Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The "Wee Blind One" Weighs In On US v TnT

Tommy and the boys discuss Wednesday's showdown in Nashville.

While the US sits atop the table today, a loss to TnT on Wednesday coupled with the results of the other Hexagonal matches falling just right will see the US sitting firmly in fourth place in the table. This will give you an idea of just how seriously Bradley's Boys should take this match. I'm getting pumped for this!

BTW, over 18,000 sold now and don't be surprised if the US team shows up in shiny new shirts, literally. Rumor has it that they'll sport new silver nike jerseys.

Monday, March 30, 2009

USMNT In Nashville

Here's the lastest from the USMNT. 17,000 tickets sold so far. Not too bad. Hopefully the weather will be good. I'll be one of the walk up numbers, since I haven't bought my ticket yet.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Law Dogs Take "Old Guys" State Title

The defending HASL Premier Division Champions, Law Dogs, hoisted the Alabama Over-30 State Cup yesterday at Jack Allen Soccer Complex in Decatur. Ninety minutes of play against long time rival, the Iguanas of Birmingham, left the teams knotted at 3 goals a piece.

LawDogs prevail in PKs, 4:4 (3:2)

The Iguanas tallied first in the tenth minute. Law Dogs midfielder, Daniel Sherman, responded by netting in the 25th minute. Later in the first half, the Iguanas capitalized on breakaway to take the lead. Law Dogs towering central midfielder, Brian Kimball scored off corner kick scrum shortly before the referee's whistle to end the first half.

After back and forth play opening the second half, Law Dog uber-defender, Michael Haley, took advantage of space to carry from his sweeper position and placed a nice cross for Joseph Lawrence to finish for the lead. As the Iguanas pressed for the equalizer, Haley apparently tackled the ball over the end line, but no referee's whistle came. The Iguana attacker seized the opportunity and in the confusion, centered toward goal and for an Iguana forward to slot home.

Two ten minute periods of extra time saw both teams add to their tallies. Speedy winger Donald Lao dribbled coast to coast to set up John "Nasty" Lawrence for the cool finish that again gave the Law Dogs the one goal advantage. As time ticket down, the Iguanas again found themselves pressing for an equalizer. In the 116th minute, Law Dogs brave net-minder, John Moran, took a knock while risking life and limb to haul in a cross. Still reeling from his injury, Moran was unable to stop the Iguanas from scoring on a free kick as extra time ticked to a close with the teams tied 4:4.

Moran was deemed unfit to continue during the spot kicks. So, Chris O'Halloran donned the gloves instead. O'Halloran had not stepped between the pipes since his days in college. Brian Kimball, icy veined Phil Moyer, and dead ball specialist Joseph Lawrence did their part by converting from the mark. The Iguanas converted their first two attempts, but O'Halloran guessed correctly and denied the third attempt. Michael Haley then saw his attempt miss the target. O'Halloran, showing no signs of rust, pulled off the save of the day on the Iguanas 4th attempt. Having already committed, the catlike O'Halloran reached back to punch the net bound shot just over the crossbar. John Lawrence's attempt to ice the game was saved by Iguanas keeper. Nerves got the best of the next Iguanas shooter as he knew he would have to be precise to beat O'Halloran, but the attempt scooted wide of the upright and Law Dogs had taken the cup.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Rumor: FSC Wins Champions League TV Rights

In what has to be a blow to ESPN's recent self described emphasis on soccer programming, it is rumored that Fox Soccer Channel has won the rights to show the UEFA Champion's League beginning in 2010-11. Poor blind Tommy Smith will know have to limit his catch phrase "Bulge in the old onion bag!" to the produce section of the local grocer's.

I think ESPN does a pretty decent job covering the most exciting club tournament in the world. If the rumor proves true, it will be interesting to see if FSC actually splashes some cash to provide on site coverage. Most likely they will use the Sky broadcast feed and rebrand it as their own. ESPN called the games from stateside studios, but at least the games are in HD. FSC currently does not broadcast in HD, but there are more rumors that FSC will upgrade to HD toward the end of 2009.

This is yet another reason for all you Knology customers to drop them ASAP!

