Archive for December 2012

Why Sepp Blatter is right about Major League Soccer

If you have read my blog(s) in the past you know that I love MLS, but I am one of the first to say that the current path they are on is growth at snails pace.  I question many things the league does, and so when the head of FIFA says to Al Jazeera:

“There is no very strong professional league (in the U.S.), They have just the MLS but they have no professional leagues which are recognized by the American society.”

Full interview here

A lot of people take offense, I understand that as many players, coaches, media members and fans have poured a lot of blood, sweat, and tears into the league in the last 17 years, I count myself as one of them.  They are wrong to take offense, they should instead read that quote and demand answers, demand better, and demand accountability.

People quickly jump to say that MLS has grown and this year had over 6 million fans show up at matches this year, they are right but one has to look at where that growth has really come from.  First growth has come from expansion, we added another team in 2012, the Montreal Impact and they brought with them home attendance of just under 400,000 in their first year.

Growth has also come as a result of the Seattle Sounders, over 730,000 of the 6 million fans to attend MLS matches last year were at CenturyLink Field, their average of over 43 K per match puts them with the top soccer teams in the world when it comes to attendance.

There is also the 34 match schedule, adding more matches in the last two years than at any time in MLS history.  So yes when you have more teams playing and more matches scheduled your attendance will go up.  But read what Blatter said once again, he didn’t say MLS wasn’t growing, he said there was no strong professional league.

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My 12 days of a Real Salt Lake Christmas wish list

Well that holidays are upon us and as a Real Salt Lake fan I thought it might be fun to put together a list of my RSL wishes in form of a list based on the 12 days of Christmas.

12 – 12 Home Wins, for all the success RSL has had at Rio Tinto Stadium since moving there in late 2008, including the undefeated home season in 2010, the team has never managed to win 12 home matches in a single season.  We know that RSL is a tough team to beat at home and with the LA Galaxy, Seattle Sounders, and San Jose Earthquakes all coming to Rio Tinto twice in 2013, winning 12 matches at home would be a huge challenge, but this is a wish list.

11 – 11 Healthy Starters, no year in RSL history has seen the team unable to field their first choice starting XI less than 2012, when they only played in 4 matches and just over 100 minutes across all competitions.  In fact our top choice starting XI played less than one hour of MLS action in 2012.  RSL has made some moves to get younger in the off season and hopefully that will allow us to get more minutes from our top guys as we move forward.

10 – A real #10, several guys have worn the number with RSL, Robbie Findley, Medhi Ballouchy, and Clint Mathis. Howerver, I am talking about more than a jersey number I am talking about a traditional number 10 player, the guy who creates the chances for others as well as for himself.  Javier Morales is as close to a true #10 as RSL has had, but with his status for 2013 still up in the air could a change be in the makings for next season?

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Real Salt Lake learns their first 3 opponents of 2013, but still wait on Javier Morales.

MLS in its annual bizarre habit of releasing some of its schedule, the home openers for all 19 teams, but not the complete schedule continues in 2012.  I have never really understood this habit, or why it is that it takes MLS oh so long to release their schedule.  I have been able to look at the 2013 schedule for months, despite them starting after MLS, having more teams and more games.  I can understand some of the issues for MLS in the past when they have added teams, changed venues, or completely revamped the format of the league, but this year there are no new teams, no new stadiums scheduled to open, and the blueprint for the schedule was laid out last year.  Still here we are just 90 some days before the start of the regular season, and we get the home openers announced, anyhow.

What does that mean for RSL fans?

We now know the first 3 matches that RSL will play in the 2013 MLS season, as expected the early start date (there will be a longer FIFA break for Gold Cup in 2013) means that RSL will open the season on the road.  Nothing new there, and for the 3rd straight year it will be a trip to California to start the season, this time it is back to San Jose to take on the 2013 Supporters’ Shield winning Earthquakes. That match will take place on Sunday, March 3rd 2013 at Buck Shaw Stadium, sounds like a great time for a road trip to me, would have been better had it been a Saturday match.  RSL started the 2010 and 2011 seasons at Buck Shaw and were able to get opening days win, in fact RSL has won their last 3 opening day matches which were all played on the road.

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Real Salt Lake announces their pre-season schedule

We know that there really is no off-season for the players and staffs of Major League Soccer teams, and for Real Salt Lake it is no different, as players continue to recover from the long season, work out to stay in shape, and prepare mentally and physically for the long upcoming season.   The staff continues their work, from scouting to contracts to planning and scheduling.  We know that there will be a USMNT camp in January and this year it will have added importance as World Cup Qualifying and the Gold Cup will both be taking place in 2013, so a number of RSL players will likely be involved with their various national teams. Here is the official RSL intro to their pre-season schedule:

REAL SALT LAKE ANNOUNCES 2013 PRESEASON SCHEDULE

Claret-and-Cobalt to Train in Arizona and California, Participate in FC Tucson Desert Diamond Cup

SANDY, Utah (Thursday, Dec. 13, 2012) – Real Salt Lake has finalized plans for the club’s 2013 preseason schedule, which will include a pair of training camps in Arizona and one in California across six weeks in January and February, prior to the kickoff of the 2013 Major League Soccer campaign in early March.

