Archive for the ‘Soccer in America’ Category

Stood Up By The Sports Guy

Update From Mark: The title and notion that we were “stood up” was written firmly tongue-in-cheek. Seems like it didn’t come across that way to some readers based on the comments. However, we certainly appreciate the impassioned discourse. For 45 days a note sat in the sidebar about the Campaign. This post was to wrap it up, say we failed and thank people for making the effort.

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Assuming you can be stood up by someone who never actually said “yes,” the USMNT faithful were stood up by faux USMNT fan Bill Simmons of ESPN.com last week when the Yanks took on Costa Rica at an emotional RFK stadium. And thus we came to the unsuccessful conclusion of the Bill Simmons Campaign.

Based on the emails we received and various message boards around virtual America, I know everyone put forth a great effort to reach out to Simmons via email and twitter imploring him to attend the final World Cup qualifier. (Matthew and I explored other avenues to make direct contact, but were ultimately unsuccessful as well.)

To all who did what they could, THANK YOU.

To be honest, I knew the campaign was in some trouble when Simmons opened a recent “Mailbag” with an ode to October as the best month for sports and didn’t even make a casual reference to World Cup qualification matches.

The Sports Guy was not in the stands (as far as we know and with his second half tweets as evidence) for the dramatic draw, but it sounds like he wishes he was there. (Don’t we all!)

Here’s an excerpt from his Friday NFL column:

RFK STADIUM (-3) over Any Other Soccer Venue
Did you see Wednesday’s incredible USA-Costa Rica game? Phenomenal crowd, upper decks hanging over the field, entire sections swaying, tons of history … the whole thing was Estadio Azteca-esque, only without the fluid-throwing. I was lucky enough to stand on that field once with the Hogs for a 2002 column. It’s an incredible place. Every seat feels like it’s right on top of you. So can’t we just make it official? Every big American soccer game should be played in RFK. We need the home-field advantage. Done and done.

Most interesting to me was that Simmons made no mention of Charlie Davies or The Salute in his note; especially considering the human side of sport and fan experience is what this guy’s career was been built on.

Let me let the statement resonate with you.

A guy who makes his living speaking from the fan perspective didn’t even note the tribute to  Charlie D, the player who scored the only goal that the “Sports Guy” ever saw in person.

(I’ll leave the debate about RFK as the national stadium to you guys and Jason Davis over at Match Fit who recently addressed the subject. Is Simmons qualified to offer an opinion on a national stadium for the USMNT…umm, no.)

In reality, the inclusion of the above snippet in his weekly NFL column seemed like Bill Simmons was tossing a bone to the soccer fans among his faithful readers. Kind of like a “See guys, I still follow soccer.”

For all the reasons we stated in the original piece kicking off the Campaign it was worth giving it a try as there is no denying the coverage by Simmons would have been a boon to Soccer in America. However, at the end of the day, soccer was simply a convenient August distraction and fodder for Simmons’ columns when needed.

Hey Bill, can we at least get a response the next time your soccer crush kicks in?

No caption needed

Honestly, "Sports Guy," how could you miss this? (Awesome photo by Matt Mathai.)

Martin Tyler + ESPN + World Cup + USMNT = ???

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As has been reported around the online soccer world, ESPN has secured the services of announcer Martin Tyler (of EPL and of EA Sports FIFA video game series fame) to call the World Cup for the Worldwide Leader. (No official word as to whether he will be joined by Andy Gray.)

Tyler has called every Word Cup since 1974.

Tyler has called every Word Cup since 1974.

Two things about the move that are somewhat interesting when considered in tandem…

  1. Tyler won’t be changing his style to be more “American,” which isn’t that surprising.  Said Tyler, “I think I’ve been acquired for what I am and not what I might become … I think maybe those who have made the decision about me would like to get, if you like, a more global feel to what is a global game.”
  2. ESPN is considering having Tyler assigned to all USMNT games.

The hiring is a boon to purists and die-hards, but it will be interesting to see how it will play to those not well-versed in soccer (or to Tyler, “football”) who will tune into games out of some combination of global spectacle, curiosity and patriotism, among other things. Regardless of what a “Tyler call” adds to the game for those who follow soccer, it will make the game less accessible to those who don’t.

From a “soccer in America” perspective, it would be a risk for ESPN to assign Tyler to all USMNT games as an English voice and “global feel” could be a turn-off to the general American public and could ultimately dampen the boost that soccer gets in America every four years via the World Cup. (This is by no means a certainty, but not out of the realm of possibility either.)

On the other hand, as ESPN has staked its claim to English soccer (over American soccer) they may want to use the World Cup to breed more familiarity with an English / European call of the game in an attempt to enhance the profile and likelihood of success for the WWL’s future broadcasts. For as ESPN has shown, soccer coverage, or lack thereof, is purely a business decision.

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Whatever It Takes: AO’s Trip To SLC

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Thanks Matthew for picking up the torch in my absence this week. With a few hours before the Great American Beer Festival in Denver today, I wanted to post a long overdue (on my behalf) story from our friend Justin Brunken of The American Outlaws.

As we lament the lack of television coverage for the Honduras game, not to mention the hub-bub around the circumstances of the game in Honduras, there is always another way to guarantee you see the game.

Be in the stands.

That’s just what Justin and buddies try to do for each USMNT game. They’re the guys yelling, singing and supporting the USMNT. They’re the guys trying to make things just a little tougher for whomever the opponent may be. They’re the guys organizing trips across our country as well as to places where the term “military coup” is part of the everyday vernacular.

So sit back, relax and enjoy the story of Justin and friends’ now legendary journey to the recent match versus El Salvador in Salt Lake City. Not only will the tale make you laugh, but you begin to understand how eleven guys on a field wearing red-white-and-blue can bring folks from around the country together in a way that transcends merely cheering for a team.

