Thursday, April 28, 2011

Progress In MLS? Where?

MLS woke up to the same new world on Thursday in more ways than one.

Real Salt Lake was unable to announce the arrival of Major League Soccer on Wednesday night, simply because it hasn't arrived. Monterrey saw to that, and claimed CONCACAF's spot in the FIFA Club World Cup.

Mexico > MLS.

Nothing new there.

Also, the league announced that New York will participate in a four-team friendly tournament, pitting the MLS side against Arsenal, Paris Saint-Germain and Boca Juniors. New York won't play against the South American side but will play the two European teams.

It's still all about the spectacle in MLS. Sure, there are better teams now than there have been in recent years. Even though they lost the CCL final, RSL could go down as a power and one of the top teams in league history. New York and Los Angeles are stacked and there is a lot younger, better talent in this league than before with the likes of Juan Agudelo, Teal Bunbury, Fredy Montero, etc.

But for MLS, the summer friendly slate is top priority. Who MLS teams play against matters to the league, when really, it should not.

We've already seen a steady stream of friendlies that have been announced: Manchester United will play Seattle, Chicago and New England; Vancouver will play Manchester City; Everton will visit DC United; Portland will play Ajax; and the LA Galaxy will play at least one high-profile friendly match (my money's on LA-Real Madrid).

What does the league gain from all these high-profile friendlies? Revenue... that's the main thing; then there's the publicity as supporters from back in Europe will watch their team meet up against an MLS rival; and of course some of these high-profile opponents could force their highlights and match reports onto TV and into print, and that's always nice, right?

But it doesn't gain anything tangible that can be used towards helping progress the league.

That Real Salt Lake lost the CCL final is not just a reflection on the team and how it failed to put the series away but on the league and how it has not arrived yet, how there is still a lot of progress to be made.

Glamour over substance in MLS?

Nothing new there.

Crushing Blow

The more things change, the more they don't progress.

MLS was supposed to finally have announced to the region, the world, anyone who would listen, that MLS was a league to be reckoned with, that American soccer was here.

It's here alright, back in the same position as it ever was.

Real Salt Lake were dealt a tough blow Wednesday when Monterrey snapped RSL's impressive 37-match unbeaten streak to claim the CONCACAF Champions League title. Monterrey advance to the FIFA Club World Cup while RSL is left thinking what could have been.

This loss wasn't just a bad defeat for RSL but a crushing blow for MLS. Fans and players from across the league had come out en masse to support the club in its efforts to claim glory for the league. RSL Owner Dave Checketts had said the club was carrying a banner that read MLS on it.

But none of that was enough to get a ball past Jonathan Orozco. And none of that prevented Humberto Suazo from hitting the back of the net in first-half stoppage time.

Had a better team than Monterrey walked into RSL and left with the championship, perhaps the glaring differences between MLS and Mexico would not be as noticeable. It's tough to beat really strong teams home or away. But that it was Monterrey, who are struggling in league now and need a victory in the regular-season finale this weekend to just reach the postseason, brings to light the chasm that still exists between the two leagues even further.

RSL was the best MLS had to offer. The team has been hailed as having incredible depth, a true team mentality with no superstars, the model franchise for the 16-year-old league, a great coach worthy of taking over the U.S. national team some day, amongst other praise.

But there they were, this model franchise that does things the way they ought to be done, struggling against a Mexican side that has been mediocre for most of 2011, at Rio Tinto no less.

Everything was there for the taking, and Real Salt Lake/MLS came away with nothing.

Actually, RSL/MLS did come away with something as it was the first time since it became a real tournament with home-and-away legs since an MLS team made it this deep.

But what truly does not change is this: when RSL/MLS got there, a too-tough Mexican team stood in the way.

And that part won't change anytime soon.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Little Buddy Rankings (April 25)

As if anyone is surprised, the gap between teams is starting to show. Of course, the top three are probably the top three many had slotted that high before the season started - New York, LA, Real Salt Lake.

The first two had impressive shutout routs, over bad teams certainly but in combining for seven goals the two teams showed why there was so much hype over them before the year began. There's a chasm between the next batch of teams and then the falloff continues. Perhaps it will even out at some point but for now the top three have a wide gap and, to be honest, the gap between 1 and 2 is still vast.

1. Real Salt Lake - Quite possibly playing the biggest game any MLS team has ever played in, Wednesday vs. Monterrey in the CCL Final.

2. LA Galaxy - Is there offense back or is Portland's defense just that bad?

3. New York - If Red Bulls play like they did against San Jose, DC, they will be tough to beat.

4. Philadelphia - Took one for the team and agreed to move RSL match from last weekend to September.

5. Seattle - Life after Zakuani begins vs. Toronto on Saturday.

6. Columbus - Finally, an opponent breaks through, but even then Crew only yields one.

7. Colorado - All respect for Mullan has vanished.

8. Houston - Boswell loves scoring in Chicago - perhaps Fire should consider dealing for him.

9. FC Dallas - Ferreira's loss a blow but team's initial response was encouraging.

10. Portland - Chara, Cooper, Perlaza, Nagbe, Alhassani... the makings of a strong attack; Timbers are still crud defensively, though.

