Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Whither Real Salt Lake? Bad news for fans of R.S.L. this past weekend, as the mayor of Salt Lake and county officials refused to guarantee the money that the town of Sandy Spring was promising to put up for the new stadium facility. The officials fear that they will be left holding the bag -- they apparently think it likely that R.S.L. will fly the coop, or Sandy Spring will come up short financially. As a result, Dave Checketts is floating the idea that he might sell his rights to operate the franchise.

Another possibility, suggested in the New York Times, is that Checketts could take the team elsewhere, with St. Louis being a strong possibility. It's always been strange to me that the league put a team in Kansas City, rather than St. Louis, which has a famously strong tradition in soccer. Perhaps, the Wizards could benefit from having a regional rival.

The irony is that Salt Lake is a growing community that could support a team, notwithstanding the lack of confidence shown last week by local politicians. Checketts' plans were well thought-out: from the stadium, to his years-long strategic plan to bring Freddy Adu to Salt Lake. Salt Lake should share the confidence and vision that Checketts has for the area and the team. Maybe the stadium could yet become 'The House that Adu Built?'

This is my third post of the evening -- be sure to scroll down for my earlier posts on the Nationals, and a longer one on transfer moves in international soccer/football, and D.C. United's most recent addition, Ricky Schramm.
Washington Post "borrows" my phrase -- I responded to Boswell's column last Friday on the Nationals -- I wrote here, on this blog, and in an email to Boswell, that the Nationals would be "historically awful." In today's paper, writing about Ryan Zimmerman's optimism, the Post's beat reporter, Barry Svrluga wrote this: "Zimmerman is a bit defiant about the naysayers who are predicting a horrible -- perhaps historically horrible -- season for the Nationals."

"Historically horrible???" I guess I must be one of the naysayers, and, I suppose that I should be flattered..... Zimmerman Remains Upbeat About Lineup.

For what it's worth, Z-Man, I agree that the lineup could be OK -- especially, if Guzman rediscovers his hitting stroke, and Johnson gets healthy, and so on, and so on.....The biggest problem with the '08 Nats will be the incredibly inexperienced and not especially talented pitching staff.
Soccer Moves - Onyewu to Newcastle, Ronaldo to AC Milan. Gooch finds himself an English team where he can play a major role. The Magpies are trying to restore their glory days. Onyewu will help anchor their defense. Right now it's just a loan until the end of the season, but Gooch hopes to convince Newcastle to sign him to a new contract.

Onyewu is riding the crest of a wave in U.S. soccer, which has a number of players skipping right over MLS to try and catch on with the more competitive and better-paying European leagues. There's a fine piece by Jeff Carlisle at ESPN's site, on what Carlisle sees as a growing problem for MLS -- with the best young American talent striking out for Europe. ESPNnet article. Last year's crop of coveted Americans signing to play with top-flight squads in Europe was led by the speedy Lee Nguyen, along with Benny Feilhaber, who was so impressive in training for the World Cup. This year's notables include U.Md. standout Robbie Rodgers, Notre Dame midfielder Greg Dalby and BC striker Charlie Davis.

Carlisle fears a future in which the U.S. national team consists mostly of Americans playing abroad. I'm not sure why this is something to fear. Last week, Claudio Reyna signed to play his first professional games in the MLS. In large measure, he was the first American to succeed in Europe, paving the way for the younger class of players like Onyewu. I suspect Reyna will also be a pioneer in showing the way for future veterans of European competition to return to American shores and raise the level of our game, after they've had a chance to develop at the highest levels.

This development would be good for the MLS, in the long run. It would surely be a boon to the national team, which likely would be better able to compete on the world stage. I think the MLS would reap the rewards from any improvement in the fortunes if the U.S. national team. Nothing will create greater interest in the sport here, than to see Americans succeed against the world's elite.

There is also an interesting AP piece on the New York Times website about Ronaldo's signing with AC Milan. AC Milan Acquires Soccer Great Ronaldo. As the article notes, this marks the final breakup of the 'Galacticos' -- the arsenal of world-class stars that signed with Real Madrid before and, especially, after the 2002 World Cup. It was expected that Real Madrid would need a whole new trophy case to house all the hardware this galaxy of stars was expected to win. It didn't happen that way. Although the early 'Galacticos' enjoyed success, winning a European Cup and two La Liga championships, Madrid's last trophy of any kind was in 2003 -- that might not seem so long ago, but it is the longest drought in over fifty years for the club.

The first to sign was Luis Figo in 2000; Zinedine Zidane signed, the next year; Ronaldo, joined Madrid, following the '02 Cup; then, David Beckham signed in 2003; finally, Madrid added Michael Owen, the following year. Now, with Beckham having signed to play in Los Angeles, Ronaldo's move to Italy marks the official end of the original Galacticos. The Reuters story echoes the same theme of "bringing down the curtain on the Galactico era."

Of course, the AP and Reuters articles overstate the case a bit. There is a new cast of stars in Madrid, almost as talented, if not as famous as the original Galacticos. With Robinho, Ruud van Nistleroy, Fabio Cannivaro (FIFA Player of the Year) and Emerson, Madrid has plenty of talent and future star-power. I think the nickname may stick for a little while longer, even if it better describes the assemblage of superstars on Chelsea's roster -- in fact, Chelsea's current roster is probably a little more impressive than Madrid's ever was, even if the players may not be as widely recognized as were Madrid's Galacticos.

A final note on a story that ran in today's Washington Post - The Post covered the new routine for Ricky Schramm, trying to win a spot with D.C. United. Schramm was drafted out of Georgetown by United in the recent SuperDraft. I mention him because he grew up in Eastchester, N.Y. -- right next door to my hometown of Scarsdale -- in Westchester County (the county that the next President of the United States, Hillary Clinton, now calls home). Here's a link to the story on Schramm: Schramm Puts Best Foot Forward, Tries to Make United's Roster.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Boswell Takes on Lerners - Finally, Washington's don of the baseball beat, Thomas Boswell, is taking on the Washington Nationals where it counts -- ripping them for the product they 'plan' to put on the field. Washington Post's Boswell: An Embarrassment of Pitches.

The District of Columbia made a phenomenal investment in this team, producing a stadium that will cost $610 million, or more (depending on who is doing the counting). That doesn't even include the funds the city expended in restoring the baseball field to RFK, for the interim. There was an unspoken bargain -- that the owners of the team would make a sincere effort to put a quality product on the field. A major league stadium calls for a major league team.

The new ownership group, led by the Lerner family here in Bethesda, is breaking that bargain, and they're barely even trying to pretend otherwise. In his column for Friday's Washington Post, Boswell correctly opines that the Nationals "severely underestimated a worst-case scenario in which they might report to Florida without an actual major league pitching staff."

This has been a terrible off-season for the Nats, and Alfonso Soriano's move to the Cubs is the least of it. Losing Soriano was not unexpected. As Boswell pointed out, no one expected the Nationals to come up with the scratch to sign the leading free agent hitter. The real problem is the Nationals didn't take the money they were willing to give Soriano, and spread it around, to bring in some decent major-league talent. In fact, the Nationals essentially ignored the free-agent market.