BTW, anyone else creeped out by the Sony ads of the glowing orb in the stadium?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

MLS Kicks Off Tonight

March Madness is pretty sweet. I'm a huge University of Maryland basketball fan, but it's the opening of the MLS season that really gets me full-on amped come this time each year. This year's opener should be a cracker.

Seattle already leads the league in season ticket sales with over 20,000 sold

The new expansion team Seattle Sounders FC will host the '08 MLS Cup Finalist New York Red Bulls tonight on ESPN2 at 8 PM in front of a sold out Quest Field in the opening match of the 2009 Major League Soccer season.
The Red Bulls feature the most productive of the Designated Player signed to date, Columbian forward Juan Pablo Angel. The high scoring forward (33 goals in 47 games) hopes to get on the end of a few balls from the squad that Coach Juan Carlos Osorio has built that includes imports Jorge Rojas (Venezuela) and speedsters Dane Richards (Jamaica) and Macoumba Kandji (Senegal). I've seen Kandji pull off some crazy moves when he played for the Atlanta Silverbacks prior to being loaned to NYRB last season.

Osorio also built from the draft. Former University of Maryland star Jeremy Hall is expected to start at right back a few months after lifting the NCAA crown. Fear the Turtle!

But the player I'm most excited to see is the Columbian lining up for Seattle, Freddy Montero. The tricky forward has been lighting up the Columbian first division and the MLS preseason (10 goals in 9 games) with his slick maneuvering in the penalty area and his accurate shooting. Keep an eye on this guy. I expect him to have one or two good seasons in MLS before he ships out to a European side.

Meanwhile, '08 Coach of the Year Sigi Schmid's Seattle club also features some names you may recognize. US goalkeeping legend Kasey Keller will patrol the pipes while underwear model and former part-time Arsenal winger Freddie Ljungberg might make an appearance off the bench tonight after recovering from hip surgery this winter.

I don't plan on doing game previews for each game, but like I said, I'm excited MLS is starting back up.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Knology Drops FSC, Thousands Drop Knology

Ok, maybe the headline is an exaggeration, but I checked the channel line-up for Knology and Fox Soccer Channel (FSC) isn't there anymore. As reported over at Southern Soccer, Knology announced in early February that talks had broken down between the cable company and FSC and as a result the channel would be pulled from the channel offerings in early March.

As I've written before, I think that DirecTV the best deal for a soccer junkie in Huntsville anyway. So, for all you jilted FSC loving Knology customers, call Knology. Cancel your service. When you do, be sure that they understand that you are cancelling service because they dropped Fox Soccer Channel. If they get enough cancellations, maybe they'll reconsider. After all money talks, bullsh… well, you know.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

MARS Soccer League Kicks Off

The MARS (Marshall Athletic and Sport Services) Soccer Club will begin its Spring season on March 24. Four teams will battle for the Richter Cup. The MARS Soccer league was established in 1988 for NASA personnel and contractors and in recent years has been extended to Army personnel. All games are played at the Army Soccer Field on Patton Road on Tuesdays and Thursday nights. Interested players must have access to Redstone Arsenal and must pay a small registration fee ($10-15). For more information, contact Andy Heaton or Victor Collazo Perez.

Two Footed Tackles Should Get the Boot

Look, I'm an old fart and know it. My years of truly competitive soccer are behind me. I still play on a HASL team and would like to continue for the foreseeable future. So, let me tell you about a disturbing thing I saw this past weekend.

I witnessed a HASL match where there were several two-footed tackles (2FTs, if you will) made by multiple players. I'm speaking of a player launching themselves (jumping into) a tackle with two legs extended toward the ball/attacker. Some make contact with the ball, but almost all also made contact with the attacker.

Two footed tackles like this one can cause serious injury

In the game I'm talking about, there was no reaction from the referee at all. Perhaps he didn't see them. Perhaps he considered them clean tackles. However, I was very concerned for the safety of all of the players on the field. I mentioned to the referee after the game, that I was concerned that it would result in broken bones if allowed to continue. BTW, I also think that he had otherwise done a great job managing the game.

I know it doesn't make me an expert, but I took a refereeing course a few years ago. I thought I remembered the instructor saying that 2FTs were considered an ejectionable offense. Although, I may have just remembered that in the EPL, it is an automatic ejection.

