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.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Beckham to PSG

( 1-31-13)

In a dazzling career filled with riches and titles, David Beckham is taking his globe-trotting soccer tour to one of the most alluring destinations of all.

The 37-year-old midfielder signed a five-month contract with Paris Saint-Germain on Thursday, and has agreed to essentially play for free. He will donate his salary to a children's charity.

"It's one of the things we talked about from the start, but this all happened so quick," said Beckham, who did not disclose how much he will be paid or which group will get the money. "I thought what a great idea it would be that the salary would go to a children's charity in Paris."

The former England captain chose the ambitious French club after rejecting offers from other teams. The move came as the transfer window was starting to close and marks the latest step in a career that has seen Beckham win titles with Manchester United, Real Madrid and the Los Angeles Galaxy.

"Every club I have played for throughout the world, I have been successful with. I have been successful with Manchester United, and I have always said that I would never want to play for another English club," Beckham said. "It's the team that I support, that I always dreamt of playing for."

Beckham recently finished a six-year stint with the Galaxy in Major League Soccer. Whether he can still be a force in European soccer is uncertain, especially with so many talented players on a PSG team that has cost nearly $366 million to assemble since its Qatari owners took charge in June 2011.

"I am very lucky. I am 37 years old and I got offered a lot of offers, more offers now than I have probably had in my career, at my age," Beckham said. "I am very honored about that. I chose Paris because I can see what the club are trying to do, the players the club are trying to bring in. It's an exciting city, always has been, always will be."

The immaculately dressed Beckham was a model of elegance and calm as camera crews and photographers jostled for position amid the frenzy. He joked that he feels much younger than his age.

"To be the elder statesman, I'm very proud of that," he said. "No matter what my age is, I still feel 21 years old - most days."

Beckham's deal runs out in June but he intends to keep playing, although whether that will be with PSG remains to be decided. He is, however, eager to have a long-term role at the club.

"We slightly brushed over it, a long-term partnership is what we have looked for," he said. "Short term is playing, but long term is something we are very proud to be part of this organization that will grow and become one of the biggest in Europe."

Beckham was close to joining PSG last year, discussing a potential move with a club desperately chasing a big name to match its sudden glamour and seemingly endless funds from its Qatari backers.

But the move fell through and PSG moved on to other targets, landing striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic and AC Milan teammate Thiago Silva as well as Napoli winger Ezequiel Lavezzi and Brazilian prodigy Lucas.

"I felt last year that I still had something to achieve in Los Angeles. I won the championship in the last year of my contract," said Beckham, adding that the time was not right. "So we parked it and decided that right now is the right time because I was at the end of my contract last year. I accepted one more year in Los Angeles, I won another championship, another trophy in Los Angeles and I believe it was the right time to leave."

He said the agreement was finally sealed overnight. And shortly before noon Thursday, he made the short flight from London to Paris.

"Right now, I have a few things to sort out with my children and the schooling and a few other things," he said. "I have been training at Arsenal. My fitness won't take long to get up to speed. I definitely won't be fit for next Friday. A few weeks and I'll be up to speed."

Beckham said he was enticed by putting his salary to work in a novel way.

"It's something I'm not sure has been done before, and it's something I'm very passionate about, children and the charity side of things, and so are the club," he said. "We came together and it's something special."

For the time being, Beckham will stay in a hotel, with his family staying in London.

"I think it'll be easier for me," he said. "Whatever's easiest for me and the family when they come to watch me."

On the field, other challenges await. One of them is free kicks, Beckham's specialty. The high-scoring Ibrahimovic is around for such duties, but Beckham says he has experience in such matters.

"If I get the chance, then I'm sure we will share that thing. Whoever fancies it," Beckham said. "I've done it in the past. I've been in teams with Roberto Carlos and Ronaldo and (Zinedine) Zidane - trying to take a free kick off Roberto Carlos is pretty difficult. I expect with Ibra, it will be exactly the same."

Man U value exceeds 3 billion

( 1-28-13)

Manchester United has become the first sports team in the world to be valued at more than $3 billion, Forbes Magazine reported Monday.

