnear said when asked about DPs and a larger role in the competitive balance going forward. "I think when you look at soccer, there are different eras, different formations and different parts of eras. So we'll see. A lot is up to ownership and about paying money. And do players want to come play here?"

Becks gets his trophy

Donovan, Beckham lead L.A. Galaxy past Dynamo 1-0 to MLS crown

( 11-20-11)

Landon Donovan scored in the 72nd minute on passes from Robbie Keane and David Beckham, and the Los Angeles Galaxy's three superstars won their first MLS Cup together with a 1-0 victory over the Houston Dynamo on Sunday night.

Beckham won his first MLS championship in the final game of his groundbreaking five-year contract with the Galaxy, who rolled through the postseason to the franchise's third league title after finishing with MLS' best regular-season record.

Beckham punctuated a solid performance in the MLS Cup with an alert header to Keane, the Irish striker who joined Los Angeles in midseason. Keane made a run and eventually fed Donovan, who struck home his record 20th MLS playoff goal.

Beckham lifted Donovan -- selected the MLS Cup MVP -- off his feet with a hug after the final whistle in the Galaxy's record seventh appearance in the league title game.

Los Angeles had the most expensive and highest-profile roster in MLS history, but the Galaxy got full value from their three highest-priced players, particularly in the playoffs. Beckham's assist was his fourth of a stellar postseason, while Donovan scored in each of the Galaxy's final three playoff games, and Keane was a serious offensive force despite flying across the world in his spare time on Irish national team duty.

A sellout crowd of 30,281 at Home Depot Center -- where the Galaxy didn't lose a game all season long -- cheered Los Angeles past the Dynamo, who hadn't lost in nine games since Sept. 10. Houston struggled for offense in the MLS Cup after losing leading scorer and league MVP runner-up Brad Davis to a torn quadriceps in the Eastern Conference championship.

Beckham put a stylish finish on the best season of his five-year stint with the Galaxy, finishing second in MLS with 15 assists while spending the entire season in Los Angeles. The English superstar hasn't decided where he'll play next year, but the Galaxy hope he extends his California sojourn for at least another season.

The Galaxy fanatics in the Angel City Brigade supporters' section chanted "We want Beckham!" after the final whistle.

This championship had been the Galaxy's to lose since early in the season. Los Angeles dominated the league and won the Supporters' Shield with the second-best regular-season record in MLS history, and the Galaxy didn't disappoint in the playoffs as they did last season.

Donovan also earned vindication in his fourth career MLS championship. The U.S. national team star gave up his Galaxy captaincy to Beckham early in their tenure, but got it back as his partnership with Beckham matured over the past three seasons.

The Galaxy dominated play in the scoreless first half, with the cautious Dynamo sitting back while Los Angeles pressed. Beckham was the most creative attacker, but the Galaxy struggled to finish his service - nobody more than forward Adam Cristman, who replaced injured Chad Barrett in the starting lineup.

Beckham put a perfect corner kick onto Cristman's head in the 12th minute, but the Los Angeles forward botched the finish. He then missed back-to-back chances starting in the 27th minute, failing to convert another header on Beckham's pass over the defense before losing his footing and misplaying a ball from Donovan inside the penalty area moments later.

After Keane barely missed a shot across the mouth of the goal early in the second half, he slipped a shot between goalkeeper Tally Hall's legs in the 56th minute, but was whistled offside by the smallest of margins.

MLS makes changes for 2012 regular season and playoff schedule

MLS reveals 2012 conference-based schedule format

( 11-20-11)

With the addition of the Montreal Impact to MLS in 2012, bringing the league’s total to 19, many have wondered how the schedule would look when there are 10 clubs in the Eastern Conference and only 9 in the Western Conference.

Now we know.

According to the plan approved by the MLS Board of Governors on Saturday, some things will remain the same, but there will be changes as the league shifts to an unbalanced schedule, or a conference-based schedule.

We have established a fair and compelling format for the 2012 season,” MLS executive vice president Nelson Rodriguez said in a statement. “This regular season will include more games between regional rivals and less total travel than we have seen in recent years. Because of the wide geographic distribution of MLS clubs, this structure should improve the quality of play, while continuing to give every club an equal chance of qualifying for the MLS Cup Playoffs.”

Each club’s total matches will remain the same, at 34 regular-season matches, and the regular season will run from mid-March through October, as it has in recent years.

Here is how the conference-based schedule will work:

Western Conference clubs will play each other three times, totaling 24 matches. They will play four conference opponents twice at home and once away, and play the other four conference opponents twice away and once at home. The location arrangement will be reversed in 2013.

West clubs will complete their schedule by playing each of the 10 Eastern Conference clubs once. Five of matches will be at home and five will be on the road. Again, the arrangement will be reversed in 2013.

Due to the higher number of clubs in the Eastern Conference, things are a little different on that side. Each club will play a total of 25 conference matches.

Each East club will play seven of their conference opponents three times each (21 total games) and the remaining two conference opponents twice each (4 games).

To complete their full slate, East teams will then play the nine West teams once each. Those nine games will be split either five at home and four away or vice versa. The locations will be reversed in 2013.

The league says it plans to announce the full schedule earlier than they have in previous years.


MLS makes changes for 2012 playoff schedule

( 11-20-11)

Major League Soccer will have 10 playoff teams and more games between regional rivals under new competition policies in 2012.

MLS made several announcements about next season's schedule before Sunday's MLS Cup between Los Angeles and Houston.

Next year's MLS Cup will be hosted by the finalist with the most regular-season points, a long-rumored change from the league's tradition of neutral-site championship games.

After a regular season weighted for games within each conference, five teams will make the postseason from each conference. The bottom two seeds will play a knockout game to determine who takes on each conference's top seed in a two-game aggregate-goal format.

The conference finals also will be played in a two-game series, a change from this season's winner-take-all finals for an MLS Cup berth.

Friday, November 11, 2011

D.C. United may have to leave RFK

( 11-10-11)

Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber says D.C. United might relocate to a different site in the Washington-Baltimore region next season because of high operating costs at RFK Stadium.

"We have to aggressively figure a solution out, and that solution needs to be figured out soon. And I am concerned about where this team will be in 2012," he said during a conference call Thursday.

"I'm shocked to say that I believe they could be paying more for their lease in RFK than any other team we have in the league, and there is no doubt in my mind that it is a stadium that is substandard to what soccer fans are able to experience in many other markets in the United States and Canada."

Winner of MLS titles in 1996, 1997, 1999 and 2004, D.C. United has explored building a venue in Baltimore near Camden Yards and M&T Bank Stadium. For now, Garber said the team must have a lower rent next season.

"If that means that they can't get a new improved lease in D.C., they've got to move to another facility in the region. I will be supportive of that, and in fact will help them do that," he said. "And if it means they can't find a solution in Baltimore, then we'll have to go through a process as we did with San Jose to think about potentially moving the team. I believe that we'll have to go through that process, as well."

Washington Mayor Vincent Gray did not sound optimistic about a new stadium in a Twitter post Nov. 3.

"We value DC United & hope they stay in DC," Gray tweeted. "But District is in a challenging fiscal environment now & publicly funded stadium not possible."

San Jose moved to Houston after the 2005 season and was replaced by a new team with the same name for 2008.

On other topics, Garber also said MLS will go to an unbalanced 34-game schedule next year and there is "a very strong possibility" next year's MLS Cup will be played at the site of the team that wins the Supporters Shield for best regular-season record.

He said MLS merchandise sales increased 35 percent this year, when the league's regular-season attendance rose 7 percent to a record 17,872. The league's average viewers for telecasts on ESPN and ESPN2 rose 16 percent to 311,000, according to Nielsen Media Research, and viewers on Fox Soccer Channel increased 26 percent to an average of 70,000. For Spanish-language broadcasts on Telefutura, viewers increased 10 percent to an average of 233,000.