In fact, here is a quote from the EPL's Officials Board, "A player who jumps into a tackle two-footed is not in control of himself and therefore if he makes contact with the player, ball and player, or if the referee determines there to be excessive malice in the challenge, he will be dismissed."

Of course, we live and play in the US. So, what the EPL says doesn't have any bearing on what referees in the US are taught. So what does the United States Soccer Federation say about two-footed tackles?

While the USSF doesn't specifically call out 2FTs, it does have these guidelines for Fouls and Misconduct in the '08-'09 Laws of the Game Interpretation for Referees doc, which I believe are apt.

"“Using excessive force” means that the player has far exceeded the

necessary use of force and is in danger of injuring his opponent.

• A player who uses excessive force must be sent off."

The doc also describes careless and reckless fouls. Careless fouls are when a player shows a lack of attention and the result is a free kick for the opponent. The term reckless is used when a player acts in disregard of danger. In those situations, a foul is called and a caution is considered a just punishment.

As I've stated above, I guess the match referee didn't deem the multiple 2FTs careless, reckless or with excessive force, and that really concerns me. I've personally witnessed broken bones and torn ligaments due to this type of tactic before. Sadly, it is a completely preventable situation. Typically, conveying to the team captain prior to the match that such tactics are prohibited and will result in an ejection is enough to eliminate the problem.

Regardless, my concern that this tactic is in use in HASL and will eventually lead to serious injury is great enough that I asked a refereeing friend of mine to address it at the next NASOA (Northern Alabama Soccer Officials Association) meeting. If it's good enough for the EPL, it should be common sense for HASL, right? After all, most of us that play this game are not professionals and don't have full health coverage paid for by our clubs when bones are broken or ligaments torn during a game. :)

I ask that referees keep a close eye on these types of dangerous plays in future HASL games, and seriously consider ejecting anyone who uses this tactic whether they win the ball or not. We all have to go to work on Mondays, after all.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Nashville World Cup Qualifier Ticket Sales Update

According to Ives Galarcep of Soccer By Ives , around 10,000 tickets have been sold for the US World Cup Qualifier against Trinidad and Tobago on April 1 at LP Field in Nashville. At first glance, that seems a bit low.

Maybe people are waiting to buy tix at the gate? Or are people are turned off by the 6:45PM weeknight kickoff time?

The Olympic Qualifying match held last March attracted 13,201 and 26,141 showed up for the infamous 0:1 friendly loss to Morocco prior to the 2006 World Cup. Now, T&T isn't quite the draw that a US v Mexico is, but you'd hope that a qualifier would draw more than a friendly against a North African side.

I was hoping for a gate of 30,000, and I'm sure that would please US Soccer, but with less than a month to go before the April Fools Day match, that may be wishful thinking.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

DCU Stadium Situation

I know this is a Huntsville Soccer blog, but as a person who grew up and had lived in the DC area for 30 plus years, I want to write a bit about the stadium situation of my old hometown club, DC United. Since 1996, DCU has been playing in Robert F Kennedy Stadium. It is a great place to watch soccer. The sight lines are great. It has a roof that keeps all of the sound in and the lower bowl seats around 20k. So, it's perfect for a typical MLS crowd of 17,000 or so, but can also be expanded into the upper decks for big matches to a capacity of about 56,000.

There is an extra benefit of playing at RFK that perhaps wasn't anticipated by the DCU suits. The stands on the East side of the field are on tracks and are not permanently locked down which allows them to "bounce". When the fan groups get excited and jump up and down, so do the stands themselves. I've been in the front sections of the stands when the resonance of the bouncing fans and the stands has been in sync perfectly, launching me a foot or two in the air. It's really cool.

DCU match at RFK

Getting back to the stadium situation… As cool as watching games are at RFK, DCU needs a new stadium in order to make money. As a season ticket holder from 1996 until I moved away to Huntsville in 2006 and a member of the great fan groups that they have , I've gone to probably a hundred or so games at RFK. I can say with no reservation; that place is a dump.