11. DC United - Unfortunate that Henry picked RFK Stadium to really figure out how to score in MLS.

12. Chivas USA - This team is better now than many give them credit for, and will continue to improve as season goes on.

13. Vancouver - Leathers, a poor man's version of Mullan.

14. New England - Feilhaber showed his value in setting up Perovic early on. Could become a star in the league very soon.

15. San Jose - No heart, no desire, no ideas... no wonder Yallop was so incensed at his team.

16. Chicago - Losing streak halted but winless streak reaches four.

17. Sporting KC - You know things are bad defensively when New England drops three on you.

18. Toronto - Scored a goal but paid stiff price for it.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Barrett On The Mark

Chad Barrett has always been an enigma. He has all the tools to be a productive forward, gets himself in good spots during games but has been plagued with poor marksmanship.

He was able to set that aside for one match at least, as he scored his first LA Galaxy goal in Sunday's 2-1 win over Chicago. The goal wasn't as much about getting the monkey off his back as it was beneficial because he helped the team earn a victory.

He talked to the media a little bit about his goal against Chicago, why he chose to celebrate the way he did and a few other things. Andrea also mentions a bet she made regarding Barrett and an EPL star. The audio is down below.

As an aside, I'm trying this embed thing here and if it doesn't work, the link to the audio is here. And I'm not a fan of the iPod driving dude, but oh well.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

RSL's Historic Draw

Real Salt Lake did the unthinkable and pulled out a 2-2 result from Monterrey.

It wasn't the result itself that was unthinkable but rather the way it went down. Javier Morales pulled a goal out of thin air, as he skirted past Jose Maria Basanta and placed the ball past Jonathan Orozco in the 89th minute.

RSL will go to Rio Tinto needing a win or a draw of 1-1 or 0-0 to get through to the Club World Cup.

Some initial reactions on the match:

Winless Streak Continues, With Asterisk: This was a draw for RSL of course, which kept MLS' unimpressive streak alive. MLS clubs are now 0-21-4 in Mexico but this one feels like a win. RSL twice fell behind but twice came back and pulled even. Typically - and RSL saw this first-hand - Mexico teams start to open up the throttle and pull away from MLS teams. Cruz Azul did that with a late surge against RSL a year ago, but RSL may have learned from that experience. RSl kept their wits about them when the goals fell.

Huge Goal: It's tough to rank Major League Soccer's goals and how significant they are, but Morales' strike has to be in the top five goals ever in MLS. Most other goals from MLS teams came in MLS games (of course) so for this one to come in the CONCACAF Champions League, on the road, in Mexico, in a final, when all appeared lost... yeah, pretty significant. Something to chew on: if RSL win it next week, the series-clinching goal could very well be the biggest goal in MLS history, so if the game ends 0-0, that means Morales' goal will have sealed the series.

Monterrey's Moves: Monterrey went up early but right after the goal, they were forced to make two substitutions and it may have saved RSL. Aldo De Nigris scored, was booked for his celebration and subsequently removed along with Luis Perez. Both players were taken out due to injury, according to reports.

Highlights: Here are match highlights. Good stuff from RSL.


RSL Going For History

Real Salt Lake can make history.

With a series win over Monterrey in the CONCACAF Champions League final, Real Salt Lake would become the first MLS team to compete in the FIFA Club World Cup, and would be the first MLS team to win a CONCACAF title since the tournament went to a home-and-away format in 2002.

It's too bad they have to play in Mexico.

RSL is, hands down, the best team in MLS right now. RSL does not lose at home and also doesn't often lose on the road. This team looks like the favorite to win the Supporters Shield and MLS Cup. It could go down as one of the best MLS teams in history.

But this game in Mexico looms large. Mexico is of course Major League Soccer's house of horrors. MLS teams have never been able to figure out the puzzle that Mexico holds. MLS has an 0-21-3 record in Mexico (non-friendlies), and crazy things happen there. RSL has felt that first-hand, having blown a 3-1 lead by giving up three goals in the final five minutes of the game against Cruz Azul last year.

If RSL does become one of the all-time greats in MLS history, a win in Mexico would go a long way towards making that happen. A series win would help as well, but if RSL can be the first team to win on Mexican soil, RSL would gain major points for tossing that 800-ton gorilla of the league's back.

Can RSL do it? Well, I've never had much faith in any MLS team pulling out any sort of positive result from a game in Mexico, but this RSL team is different. They have such an air of confidence around them and the way they conduct their business, from the front office to the coaching staff to the players, is the way any MLS fan would want their team to carry about.

Couple that with Monterrey's sagging league form and it seems that maybe, just maybe, RSL has a chance of a win.

Don't go betting the deed to your house on that one, though. I've always been a I-have-to-see-it-to-believe-it kind of person, so until it happens I'm not about to make any wagers.

Still, there's something special about this RSL team, and we all may just find out how special they are soon enough.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Incredulous Pass

Chivas USA did the unthinkable and let Benny Feilhaber slide on by.

Excuse me for a second while I pound my head into the wall.

