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.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

MLS announces expansion team New York City FC

( 5-21-13)

Manchester City and the New York Yankees have joined forces to establish a $100 million Major League Soccer team.

New York City Football Club will be the MLS's 20th team and is set to start playing from the 2015 season.

"This is not a marketing gimmick,'' City chief executive Ferran Soriano said in a conference call on Tuesday. "This is about developing a team that will play very good football and will have a chance to win.''

City, which is owned by Sheik Mansour bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan of Abu Dhabi, will be the majority owner of the team.

The venture is being launched by City amid difficulties in England after the team failed to win a trophy in the 2012-13 season, leading to manager Roberto Mancini being fired.

Soriano said it wasn't a mistake to award Mancini a new five-year contract after City won the Premier League title in May 2012, ending the team's 44-year English title drought.

"We don't think we are under any instability,'' Soriano said. "We are changing the manager as it happens in other clubs. We feel confident that we will have a good manager and a very good team next year. And I don't think anybody made a mistake on this. It's just, as normally as it happens in football, time to change for the good.''

City is in need of new revenue streams to help comply with UEFA's Financial Fair Play rules, which are designed to curtail over-spending by wealthy owners and require clubs to eventually break even on football-related activities.

But heavy spending led to City losing 90 million pounds ($137 million) in the 2011-12 financial year with transfer fees since the club entered Abu Dhabi ownership in 2008 went beyond 580 million pounds ($880 million).

"This obviously has nothing to do with Financial Fair Play,'' Soriano said. "We are building a team in New York that will be sustainable and we will be investing here with the idea of recovering our investment and being a club that will be financially sustainable, the same way that our club in Manchester is becoming sustainable every year more, right?
"So we don't have any problem with the Financial Fair Play rules, and the New York team has nothing to do with it.''

There is a chance the New York club will serve as a feeder team for City, while young players unable to break into the Premier League squad could be loaned the other way.

"I think naturally it will happen, that some Manchester players will end up playing in New York,'' Soriano said. "But the objective and the focus will be to try to find the right players for the New York team. The New York team is a team on its own.''

Yankees President Randy Levine will be the lead executive responsible for launching the club.

"They'll be running all the soccer,'' Levine said. "We know our way around New York, how to get things done.''

The expansion fee for the new team is $100 million. It will compete for attention, and dollars, with 10 other professional major sports teams in the New York market.

NYC FC will start play at an interim venue with one option being the New Yankee Stadium, which opened in 2009.

The venue hosted its first two football matches last year and is the site of a friendly on Saturday between City and Chelsea. The original Yankee Stadium was the home of the North American Soccer League's New York Cosmos in 1976.

The new team is intended to spark a rivalry with the New York Red Bulls, who play in Harrison, New Jersey.

"The Red Bulls now will have a rival here in the market providing them with that derby-like competition that is such a driver of what makes football so successful around the world,'' said MLS Commissioner Don Garber, calling the addition of a second New York team a "big transformational event.''

The Yankees have long been exploring football deals. A partnership with Manchester United was announced in 2001, but that turned into a now-expired licensing and broadcasting agreement in which the clubs sold each other's licensed goods and exchanged television programming. The Yankees' YES Network has broadcast Arsenal games on a delayed basis since October 2010.

Legends Hospitality, co-owned by the Yankees, Dallas Cowboys and Checketts Partners Investment Fund, takes over hospitality and catering at Manchester City's Etihad Stadium next season under a partnership with Jamie Oliver's Fabulous Feasts that was announced in January. Legends already has started work on premium seats sales.

With the decision completed on team No. 20, MLS can turn attention to No. 21.

Former Los Angeles Galaxy star David Beckham, who plays his final game this weekend before retiring, has an option to buy an MLS expansion team at below cost. Miami appears to be a possible market.

"It's just premature,'' Garber said. "Clearly, we've got to finalize a long-term expansion plan for the league.''

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Montreal clown tifo

This is pretty cool, I wish we would have done something like this back in the day.

Wigan's shock FA Cup win keeps football romance alive

(by Gary Morley 5-11-13)

In a sporting world where the big boys invariably grab all the glory, there is one competition where the romantic notion of the underdog toppling the giant sometimes becomes reality.

Not often, but regularly enough to keep seemingly hopeless dreams alive.