He said the wider interest helped enable a new secondary contract with NBC Sports Network that starts next season.

"At the end of the day, we want to be one of the top soccer leagues in the world. And we want to try to achieve that by 2022," Garber said. "We want to the league of choice, the league of choice for players, for sponsors, for fans."

He said there has been no progress toward finding a venue in New York that would enable the league to add a second team in the area, but that MLS had hired a fulltime person to work on the project and had retained three consultants. He said he anticipates the league will resume talks with the Wilpon family after litigation filed by the trustee seeking to recover money for the victims of the Bernard Madoff Ponzi scheme is resolved.

Garber mentioned Las Vegas and Detroit as possibilities for future expansion and said that although a Florida group was interested, no potential ownership in Miami has emerged.

Garber hopes David Beckham will remain in the league after the 36-year-old English midfielder's $32.5 million, five-year contract with the Los Angeles Galaxy expires at the end of the season. He said MLS teams "for a while were on life support" after he was hired in 1999 and that Beckham's arrival in 2007 was a clear boost.

"David has delivered for us on all aspects of our expectations, both on and off the field," Garber said. "David had a terrific year this year. It's hard to argue that he wasn't one of the more important players on our fields and really contributed to his team and to the league competitively. Off the field he continues to be an important part of what drives some of the popularity of the league both here and around the world. He remains a very popular guy. His presence on the sports pages but also on the people pages continues to grow as opposed to wane here in America, and we benefit by that."

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Rolling out of control

(by Leander Schaerlaeckens 9-22-11)

Real Madrid is broke.

It was broke before completing the two most expensive transfers ever in 2009, bringing in Kaka for $86 million and Cristiano Ronaldo for $123 million. And it was broke when setting the previous transfer records, buying Luis Figo for $57 million in 2000 and Zinedine Zidane for $71 million in 2001.

Real pulled off the Figo and Zidane acquisitions by selling its huge downtown training complex to the city of Madrid for $445 million. The president, Florentino Perez, used the cash to pay down $271 million in club debt and blew the rest on the players. After that, Real dug itself into a financial hole all over again -- a hole on which construction has yet to conclude.

Despite generating more than an estimated $500 million a year, which includes a TV deal worth more than $200 million annually, Real Madrid's debt is $414 million, according to the club's 2008-09 financial report.

Yet Real's spending hasn't stopped. Just this past transfer window, the club spent $114 million on new players and doled out what has been estimated to be around $126 million for buying out one coach and his staff and bringing in another.

Real's biggest rival is also broke.

Barcelona was broke before buying David Villa, Javier Mascherano and Adriano for $52 million, $28.4 million and $11.6 million, respectively, this summer. The club is so strapped for cash, in fact, that it took out a $195 million bridge loan to ensure that it could pay salaries.

Like Real, Barcelona also has a lucrative broadcasting deal, valued at more than $185 million a year, and brings in $293 million more in revenue. Yet like Real, Barcelona is in debt by $578 million.

But both teams show no signs of curbing their spending.


The 10 most indebted clubs in European soccer collectively owe $5.74 billion between them.

The 20 English Premier League clubs have a combined debt that has spiraled to $4.45 billion. Fourteen of them lost money in 2008-09, the most recent season for which numbers are available. The financial picture is even uglier in La Liga, in which last year's 20 teams tallied $4.65 billion in debt. Just three of those Iberian bastions of soccer achieved an operating profit: Barcelona, Real Madrid and little Numancia, which was relegated as a reward for its fiscal prudence.

Among 36 teams in the two professional Dutch divisions, only four are deemed financially sound by the Dutch soccer association. Twelve of them, including fabled Feyenoord, are having their troubled finances supervised by the league. As for the other 20 clubs, the league classifies as "worrisome" their state of financial affairs.

Indeed, there's serious cause for concern about the economic state of most European soccer clubs. Huge debt, cash crunches, mismanagement -- all the warning signs are there of an economic collapse, of the dominoes falling. Soccer is eating itself. Yet for all their financial troubles, clubs continue to spend money -- often lavish sums above market price -- on players. During this summer's transfer window, the 10 most spend-happy clubs dropped a combined $711 million on new players. Several of those clubs were also on another, more troubling list: the top 10 clubs with the most debt.

Something has to give. Or will it?


Soccer clubs, especially those at the highest level, have developed an aversion to turning a profit, or even breaking even. After all, running a club like a proper business doesn't buy you wins. Many teams consider staving off bankruptcy as the only real long-term (or short-term) financial objective. And they'd sooner spend money they don't have on new players to try to strengthen their squads than worry about balancing the books. Losing money is worse than having it left over, because an operating surplus is equated to potential not realized. Besides, most clubs are savvy enough to know they can find a way out of paying the tab from their own pockets. A loan here, a local government bailout there; it all appears to work out.

Soccer clubs lack accountability or vision. Financial prudence might make the numbers-crunchers happy, but it usually leads to unspectacular player signings and mediocre results. One classic example is the way British entrepreneur Sir Alan Sugar ran Tottenham Hotspur. He bought the club in 1991 and ran it as a responsible business. During Sugar's 10 years at the helm as chairman, the Spurs never cracked the top six of the league and won nothing but the League Cup, much to the frustration of the fans.

Most other presidents and chairmen take the opposite approach -- buy now, ask questions later.

"Many clubs are run by people that are in it for the wrong reasons," said Graham Smith, a former professional player, licensed agent and now the president of First Wave Sports Marketing, which brings EPL clubs over to tour the U.S. "There are many instances of the chairman being bigger than the club, and it's all about him. Proper financial decisions are not made on sound ground but with an ego driving it along.

"They get sucked into the whole glamour bit. It's justified by having won what they set out to. And they are told by an agent or a coach that all they need is to sign a few of these great players and the money will come rolling in."

Examples abound: Florentino Perez; Atletico Madrid's now-deceased, spotlight-grabbing Jesus Gil y Gil; and AC Milan's Silvio Berlusconi, who has used the club to leverage a highly successful, if controversial, political career.

"I was on the board at Chelsea for five years [from 1985 to 1990]," Smith said. "And the people running Chelsea Football Club, had they been in any other industry, certainly an industry where profit was paramount, they would have been sent down the road, because they had failed miserably."

Part of the reason clubs are saddled with so much debt is simply because they overpay for players in the transfer market. Payroll is the other key element. In Spain, 85 percent of revenue is spent on player salaries. Some clubs, such as Atletico Madrid, Sevilla and Valencia, spent more on salaries than they earned in revenue in 2008-2009, the most recent season for which financial numbers are known.

The Guardian published a study, based on figures from June 1, 2008, to May 31, 2009, which illustrates that gross revenue and payroll were perilously close for many EPL clubs. Manchester City's gross revenue was $133 million and its payroll was $127 million. Blackburn Rovers took in $78 million and spent $70 million on salaries. Wigan Athletic's revenue and salary numbers were $70 million and $64 million, respectively. At Birmingham City and Wolverhampton Wanderers, the margin between turnover and the wage bill was roughly one and a half million dollars.

While the Premier League is engaging in risky business, the three tiers below the top -- the Championship, League One and League Two -- have agreed that each club's wages should not exceed 65 percent of gross revenue. "This is a voluntary, self-regulatory model, and it's working," said Simon Chadwick, a professor of sports business strategy and marketing at Coventry University in England. "But it is unlikely that the Premier League clubs will move toward this in the short term. Clubs are locked into short-term thinking, and there's no concern for the long-term. There's an emphasis on buying the best players, paying what you can afford them."

It must be said that some Premier League outfits keep their wages at or below 65 percent of gross revenue. Last year, for example, Manchester United was at 44 percent and Arsenal at 32.9 percent.