I just don't understand how this club can continue to get things wrong when it comes to players. I'm not talking about the rank-and-file guys like Jimmy Conrad and Heath Pearce. I think coach Robin Fraser did well to bring in those kinds of MLS veterans.

But this decision to pass on Feilhaber is not Fraser's fault, really. This is an organizational problem as it seems the organization is somehow against bringing in top-caliber players.

What takes the edge of a tiny it - and I do mean tiny - is that Philadelphia also passed on Feilhaber. Chivas then aren't alone in their idiocy. Feilhaber wound up with New England, for now. Not sure if the Revs will keep him or if they will deal him elsewhere, but wherever Feilhaber lands his club will be better off.

Players like Feilhaber don't come along very often, at least in the gift-wrapped form he was presented to Chivas. Usually, this kind of player would require some scouting, some persuading, some negotiating to land. But Feilhaber would have joined Chivas without much hassle. His contract is already done and taken care of. That he is a local product (lived in Irvine, attended UCLA) would have made him a local-boy-does-good sort of story.

Instead, Chivas USA continues to show their lack of gumption, lack of aggressiveness. They're going to try and nickel-and-dime their way to contention, and thus far that has yielded zero playoff series victories in four trips to the postseason.

Fraser Snippet

This may be outdated by the time you listen, or it may be fresh for another couple more hours/days/who knows?

But here is audio of Robin Fraser talking about the Benny Feilhaber decision, which as of 3:50 p.m. PT had not been made. The deadline was 2 p.m. PT so this whole thing has gone on for a ridiculously long amount of time.

Fraser talks about other things, such as Chivas' game at San Jose on Saturday, but the first portion of it is strictly Feilhaber.

No Big Names

What gives with Chivas USA?

Ever since they were first founded, the club has had some sort of aversion to acquiring a big-name franchise-type talent.

Now, they've had some very good players in the past, and had one player who fit that bill in Brad Guzan. But they drafted Guzan and developed him into a player you could build a team around. And even he's not a big name, just a guy who could have been the face of the franchise for many years.

Juan Pablo Garcia and Francisco Palencia were talented players and you could make a case that they were big names. I won't, although I respected the duo and would have liked to have seen them play for several more years in MLS.

But that's about it as far as talented big names go.

Now, the club has the chance to snatch up a name player that could be the centerpiece of a franchise, and again the club is reluctant to pull the trigger and get the player in. Benny Feilhaber fell right into Chivas USA's laps. Feilhaber signed with MLS and with Chivas USA atop the allocation table, he was theirs for the taking.

The deadline for Chivas USA to take him and keep him, take him and trade him, trade the allocation spot or simply do nothing and pass is Tuesday, and it's looking more and it's looking more and more likely that Feilhaber will have as much of a chance as Guzan does in wearing the red-and-white stripes this season.

What gives? Is Chivas USA afraid of landing a big-name, big-talent player? Coaches have come and gone but the mentality remains the same.

Thomas Rongen was around at the start but couldn't do anything to bring in a top talent right from the start.

Bob Bradley traded the club's Designated Player slot away before the team even had the chance to consider a potential player to use it on.

Preki dealt away Amado Guevara, a player who was a big name within the league.

The club couldn't get Omar Bravo to join as the player instead opted for Kansas City, of all teams.

The only constant with all of these acquisitions is, of course, Antonio Cue, and to a lesser extent Jorge Vergara. Cue is the person who has been around on a daily basis (more or less) from the start while Vergara has been around every now and again since the team started playing in 2005. Maybe they believe the best way to build is from within. To be fair, Chivas Guadalajara does not do a lot of chasing after players. They produce players and ship them to other clubs, such as Javier Hernandez, Carlos Salcido and Carlos Vela, all Guadalajara products. Perhaps they just do not have a buyer's mentality about any player, and that's why we've seen the team try to nickel-and-dime their way to contention.

Whatever the case, it is disappointing to potentially see a player such as Feilhaber so close to Chivas USA and yet not all that close to begin with.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Jason and the Argonauts, er, the RSLians.

Jason Kreis and Real Salt Lake take on Monterrey in the CONCACAF Champions League final. I was on a conference call today about the match. The calls take a long time and to give everyone a fair shot, reporters are only allowed a question or two. It takes even longer to write up the quotes, and just as I was finishing, MLS sent out a quote sheet.

I could have saved so much time.

Anyway, here's my finished article.

And here's the MLS transcript, if you're curious.

Opening remarks from Real Salt Lake Owner, Dave Checketts:
When the vision of this club was created over seven years ago I never imagined this day would come as quickly as it has. We are honored to play Monterey. We know they’re a very good club. They, like us, are anxious to move on and we expect a tremendous battle.
To reach this point is gratifying but we are not satisfied.
We have great respect for our opponent. We know it is going to be very difficult, but we love being the first at everything. We love these occasions where people can say about us no one has ever advanced this far. In reality, we’re just a club from Salt Lake City, Utah that has tremendous players from nine different nations, is well-coached and is fully prepared and fit and ready to play our best football and see what we can accomplish.

