Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Beckham to Milan?

Lots of soccer media channels like ESPN Soccernet and Fox Soccer Channel are reporting that AC Milan is close to a deal with the L.A. Galaxy to bring in David Beckham on loan for the rest of their season. This loan is being done, according to the report, so that Becks can stay match fit for the World Cup Qualifiers for England, and so he can continue to play first-team soccer in the offseason. Fabio Capello, the England manager, has stated that he will not choose anyone that is not playing competitive soccer. With the MLS offseason starting this weekend and next season not starting until April, this is not the time for Becks to be sitting.

If this loan deal to AC Milan goes through, I think it’s a winner for Becks. The underlying question is: has America seen the last of David Beckham? That I’m not so sure. The loan deal would keep Beckham in Milan until June, which means he would miss the first 2 months (at least) of the MLS season. Also, I’m sure if he goes and performs well for Milan (and there’s no doubt in my mind that he will be a great asset), Milan will want to purchase him and keep him there. They definitely have the money to bring him on full-time, as AC is one of Europe’s biggest clubs. Plus, the squad they are trying to develop there could be epic. With Ronaldinho, Kaka, Pato, Gattuso, Dida, Nesta, Zambrotta, Shevchenko, and Pirlo already making up the squad, Beckham could be the missing piece they need, one that will be a force on set pieces, for pace on the right and for serving balls in the box on attacks.

Now, if the loan deal becomes, as many believe it will, a permanent move, then what does this say about Beckham’s time in MLS? Is it a failure? Well, yes and no. It’s yes because they rushed him into playing when he wasn’t ready, and as a result, his play suffered. Also, the chemistry of the Galaxy suffered. They didn’t make the playoffs in either 2007 or this year, when they had a completely healthy Beckham. At the beginning of ’08, they were on fire. He and Landon Donovan were a great combo, adding Edson Buddle to the mix. However, when they had the drama with their GM, Alexi Lalas and their coach, Ruud Gullit, resigning/getting fired the same day, the team just tanked. They went from 1st to dead last by losing some 10-12 games in a row. It’s also yes because it was never about Becks even playing in the mind of MLS. They wanted to trump him around the country like a celebrity. Having 12 of the first 13 games with Beckham be on the road so that every single team could see him play on their pitch was sure stupidity as far as the playing was concerned. I’m sure he felt an obligation to try and play for the tens of thousands of fans that turned out not to see MLS soccer, but see him play. This further injured his ankle, which lead to his terrible stretch of play. It would assuredly be viewed as a 1.5 season-long publicity tour that ended with Beckham returning to Europe to play some competitive soccer.

On the other hand, it can be viewed as a great success for MLS. First, Becks came here and shook up the MLS scene. It became cool to go to MLS games again (not that they ever weren’t cool, but the mentality among casual soccer fans increased). The LA Galaxy are now a worldwide brand…everyone’s heard of them because of Beckham, and you can’t go to a corner of the world without seeing an LA Galaxy jersey with “Beckham 23” on the back. His Galaxy shirt last year was the most popular soccer jersey on earth, and it wasn’t even close. Also, the aforementioned road trip that the Galaxy was subjected to in the first couple months of Beckham’s time here brought fans to MLS stadiums in huge droves. Sellouts everywhere, including 56,000+ at RFK (Beckham’s first MLS game) and over 70,000 at Giants Stadium to see Beckham play the Red Bulls. MLS teams as a whole experienced attendance increases as people were driven by the lure of Beckham and ended up enjoying the product on the field enough to come back. It has attracted other big-name talent to MLS who have made big contributions to their teams, like Luciano Emilio (DC), Juan Pablo Angel (NYRB), and Cuahtemoc Blanco (CHI). Finally, soccer has entered the mainstream sports media. They have always had soccer broadcasts, but now they have it on all the time, which is great for the game.

In the end, this is a great move for Beckham, and it could prove to be a good move for MLS as a whole. You can now start to showcase your talent better and keep the millions of fans around the world that have tuned in to watch because of Beckham and have stayed following the league. Sure, the publicity will take a hit with the departure of the world’s most popular athlete, but the league has to turn this into a positive so that they don’t return to soccer obscurity.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Still In It

DC United kept their MLS Playoff hopes alive last night, securing a 2-1 come-from-behind victory against the New England Revolution in their last home game of the season at RFK. Two goals by Francis Doe, his first two of the season, trumped the 58th minute goal by Taylor Twellman for NE. This win couldn’t come at a more important time for DC, as they hadn’t won a match since the U.S. Open Cup Final on September 3rd (of which I was in attendance) and their first MLS victory since August. More importantly, they are still alive for securing one of the final playoff spots. Here’s how the race looks so far:

Columbus, Chicago and New England have clinched the Eastern Conference slots. Houston and Chivas USA have done the same on the Western side. Real Salt Lake still has a point on FC Dallas for the final Western Conference spot.

Then, there are the two “wildcard” spots. DC right now is in the top spot of that, but they only have one game left. Kansas City, New York, FC Dallas, Colorado and even Toronto and LA have a realistic chance of making it as well, as they both still have 2 games left (this weekend and next weekend). What’s known is this: DC will need to win next weekend. A draw just will not do, unless everyone loses this weekend and next (which is impossible). They need to win and then probably root for a little help from the other teams in the form of some untimely losses.

