Lampard gaffe unveils NYCFC farce

January 3, 2015 at 11:58 pm | Posted in General Football, Major League Soccer | 3 Comments
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One of the things I prattle on about in Whitecapsfanblog is my deep regret the New York Cosmos and Major League Soccer never got it right and got married. It is rather like having two friends you know are perfect for each other who fail to tie the knot.

Major League Soccer has a big problem. Major League Soccer’s only “New York” franchise, the New York Red Bulls, are not even in New York but are stuck out somewhere near the mean streets of Newark, New Jersey. They have a lovely soccer specific stadium out in swampy New Jersey, but only rarely fill it. In spite of the fact Thierry Henri was in the ranks, New Yorkers have largely failed to take notice of the Red Bulls, whose uniforms make them look like a team of pop tins.

The solution to the New York market is easy: just get the New York Cosmos to join. The New York Cosmos brand is possibly the most under-utilized brand in world sport, which currently languishes in the NASL, the second tier of American football. New Yorkers still fondly remember the New York Cosmos. Indeed, the world still remembers the Cosmos. The New York Cosmos were a big deal not only in North America, but thanks to Pele, Neeskins, Beckenbauer, Chinaglia et al, they were a big deal around the world. They used to routinely thump many of the top teams in world football in exhibition matches.

Rather than negotiate a deal with the New York Cosmos to join MLS, the MLS dealt with the owners of Manchester City in the English Premier League, who formed a partnership with the New York Yankees to form New York City Football Club (NYCFC). My theory is that the New York Cosmos owners wanted a lesser franchise fee because of the huge value the Cosmos brand would bring to the MLS. The MLS wanted a big franchise fee and went for the mega rich owners of Manchester City instead. Whatever happened in the failure to negotiate a deal with the Cosmos, it all seemed to be going so well with NYCFC. The shiny new NYCFC signed Spanish star David Villa and…Frank Lampard.

The owners of Manchester City and NYCFC have recently agreed with Frank Lampard that he will play with Manchester City until May 2015, meaning he will miss NYCFC’s training camp and the first three months of the MLS season. There is no question where NYCFC sits for its owners: it is a lesser team and a lower priority than Manchester City. NYCFC has been proven to be a second class concern.

This reflects very poorly on MLS and its leader, Don Garber, who has shot himself in the foot with his NYCFC project, inviting football fans the world over to conclude that MLS is a second-class league.

The newly minted NYCFC unveiled its jersey which was the same colour as Manchester City’s. Wait… Hadn’t we seen this before? Remember that old team Chivas USA that played in the same outfit as the Mexican Giant Chivas? The team that failed to launch as a concept and recently folded, sending MLS back to the drawing board where the Los Angeles market was concerned?

The lesson of the Chivas USA disaster was clear: Major League Soccer fans want their own free standing football club that competes with all other world football clubs, not one that is the distant and lesser cousin of some foreign giant playing in another league in another country.

Had Major League Soccer concluded a deal with the New York Cosmos, a free standing, world-beating brand, the league would have had the respect and admiration of the football world. Now, as a result of the NYCFC- Lampard disaster, it looks like world football’s laughing stock.

Dear Major League Soccer: no more Fieldturf teams, please!

April 9, 2014 at 7:41 pm | Posted in General Football, Major League Soccer, Whitecaps season 2014 | 8 Comments
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MLS is currently courting Atlanta, and media sources are saying the deal is as good as done. The proposal is for the proposed Atlanta MLS club to share a new stadium with the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons. This means another MLS club will play second fiddle to an NFL team in a stadium with Fieldturf, the playing surface of choice for NFL clubs.

Currently only four clubs in MLS play on Fieldturf: New England, Seattle, Portland and our own Vancouver Whitecaps. The mission for MLS should be to get these teams working on a long term plan to play on grass.

Fieldturf is especially bad for soccer in hot climates, as Toronto FC players found out before it was replaced with grass at BMO Field. Fieldturf is only playable when it is wet, and it quickly dries out in the hot sun. This makes for bad football. Gridiron football takes a heavy toll on Fieldturf, as does the painting and repainting of the lines.

Fieldturf also drives top players away from the league. Even top players who are in the league, such as Thierry Henry, refuse to play on the stuff.

Sadly, it appears the Atlanta franchise is all but granted. Don Garber should be insisting on soccer specific stadia with natural grass pitches. Anything less is simply not good enough.

Congratulations Sporting Kansas City: MLS Cup Champions

December 7, 2013 at 10:00 pm | Posted in Major League Soccer, Whitecaps Season 2013 | 2 Comments
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Well, that was quite a final. Sporting Kansas City and Real Salt Lake played an exciting final in a match that had no end of drama.