The English FA Cup is soccer's oldest knockout competition, and while it is often won by the greatest teams in the Premier League it is also the source of some of the greatest upset results.

"When you are a football club you dream of playing at Wembley, and today we saw the underdogs play with incredible bravery, incredible belief and they defied the odds again. That's the FA Cup," said Roberto Martinez after his Wigan Athletic team made their dream come true with a shock win against Manchester City on Saturday.

It was a result that ranked with Wimbledon's 1988 victory over Liverpool and Southampton's 1976 upset of Manchester United.

When Wigan lined up against City at Wembley, England's national stadium, there could not have been two more contrasting teams.

City -- funded by the oil money of its Abu Dhabi oil owners, winner of the Premier League last season and the FA Cup the one before that -- up against a Wigan side in its first final, having been a top-flight club for less than a decade.

Wigan's team cost £11 million ($17 million) in transfer fees -- City's squad had 11 players who had individually cost more than that.

Even before Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan completed a reported $300 million takeover in 2008, City was already an established football name, even if its fortunes had faded since the 1960s and '70s.

Neighboring Wigan, on the other hand, was a non-league club until 1978 and only started moving up the divisions when entrepreneur Dave Whelan bought it in 1995.

Whelan was a former footballer who played in the FA Cup final for Blackburn in 1960, but badly broke his leg as his team lost, and never featured with a top team after that.

He subsequently made his money with a chain of grocery stores and then got into the sportswear business.

Now 76, he is an institution in the north-west town, having owned its rugby league team while also funding the football club's stadium -- which was first named after his business and is now known by his initials.

A sometimes controversial figure -- a backer of the Conservative party, he was the only leading football figure to call for a minute's silence to honor the late former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher -- he has presided over a club that has battled to stay in the Premier League for the past few seasons.

"What an incredible story," Martinez said after an injury-time header from substitute Ben Watson earned a shock 1-0 victory over City, who had Pablo Zabaleta sent off for a second yellow card in the 85th minute.

"The chairman broke his leg in 1960 and today, finally, it's finished business for him."

Whelan was given special dispensation to lead out the team, as Wigan played its second major final -- having lost in the 2006 League Cup in Cardiff.

But now, although Martinez's team is guaranteed European football next season, Wigan's chances of staying in the top division hang by a thread with just two matches to play.

The Latics, as they are known, occupy the third and final relegation place and will have little time to celebrate the club's greatest day as Tuesday brings a trip to Champions League contenders Arsenal.

"We are going to get an incredible fight, incredible desire, to get the six points we've got left," Martinez said.

"But today is about today, today is about the FA Cup, today is about the victory and the trophy that we've won for Wigan Athletic. What an incredible story."

Martinez has been widely linked with a move to Everton following the imminent departure of David Moyes to replace Alex Ferguson at Manchester United, and was last year one of the candidates to take over at Liverpool before Brendan Rodgers got the job.

He is highly rated by Whelan, who has stood by the 39-year-old despite a seemingly constant Houdini act in keeping the club in the EPL, but it remains to be seen whether City's owners will show the same patience with their manager Roberto Mancini.

The Italian cut a forlorn figure at Wembley after the defeat left his side without a trophy this season, having been second best in the league as Manchester United won back the title.

Ferguson's surprise announcement this week that he is retiring after more than 26 years in charge took much of the focus off the FA Cup final, but the buildup to the match came with widespread rumors that Mancini will be replaced by former Real Madrid coach Manuel Pellegrini, who guided Malaga to the Champions League quarterfinals this season.

Pellegrini revealed on Saturday that he and several players would be leaving the Spanish club at the end of this season due to its money problems, which have resulted in a ban from future European competition under UEFA's financial fair play rules.

"Everyone would prefer to stay but unfortunately, the circumstances we are in don't allow that," the Chilean said.

Mancini helped City end a long wait for a trophy when he won the FA Cup in his first season in charge, but Saturday's defeat could be the end of the road for the 48-year-old after a difficult season in which he sold problematic striker Mario Balotelli -- who he had signed in 2010 from his former club Inter Milan -- and failed to make it past the group stage in the Champions League.

"This speculation is rubbish. If I said it's rubbish, it's rubbish ... speculation and rubbish," he angrily told UK match broadcaster ITV.

Mancini said he was "very sorry" for the 40,000 City fans who traveled to London for the match, which was played in pouring rain.

