Posts Tagged ‘Soccer’

MLS Predictions: Come October, We’ll See How Badly I’ve Done

March 15, 2011

While everybody’s filling out NCAA Tournament brackets (having worked in college athletics, I can’t bring myself to follow NCAA Division I men’s basketball anymore — doing so makes me feel dirty. Women’s college basketball and Division II and III men’s are another story, since they don’t have the same reek of exploitation), here’s my prediction for how the 2011 Major League Soccer standings will look by season’s end.

The Major League Soccer logo.I’ve decided to list it in a single-table format rather than breaking it down by conference. The top ten will most likely be the playoff teams, unless the Eastern Conference turns out to suck vis-á-vis the West even worse than anybody thinks right now. I won’t guess point totals, other than to say I think things will be very, very tight, especially from fifth to fifteenth place. There will be a lot of teams that will miss the postseason by just a couple of points.

  1. Los Angeles Galaxy
  2. FC Dallas
  3. New York Red Bulls
  4. Real Salt Lake
  5. Seattle Sounders FC
  6. Colorado Rapids
  7. Columbus Crew
  8. San Jose Earthquakes
  9. Sporting Kansas City SC
  10. Philadelphia Union
  11. D.C. United
  12. Chicago Fire
  13. Portland Timbers
  14. CD Chivas USA
  15. Toronto FC
  16. Houston Dynamo
  17. Vancouver Whitecaps FC
  18. New England Revolution
The Hindenburg crashes and burns.

Revs supporters, this is what you can look forward to — provided everything goes well.

One of the things that makes MLS predictions tough is that, as a whole, the league tends to improve quite a bit with each passing year. One team looks to be much improved, but you don’t know whether that’s enough compared to everyone else to make all that much of a difference. This is why I’ll end up saying Chicago and Chivas, for example, will be better than last year, but I still have them winding up 12th and 14th, respectively.

My ordering of teams from about #6 to #15 is basically a crapshoot. Clearly, I think Portland will be the better of the two expansion teams this year. Vancouver seems to be setting itself up to be a heck of a team in a couple of years, but this year will likely be necessary collateral damage from their long term plans. The only other two I see being truly bad are Houston and New England. Frankly, New England will have a season on par with D.C. United’s disaster last year or the Pink Cows’ epic 2009 adventure through the bowels of the standings.

Smashed can of Red Bull.

I'd say they have a shot at the Supporters' Shield or MLS Cup if it weren't for the fact the universe hates them even more than Philly fans do.

Conversely, L.A., Dallas and New York will be the big three this year, with Seattle and Salt Lake knocking on their door. The way things stand right now, the Galaxy have to be the favorites (as much as I hate to say it) with Dallas (as much as I hate to say it) and the Soft Drink Commercials (as much as I hate to say it) giving them a run for their money. Meanwhile, RSL and Seattle will be looking to crack that top tier (and could very well do it, but so far I’m viewing the first three mentioned as the safer picks). So, yes, I’m picking the three teams I despise the most to finish one-two-three.

I wasn’t sure where exactly to put Colorado, as they tend to be a very hot-and-cold team, so I gave them the benefit of the doubt from being the reigning MLS Cup champions and put them sixth. If they do finish that high, it’ll probably be in part because they totally ignore the CONCACAF Champions League and crash out of the group stage in totally embarrassing fashion to MLS (I clearly don’t think the Rapids’ MLS Cup win in 2010 is the same as RSL’s surprise win in 2009: a harbinger of the rise of one of the league’s — and the continent’s — great teams).

I’m going a little out on a limb by thinking Columbus has reloaded in the off-season more than begun a rebuilding process. I saw San Jose play at Philadelphia last year, and they frankly impressed the heck out of me. The ‘Quakes are a very well-coached, well-disciplined team that plays very well together and doesn’t seem to need a lot of big star power. I was tempted to flip-flop their place with that of Colorado; if there’s a “sleeper pick” for 2011, it’s probably San Jose. KC always seems to be on the edge of being a fairly good team, and it’s a total guess of mine in putting them ninth.