The game was played in ridiculously low temperatures, and sections of the pitch were clearly frozen. Those parts of the pitch that weren’t completely frozen were lumpy and bumpy at best. The ball was very cold and unresponsive. The first half was filled with very poor football because the players were having a hard time moving the ball in the atrocious conditions. It was a tremendously physical and hard-tackling contest. It was more of a pitched battle than a football match because of the poor conditions.

In the second half both teams played better football, and it was Kansas City that attacked and played the better football. SKC had 9 corner kicks to 1 for RSL in the match. RSL had the opportunities to win the match with very effective counter attacks, hitting the post twice. In fact, had RSL buried one of their two golden chances in the first half they probably would have won the match.

RSL’s Saborio scored a nice goal early in the second half, but only after bringing the ball under control with his upper arm, which the linesman did not flag in spite of having a clear view. Collin equalized mid-way through the second half with a great header under pressure off of a Zusi corner kick.

The game even had lots of laughs. Me and my mate spent a lot of time laughing at Jimmy Nielsen, Sporting’s goalkeeper, who both played and looked for all the world like a fat old drunk from a pub who was called in to play at the last second because no one else was available. What we didn’t know was that he was playing with badly injured ribs, which goes a long way to explaining his lack of mobility, shocking slowness and unsteadiness on his feet. Nielsen saved two penalties during the marathon match-deciding penalty kick contest, which really turned the tide, allowing SKC to win the Cup. We had thought for sure RSL’s keeper Rimando would do better in the penalties, but Nielsen bested him. Nielsen even had a paper document in his hand which supposedly told him where SKC players would shoot the ball. It was just a prop to unsettle the RSL players, of course. It worked.

While both SKC and RSL are model Major League Soccer franchises that play very attractive football, only one could win. It was nice to see SKC given a reward for successfully rebranding their team and turning their franchise around in such a dramatic fashion. SKC fans are fantastic, and the display of enthusiasm they put on in their recently built stadium was a credit to them and the MLS both. RSL’s faithful were there in numbers too.

Even though the match probably would have been cancelled if it was a regular season game due to the frozen pitch, the match was a classic final that surely must be one of the best finals played in the short history of the MLS.

Lets hope the Whitecaps get to the final one day…

Congratulations Orlando and MLS. But what about quality football?

November 20, 2013 at 5:35 pm | Posted in Major League Soccer, Vancouver Whitecaps, Vancouver Whitecaps In MLS | 3 Comments
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Yesterday Orlando City SC was announced as Major League Soccer’s 21st franchise.  Orlando has been very successfully working away in the USL, the third tier of North American football.  It is reported they enjoy 9,000 or so fans every match even at that level.  This is good news because it shows that people in the State of Florida are desperate for football and want to support a team.  Ten years or so ago, MLS was forced to contract two Florida teams, those being the Tampa Bay Mutiny and the Miami Fusion.  Now, Florida entrepreneurs obviously feel that they can run an MLS franchise and make it profitable in the years to come.

My only fear is that under the current salary cap system, which caps spending on players at 2.8 million or so, expansion will mean a dilution of talent in MLS overall.

As things stand, you don’t have to scratch very far below the surface of any MLS team’s starting 11 (including my own team the Vancouver Whitecaps) before you get to some very mediocre footballers who are not really worth paying to watch.   Whenever the MLS schedule clashes with international fixtures, meaning star players are absent from MLS matches, the quality of players on the pitch often takes a distinct dive to the point where we may as well be watching a second tier NASL game.

If MLS is to have 24 teams in the future, as is stated, how will this benefit the fans of already existing teams?  What is the plan to address the often poor level of quality of the squad players in the league?

One solution is to dramatically raise the salary cap in the next collective bargaining round in order to allow MLS to recruit and retain quality players.  This will stop good young American and Canadian players from going over to Europe to play in lower leagues for more money because their payday in MLS is so poor.   Raising the salary cap must be done in such a way that it attracts quality new players rather than giving the already existing mediocre players a pay raise, however.

One thing I do not want as a fan is for MLS to mimic the huge and bloated MLB, NHL, NBA and NFL.  The dilution of talent that has resulted in those leagues from too many teams makes the great majority of games in those leagues not worth watching.  Putting excellence on the pitch is what will make people keep on paying to see MLS games.

Don Garber has been very smart in learning the lessons and avoiding the mistakes of the old NASL, (which folded in 1984), but surely he must recall the fact that the old NASL folded, in large part, because of over-aggressive expansion which led to a dilution of talent and poor quality football which people did not want to watch.  In effect, expansion led to boredom for the fans of the old NASL.

While MLS is growing rapidly, my belief is that under-performing franchises such as Chivas USA, whose marketing plan has been a complete and massive failure, should be folded, in order to keep the quality of players, and franchises, at a high level.  The attendance figures last year at Chivas USA home games were an embarrassment to MLS.

Don Garber surely must have plan to improve the quality of players in MLS team’s squads.  If he does not, the expansion of MLS from the current 19 teams playing to the planned 24 could be the bubble that bursts the league.

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