"They scored in the last minute so for us it was difficult. But we didn't play very well -- I don't know why," he told ESPN.

"It was a difficult season because our target was to win the Premier League, and we didn't win it.

But this can happen, it's impossible to win always.

"And after we had this chance to win another cup ... this moment is difficult."

Earlier Saturday, Frank Lampard became Chelsea's all-time leading scorer with both goals in a 2-1 victory over Aston Villa that all but ensured the London side will play in the Champions League next season.

The 34-year-old England midfielder has yet to be offered a new contract by the club, but he gave owner Roman Abramovich food for thought as he passed Bobby Tambling's longstanding mark of 202.

The win put third-placed Chelsea five points clear of Arsenal and six ahead of Tottenham, who both have a game in hand.

Villa took the lead through Christian Benteke's 19th league goal this season but the Belgian was sent off after the halftime break.

Chelsea had lost Ramires for a second booking before the break, but Lampard fired in a left-foot shot on the hour and finished from close range with nine minutes to play to take his tally to 15 this season in the EPL and 17 overall.

However, defender John Terry and midfielder Eden Hazard were taken off with injuries and are battling to be fit for Wednesday's Europa League final against Benfica.

Meanwhile, Manchester United midfielder Paul Scholes announced on Saturday that he will be retiring for the second time.

The 38-year-old quit in 2011 but was persuaded to return by Ferguson the following year.

He has not played since January, but Ferguson confirmed that the former England international will make his 498th EPL appearance on Sunday at home to Swansea.

"He will collect an unbelievable but well-deserved 11th Premier League medal," Ferguson said ahead of his own final home match at Old Trafford.

Alex Ferguson blows final whistle on Man U career

( 5-8-13)

During more than a quarter of a century in charge of Manchester United, Alex Ferguson has always found the way to win – and win again.

Scrappy, abrasive and always up for a fight, Ferguson turned the club into a global power and established himself as the most successful manager in British soccer history.

And now, the 71-year-old Scotsman is going out on a high. On his own terms.

With his 13th Premier League title and 38th major trophy at United secured, Ferguson announced Wednesday that he is retiring at the end of the season.

"The decision to retire is one that I have thought a great deal about and one that I have not taken lightly," the Scotsman said. "It is the right time."

Since taking charge at Old Trafford in 1986, Ferguson's trophy collection also includes two Champions League titles, five FA Cups, four League Cups and the 2008 FIFA World Club Cup.

"His drive, ambition, skill, passion and vision have not only shaped Manchester United, but in many ways the game of football as we now know it," Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore said.

Manchester United, owned by the American Glazer family and listed on the New York Stock Exchange, did not immediately announce a successor, but will need to act swiftly to stave off any market uncertainty.

Everton manager David Moyes, a fellow Scot from Glasgow, is the front-runner. During 11 years at Everton, Moyes has overseen impressive results on a limited budget and enjoyed a long-standing friendship with Ferguson.

"He is a first-class manager," Ferguson, who is being consulted on his successor, said of Moyes last year.

United is valued at around $3.2 billion and is one of the world's most high-profile sports brands.

Manchester United shares dropped more than 5 percent in early New York trading, but the losses were clawed back quickly. By late morning, the shares were trading at $18.42, down 1.3 percent.

Few managers at United – or anywhere in global soccer – will come close to matching Ferguson's achievements.

"It was important to me to leave an organization in the strongest possible shape and I believe I have done so," he said. "The quality of this league winning squad, and the balance of ages within it, bodes well for continued success at the highest level."

Ferguson reversed a previous plan to retire at the end of the 2001-02 season, but this decision seems final after Manchester United extended its record for English league championships to 20.

United's last home game – a chance for fans to pay an emotional farewell to Ferguson – is against Swansea on Sunday. United then travels to West Bromwich Albion on May 19 in the final match for the man who has defined the club for nearly three decades.

Ferguson will remain as a club director and ambassador.

"His contributions to Manchester United over the last 26 years have been extraordinary and, like all United fans, I want him to be a part of its future," joint chairman Avie Glazer said.

Ferguson's style was marked by a combustible temper. He often took out his ire on players, rival coaches, referees and the media. He has banned many reporters from the club over the years when he disputed their articles or line of questioning.