D.C., Philadelphia, Chicago and Chivas will all be significantly improved over last year, but whether or not that’s good enough to get playoff spots is anybody’s guess. I will say I wouldn’t be surprised if a few or even all of them manage to crack the top ten by season’s end. I went with Philly at the top of that group, not out of personal bias, but rather out of the fact that when you look at the numbers from last year, they probably would have been a strong contender for a playoff spot if only they’d had a decent goalie. As long as Faryd Mondragón stays healthy, that problem’s been solved. If they’d had a decent goalie and held the red card/defensive brain farts to a minimum, they probably would have been in the playoffs as an expansion team last year. A year of experience for this young team and a few more acquisitions look like they’ll help there, too.

Toronto, which has spent every previous off-season retooling its staff and roster to the extent that it’s like getting an expansion team all over again, will see more of the same this year as it once again spent the off-season retooling its staff and roster to the extent that it’s like getting an expansion team all over again. At least this Toronto might-as-well-be-an-expansion team will be a little better than some of the others they’ve had, but it won’t make a difference against an equally improved league.

Advertisements

El Pescadito Returns to Pennsylvania

February 28, 2011

Last week, the Philadelphia Union signed 31 year-old Guatemalan international forward Carlos Ruiz, a.k.a. “El Pescadito” (“the little fish” in Spanish), throwing a confusing curveball to Philadelphia sports fans. My guess is we’ll be hearing the nickname more around here, since the Phillies already have a Central American player named Carlos Ruiz on their roster (he’s their catcher, hails from Panama, and is nicknamed “Chooch,” which I’m guessing we’ll be hearing a lot more around here now as well).

The Philadelphia Union logo.While the Guatemalan, soccer-playing Ruiz has competed all over the world and is well known in his homeland as the country’s all-time leading goal scorer in international competition and is well known among Major League Soccer fans in this country from his days with the L.A. Galaxy and FC Dallas, what people might not know is that he’s played in Pennsylvania before — in central Pa., particularly.

Way back in 2000, when he was a promising 20 year-old playing professionally for Municipal in Guatemala and a member of the country’s U-23 national team, the North American qualifying tournament for the Summer Olympics was held, bizarrely, in Hershey, Pennsylvania, of all places.

Unlike the World Cup, the Olympics are contested by countries’ U-23 teams, rather than the full national teams. I was actually lucky enough to have met Ruiz back then, as each of the colleges and universities near Hershey basically adopted one of the national teams and hosted all of their training sessions. I was in charge of athletic communications for the school that got Guatemala, and I got to work with them quite a bit in coordinating local media coverage.

HersheyPark Stadium

The scene of the 2000 Olympic qualifiers.

That wasn’t an easy task, as the head coach was a little more than slightly paranoid about anyone from the other teams turning on the local TV news and seeing anything that might potentially give away the tiniest detail about their training sessions and game strategies. For the first day or two, they were more like the Brigadoon national team, as they would mysteriously vanish when cameras approached, and then magically reappear when they retreated. Eventually, we got things sorted out.

On the whole, though, it was a great experience, especially since at the time I was still in my first year out of college and was the same age as nearly all of the players on the team. Carlos Ruiz certainly stood out back then, but I never would have guessed that in another two years he would jump from Municipal to the Los Angeles Galaxy and end up as the MLS Most Valuable Player his first year in the league, nor would I have guessed at the time that he would eventually become Guatemala’s all-time leading scorer in international competition.

His signing now is definitely a good pickup for the Union. After an offseason largely spent finding ways to plug up the obvious defensive holes from their inaugural season, bringing in Ruiz fills another big need, which is taking some opposing defensive pressure off Sebastien Le Toux and Danny Mwanga. Even if he isn’t quite at the same level as a goal scorer he was when he played for L.A., he’ll be a helpful presence in relieving pressure. Also, having Le Toux take corner kicks, which seemed kind of strange for much of last year when he was the team’s only reliable scorer, would make more sense now with Ruiz on the field at the same time and Mwanga with a year of pro experience under his belt.