It's all worth it!

It's all worth it!

Thanks for helping us understand, Justin.

Click here to read Justin’s story.

The American Soccer Landscape

Frankie believes that last pass is what separates MLS from the EPL.

Frankie believes "that last pass" is what separates MLS from the EPL.

[TSG: Thanks to @AOBoston on Twitter for passing along the link to the article.]

The Columbus Dispatch ran an interesting story today entitled, Soccer’s Footprint is Expanding. The wide-ranging article tackles a variety of topics including the popularity of MLS, the rising tide of support for soccer in the US, the influence of European clubs and television coverage of the sport.

A couple of the things in the article jumped out at me…

The Gap Between MLS and European Clubs

Frankie Hedjuk produced this opinion on the gap between MLS and European club teams.

“”The biggest difference is the (European teams) have pure finishers and that’s the next level for our game. We are physical enough and can run up and down the field with them, but it’s that last pass that is the difference maker between those teams and MLS teams.”

From the MLS and European soccer I have watched, the gap seems bigger than “that last pass.” I’d probably throw game speed (not fitness) and touch in there as well. What do you think?

The Rise of “Tribal Like Passionin the MLS

Perhaps I am just getting old, but it was surprising to read that the MLS commissioner Don Garber would remark that “[I was] walking around the field with Clark Hunt before a playoff game last year and I did not feel comfortable walking close to [The Nordecke] supporters section (and) I shouldn’t.” (Emphasis added by me.)

Believe me, I am all for the “tribal like passion” as Garber calls it, but I draw the line at suggesting that intimidation of other fans, and executives in this case, is somehow a good thing and what MLS clubs should be striving for. Please let me know if I am lacking some historical perspective here relative to Garber, the MLS, etc.

European soccer hooliganism is not something that should be emulated by American supporters of US club teams or our national team. Not to mention that such activities would just seem fake given the corporate upbringing of MLS clubs. Do we really want opposing fans / families concerned about attending MLS games given the current state of support for soccer in America? The sport needs all the fans it can get.

(Aside: I am a firm supporter of  heckling opposing players within bounds of decency.)

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USMNT: The “Yanks” Need a Nickname

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(Update: Thanks for all the commentary. Well appreciated. Keep it coming.)

(Update 2: Even more astute commentary still coming. Updated below)

(Update 3: We’ll have a follow-up piece in the next few days)

Sure, we’ve got the Yanks….but maybe that’s only because Nigeria took “the Super Eagles.” That’s a good one–man, that’s good.

T&T’s Soca Warriors, very cool.

Not what we're going for...

Not what we're going for...

Much better than “the Stars & Stripes.” (“All men starboard, we’re tacking due north! Man the jib!”)

Cue Larry Ellison. What is this the America’s Cup?

The Nats? Alluding to a pestering insect that often ends up swatted is not the imagery we want to conjure.

What should the U.S. soccer nickname be? Do we have it already with the Yanks or does that conjure up too much Ruth, Gehrig and Mantle and more importantly a game with a stick and gloves?

Vote in our poll on the right. We threw out some choices, but they’re probably way off.

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I Want My US MNT-TV!

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We might need another one of these to actually see the US qualify for the WC.

We might need another one of these to actually see the US qualify for the WC.

Another round of qualifying, another struggle to watch our beloved USMNT from the comfy confines of our own home.

August brought us US-MEX on a channel (mun2) that was beamed into approximately 16 households until a groundswell of outrage led to a free preview of said channel (along with some awful commercials).

Now, according to Steve Goff of The Washington Post, October will likely find American homes shutout completely from watching a game where they US could clinch a World Cup berth.  To make a long story short, the rights to the broadcast are owned by a closed circuit television distributor (which I had no idea still exist) and they claim that the networks had no interest in broadcasting the game even for less than $1mm.

So what can we do? As Jason Davis over at Match Fit USA points out, this isn’t the same situation as mun2-gate. as there is no “target” for our outrage; if a broadcaster doesn’t want to buy, they don’t want to buy it.

Yesterday, I had an email exchange with the Roger Huguet, CEO of Imagina US, who represents the closed circuit rights holder and was mentioned in Steven Goff’s article. Huguet told me that his clients may be open to the possibility of a live English broadcast if ESPN (or one of the other networks) were willing to negotiate. In other words, any fan campaign to try and get the game broadcast live into our homes should be directed at the networks. (In the event we are stymied, Roger offered to send me the list of all the bars throughout the country showing the game live to publish on TSG.)

I think the issue (at least for ESPN) is that the game is on a Saturday. While a Saturday game day is generally preferred to a mid-week tilt by US soccer fans, it runs up against the money-making machine of college football on ESPN / ESPN2. It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that even if ESPN got the game for free, they still couldn’t broadcast it on ESPN / ESPN2 due to contractual obligations with college football games.

What about ESPN Classic? My guess there is that becomes a financial decision. A (“less than”) $1mm price tag may seem like a pittance to the World Wide Leader, but the numbers would still have to pencil out as a stand-alone broadcast on ESPN Classic. (I don’t think American Gladiator re-runs from the 1990s carry the same cost to broadcast.)

Seems like a perfect situation for Fox Sports Channel, no?

Given the run soccer has had in America the last 4-plus months, it would be an absolute step back for the sport if a game of this magnitude can’t be seen on broadcast television. Here’s where I think US Soccer or a major sponsor (the Swoosh, perhaps?) should step-up and do whatever it takes. Consider this a loss leader (USSF) or a marketing expense (Nike) and give the game away to whatever widely distributed channel will have it. In the end, no one cares if it is on ESPN, Versus, The Food Network or Oxygen.

We just want our US MNT-TV!

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