United's highly-paid stars have long feared a raging Ferguson and his "hairdryer" treatment – a stream of in-your-face invective said to make one's hair stand on end.

David Beckham was cut above the eye when Ferguson, furious at his team's poor performance against Arsenal in 2003, kicked a boot in the changing room and it hit the midfielder in the face. Fed up with Beckham's celebrity lifestyle, Ferguson sold him to Real Madrid, but there was no lingering bitterness from the former England captain.

"The boss wasn't just the greatest and best manager I ever played under he was also a father figure to me from the moment I arrived at the club at the age of 11 until the day I left," Beckham, who now plays for Paris Saint-Germain, wrote on Facebook.

"Without him I would never have achieved what I have done in my career. He understood how important it was to play for your country and he knew how much it meant to me."

Ferguson's legacy will also include phrases which have entered the soccer lexicon. "Squeaky bum time" is how he referred to the tense finale to a season. "Fergie Time" was coined to describe the additional minutes given by a referee in stoppage time when United so often scored under Ferguson.

Talk of Ferguson leaving first surfaced following the club's golf day on Tuesday. When the official announcement came, it prompted an outpouring of tributes from inside and outside the game.

FIFA President Sepp Blatter said on Twitter that Ferguson's "achievements in the game place him without doubt as one of the `greats'."

Michel Platini, president of the Union of European Football Associations, hailed Ferguson as a "true visionary."

The announcement even grabbed the British media spotlight from the buildup to the State Opening of Parliament, where Queen Elizabeth II, who knighted Ferguson in 1999, was setting out the government's planned legislation.

Prime Minister David Cameron, a member of the Conservative Party, hailing Ferguson as "a remarkable man in British football who has had an extraordinary, successful career."

Ferguson has defined the modern era of success at United, resuscitating the fortunes of a club that was floundering when he arrived. He came to the club after having won a European title at modest Aberdeen in Scotland.

While it took time for Ferguson to impose his leadership at Old Trafford, directors showed a degree of patience rarely afforded to current managers.

"In my early years, the backing of the board, and Sir Bobby Charlton in particular, gave me the confidence and time to build a football club, rather than just a football team," Ferguson said.

With his unwavering approach, Ferguson eventually produced his first trophy in 1990 – the FA Cup – and in 1993 the club won its first top division title since 1967.

Since then, he has ended Liverpool's dominance by overtaking its previous record of 18 English league titles, and preventing Chelsea, Arsenal and – most recently – Manchester City from establishing themselves as forces.

Now United will have to plan for a future without Ferguson in the dugout.

"Alex's vision, energy and ability have built teams – both on and off the pitch – that his successor can count on as among the best and most loyal in world sport," United's chief executive David Gill said.

Referees under siege

(by Matthius Krug 5-6-13)

In the U.S., a referee is punched and later dies. Meanwhile In Europe, a Dutch volunteer linesman is beaten to death, a teenage Spanish referee is violently assaulted, and in Germany a match official is hospitalized.

They are almost as essential to the functioning of the game as the ball they bring onto the pitch for kickoff, but soccer referees across the world are feeling under siege.

Subjected to vulgar insults, threatened, chased off the field, attacked, hospitalized and, tragically, killed.

In the most recent incident, 46-year old Ricardo Portillo -- refereeing an amateur game in the Salt Lake City suburb of Taylorsville -- was punched on April 27 after booking a player. He died from his injuries on Saturday.

What is behind this apparent wave of violence, which largely affects those grassroots officials whose role is so vital in maintaining the development of the so-called "Beautiful Game?"

Some say it's the direct result of bad examples set by the elite echelons of the sport, some say it's a cultural problem -- and others point to the very parents who go to watch their kids play.

"You feel completely helpless," says Jose Giner, who looked on in horror from the stands the day his son was brutally attacked during a Spanish regional match in February.

Hector Giner, just 17, was savagely attacked in Burjassot, Valencia after attempting to send off a player who had insulted him.

As the teen looked down and began to write in his notebook, the player -- a policeman 10 years his senior, named as "Alberto M.M." in media reports -- struck Giner a blow in the face, then delivered two kicks to the body as he lay prone on the floor.

In hospital the young student lost his spleen and three liters of blood. His attacker has been suspended from his job ahead of the trial, for which the date has yet to be set.

A complex issue

That Sunday -- February 17, 2013 -- was an ugly warning for Spanish football, but it was far from an isolated case of arbitrary violence against the country's 15,000 referees.

