Looking at the footsballs

TV executives know we’re home and watching, and they oblige us…  Lots of sports programming available for consumption, and in Beemsville that meant Fighting Illini basketball the last two evenings.  Nice wins over Indiana State and Baylor to take the Las Vegas Invitational tourney.  This hoops team is Aggressive with a big ‘A’, allowing them to win even when shooting poorly.  Very fun to watch, and we’ll break them down later.

This morning we have some English Premier League.  No games really stand out this weekend, but hey, it’s on.  Then we have Illinois vs. Northwestern at 11:00.  Two 5-6 teams battling for a low-level bowl…  Battling for the Abe Lincoln LOL Hat…  Battling for state supremacy (not really, because NIU is better than either)…   It’s the Illinois Pension-Reform Bowl.  Whoever wins, the citizenry come out a little poorer…  And yes, most likely, Tim Beckman’s job hangs in the balance.  Like any true Illini fan, I’ll be rooting hard to beat Fitzee and the ‘Cats, but as an objective watcher of the program, I won’t be too sad if a loss initiates a coaching change.

This afternoon we have the second leg of MLS Eastern Conference Playoffs:  New England vs. New York in Foxborough.  The Red Bulls are down 2-1, needing some goals, and their top scorer is out with yellow cards.  Can the old warhorses, Henry and Cahill summon forth the magic again?  Tomorrow we get Seattle vs. LA from Century Link Field in the Western Conference.  The Galaxy hold the 1-0 advantage here and looked much the better team in the first leg, but Seattle are so tough at home.  LA will have to score to close this out because the Sounders are going to get some goals.  Should be a fun one:  Dempsey, Martins, and Yedlin v. Donovan, Keane, and Gonzalez.

MLS Cup – Bracket Pick ’em

This past weekend saw the end of the MLS regular season, with the New York Red Bulls winning the Supporter’s Shield and #1 playoff overall seed.  Several other teams, including the Chicago Fire, saw their seasons end.  The playoff race was tight, with only a few teams out of the running for a spot.  The remaining teams are good squads, most of whom should feel they have a shot at going on a run to MLS Cup.  When you think back to the recent past, before expansion, you might have 8 of 12 teams make the playoffs.  And some of those teams were bad.

Speaking of bad, we will once again attempt to prognosticate and pick our playoff bracket.  The results of recent year’s predictions would have been truly hilarious if not for our safe choice of picking the L.A. Galaxy from the west…

So anyway, here’s the bracket:

And now, the Beemsville picks… Continue reading

Early Issues for MLS

A little more than a month into the Major League Soccer season, and a few troubling themes have emerged for the league.  To be fair, it’s debatable whether these are themes, trends, or more symptoms of the way MLS is structured and organized.

It starts with the horrific injuries to talented attackers.  Two weeks ago, Seattle Sounder and speed merchant Steve Zakuani fell to a scissor tackle from Brain Mullan.  The tackle was late, clumsy, and had nearly no chance of getting the ball.  Zakuani’s ankle was broken and dislocated – he’s out for the season.

A few days later, the reigning league MVP, David Ferreira of FC Dallas was scythed down by Jonathan Leathers.  The tackle was late, clumsy, and had nearly no chance of getting the ball.  Ferreira suffered a broken ankle, likely out for the season.

Then last weekend Real Salt Lake’s best creative player, Javier Morales, was taken out by Marcos Mondani.  Clumsy, late, broken ankle.  Morales out for probably the season.  So that’s three MLS All-stars gone in a couple of weeks. Continue reading

MLS Curtain Calls

The regular season ended over the weekend, with L.A. beating Dallas to take the Supporter’s Shield and overall top seed into the playoffs.  The MLS post-season ticket looks like this:


1. New York Red Bulls vs. 4. San Jose Earthquakes

2. Columbus Crew vs. 3. Colorado Rapids


1. Los Angeles Galaxy vs. 4. Seattle Sounders

2. Real Salt Lake vs. 3. FC Dallas

With both the #1 seeds struggling somewhat over the last month, the field seems pretty open.  If we were to pick a team from each bracket not to advance, it would be Dallas in the West and Columbus in the East.  Salt Lake has probably played the best soccer the final month of the season, and San Jose has also looked tough.  Should be fun.

But the real news for Major League Soccer is the retirement of a handful of of stalwarts – guys who’ve been with the league since the 90’s.  Start with D.C. United’s Jaime Moreno, who’s been here since 1996 and retires as the top scorer in MLS.  He saw limited duty this year and only scored from the penalty spot, but he’s been a great asset to the league – both in the early days as a dynamic forward and now as an elder statesmen. Continue reading

Hello, MLS!

