Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Landon Donovan Signs Another Galaxy Contract Press Call

So the news is out that LD has signed a multi-year contract with the LA Galaxy. Actually, since he was already on a contract with them, this is a contract extension.

This press conference call is where he's going to talk about it. 

I'm on hold. Classical music playing. 

New Galaxy press dude Brendan Hannan is now on the line, introducing LD, recapping his greatness. Press stuff, but yeah, multiple MLS titles and records.

Q: When the deal was struck?

LD: Beginning of July, talks started. After Gold Cup, we made it a priority. 

Kyle Mac asks about decisive factor. 

LD is a bit vague, says he likes the organization, the team, the fans, the success they have had together. Mentions specific players. Becks gets a shout-out. 

Jeff C asks about loan - why not? 

LD admits he thought about it, but decided against it - partly to be ready for WC. 

My turn!

I asked LD about the length of his contract. He jokes that it's for 20 years. Then I ask if he'd like to retire with the Galaxy. He definitely does. 

SB asked about teams interested in signing him. LD demurs specific names, but says there were some big ones. 

I hit the high points, but it's still surprising that the call was so short. In some ways, I think that Donovan staying on with the Galaxy is a bit taken for granted. Or at least, not big news given that instead of, "Wow! A change!", it's basically, "OK, more of the same." 


Thursday, July 25, 2013

Latino Link-up

Ok, Throwback Thursday! Watching the recent ouster of Mexico in the Gold Cup by Panama got me to thinking about how the USA has improved. The squad is on a win streak, but I don't think Jurgen Klinsmann or Landon Donovan should get all the credit. 
Jose Torres speaking to kids in El Salvador, presumably in Spanish

Frankly, the USA squad looks different than it once did. Meaning, there are a number of Hispanic players who are now making a regular impact on the squad. I don't mean to discredit at any point the contributions of past Latino players, such as Tab Ramos, Hugo Perez, Claudio Reyna, or Pablo Mastroeni, but it was weird to see in 2006 how few Hispanic players went to the World Cup. 

Months after that World Cup, I looked into the reasons why, and the plan, if any, to address the issue, and then wrote this piece.

Obviously, this happened back when the Dempseys were talking to me, by the way. 

It's not, and never should be, that players should make the USA squad based on ethnic background. It's about realizing that there's a pool of talent that could be reached and in return, add a lot to the USA team, if the initial stages of development are more accessible to them. 
Landon Donovan speaking Spanish

What Landon Donovan and both Dempseys made clear in their quotes was that they'd played soccer in those early days with really talented Latino players. For various reasons, those players hadn't continued to develop. Hugo Perez and Sunil Gulati were both saying that greater outreach to that segment of the population was needed and would be good for both parties. 

So, now the USA team features Jose Torres, Ale Bedoya, Herculez Gomez, Edgar Castillo, Joe Benny Corona, Omar Gonzalez and the youth teams feature young talent like Jose Villarreal and others. The Development Academy program continues to grow, and more squads are giving players a chance to participate without paying expensive fees. Good progress, I'd say.

There's even a page of the US Soccer website in Spanish, by the way. Granted, it's a pretty sad and boring news page. Would it kill U.S. Soccer to post a few videos in that language on the page? After all, a lot of the Latino players speak Spanish well. It doesn't have to be Donovan busting out his high-school Spanish all the time. Although a few of those would be ok, too. His Spanish is decent.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

It is a Thing

The eyebrow shave by Chicharito that I noted before wasn't accidental or random fashion choice. It's a thing among the El Tri players.

Also, here's my piece on why Chepo should go.

Style and Substance

Grant Wahl has a nice piece here about Jozy Altidore living up to his potential (finally!). Now, of course, Jozy has been a prodigy for a long time, but he's been up and down, too, and it has taken him a while to get used to Klinsmann's style.

Frankly, Jurgen Klinsmann is different. He can seem easygoing, with a veneer of California casual (I'll bet he wears flip-flops a lot of the time), but he's also got German grit and toughness to him. It's too bad Frankie Hejduk's days with the team are done, because he would have gotten Klinsy. Frankie was all surfer-boy style, but deadly serious about playing and getting results, even while having fun and building team spirit.  Klinsy believes the US team can be great (that's the sunny optimist in him), but he knows how far they have to go (because he's seen the top of the mountain with Germany) and he won't mince words in telling Altidore or anyone what they have to do to get there.