Besides, I’m of the opinion that he still has quite a few productive years left. While he struggled to score in the first half of the 2010-11 Greek Super League season for Aris Thessaloniki, somebody doesn’t score three goals in a handful of Europa League games over that same span by being washed up. Context is certainly going to be key for Ruiz’s scoring opportunities, and potentially having Le Toux and Mwanga on the field at the same time will definitely create opportunities for him.

The Clash of the Titans

February 9, 2011

The world’s greatest and most eagerly anticipated sporting event, easily eclipsing the combined magnitudes of the Super Bowl, the Olympics, the World Cup, and the National Tractor Pulling Championships in Bowling Green, Ohio, occurred today.

The flag of Liechtenstein.

"We are the champions, We are the champions of the world('s tax shelters)!"

Yes, the Clash of the Titans between international soccer powerhouses Liechtenstein (61.7 sq. mi., pop. 35,000) and San Marino (24 sq. mi., pop. 31,451) was today, and Gott, Fürst und Vaterland triumphed over Libertas (in other words, Liechtenstein beat San Marino 1-0 on the road with a 57th minute goal).

Quake, ye mighty of the Earth, for the mice have awoken and roared, and somewhere Charlie Connelly is smiling. Today, San Marino, tomorrow, the world! Or at least Malta.

Meet the Host of the 2022 World Cup

December 2, 2010

From the U.S. Department of State:

“Qatar does not allow individuals with HIV/AIDS to enter the country . . . Qatari authorities have confiscated the passports of U.S. citizens who acquired Qatari citizenship . . .  In several cases, Qatari authorities informed U.S. citizens that their U.S. citizenship had been revoked. However, foreign governments have no authority to revoke the citizenship of a U.S. citizen . . . The Embassy strongly encourages U.S. citizens to avoid large crowds and demonstrations whenever possible . . . Local and third-country-national young men have been known to verbally and physically harass unaccompanied, expatriate women . . . Qatari police have arrested U.S. citizens suspected of or witness to a crime, including traffic accidents involving injuries to pedestrians or the occupants of other cars, traffic arguments, slander, and a variety of lesser offenses . . . Insulting someone in public is considered a punishable offense . . . Proselytizing is illegal in Qatar . . . Homosexual activity is considered to be a criminal offense, and those convicted may be sentenced to lashings, a prison sentence, and/or deportation.”

Kansas City Wizards Rebrand as “Eastern Conference Skinny Puppy”

November 19, 2010
The Kansas City Wizards' latest former logo.

Out with the newest old...

The Kansas City Wizards of Major League Soccer announced Wednesday that the organization is changing its name for the third time and its logo for the fourth. One of the original MLS clubs from the league’s first season in 1996, the team was initially known as the “Kansas City Wiz” (insert urination-based joke of your choice here), and their logo was the following vomit-inspired motley:

The old Kansas City Wiz logo.

Eew.

The name, which nobody liked, didn’t last long, and the organization eased on down the road to its first re-branding after just one season, changing the name to “Wizards” and exchanging a goofy musical theater reference for a goofy book/movie reference. However, for the next decade, the Wizards’ logo was not the sort-of-tolerable one at the top of this post. Instead, it retained the hideous particolored vibe of the old Wiz logo:

The older old Kansas City Wizards' logo.

Still Eew.

Finally, in 2007, the club changed its logo yet again and addressed a minor eleven-year oversight by including the city’s name for the first time. Also, the color scheme was at last rendered less upchucky.

This brings us to Wednesday, when the club unveiled its new name and logo in a 17+ minute speech by the team’s president, who managed to say next to nothing that didn’t fall into the “meaningless corporate B.S.” category over a tremendous amount of time.

At any rate, the new logo for the prosaicly renamed “Sporting Kansas City SC” is the following:

The new "Sporting Kansas City SC" logo.

Meh.

Others have already pointed out the new logo’s uncanny resemblance the Major League Soccer Eastern Conference logo:

The Major League Soccer Eastern Conference log.

Similar, huh?

There’s one other eerie resemblance in the new Sporting Kansas City SC logo nobody seems to have noticed yet. Take a look at the “SC” in the new KC logo. Now take a look at the following logo for the seminal electro-industrial band Skinny Puppy:

The Skinny Puppy logo.

The other weird similarity in KC's new logo.