A surge in the club's shares after a poor start when they were offered on the New York Stock Exchange in August has seen the overall value of United rise to $3.3 billion.

According to Forbes, United is comfortably ahead of the world's second-most-valuable sports team, the NFL's Dallas Cowboys, worth $2.1 billion.

The United shares were initially offered to the public at $14 and are now worth just under $17. The market cap -- or the outstanding value of the team's market share -- is $2.78 billion.

The demand for shares of the 19-time English champion grew after better earnings and new sponsorship deals with Japan's Kansai and China Construction Bank, despite a drop in first-quarter earnings because of a reduction in television revenue.

Demand for shares may continue because of the club's EPL standings and Champions League potential.

It means a huge increase in the overall wealth of the Glazer family, which has a controlling interest in United, and billionaire investor George Soros -- the 22nd richest person in the world -- who bought a 7.5 percent stake in the club.

The Glazers sold 10 percent of their shares in the initial public offering sale in August, but United vice chairman Ed Woodward insisted in October the family will not sell the club for "many, many years" despite ongoing interest.

Monday, January 28, 2013

RSL founder Dave Checketts sells team to Dell Loy Hansen

(by Josh Furlong 1-24-13)

Real Salt Lake team owner and founder Dave Checketts announced Thursday he has sold his majority share of the team.

Checketts, an entrepreneur and real estate developer, sold his majority share of the team to Dell Loy Hansen, who now has complete ownership of the club. The sale has already been approved by the Major League Soccer Board of Governors, but the details about the terms of the sale have not been released, per an agreement with both parties.

"The last eight years have been a labor of love," Checketts said. "When we started I made a promise to build something of meaning; something that people in my home state of Utah could be proud of.

"Real Salt Lake has become much more than a soccer team, and Rio Tinto Stadium much more than a venue," Checketts continued. "Each has become integrally woven into the fabric of this community and become beloved assets to the people here. It is a legacy that I will forever take pride in, and I am happy to leave it in local hands. I know that Dell Loy will be a tremendous caretaker for the team, the stadium and all that both represent."

Hansen, who has served as vice chairman and alternate governor for Real Salt Lake, is the president of Wasatch Property Management, Inc.

"Just over three years ago, I was very proud to join Dave Checketts in the world of Real Salt Lake and Major League Soccer," Hansen said. "Today, the chance to further deepen my participation in the growth of professional soccer in North America is incredibly exciting.

"My enthusiasm for this sport started long ago with my family, and now I am proud that our investment now includes the entire Real Salt Lake family — starting with our incredible fan base — as we work together representing the great state of Utah."

Hansen owns several venture companies in Utah, Idaho and California, employing approximately 900 employees. He owns several sports clubs, a plastic injection and molding company, wood milling company and a golf course in Utah.

Under the ownership of Checketts, Real Salt Lake won the MLS Cup in 2009, which was Utah's first professional title in approximately 40 years, made it to the CONCACAF Champions League Final, had three consecutive seasons with 15 or more wins and had the longest active playoff streak in MLS (2008-2012).

Checketts also worked with state officials to build a stadium for Real Salt Lake, instead of sharing time at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City. Rio Tinto Stadium opened in Sandy in October 2008, and has consistently sold out many games.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Cosmos serious about new stadium, seperate from MLS plans

(by Grant Wahl 1-16-13)

Is the New York City area big enough for three fancy soccer stadiums?

That's the billion-dollar question after the second-tier New York Cosmos announced Wednesday that they want to build a privately-funded $400 million complex including a 25,000-seat stadium in Belmont Park, located in Nassau County on Long Island. The recently revived team's plan came in response to a request for proposals for the land from the state of New York.

"I made it clear from the start: We'll look to build our own home," Cosmos chairman Seamus O'Brien told "We'd evaluated a number of sites within greater New York City. ... It's a state tender, so we're responding to an RFP, not trying to stick the stadium somewhere else. It's in a neighborhood that's effectively zoned as a sports facility with great transportation linkage, road and rail straight in, and a huge car parking [area]."