Jeff Carlisle, – Given the strength of the opponent, will you reign in your attacking instincts or will you continue to play the same way?

Real Salt Lake Head Coach Jason Kreis:
I am a big believer that in soccer, if you attack well enough, you will limit the amount of time you need to defend. We’re not going to change our philosophy now that we’re in the final and we’re not going to change our philosophy because we’re playing a fantastic opponent. We are going to ask our players to be very mindful when we have the ball and be very good with it …We need guys to be focused and sharp and get back and defend quickly because if we don’t, this is the type of opponent that can kill you in a heartbeat.

Jeff Carlisle, – How will you prepare for Aldo de Nigris and Humberto Suazo?

We haven’t seen Suazo as much as we’ve seen de Nigris. De Nigris is more of a box forward in my opinion. He has really good size and really good speed and probably better feet than most people would think a guy of that size would have. Typically box forwards lack the technical ability that he does have.
Suazo is a bit of a bulldog and can drop into the midfield more and turn and make plays. He has a lethal, lethal shot.
Both of those players we’re going to have to be extremely mindful of and they have some midfielders that are quite special on the ball as well. It just depends on which four they play because they’ve been using a lot of different players throughout the last four or five matches.

Steve Davis, – How will the warm weather affect training?

For this trip we decided to come earlier, and were able to train yesterday and train today and we’ll train tomorrow. That should be enough to acclimate our guys.

Michael C. Lewis,Salt Lake Tribune – What has it been like to have such support from around the league?

The support from fellow owners, from player to player, from coach to coach has really been extraordinary. I’ve heard from almost all of my fellow owners. They all recognize what’s at stake here for the league. We are flying a banner that not only says Real Salt Lake but also Major League Soccer.
I was driving with my daughter who’s 17-years-old and I was telling her how big this game was and she asked just how big it is. I said it’s the game of the century. This is it. This is the biggest game ever. She said, you know, dad, you say that about every game. Other than the MLS Cup, we’ve never played a game in our history that’s as big as this.
When I talked to Jason about becoming the head coach, even though he’d spent most of his career in Dallas he said I don’t quite understand why, but I care very much about this club – Real Salt Lake . This is an opportunity to stamp Real Salt Lake’s presence on the entire world of soccer. I don’t anyone could have imagined that. It’s an incredible opportunity.

I’m looking at this as a tremendous opportunity that we’ve achieved through all the hard work over several years… Going to the World Club Competition would easily be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Brian Straus, Sporting News –What is it about this RSL team that has been able to do what no other club has?

The first thing that we need to credit is that we’ve built a very deep team. There have been teams in the past built on the starting 11 and once you got past that, the depth and true quality of the players went down drastically. I would say at Real Salt Lake we’ve been supported on a different level by our ownership and we’ve been supported on a different level by the League because of how much emphasis and how much help they’ve been willing to give us and put some weight behind this CONCACAF competition. Finally, I would say the League has made some very good decisions over the past five years about raising salary caps and making it possible for teams to get more depth and more quality to number one to number 30.

I agree with Jason that the steps the League has made have been critical. Also, several weeks after Jason became the head coach he jumped on a plane to Argentina and came back with three players, two of which, Javier Morales and Fabian Espindola, have been critical to our success. That’s where it started. We began adding pieces all under the banner that there aren’t any superstars on this team. There is a tremendous team chemistry and I think you see it in the way they play, the way they move the ball, the way they attack, the way they endure adversity. A lot of hard work and dedication by a lot of people is what gives us the chance that’s in front of us.

Josie Pereira, Salt Lake Tribune – Will the pressure of game and size of the crowd affect the players?

We have a very, very mature group. A team that is extremely experienced. Quite a few of our players have played with their national team in World Cup Qualifier matches in some of the hardest environments to play matches in. So, I don’t think it can get any more pressurized than the multiple experiences they’ve already had. We’re very well prepared for it.

Ron Blum, Associated Press: Should MLS consider adding more roster spots?

No. We have a possibility of 30, but we’re only using 28. For me, the number is about right. The MLS has made multiple decisions so we can compete on all fronts. The one thing I would urge everybody to consider is increasing the salary cap. It’s all well and good to continue to add roster spots, but we need the proper salaries to be able to pay the players so we can get quality players to compete in all the matches. So that when you’re using what a lot of people would term your second team which is a term I hate, you’re not talking about players that are playing their first professional matches. Instead, you’re talking about guys that have played in other places and can contribute in a seamless fashion.

Ridge Mahoney,Soccer America - Won’t it be important to keep the ball away from Monterey and is that something many MLS teams aren’t capable of doing?

Some of the best defense you can have is to be good on the ball. I think it’s going to be critically important when we have the ball we need to recognize we need to keep it for long stretches. We need to be very mindful of not giving it away cheaply because when you play an opponent as talented as Monterey they will punish you for that.

Mahoney - Do you think it’s important to train in the stadium you’ll be playing in?

I think it’s critically important. It’s something we do nearly everywhere we go. One good thing about CONCACAF is they force every opponent to allow you to train in the stadium the day before the match and we’ve used that every place we’ve been.