The Claret-and-Cobalt will officially kick off its ninth season on Friday, Jan. 18, when players will report to Salt Lake City for entrance physicals. The team will stay in Salt Lake until Jan. 21, when the entire group will head to the home of the Real Salt Lake-Arizona Academy at Grande Sports World just outside of Casa Grande, Ariz. RSL will train at Grande Sports World  from Jan. 21-28.

After a short spell back in Utah, Real Salt Lake will head to the Los Angeles area for its second leg of spring training on Jan. 31. The team will train at the University of California-Irvine in Irvine, Calif. from Feb. 1-8.

The team will then head back to Utah again before returning Arizona on Feb. 11, this time for a two-week stint in Tucson for the FC Tucson Desert Diamond Cup preseason tournament. It will be RSL’s second-consecutive year in the round-robin competition, which will also feature MLS sides Seattle Sounders FC, New York Red Bulls and New England Revolution.

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Real Salt Lake’s clock is still ticking – The Javier Morales Clock

So last Monday was perhaps the most active day for Real Salt Lake in roster moves since the team took part in the 2004 expansion draft with trades, releases, and signings all taking place on the first day of MLS rosters being un-frozen, but perhaps the most impactful change is still on the clock. Javier Morales is out of contract and Real Salt Lake has made him an offer to remain with the team, but teams in Mexico have also expressed interest in him as well.  RSL has said that they expect an answer from Javi this week, and that answer will have a huge impact no matter what the choice is. So let’s take a look at three things, first what Javi’s history with RSL is, what a future with Javi could look like for RSL, and then what a future without Javi might look like.

So Javier Morales was signed by RSL in late 2007 and began making an impact, almost from day one, now at the end of 2012 he sits as a player who in MLS action has over 10,000 minutes for the Claret and Cobalt, 115 starts, 20 goals and 43 assists.  His 2010 numbers had him in the mix for league MVP as RSL was the 2nd best team in MLS and he had 7 goals and 9 assists, and he was one of the best creative players in MLS.  There aren’t many who would question what a Javier Morales at his best can do on the pitch, he simply makes those around him better both on and off the ball. How good is he, well every year you will find him on the list of the 10 most fouled players in the league.  The “Hack-a-Javi” strategy is one that most teams now employ to try to deal with him.

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Major League Soccer – State of the League, a closer look Part II

In the first part of my closer look at the MLS State of the Union address, we took a look at the attendance numbers.  The reality of growth, tempered with the reality that many clubs still give away large numbers of tickets, resulting in a gap between announced attendance, paid attendance and actual attendance.  In the end there is good news for MLS on the attendance front, but many factors contribute to it.  There is another area, one that in the end might actually be more important than attendance numbers, which are the TV ratings for MLS which directly will control future TV revenue.

Here is what was said during the State of the League Address:

About national television partners:

We had a first and terrific year with our new broadcast partner NBC Sports.  They really took the quality of in-game TV soccer production to higher levels, great on air talent, great story telling, doing those things that NBC does very well and a great concept with Kyle Martino in the middle of the field providing color analysis.   We are excited about our new relationship with them.  Great promotion from NBC really increased our TV viewership. 

Our longstanding relationship with ESPN also increased our viewership.  The ESPN2 telecast of the Portland-Seattle game was the network’s third most watched regular season game ever.  Their viewership for the playoffs was up nearly 25% from last season.  They are great partners.  ESPN loves this game.  John Skipper, now their new chairman, is a big supporter and a good friend of all of ours and we are really looking forward to the next couple of years of our relationship with ESPN.

Lots of changes at Univision.  For those of you who don’t know, a gentleman from Mexico that has lots of experience from Televisa took over their sports division – Juan Carlos Rodriguez. We have got a longstanding relationship with Juan Carlos and he is very energized, looking to recommit to Major League Soccer, not just on their new sports network but also on TeleFutura and Galavisiόn.  They will be onsite doing lots of storytelling and lots of pregame shows for the first time with us, something we are very excited about.

Up in Canada TSN and RDS are bringing the MLS story to fans up north [and] for the last number of years, they have been great partners of ours. We are very excited about a relationship with them.

So let me say that Don is correct in a lot of what he said, and of course there is a lot here that is political mumbo jumbo.  So like we did with the attendance numbers, it is time to take a closer look at MLS and national TV.

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Should Real Salt Lake bother with Phase 1 of the Re-Entry draft?