If everything breaks the Nationals way, and they don't have any major injuries (has that ever happened?), they could have a decent starting line-up. Of course, that would mean Nick Johnson comes back healthy, or Larry Broadway makes the jump to the big leagues, without missing a beat (that hasn't happened too often). It means, that Nook Logan hits better than the .250 hitter he has been so far, justifying the Nats' confidence in giving him the center field job. It means Kory Casto, Ryan Church and Alex Escobar give the Nats a good left fielder (and, possibly a center fielder, if Logan isn't up to snuff). It means Brian Schneider hits like he did this past September, and not the way he did in the first 4-5 months of the season. And, perhaps least likely, it means that Christian Guzman plays like the shortstop the Nats thought they were buying when they signed him two years ago -- not the astoundingly inept shortstop they got when he took the field in the Nats' new uniform.

As if all that seems problematic, just take a look at the Nats' [ahem] pitching staff. Take a gander at Boswell's description of this farcical assemblage. "Washington will welcome 37 -- count them, 37 -- pitching vagabonds, orthopedic anomalies and surgical experiments to their training camp in Viera, Fla." As Boswell further notes, "If you don't immediately recognize some prime rotation "candidates" like Tim Redding, Jerome Williams, Joel Hanrahan and Brandon Claussen, there are reasons. Some have been out of the majors for years. Some just never arrived."

Right now, the Nats' rotation might be John Patterson -- who was quite good last year...until his arm broke down, and he required surgery. They let Ramon Ortiz and Tony Armas go, and lost in their pursuit of Tomo Okha (his agent said the Nats offer wasn't even in the ballpark). Backing up Patterson (and we must pray that he is healthy), are Shawn Hill, Jason Bergmann, Beltran Perez, Billy Traber and Mike O'Connor. Each one of these guys struck out in their first shot at the rotation with Frank Robinson's squad last year. Hill, Bergmann and Traber were each sent back to the minors -- O'Connor would have joined them, but suddenly disclosed an injury that sent him to the disabled list instead.

What do the Nats' say in their defense? Well, they talk about "The Plan." They are investing in a scouting system to rebuild their minor league system, which was stripped bare, while MLB prepared to contract the franchise out of existence. There's nothing wrong with investing in scouting -- every team should. That's a bare minimum to running a major league franchise. It's not just a major league team, but an entire organization, meant to support the big club. Of course, there is no guarantee that prospects will ever amount to anything. The roads are littered with great discoveries and over-hyped prospects that didn't live up to expectations.

Why do the Yankees deal their great prospects for top major leaguers? Why are they so willing to part with draft picks, when they sign top free agents? The answer is simple, and one need only point to the Yankees' record over the last dozen years for the answer. To be sure, free-agent signings are not guaranteed performers. The Yankees have had some famous busts. The Nats had a major disappointment with Guzman, yet they are rolling the dice on him, all over again. The fact is major leaguers are basically known quantities. Certainly, each legitimate major leaguer is worth at least a busload of prospects (and that's not just a question of their salary).

The Nats plan on losing this year. They hold out the prospect that they will break out the checkbook next year, when they can anticipate strong revenues, as a result of the April '08 opening of the new stadium. Meanwhile, the Nats' think they will do OK financially this year, by not spending money. As Boswell writes. "The Nats expected to have a bad team in '07. The idea didn't bother them. They like the prospect of a high draft position. They think season-ticket sales will be underpinned by the desire of fans to grab a place in line for tickets in the new park."

The Nats overestimate the appeal the team will have this year, thinking folks will tolerate whatever they put on the field. If Boswell is correct, the Nats expect season ticket sales to be strong as folks jockey for position in the new stadium. Apparently, the Lerners think the love affair with the team will continue, even if they try to pass off a minor league quality product in major league uniforms. It won't happen that way.

Boswell fears the Nats will embarrass not just themselves, but their sport. In truth, the risk is far greater. They risk losing the fans. If the Nats don't find a way to spend some money and bring in decent pitching, the fans will turn their backs not just on this years team, but on the franchise. Even if the Nats are able to recover from the impending disaster that will be their '08 season, they will lose a great deal of money this year. People will not come to the stadium. They will not buy the overpriced hot dogs and beer. They will not buy the oodles of merchandise that a popular team is able to sell.

After two years of fighting to get Comcast Cable to carry their games, I have to wonder what was the point? The Nats' ratings will be horrible -- no one will watch their games. Frankly, I'd rather have it go back to the way it was -- no Nats on TV, and Comcast not charging me the extra $2 or $3 a month to carry MASN. What's the point in watching a game, when you already know the outcome -- even, before it starts?

I was a big Nats' supporter the first two years. Heck, I drove to Philadelphia to see their very first game. This year, my discretionary spending will go for D.C. United games. I can't see going to see more than a handful of Nats games -- and even then, only to see the opposition. Right now, it seems pretty certain that the Nats won't just be bad. They may be historically awful. The worst team in D.C history. Is that part of "The Plan?" If it is, "The Plan" needs to be scrapped -- it's starting to look as ill-conceived as the 'plan' the Bush Administration had when it went into Iraq.

The Lerners were freaked out by the salaries being paid on the free-agent market. They weren't the only ones. Yet, they have been penny-wise and pound-foolish. More than any other team, the Nationals needed to open up their checkbook this year. There seems to be no institutional memory or common sense. Last offseason, the Nats had a shot at A.J. Burnett. In fact, everyone assumed that he would most want to come to Baltimore or Washington, to be close to his wife's family. The Nats couldn't spend the money to put out a competitive team, so Burnett went elsewhere. Things are worse now, and no one will want to come to play in Washington.

The Nats are basically going to play themselves out of the free agent market. Even if they wanted to start spending, they will find few takers -- and the best players will surely go elsewhere. When was the last time the Royals signed a free agent? It isn't just that the Royals don't want to spend the money. No one wants to sign with them. Detroit got lucky with Rodriguez a few years ago because he had faith in the track record of Tigers' GM Dombrowski -- faith that was rewarded with a World Series appearance last season. The Nationals, in contrast, will not be able to bring in one or two big free agents to build around -- they need to be able to prove they can compete, before the top players will agree to come here. No one is expecting the Nats to win a lot of games this year, but they need to do something drastic just to field a team that can be competitive each night.

The Lerners have promised not to take dime one out of the franchise for ten years. They clearly don't get it. You don't buy a pro sports team to make money. If money is to be made, that will happen when the team wins championships, or when the team is resold. A franchise that has been run into the ground isn't going to earn dime one, or be worth much on the market. It's a snowball effect, and the Nats are rapidly picking up speed downhill.

For a lighter take on the miserable season ahea, I suggest a site called the Nationals Enquirer. Nationals Enquirer: Abandon Ship. It's witty stuff, especially the blogger's calling the team the "NAAAtionals." I think I'll borrow that one, myself..although NAAtionals might be more accurate, as the Nats pitchers are more Double-A material than Triple-A.

If you take a peek at the blog, you'll find a funny post on a story I missed at the beginning of the week: The Rockies' signing of Brian Lawrence. This means that the Nationals traded for a guy who spent his entire time with the team on the disabled list -- and, when they're most desperate for pitching, especially pitching that can be had on the cheap, they let him sign somewhere else for $750,000. This was just mind-boggingly stupid. Is anybody running the ship, or has it been completely abandoned already?

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Reyna Signs on the Dotted Line -- Claudio Reyna made it official. He will be playing for the New York Red Bulls. This is not only a homecoming for Reyna, but also a reunion of sorts. Bruce Arena was Reyna's head coach at the University of Virginia, and with the U.S. men's national team over the last two World Cups. Certainly, Reyna and Arena know what to expect from each other.