Next weekend, DC plays at Columbus, a team that clinched the Supporters’ Shield long ago and will probably be resting players for the playoffs. This is a perfect opportunity for United to get a much-needed victory. What’s also good about this is that they are the final game on the schedule next weekend, so they will go into that game knowing exactly what they need to do. So, it’s time to just do it. ¡Vamos , vamos United! ¡Esta noche tenemos que ganar!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

USA-Cuba @ RFK

This past Saturday, the United States took on Cuba in the 4th World Cup Qualifier for both teams. The game took place at RFK Stadium right here in our nation’s capital, so you know I had to be in the building. This game was important for the U.S., as a victory secured their place in the final hexagonal qualifying round that will start next year. And victory was attained in huge fashion, with the U.S. torching Cuba 6-1. The scoring started with DaMarcus Beasley scoring in the 10th minute. He then got his 2nd goal in the 30th minute. Cuba’s Jenzy Muñoz cut the U.S. lead in half shortly thereafter. In the 2nd half, it was all U.S.A., with Cuba being a man down after Colomé was sent off in the 41st minute after attaining his second yellow card. Goals by Landon Donovan, Brian Ching, Jozy Altidore and Oguchi (Gooooooch) Onyewu capped the 6-goal effort.

The players played really well. Notable stars included Beasley (the Man of the Match), Sacha Kljestan, Altidore and Adu, among others. Beasley looks to be back in his old form, and he was all over the place scoring goals. Kljestan had an excellent game. He assisted on two goals, and he was pure gold in the midfield. Altidore and Adu were substitutes in the middle of the 2nd half, and they did not disappoint the raucous crowd of 20,293 who were there to see them. They gave a taste of why the future of USA Soccer may just be the now as well. They were all over the place, their pace was awesome, their chemistry was great, and they both made contributions: Altidore with the goal and Adu assisting Gooch’s goal in stoppage time. Howard was a stalwart, as usual, between the pipes. The lone Cuban goal was a tremendous shot that deserved to go in. But, the U.S. did their job, and now they can play some young talent against Trinidad & Tobago tomorrow night.

The crowd was really into it, so loud and packed that we were shocked that the official attendance number was only 20,293. The entire lower bowl of RFK was full. Sam’s Army was rocking the entire night, and yours truly was smack in the middle of it. There with two of my friends and my friend’s brother, we really had a good time. Now, the U.S. can rest some of its big guns, play some of its younger talent, and use these last 2 group stage qualifiers to prepare for the hexagonals.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Bring MLS To Detroit!

The MLS is starting to accept bids for potential franchises #17 and #18 from a number of different cities. Cities that are rumored to be in the running for a new MLS franchise include Vancouver, Portland, St. Louis, Miami, Montreal, Atlanta, Ottawa and a second New York-area team (more likely in the city). There is one city that I feel needs to be attached to this list very soon: Detroit. Sure, a lot of my desire for a soccer team in the Motor City surround the fact that I’m from the area. That’s no secret. But also, I think that the market is excellent for a top-flight soccer team in Detroit, far surpassing the potential for success that several of the cities mentioned above have.

First, Detroit is an international city, with the metro area including 2 states as well as Canada. We’re talking well over 6 million people. Detroit has a Greektown, a Mexicantown, a huge Polish population, a huge Belgian population, a huge Jewish population and the largest Arab population outside of the Middle East. They also have a lot of German tourists as well as Chinese and Japanese tourists due to the automotive industry. All of them are crazy about soccer. This is not to mention the decently large Asian population across the river in Windsor, Ontario. Soccer really is the world’s game, and in a city that caters to the international community, a soccer team would be great there.

Second, soccer is HUGE in Michigan. I played soccer from about the age of 6 until high school. There are tons of kids that are playing soccer in the Detroit area, with hundreds of soccer moms to tote them around to their various matches. This is a decent fanbase that will come out to games regularly and give them something to strive for. Some of the best soccer players in America have grown up in Michigan. It would be great for some of those players to eventually come full circle and put on the kit of the hometown Detroit team.

Finally, Detroit is a sports-crazy town. We’re crazy about the Red Wings. We’re crazy about our Tigers and Pistons. We’re even crazy about our Lions, even though they haven’t given us much reason to care about them for the last 10-50 years. We are crazy about Michigan and Michigan State football, and we’re absolutely united in our hatred for all things Ohio State and Notre Dame. Other teams that call the Motor City area home also get lots of support, from the Plymouth Whalers (minor league hockey team) to the Michigan Bucks (U-23 soccer team). People who think that an MLS team won’t get the same kind of love that is shown to the other big 4 teams are sorely mistaken.

Luckily, there are a group of fans who agree with me. I am happy to be one of the people involved in the planning talks that has led to the creation of the Motor City Supporters. This group of people is committed to showing the soccer world, as well as those local big-time investors, that MLS in Detroit is a winning combination. The people are great people to talk up soccer, and they’re always looking for people who are also interested in doing what they can to increase interest in a MLS team in the Motor City. Check out their blog for more information by clicking here or looking for the Motor City Supporters link on the right side of this page.

So Don Garber, wake up and realize that the potential for professional soccer in Detroit is off the charts. In tough economic times, one of the only things that never wavers is loyalty. Detroit fans are loyal fans, and I know that with the help of the Motor City Supporters, you’ll never have to worry about the viability of soccer in Detroit. We love MLS, and a Detroit franchise would make me one of the happiest soccer fans in the world.