Welcome to the RSL Cup blog

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. Lately however I've started to worry about the path MLS is taking and the poor decisions they are making that in my mind threaten the growth of soccer as a whole in the US. (see "Columbus conspiracy" section) Soccer in America will grow only when we have a vibrant and diverse minor league system, something that MLS seems to be smothering at the moment. (see "American soccer wars" section) Let's keep our eyes on the situation and hope for the best, a future where grass-roots soccer and the minor leagues can not only exist but flourish, as well as where the contributions and history of the league's early clubs are appreciated and preserved.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Three-attle



(by Matt Gaschk soundersfc.com 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

(si.com 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

Bored?



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 si.com 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 mlssoccer.com 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.

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