But in the cases where payroll comes close to outstripping income, there is a razor-thin margin for error for unexpected financial hits, such as a sponsor dropping out, broadcasters going bankrupt (as may happen in the case of Barcelona and Real Madrid) or ticket sales declining. When this happens, clubs are ill-equipped to pay off debt and end up digging themselves a deeper financial hole.


Liverpool and Manchester United are on the brink of financial ruin. Each club was purchased by an American investor, who used the club as collateral for the necessary funds to acquire it. And each club has seen its economic fortunes take a dive.

Liverpool's owners, George Gillett and Tom Hicks, allowed their loans reach a level that was labeled 'toxic' by the Royal Bank of Scotland. Since their attempts to refinance have been futile, the pair might be forced to sell the club. The bank could also seize the club and do it for them. If Liverpool went into administration, EPL rules would dictate that the club be deducted nine points in the standings. In the meantime, the club's debt has swollen to $605 million, with an annual turnover of about $280 million.

The Glazer family ruined Manchester United's financial health and sent it into an interest-rate tailspin on the loans it took out to buy the club in a hostile takeover. The Glazers have borrowed from the club and charged it $20 million in fees to compensate the Glazer family for running the club, according to the Guardian. In other words, for the privilege of being owned by the Glazers, the club pays the family millions in salaries.

The Glazers are also experiencing financial trouble with one of their other businesses, First Allied Corporation, which operates malls. First Allied has seen nine of its 68 malls become insolvent, while another 29 are operating at under capacity. First Allied barely broke even last year, and if it fares any worse there's the possibility that the Glazers could borrow even more money from or against United to keep First Allied afloat.


The crux of soccer's debt habit is this: Clubs aren't nearly as good at generating income as they think they are. And too many operate on the assumption that debts incurred now will be easily cleared up when the cash starts rolling in.

"There's still a wild belief that the revenue streams of some of the larger clubs are still relatively immature and underdeveloped [in the global economy]," Chadwick said. "The counterargument to [curbing spending by clubs] is that we're now operating in a global sporting market and if we're looking at marketing places like China, European soccer is getting a lot of competition from the NBA, Formula 1 and tennis. There is a view that there shouldn't be regulation and clubs should be allowed to keep buying and paying accordingly, which enables them to build the brand and help soccer generate revenue in other parts of the world [which would alleviate debt]."

But the debt isn't going away. Yet Europe's top soccer clubs are flouting the failure that should befall them. They have discovered the secret to the eternal life -- maintaining their status as top clubs in Europe. In much the same way that America's financial institutions were deemed too big to fail, Europe's biggest soccer clubs have become economically unsinkable.

"Irrespective of the liabilities that have been accumulated by many clubs across Europe, there is hardly any bankruptcy risk similar to what is faced by regular companies," explains economist Bernd Frick of the University of Paderborn in Germany. "Clubs will always find help from politicians either in their local community, in the federal, state or even in the national government.

"Nobody would care if similar-sized enterprises disappeared. But that's not the case with soccer clubs. The average German Bundesliga club has a turnover of 100 million euros -- that's less than my university."

And unlike Frick's university, soccer clubs enjoy the spotlight. "Attention from the media acts like a life insurance for soccer clubs," Frick said. "If the ceiling in your local kindergarten comes down and hurts some of the kids, even then it's pretty difficult to mobilize more than just 20 parents to march to the city hall. But if your local soccer club is threatened, everybody gets up to help the club."

It goes deeper than that, though. It's a romantic notion to think it's just the power of the people who help keep soccer institutions afloat. But politics, as always, plays a role -- a sometimes unsavory one at that.

"There's a politicized operating environment," Chadwick said. "And what we've tended to see with Barcelona and Real Madrid is that financial institutions that have a vested interested in their success will lend money on preferential terms that other businesses wouldn't receive. There are even rumors that some financial institutions and political organizations have helped write off debts. Clubs can build up huge debts and can then rely on political and local support to deal with the situation."

Valencia, for example, owes $635 million and hasn't a prayer of repaying it. But the local government has provided the club with get-out-of-jail free cards on a number of occasions, underwriting a $94 million loan in 2008. And the European Commission investigated whether the city of Madrid knowingly overpaid when it acquired Real's training grounds as a covert subsidy. In the Netherlands, several provincial clubs have been bailed out in similar ways.

If the government or local businesses can't be counted on, what's a club to do? Find a wealthy benefactor, of course, someone who can purchase the club, vouch for its debt and bankroll lavish spending. Chelsea's Roman Abramovich, for example, has injected about $1.1 billion to pay off debts and purchase players, an amount that probably will never be repaid to him. Manchester City's Sheikh Mansour more recently paid off $600 million of City's debt and then spent $537 million on new players in just two years.

While many top leagues are attractive to investors, the EPL -- which is the most popular soccer league in the world -- can count on being a stomping ground for rich investors with money to burn. "Whenever one is ready to sell the club, the next is standing at the door already," Frick said. Case in point: Mansour bought the club from Thaksin Shinawatra, Thailand's wealthy prime minister, who pumped a good chunk of cash into the club before his assets were frozen during a coup.

"The prevailing thinking in the Premier League is that there's always someone out there to underwrite the debt you have accrued," Chadwick said. And this isn't just a silver-bullet solution for the big clubs. Even Blackburn Rovers, a relatively modest club, has batted its eyelashes towards the fat cats and drawn in an investment group from the Middle East. The would-be investors have proposed taking over the club, paying off its $26 million debt and injecting more than $150 million to buy players, with $300 million more streaming into the club over the next decade and a half.

"There is this seductive appeal that soccer has," Chadwick said. "Many business people, sponsors, and investors don't think in a rational way when it comes to soccer. In Europe, the sport is deeply ingrained and therefore the popularity creates this inclination among financial and business people that they should get involved in soccer to be good fans, and build links to business people and the media…There's also a general view among sponsors and broadcasters that soccer is good business. If you're seen to be associated with football and providing revenues through a shirt-sponsorship deal, for example, it plays out very well to the market."

Maybe so, but the heaping amounts of debt are becoming hard to gloss over. And benefactors are as likely to get fed up and take off as they are to get bored and move on, leaving an insolvent mess in their wake.

Can soccer rely on them forever?


Very few clubs work without debt. "It seems to be an accepted part of the industry," said Chadwick. "It's a graver and graver situation. The natural laws of economics tend to suggest that clubs won't survive. And if you look at places like Belgium, what has already played out is what will potentially take place across Europe. And that is clubs closing down, even well-ranking, well-known clubs [KV Mechelen, in the highest division, went bankrupt in 2002]. What we're also seeing is clubs merging with one another because there's very little other option."

The economic policies employed in soccer would run any other industry into the ground. So it's a good thing soccer doesn't play by the same rules. But a day when banks, creditors, governments and rich men realize that lending money to soccer clubs is tantamount to setting it on fire is inevitable.

The powers that be are aware of this.

UEFA, European soccer's governing body, will implement its Financial Fair Play scheme by the 2012-13 season. It will ban teams that spend more than they earn from continental competitions. Clubs like Chelsea and Manchester City would be in danger of missing out on the tournament, the Champions League, that they spend so heavily to gain access to.

Yet a loophole remains: From 2011 through 2014, clubs can rack up $57 million in debt, so long as one owner takes shares in the club in return for the injection. From 2014 to 2017, $38 million more can be overdrawn on the same terms. But how benefactors who already own all of the club are to exchange it for shares is not addressed. And initial plans to tie spending to a percentage of revenue were discarded. This legalized debt-accrual really just means that clubs can -- if they're clever enough to siphon it through a single owner-figure -- keep living above their means for the foreseeable future, as their post-2017 fate is as yet undefined. As such, the noble resolution is toothless if manipulated properly.