"All parents will understand how I felt that day," Jose Giner told CNN. "I think referees in the lower leagues are definitely not as well protected as they should be. Those responsible should sit down together to take action."

The Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) acknowledges the need for solutions and says it has begun working together with the Spanish police -- the Guardia Civil -- to "initiate a protocol of security and prevention."

"Effectively, with the referees in lower categories we attempt to protect them in the best manner possible," Juan Castillo Jimenez of the Technical Committee for Referees at RFEF told CNN.

But the task at hand is a complex one, beginning with incessant verbal abuse from players and spectators which can be difficult to stop.

"Well, yes, there is a lot of verbal violence," admits Alejandro Urrego, a player in the same Valencia regional league where the Giner incident took place. "Referees are scared to show red cards to those insulting them for the possibly violent consequences."

The RFEF acknowledges that parents have become some of the worst culprits in aggressive behavior towards referees in Spain.

"Parents are worse than the kids," says Emilio Jose Ayuso, a 21-year-old referee who talked to CNN at halftime of a youth match he was officiating in Aranjuez, a small town one hour south of Madrid.

"There are a lot of insults from the sidelines. You just have to ignore it. There is nothing you can do about it."

Problem starts at home?

One Europe-wide manner of tackling the problem has been to move spectators further away from the touchline, thereby reducing their influence on referees.

Still, insults have become so commonplace that some refs have begun to take an aggressive attitude onto the pitch themselves, according to one parent.

"Parents are definitely to blame," says Cristina, a mother of two who watches her son play in the same match where Ayuso is the referee. She preferred not to give her surname.

"Two members of my close family are referees, so I know what kind of insults they have to hear, and ignore, every weekend.

"But I've also seen a referee who insulted the kids -- I couldn't believe my eyes when it happened in my son's game the other week. It also happens."

Another factor in Spain is that referees have traditionally been the target of abuse by football fans -- though usually verbal not physical.

"We blame everything on the ref," says Jose, a taxi driver in Madrid, who also did not want to give his full name.

"Even 'la crisis' (the financial crisis), if we could. The stadium is the place for Spaniards to vent their frustration. If parents set such a bad example, imagine how the next generation is growing up."

Bad role models

That lack of respect for match officials filters down from the top teams and players, according to journalist Cayetano Ros.

Last May, Granada forward Dani Benitez was suspended for throwing a water bottle at the face of referee Clos Gomez while his teammates contested the award of a penalty to opponent Real Madrid. The previous month linesman Cesar David Escribano was struck by an object thrown from the stands during a second division match at Cartagonova.

"I think we are all to blame, also the media," said Cayetano Ros, who covered the Giner attack for El Pais newspaper. "It is getting better than it was 20 or 30 years ago, but there is still a culture of pressuring the referees: it is definitely a danger."

At a La Liga match between Getafe and Deportivo La Coruna in early 2013, the referee sent off a home player early on, and was hounded by home fans for the rest of the game. Small children sat nearby listening to the verbal abuse.

Veteran Spanish football observer Phil Ball says it is a cultural model that needs changing.

"If you don't pressure the ref here, you're seen as stupid," says Ball, the author of "Morbo: The story of Spanish football." He calls it a "tactical" approach, and freely admits to talking to the linesman during matches his son plays.

"There's a saying in Spain: 'El que no llora, no mama' (he who doesn't cry, doesn't get the milk), and it's applied to football in Spain," Ball told CNN.

"I saw a particularly bad example in the Donosti Cup 2011 (a youth tournament), when a referee was chased off the pitch by a team called Ciudad Jardin from Valencia. You can't solve things unless you change the culture. You have to come down hard on perpetrators."

Ayuso believes that punishments are not enough -- education is the key.

"To become a referee, the Madrid Football Federation makes us take a course as well as two classes with a psychologist, because it is common knowledge that you'll be verbally abused," he said.

"I think a solution could be to give psychological classes to teams. That way they see that we too can make mistakes. But as it is, you definitely go to some grounds with a great deal of respect. Valencia and Holland are always at the back of your mind."

Dutch dilemma

The problem of violence against referees came to worldwide prominence in December 2012 after a shocking incident in the Netherlands.