In contrast, Bruce Arena is, and was, while coach of the national team, more New York understated cool, with a bonus chip on his shoulder about how the USA was often disrespected by the soccer world at large. Truth is, a former lacrosse player-turned-one-national-team-game goalkeeper wasn't ever going to get the respect Klinsmann receives by virtue of having been one of the world's top strikers, so Arena's bitterness is understandable, if tiresome. While in charge of the USMNT, Arena cultivated among the players an us-against-them mentality that gave the US resolve and temerity. But that influence wore off somewhat when more American players evolved to be soccer citizens at large - meaning, they worked and played internationally, and had other priorities than just the USA team. Remember Claudio Reyna refusing to participate in US qualifiers? 2006 was a disappointment partly because it was clear that Arena wasn't getting through to his players as he once had.

Princetonian Bob Bradley was less sardonic than Arena, yet more serious about soccer. His emblem was about work, work, and well, more work.  He reminded me of Animal Farm's Boxer, whose mantra was: "I will work harder." That's an inspiring form of leadership - for a while. It can get exhausting, though, because frankly, while work rate is very important, so is working smarter and better. Plus, the inherent awkwardness in the family connection of having father manage son on the national team level took a toll on all three elements involved - Michael, Bob, and the USMNT. Some long-time readers might think I dislike Bob, or Michael, but that's not true. I do think they are better off on different teams (Go Egypt!).

Back to coach Klinsy. I think of when Jerry Brown, in his first stint as in charge of California, was nicknamed Governor Moonbeam for ideas that were perceived as too progressive and weird. Klinsy could be Coach Sunbeam for similarly shaking up the status quo of the national team with his willingness to experiment and tweak. It hasn't always been smooth sailing, but I think the results are beginning to prove positive.

Saturday, June 15, 2013


So on my latest blog post for the Futbol Mexico site, ESPN helpfully uploaded an interview with Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez to the Italy-Mexico preview I wrote. As I watched the interview I realized Chicharito appears to have shaved off part of his right eyebrow.

Is that still a thing?

Or perhaps he's shaving a mark into his eyebrow for each El Tri win?

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Odds Are. . .

I wrote a feature piece on Omar Gonzalez last week for Futbol Mundial. It'll be out soon, but one thing Omar mentioned made be think of Oguchi Onyewu. Omar was talking about finally making it on to the U.S. national team, and how important that was. He alluded to how that would affect his future club decisions. Omar specifically said that he had heard from Jurgen Klinsmann that national team selection would focus on players who were game-fit and battle tested.

Translated: If you want to try your luck in Europe, go for it, but don't feel hard done by if you wind up on the bench and I don't take you to the World Cup.

Not long ago, Gooch was pointed to as the player who had done things the hard way - the right way - no Major League Soccer experience, straight to Europe, playing for bigger and bigger clubs. But then the soccer equivalent of the Peter Principle kicked in and he languished on the bench in Europe. Granted, he was also injured. At this point, though, Onyewu isn't on the USA roster. 

What odds would you give for his return? 

By the way, I'm not saying that playing in MLS would save Onyewu's international career or anything like that. That didn't work for Jovan Kirovski, for example.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Random FC Dallas fan

Check out the little FC Dallas Fan here. Gwen Stefani's oldest seems to know who leads the league. Rock on, Kingston.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

German Champions!

I do speak a little German - basically enough to ask for directions, order food and greet people. So I didn't write this in German.

But I did write it, and it basically sums up my thoughts on the Champions League.  

It's funny how the world works. When I was in Peru in 2005, about the last player I interviewed there was a sad-faced Neven Subotic, who was pretty crushed about his role in the USA's exit at the U17 World Cup. I wouldn't have guessed I'd be watching the kid eight years later in a Champions League final, but I'll say this. I knew even at the time that he took the game seriously. He was pretty focused. 

As for what I said in my excellent German, here's what I sent in to be translated: 

Some might say that the Bayern Munich v Borussia Dortmund final of the Champions League signals a new sporting era of German efficiency over Spanish art. I'd say that both of the finalists have raised athletic efficiency to an art form. I also don't think the style developed in Spain is dead. Instead, it now has some really viable competition. While it's always fun to see an international mix in the finals, the Champions League format has generally yielded the two most deserving clubs and a country derby has the extra bite of bitter familiarity. Prediection: Bayern Munich 2-1 Borussia Dortmund

Thursday, May 16, 2013

David Beckham Retires

 I still remember that sunny day in Los Angeles, waiting for David Beckham to enter the stadium suite that had been reserved for the local Galaxy reporters. We were a pretty small bunch, about twelve total. Soon, due to the dying print media industry, there would be even less of us. Beckham was big news at that time, though.