I want to know who in the Sporting/Wizards organization is into Canadian electronic-industrial thrash music. It would be incredibly funny if, next year, Kansas City’s team was greeted on every road trip by the sound of “Convulsion” off Too Dark Park whenever it took the field for warmups, although I’m not sure how many people would get the joke.

Philadelphia-New York, the USA’s Answer to Millwall-West Ham

October 18, 2010

If there is any place in the United States most likely to spawn legions of angry, bitter, European-style soccer hooligans ripped to the gills on Yuengling and setting fire to stuff just for the hell of it, it’s probably Philadelphia.

— Me, almost three years ago (then, in the comment section to that post, some wag humorously predicted that Philly would someday be the site of the first MLS fan fatality).

The time is right to trot out that blast from the past after yesterday’s final Philadelphia Union home game of the club’s inaugural 2010 Major League Soccer season, which took the form of a 2-1 win over the stupidest soda commercial of all time New York Pink Cows Red Bulls.

The reason it’s fitting to bring up is because of the security measures taken by the Union’s management for that game, which were unprecedented in the entire history of sports in Philadelphia. Here’s the Philadelphia Inquirer:

The roughly 400 New York Red Bulls fans who made the trek to PPL Park on Saturday were herded like cattle into the visitors’ section . . . Once they were in, they were there to stay – surrounded and confined in that area by security for the duration . . . They had their own concession stands, their own restrooms, their own smoking area. “These fans hate each other,” noted one Union security guard.

Right now, Philadelphia and New York probably share the most intense — and ugliest — soccer rivalry in the United States, and probably one of the craziest in all sports in the U.S. (although if I had to guess, I’d say it will probably be superseded by Seattle and Portland next year once the Timbers begin playing in MLS).

How the bad blood between Philly and New York escalated so quickly to the point that the Philadelphia Union felt the need to add extra security and keep the entire contingent of RBNY supporters groups physically separated from the rest of the stadium to such an extent that they’d even have segregated concession stands and bathrooms is an interesting story.

Millwall fans in their natural environment, surrounded by cops in riot gear.

Millwall fans in their natural environment, surrounded by cops. From guardian.co.uk.

Long before the Philadelphia Union existed, and well before MLS even announced in February 2008 that the city would get an expansion team, a group of soccer fans from the Philadelphia area decided that if the region was ever to get a local team for them to cheer on, they would have to first demonstrate that a robust fan culture was already in place. So, they created a supporters’ group, the Sons of Ben (SOBs for short, with typical Philly grace), for a team that didn’t even exist and wasn’t even on the drawing board yet. These are the magnificently crazy people who today fill up the entire River End of PPL Park in Chester. One of their regular activities in those early, pre-Union days was heading up to the Meadowlands en masse, where the Red Bulls played back then, and spending the entire game taunting the home team and its fans.

Of course, this didn’t sit well with the long-suffering fans of New York which, despite being one of the original MLS teams that began playing 15 years ago, have yet to win a single title. No MLS Cups (the playoff championship), no Supporters Shields (awarded to the team that finishes first overall in the regular season standings — the equivalent of a league title in Europe), and no U.S. Open Cups (like the English F.A. Cup). The Red Bulls are 0 for 45 in opportunities to win a trophy — actually 0 for 46 if you count their hideous performance in the continent-wide CONCACAF Champions’ League last year. They’re practically in Chicago Cubs territory already.

Red Bull New York logo.

Someone should keep them away from the vodka.

So, it’s the New York fans who actually became the first to transform into “angry, bitter, European-style soccer hooligans,” although I doubt they’re drinking Yuengling. After years of hearing these weird Philadelphians calling themselves SOBs and pointing out that their non-existent team has won as many championships as their own has, something snapped in Red Bull Nation’s collective mind when the Philadelphia Union played New York for the first time.

As the teams played each other twice over four days in April at the Red Bulls’ home stadium (first for the MLS regular season, then for the U.S. Open Cup) New York fans threw rocks and bottles at a bus carrying Philadelphia fans and managed to shatter one of the windows. So, at the teams’ first meetings, the tension between their fans had already escalated from verbal taunting to physical violence.