A group of teenage players beat 41-year-old Richard Nieuwenhuizen to death after a youth match in which he had been a volunteer linesman. His son had been playing in the opposing team to that of his attackers.

It was a tragic attack that moved an entire nation, and the Dutch football association took immediate action.

"After the incident the Dutch FA decided that there should be more respect for referees," says Jan ter Harmsel, a journalist and referee who runs a blog website for match officials.

"Only captains can talk to the referee now, other players would be booked immediately,"

Former Netherlands international player Ronald de Boer agrees that the fatal attack has had a big impact, but worries that the reaction by officials has been too strong.

"Football is emotion, and in a way the changes killed the game a little bit. Now yellow cards are shown for everything," the former Ajax, FC Barcelona and Glasgow Rangers midfielder told CNN, while acknowledging that players in Holland "moan too much."

"Certainly we have to pay attention to give a lot of respect to referees, starting with the parents in their education of their kids," said De Boer, who now works with Ajax's youth setup.

The Dutch FA (KNVB) sent CNN figures which showed that while yellow cards shown to players have not increased overall since the December 21 attack, the numbers of bookings for dissent to officials has almost tripled from 0.17 per game before December 21 to 0.48 each match since.

On trial

The new KNVB charter has a broad social backing, according to its press office chief Marloes van der Laan.

"After issuing an appeal on Facebook, KNVB headquarters in Zeist received a veritable deluge of emails and letters containing suggestions about how to improve the overall atmosphere surrounding Dutch football matches," van der Laan said.

"All these suggestions were considered, many were taken on board and some were adopted in the FA's action plan. In addition, on December 21, the KNVB issued a Charter titled 'No Football Without Respect.' The Charter listed no new rules, but provided for stricter enforcement of existing ones."

Harmsel, a youth referee in The Hague, believes the education of younger generations needs to be addressed.

"The Richard Nieuwenhuizen incident was a few months ago, but I heard about an abandoned under-eight match last weekend," he said. This time, the coach of one team took his players off the field in protest at a lack of protection from alleged opposition foul play.

The Dutch Organization of Soccer Referees, meanwhile, told CNN that little has changed as a result of the December 2 attack on Nieuwenhuizen, whose assailants began a pretrial hearing on Monday -- six teens and one of their fathers appeared in court charged with murder.

"Although awareness of the problem of violence in society in general and on the soccer pitch in particular was raised immediately following the serious accident, and although there was one weekend with no soccer for the non-professional leagues, by now things are back to 'normal,' " said the organization's secretary Willie Peijnenburg.

"Several actions of awareness raising are being prepared, but since the incident several referees have been attacked again, even in friendly matches."

Physical intimidation

In neighboring Germany, the situation is equally worrying: the country's 70,000-plus match officials are subjected to what they feel are increasing levels of violence.

Leading football magazine Kicker is running a series on increasing violence against referees and dwindling referee numbers nationwide, while the influential Der Spiegel wrote in December 2012 about a string of violent attacks against lower league referees.

The most serious of these came in September 2011 in Berlin, when Gerald Bothe was assaulted on the pitch for showing a player a second yellow card.

The parallels with the recent attack in Valencia are chilling. Bothe was unconscious for 10 minutes, swallowed his tongue, and was hospitalized for several days.

A study at the University of Tubingen, which interviewed 2,600 regional referees, showed that 40% had been threatened, while 17% said they had been physically attacked. Those are worrying numbers, particularly for young referees such as Max Klein.

At two meters tall, the 18-year-old towers above most players, but still admits to being intimidated by the frequent cases of violence against referees that he hears about on social networks.

"Of course it is a shock to a young referee to hear of cases like Valencia and Holland," said Klein. "There are a lot of cases here too. Since I started four years ago it has certainly gotten worse. You don't hear about it in the mainstream media because it happens in lower divisions, but a referee friend of mine posts it all on Facebook.

"Just the other day a player waited in the locker room and beat up a referee. So before you whistle a game, you think, 'Hopefully I don't whistle a rough lot today.' "

Herbert Fandel, the head of the German Football Association (DFB) referee commission, has acknowledged that violence is a factor in influencing dwindling referee numbers.

"The verbal and physical violence against referees is also a sign of our times, a mirror of our society. Values like respect and decency are too often kicked with the feet," Fandel wrote in the DFB's referee magazine. The DFB told CNN that it is compiling statistics with regional associations, and could not comment at the moment.