The Red Bulls' small cadre of loyal fans can hope that the Arena/Reyna pairing will enjoy the kind of success they had at Charlottesville and the 2002 World Cup -- rather than the disappointing effort turned in by the U.S. in Germany last summer. The '06 Cup was an almost magical moment for Reyna. He narrowly missed a long distance effort against the Czechs, when that game was still in doubt. Against Ghana, Reyna made a terrible mistake, holding a ball too long -- he was stripped of possession, and the Ghanaians turned the mistake into the game's first goal. To add injury to insult, Reyna was hurt on the play, and had to exit the game soon after -- marking the end of his national team career. Now, he comes to play professionally in the U.S., for the first time. I expect this will be a good move for Reyna and the Red Bulls.

There is a teaser on the MLS' site about an announcement tomorrow in Denver. The league's deputy commissioner will be on hand. [UPDATE] The Denver Post is reporting it will be the formal announcement that the '07 MLS All-Star Game will be played at the Rapids' new stadium. I guess I was getting ahead of myself -- I thought that was already official. It is still possible that the league will also be announcing that Celtic (Glasgow) will be the foreign opponent at the MLS All-Star game in July. I guess that's nothing to sneeze at, but it's not quite the same as having Chelsea (last year's European representative).
Yanks Conquer England! I'm veering back and forth covering Americans coming and going from the E.P.L., but here's a quick post about some success for Americans in recent E.P.L. play. Earlier tonight, Jay DeMerit snapped a header home, to give cellar-dwelling Watford a rare win over Blackburn, in the teams' make-up of a game that literally was washed out originally. DeMerit was not in the lineup for Watford's last match, so this game-winning effort was doubly sweet for the native Green Bay cheesehead. Of course, the goal beat Blackburn's star goalie, American Brad Friedel -- but, we shouldn't feel too badly about that, as Friedel has had his share of highlights during this season.

On Saturday, Clint Dempsey made his first mark in English play. Dempsey got off to a quick start, coming on as a substitute with ten minutes to play, and his new Fulham squad trailing Tottenham Hotspur 1-0. According to the Fulham match report, Dempsey "made a good early impression, making two excellent tackles." Dempsey started the play of the match. After making a good tackle, the former Revs star knocked a back heel pass to a teammate, Michael Brown. Brown struck a long, errant pass into the Spurs' penalty area, but the attempted clearance by Spurs was intercepted by another American, Brian McBride. McBride's shot found the arm of a Spurs defender, resulting in a penalty kick for Fulham...and the game-tying goal. Deuce looks like he's going to fit in nicely there.

For fans of Mexican futbol, this news might be interesting: National team star Jared Borghetti is back from his English adventure. In Cruz Azul's opening match of the Clausura season, Borghetti got the first goal. His header put Cruz Azul ahead of Pachuca. There really is no one as good in the air as Borghetti, though Americans can still offer up McBride as a decent challenger for that honor. Borghetti also did some good work with his feet -- on defense, no less. He stole the ball from a Pachuca player along the sideline and then sent the loose ball towards the middle, starting a play that ended with the game-winning goal, in a 3-2 result.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Claudio Reyna Headed Home -- As Oguchi Onyewu finds his services in high demand in Europe, Claudio Reyna finds himself on the other side of the professional curve. Reyna hasn't been getting substantial playing time in Manchester City. For weeks, the rumor mill has had him coming back to his play near his boyhoood New Jersey home, with the MLS' New York Red Bulls. Reuters is reporting that Reyna's contract with City has been terminated. It is reasonable to expect an announcement soon about a deal with the Red Bulls.

Claudio has a chance to really be a field general here, a role he hasn't had since he left Scotland to play for Manchester's other team. He can also be instrumental in the development of the Red Bulls' 17-year old sensation, Josmer Altidore. The New York/New Jersey area franchise had some success early on with Tab Ramos in the midfield, but hasn't really been able to come up with anyone else to direct the offense, since Ramos retired. The team's record has largely reflected that deficiency. With Reyna directing play, the Red Bulls may join D.C. United, the Chicago Fire and the New England Revolution in the race for Eastern Conference supremacy.
Local Boy Wants to Go to Chelsea? Oguchi Onyewu's agent has confirmed that Chelsea is in discussions with Gooch's Belgian club, Standard Liege, seeking a transfer of his contract. French club Lyon is also seeking to acquire Onyewu, but Onyewu is not thrilled because Lyon would prefer to wait until the summer. Gooch certainly doesn't want to sit on Chelsea's bench -- so, the question there is whether Gooch can expect to play for the star-laden Blues?

Onyewu, who went to Sherwood High School in nearby Olney, Md., turned down an offer from Fulham earlier this month, for reasons that remain unclear. He has also rejected an earlier bid from Real Madrid. Onyewu's stock is clearly quite high, but he has to ask himself whether it is really likely he would be a regular with Chelsea? If Gooch makes the move to Chelsea, it would be the biggest step up by an American player since Tim Howard signed with Manchester United a couple of years ago. Gooch would not want to repeat Howard's experience, even if Howard seems to have landed on his feet with Everton.

On the other hand, getting the chance to defend against Didier Drogba, Andrey Shevchenko, Arjen Robben, Michael Ballack and Frank Lampard, every day in practice, and to learn from the great John Terry...? To call that an unparalleled opportunity might be the greatest understatement in history. It's like getting to practice with the '27 Yankees. Talk about a Field of Dreams....

Monday, January 22, 2007

The Kids are Alright, Part 2 -- When the U.S. U-20 soccer team took the field in Panama last night, they already knew they had qualified for the finals this summer in Canada. The U.S. team's opponent, Panama, had also qualified -- both teams advancing thanks to Haiti's upset win over Guatemala earlier in the day. Still, the U.S. turned in a decent effort, walking away with a 5-0 shutout win over the Panamanians, who did not put out much effort.

As lopsided as the score was, the U.S. team shouldn't go overboard with confidence based on this game. The first goal was well earned, with Johann Smith, doing most of the work. Smith made a nice run from the right wing, beating one defender with a nifty step over dribble, and racing past a second defender, before crossing to a wide open Freddy Adu, who did not fail to score from the top of the six-yard box. In the second half the U.S. turned the game into a rout, but a better goalie might have kept the U.S. entirely off the scoreboard.

First, Robbie Rogers found himself open near the top of the box on the left side. Rogers' shot should have been more towards the near post. Instead, he kicked it almost straight at Mejia, the Panamanian goalkeeper, who was handcuffed and slow to react to the shot, as it sailed by him. Later, Smith found himself behind the defense off a long pass by Tony Beltran. Smith's low blast had enough pace to beat Mejia, who was able to get a hand on it, but should have done better. Then, Danny Szetela's pass over the defense found Jonathan Villanueva, whose first attempt was right at the goalie. The rebound went right back to Villanueva, and this time he headed the ball past Mejia, to make the score 4-0. The final goal, set up by a nice run from the flank by Rogers, came off the foot of Freddy Adu, who one-timed a grass-cutter past the flat-footed keeper.

Despite a listless effort against Guatemala, the U.S. emerged as the group winner, and moves on to the finals in Canada. There the team can expect to be bolstered by the addition of Michael Bradley, son of Bob Bradley, who is now the head coach of the senior national team. The junior Bradley may be the best player in the player pool, but was not released for the game by his Dutch club team. So, who is up for a Canadian vacation this summer?