Adding insult to injury, this year the Red Bulls were knocked out of the U.S. Open Cup by the USL-2 Harrisburg City Islanders, a Philadelphia Union third tier minor-league affiliate.

Fast-forward to July, when the Union hosted an international friendly match against Scotland’s Celtic F.C., and a group of people from — you guessed it — New York City, decided to light a bunch of flares in support of Celtic in PPL Park near the end of the game.

So it comes as no surprise that, given the history of violence that already exists, said the Daily News, “police and event staff littered the Red Bull area with a keen eye on anything that went beyond insults. Union president Tom Veit felt the need to keep things safe required extra vigilance.

‘”It’s necessary. We have an obligation to our fans to keep it safe and enjoyable,” Veit said. “So with that said, I’d rather have a lot of guys standing around doing nothing, than a few having to do something.”‘

While the source of the violence so far has clearly been from New York fans, I suspect the decision to partition the stadium yesterday was also probably rooted in a desire to prevent any reprisals from Philadelphia fans, who naturally had the New Yorkers heavily outnumbered.

I can only wonder what’ll happen next year.

All Your Base Are Belong to Chivas

September 4, 2010

The Google Translate Logo.Google Translate can be surprisingly amusing. Guffaw inducing, even. Don’t get me wrong; being a typical product of the United States’ educational system, I’m very grateful for its existence since English is the only language I can read in any manner vaguely resembling competently. If you don’t have the luxury of grabbing someone at your leisure who can speak a language you don’t understand and demanding that they tell you the meaning of what you’re attempting to read, a computerized translation program is really the only way you can get the basic gist of some text written in that language.

So it was that I was looking at the web site of the Mexican Premier Division’s C.D. Guadalajara the other day ahead of the team’s game here against the Philadelphia Union. The site is, naturally, in Spanish, so I had to call on Google Translate to come to the rescue. Hilarity ensued.

For starters, the club’s site had a page with helpful info for its fans about Philadelphia. While I’m sure its contents are perfectly coherent in its original language, here’s an example of what The Google’s high-tech algorithms do to it:

It is the largest historical, cultural and artistic in the United States, and in the same way an important industrial port on the Delaware River, extending to the Atlantic Ocean.

Philly extends to the Atlantic Ocean? AWESOME! I always suspected that in some dank pit in a long-forgotten government archive building exists some highly official 18th century document explicitly spelling out how New Jersey has no right to exist. What do the folks in Chivas Guadalajara’s front office know that we’ve all forgotten here? Ed Rendell needs to get on the horn with them pronto so that we can seize all of Atlantic City’s gambling revenue for ourselves!

The C.D. Guadalajara logo.

The Goats, Keepers of the Knowledge of How to Rid the World of New Jersey.

The Philadelphia primer page has nothing on Google’s mangling of the match report, though:

Because although it seems difficult to understand, the Herd did most exhibited the collective game of ball control and arrivals at goal, but it was the Union that after a defensive inattention rojiblancos, used to mark which ultimately would be defined as a victory for the MLS table.

From the start of the match, Guadalajara showed a greater collective game, which immediately paid off in opportunities in the area of the Americans, since only two minutes of the meeting, Omar Bravo hit a ball in the crescent, which tried to resolve by half scissors, however your shipment was just above the cabin of the Union.

What is this mysterious “shipment,” and when did sports teams start getting hunting cabins in Potter County? Would half of a pair of scissors be a letter opener, and did Omar Bravo use one to try to deflate the ball? How the heck is that legal? Google, please enlighten me, because right now, it seems difficult to understand.

And now, mostly just for my own amusement, here’s the first paragraph of this post after being run through Google Translate from English to Spanish and back several times over:

Google Translator can be surprisingly fun. To induce laughter. Do not get me wrong, being a typical product of the U.S. educational system, I am very grateful for their existence since English is the only language that can read in any kind of responsibility vaguely similar. If you do not have the luxury of having someone in your free time you can speak a language and demanding that they do not understand the meaning of what you say you’re trying to read a computer translation program is really the only way to ensure that basis of a text written in this language.

International understanding is truly just a click away.