In a metro area that already includes the New York Red Bulls' MLS stadium in Harrison, N.J., the Cosmos' plan joins another high-profile proposal by MLS for a privately financed $300 million soccer stadium in the Flushing Meadows-Corona Park section of Queens. The MLS stadium plan has gotten the support of New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, among others.

MLS has said it wants to add a second New York City-area franchise as the U.S. top-flight league's 20th team, and commissioner Don Garber said there are four interested ownership groups that could compete in an auction to bring an expansion fee of as much as $100 million. (The winning ownership group would also fund the MLS stadium.)

But the Cosmos are increasingly looking like a competitor and not a prospective member of MLS.

The legendary NASL club that featured Pelé, Giorgio Chinaglia and Franz Beckenbauer in the 1970s was revived in 2010 -- largely to sell merchandise -- but the leadership of that revival was more talk than action and was replaced in 2011 by O'Brien, a veteran of the European and Asian sports industry. The principal owner of the Cosmos is the Saudi Arabia-based outfit Sela Sport.

In July, the Cosmos joined the revival of the NASL, which is now the second-tier U.S. pro soccer league. The team will begin play this fall, with home games at Hofstra University on Long Island. There is no promotion and relegation in U.S. pro soccer, preventing the Cosmos from rising to MLS on the field of play, and the Cosmos' stadium proposal shows that it's not willing to wait on MLS' stadium plan.

"I'm not going to comment on what MLS want to do," O'Brien said. "All I know is [a stadium plan] would make us a more compliant owner than we may or may not be now. We have a soccer-specific stadium. So surely they'd have to be delighted, wouldn't they?"

It's fair to say that MLS is hardly delighted by the news, however, considering its own separate plans. MLS executive VP Dan Courtemanche did say this in a statement:

"Major League Soccer continues to work with the city of New York and local elected officials on our quest to build a soccer stadium in Queens and are making progress with the project. We are in discussions with a variety of potential ownership groups, all who are very interested in being involved with the division I soccer league in North America. MLS continues to support the development of the lower leagues."

O'Brien did answer some other pertinent questions. For starters, would the Cosmos' proposed stadium really be entirely privately funded?

"Yes," he said. "From the ownership. We've got the resources to fund this stuff. That's the first bridge we had to cross. That wasn't an issue. We've called a fantastic team of architects, engineers and master planners in a short period of time."

When would the Cosmos stadium be ready?

"The idea would be playing there in the 2016 season," O'Brien said.

And, in the end, is the New York City area big enough for three fancy soccer stadiums? Why, even Red Bull Arena has had disappointing crowds.

"I think soccer from the facilities point of view has probably been undeserved in the area," O'Brien said. "I think Red Bull Arena is a fantastic development. If we can complement that on the other side of town, terrific. If somebody else [read: MLS] wants to build one down the road, I'm not scared of competition. It isn't going to stop us building our home for the Cosmos.

"We're responding to a proposal from the state. We think it meets all the objectives of the RFP. It's funded. It provides construction jobs and over 3,000 full-time jobs. It creates a brand-new park for the community. It's got retail and restaurants and a hotel, all the things the state required. We think it's a compelling proposal. Obviously, there are a lot of negotiations and discussions to have. We're only at the first part. But we're excited, and we hope the state feels the same way."

Needless to say, the New York soccer stadium boom story has a lot of twists ahead.

Cosmos plan Belmont Park venue

( 1-16-13)

The New York Cosmos, one of the world's best-known soccer franchises of the 1970s and resurrected last year after nearly three decades of dormancy, proposed Wednesday to construct a 25,000-seat, privately financed stadium at Belmont Park racetrack.

Plans for the $400 million project were submitted last week to New York's Empire State Development Corp., which will decide later this year on how to develop the 400-acre racetrack property in Elmont, just east of New York City.

A new soccer stadium could be an economic boon for struggling Nassau County following last year's announcement that the National Hockey League's New York Islanders were relocating to Brooklyn in 2015.

"This is an exciting prospect that will create jobs and complement Nassau's sports entertainment tourism plan," County Executive Ed Mangano said in a statement.