Luis Bueno, Riverside Press Enterprise: MLS teams have never won a meaningful match in Mexico, what makes it so hard for MLS teams to win down there?

Kyle Beckerman, Real Salt Lake captain:
We are all searching for the answer. These teams know how important these tournaments are and they are used to this type of tournament. I think they feel a big part of pride over losing to an American team. I think we are going to have to keep at it and keep believing that we can get one over on these guys. It’s tough and the atmosphere is great, they really support their home team, it makes it tough, but we just have to give it a go.

Nick Rimando, Real Salt Lake goalkeeper:
It’s tough, as Kyle said, we have seen it first hand at Cruz Azul but I don’t think we are afraid to come in here. We were the underdogs before and we know what it is like to come into an environment and not expect to win or pull a result out and I think we have the guys who can do that. There is nothing that says we can’t go in in there and get a result. We don’t have to win but getting a result would be good for us.

Jonah Freedman, - Before MLS Cup 2009, Dave Checketts told you guys that You never know when you are going to get an opportunity like this and you have to take the opportunity and make the most of it . Has he given you guys another such inspirational talk and if so, was more urgent than 2009?

He hasn’t yet, but in the beginning he let us know how important this tournament is. That is not only coming from Dave Checketts, but it is coming from our coaches and the League. The more we advance through each stage, we as players know how important it is and how important it will be for ourselves and for MLS to put this stamp on the league. We want to represent this team and do well for ourselves. This tournament will open eyes around the world. It doesn’t just take the voice from our owner to tell us that. This is a good opportunity for us to prove that MLS is for real.

Andrea Canales, - What in particular has Jason done as a coach done to mold you guys into such an effective unit in a short period of time?

Beckerman: He had the experience. When he was playing, he didn’t like the way things were done and when he became the coach he had the chance to change it and do things the right way. It has really been a joy to work with him. Everyone who has come to the team really enjoys playing for the club because things are done right here and I think he gets the support from the owners and it trickles down. I feel that from day one when I came to RSL, we began to do the right things; in training and off the field. We started to see the success come from the hard work we put in and Jason deserves a lot of the credit

Andrea Canales, - Nick, do you have the details of what are these right things that make a difference for a team?

I think the first thing is that we had to become a team we couldn’t be individuals. We had to go out there as a team and win as a team. There is no I in team. As cliché as it may sound, everyone on the team buys into that. There are no stars, we are all stars on this team. We are a team that fights for each other on and off the field and that’s what he [Jason Kreis] wanted to grow here at RSL and that is exactly what he is doing. We want to fight for Jason and for our teammates and when you have a bad seed giving the players that want to play and want to fight and want to be on the same page, good things happen, that’s exactly what has happened on Real Salt Lake

Josie Herrera, Salt Lake Tribune - Have you been out on the field yet practicing, if so what is the field like? If you haven’t, how is Monterrey?

No we haven’t been on the field yet, tomorrow is our first day. We have everything over here. The weather is not too bad, we expected it to be a lot hotter, but it wasn’t bad, we practiced last night and the weather seemed great. We have plenty of fluids, good food, and we are all ready to go. It is the time now to get ready for the game and we are ready to go.

Josie Herrera, Salt Lake Tribune - Will the crowd and the Monterrey fans be a challenge for you guys?

Rimando:I think wherever you go there is always the challenge of dealing with the fans, but I think our team has dealt with that in competition already. You know when we play at home the teams have to deal with our fans and fans of the league.

Galaxy's Big Loss

The Galaxy got some horribly devastating news on Sunday. At the tail end of their match at Chicago, Leonardo suffered a knee injury that at first looked like it could be bad.

After the match, Galaxy coach Bruce Arena revealed just how bad it was.

"I don’t think Leonardo is going to do well. I think he has an injury that will put him out for the rest of the year," Arena said.

Not exactly the best news of the day. Now, the game went well for the Galaxy. Winning 2-1 on the road without Landon Donovan, David Beckham, Juan Pablo Angel and Juninho was clutch (Angel didn't start but came off the bench; the other three were not available for the game).

Leonardo, though, is a huge blow and it was a stiff price to pay for the win. Leonardo and Omar Gonzalez gave the Galaxy a strong pairing in central defense. While it isn't their strongest central D pairing - that distinction falls to Gonzalez-Gregg Berhalter - it still was one that helped give the Galaxy one of the best defenses in the league.

Without Leonardo, the Galaxy will turn to AJ De La Garza. This may not be a bad replacement for Leonardo. De La Garza and Gonzalez know each other very well; De La Garza has also performed well at center back when given the opportunity. Of course, De La Garza was a player Arena could put in at right back, left back or perhaps even on the flanks in the midfield to spell the club there, but now De La Garza's role is more stable.

What the Galaxy will miss, though, is Leonardo's size and physical presence. While not as towering as Gonzalez, Leonardo still gave the Galaxy some size in the back. And the Brazilian's decision-making abilities were improving from last season. Having had one year under his belt to not only play in MLS but to get used to living in the United States, Leonardo was well on his way to becoming a solid if not a standout defender in MLS.

