Around the world, soccer is king, well football is king, with billions of fans who follow leagues, clubs and national teams, they attend matches in huge numbers, they buy merchandise worth billions of dollars, and they watch TV by the billions. So it is easy for some to expect that type of success to flourish in the United States, but for Major League Soccer it just hasn’t happened. In fact perhaps nothing points to the league’s struggles more than the TV ratings for the recent LA Galaxy (2 time defending MLS Cup Champions) vs. New York Red Bulls on ESPN 2, the match was a bit early by MLS standards (1:15pm ET) but had the lead in of the final match of the English Premier Season, yet despite that 250,000 people watched the match. Now think about that, ESPN 2 is in almost 100 million household, New York and LA markets are the two largest in the US, with over 30 million people, and ¼ if a million nationwide watched that match. One quarter of one percent of the households with ESPN 2 watched that match, more people watch fishing on TV than watch MLS. That fact, and it is a fact no single team (even in New York City) is going to make MLS as popular or successful as the NFL, MLB, NBA, or even the NHL.
The United States there is a flooded sports market, there are more professional and college options than anyone can keep track of and a good number of them are and will be more popular than MLS, I am OK with that fact and every MLS fan should be OK with that fact. We should rather be focused on making MLS as successful as we can, understanding the market we are in. That is an important point to make, we aren’t in Europe where soccer is the most popular sport by a landslide, where merchandise and TV deals are negotiated in billions, not millions of dollars. We can either spend all our time wondering why we aren’t as popular as the EPL, or trying to beat the NBA or NHL for fans, or we can focus on doing the best with what we have. I have been to NFL games, NBA games, MLB and NHL games, but I am a MLS fan, and have been since the league started, the reasons are simple.
Well that has to be one of the most interesting road trips in recent memory for RSL fans, only the late Montreal melt-down kept the side from picking up all 9 points, but if you had said that you would get 6 points from those 3 road matches, I think most people would have been happy with those results. Heck when was the last time that RSL scored 8 goals in 3 road matches? I can’t think of a time when we scored that many goals on the road, and that we did it while still suffering from injuries impacting our forwards is even more impressive. If you have read my blog for long you have known that I wanted a more aggressive Ned Grabavoy, who often was looking to pass instead of shoot when he was in dangerous positions, well after two goals on Sunday night, I can only hope he keeps on making runs and shooting. So how about a quick recap of the recent 3 match road trip:
The match at New England was interesting; RSL mixed up the lineup on short rest and had a solid result in picking up the 2-1 win despite giving up the opening goal. Devon Sandoval notched his first MLS goal, while Olmes Garcia picked up another and continues to impress observers. It was also nice to see RSL able to deal with playing on a turf surface without too many issues, and I liked that the team was able to battle back to not only get a result but a win. That victory marked the first time RSL had given up the opening goal but won the match this season, RSL is 1-4-1 when allowing the first goal vs. 5-1-1 when scoring first.
I have started writing this blog post a couple of times since David Beckham left the LA Galaxy, and with his announced retirement from football, a lot of people are calming a lot of things, and I just don’t buy a lot of it. Now to be honest I am happy MLS brought David Beckham over, I am glad they did it in the way that they did by creating the DP role. I probably would have been just as happy as a fan if they had brought Ronaldo over to New York Red Bulls as the league was talking about before Beckham. I am happy that it eventually ended some players being excluded from the Salary Cap, Landon Donovan, Eddie Johnson, Carlos Ruiz, and that the DP rule allowed every team the chance to sign a player to a higher salary without destroying their roster.
I am happy that Beckham was able to be on Oprah and made the late night TV rounds, I am happy that ESPN seemed to care a bit more when Beckham played. I am happy that he brought more fans out to the Home Depot Center, and for several years to every stadium he played in. I am happy that he sold a lot of jerseys, that the MLS marketing department could pimp him out like one of those cute little dogs that the celebs carry in their purses. I don’t believe for a second that David Beckham hurt MLS at all, but when I look beyond the hype, beyond the generalities, I don’t see anywhere near the impact that some do. So I thought maybe it was time to look at some key things and how David Beckham impacted them, of course like a lot of things it is hard to draw a direct causation between one person and particular results. I think too often people take a correlation and try to play it as causation, so let’s start by looking at what they mean:
“an action or occurrence can cause another (such as smoking causes lung cancer), or it can correlate with another (such as smoking is correlated with alcoholism). If one action causes another, then they are most certainly correlated. But just because two things occur together does not mean that one caused the other, even if it seems to make sense.” www.stats.org
Well Real Salt Lake heads to Canada, where they have never won a match, where they will take on the Impact who started the season as one of the surprises, but have cooled off a bit lately. Both sides played a match on Wednesday, for RSL it was a come from behind 2-1 win over New England, and for the Impact it was too little too late as a stoppage time goal wasn’t enough to get a win and they lost 2-1 to the New York Red Bulls.