Sunday, January 21, 2007

History Made in the NFL -- The Chicago Bears' Lovie Smith becomes the first African-American head coach to guide his team to the Super Bowl. In a little while, Tony Dungy's Indianapolis Colts take the home field, with a chance to put Coach Dungy into that very elite category occupied now by only Lovie Smith. If the Colts win today, then we are assured that the the league's officially anointed next genius will be a black head coach, as either Dungy or Smith would raise the Vince Lombardi trophy.

We're getting used to blacks succeeding on the playing field -- even dominating most professional American sports competition. It was 19 years ago that Doug Williams became the first black quarterback to lead a team to victory in the Super Bowl. Since then, the league's acceptance of black quarterbacks has been slow and halting. In recent years, the league, and the fans have finally welcomed the transformative aspect of the athletic African-Americans now playing at the quarterback position. They have become accepted as team leaders and decision-makers, even as passers, and not just swift runners.

Coaching, however, is still dominated by whites. Smith's success is truly historic...and welcome, as it proves that blacks can compete in the mental, "intellectual" aspects of the game. Dungy has been one of the top coaches for years, first with the Buccaneers, and now with the Colts. A berth in the Super Bowl, however has proved elusive for coach Dungy. There is an excellent chance that will change in a few hours.
It's Snowing!!! Is that good for Al Gore? Reports of winter's demise are at least premature, if not entirely greatly exaggerated. It's snowing here in Bethesda, and some of it is even sticking on the grass, if not the roads. Going this deep into January without seeing any snow was downright freaky and frightening. Every Democrat in the country is declaring themselves a Presidential candidate, while Al Gore remains on the sidelines. I put myself in the company of those who cry "Run, Al, Run."

There is one matter that Gore ought to address before he announces a run, if he intends to so -- he does say he does "not expect" to run, but a huge faction of the Democratic Party is hoping he will. His great selling point is his commitment to the environment. There is a bit of an Achilles Heel there, that Gore ought to take steps to correct, whether he decides to run or not. Gore sits on the board of Apple Inc. (until recently, Apple Computers, Inc.). The former Vice-President and Presidential candidate is one of seven members of the board of directors. That is hardly a position of great strength -- at least not in numbers. He cannot be held personally responsible for Apple's policies.

Lately, an internet email has begun circulating that notes Gore's "Apple" problem. Apple has been singled out by Greenpeace as the worst environmental criminal among fourteen leading electronics manufacturers. This designation has fallen on Apple for years, but Greenpeace reports that Apple has done nothing to improve its position, or its environmental score. While other manufacturers have done much to improve their "green" standing, Apple seems to content to enjoy its profits and its "dirty" label.

The problem is that Apple's products are not environmentally friendly. They are not made from recyclable materials and contain toxic heavy metals that are poisoning the areas around garbage dumps. Most of these products find their way to vast waste dumps in China, where the heavy metals poison the groundwater, and the ever-growing mountains of garbage are a blight upon the countryside. If Gore wants to preserve his saintly standing on the environment, he must use his position on the board to pressure Apple into announcing a crash program to make its products more eco-friendly.

As I said, Gore cannot be held personally responsible for the materials employed in Apple's product line. While he sits on the board, however, he is fairly identified with the company's practices. I realize it's cool and extremely lucrative to sit on Apple's board, but Gore must come to grips with the following imperative: He must exert pressure on Apple, from the inside, to produce "greener" products, or he must resign, making a public show of the reason for that decision.

Al Gore believes he is uniquely positioned to lead the effort to reverse global warming. He is also fairly uniquely positioned to shine the spotlight on the growing environmental crisis arising from the vast stores of obsolete consumer electronics. It's on you, Mr. Vice-President. Your plate is big enough to handle this issue, as well. In fact, if you want to maintain the credibility you have earned on the global warming question, you will have to face your responsibilities in regard to Apple's poor record on the environment.
E.P.L. Spoiler Alert (Arsenal - Man. Utd.) -- If you are planning to catch a replay of the Arsenal-Manchester United tilt, and don't want to know the result, click off this page immediately! This was a game played at the highest levels of skill, and intensity. Two clubs among the world's elite lived up to their billings. A hard fought scoreless draw at the half turned into a thrilling second half. The league-leading Manchester squad struck first, to the dismay of the fans at Arsenal's new Emirates stadium. Patrice Evra, who showed great skill throughout the game, whipped in a cross from the far wing, and a diving Wayne Rooney headed it home for the game's first goal. Arsenal keeper Jens Lehman looked a little hesitant, or slow in getting across his goal mouth, and had no chance to make the save, once Rooney had sent his shot on goal.

Arsenal, though, wasn't going to go down without a fight. Still trailing with ten minutes to go, two Arsenal attackers, Fabregas and Rosicky, fought doggedly for a loose ball just outside the Manchester box. Fabregas emerged with control, passed to Rosicky, who then knocked the ball towards Thierry Henry in the middle, but Henry gave the dummy, allowing the ball to pass through to the onrushing Robbie van Persie. A late substitute with a lot energy, van Persie slid at the ball, and knocked it into the top of the goal netting, beyond the reach of the outstretched Edwin Van der Sar.

In the waning moments, Manchester looked the more dangerous side, until deep into added time, a cross from Emmanuel Eboue found the head of the French star, Henry. Not noted as a vary dangerous scorer with his head, Henry was able to deliver a sharp, powerful header that van der Sar had no chance of stopping. The Gunners' fans exploded with delirium. Just when they seemed to be facing an impending defeat to their longtime rivals, Arsenal rallied and somehow managed to pull off the victory. Great stuff!

With 14 games to play, Manchester leads Chelsea by six points, Liverpool is in third place, trailing by 11 points, and Arsenal is one point behind Liverpool, in forth place. Bolton stands in fifth place with an outside chance of cracking the top four and getting a chance at qualifying for European Champions League play.

Later today: the U.S. under-20 squad takes on Panama as they fight to advance in the U-20 Cup qualifying for this summer's tournament in Canada.
The Kids Are Alright! In Bob Bradley's debut as national team head coach, the USA came from behind to defeat Denmark, 3-1. The big story of the game was the play of three young Americans making their national team debut. Justin Mapp, Jonathan Bornstein and Kenny Cooper got their national team careers off to a memorable start.

After falling behind 1-0, the U.S. drew even when Landon Donovan proved it is better to be lucky than good. Looking incredibly nervous and uncertain, Donovan struck a penalty shot that the Danish keeper appeared to have blocked. Though the keeper appeared to get a solid block with his hand, Donovan's shot had enough power to get through the keeper's attempted save. The penalty came on a questionable call, as it appeared that the Danish defender might have pulled on Ricardo Clark's jersey before Clark crossed into the penalty area. Still, the U.S. survived some spotty marking early on, and went into the locker room with the score tied at halftime.

The second half was an entirely different game, as far as the young American squad was concerned. The U.S. took the lead on one of the finest runs any American soccer player has ever delivered in an international contest. Justin Mapp took the ball in the U.S. half, sprinted through three defenders, and dribbled all the way down the right side of the field. Mapp paused just outside the penalty area, then split two more defenders as he drove across the goal line, and crossed to the waiting Jonathan Bornstein, who knocked it past the Danish keeper for the game-winning goal.