That's shelved for now as the Gonzalez-De La Garza pairing will anchor the Galaxy through the rest of the season.

Week 5 Rankings

I can't have a blog and not do MLS rankings. So now that we've dusted this off and started anew, I gotta get back to my rankings.

I haven't done these in a while... we'll see how this goes.

1. Real Salt Lake: Could be one of the league's best-ever teams
2. LA Galaxy: Solved offensive problems.... by playing without Beckham, Donovan, Angel
3. Philadelphia: Dropped points at the death; should have done better to finish match
4. Colorado: Difficult midweek Rocky Mountain Cup setback
5. Seattle: Finally, a contribution from Montero
6. New York: Rodgers may have turned around Red Bulls' season
7. Columbus: Sporting KC's strong attack no match for Crew defense
8. Houston: Signs of life in southeast Texas
9. DC United: Charlie Davies, frontrunner for Newcomer of the Year
10. Portland: Too bad they can't play all their games at Jeld-Wen Field
11. FC Dallas: Felt the power of Jeld-Wen Field
12. San Jose: On the wrong end of a rout
13. Vancouver: Home field hasn't been an advantage of late
14. Sporting KC: Scoring goals wasn't supposed to be an issue
15. Chivas USA: Defense coming together - one goal allowed in last three games
16. Chicago: Misleading stat - Fire have scored in every game
17. New England: Goals are hard to come by for lowly Revs, and Lekic ain't the answer
18. Toronto FC: Bottom may have fallen out

Friday, April 15, 2011

Favorite U20 team?

Bear with me and my circular logic - today Benny Feilhaber signed with MLS. I first covered Benny as a player when he was a surprise pick for Sigi Schmid's USA U20 team, back in 2005. Sigi was between MLS coaching gigs at the time, and his kid, Kurt, had told him to check out this UCLA player that had kind of flown under the radar.

That was Benny, and he turned out to be a great fit for the U20 squad, weaving around opponents with his curly mop of dark hair making him easy to spot. He was a fun interview, too, open and funny. I asked him about signing with MLS back then, and he seemed excited about the idea, but I think his head was later turned by the European option. Anyway, he's finally back in MLS now.

However, that got me thinking about how the 2005 squad was one of my favorite U20 teams, probably because I did a lot of articles and features on them at the time. I happened to ask US Soccer federation head Sunil Gulati the same question. Here's his response, exclusive to Sideline Views because I couldn't really figure out how to fit it into any other article.

The team in Canada was quite good and a little unlucky not to make it farther than the quarterfinals. Fredy, Jozy, Michael Bradley - it was a good squad. The 89 team was a bit unusual in that they advanced after having been eliminated. Mexico had some problems with ineligible players, so we went instead. They got to the semifinals. That team had Kasey Keller, Chris Henderson, Mike Burns, players that would go on to feature in the World Cup. Those two were very strong teams. I also remember well the team that played in the UAE, and lost to Argentina late in extra time in the quarterfinals. Perhaps not surprisingly, the teams I remember as being the strongest are the teams that went the farthest in the tournament.

What about your favorite U20 squad? Tell us about it.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Number One, By A Mile

I don't do MLS rankings. I probably will at some point. I got the itch to do some before the season started but didn't have a place to put them but now I do.

Had I been doing rankings, I would have started the season off with Colorado in the top spot. Defending champs and all, I feel they should start at the top since they left off at the top.

After Colorado lost to Dallas, they pretty much lost the right to remain at the top. And after Wednesday's loss to RSL, there really is no doubt who the best MLS team is right now.

Real Salt Lake should be numbers 1, 2 and 3, they are that much better than anyone else in MLS right now. There's an argument as to the second-best team in the league is, but whether you put in.... uh.... LA? Philly? Seattle? blech.... whichever one of those teams you put in at number two, there is a huge chasm in between RSL and LA/Philly/Seattle/someone-else.

What was more impressive than their victory over Colorado was their win over New England.

Yeah, the gawd-awful Revolution.

Look at RSL's lineup in that match - Reynish; Beltran, Schuler, McKenzie, Russell; Johnson, Alexander, Warner, Grabavoy; Alvarez, Paulo.

What other team in the league can field second-stringers and still get a road shutout?

Real Salt Lake has built up the league's best and deepest team. They can beat teams by overpowering them as they did against the Galaxy on March 26 or by playing solid defense as they did against Colorado. They're mentally strong too - their 2-1 defeat at Saprissa on April 5 is testament to that.

So when I get ready to do my rankings, as will inevitably be the case, the top might look like this:

1. Real
2. Salt
3. Lake

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Galaxy-Toronto Primer

Some random thoughts and observations about today's Galaxy-Toronto FC match...

* Judging by Landon Donovan's tweets on Tuesday night, I don't expect Donovan to be in Canada for this match. Does that mean the Galaxy won't have a chance? Of course not, but it does mean the lineup is going to change yet again. Mike Magee played in Donovan's place against DC United and came away with a goal for his efforts. Magee could get the nod once more, and given his goal, it might be good to keep him in Donovan's place for this game.

* Chris Birchall returns after a one-match ban so I expect we'll see this midfield alignment: Magee out left, Beckham and Juninho in the middle and Birchall out right.