Spending, in other words, will go on.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Inconsistency hurt Real Salt Lake in the end

(by James Edwards 11-7-11)

In the wake of Real Salt Lake 's playoff ouster at Los Angeles on Sunday, it's human nature to play the what if game. Would things have been different had a healthy Jamison Olave and Nat Borchers been paired together instead of just a hobbled Olave? Perhaps, but there's evidence to suggest otherwise.

During a season in which injuries certainly plagued RSL, inconsistent defending down the stretch was a bigger problem.

A year after setting an MLS regular season record with 20 goals against, RSL conceded 36 in 2011. What's disconcerting for Real Salt Lake's coaching staff heading into the offseason is the time frame of those 36 goals.

Through the first 18 games this year, RSL was one of the better teams in the league with a 9-3-6 record and only 12 goals against. Over the last 16 games, however, RSL conceded 24 goals, finishing with a 6-8-2 record.

Borchers, who was forced to watch the final game of the season from the bench with a quadriceps strain, said the mistakes made against the Galaxy weren't anything new.

"We made some mistakes against L.A., especially in the second half. They're a good team, they're going to capitalize on those mistakes, and we haven't been as sharp defensively this year as we've been in the past. There's definitely a lot of room for improvement on that end," said Borchers.

Including the playoffs, RSL's record in the last nine games this season was 1-6-2. The final scores of those six losses was 4-1, 3-0, 2-1, 3-0, 2-0 and 3-1.

It's easy to blame the last two playoffs losses on the absence of Bor-Lave, but RSL's center back duo started the previous six matches and the team's record was only 1-3-2.

Did playing a club-record 45 games this season catch up with RSL's older defenders over the final few months?

You can't pin all of RSL's defensive troubles on the backline, because coach Jason Kreis talks constantly about the importance of defending with all 11 players, but the reality is three of RSL's primary five defenders are already 30.

Robbie Russell turned 32 this summer while Olave and Borchers turned 30 back in April. Chris Wingert will join the 30 club next summer. Tony Beltran is the young pup of the group at 24.

RSL's backline missed a lot of games because of injuries this year, including Sunday's Western Conference final. Considering the age of RSL's defensive core, that trend could get worse, not better. Olave, a 2011 MLS Defender of the Year finalist, only played in 24 of 34 regular season games this year compared to 27 of 30 last year. With his chronic knee troubles, who's to say that productivity doesn't go down again?

Borchers was also named an MLS Defender of the Year finalist on Monday, and even though he missed Sunday's match with the Galaxy, he's proven to be much more durable than Olave over the past four years.

One of the positives to come out of the season from a defensive standpoint is Chris Schuler. Because of the assorted injuries and suspensions RSL dealt with, the second-year defender played in 20 regular season games and all three playoff games.

Most agree that Vancouver and Portland both made a mistake not plucking Schuler in last year's MLS expansion draft. If RSL leaves him unprotected for Montreal's expansion draft in two weeks, it's unlikely Montreal will make the same mistake.

RSL's core group of 30-somethings still have several good years left in their legs, but they might not be able to play as frequently in the coming years. It's a big reason why the development of Schuler is a positive sign moving forward for RSL.

Bid to reach MLS Cup falls short, RSL loses to Galaxy

(by James Edwards 11-6-11)

Beating Los Angeles at the Home Depot Center is tough enough at full strength. Beating the Galaxy when you're shorthanded and playing against an inspired David Beckham, who might be in his last hoorah in MLS, that's a completely different type of tough.

In the marquee Western Conference final that MLS fans have been hoping for all season, Real Salt Lake ran into a buzz saw as the top-seed Galaxy played wonderful soccer most of the match to advance to the MLS Cup with a 3-1 victory.

The Galaxy will face the Houston Dynamo in two weeks to try and claim its first championship since 2005.

With the game tied at the half, L.A. scored twice in a span of five minutes early in the second half to pull away for good.

For an RSL team that is now 1-2 in conference finals in the past four years, it couldn't help but feeling a bit unlucky after hitting the woodwork twice.

The big question entering the match was would either of RSL's ailing center backs start. Jamison Olave did, but Nat Borchers didn't and his veteran presence could've certainly helped throughout the match.

Los Angeles opened the scoring in the 22nd minute as Landon Donovan convincingly buried a penalty by Nick Rimando, who guessed the other direction.

Donovan's missed penalty kick in the 2009 MLS Cup final cost his team the title, but he his Saturday's early opportunity with conviction.

It took RSL just three short minutes to equalize. After Jamison Olave headed a Javier Morales corner kick on frame, Alvaro Saborio was in perfect position to redirect it past L.A. keeper Josh Saunders to level the score at 1-1.

RSL had two fantastic chances prior to that, with Robbie Russell knocking a point-blank shot into Saunders' chest, and then an unmarked Chris Schuler heading a clear-cut chance from eight yards out wide.

The back-and-forth affair continued throughout the rest of the first half, with the Galaxy enjoying the better of the play. Both teams were unlucky not to tack on a second goal before halftime as L.A.'s Robbie Keane banged a shot off the post in the 33rd minute, and then Beckerman doing the same in stoppage time.

Los Angeles was unlucky not to score again in the 51st minute when Will Johnson blocked a point-blank goal-bound shot by Chad Barrett with his face. The dramatics were eerily similar to Tony Beltran's headed clearance in Seattle in the conference semifinals.

The favored Galaxy eventually found the breakthrough they were looking for in the 58th minute when Mike Magee made a darting run into the box, slipping in behind Robbie Russell to head home a David Beckham curling cross. Magee was the hero of the conference semifinals against New York as he scored in both games.

RSL nearly equalized less than 60 seconds later but was unlucky again as Fabian Espindola's curling shot glanced harmlessly off the crossbar.

Five minutes after going ahead 2-1, Los Angeles doubled its lead in the 63rd minute Keane beat Olave one-on-one in the box and buried the shot past Rimando.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Saturday, November 5, 2011

L.A.-Salt Lake is the de facto MLS title game

(by Grant Wahl 11-4-11)

Don't take this the wrong way, Kansas City and Houston fans, but the Game of the Year is taking place in L.A. on Sunday, not in November 20's final. L.A., Salt Lake and Seattle were far and away the three best teams in MLS this season, and whoever wins this showdown should seal the deal in the title game. Salt Lake showed in its opening-leg win against Seattle that it was back to its early-season best, with stars Javier Morales, Kyle Beckerman and Álvaro Saborío all clicking in the attack. As for L.A., the Galaxy is exuding the confidence that it can do what it needs to win on a home field where L.A. hasn't been beaten all season. The big question is injuries: Salt Lake center backs Jámison Olave and Nat Borchers and L.A.'s David Beckham (who played through a back injury on Thursday). I expect all three will try to get on the field in what could be a classic.

L.A., RSL are best in the West

(by Jeff Carlisle 11-5-11)

The closest that David Beckham has come to garnering silverware in MLS was two years ago when the L.A. Galaxy lost the 2009 MLS Cup final on penalties. The opponent that day was none other than Real Salt Lake, and this Sunday, RSL will once again attempt to thwart the Galaxy's quest to win the championship that has proved so elusive in the Beckham era.

Given that the game pits the first-place and third-place finishers in the overall standings, it's a matchup fit for a final. RSL took apart the Galaxy 4-1 early in the season at Rio Tinto Stadium, and L.A. prevailed in the return matchup 2-1.

Key matchup: A battle of the midfields

RSL is in a race against time to see if center backs Jamison Olave and Nat Borchers will be able to play after sustaining quadriceps injuries in the first leg against Seattle. But regardless of whether the duo is able to perform, the midfield is where this game will be won and lost.

The big challenge for RSL is finding a way to knock Beckham off his game. The Englishman often drops deep to pick up the ball and then distributes, and his ferocious work rate can make him difficult to pick up in the attacking half. Juninho, Beckham's sidekick in the middle, has the ability to contribute on both sides of the ball, which is vital to the Galaxy. Landon Donovan hasn't been terribly effective in the attacking half of late, but remains a danger with his late runs, and his defense remains top-notch.