The U.S. added a clincher late in the game, when Heath Pierce set Kenny Cooper off on a breakaway, with a pass over the Danish defense. [Cooper appeared offsides to me, but there was no call]. Cooper gathered the ball and drove towards the net. He coolly set up the keeper and slipped the ball past the keeper at the last possible moment, before the defense caught up to him.

The opposition may not have been the best, as the Danes seemed to tire early in the second half -- but, this raw, young and inexperienced U.S. squad should be quite pleased with the result. This was a very promising beginning to the Bradley era. There is a new generation of U.S. players, and they served notice that this generation has a lot of potential.

In fact, the major disappointment was the poor turnout at the Home Depot Center. Just over 10,000 fans made it for this friendly, and not all were rooting for the U.S. squad. It seems the Los Angeles area isn't ready to be the home field for the national team. Not that this is entirely a bad thing. The national team should strive to play all over the country. I know I'll be looking forward to seeing this bunch of players, when they finally make it to the Northeast, or D.C. area. The U.S.A. Kids ARE alright!

Saturday, January 20, 2007

73 visitors and counting!!! For some reason, Friday was the heaviest trafficked day in the short history of the FischFry. It seems my post on Luciano Emilio is prominently displayed on United's page at MLSnet. I'm guessing that's what's drawn the attention. Cool beans! If can get that kind of audience, I definitely will keep writing. I'm flabbergasted and excited. Thanks.

Since it was a soccer post that brought in all that traffic, I thought I'd stick with that this weekend. I'd like to respond to a comment from last week's post on the Beckham signing. Gillmp wrote about Phil Anschutz -- the money behind the L.A. Galaxy. I think he's right in his analysis about the Beckham signing. Anschutz has lots of money, and a great deal invested in the league, obviously. Although his group sold off their controlling interest in D.C. United, they still control almost half the league, and expect to profit off a stadium deal for United. This relationship to the MLS poses what would seem like a conflict of interest -- but in this case, what's good for Anschutz is good for the league, overall. He can focus his spending on L.A., even lose money there, and reap rewards elsewhere. Fans of other clubs will have to learn to live with this arrangement, even if it disadvantages their favorite team.

Gillmp also wondered about why the Rochester Raging Rhinos haven't been given a shot in the MLS, and he expressed his hopes for a promotion/relegation system in this country. As for the Raging Rhinos...I don't know if he mentioned them randomly, or read enough of my site to see that I went to college in Rochester. I would love to see them have a shot at the MLS. It's a small market, though, and a small stadium. I think, when there is a promotion/relegation system, they will be a frequent visitor to the top level.

And there will be a promotion/relegation system. A year ago, I didn't hear anyone discuss it. Now, everyone talks about it..and favorably. The logic of it is compelling, but the financial interests that have invested in the league might not agree. MLS 'owners' would not want to see it for many years...not until they've recouped their investment. On the other hand, if the league can retain the single entity concept through two or three divisions, such a system might come sooner than any of us imagine. Maybe within the next twenty years, depending on the talent level. When there are enough good players to go around, such that a promoted team might be able to compete at the top level -- the way Reading has in the E.P.L. -- then it will be time for that kind of system here. It's hard to gauge right now just how long it will take for us to get there. There will come a tipping point where the talent level starts to take off, but it's impossible to know how far off into the future that might be.

A few other random musings: The U.S. under-20 team did not put on much of a show tonight against their Guatemalan opposition. The game ended in a scoreless draw, and the U.S. did not test the Guatamelan goalie. Freddy Adu continues to be a real disappointment at the international level, though he did have one nice pass that could have set up a goal, with a better finish. Josy Altidore came on as a late sub, and confirmed that he is the future of U.S. soccer. Tomorrow, Bob Bradley makes his debut as coach of the (senior) national team. Sunday, the U-20 squad is back in action against Panama, but I expect that I will be watching the NFL playoff game. English soccer offers a marquee match-up between Arsenal and league-leading Manchester United. A much more interesting game. Cable TV is outrageously expensive, but the extra couple of bucks to see FSC is well worth it.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

More about Luciano Emilio (updated) -- D.C. United has brought in a real winner, with new striker Emilio. Despite his obvious talent, a young Emilio struggled to establish himself with FC Cologne in the Bundesliga. He played a couple of seasons with a second-division German side, and one year in Brazilian football, before making his fortuitous move to the Honduran league, where his star finally burned brightly.

Since his 2002 move to the Honduran League, Emilio has been a goal-scoring phenomenon. He has led the league in scoring in four of the seven seasons he put in there (Honduras has two full (18 game) seasons each year). He scored an incredible 83 goals, averaging more than one tally for every two games played. *I have seen 91 league goals cited, but this total seems to include 8 goals tallied in seven games, during the 2006 Central American UNCAF club tournament -- where Emilio won the Golden Boot award (Emilio tallied 8 goals in 2 earlier UNCAF tournaments). Emilio helped carry his teams to three league championships in those seven seasons.

Also mixed in there, for Emilio, was one season with Queretaro, which was playing in the Mexican Second Division -- Emilio scored 10 goals in his lone Mexican season, and led Queretaro to the Division crown for the 2005 Clausura season.

It is obvious that Emilio is a winner, with a knack for putting the ball in the net. He scores with amazing regularity, in every competition in which he has played over the past five years. With United, being paired up front with Jaime Moreno, and having league M.V.P. Christian Gomez in the midfield, Emilio should provide the D.C. squad with a fearsome attack.

Emilio won't put fannies in the seats in the way that Beckham will. With respect to impact on the pitch, however, Emilio's addition to the D.C. United roster might prove to be the most consequential signing of the year in M.L.S. This past season, United bowed out of the playoffs because the team struggled badly, beginning with their August slump. There were breakdowns on defense, but United's biggest problem was the players were suddenly unable to get the ball into the opposition goal. Emilio's consistent finishing touch should fix that problem.

The team still needs to add a talented someone in the midfield or defense, to effectively distribute the ball and start their attack. In addition, it would be nice to see the team add a little depth to their attack -- having lost both Eskandarian and Adu. They could survive with Wilson, Simms, and possibly deRoux, in reserve, but if one of the top strikers goes down, United will really feel that loss. So, there still are a couple of needs to fill, but adding Emilio is a big step along United's climb back to the top. Way to go, D.C. United!!
Beckham still in Spain? -- Rumors that David Beckham might be coming to L.A. earlier than scheduled may be cooling off, now that his Real Madrid manager has said Beckham may yet be allowed to play in Real's games. In a fit of pique, the coach, Capello, had said Beckham would be permitted only to train with the squad since he had chosen to abandon the club. This partial about face opens teh door to the possibility that left off the roster for the Copa del Rey game against Real Betis.

Also left off the roster was Ronaldo. Apparently, reports that the Brazilian star striker might be headed to the U.S. were also a bit premature. It seems Ronaldo is about to ink a deal with AC Milan, to play for the Serie A club for one and a half seasons. This would put off his U.S. debut until at least the summer of 2008 -- if it ever happens. The move to AC Milan should stoke the crosstown rivalry with Ronaldo's old club team, Inter Milan (Internazionale) -- the team that was retroactively declared last season's champion, after the match-fixing scandal penalties moved the top finishers, Juventus and AC Milan, down the table (standings).
Stephen Colbert Demolishes Dinesh D'Souza -- There are some timely topics I'd like to cover (especially the court decision upholding Wal-Mart's challenge to Maryland's law meant to force the company to provide a health care plan for employees). It might seem frivolous to devote my blog space to Stephen Colbert’s show. On the other hand, this is a subject that I’ve wanted to cover for weeks, and last night’s show was such an extraordinary performance that I’ve decided it’s time. Since the Democrats took control of both houses of Congress, I have been wondering about whether "The Colbert Report" will continue to be relevant. Last night, Colbert hit Dinesh D'Souza with the verbal equivalent of a body-slamming suplex, and answered my question affirmatively.