Major League Soccer got under way last weekend, to the relief of its devoted fans.  So many of us have been busy following and worrying about the end of the collective bargaining agreement and the will they/won’t they strike storyline, we didn’t really do as much pre-seasoning and prognosticating as usual.  Of course the players and owners left it until about ten days before the season to finally reach an agreement.   Even over at Soccer by Ives, they were rolling out three, four team-previews a day.

So we’re all a little behind on the MLS scene, but a few developments that will shape and mold the 2010 have already arisen…

  • Red Bull Arena. Finally (and we do mean finally) the New York franchise has its own stadium.  By all accounts it’s state-of-the-art, the best in MLS, and worthy of all the hype.  The team also underwent an off-season facelift, and if Thierry Henry shows up after the World Cup as has been rumored, maybe the Red Bulls will finally reward their fan-base.
  • Welcome, Philly. Natural rivals for New York, a balanced schedule for the league, and a team to support for some of the country’s most notorious sports fans.  Philadelphia Union, welcome to MLS.  Coach Peter Nowak will have the team moving in the right direction given time, but for now they look like the Eastern Conference doormats. Continue reading

Landon Gets His

Landon Donovan, the best player in MLS years running and Team America’s MVP, received a contract extension this week reported at around $9 million over four years.  Merry Christmas Landon, you deserve it.  It’s long been a sore spot that MLS will pay big money to aging international players like Beckham, Blanco, and Angel, but continues to underpay the best Americans in the league.  Maybe this is a good first step, although with the players’ contract negotiations looming, it’s tough to see it.

Also announce this week, Donovan’s impending short-term loan to Everton in England.  It’s a good scenario: 10 weeks with a club that has a good manager in David Moyes, needs some attacking cover due to injury, and has some history of accepting our players in (Moore, McBride, and now Tim Howard).  It gives Landon the chance to show what he can do in the EPL and maybe make even more money in Europe next year with strong performances and a good World Cup.  So why don’t I like it?  Selfish reasons, mostly.  This year I’d prefer Donovan take the winter months to rest his body and mind for the summer instead of playing in the world’s most physical league.  I don’t want him injured on some soggy field in Bolton.  I want him fresh and in peak form for South Africa, because make no mistake: no Landon = no advancement, no matter how nice our group looks now.  Period. Continue reading

MLS Stretch Run

With the dog days mostly behind us, Major League Soccer looks towards the stretch run and the playoffs.  September and October usually showcase the best of MLS, as teams jockey for position and try to gain post-season momentum.  Ironically, you often see your best soccer this time of the year, the kind a casual fan could enjoy, when most people are occupied elsewhere.

Houston Dynamo (40 points), Columbus Crew (39 points), and Chicago Fire (38 points) are locks for the playoffs.  Of these three, the Dynamo, who just signed Mexican forward Luis Landin and are starting to get healthy again, look the best.  Columbus seems a little shaky, and they have the distraction of the CONCACAF Champions leauge, but they continue to get results.  The Fire have plenty of points but haven’t played particularly well.  Starting defender, Bakary Soumare, seems to be on his way to France, and Coach Hamlett seems to have some issues.  Chicago could still put it together, though. Continue reading

Books: The Beckham Experiment

…by Grant Wahl

What - you were expecting someone else's photo?

The Beckham Experiment: How the World’s Most Famous Athlete Tried to Conquer America has been lauded and praised by everyone from dead-spinner Will Leitch to that anti-soccer curmudgeon, Frank DeFord.  And why is that?  Because it’s American Sports Journalism at its finest?  Because it takes the high gloss sheen from David Beckham and his PR machine?  Because it’s a true Hollywood tale of haves and have-nots?  Yeah, no doubt…

The best thing for me is this is the first high profile book devoted to the strange and sometimes counter-intuitive world of Major League Soccer.  This is the world David Beckham brought himself and his handlers into.  The world of a niche sport trying to grasp its share of the fickle American sports attention span, in which soccer, the world’s most popular sport, is relegated to afterthought status on Sportscenter.  In MLS, you have a league set up in a single-entity fashion and backed by some of this country’s wealthiest businessmen.  This structure has so far protected the league and kept it afloat, even amidst contraction (two Florida teams lost several years ago) and unimpressive TV ratings.  Now MLS has been adding teams the past few seasons: Toronto, San Jose, Seattle, and next year Philadelphia.  Attendance-wise, the teams are solid, ranking up there with soccer leagues in places like the Netherlands, Sweden, and France.  But MLS’s single-entity structure isn’t like anyplace else.  The league (not teams) own the player contracts, which means, a team can’t just go out and buy talent like in Europe.  It’s a system meant to impose parity and fiscal responsibility on the teams – something Team Beckham never seemed to grasp. Continue reading