Klein is just a few months older than the hospitalized referee in Valencia. He too has already had encounters with violence on the pitch, abandoning one match between teams of 14-year-olds in Konigsdorf, near Cologne, when the two coaches ran onto the pitch and started a brawl.

Klein says corrective action will be needed soon -- 10 years ago there were 1,000 active referees in the wider Cologne area where he whistles, but now there are just 600, according to the DFB magazine. Overall referee numbers in Germany have been steadily decreasing, the DFB said.

"It would be tough to get a bodyguard for every referee," Klein says with a wry smile. "So I think the best way forward is to introduce monetary fines for teams. That would really hit the aggressors hard where it hurts most -- in their pockets."

The blame game

Former international referee Tom Henning Ovrebo, who received death threats long after a controversial European match in 2009, would also like to see strict punishments.

"All over Europe you can find a culture of harassment against referees," said the Norwegian, who was widely accused by media -- and former Chelsea coach Jose Mourinho -- of favoring opposition team Barcelona in the second leg of a Champions League semifinal.

In 2011, Mourinho -- by then coach of Real Madrid -- named Ovrebo in a list of referees he claimed favored Barcelona after his team lost another Champions League semifinal match to the Catalan side.

Ovrebo says such criticism is part of the problem in fanning lower-league violence.

"I think all promising young players and coaches try to copy their heroes. And when they harass and blame the referees during or after a game, the young players and coaches will also do so," said the 46-year-old, who retired from international level in 2010.

"And sometimes the media enhance the effect by showing everyone what a 'jerk' the referee is."

Ovrebo believes refs need to be better prepared to deal with verbal and physical violence.

"In my local association ... we teach them about the laws of the game and positioning, but little is done to prepare them for the mental demands."

Ovrebo, who works as a psychologist, says that recent research links violence in football with the supposed safety of belonging to a crowd.

"One thing we know from research on hooliganism is that people tend to 'de-individualize' themselves and become more a group member who follows the group norms instead of their own norms," he said.

'Respect and trust'

The English Football Association, meanwhile, has taken an innovative approach to stopping violence against match officials by introducing the "Respect" program at grassroots level, using online videos to promote "effective dialogue" with players

"It should be noted that player behavior in the Premier League has increased greatly in recent years," says Phil Dorward, head of public relations for the EPL and the body governing its match officials.

"In the past three seasons bookings for dissent have decreased by half. This has been the result of a lot of dialogue between all key parties."

European soccer's ruling body UEFA also has its own Respect program, spearheaded by former Netherlands international Clarence Seedorf and ex-leading referee Pierluigi Collina.

"There are a lot of meanings for respect on and off the field of play," Collina said at last year's launch. "Respect and trust between players and referees -- which makes the referee's job easier -- or respect for the players from the fans.

"Respect is the only way to get a bright future for football."

Giving up the whistle

World football's governing body is well aware of the potentially devastating consequences of alienating referees from the game at grassroots level.

"For anyone who has ever played a game at whatever level, it is always more frustrating to play without a referee," Massimo Busacca, the head of FIFA's referees department, told CNN.

"If you behave badly and in a threatening manner, this ruins the enjoyment for others, and could even lead people to quit the game."

That has been the consequence of Giner's early encounter with violence in European football.

"Refereeing was his dream," says his father. "For now, he will give up the whistle."

Teen charged with homicide by assault in death of soccer referee

(by Pat Reavy 5-8-13)

A 17-year-old accused of punching a soccer referee, causing his death, was charged with homicide by assault, a third-degree felony, in juvenile court Wednesday.

But Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill said his office will seek to have Jose Domingo Teran, of Salt Lake City, certified as an adult.

Ricardo Portillo, 46, was refereeing a youth soccer match at Eisenhower Junior High School, 4351 S. Redwood Road, on April 27 when he called a foul against Teran, a 17-year-old goalie. After issuing the goalie a yellow card, the teen responded by punching Portillo "in the rear jaw area with a closed fist," according to court documents.

Witnesses told police Portillo was struck in the face as he was writing notes about the yellow card he had just issued.

Doctors at Intermountain Medical Center later told investigators that Portillo suffered a traumatic brain injury, court records state.

Portillo remained in a coma for a week before he died. An autopsy determined he died "as a result of injuries related to the blow to his head," according to court records.

Gill said the case does not rise to the level of aggravated murder or manslaughter. But a charge of homicide by assault can be filed when a person "causes the death of another while intentionally or knowingly" trying to injure another person.

Teran will turn 18 in October. He was being held in juvenile detention Wednesday on $100,000 bail. An initial appearance in juvenile court is scheduled for Wednesday afternoon.

The teen will now go through a certification hearing in juvenile court to determine if he will be moved into the adult system. Part of that process will include looking into Teran's delinquency history, educational history and a psychological evaluation.

Some of the reasons the district attorney's office is seeking adult certification is because the likelihood of rehabilitation "is minimal," the juvenile is of "sufficient maturity," and "the nature of the offenses requires isolation of the juvenile beyond what is afforded by juvenile facilities," according to court documents.

Soccer ref hospitalized after punch during game dies

( 5-4-13)

A soccer referee who was punched in the face after a giving a teen player a yellow card has passed away as a result of his injuries.

The attack happened April 27 on a soccer field behind Eisenhower Junior High School, 4351 S. Redwood Road. The 17-year-old player attacked ref Ricardo Portillo, punching him in the face after getting the yellow card for shoving another player. It was the teen's first game with the team.

At first, paramedics believed Portillo's injuries were minor because he did not show any sign of external injuries.

The responding officer found Portillo "laying on the ground in a fetal position, in the goalie box of the middle (of the) soccer field," according to a report obtained through a freedom of information request.

He complained of nausea, pain in his face and back and there was blood in his saliva. He was later transported to a hospital where his condition worsened, and eventually Protillo was in critical condition, suffering from extreme swelling of the brain, blood loss and bleeding around the blood vessels in one area of his brain.

Portillo died at the hospital at 9:33 p.m. Saturday.

The teen left the field after the attack but was later arrested. He was booked into juvenile detention Monday for investigation of aggravated assault. He remained in detention Saturday after police filed an extension to hold him before potential charges are considered early next week.

The Associated Press reported Friday that the league will be hiring off-duty police officers as security for future games, and the team the 17-year-old assailant played for has been expelled.

It is unknown how the death will factor in potential charges against the player.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Utah soccer league to hire security

( 5-3-13)

The Utah soccer league that saw one of its referees punched by a teen player and sent into a coma will continue holding games but with security present, its president said Friday.

Mario Vasquez said he's still in shock about what happened last Saturday to his friend Ricardo Portillo, 46.

He said La Liga Continental de Futbol will continue playing games for children ages 4 to 17 each Saturday at a middle-school field in a Salt Lake City suburb. But he said off-duty police officers watching over things.

Vasquez said the league was created in 2009 to create a family-friendly place where the Hispanic community could come together, have fun and play soccer.

Police say a 17-year-old player in the league punched Portillo after the man called a foul on him and issued him a yellow card. The teen has been booked into juvenile detention on suspicion of aggravated assault. Those charges could be amplified if Portillo dies.

The teen's name is being withheld because he's a minor.

Portillo is in a coma at the Intermountain Medical Center in the Salt Lake City suburb of Murray. He has swelling in his brain and remains in critical condition, Dr. Shawn Smith said at a news conference Thursday.

Portillo's oldest daughter, 26-year-old Johana Portillo, said Thursday other players have attacked her father before, even breaking his ribs and one of his legs.

But Vasquez said those incidents didn't happen in his league, and that the league never seen anything this violent before.

Johanna Portillo wasn't at the Saturday game in the Salt Lake City suburb of Taylorsville, but she said she's been told by witnesses and detectives that the player hit her father in the side of the head after Portillo issued the yellow card.

"When he was writing down his notes, he just came out of nowhere and punched him,'' she said.

His friends who were there told her Ricardo Portillo seemed fine at first, but then asked to be held because he felt dizzy. They sat him down and he started vomiting blood, triggering his friend to call an ambulance.

Johanna Portillo said her father's passion is soccer, and he's been a referee in the recreational league for eight years. Five years ago, a player upset with a call broke his ribs. A few years before that, a player broke his leg, she said. Other referees have been hurt, too.

His daughters begged him to stop refereeing - his second job - but he continued because he loved soccer.

"It was his passion,'' she said. "We could not tell him no.''


(comment by the cup)

This makes me sick, I pray this guy pulls through.