Both sides have 5 wins on the season and two draws, RSL however had 4 losses, while the Impact have lost only twice so far this season. These two sides have only faced each other once, a 1-0 RSL win at Rio Tinto Stadium last year, but both sides are very different teams now. RSL no longer has Paulo Jr. on the roster, he is the one who scored the goal last year, also missing for RSL will be Fabian Espindola, Will Johnson, Jamison Olave, Jonny Steele, and Terakazu Tanaka, all of whom played against Montreal last season. The Impact also have had a lot of roster changes since these sides last saw each other, names like Alessandro Nesta, Romero, Pisanu, Tissot and others, One thing is clear this early afternoon match will feature some players that should provide plenty of action.
Kwame Watson-Siriboe – After missing a little time with the team for personal reason, Kwame headed to Montreal to meet the team as Nat Borcher’s illness forced him to return to Salt Lake to get further treatment. It was unknown until mid-day yesterday if the second yellow card that was shown to Carlos Salcedo would be overturned (it was), but having Kwame available provides more options along the backline for Real Salt Lake, and having options is something that is always a good thing for RSL.
So today in the Sports Business Daily they did a look at MLS attendance numbers so far this season and compared them to last year, the overall trend is down 8%. However a closer look at a couple of key things show you what could be the cause. First, the Sounders which average is up 1.4% have played half as many home matches as they did at this point of last year. Second, the Montreal Impact aren’t the new kid in town, and while they played most of their early matches last year at the Olympic Stadium (which has a larger capacity) so their drop of 25% is big (over 8K per match). We also see a huge drop at Chivas USA of 37.5%, that is over 4,000 fans per match.
Now all of this is based on the numbers that the various MLS teams report for their attendance, and we know that like in other sports that often the numbers are inflated a bit to reflect tickets sold vs. actual attendance. MLS also has been reducing the number of comp tickets over the last few years and while I doubt it could account for the whole gap, it probably has an impact of 3-4% over all.
If there was a road match that RSL could go into with confidence given their past it would be at New England, but without Alvaro Saborio, without Robbie Findley, and without Nat Borchers things are never as easy as they would first appear. There were moments when RSL looked like the home team, moving the ball around trying to find gaps between the 7-9 players behind the ball, and then there were moments when slight mistakes gave huge chances to the Revolution. I have laughed at a few reviews of the matches that actually believe that this was an evenly played match, RSL dominated possession, controlled the pace of most of the match, and was by far the more attacking side.
You don’t have to believe me, here are the numbers: 13 shots for RSL, 11 for New England, 7 on target for RSL, 3 for New England, 482 passes for RSL and just 318 for New England, 81% passing accuracy for RSL (that seems a bit high) to 71% for New England, and 58.6% of possession for RSL, just 41.4% for New England. The only category that New England really dominated in was corner kicks with a 10 to 2 advantage, oh and fouls, where they have a 17 to 11 edge.
This was another match where the official ended up being a big part of the story, several major calls missed (both ways), and then in stoppage time a bad call of a handball for a PK, and a 2nd yellow card to Carlos Salcedo who had nothing to do with the play. Thankfully a PK save by Nick Rimando allowed RSL to hold on to the deserved win. For me it was great to see our midfielders taking more shots, one of the things I believe we must do, on the night Ned had some great ones (and took a beating most of the night) to end with 3 shots, Kyle had that same number, and Luis Gil added two more shots. I am not surprised that Javier Morales had no shots, he was marked closely (often too closely for comfort) by the Rev’s midfielders and defenders.
Well for the first time this season RSL is in one of those stretches that can really test a team’s depth, and it really couldn’t come at a worse time as the forward corps is riddled with injuries. Only 3 forwards travelled to the East coast for the pair of matches this week (New England on Wednesday, Montreal on Saturday) , so that will mean that we are likely to see the starting tandem of Devon Sandoval and Joao Plata on Wednesday, maybe Olmes Garcia off the bench or in the lineup on Saturday (not on turf). Outside of our forwards, the RSL depth chart is looking good with few other injuries that would impact the normal starting XI.