Today I Announce My Candidacy for Mayor of Canada

July 28, 2010
Map of Canada

This is actually the world's largest city. 'Atta boy, "Doug!"

Here’s Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber in an interview with The Oregonian/OregonLive.com last night:

. . . we have new stadiums that have been built or being built in Portland, Kansas City, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, New York, Canada and other cities.

Yes! Vancouver, which hosted the 2012 Winder Olympics, is actually just a neighborhood in the City of Canada — kind of like Hell’s Kitchen.

Actually, that wasn’t the only thing about the article that was a little more than slightly off-kilter. If you look carefully at the URL of the web page containing the interview, you’ll notice it calls Don Garber “commissioner_doug_garber.”

Yes, I did a lot of copy editing in the past. Why do you ask?

[Not So] Great Scots!

July 20, 2010

Three New York residents apparently comprising some of the Glaswegian diaspora’s finest, described by The Philadelphia Inquirer as “boneheads,” Philadelphia Union president Tom Veit as “idiots,” and Chester Police Chief Joseph Bail as “fools” running on “brown bottle courage,” took it upon themselves to set off some flares (a big no-no in any stadium in the United States) in support of their team’s losing effort in the Philadelphia–Celtic F.C. friendly Wednesday night.

The story interested me at first because, for once, here was some stupid, loutish, alcohol-drenched behavior taking place at a Philadelphia-area sporting event that wasn’t the product of local fans. My immediate reaction was, “HOLY CRAP!!! IT WASN’T US!!!” That’s right up there with “Man Bites Dog.”

It interested me even more once I saw the video of the incident and noticed that it took place just a couple of rows directly behind where I sat during PPL Park’s previous game between the Union and San Jose just four days prior. That makes me feel safe . . .

Who wants to bet they’ll be back when the Red Bulls come to town?

Fact Check in Aisle 16

June 30, 2010

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted anything here, thanks to a combination of general life craziness and a computer hard drive crash, among other things.

The giant killers of USL-2

At any rate, in case there’s anybody out there who still reads this blog, I have a question for you. I don’t know the answer off the top of my head, and I’m too lazy to do my own research. Since the “professional era” of soccer’s U.S. Open Cup began in 1996, which is the most successful third tier team against Major League Soccer competition?

The reason I’m asking is that I have a feeling the answer may be our local team up the road — the Harrisburg City Islanders of USL-2,  founded in 2004. If you can verify that for me, your prize will be a warm fuzzy feeling for contributing to the vast body of incredibly accurate true facts found on the Internets, and you can look that statement up on the Internet to see just how true it is.

Last night Harrisburg City eliminated The World’s Stupidest Soda Commercial, a.k.a. the New York Red Bulls of MLS, in the round of 16, with a late extra time goal in the 117th minute to win 1-0 and advance to the cup’s quarterfinal round. It’s actually the third time the Islanders have made it to the U.S. Open Cup quarterfinals in the last four years, and it’s the club’s third cup win against an MLS team during that span. Other victims have included D.C. United and the New England Revolution.

There’s a write-up of last night’s game, along with video clips and pictures, from Pennlive.com’s Derek Meluzio here. The win was especially nice from a revenge standpoint because Harrisburg is now Philadelphia Union’s minor league affiliate, and New York knocked Philadelphia out of the U.S. Open Cup in the MLS qualifier rounds in the spring.

For what amounts to a semipro team that plays its home games in a park on Harrisburg’s City Island surrounded by a deck and a few portable bleachers to knock of an MLS team at all is quite an accomplishment, but for the team to do it on a regular basis over the last half decade or so is amazing. One only need look at the differences between the Islanders’ home field and Red Bull Arena to see just how much of a disparity exists between the top tier and the third tier in soccer in the U.S.

The Charleston Battery of USL-2 also beat the MLS Chicago Fire in another cup game last night, but Charleston only moved down to the third tier this year after spending its whole existence in the second division before now. Other lower-tier teams, like the Rochester Rhinos, have also been historically successful against MLS teams in the U.S. Open Cup, but Rochester, like Charleston, has always played in the second tier, not the third tier.


%d bloggers like this: