RSL Cup blog taking a long much needed break

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

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

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

Hopefully you fare better.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Monday, May 23, 2016

Wannabe MLS Hooligans Are Adopting The Worst Of Soccer Culture

(by Justin Block 5-23-16)

Before the New York Red Bulls and NYCFC match kicked off at Yankee Stadium on Saturday, two incidents between rival fans sparked police involvement. First, seen in the video above captured by Bleacher Report UK’s Garry Hayes, an NYCFC fan and a Red Bulls fan exchanged missing punches while the two sides taunted each other.

Elsewhere outside of Yankee Stadium, in a separate incident, the tension between fan groups continued. When Red Bulls supporters arrived en masse to Yankee Stadium before kickoff, they had a standoff against NYCFC fans, hurling insults and bottles. They made a scene, and frankly, the whole thing looked pretty lame.

So what’s the beef here? Why are these two groups of fans fighting? It can’t be over a May 2015 noise complaint against NYCFC fans on the PATH train, right?

As it stands, the rivalry is based on where the two teams play more than anything. Despite having “New York” in their name, the New York Red Bulls actually play in the Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey. NYCFC, on the other hand, make a point to display their pride in making New York City their home, temporarily playing in Yankee Stadium as they mine New York City’s boroughs for land to build a soccer stadium on. It’s not dissimilar to how the NFL’s New York Jets and Giants share MetLife stadium in the swamps of New Jersey’s Meadowlands.

Geographically, that’s set up the “Hudson Derby” beef between fan bases: NYCFC actually plays in New York City and its fans don’t let Red Bulls fans forget that. Red Bulls fans give NYCFC fans hell for playing their soccer on top of a baseball field and for signing aging European stars — a transfer tactic MLS fans want to see less of.

None of these gripes, however, are authentic or deeply rooted in any way. They’re all superficial, stemming from how the two clubs market the supposed “rivalry.” Saturday’s match followed a week of MLS and club marketing efforts known as “Rivalry Week.” Inadvertently, MLS may have unintentionally incited these incidents by playing up a non-rivalry rivalry. Essentially, the two divisions of New York soccer fans have been fed a narrative to get them psyched up for the match. And with NYCFC still developing their own fan culture in their second season of play, it’s easy bait for fans to take.

And they’ve bit hard. Saturday’s events aren’t the first time the two sides have gone after each other. In August 2015, AP soccer writer Rob Harris captured footage of NYCFC fans and Red Bulls fans fighting and throwing signs at each other outside of a Red Bulls’ supporters bar in Newark, New Jersey. The pre-game altercation was eventually broken up by a few police sirens.

All of this is to say: There is no New York soccer rivalry. The two teams’ wannabe hooligans or “Ultras” are misguided, lame, dangerous and, most of all, seriously unoriginal.

The way the fans have gone about expressing their hostilities is ripped straight from European soccer’s hooligan fan culture, specifically England’s. In Harris’ video, fans can be heard chanting “WHO ARE YA?” at each other in English accents. In Hayes’ tweet, he drew a parallel between England’s deadly hooligans in the ‘80s and what happened on Saturday. These aren’t good looks for either team, and should the violence persist, MLS as a whole, either

Soccer hooliganism is still going strong in European countries like Turkey, where the violence is threatening their top-flight league’s existence, much like England’s hooligans in the ‘80s. During that time, fan violence in England was so widespread that many people were killed or seriously injured; attendance began to drop as people steered away from the hateful cauldrons around city stadiums. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher even set up a “war cabinet” to combat hooligans and save English soccer from itself. It worked, and hooliganism has faded in England while the Premier League has risen to the top of international sport.

But do NYCFC and Red Bulls supporter groups want to go down that path? Their behavior looks especially bad compared to how fans act during MLS’ premier rivalry between the Portland Timber and Seattle Sounders. Those two cities have a longstanding rivalry dating back to the ‘70s, giving each fan base’s culture a historical anchor point and authenticity. Moreover, each team’s supporters are simply spirited, not violent. And because of that, MLS loves to point to their derby match as their best overall product.

Although I didn’t personally see either of Saturday’s brawls, I attended the match and came away impressed with the in-game atmosphere. When I spoke to an NYCFC rep during the match, they noted that although the turned-up atmosphere gave it that rivalry feel, the matchup couldn’t possibly be a rivalry, yet — NYCFC is 0-4 against the Red Bulls, scoring an aggregate of four goals to Red Bulls’ 17. Especially in the wake of NYCFC’s 7-0 home defeat on Saturday, they probably need to beat the Red Bulls first before their fans can stake a fierce, competitive claim as their rivals. Just as it is with the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets, there’s no real competitive rivalry if the teams aren’t good.

Standing outside of the stadium post-match, an NYCFC fan and a Red Bulls supporter began bantering at each other. The NYCFC fan only had curses to hurl. The Red Bulls fan had the last word: “You lost 7-0 and we’re up 17-4 on you guys, a**hole.”

Given the passion and excitement these fans have invested into their clubs, a true rivalry is indeed brewing in New York professional soccer. But to get there, fans need to kick-out wannabe English hooliganism, take in a few decently competitive matches and organically let the rivalry unfold.

Stop forcing it, fans.


Saturday, May 21, 2016

Monday, May 16, 2016

Olde Tyme Association Football

Pablo Mastroeni sporting an olde tyme stache.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

More photos of the new BMO Field in Toronto

Funny how much difference a roof will make.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Inside the "off-the-charts exciting" rise of FC Cincinnati

(by Andrew King 5-13-16)

On Saturday, leaders of a Cincinnati pro sports franchise are hoping to draw 25,000 fans to their stadium for an afternoon matinee.

But it won't be to watch Major League Baseball’s Cincinnati Reds, who play later that night. Instead, hordes of fans are expected to make their way to the University of Cincinnati’s Nippert Stadium, where FC Cincinnati of the United Soccer League play just their fourth home game in franchise history.

And while 25,000 fans would eclipse Cincinnati’s own regular-season USL record – they sold 20,497 tickets for their second home game – the club’s sights are set even higher than fitting a few thousand more people into their building.

When the ownership group led by CEO Carl Lindner III announced that FC Cincinnati would be joining the USL for the 2016 season, they seemed armed with all the tools to succeed.

Lindner is a co-CEO at American Financial Group, while his father – Carl Lindner Jr. – was a part owner of the Reds and has appeared on Forbes magazine’s list of the world's richest people.
Jeff Berding was named president and general manager, and brought 19 years of experience, including stints with the Cincinnati Bengals and as a member of the Cincinnati City Council.

The club hired former US national team and MLS midfielder John Harkes to his first head coaching job and gave him the freedom to build a team that would play attractive soccer in the midst of a market that contains 50,000 youth soccer players.

That core of experience influenced the club from day one.

“Everything we do, I think about, ‘How would we want to do it with the Bengals?’” Berding said. “John thinks about, ‘How would we do it with D.C. United or with the men’s national team?’”
But FC Cincinnati were fighting history.

Teams have been failing in the city since the Cincinnati Comets played in the American Soccer League in 1972. The Comets folded in 1975 and the Cincinnati Kids, partially owned by baseball legend Pete Rose, lasted just two years in the Major Indoor Soccer League.

After 13 years, the Cincinnati Cheetahs of the United States Interregional Soccer League managed to last four seasons and were followed by the Cincinnati Silverbacks, Riverhawks, Excite, Kings, 1790 Cincinnati Express, the Saints and the Dutch Lions.

Prospective fans were aware of those failures and at first, it affected excitement.