* Sean Franklin should slide back to right back for this game.

* Who gets the nod up top? How about Chad Barrett? Sorry, did you spit out your coffee? I am serious, though. Barrett returns to Toronto for the first time since his offseason trade to LA. What better way than to kickstart a player's season than a visit to his former home? I wrote up this story for on Chad's return to Toronto, got to talk to him on Tuesday and he seems pretty excited for the chance to play at BMO Field again.

* The Galaxy have scored five goals in five games. That's not going to get the job done, plain and simple. Can they turn it around? Without Donovan it will be tough. The Galaxy haven't been generating many chances. Three of their goals have come off set pieces and the other two off defensive mistakes (the counter in Seattle and New England's botched clearance). Combine that with a team that's improving defensively and this match will be pretty tough.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Catching Up With Technology

It seems like this is a bit of a time warp. When Sideline Views was at its peak, things were a bit different. Damn, that makes it sound like this was back in the 1980s or something, but technology has a way of doing that to you.

One minute you're in awe of a laptop that weighs a couple of pounds and the next minute your phone has more power and can do more things than that laptop ever could.

I was not on Twitter in 2008, when he shut this blog down... well, I guess now we can say that it was on an indefinite hiatus. I was probably on Facebook then but definitely not Twitter. I couldn't blog from my phone, although I think I had a BlackBerry by then, pretty sure I did.

Now Twitter has given me a different forum on which to spout of, and my phone allows me to do some mobile blogging. That would have come in handy just last week when I was out at Galaxy training and realized that Landon Donovan wasn't out there.

I seem to recall times when I was out at training and something blogworthy happened but not being able to share it until I got to my laptop or a PC. That's different now, of course.

Now what the hell's the point of this rambling? I guess I'm just trying to figure out how to integrate the blog with all of the other things I have going on in terms of media, how to slide this back into the rotation and how to use Twitter/FB to help make this blog purr once again.

Cue the Copa complaints

Ah, the Copa America! The South America competition is enticing to USA fans, partly because one year, 1995, the Americans actually did well in it. Also, who can resist the lure of matching up against the likes of Argentina and Brazil? Still, there are some very solid, though boring and tedious, reasons why the USA team shouldn't take part in the current format. I go over a few of them in my latest column for, the Canales Corner.

Shallow Depth

Before the 2011 season, one of the Galaxy's strengths appeared to be depth. It seemed as if there were position battles at several positions - right back, central defender, central midfielder, left mid, forward. Position battles often means there is an abundance of talent, which equates to depth.

It hasn't quite turned out that way in the early going for the Galaxy, though. Despite Landon Donovan's constant praise of the Galaxy's depth - remember in preseason when he said the Galaxy may have the best 1-25 in MLS, ever? - the team's lack of depth is being exposed.

* Nobody has replaced Gregg Berhalter. The Galaxy's defense just has not been the same without him, and this is going back to August 2010 when he first started missing games due to injury.

* Frankie Hejduk has not been able to get off the pine - AJ De La Garza got the nod at right back over Hejduk when the need arose against DC United.

* The need arose at right back because Bruce Arena opted to fill a right-mid slot with the team's right back instead of a midfielder such as Michael Stephens or Paolo Cardozo.

* Mike Magee, Chad Barrett and Miguel Lopez have started at forward and have combined for zero goals because...

* ... Magee's goal against DC came when he started at left midfield.

So what happened to this depth that was supposed to have carried the Galaxy?

Now, there is still talent on the bench. Stephens, Cardozo, De La Garza can all be serviceable players, and Arena has been high on Daniel Keat and Hector Jimenez. Adam Cristman too has some things to offer but has been injured, which isn't a total surprise given his own history. Josh Saunders is a solid goalkeeper, so there's depth at that position too.

Some of this depth, though, needs time to develop. Cardozo, Keat, Jimenez and even Lopez still need time to adjust to the league and to get used to the club's tactics. All along, it seemed the goal for them was to get developed in time to contribute when the summer rolled around, with the team losing possibly three players to the Gold Cup, and then the rigors of the CONCACAF Champions League await, as well as US Open Cup tossed in there somewhere.

But that doesn't do the team any good now, because if the Galaxy can't sort their issues out in the next few games (at Toronto, at Chicago, Portland) the team might slip further behind Colorado and Real Salt Lake by the time summer arrives.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Back For More

Wow. I can't believe I'm here. I thought this old dusty blog was gone for good, but when Andrea asked me about possibly bringing this trusty blog back to life, I immediately told her I was in.

And thus, after two and a half years, we have new Sideline Views posts.


I'd actually been longing for this, for another outlet to just post stuff. I mean, I've always felt like I lucked out into covering soccer for a living, that I was at the right place at the right time and then everything came together. I worked hard to be where I'm at today, but still, I feel as if I lucked out. So I like to share as much as possible with soccer fans. I'm not exactly talking newsie stuff, the people who pay me have all that info. But the stuff that's interesting but doesn't fit anywhere else.