It was a dump when they moved in to it. After all, RFK was built in 1961. There was a reason that the Redskins built and moved to a new stadium 10 years ago. RFK is dark, dank and doesn't have any modern amenities in which DC United can use to turn a profit. The amenities got only slightly better when the Washington Nationals moved in for a few years before they moved into their new stadium. There's now a team store in the stadium, but there are no club seats, luxury boxes or other revenue generating features. On top of that, the team pays rent and only gets a slight cut of the game day revenues like parking and food.

Is it saying too much for a "major league" team to have a decent stadium?

Here's a little history lesson for those not familiar with the DCU stadium saga...

The plan for the DCU management from the start was to establish the team for a few years by playing in RFK and then concentrate on building a new home somewhere in DC. About 10 years ago DCU identified a potential site in DC that they believed would be ideal for the new stadium. There was a dilapidated riverfront park located in the poorest section of the city that had been neglected for years called Poplar Point. Not only would DCU build a stadium, but the DCU ownership would develop the area with sorely needed low and middle income housing and and also commercial space that would provide thousands of jobs to local minority owned businesses, all to the benefit of the neighborhood.

There were many hurdles that had to be overcome before DCU would be allowed to build at Poplar Point. Primarily, it was Federal land. It would literally take an act of congress to transition the land to the DC government to allow development of Poplar Point. Former Mayor Anthony William's administration were excited at the prospect of developing the land, but had their hands filled with the myriad of existing problems in DC, including attempting to attract a Major League Baseball team. So, DCU did the grunt work and greased the political wheels in the DC and the Federal governments to allow the land transfer to pass. That took a few years.

In the meantime, there was a protracted battle over the financing of a new stadium for the Nats. MLB officials bullied the DC government into footing the entire $600 million bill. This left a sour taste in mouths of many in DC government and citizenry. Adrian Fenty rode this wave of stadium resentment into the mayor's office. However, Fenty made a statement before kickoff of a DCU match that he would do whatever necessary to get a stadium built at Poplar Point for DC United. Hmm, we'll come back to that later.

The William's administration had a gentlemanly agreement with DCU in which DCU would pay for and build the stadium itself the development of Poplar Point in exchange for $300 million of road and sewer construction. This is infrastructure costs that would be required whomever develops the land. Well, after he was elected, Fenty didn't think this was a good deal and reneged on the agreement in favor of a development bidding process. This process did NOT include a stadium requirement! Hmm, why would he do that? Fenty claimed it would not be fiscally responsible for a government to build a stadium, even after the DC government had done just that for the Nats.

I understand, it is hard to justify building a stadium when you can't keep schools from falling down around students, but the DC government wasn't going to be paying for the building of the stadium. DC United was. The only costs that the government would be responsible for were infrastructure costs that would have to be paid regardless of who developed the land.

The development of Poplar Point eventually was awarded to the only bidder to include an option for the stadium. However, the deal has recently been voided due to disagreements between the DC government and the building contractor over time lines and costs. (Those costs wouldn't be infrastructure costs, would they?)

Conceptual Design of Poplar Point with DCU Stadium (left side of park).

In that deal, it was recently disclosed, the contractor was secretly forbidden by the Fenty administration to discuss the building of a stadium for DCU. This Fenty guy is a jerk, eh?

So, where does Poplar Point stand today? No developer, no stadium, no plan. Looks like the land will continue to be a decrepit eyesore and the citizens of that poor section of the city will no longer have a shot at the thousands of jobs the development would have created.

This makes Fenty about as big a villain of DC United fans as one could conceive. Silly soccer fan, never believe a politician's promises...

And now for the DC stadium situation today.

Since DCU had not been made welcome in DC, the neighboring Maryland county to the east, Prince George's County, has stepped in to work a deal for a stadium located 6 to 10 mile east of RFK. Over the past few months they have worked with the Maryland Stadium Authority to perform a study about whether it would be fiscally worth building a mid-sized stadium for DCU. The study's conclusion: A stadium would generate $300 million in the near term and $60-85 million annually once all stadium construction is completed. Take that Fenty!

So, DCU is in the process of selecting a site near a Metro station to build a world class 24,000 seat stadium . A bill has been introduced into the Maryland assembly to finance the stadium at no cost to taxpayers. The cost of the stadium will be paid entirely by revenue generated by the stadium and the rent that DC United will pay to the Maryland Stadium Authority. The arrangement will allow DCU to take advantage of the amenities built into the new stadium and generate a profit for the first time in it's existence.