Seamus O'Brien, chairman and CEO of the Cosmos, called Belmont "an ideal location and a win-win for everyone involved. Nassau County and Elmont will realize much needed economic growth, and local residents will have a year-round premier destination they can call their own."

In the 1970s, the Cosmos played in the North American Soccer League, and attracted worldwide attention by signing some of the greatest players of the day including the legendary Brazilian star Pele, Italy's Georgio Chinaglia and West German star Franz Beckenbauer. The NASL disbanded in 1984, but the Cosmos played one more season in 1985 as an independent team before folding.

Last year, the Cosmos announced plans to play in the revived NASL beginning in 2013; home games this season will be played at Hofstra University's former football stadium in Hempstead, N.Y.

The NASL of today is a second-division, small-budget league with teams in Atlanta; Bayamon, Puerto Rico; Blaine, Minn.; Cary, N.C.; Edmonton, Alberta; Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; St. Petersburg, Fla.; and San Antonio. The top American soccer league, Major League Soccer, has a New York franchise, the Red Bulls, playing in Harrison, N.J.

The MLS last year proposed a stadium be built in neighboring Queens for an as-yet-unnamed soccer franchise to rival the Red Bulls. That team would play near Citi Field, the home of baseball's New York Mets.

MLS spokesman Dan Courtemanche said in a statement Wednesday that the league is continuing to work with New York City and local officials on the Queens project. "We continue our discussions with a variety of potential ownership groups, all who are very interested in being involved with the division I soccer league in North America," he said. "MLS continues to support the development of the lower leagues."

The Cosmos said in a statement that the team wasn't "in a position to comment about any other stadium proposals," but added that the franchise believes "in the strength of our proposal and the increasing interest in soccer both nationally and regionally."

The Cosmos' proposal, called Elmont Crossings, includes nine new restaurants, retail space, a 175-room hotel and a 4.3-acre public park. Team officials say it would create more than 500 construction jobs and over 3,000 full-time permanent jobs.

If approved, the team expects to break ground in 2014. Retail sites would open in 2015 and the team could begin play in the spring of 2016.

A spokeswoman for the Empire State Development Corp. said proposals for the property are currently being evaluated for feasibility, economic impact and experience of the project team.

New York State Sen. Jack Martins, whose district includes Belmont Park, called the proposal "an exciting project -- a real game-changer for the community, the county and the state. It will create thousands of short and long term jobs and economic opportunity where we need it most."

Each June, the racetrack hosts the final leg of horse racing's Triple Crown, the Belmont Stakes. Cosmos officials say they would not schedule events at the soccer stadium on dates that coincide with major races at Belmont.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Commissioner Garber "surprised" by Blatter's MLS comments

(by Grant Wahl 1-2-13)

Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber responded to FIFA president Sepp Blatter's recent criticisms of MLS on Wednesday, telling he was "a bit surprised" by Blatter's remarks.

"I know he's aware of the progress being made," said a somewhat bewildered Garber, adding later, "I look forward to inviting the [FIFA] president to an MLS game, and I'm sure when he does attend he'll be very pleasantly surprised."

Blatter issued his MLS criticisms in an interview with Al Jazeera last week. "There is no very strong professional league" in the United States, Blatter said, adding that MLS was not "recognized by the American society." Blatter concluded that he thought MLS should be much further along by now in its development. "It's been 18 years, it should have been done now," he said. "But they are still struggling."

Garber was careful in acknowledging FIFA's help in starting MLS in 1996, but the commissioner clearly wanted to provide details on the league's accomplishments.

"We have always had a good relationship with FIFA and president Blatter," Garber said. "Without FIFA and the World Cup coming here in '94, there's no Major League Soccer. But I know he's aware of the progress being made, and as such I was a bit surprised."

Garber confirmed Wednesday he canceled his plans to attend the FIFA Ballon d'Or ceremony in Zurich next week -- he has been a regular at the event in previous years -- and will instead be on hand next Monday at Soccer Night in Newtown, an event featuring 30 MLS players for those affected by the recent shooting tragedy in Connecticut.