With the new alignment of the MLS schedule we only see Eastern Conference teams once a year, but we know a few things about the Revolution. First, they finished last year with a 9-17-8 record, and second their 2013 start hasn’t been much better at 2-3-3 with just 4 goals scored. We also know that RSL is 7-4-4 against the Revolution with 30 goals scored to their 19, and while RSL has never been known as a strong road team, they are 3-2-2 at New England with both sides having scored 11 goals. When I look at the match preview, the thing that scares me the most is Jose Carlos Rivero, who is he? He is the ref in charge of the match, he has 11 previous MLS matches under his belt, calls 25.8 fouls per match, issues 3.7 yellows per match, and has pointed to the PK spot 4 times already, and issued 4 red cards as well. Yikes.
Carlos Salcedo – RSL’s first home grown player to see the pitch in a MLS match, could get his first start on Wednesday as Nat Borchers is out with a cold, Kwame Watson-Siriboe didn’t travel with the team. It is still up in the air but with with Carlos looking very good in reserve matches and having the potential to be huge part of the RSL future, could this be his chance to show what he is capable of? RSL’s last trip to New England came on short rest and saw a number of guys not normally in the starting XI get the start, could it happen again? You can make arguments either way, but it is an exciting thought that we could see a HGP get the start for the Claret and Cobalt. Read more
Saturday was an interesting day for Real Salt Lake, the last match of a three match homestand that saw the team upset by a makeshift LA Galaxy squad last weekend, and preparing for a 3 match road trip. The team could even out their record with a win, a loss would have left the team with a lot more questions. Injuries would once again play a major role in the match as Alvaro Saborio, Robbie Findley, and Olmes Garcia wouldn’t see action, leaving Devon Sandoval and Joao Plata to get the start and the majority of the minutes. The match also saw the first start of the 2013 season for Chris Wingert, and the debut of Carlos Salcedo, the first of RSL’s HGP’s to see action in a MLS match.
You could tell that the changes to the roster caused some issues early on as passing and communication seemed to be a bit off, but RSL was able to rebound in the second half and be much more dynamic in the attacking third. Just when you thought Nick Rimando couldn’t be a more important piece of the RSL puzzle this season, he goes and picks up an assist on the first RSL goal, his outlet finds an on charging Plata with precision accuracy, Plata then feeds the ball into the area and Luis Gil once again uses his head to put the ball into the back of the net. How pretty was the play, well it is up for goal of the week.
Well RSL will be celebrating Star Wars day (May the 4th (fourth) be with you) on Saturday as they take on the evil Whitecaps from Canada. I say evil for their tactics of diving like they are going for gold in the 3m platform, now before you go claiming I am going all homer on you, check out this quote from Whitecaps blog eightysixforever.com, when talking about the recent match between RSL and Vancouver:
The Whitecaps did dive. A lot.
Far more than a team with their caliber of players should. Plus, it wasn’t youngsters doing it to try and draw penalties, no it was veteran guys, players like YP Lee.
While slight embellishment is part of the game, Lee took it to daring new heights, diving like Greg Louganis to try and draw a penalty kick. He wasn’t even touched, and Lee acted like his legs had been taken out under him, before hitting the ground and staring at the referee, wondering where the call was.
To me the irony of the Whitecaps fans complaining about FC Dallas diving (complete with score cards in the stands) is that they seem to have few issues when their guys do it. I remember how made RSL fans got at Alvaro Saborio a couple years ago for a dive that caught the attention of the MLS Disciplinary Committee. Now to say that some players on the RSL roster don’t go down too easily would be lying, but I think overall the mentality has changed in recent years as RSL fans don’t want their players diving and flopping, I think it is a lot less than in the past or at least it sure seems that way. So on Saturday with a ref who has shown 2 red cards in the 3 matches he has officiated so far this season, I expect that we will likely once again get to watch guys like YP Lee act as if there are snipers in the rafters of Rio Tinto Stadium.
Sometimes out of a crisis comes something good and unexpected, this could be the case for Real Salt Lake and their injury issues. I would never wish for a player to be injured but as we have seen that when doors are opened for others, sometimes we get very pleasant surprises. I think perhaps the best half of soccer that RSL has played in a couple of years came earlier this year when we were missing a couple of the normal key pieces. It was a match where Devon Sandoval and Robbie Findley looked as good up top as Robbie and Yura used to, where the combination play of Luis Gil and Sebastian Velasquez featured as much energy as Andy Williams used to bring.
So now RSL faces Alvaro Saborio being out a couple weeks and several others (Robbie Findley, Olmes Garcia) having some injury issues as well, and it was interesting to hear RSL head coach Jason Kreis mention the possibility of having to adjust our formation to meet what players are fit and ready to go. It got me thinking, could RSL go with a 4-5-1? Maybe, but for me, I would love to see a try of a 4-3-3, now it is a bit risky, and I am going to put a couple players in some positions that they might not normally think of themselves in, but heck given the result last week, is there much to lose?