I've been hanging around the LA Galaxy quite a bit the last two years as I'm their beat writer for There's a lot happening with that club, as you would expect, so there's a lot of thoughts and not-quite-news stuff that has just gone by the wayside because I had nowhere to put it.

I have a twitter account (@RunnerLuis) but even there, you're quite limited in what you have to say.

Also, with the goings-on in soccer in general, from MLS to the U.S. national team, I've had a lot of thoughts and opinions stifled.

But no more! Sideline Views has returned, and I'm very excited that it has.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

There and back again, a writer's journey

I feel a bit like I'm moving back to a home I've lived in before, but one that's been shuttered for years and the furniture covered in sheets to protect from the encroaching dust. There's both familiarity, and a sense of disconnect. The blog's been here, though not updated, for years, and I've moved on and changed a lot.

One of the main reasons Sideline Views was fun was because Luis and I could write about the stories we personally wanted to, even as we were hustling to get paid for enough stories to well, be financially viable.

It's not so simple when the corporate world, website traffic numbers, SEOs and sponsorship demands crowd in on the basic mission to bring soccer stories to the world. It could be that I simply don't have the tiger mentality to make it in the management jungle. Long story short, I'm no longer chief editor at USA. Right now, I'm still working there, but with a reduced work load that allows for me to freelance again with other outlets. (Need a soccer story? Need copy edited? I can write movie and food reviews, too.) I've been mulling over whether to go back to teaching, because frankly, the hustle required to chase down stories and pitch them to outlets seems to suit the younger generation better. Perhaps, also, there's not the need for reporting that there once was before fans could just "follow" their favorite players on Twitter.

I guess I'm still figuring things out, and perhaps, then, it's not surprising that I've come back to Sideline Views, and not just because I'll have a bit more time to maintain the blog now. It was always less of a straight news blog and more an inside look at the process of what Luis and I were doing as soccer writers and people.

Got an email from a young aspiring sports writer the other day, who wanted to e-interview me for her school project. I generally can't say no to helping a student - it's the teacher in me - so I agreed to answer her questions.

1.How did you decide to enter this field? I always enjoyed sports and grew up reading Sports Illustrated. I first started writing sports stories for my high school newspaper.
2.What kind of education training did you have? I took journalism classes, but since I was worried about finding a job in the field, I decided to apply my credits to a degree in English.
3.What personal qualities are important for an individual considering this field? It's good to be adaptable (things go wrong) observant (pay attention to details) disciplined (deadlines are no joke) and friendly (sources like friendly people).
4.What do you wish you had known before entering this field? I wish I had known about how little it pays.
5.What kinds of preparation do you wish you had? Sometimes a little ignorance can be a good thing, because players are tired of hearing the same exact questions from reporters, but in general, it always helps to be prepared.
6.What are your typical duties and responsibilities? I check my email for assignments, announcements of press events, try to plan interviews and pitch ideas for articles - then deliver those articles on deadline.
7.What do you like best and find most rewarding? I like crafting a story, from when I think of the concept, to talking to people with an interesting perspective on the topic, to putting together their thoughts (and mine) in a finished piece that I hope presents something new to the reader.
8.What do you like least and find most frustrating? Players too snobby to talk to the media, people who think the job is easy.
9.How is your time divided between people, data and things? Most of my articles are based on interviews - I'm not a big stats person. Other writers are, though; it's a personal style.
10.What are some of the positive and negative aspects of working in this field? The positives are interesting, creative work. The negatives are low pay.
11.How much influence do you have over decisions that affect you? I have a lot of influence over how my articles turn out. I don't have that much influence over how they are compensated.
12.What additional training and qualifications are necessary for advancement? If you're interested in being a managing editor, it's probably good to take some classes in managing people. As a writer, you're more of a free agent - as a manager, it's about getting a team to work together.
13.Do people typically get promoted from within or do they move on to another company in order to advance? It depends on the place of employment.
14.What is the turnover like in this company/field? It's pretty frequent. Newspapers are a dying industry, but the web doesn't pay much, so people move on all the time to different careers.
15.What types of training or professional development is offered at your company? We offer a lot of opportunities via internships.
16.What types of internships or part time jobs would you suggest to people before they enter this field? Take an internship somewhere that will really let you write what you're interested in covering, and see if you enjoy it, are able to come up with plenty of fresh material and don't get burned out.
17.What specific advice would you give to someone considering this field? Be careful with your money - most sportswriters don't get paid well, but if you manage your money well, you shouldn't be stuck working for an editor you dislike.
18.Are you familiar with any professional associations that might be helpful for me to learn more about? I don't spend a lot of time with association groups - just personal preference.
19.Could you recommend any other people working in this field who might be willing to talk to me? You can try to reach anyone in the same way you reached out to me.
20.Is there anything I should be asking that I have forgotten? The most important question is to ask yourself if this is really what you want to do, and then to try it to find out for sure. Some people have a fantasy about writing that is much more glamorous than the reality.

In answering Amber's questions, I thought about what I first wanted to do when I started - and that was to write. This blog allows that, and perhaps I can also point readers to where my new stuff is hopefully appearing. So cheers, all, it's good to be back.