The key to RSL's midfield is the rapidity with which players switch roles. Javier Morales will often set up shop on the wing while Will Johnson and Andy Williams tuck inside, so L.A. will need to be constantly aware of the Argentine's whereabouts. Kyle Beckerman remains the glue that keeps RSL together. His defense will be critical Sunday, especially if RSL is forced to go with the makeshift center-back pairing of Chris Schuler and Chris Wingert.

Players to watch:
For L.A. -- goalkeeper Josh Saunders, defender Omar Gonzalez, forward Robbie Keane
For Real Salt Lake -- goalkeeper Nick Rimando, forward Alvaro Saborio, forward Fabian Espindola

Saunders started out the year as the backup to Donovan Ricketts, but eventually took hold of the starting spot after the Jamaican went down injured. Saunders is a solid shot-stopper but is prone to the odd mistake, especially when he comes off his line. Gonzalez has enjoyed a banner season but looked a tad suspect in the second-leg victory against New York, as he struggled to cope with the pace of Red Bulls forward Luke Rodgers. Gonzalez will face another tricky forward on Sunday in the form of L.A.'s Fabian Espindola. Keane is still short of full fitness after struggling with a hip adductor injury, but he looked lively in the second leg against New York, and twice came close to finding the net, only to be denied by some stellar goalkeeping. His off-the-ball movement remains an underrated component of L.A.'s attack.

Rimando's experience gives RSL a significant edge in goal, especially if the team is forced to field a makeshift back line. His prowess in penalty-kick shootouts is another plus. Saborio is a mercurial figure who can either be lights-out, like during the first leg when he scored twice, or completely invisible. At minimum, his hold-up play will be needed to help RSL keep possession, something he struggled with in the second leg against Seattle. Espindola is Real's attacking wild card; he's willing to take opponents off the dribble and also uses his impressive speed to get behind defenses.

X factors: L.A. midfielder Mike Magee and RSL's central defense

Magee is often the forgotten member of L.A.'s midfield, but he popped up for two critical goals in the series against New York. Donovan calls him "the best finisher on the team" and Magee has proved adept with both his head and his feet. His current form should allow the likes of Beckham and Donovan a bit more space in the attacking half.

If Borchers and Olave are able to play, that will give RSL a huge boost. But as of Friday, general manager Garth Lagerwey said "we just don't know" if the duo will be able to go, so Schuler and Wingert could get the nod. The good news is that the two stand-ins held up well against a nonstop barrage against Seattle in the second leg. As Lagerwey put it, "They couldn't have been put under any more pressure." But there were mistakes, as well, and L.A. excels at exploiting those kinds of moments.


There are intriguing matchups all over the field. RSL's attack looks to have more weapons, especially up top where the combination of Saborio and Espindola has been potent over the course of the season. But L.A. is the better defensive side. Gonzalez provides the muscle, A.J. DeLaGarza and Sean Franklin provide the speed, and Todd Dunivant adds a steady veteran presence.

The midfields seem set to cancel each other out, with both teams excelling on both sides of the ball.

So who will win? Real is more than talented enough to come out on top. Coach Jason Kreis' side is at its best when it has a chip on its shoulder, and it wears the underdog tag well. Players like Morales, Espindola and Saborio are all capable of winning matches on their own.

But the uncertainty along RSL's back line and L.A.'s home-field advantage tip the scales ever so slightly in the Galaxy's favor. L.A. has also proved to be adept at grinding out results this year. Look for the Galaxy to be pushed into extra time, but ultimately prevail 2-1.

Friday, November 4, 2011

LA's victory over NY guarantees CCL berth for RSL

( 11-4-11)

After a year's absence, Real Salt Lake will return to the CONCACAF Champions League next summer thanks to the LA Galaxy's 2-1 win (3-1 aggregate) over the New York Red Bulls on Thursday night.

With LA already earning a spot in the 2012-13 edition of the tournament thanks to their 2011 Supporters' Shield, that opened a side door to qualification for RSL.

If the Claret-and-Cobalt win in Sunday's Western Conference Championship, they advance to the CCL as an MLS Cup finalist. But even if they lose, they are guaranteed a berth thanks to a duplicate spot going to the next-highest finisher in regular-season league play that has not already clinched a spot.

Seattle would have claimed that berth by virtue of their second-place finish in the Shield race, but are already qualified thanks to their third straight US Open Cup title. That means the slot drops to RSL, the regular season's third-place finisher.

Sunday's Western final will take place at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., at 9 pm ET (ESPN, ESPN Deportes,, TSN2).

This marks the second time in three seasons that RSL have earned one of the four spots allotted to US clubs in the Champions League. In the 2010-11 version, they advanced courtesy of their 2009 MLS Cup title, and made it all the way to the CCL finals before being upended by Monterrey.

Real Salt Lake advances despite Seattle's 2-0 win

(by James Edwards 11-3-11)

From the moment Javier Morales went down with a broken ankle in May, it became clear that this wasn't going to be an easy season for Real Salt Lake.

After more injuries, and then an unusually high number of international call-ups and suspension throughout, the adversity continued to pile on.

Wednesday's playoff finale in Seattle was no different, but Real Salt Lake showed the veteran quality it demonstrated most of the year to simply persevere. After giving up two goals in a span of five minutes in the second half, RSL battled the rest of the match and despite losing the second game 2-0 at CenturyLink Field, it prevailed in the Western Conference semifinal on aggregate 3-2.

"It certainly wasn't pretty, it wasn't ideal, but at the same time I don't think anybody cares at this point, on to the next one," said RSL defender Chris Wingert.

RSL must now wait until tonight's 9 o'clock kickoff between Los Angeles and New York to learn who its Western Conference final opponent will be. If the L.A. Galaxy win, the conference final would be played in Southern California on Sunday. If New York wins, RSL would host the Red Bulls on Monday night.

RSL was outshot 26-4 with a makeshift backline, but the Sounders were only able to break through twice.

"Our guys battled through and believed in each other, and kept at it, kept their nose down through very, very difficult play," said RSL coach Jason Kreis.

It was a very chippy first half all the way around, and Seattle definitely took the brunt of it. Midfielder Alvaro Fernandez was forced off in the 14th minute after injuring his left hamstring and replaced by Lamar Neagle.

Fellow midfield starter Brad Evans was also subbed out in the 21st minute with a right ankle injury after getting into collisions with Will Johnson twice within 10 minutes. The last came near the corner flag, and after rolling out of bounds in pain Evans never returned.

Without the calming presence of Nat Borchers and Jamison Olave at the back, Real Salt Lake never looked comfortable at the back. It dodged a bullet when Fredy Montero put a close-range shot wide in the seventh minute, and the onslaught was on most of the half.

Over the final 15 minutes, RSL was in full-blown survival mode. Tony Beltran was the hero of the half clearing away a goal-bound shot by Jeff Parke with a diving header in the 36th minute.

"It was just a split second reaction, I saw Nick come out a little bit, so naturally I wanted to get in the goal in case there was a rebounded shot coming in. I don't know who struck, it happened so fast. It was a split-second reaction," said Beltran.

Beltran, making his first start in seven weeks, ended up conceding a penalty kick early in the second half as he grabbed Seattle forward on the shoulder during a scrum in the box. The ref quickly pointed to the penalty spot, and Osvaldo Alonso hammered the penalty right up the middle to put Seattle in front 1-0 in the 56th minute.

Kreis did not agree with the penalty decision one bit.

"I thought it was a travesty, an absolute travesty. Our player got pulled down," said Kreis.

Kreis inserted Ned Grabavoy into the match for Andy Williams shortly after the goal to shore up RSL's possession, but it didn't make much of a difference.

