Monday, August 14, 2006

Sunday Sports Wrap – Took in a couple of Nationals-Mets games this weekend. The Mets took 2 of 3, but the Nats made each game close before they gave up the ghost. I’m going to try and post a shot or two from the game – proprietary stuff – I took a nice pic of Soriano stroking career home run # 200.

What I took away from this series was confirmation that Carlos Beltran is really good, but the best hitter in the National League might be Alfonso Soriano. He doesn’t have the RBIs that Beltran and Wright have, but then again he’s batting leadoff – with the weak hitting bottom of the Nats’ order, there aren’t too many RBI opportunities. On the other hand, Soriano left the bases loaded in the 8th inning. He has lapses – sometimes he appears to be loafing in the outfield (on one play he stood and watched with his arms folded while the centerfielder chased after a hit to the gap). But, his swing is a thing of beauty. The Nats' new owners should be prepared to make a very large financial commitment to him in the offseason.

For the Mets: Reyes Wright, Beltran, LoDuca, Delgado – these guys can play, both offense and defense. And the pitching has really come together. The Dodgers are really on their game right now. Still, going into the playoffs (still a month and a half away), the Mets will have to be favored to get to the World Series.

Soccer -- Some observations about the MLS: FC Dallas and Houston turned in an entertaining game late Saturday, on ESPN2. A few points, Carlos Ruiz’s dives have gotten so tired that the refs look past them, and the opposition jaws back at him. It’s a shame that someone with his skills thinks he has to play that way. Also, Greg Vanney still has a powerful shot. My other comment relates to the Dynamo’s Brian Ching. Even though he was unable to convert any of his chances, Brian Ching looked threatening. It made me wonder again why Ching sat on Arena’s bench through all 3 U.S. games in the recent World Cup. He’s not a world-class player, but, as Arena said recently, the U.S. doesn’t have world-class players.

Arena was comparing the U.S. national team to his new team, the New York Red Bulls, as the Red Bulls took on the best club team in the world, FC Barcelona. In the first half, the comparison seemed fair. Tony Meola rescued a porous defense with three brilliant saves during the first 30 minutes. During the last fifteen minutes of the first half, the Red Bulls were the more dangerous squad. Their efforts were rewarded when Mr. Hustle, Dema Kovalenko stripped the ball from the world’s greatest player, Ronaldinho, and then slotted the ball up to Edson Buddle. Though Barcelona’s keeper was able to deflect Buddle’s shot, the Red Bulls' own international, Youri Djorkaeff, was there to finish the rebound, pulling the Red Bulls even before halftime. Buddle is raw, but he has skills. And Dema: I still can’t believe United couldn’t find a roster spot or the money to keep him in the offseason.

There are some decent players there for Arena to start working his magic. But the Red Bulls are not the team that the United was when Arena directed them to two MLS titles. He has a long tough road ahead of him with the Red Bulls.

For those who have seen “Once in a Lifetime,” the recent documentary on the New York Cosmos’ heyday is a strong reminder of what a top franchise in New York could do for the sport’s popularity here. I used to be a regular along with 70,000 other fans at Giants’ Stadium for weekend Cosmos’ games (on weeknights, the crowds were smaller). Their games were an event like no other. The anticipation and the atmosphere in the parking lot beat anything that New York Giants and New York Jets fans can generate before football games. The only thing I’ve witnessed with more pre-game parking lot energy was the opening of the Women’s World Cup in 1999, also at Giants Stadium.

I know what it could mean for the MLS, should Arena be able to turn the Red Bulls into winners. Yes, I’m a DC United fan these days. But, I can still hope, on behalf of American soccer fans, that Arena succeeds with the Red Bulls. It won’t happen this year, and next year is probably too soon to expect a complete turnaround. Perhaps 2008 will be the Red Bulls’ time?

Comments to a post last week included BardGuy’s concerns that Real Salt Lake’s days were numbered. As BardGuy no doubt knows, with a self-imposed Saturday deadline looming, RSL owner Dave Checketts struck at least the outlines of a deal for a new $100 million stadium to be built just outside Salt Lake City. I don’t understand how the area can afford or justify the expense, and I still find it hard to think of Utah as a hotbed for a soccer franchise.

Still, it seems that Real Salt Lake is there to stay. On Saturday, Checketts was joined, in the aptly named Sandy, Utah, for a groundbreaking ceremony, by state leaders, and no less a personage than David Beckham, himself. Everyone shoveled some sand and dirt around and started this project on its way. There is even the hint that Real Madrid and Becks will return in two years to christen the new facility. I don’t know if there’s a design plan for the stadium yet, but I’d be surprised if the seating capacity will be large enough to cover the costs of bringing in a team like Real Madrid.

There is one thing to note about the new soccer-specific stadiums planned around the league. They are gorgeous facilities, but they are built deliberately small. As baseball figured out, by downsizing, they can actually guarantee larger economic returns – and bigger average crowds. When there are fewer seats, two things happen: Fans are able to create a more energetic atmosphere in the smaller space, which makes games more of an event and more fun – so, fans are more likely to return. This leads to greater advance demand for seats which are now in shorter supply. The net result is that profits go up.

Because the MLS teams can’t expect to fill stadiums as large as even the newer, smaller baseball parks, MLS is building stadiums that seat about 25,000 – that’s a rough average, so don’t start throwing numbers back at me. These stadia will probably fill the MLS’ demands for the next twenty years, at least, before the sport’s popularity can outgrow those relatively small stands.

These stadiums will be fine for the budgets that MLS anticipates, but the stadiums will be far too small to stage exhibitions with the top European squads, and another U.S.-based World Cup will still need to use the much larger football stadiums, to meet the demand for tickets.

Of course, these are the kinds of problems that soccer fans and owners here can only dream about right now. And good news does abound. Perhaps the most interesting tidbit to come out of the RSL stadium affair is this: RSL owner Checketts stated that he had three "hard offers with real money" for the team were presented from out-of-staters, while four "soft offers" also surfaced. http://www.sltrib.com/ci_4176565.

If there is that kind of interest in owning MLS teams, the league is definitely on much stronger footing than it was only a couple of years ago. And the future is so bright, we've got to wear shades...at least in the Utah desert.

1 comment:

the Bardguy said...

I was able to attend the groundbreaking and actually participated in the third round of dirt throwing as a representative of the fans. The first group included the owner (Checketts), several Real Madrid players, coaches and staff and the politicos who made it possible. The second round replaced the RM guys with the RSL players, coaches and staff, while the third round included local folks, including the president of the Utah Youth Soccer Association, and representatives of the two major fan clubs (that's where I came in).

I've got to say, it was quite the neat experience, then to top it off watching one of the premier soccer clubs in the world play in Salt Lake...just awesome.

As far as Salt Lake being a hot-bed for MLS...

It's interesting. I think one of the reasons for our situation isthe high percentage of folks who live here who have spent a lot of time living overseas. Around 50% of the people who live in the Salt Lake Valley (including Utah County at the south end and Davis County at the north end) are LDS, and a large percentage went on LDS missions and served in countries where soccer was life. So when you come to an RSL match, you'll see many people wearing soccer gear that has nothing to do with anyone playing at the time, but if you go up to them and ask, they'll say "oh, it's the best team in Uruguay and the only soccer shirt I have" or some such thing.

A guy named Kenn Tomasch (www.kenn.com) does a pretty good job at compiling detailed attendance records. RSL did really good in 2005 (http://www.kenn.com/soccer/mls/saltlake.html) and I don't have the link for the 2006 numbers, but we're doing well in 2006 too.

Anyway, probably too much informatin for you, but there you have it.