Though his character was born on The Daily Show, Stephen Colbert’s right-wing TV political talk host, who opines nightly on The Colbert Report, is much more tied to the political dynamic than is Jon Stewart. The genius of the Daily Show is that, in its essence, it is apolitical...or, at least, nonpartisan. Stewart began his tenure on the Daily Show during the Clinton era, and he was happy to heap some deserved ridicule on the Democrats.

With the gross incompetence of the Bush Administration, Stewart’s powerful mocking of the White House and its Congressional allies has earned him plaudits and much love from liberals...even the suggestion that he has played a major role in directing the liberal turn in our nation's politics. But, Stewart’s role as an agent provocateur will continue regardless of who is in power.

The Colbert Report, on the other hand, exists to make light of conservative political talk show hosts. Even if its only a matter of guilt by association, Colbert satirizes conservative politics, as he lampoons the right-wing media. He was vital in the Democratic wave of 2006. Mockingly, he claims credit for the "Colbert Bounce," which he advertises as having elected those politicians that appeared on the show, including New York’s John Hall. The media, and even Hall, are more serious in claiming that Hall’s appearance was a crucial factor in his upset over incumbent Republican, Sue Kelly.

Colbert has powerfully portrayed conservative ideologues as being grossly out-of-touch with good sense and reality. Throughout the show's hysterically funny, brilliant first year, it was clear to me that there was a need for a satiric voice like Colbert’s. Air America wasn't catching on, and we needed someone to put the lie to the right-wing agenda, especially because the G.O.P. had a monopoly on power in the country, controlling all three branches of the federal government and exercising similar control over most state governments.

The GOP agenda has been, at the same time, both dangerous and ridiculous. By and large, Republican legislators were careful not to enact too much of their agenda, and put sunset provisions in the more extreme measures that they felt politically empowered or compelled to pass. Colbert had no trouble pointing out the absurdity of much of the right wing’s agenda.

With Democrats now empowered, I was wondering how effective and biting his satire could be? Would it still be as amusing and important to continue poking fun at what has suddenly become the minority party, and taking on the party's most ideologically strident, politically extreme supporters? He began the post election period with a GBCW moment that seemed to acknowledge the soft ground he was suddenly standing on, as those he satirizes were so roundly rejected by the voters. He agonized for minutes about what he was to do, before suddenly realizing he could now attack Democrats for their failure to end the Iraq War.

As it turns out, that bit of fun was prescient and fraught with political import than it seemed at the time. Last night, before Colbert's now legendary, momentous interview with D’Souza, Colbert took his biting satirical pen to scrawl some on the Democrats’ hide. His "Tonight's Word" monologue was about 'symbolism' – mostly, the ineffectual symbolism of the Democrats’ decision to take a symbolic vote against the President’s decision to escalate the deployment in Iraq – as Colbert noted the real symbolism of the vote was the Democrats ineffectiveness, or their unwillingness to take effective steps that would require they become politically accountable for the policies.

One might wonder whether Democrats should still be held accountable – in this case for their failure to take any action to limit future American war casualties – Colbert didn’t go there, but this was the first time I felt he showed some willingness to direct his satire so critically at Democratic politicians.

That act alone suggests that Colbert will continue to have a voice worth listening to, and a show worth watching, but the next segment showed that he is still gunning for the self-righteous conservatives who have gone unchallenged in the right-wing media he parodies. Once a leading 'light' among the self-righteous conservatives, Dinesh D’Souza came on to promote his latest reactionary ‘opus,’ with the shameless, despicable title of "Enemy at Home: The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11."

Colbert started seductively enough, calling the book "a revelation." Then, he allowed D’Souza to explain how Jimmy Carter laid the groundwork for the Islamic jihadist movement. While Colbert pointed out that Reagan sold missiles to Iran, he also one-upped D’Souza, as is his wont, by asking if it "is all the responsibility Carter and Clinton’s – doesn’t some of it lie at FDR’s doorstep?"

Then Colbert had some fun when D’Souza took this bait – Colbert said "I can’t wait" to hear why that was so. D’Souza pointed to Yalta, as setting the stage for the Afghan problem that began 45 years later, with the Soviet invasion. Colbert basically let that one go, because he knew he had the bigger fish to fry with D’Souza – on cultural issues. More specifically, on D’Souza’s premise that Muslims have had a violent response to having been exposed to American liberal culture.

He started that conversation by asking "Isn’t our culture corrosive and invites this kind of attack?" D’Souza warily circled his opponent, sensing trouble. Colbert tried to reel him in. "I’m with you – Our culture is depraved. Hollywood is depraved, isn’t it? Wouldn’t you agree with that?" When D’Souza refused to bite on that outlandish premise, and gave a qualified answer, Colbert joked "that won’t sell many books." This set the stage for his later, more vicious attack on D’Souza’s outrageous premise.

First, though, there was a weird moment while D'Souza was talking about the difference between traditional American and "liberal America." He started talking about the "Blue America" of gay marriage and "Americans eating maggots." Colbert didn't even bat an eye at this curious juxtaposition -- I guess D'Souza was referencing "Fear Factor," but Colbert saw a moment for some good, low comedy. He broke in by asking "Why do gays love maggots so much? Because, I've never been to a gay wedding...but I assume it's on the buffet?"

This light moment gave little sense of the bloodbath that was about to commence.

When D’Souza spoke of Muslim unease with Western culture’s sanction of homosexuality, saying we should show more of "traditional America," Colbert countered with "What other cultural editing notes should we take from the terrorists?" D’Souza tried to deflect this attack, claiming that wasn’t what he was saying. Colbert would have none of it, and bore in for the final, glorious kill.

"I agree with you," Colbert continued. "There are some good ideas these guys have. This is what you are saying: that there are some parts of our culture that are corrosive and you agree with some of the things that they (Bin Laden, et al.) are saying?" When D’Souza tried to wiggle away from that hook, Colbert pushed it back in front of him, daring him to agree with that characterization of his argument, by deeming it courageous. "You have the courage to say that, right? That you agree with some of the things that these radical extremists are against in America?" Colbert kept pressing: "Do you agree with that statement?" Finally, D’Souza said he did agree with this statement of his views.

In the next moment, Colbert made it clear that this admission was what he’d been angling for all along. "Finally, someone has the courage to say that there are things in America that the liberals do that are causing our destruction." D’Souza horrified, fought against this restatement of his declaration. He protested: "OK. That’s going too far."

There was no way Colbert was going to back off at this point, from what DKer ‘LitigatorMom’ correctly described as skilled "cross-examination." Colbert countered: "No. That’s what you are saying: 'The Cultural Left and its Responsibility for 9/11.' That’s why I had you on the show!" Colbert added, satirically, "Because I agree with THAT statement, sir."

For some reason, D’Souza replied by saying "But, I didn’t do 9/11!" I’m not sure what that meant, since that was exactly what his title suggests he was covering in his book – unless he was disavowing direct responsibility for the attack – which would be a strange response. Colbert absolved him of guilt by saying D’Souza was "not cultural left, and cultural left people did do 9/11...The cultural left is responsible for 9/11."