Now, as you would expect in this cynical world we live in, not everyone is pleased with the move of a team called "DC" United moving to a location in Maryland. Many who live in the Virginia suburbs are not looking forward to making trip around the beltway and over the Potomac to the new stadium. As a person who has lived in Virginia, DC, and Maryland, I don't have much sympathy for those folks. Even though the new stadium location may be a few miles outside the DC border, the furthest potential location remains less than 9 miles away from RFK. As you can see in the map below we are not talking about great distances.

Map of DCU prospective stadium locations.

The real question now remains, will the state of Maryland see this opportunity as a chance to build a world class stadium that will literally attract soccer fans from all over the globe (and the money these fans are going to spend), or will the narrow minded politicians put on the stadium blinders and pooh-pooh another DCU effort to find a home?

If all goes well, DC United will open the 2012 season in a shiny new jewel of a stadium, and I say, it's about time.

Monday, March 2, 2009

New RCU Jerseys and more

Rocket City United will be wearing new kits for the '09 season. Baliston will be the official uniform supplier of RCU replacing Under Armour. Going for the slimming effect, black will be the "In" color for this season.

This year RCU home strip will sport stripes of black and white, with black shorts and socks.

RCU's new home shirt

The away kit will take a page from AC/DC's "Back in Black" going with black shirt, black shorts and black socks.

Negotiations are still under way for a shirt sponsor. However, custom jerseys with name and number will be available for purchase in the RCU shop on their website.

In a related note, according to footballshirtculture.com, men prefer their wife or girlfriend wear their favorite team's jersey rather than the latest boudoir fashions from Victoria Secret.

"34% of men asked said they would prefer their wife or girlfriend to wear their favorite team’s [soccer] top in bed, 23% said that they would be more interested in “sexy lingerie”, 21% replied with simply “nothing”, 16% said they would love to see a “fantasy role play outfit” and 6% said “ordinary nightwear”."

So guys, get your gals to go here for the new RCU replica shirt.

Cut the Grass, Please

Soccer played on an pristine pitch is beautiful. There is a precision to the ball sliding across the turf from foot to foot that can be likened to a cue ball on a pool table. Soccer on a bad field is less smooth. Watching player slog passes into touch while they struggle to adjust to the way the ball is responding can be frustrating and plain ugly.

Well, Rocket City United's home ground, John Hunt Soccer Stadium, has a problem. It's one that is easily solved, but it is still an issue that requires attention; preferably prior to RCU's opening home preseason match versus Martin Methodist College. The grass is too long.

I'm no groundskeeper, but I've played and watched the game for over 30 years. So, that makes me somewhat of an expert the effect of field conditions on players. Don't get me wrong. The field is nice. It's flat and the grass itself seems to be of good quality. The words thick and lush come to mind, but that's not necessarily good if it's too high.

It's just that the JHSS tuf is at least 1/2 inch longer than it should be. I walked the field at every RCU at JHSS last season, and it was consistently too long. As a result the ball sits abnormally high in relation to the players feet, and the ball response to the turf is accentuated. This causes passes that are weighted improperly and shots that are not struck true. Even the bounce of the ball is softened. It's the reverse effect that one sees when teams play on poor artificial turfs.

As a result, every soccer decision can be affected. Does a defender allow an errant over the top pass sail on to the keeper or will the ball slow enough for a trailing attacker to catch up with it?

There were times during RCU's last season where those types of instant player decisions actually led to a few goals that would not have been scored on other fields. That is unacceptable. The argument can be made that both teams have to play on the same pitch, so what's the problem? However, those conditions shouldn't exist in the first place. When preventable field conditions change the outcome of a match, something must be done.

I speculate that the people in charge of the maintenance there do not want keep it too short, should the drought conditions that we've experienced in the last few years continue. However, when it's time to play high quality soccer, the field should be of an equally high caliber. The JHSS doesn't host that many games. In addition to the RCU matches, there are a few youth tournaments and high school playoff games held there every year. It is not asking too much to crop the field to a level where the beautiful game can be played beautifully.

I'm told RCU is speaking with city officials to come to a resolution on the problem. I hope so.

Please cut the grass.