“There have been a lot of teams to go through here over the years,” said fan and University of Cincinnati graduate Jared Handra. “A lot of great owners have tried to bring soccer here and haven’t been able to make it work. So at first, we were all like, ‘Well, here comes another one. Let’s see if it sticks.’”

Lindner says he knew it would “stick” all along, provided the ownership group and team leadership could capitalize on a Cincinnati market that Berding says has “tremendous upside.”

“I’ve kind of been keeping my eye on professional soccer for a while,” Lindner said. “With the great sports town that Cincinnati is and the loyal fanbase that exists here for other sports, I think there’s been a great, pent-up demand by all those youths over the last 30 years to have someone to root for and get behind and have fun with.”

So Berding plunged forward in Cincinnati, bringing the decision-making from the NFL’s Bengals into the soccer world and using his knowledge of the Cincinnati market.

“In Cincinnati, if you think about everyone’s favorite sports teams, they have certain things in common,” he said. “All their games are on radio and TV, so all our games are on radio and TV … We have a stadium that people would associate with big-time sports … All of that was critical for the market to appreciate that we’re doing this at a high level.”

And the market noticed.

Before their first match, the club had sold more than 4,000 season tickets. By kickoff of their first-ever home game on April 9, 14,600 people had showed up to watch the match. By that point, Handra had become one of the leaders of Die Innenstadt, a supporters group with German flair.

The club, he said, was inescapable within the city.

“They’re just there,” Handra said. “You see it everywhere. I don’t know if it comes down to marketing or the brand. But you just see it everywhere. You can’t get away from it, and that’s something that’s never really been done here, I don’t think.”

In their first three matches, the club is averaging about 15,000 fans, and team leadership admitted FC Cincinnati’s debut season has been better than they could have imagined.

“We’re having a higher level of success sooner than we anticipated,” Berding said. “We were certainly confident that the soccer market in Cincinnati is strong, but we wouldn’t have predicted averaging 15,000 people through three home games. The Cincinnati area has responded in a tremendous manner.”

Even the players can’t believe what has transpired in the stands beyond the pitch.

Omar Cummings signed with the club in the offseason, one of several MLS veterans to do so, and was recovering from injury when the season began.

“Being in the stands, actually watching the game and seeing the fans, I got more of a fan perspective,” he said. “It was great. It was phenomenal.”

Cummings, who was an all-Big East forward with the University of Cincinnati, said he’s been surprised by the entire situation. When he watched from the stands as the franchise scored its first goal at home, he said it was his favorite moment so far.

“The stadium just erupted,” he said. “To feel that energy, to feel that roar, everyone had a blast.”
Despite dominating USL headlines and attendance numbers, FC Cincinnati leaders aren’t counting their achievements. Their sights have been set high since the franchise formed.

Berding says he believes the team’s early success is sustainable. To facilitate that, the team has increased in-stadium vendors by 50 percent, ordered more merchandise for game-day sales, opened every concession stand in Nippert and is furiously hiring ticket sales representatives to handle demand.

They even need more Verizon hotspots to connect all the credit card transactions happening within the stadium.

“We have problems, but they’re good problems to have,” he said.

But since the very beginning of the franchise, Berding and ownership have made it clear that they’ve got MLS aspirations on their minds. While the club is less MLS-focused in the midst of the current season and is “thrilled” to be in the USL, acknowledging those aspirations was an important message to potential fans and those interested in the franchise.

“When we launched in August, the greater Cincinnati market – the bus community, the news writers, the fans, the civic leaders – they wouldn’t have a whole lot of familiarity with the USL, but I think most people generally know about MLS,” Berding said. “We felt it was important to put it out there that the USL is an aspirational league, and Cincinnati views ourselves as a big league town … We had to let people know that long-term, we would have the goal to be like an Orlando City and have an opportunity to be promoted. People had to understand where we fit and what our goals were.”

Berding believes in installing a professional atmosphere from top to bottom.