For me, this was the television highlight of the year, so far -- there are still another 50 weeks to go, but I will rank this highly. The show last night was the 199th edition of "the Report". I think it was as fine as any. Everyone is anticipating Papa Bear's appearance tomorrow, but I will keep watching every night, hoping for another show as electric, and intelligent as #199.

The satire was brilliant, and not one person who watched this segment will ever bestow any credibility upon D’Souza or his argument. Of course, Paula Zahn, with CNN, did have D’Souza on her program tonight – perhaps Time Warner has an interest in Doubleday Press. How can I say this interview is already the stuff of legends? Well, it was referenced on MSNBC's Countdown tonight. Keith Olbermann commented on Colbert's takedown of D'Souza...and gave D'Souza the much deserved nod as today's 'Worst Person in the World,' for the contemptible, shameless premise of his new book.

More importantly, though, Stephen Colbert served notice that his "Stephen Colbert" character is a long way from being played out. He’s still relevant, and he will continue to abuse extreme conservative idiocies, wherever and whenever he finds them. Hopefully, he will help carry a Democrat into the White House in November ‘08. I think he will continue to be relevant, even after Democrats have taken a firm hold on the reins of government.

Long Live Stephen Colbert and "The Colbert Report"!

...."Let the Eagle soar".....

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

D.C. United makes its move - No, they haven't signed anyone with anything like Beckham's fame, or talent. Instead, United dipped into the Honduran leagues and plucked a veteran originally from Brazil, Luciano Emilio. I dont know the first thing about Emilio, but I did talk about him this weekend with a Honduran fan of Emilio's current club team, Olimpia. My new friend, Guillermo, thinks Emilio's a good addition to the United fold. So, I'll leave it at that. It's a start. United still has a couple of other holes to fill, and they really should aim a little higher. The Washington Post reports the team is still looking to add a player from the Brazilian or Argentine leagues. That effort should definitely continue.

United hasn't had a key Central American player since the days of Raul Diaz Arce. Though Emilio is originally Brazilian, and plays in Honduras, not El Salvador, United probably hopes that this move will be attractive to the local Central Americans, mostly Salvadoreans, who haven't forgiven United for giving away Diaz Arce.

If personnel moves aren't your thing, you might be more interested in the announcement that the SuperLiga games at RFK this summer will pit United against Morelia and Club America, perhaps the most popular Mexican side. Huge crowds can be expected for these games. MLS officials haven't decided to open RFK to its full capacity for the MLS Cup final this year, but these SuperLiga matches could fill the stadium to capacity with delirious Mexican soccer fans from up and down the Eastern United States. A twist to the Emilio signing is that United is scheduled to play Olimpia in a Champions Cup match, before the start of MLS season. More about United's latest news is at

An interesting note from overseas: Liverpool, the team noted for having the most 'nativist' fans -- fans that live the hooligan lifestyle with pride, is about to be purchased by a consortium led by the sheikh of all sheiks, the Emir of Dubai. There will be a brand-spanking-new stadium going up next to the Reds' Anfield home. Still, I wonder how this purchase will be received by the faithful.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

The Baltimore -- er, um...the Indianapolis Colts serve notice, with a strong opening drive, that the Colts-Ravens match-up will be a closely-fought struggle. The Colts are a much better team than they showed over the last 4-6 weeks on the regular season. They've gotten healthy, just in time for the playoffs. They will give the Ravens a real fight, though I expect the Ravens to hold on. This will be a great game, but that's not why I'm writing.

It's a playoff game in Baltimore, and the Colts are the visiting team. That is just SO WRONG!! I don't go way back -- not to the glory days of Ameche and Unitas, but I am old enough to vaguely remember Unitas. I go back to the mid-70s, when Bert Jones (the Ruston Rifle) lit up the crowds in Memorial Stadium, along with super-fan Wild Bill Hagy. The Colts had some of the best fans in the league...and they had history. A storied franchise, up there with the Green Bay Packers, New York Giants and the Chicago Bears. Even the Washington Redskins couldn't claim the proud tradition of the Colts. Time marches on, I know, but today is a today to remember, with great regret, one of the great injustices in sports history: the day Bob Irsay loaded up the Colts into the Mayflower vans, in the dead of night, and moved the team to Indianapolis.

Irsay's ownership was famously disastrous. He was probably the single biggest factor in John Elway's telling the Colts he would not play for them, after they drafted him with the first pick in the 1983 draft -- not long before they moved. That was a bad year for Colts fans. I'd already moved on -- Bert Jones' career was wrecked by a series of injuries, and he'd moved on to the Los Angeles Rams. The once proud franchise had become one of the worst teams ever. Baltimoreans were happy to be rid of Irsay -- trading him for Art Modell was a big move up, but the Ravens will never be the Colts. They will never work into the heart of the city the way the Colts did, as forever enshrined, hilariously, in Barry Levinson's best movie, "Diner." The Colts were Baltimore. The Ravens just play there.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

More on Beckham -- Why? Because it's the biggest U.S. soccer story in a long time. I've spent the day chatting with other fans. There is no shortage of excitement over the announcement that Beckham is coming. I didn't report on the rumors earlier, because I did not believe Beckham would come -- I did not think the league would come up with the money to get him, and the fact that he was talking with Real Madrid suggested to me that he was still more interested in finding a team in Europe.

That said, I am as delighted as I am surprised by the news. The timing is propitious for MLS, as tomorrow is the league's "Super-Draft." This usually a non-event as far as the media and fans are concerned, but perhaps there will be some spillover attention to the selection of the league's future young stars. Included in the group is 15 year-old from Minnesota, who is a native of Ethiopia, Abdus Ibrahim.

As for Beckham himself, he has already given the league some quick return. The Galaxy have reported the team has sold 1,000 season tickets today, while even DC United has reported an uptick with 200 season tickets sold today. The media attention globally has been intense. Sky Sports News devoted much of their program to the signing, while every major American media outlet has also run stories on the day's events.

I had a conversation with one Galaxy fan, who shares my disappointment with Landon Donovan, over his performance during the World Cup. Of course, that sentiment is shared by all fans of the national team, I expect. In any case, I think that Beckham's presence in Los Angeles may help Donovan. Beckham has never been criticized for lack of effort or daring, or toughness, or even confidence. If some of that could rub off on Donovan, who has never really challenged himself....perhaps Donovan could become the U.S. team leader we all expected he would be.

Bringing Beckham here does not create respect for MLS, or the delusion that Beckham is still among the world's elite players. But, he is still one of the two most recognizable and famous players. As Steven Goff wrote in the Washington Post, Beckham "is not the best player in the world -- far from it. But he is perhaps the most famous athlete on the planet." WaPo on Beckham. Beckham's coming here will bring attention to the MLS. British papers -- indeed all soccer/football media will report on his play. And the league will get attention -- here and abroad. Something that has been lacking before. Top players wont come here just because Beckham is here, but they will come eventually, because they will be more aware of the league. Respect will come when it is earned.