"I really did expect us to be better with the ball than we were tonight. It felt like we were really hurried, we got in a lot of good spots early in the game to win the ball but we gave it right back, so we never were able to gain any ground or get out of our half," said Kreis.

Sloppy defending and a missed clearance by Wingert five minutes later led to another Seattle goal. Montero appeared to mishit his initial shot from the right edge of the penalty, but the ball rolled soft toward the far post, and an onrushing Neagle was there to hammer it in for the 2-0 lead.

After looking nothing like the regular season team that scored 57 goals during the first leg, the Sounders were clearly clicking on all cylinders in the second half. Seattle continued to mount the pressure after cutting the aggregate series lead to 3-2.

Kreis again tried to shore up the leaky midfield in the 76th minute when he inserted Yordany Alvarez into the lineup for Alvaro Saborio and shifted to a 4-5-1 formation.

It seemed to slow the Sounders just enough as they were unable to bury the series equalizer.

Real Salt Lake's only legitimate scoring opportunity of the entire game didn't come until the 79th minute on a quick counter-attack opportunity from Fabian Espindola. His powerful shot from 12 yards out was punched out for a corner kick by Seattle 'keeper Kasey Keller.

For RSL, with Wednesday's series victory it successfully advanced out of the conference semifinals in three of the past four years — Chivas in 2008, Columbus in 2009 and now Seattle.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Timbers Army lights up Rio Tinto

On October 22nd, 2011 Portland and RSL battled to a 1-1 draw in Rio Tinto Stadium, an unatractive game to say the least. The talk of the town though was the flares the Timbers lit off in the upper deck, it was rather impressive.

I light off one tiny little smoke bomb in Rice Eccles stadium and I get kicked out. These guys practically set the roof on fire and they make the papers.

Where is the justice?

Edit: November 4th

A post on BigSoccer from a Portland fan telling what eventually happened to the culprits.

"Two were taken to SLC County for "reckless burning", at the insistence of Rio Tinto management. The Sandy PD were trying to talk RT management into just kicking them out. Those two were out in the middle of the night.

One was arrested for disorderly conduct and "Resisting or obstructing a peace officer" - well before the flares. That one has done similar before, and has been warned. That one is now banned from future Timbers Army travel. (Obviously, if he feels like going completely on his own, he can - but he can't participate in any Timbers Army-run away events, can't get his ticket or travel through the TA, etc, etc.)

Thank you for the excellent time, the vast majority of your fans were wonderful, before, during, and after the match - around the stadium and on the streets of SLC. Particular props go to the guy in the business suit who was entering Crown Burger just as half a dozen of us were leaving, who came back out to yell "Real Salt Lake - WOO-HOO!" with feeling, accompanied by a fist pump. Also to the SLC fans who were chanting "Free the Timbers Army" as we were being held in the stands after the match ended."

Saturday, October 22, 2011


(by Matt Gaschk 10-4-11)

The Sounders FC has made a habit out of making history.

Especially when it comes to the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup.

On Tuesday night, they set a whole new standard with a 2-0 victory over the Chicago Fire to raise their third straight US Open Cup title, dueling with their record setting crowd of 35,615 at CenturyLink Field and matching the intensity of their supporters.

“I just can’t say enough about the guys over there,” Sounders FC head coach Sigi Schmid said. “To win three in a row is something very special and very unique. It hasn’t been done in a long time. Like we said, every time we enter a competition we want to win it, so we’ll enter it next year and we’ll want to win it next year as well.”

Fredy Montero and Osvaldo Alonso scored second half goals and Kasey Keller had four saves to cap the clean sheet victory.

“Winning is winning. It never gets old,” Keller said. “Three in a row is a tremendous accomplishment and to be able to have two of them here at home … unbelievable.”

The first half was marked by a frenetic pace that matched the chaotic chanting from the record-setting crowd of 35,615. The teams combined for 15 shots, 17 fouls and the half came to an emphatic end when Fredy Montero crushed a ball from the top of the box that got past Sean Johnson, but hit the post and the half ended with a 0-0 scoreline.

The pace continued in the second half, as Mike Fucito flicked a ball over Johnson that looked destined for the far corner, but it hit off the far post as three defenders gave chase.

As the crowd boomed louder and more anxious, the pace on the field maintained its biting edge.

Finally in the 77th minute, it came to a crescendo.

“They know what good soccer is,” Brad Evans said. “When they start cheering you know you’re doing something right and you just try to keep the ball rolling.”

Added Lamar Neagle, “We feed off that. That’s why we play so well at home. Our fans are amazing, everybody knows that. So it’s nothing new.”

As Seattle sent a barrage of balls into the box and shots that were blocked nearly on contact the anticipation of the first goal built in the stands. Then Erik Friberg ripped a corner kick to Jeff Parke, who nodded a header on target, but Johnson dove for the save, only to knock the ball to the opportunistic Montero, who ripped the supporters into a frenzy with a crushing shot into the back of the net for the 1-0 lead.

Seattle scratched and clawed their way to the final moments of the match and looked to ice the game in the corner, but were forced to work the ball back to Alonso, who weaved around the Chicago defense before rolling it into an open net to put the exclamation point on the Sounders FC’s third consecutive Open Cup title.

In 2009, they topped DC United 2-1 at RFK Stadium and last year the bested the Columbus Crew 2-1 at CenturyLink Field.

The last team to win three consecutive US Open Cup championships was Greek American out of New York from 1967-1969. Before that, only Stix, Baer and Fuller from St. Louis had won three straight from 1933-1935 and the Fall River Marksmen from 1930-1932.

The US Open Cup has been contested since 1914 and is the oldest cup competition in US soccer and is amongst the oldest in the world.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Liverpool owner says no truth to relegation report

( 10-20-11)

Liverpool owner John Henry, who also owns baseball's Boston Red Sox, denied on Thursday that foreign owners in the English Premier League want to end the relegation and promotion system.

Richard Bevan, the chief executive of the League Managers' Association, said this week that some of the American and Asian owners of Premier League teams have been talking about scrapping the system that sends the bottom three teams to the second-tier Champions League.

But Henry called that "complete nonsense,'' telling The Associated Press it "hasn't been discussed.''

Half of the Premier League's 20 teams are foreign-owned. Arsenal, Aston Villa, Liverpool, Manchester United and Sunderland are owned by Americans, while Blackburn is under Indian ownership and Queens Park Rangers has Malaysian backers.

American sports leagues don't follow the European model that relegates the bottom teams in the standings and promotes the top teams from the minor leagues. Bevan warned that, if more teams are sold to overseas investors, they could force a change in the longstanding rules.

"There are a number of overseas-owned clubs already talking about bringing about the avoidance of promotion and relegation in the Premier League,'' Bevan said at the Professional Players Federation conference in London. "If we have four or five more new owners, that could happen.''

A change would require support from 14 of the league's 20 clubs and approval by The Football Association; league rules state the FA's consent is needed for "the making and adoption of or any amendment to ... promotion to and relegation from the league.'' It would also meet opposition from Europe's soccer and political institutions.

Other American-owned teams have also dismissed Bevan's claims.

United manager Alex Ferguson, whose club is owned by American Malcom Glazer and his family, said eliminating relegation "would be absolute suicide for the rest of the teams in the country, particularly the Championship.'' The Villa board headed by American Randy Lerner, who also owns NFL's Cleveland Browns, was "confused and surprised'' by Bevan's remarks.

But Bevan said "particularly American owners without doubt'' have been looking at a system without relegation.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


A front-row fan apparently didn't find Espindola's goal against New England very exciting.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Comolli helps to guide the statistical revolution at Liverpool

(by Ben Lyttleton 10-11-11)

This Saturday will mark the anniversary of Fenway Sports Group's takeover of Liverpool and it comes just a few days after UK magazine FourFourTwo published its annual Football Rich List. The magazine ranked FSG owner John W Henry at 20th in the list, and calculated that each Premier League point Liverpool had earned since the purchase has cost Henry a whopping £7.5 million ($11.7M). (The team it beat last week, local rivals Everton, comes in at £48,000 per point, given that owner Bill Kenwright paid £20M for it in 2004.)