As for the state of MLS, the league now has 19 teams (up from 12 in 2006), with 13 of them playing in stadiums built primarily for soccer. National TV ratings remain disarmingly low, having held steady in the 0.2 and 0.3 range for the last decade. But in 2012 MLS did set its all-time average attendance record of 18,807, making it the seventh-highest attended league in the world.

"To be fair, for those who don't live here in North America or spend a lot of time in the United States, it's hard to comprehend how powerful the other major sports leagues are," Garber said. "If you live in Europe or South America there's only one [major] sport, the sport of football. We have sports in the U.S. that are as powerful here as football is in its respective countries, and we have at least four that have been around for over 100 years. And all have had the benefit of building a fan base over many generations."

"Even against that backdrop, we have made tremendous progress over the last 17 years," Garber continued. "Interestingly, we're probably recognized as being more significant in many ways here in the U.S. than we are in other parts of the football world because of some of those developments: three broadcast partners, every game televised in HD, amazingly strong corporate support, lots of new stadiums and a great fan base that has us now in the U.S. and Canada ranked third [in average attendance] among all of the major leagues after the NFL and Major League Baseball. Those are pretty remarkable developments and ones that we're very proud of."

"Our owners, our players and our staff all accept that our job is not even remotely close to being finished. We feel pretty good about what's happened over the first 20 years, but it will be in my view many years before we've achieved our goal. We hope in 10 years to be one of the top soccer leagues in the world."

MLS truly does feel "major league" in cities like Portland, Kansas City, Vancouver and Seattle, where the Sounders drew an average of 43,144 fans in 2012. Other teams (Columbus, Dallas, New England, Chivas USA) don't feel major league, and all drew less than 15,000 per game last season.

When I asked Garber if there wasn't some aspect of tough-love truth in Blatter's comments, given MLS' low TV ratings, the commissioner said: "No, I don't believe so. You've got to continue developing the fundamentals and get a solid foundation before you can build a massive national television audience. We're doing better than expected as it relates to the fundamentals, and we'll continue to work on our national TV ratings, and that might be a project that will take some time. But our broadcast partners continue to believe in the league, and I believe there will be even more interest in our package when it's up after the 2014 season."

Asked if Blatter's comments would hurt MLS with potential multinational sponsors, Garber argued they would not. "Not in any way," he said. "The sports industry has enormous respect for us. Several years ago, against all the other major leagues, they [the Sports Business Journal] recognized us as the league of the year. The Seattle Sounders were recognized as the team of the year in 2009. Our corporate sponsorship base continues to grow. Our relationships with municipal governments providing support for soccer stadium development is at an all-time high. Investment in our league is at an all-time high and in some ways the envy of soccer leagues around the world.

"So no, I don't believe his comments hurt us in any way. But I think it's important to stand up and say that Major League Soccer -- while we have a lot of work to do -- is now thriving and making an impact."

Is it fair for Blatter to think MLS should have been much farther along 19 years after the 1994 World Cup in the United States? Garber said no.

"I don't think anybody believed MLS would be in the position it is today when it was launched in 1996," he said. "We have 19 teams and strong broadcast and corporate support and great players being developed in MLS and continuing to play here like Landon [Donovan] or perform at a high level like Clint [Dempsey]. We have world-class players coming here like [David] Beckham and [Thierry] Henry. It's a challenge to expect that we would be at the level of the other football leagues around the world, or even the other major sports leagues here in the U.S., which are now more than 100 years old."

By the time we were done talking, it was clear that Garber was trying to stay positive about MLS without opening verbal fire on Blatter. But he didn't exactly offer a ringing endorsement of the FIFA president when I asked if he thought U.S. Soccer should continue to support Blatter as the USSF has done since 1998.

"I consider Sunil [Gulati, the U.S. Soccer president] a good friend, and I believe he's been a very good president of the federation," Garber said. "And I will support the position he takes on behalf of the U.S. Soccer community."

But if you were the U.S. Soccer president, Don Garber, would you have voted for Blatter in the 2011 FIFA election as opposed to abstaining (as England's FA did)?

Garber had no comment on that one.