Update: I was intrigued by Alecko Eskandarian's reaction, as reported in the Post. Said the former United striker, "As much as I'm all for the exposure, I feel like if [MLS clubs] have all this money they could divvy up some of it, especially for some of the younger players with developmental contracts. It's really not fair what they make. To think that one guy could make more in one day of practice than some guys make for a whole year of effort is pretty shocking." Most athletes are expected to say the right thing -- Beckham's future teammate, Cobi Jones, joked about picking up whatever change falls out of Beck's pockets in the locker room. I find it refreshing to hear Esky's candor about the resentment he feels. It will be tricky for the Galaxy to negotiate the problems that Beckham's contract may cause in the locker room.

The Post article suggests that only the Galaxy and the New York Red Bulls are expected to make use of the designated player exception. The article links the Red Bulls to rumors about Ronaldo, Luis Figo (who is reported in other sources to have decided on a Saudi team), and former U.S. captain Claudio Reyna. I might add Zinedine Zidane -- rumors have been around since the last Cup that Djorkaeff was talking to Zidane about comiong to the New York metro area.

I might also question why Reyna is being linked only to the Red Bulls. Reyna has been excused from his Manchester City club because of personal reasons -- and the team has said he may return to the States, but they are not going to release him unless it's in the team's interest. Reyna, who grew up near the Red Bulls future stadium site in Harrison, NJ, might also be interested in D.C. United. They are a much better team, and Reyna did go to college in nearby Charlottesville, VA. Right now, it's all just speculation, so I don't mind adding my own musings to the rumor mill.

The cite for the WaPo article: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/01/11/AR2007011100516.html
The New Pele? David Beckham is Coming to America! Becks, as he is known to his English countrymen, is hardly another Pele. He doesn't have Pele's pace or power, or anything like Pele's unparalleled skills. No one could compare with Pele's ability on the ball -- able to generate space with his matchless, extraordinary dribbling, and his fantastic creativity and scoring touch. But, Major League Soccer hopes that David Beckham will be to the MLS what Pele was for the North American Soccer League and the New York Cosmos. What has been rumored for months now seems to be true: David Beckham will join the Los Angeles Galaxy when his contract with Real Madrid expires in June.

So what's the fuss all about? Even if he doesn't have all of Pele's ability to astound on the field, David Beckham does have incredible control with the ball. There is no finer passer, and no better taker of free kicks. Moreover, he has star quality. The cover boy, who married one of the Spice Girls, is a media magnet. He is the most recognized soccer player in the world -- indeed, he is the most recognized athlete.

The MLS doesn't have the money for the transfer fee that Beckham would command, but the Galaxy are able to take advantage of the fact that Beckham's contract is about to expire. It's still stunning that the Galaxy is able to come up with $250 million to pay Beckham. This is a league, where the highest paid player, Freddie Adu makes no more than half a million. It's hard to imagine how the finances of the league could ever justify this enormous contract. Beckham was never the world's best player -- just the most popular -- so, he's not getting the richest contract in sports history, because of his abilities on the field. Signing Beckham is about publicity -- the attention he can bring to this second-tier league.

Pele transformed the NASL -- the Cosmos went from playing in front of hundreds of people to playing to regular crowds of 45,000 or more -- even the largest crowds ever for games in Giants Stadium, with 77,000 turning out for playoff games. He was a great attraction on the road, as well. And, his signing probably generated much more in profits for the Cosmos' owners.

On the other hand, Pele's signing set off a great spending spree by the Cosmos, who put together an international all-star team. This caused other NASL teams to bring in top international players to try and remain competitive on the field. The glory years of the NASL was stunningly brief. The league expanded greatly, only to see most teams fold just as quickly, and the league soon followed into oblivion. Will MLS make similar mistakes following on the Beckham signing?

A couple of months ago, the league announced what has become known as the "Beckham rule" ever since the announcement. This rule allows each team to go outside of its salary cap to bring in one star player. It would have been ironic if the so-called Beckham rule had not been successful in bringing Beckham here. The danger is that the league's reach may exceed its grasp -- that teams will sign contracts they simply cannot maintain. The designated player exception is meant to to rein in a possible spending spree.

The question for the MLS is whether the timing is right to make such an extraordinary investment. The Galaxy will not bring in the revenues to make the Beckham signing profitable. It's inconceivable that they would. Will Beckham can fill the stadiums around the league, and be the vanguard of an invasion of international stars that will fill the stands every week across the country? If so, then the investment will be worth it, because it will finally transform the MLS into a truly major player on the American sports scene. If the MLS does become a truly major league, the signing of David Beckham today will be the day it all started.

I hate to throw water on that grand vision, but David Beckham isn't Pele, and he isn't really David Beckham anymore. In the last six months, not only has he resigned as England's captain, he's no longer even included in the team. Also, Beckham's been losing his regular starting position with his club team, Real Madrid. When has been in the line-up, Real hasn't had very good results.

The change of scenery may be a good thing for Beckham, but I have to question whether Beckham still has the international drawing power to attract other notable players to our shores. We cannot expect players at the top of their game to be willing to come here, given the level of play in the MLS. Fading stars like Beckham are the best we can hope for, at this time. If others follow him, that will be good enough, for now. We'll just have to wait and see if that happens.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Is 2007 the year of a renaissance in Canadian Soccer? This is the year that Toronto FC makes its debut. An even bigger story happened yesterday, on New Year's Day, when teenager David Edgar, from Kitchener, Ontario scored the tying goal for Newcastle United, against venerable Manchester United. I'm reluctant to make my first post this year one about Canadian soccer, but Edgar's goal is the big sports story in the first two days of the year. Edgar was playing because of injuries, but he showed plenty of confidence when he struck the ball from 25 yards out. Edgar has a serious pedigree -- his dad played for Newcastle, also...and the Cosmos. Edgar grew up showing great skill in both hockey and soccer, but chose to commit to soccer and go to England when he was 14.

Canada certainly has not embraced soccer, and the men's national team is in chaos -- discussed in an earlier post here. It's been 20 years since Canada's only appearance in the World Cup finals, and the team hasn't really been even a serious contender to qualify since. Of course, the women's team has shown signs of life, as they have become much more competitive in recent matches with the USA. The men's team, though, hasn't had much success beyond winning the 2000 Gold Cup.

With the team in Toronto, there is likely to be more media attention, which will create more interest in and dedication to the sport. There are some good Canadian players already. Edgar shows great promise, there are good veterans such as Tomasz Radzinski at Fulham, and Dwayne DeRosario may be the finest North American player in the MLS. Edgar was interviewed by the CBC radio program, As It Happens. It may have been the first piece that program has ever done on Canadian soccer -- if not the first, I'd be willing to bet it was the longest. Tonight's piece began with the BBC radio call on Edgar's goal, which was followed by a respectably lengthy telephone interview with Edgar himself.

On the game itself: The game had a rather familiar feel, for EPL fans who remember the Newcastle-Manchester rivalry of the late 80s and early 90s. Manchester had two goals from the old man, Paul Scholes. There was no Paul Gasciogne running the Newcastle offense, but Newcastle tallied first with a brilliant, audacious and fearsome blast by James Milner, from at least 25 yards out, to give Newcastle the early lead. After Scholes put the Red Devils on top just 23 seconds into the first half, Newcastle continued to battle until Edgar's memorable shot, slightly deflected off Scholes' leg, beat Van der Saar. It was a goal well received by the Newcastle crowd, and the Chelsea fans, who were disappointed by their teams own, scoreless draw today, against Aston Villa. The dramatic, two-team race in the EPL continues, but New Year's Day belonged to the fans of Newcastle United...and, maybe, fans of Canadian soccer.