That mentality made Harkes’ appointment crucial. Berding says he believes in order to capitalize on the Cincinnati market – its massive group of youth soccer players in particular – he’ll need to give them an enjoyable product.

“We certainly hired a coach that has maybe an unrivaled network in US soccer and parts of Europe,” Berding said. “When we hired [Harkes], we felt he would be a very effective recruiter, very successful at identifying talented players to play an entertaining brand of soccer. We wanted to be a pressing team. We wanted to be a team that plays possession with a purpose and is scoring a lot of goals.”

Cummings said the team has the ambition to be “one of the top teams” in USL in just its first season. And while it’s early, FC Cincinnati is just three points off the best record in the league, despite playing only eight competitive games together.

“This club has been trying to do things right,” Cummings said. “It’s as professional as I’ve seen. They’re not going to get everything right from the get-go, especially being a new club. But I’ve been impressed with everything they’re doing so far … If they’re not getting stuff right and players say, ‘I think we could do things better,’ they try to improve upon it.”

Despite acknowledging those aspirations, FC Cincinnati is taking the moment to enjoy the success that’s surprised even their leaders.

And while plans for an academy system are on the horizon and a 15-year lease at Nippert Stadium might cast doubts on short-term MLS viability, no one can rain on FC Cincinnati’s parade.

“It’s off-the-charts exciting for me and my whole family and all of our partners,” Lindner said. “We’re having a heck of a lot of fun and I think in life, that’s as important as business success. It’s about passion and enjoying what you’re doing.

“How fun is it to bring something from the ground up and see it flourish?”


Saturday, May 7, 2016

Toronto FC marvel at improved BMO Field: “Feels like a whole new stadium”

( 5-6-16)

After a grueling two months on the road, Toronto FC can finally look forward to kicking off in front of their own fans with BMO Field set to host FC Dallas on Saturday night (7:30 pm ET, TSN4 in Canada, MLS Live in US).

Eight straight games away to start the season was trying, but now TFC have a run of four home matches before returning to the road. The reason for that lengthy journey? The completion of Phase II of extensive renovations to the stadium, including a trio of roofs covering each stand.

“It feels like a whole new stadium,” said club captain Michael Bradley from the ground on Thursday. “When you walk out there now, the whole feel and perspective is entirely different. It sets in that we’re getting ready to play a game here which is something that we’ve all really been waiting for. We’re excited to get out there on Saturday with our fans supporting us.”

“It’s impressive,” remarked TFC head coach Greg Vanney. “When you walk out the tunnel, it’s just this wall of red. With the addition of the roof, it looks like such a proper stadium.”

“Keeping the sound in the building,” the coach added, “[is] going to be amazing. The crowd comes and they make so much noise, they’re banging the drums and they’re singing. Now it’s going to reverberate back into the stands. I can’t wait to get everybody in here and see what it looks like, and hopefully put on a good show.”

“[The roof] is only going to make it louder,” said midfielder Jonathan Osorio. “I don’t know how loud, but I’m excited [to find out].”

Having sampled nearly every other ground in MLS, Osorio rates the new BMO Field highly. “For me, this definitely makes the top three; arguably, the best. It’s beautiful. There’s a lot of nice stadiums: I really like Kansas City, what they’ve established there. Red Bull Arena is really nice. But I like this one better.

“It’s amazing what they’ve done to it,” smiled the Canadian international. “The roof looks amazing; all the renovations are world-class. This is a big step for the club.”

“It’s been a while since we played here,” added Bradley. “Everybody should be excited about us coming back – ourselves, our fans, people in the city, everybody.  But obviously, it’s the first home game of 17. No matter what happens, there’s still a lot more work to be done.

“The focus now is about making this place somewhere that opposing teams come and know they’re in for a game where it will be hard to get points…In terms of your stadium, your support, the way you play; these things all come together,” explained Bradley.

“And it’s important for us to make sure we take advantage of our good start and really make it add up.”


Sunday, May 1, 2016