 He entered wearing a silver Burberry suit, smiling nervously, yet also well aware of his power to charm with that smile. Beckham tended to smile more when deflecting a question, for example, like when I asked him about his injured ankle.
 I guess the things I remember first were all the ridiculous scenarios. The reporters from tabloids who would show up at press conferences after the game to ask Beckham questions about Tom Cruise. The media chasing Beckham after matches he'd spent on the bench. Cruise, Tony Parker and Kobe Bryant all hanging out in the Galaxy locker room. The glaring Becks would do when journalists asked if he was hurting the Galaxy to go during the season to Milan, London Olympics, Royal wedding, England friendly, etc.

But what I'll recall most are the little moments, maybe. I watched Beckham's kids do a fair share of growing up during the Galaxy years. I'll remember Brooklyn peeking out behind the press conference curtain, Romeo kicking a ball around on the grass with his brothers, Cruz making funny faces. I never saw Vicki without her sunglasses, and I never saw her wear flat shoes. I would always marvel at how she could walk so well in heels.
 I watched Becks in various stages of anger, denial, frustration, despair, resignation, determination, acceptance, leadership and joy with the Galaxy. It was a rollercoaster ride that finally ended at a nice place for him, with back-to-back MLS Championship wins.

He seemed to settle in at the Galaxy once some of the hype got killed off by the initial poor results. No more press conferences at every game, just locker room interviews post-game like the others. Beckham never became just another player, but he found his niche as the team learned to utilize his unique passing game. Beckham himself learned to love Laker basketball and convertible cars. His teammates also came to appreciate his work ethic, genuine eagerness and restrained English humor.  Beckham, with his soft voice and intrinsically shy personality, wasn't ever a guys' guy, not in the sports macho sense, but he was always a loyal teammate who took the idea of his role as a sports pioneer seriously.

Four titles in four countries. It's simply an impressive feat. 

Goodbye, David. Here's hoping you were also serious about owning a team in MLS one day. There are still worlds to conquer.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Robbie Rogers, Rest in Peace

Robbie Rogers has published a blog post declaring that he is gay. At the same time, he has decided, for the present at least, to take a break from the sport to which he has dedicated almost his entire life. 

I can't really imagine what it must be like to wake up every morning and determine to live yet another day in a cocoon  of other people's expectations. I don't know what it is to fear a lack of acceptance if the careful illusion presented to others is ever shattered. Sure, we all lie a little, saying, "I'm fine," when it's not really so, perhaps, but on such a fundamental level, to daily deny the truth of one's own desire to love openly and honestly? It's got to be incredibly difficult, soul-churning stuff. 

It's also probably completely exhausting. 

Rogers spoke of happy memories in the game - I know he had them, because I was there for a few, including the MLS Cup the Columbus Crew won in Los Angeles. Besides his talent as a player, Rogers was a pretty well-spoken player in interviews, though at the same time, a bit aloof and guarded.  I never thought much of it, but can speculate now that he had to constantly be on his guard.

Perhaps Rogers would have continued to expend the energy to hide his truth had his career taken other turns. While he is rightly to be commended on courageously going public, there's a sad mixed message going out due to his apparently stalled playing career.

There has yet to be a professional athlete in the men's game to say, "I'm gay, and it doesn't matter. My game is unaffected, my teammates are accepting, and people should learn that this supposed taboo is just an anachronism." 

It might be a chicken-egg argument of, "Well, no one CAN say it, BECAUSE no one has said it before, and who wants to risk a thriving career on what might happen if they did say it?" 

What's crazy is the notion that there aren't more players like Rogers getting up every day with a sigh, going to work on the sport they love, and pulling a double-shift hiding at the same time. They're out there, of course, and perhaps yes, the mainly positive response to Rogers has encouraged them a bit. 

Or maybe they're mad. 

Maybe some of them are thinking, "Damn! So close - this guy could have been the one to show that orientation doesn't affect quality of play." 

Of course, they could be 'that guy', too. No one should expect from someone else what they themselves aren't willing to risk.

Rogers has done what he feels capable of - maybe that's all he has in him now. 

"Secrets can cause so much internal damage," Rogers wrote. He also told how he now felt free.

Rest, and hopefully, restoration, will follow.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Combine Capers

So the MLS combine this year took place in sunny Florida - which was good for the players, because it's been wicked cold in Southern California of late. It's warmer today, but I'm sure that at least some of the USMNT players out for January camp have felt like it's a real winter workout. 

Anyway, I'm not at the MLS combine, but the photo op pictures some players took at the Seaquarium were emailed to me by the league, so I thought I'd share a few.  

Any thoughts on which players helped themselves with a good combine?