Of course, this calculation is skewed and FourFourTwo accepts it is meant as just a bit of fun. But it can also act as an interesting backdrop to Henry's first year in charge, and the application of "Moneyball" or rather 'Soccernomics' theories in football. 'Moneyball', now a film starring Brad Pitt, is the Michael Lewis book in which Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane uses statistics to find previously underestimated players in the transfer market to help his team become champions. "Soccernomics," the football equivalent, advocates data analysis to give teams a competitive edge, not just in recruitment but also in contract management, penalty shootouts, and injury prevention.

While FourFourTwo's figures suggest that not everything the data tells you is helpful, Liverpool's director of football Damien Comolli might not agree.

He is evangelical in his use of data in football, and says now that no major decision at the club is taken without seeing what the stats say. When it works, it can be a great success: as proven by forward Luis Suarez, the new hero at Anfield whose £23 million ($35M) transfer fee is now widely seen as a bargain.

"For Luis, I looked at the stats over the last three years, notably the number of games played which is an important factor," he told France Football earlier this year. "We turn enormously toward players who don't get injured. We also took into account the number of assists, his performances against the big teams, against the smaller clubs, in the European Cup, the difference between goals scored at home and away."

Left back Jose Enrique was another signing backed by the data: when Liverpool missed out on Gael Clichy (whom, when 17 and after a handful of games for Cannes, Comolli had discovered for Arsenal), Comolli drew up a shortlist and noticed that Enrique's statistical figures were impressive, more so than the scouting reports on him. He was also cheaper, in terms of transfer fee and salary, than Clichy. With Enrique one of Liverpool's standout performers thus far this season, it's further evidence that Comolli's methodology has worked.

If only it were always that easy. When a signing doesn't come off, as in the case -- so far, it has to be said -- of Andy Carroll, who cost Liverpool £35M ($54M) in January, and has scored four goals in his first 17 appearances for the club, the whole system is blamed. Comolli bristles at any mention of Carroll in this context, though he did previously admit to Infosport that Suarez had originally been signed to play alongside Fernando Torres, and not Carroll. The problem is that what works for one player might not work for another.

Take this interview with Leaders in Performance last May: "The first thing we used to look for is the talent, but not anymore," Comolli said. "What we want is a talented player but with the right attitude and intelligence. Is he a team player? Is he intelligent enough that he puts himself at the disposal of the team? We need to look a lot more at the psychological aspect of the player, the attitude of the player, the mentality of the player on the pitch than we used to." While that explains why Liverpool wanted Suarez, it also makes Carroll's arrival a little surprising, given the reservations by some scouts about his "attitude and mentality" before he joined.

Comolli's backers, quite reasonably, point out that Suarez and Carroll combined cost almost the same as the sales of Fernando Torres (£50M/$80M) and Ryan Babel (€7M/$9.5M) generated, while Henry has claimed that Carroll's value is actually Fernando Torres less £15M ($23M). That seems disingenuous -- if Torres had joined Chelsea for £25 million ($39M), it's unlikely Newcastle would have sold Carroll for £10 million ($15M).

"Value" is the magic word here: "The whole principle is about creating value, and managing to find a player in the market who is underestimated financially compared to his stats," Comolli told Les Specialistes. The problem with value, as Paul Kelso pointed out in The Daily Telegraph, is that "it is not obvious [to find value] when you are trying to buy a center forward on deadline day in January".

However, it's important to note that "Moneyball" theory does not preclude big-money signings in positions of key value (after all, Henry's Boston Red Sox have spent the second-highest amount in the last decade in Major League Baseball). Comolli sanctioned the deal for Carroll because his age (22), English nationality and rare physical traits had already made him one of Liverpool's primary transfer targets.

Comolli himself never made the grade as a professional player: he was in the youth team at Monaco but found his path blocked by the likes of Lilian Thuram and Emmanuel Petit. At 19, he was coaching Monaco's U-16 team, before Arsene Wenger, then coaching Nagoya Grampus Eight, persuaded him to move to Japan and coach the goalkeepers at Nagasaki U-18s. One year later, he was working for Wenger at Arsenal, as a scout covering Europe.

It was Wenger who first ignited Comolli's commitment to statistics, after the coach noted Manchester United had the best percentage of successful passes in the opposition half and that Roy Keane won the most one-on-one challenges in the Premier League. "Now you know why they win," Wenger told him.

"The revelation came from reading 'Moneyball', that's when everything fell into place," Comolli told France Football. "Thanks to someone I know, I became friends with Billy Beane, the hero of the book, and ever since 2005 I have worked enormously on that." Just as his friendship with Beane was developing, he became Spurs director of football in September 2005. In three years at White Hart Lane, Comolli signed 26 players, eight of whom are still there now. The successes include the likes of Gareth Bale, Luka Modric and Benoit Assou-Ekotto; the flops, David Bentley, Gilberto and Hossam Ghaly.

Paul Tomkins, in Pay as You Play: The True Price of Success in the Premier League Era, calculated that of Comolli's signings, around 30 percent were big profit-makers, and 25 percent flops, with the rest somewhere in between, with an "overall estimated genuine profit of £26.5M ($41M)". It was Comolli's work at White Hart Lane -- as well as a ringing endorsement from Beane himself -- that convinced Henry to hire him.

Comolli has denied the claims of Soccernomics author Simon Kuper that there is a power struggle with Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish. "Comolli is very close to Beane, who is bringing Moneyball to football, while Dalglish is an excellent manager on gut feel," Kuper told The Score last week.

Comolli, quite reasonably, insisted that so much summer business could not have happened had the two men disagreed. On top of the players brought in, Liverpool sold 14 players and moved out another nine on loan: in some cases, like Christian Poulsen and Milan Jovanovic, it bought out the player's contract and in others, like Joe Cole, is still subsidizing his salary.

One French reporter who knows Comolli well suggested that the summer deals were an expensive compromise: Comolli wanted young players knowing their value would increase, while Dalglish wanted British players. The result: almost £50M ($80M) spent on Jordan Henderson, Charlie Adam and Stewart Downing.

In any case, Comolli knows all about power struggles: in his last job at Saint-Etienne, the club's joint-owners were constantly at war with Comolli stuck in the middle. Bernard Caiazzo was the businessman who liked big-name players and enjoyed the attention that comes with owning a club, while Roland Romeyer preferred hardworking players, spoke like a supporter, and was happier in the background. The pair bickered nonstop and the club only just survived relegation. After Comolli left, Saint-Etienne changed its administrative structure and results immediately improved. (That spell also explains why he gets very little credit, and still has a relatively low profile, in France.)

Martin Jol also blamed Comolli for his failure as Tottenham Hotspur coach. "Comolli was responsible, he was responsible for most of the football things," Jol told a news conference after his recent appointment as Fulham coach. It's true that Comolli had bought Darren Bent and Didier Zokora against Jol's wishes, but the club still finished fifth in successive seasons. It was only after Jol's fallout with Dimitar Berbatov, which coincided with Spurs' worst start for 19 years, one win in 10 league games, that the Dutchman was dismissed in October 2007. Comolli's choice as successor was Juande Ramos (who at Sevilla had brought out the best in Fredi Kanoute, a player that struggled under Jol at Spurs) but 13 months and a League Cup trophy later, both men had left the club.