Well since MLS rosters were un-frozen and the trade window opened on Monday it has been RSL at the heart of a majority of the action around the league.  First, it was some rumors but by the time I went to bed on Monday there had been a lot of action, so let’s recap what went down:

  • 4 players had their options declined for 2013 – GK Kyle Reynish, FW Paulo Jr., MF Jonny Steele and FW Emiliano Bonfigli.  Of them both Kyle and Paulo Jr. are eligible for the first phase of the MLS Re-Entry draft which will be held on Friday 12/7.
  • 2 players awarded with contract extensions – Defenders Chris Wingert and Tony Beltran both signed extensions to remain with RSL into the future.
  • The first trade of the day, despite rumors the first officially announced trade was FW Justin Braun to Toronto FC in exchange for 22-year-old DF Aaron Maund.
  • The second trade of the day was one that had started in the rumor mills weeks ago as FW Fabían Espíndola and DF Jamison Olave to the New York Red Bulls in exchange for allocation money.
  • Before the action closed on Monday RSL would announce a third trade as MF Will Johnson to Portland Timbers FC in exchange for allocation money.
  • RSL wasn’t done as they announced on more move on Monday evening as they signed 24-year-old GK Jeff Attinella from the Tampa Bay Rowdies.

That was a lot of action for one day and all in all involved 12 players, RSL lost guys who had played over 9,000 minutes in 2012 and 3 of them were in the top 15 in minutes played for the team.   We all knew that changes were going to come for RSL in the off season, but few expected so many, so quickly.

The moves helped RSL clear over an estimated $1 million from their salary cap, while gaining a rumored $500,000 in allocation money.  However it leaves some huge gaps for RSL, like the fact that the team currently only has one forward on their roster.   So with the first stage of the Re-Entry draft coming up, should RSL be looking to pick up any of the available players?

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Major League Soccer – State of the League, a closer look

So each year we get a couple editions of the “State of the League” from Don Garber and over the last 3 years they have sounded like the same record being played over and over. We get some info on how well things are going, but what if we take a closer look at what is being said, what is proposed? I have become more of a skeptic in the last couple of years, as I keep hearing different messages from MLS depending on who they are talking to and about, and as things that guys at the top level promise things that simply never materialize.

Now don’t get me wrong, I think MLS has done some great things over the last decade and almost all of them can be traced back to Don Garber. I firmly believe he was the right man for the job at the time, but I do question if the league is really going to break from where we are today and into the mainstream of American sports (and trust me we are not there), is he the guy we need going forward?

There are a couple of key things that were mentioned in this most recent rendition that over the next few days I will take a closer look at to perhaps remove the appearance of the spin. First up let’s look at an area that saw MLS setting records all year: Attendance, here are his comments about the topic:

Our league average this year was nearly 19,000 fans per game.  That is the highest in our history.  We had 114 sellouts, which also is a league record.  We doubled the number of sellouts during the playoffs compared to last year [despite] lots of midweek games, not a lot of time to sell those games. …  So we are very proud about that.  We had six games with crowds of over 50,000 or more, which is a first for our league.  We are pleased with our growth chart as it relates to total attendance. mlssoccer.com

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So who will be available during the MLS re-entry draft part 1

Teams turned in their lists today and here are the players that will be eligible for the 1st phase of the re-entry draft on Friday.  This list can and will likely change before it is finalized Thursday night for the Friday draft.

Here is the draft order:

1. Toronto FC
2. Chivas USA
3. Portland Timbers
4. New England Revolution
5. Philadelphia Union
6. Colorado Rapids
7. FC Dallas
8. Montreal Impact
9. Columbus Crew
10. Vancouver Whitecaps FC
11. Chicago Fire
12. Real Salt Lake
13. New York Red Bulls
14. Sporting Kansas City
15. San Jose Earthquakes
16. Seattle Sounders FC
17. D.C. United
18. Houston Dynamo
19. LA Galaxy

After the break the list of eligible players and draft rules.

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Breaking up the band – RSL’s roster moves begin – Updated Again

Well anyone who didn’t see this coming, simply wasn’t paying attention or had their head buried in the sand, but after the 3rd straight season with 15 wins (only 3 teams in MLS history have done this) and no trophies to show for it, the time for change was at hand.

While it might seem as simple as the inability to score goals in the biggest of matches, when Alvaro Saborio would often be double or tripled teamed in coverage, the issues are larger than that.  To a large extent Major League Soccer wants complete parity; they don’t want any one team being too good or too bad.  Of course we know that is only partial true and one has only to look at how the league deals with allocation money to see what I mean.  The worst teams in MLS, the ones who don’t make the playoffs get the larger portion of allocation money from the main pool of funds (the mysterious murky vault at MLS HQ).  This seems perfectly in line with a salary cap league who wants parity, but the waters get a bit muddier when you consider the extra allocation money given to teams who make it into the CONCACAF Champions League, and even more money if they advance to the knockout rounds.

This rewarding of the successful seems counter to the parity ideals of MLS, but it is their strong desire to find a way to establish MLS as a respectable league regionally by winning the CCL.  Something no MLS team has been able to do yet, the closest a team has come was the RSL run in 2010/11 version of the tournament when RSL made it to the finals.  Often MLS teams find themselves facing opponents with team rosters much deeper than MLS’s and payrolls often 4-5 times the MLS salary cap or more. For Real Salt Lake making the playoffs in 2012 but not advancing to the knockout rounds of the CCL, and not qualifying for the next edition of the tournament means that allocation money wasn’t going to come from MLS’s vault.

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