The other lesson Comolli took from Wenger, which is another part of the "Soccernomics" remit, is to always replace your best players while they are still there. (Wenger did this by signing Emmanuel Adebayor before Thierry Henry left, Robin Van Persie before Dennis Bergkamp left, Mathieu Flamini before Patrick Vieira left and he has done the same with Jack Wilshere and Cesc Fabregas.) The Torres deal was done too quickly for that to happen, while it remains to be seen whether Jordan Henderson could prove to be a long-term replacement for Steven Gerrard, or Sebastien Coates for Jamie Carragher.

If you add Stewart Downing to Suarez and Enrique as successful purchases so far, you can sympathize with Comolli's reaction whenever Carroll is brought up. He may not like it, but Comolli knows it's the fate of the sporting director to be remembered for his flops.

And even if Carroll does struggle to improve, Comolli is already helping Liverpool to a profit on and off the pitch. On Saturday, Liverpool welcome Manchester United to Anfield, 12 months to the day that FSG bought the club. One year on, the mood is better, the squad is trimmer, and the future is brighter. Comolli has played his role.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Welcome back Javi

Javier Morales enters the game against Chicago on Wednesday, September 28th. Morales had been out since May 7th when his leg was broken during a game against Chivas. He was greatly missed by the RSL faithful.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

'Caps fans see everything they want and more in BC Place

(by Simon Borg 8-3-11)

After a $563 million renovation, BC Place has practically everything a soccer fan could want in a stadium. And Vancouver Whitecaps FC fans took notice.

Aron Ainscough, who lives eight blocks away from Whitecaps FC's new downtown home, joined his brother Adrian and his nephew Jacob on Sunday for their club’s first soccer match at the refurbished BC Place, as the rival Portland Timbers visited. (The club played their first 13 matches at Empire Field.) The trio of Vancouverites were all smiles, almost incredulous at what the stadium looked like on the inside.

“They brought this stadium into the 21st century when it was stuck in the early ’80s,” Aron said.

The Ainscoughs have been season ticket holders since the '70s, when Aron and Adrian were still little kids. They even remember the first-ever match at BC Place in 1983 when the Whitecaps opened the facility. Given their history with the club, they appreciated what this move meant.

“We still take public transport here, but being downtown is way better for the team and it’s more convenient. It’s more of a destination,” Adrian said.

The Ainscough brothers talked about the “open spaces” of BC Place, which make Empire Field’s dimensions seem claustrophobic by comparison. Space was a common theme among Whitecaps supporters on Sunday.

“Compared to the last two stadiums [Empire Field and Swangard Stadium], this one’s a lot bigger and a lot more open - lot more room,” said Duncan Holewell, another fan. “It’s going to be more of an attraction for fans here. To interact here, it’s a lot better. You feel more closer to the action and I can be a lot more into the game.”

Holewell made a 40-minute trek on the Vancouver SkyTrain on Sunday, but doesn’t mind the commute. He feels downtown represents a closer destination for a lot more fans.

Holewell and his friend Daryl Atkinson arrived early to take it all in. In addition to the spectacle offered by the video board, which large panels at 68’x38’ is second in size in the world to only Cowboys Stadium, they were keen on seeing the retractable roof, one of the most spectacular features of the stadium which needed just 20 minutes to open up just before kickoff.

“The place is spectacular. This feels like a soccer stadium,” says Michelle Tremblay, who traveled 600 miles from north Vancouver Island with her husband, Mike, and daughter, Madison. “It’s unbelievable here. It’s huge and bright. It’s amazing.”

The daylight and the colours were also the first impression for Dave Rieder, who became a Whitecaps FC season ticket holder ahead of the 2011 expansion season. Rieder brought his buddy Martin Bayly, an ex-pat from England, who has attended his fair share of English Premier League matches.

“It’s my first game here to see the Whitecaps,” Bayly said. “I’m pretty impressed how close we are and how we can see the whole field. This is a pretty cool set-up.”

“I was thinking that now we’re at BC Place, we’d be farther from the pitch, but this is awesome,” says Rieder.

A retractable roof, a stunning video board, great views, bright lights and vivid colours - all with the convenience of being in downtown.


Friday, September 30, 2011

Like it or not, soccer is gaining momentum

(by Spencer Checketts 9-27-11)

It’s not debatable that the rivalry game featuring Utah and BYU football going head to head is the single biggest and most important annual sporting event in the state of Utah.

Sure, there are the rare exceptions. The Winter Olympic Games in 2002 and the Utah Jazz NBA Finals years in ’97 and ’98 are somewhat recent examples. But year in and year out, nothing touches Utah-BYU football.

But is that changing?

Where were you two Saturdays ago when the biggest annual sporting event in the state of Utah was taking place?

Maybe you were one of the 65,000 fans down at LaVell Edwards Stadium, witnessing the most lopsided rivalry game victory for the Utes since 1922.

Maybe you were parked in front of your TV, remote in hand, watching the rivalry game and flipping back and forth between some great college football games. Does anything else in sports even matter on a beautiful fall Saturday?

Or maybe, just maybe, you were in Sandy at Rio Tinto Stadium watching soccer.

Think that’s funny?

There are 20,000 people in attendance to watch Real Salt Lake defeat Sporting KC who would disagree with you.

Am I implying that soccer has overtaken football (or even basketball) as the state’s sport of choice? Absolutely not.

But what I am saying is that in seven years on the local sports landscape, Real Salt Lake has carved out an undeniable niche of loyal, dedicated and passionate fans. And on a day where, historically, most of us put everything else in our lives on hold to make way for one of the longest tenured college football rivalries in the sport, RSL sold out its game.

A soccer game.

It was a soccer game that started at the very same time as the annual football clash being played only 40 miles south of Rio Tinto Stadium. This means something.

This is not some cry to arms to encourage soccer haters to give the world’s most popular game a second chance. Or even a single chance, for that matter. A few short years ago, I couldn’t stand soccer either. It takes time to understand what the game is all about. I don’t expect American sports fans to allocate the proper amount of personal investment needed in order to make soccer a part of their sporting DNA. We are an impatient people.

I’ve heard it all concerning the shortcomings of soccer as it pertains to appeasing the appetite of the average American sports fan. It’s boring, the players dive and cheat, there’s not enough action, no real sport allows for so many draws, the best soccer is played overseas, etc., etc., etc. Got it.

But what the current trends indicate, both locally and nationally, is that if you continue to ignore this growing niche, you do so at your own risk of sounding out of touch and ignorant. No, soccer probably is not close to overtaking any of the “Big 3” of football, basketball and baseball in this country, but it’s closer than you think. Tickets sales are trending up across the board, and sponsorship sales are very strong.

A recent TV deal with the newly branded (as of Jan. 2) NBC Sports Network ensures that a total of 49 regular season and playoff games will be seen in more than 76 million homes. The quality of the soccer is drastically improving. Like it or not, this sport and this league are creeping their way into the American sports landscape.

RSL head coach Jason Kreis and general manager Garth Lagerwey have given Utah sports fans something to be proud of. Real Salt Lake recently clinched the team’s fourth straight playoff berth. In 2009, RSL made an unlikely but an incredibly exciting run that culminated in hoisting the MLS Cup by defeating David Beckham, Landon Donovan and the LA Galaxy in the league finals.

After finishing second in the Supporters Shield Race a season ago (the award for the best record in MLS), a late season surge has RSL back in the same discussion once again. Earlier this season, Real Salt Lake came a whisper away from defeating Monterrey in the CONCACAF final and becoming the first team from MLS to qualify for the FIFA Club World Cup, a tournament won by the likes of Inter Milan, Barcelona and Manchester United.

Real Salt Lake, after some initial bumps and bruises, is now among the class of MLS. Soccer fan or not, that’s something to be celebrated as a fan of sports in Utah.

So if you were watching BYU battle Utah in Provo two weeks ago, or you were in the comfort of your own home catching the action on TV, you may have heard a small roar coming from 90th South and State Street.

Get used to it.