Expansion: Cities, Odds, Dead Ends?

With so many people already commenting on this, I feel a little silly linking to the Las Vegas Sun article clocking the race to be one of the next two – or is it four? – cities Major League Soccer (MLS) will welcome into the league by 2010…or is it 2012? But there’s one item in the article I don’t think anyone else flagged, so I thought I’d do it here as a public service of sorts:

Even though we post odds purely for entertainment reasons, heed them. Pay close attention to the four with the lowest odds and you might have the next four MLS franchises.”

And those top four are: Seattle, Washington (3-2); St. Louis, Missouri (4-1); Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (6-1); and New York, Mark II (8-1).

Normally, if you see a 3-2 anywhere other than horse racing, you consider it a sure shot (in horse racing you 1) know the bookmakers just doomed the horse attached to those odds for this year’s Kentucky Derby, and, 2) you avoid that horse like the plague ’cause it won’t pay for shit). Roughly the same applies on a 4-1. All the same, I find the order of the odds interesting given my sense that both Philly and St. Louis got out ahead of Seattle in terms of having firm stadium plans. Then again, in the particular section discussing Seattle, there’s this line:

MLS has repeatedly tried, and failed, to court Seahawks owner and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. Look for that courtship to succeed this fall.”

(There’s actually a little touch of irony in that entry: every other “background” section of the individual city breakdowns talks about the given city’s soccer history…not Seattle’s…hmmm….)

This gets me wondering whether we’ll wind up in what I view as a kind of dodgy situation, one that grows in part from desperation to get an MLS presence in the Pacific Northwest: e.g. will a Seattle MLS team start in at Qwest Field, home to the Seattle Seahawks? This makes me skittish because I know a little about how Northwest people can be about taxes and, with Seattle especially, funding stadiums – assuming it comes to the latter. If memory serves (and that’s all I’m willing to go by right now), Seattle residents got burned pretty badly with cost overruns on Safeco Field; the same could apply to Qwest. If, as seems possible, a Seattle expansion team gets stuck playing in some capacious bowl of a stadium with fans dotting the inside like so many freckles, well…that’ll kinda suck.

I’ll still show up, mind you. But I’m a total whore.

But, as the Las Vegas Sun article says in its lead, it seems almost churlish to point this out. These are, indeed, heady times for MLS.

The Real Upside of U.S. v. South Africa

I’m seeing this all over the place, but will credit My Soccer Blog with passing it on as reading Mike H’s post coincided with the inspiration to post on the (I think) now-finalized game between the U.S. Men’s team and South Africa. And definitely credit Mike for running down cool tid-bits like how rarely U.S. teams have ventured to the “Dark Continent” (um…does anyone call it “the Dark Continent” these days…just sounds off).

He also mentions something else that caught my attention:

“The one downside, the next day is MLS Cup so there are bound to be at least a few players that are not available for such a trip.”

Eh…that’s not so bad. I mean, it’s a friendly and it’s – what? – 2007, a full three years from the 2010 World Cup. It’s not like our guys are going to remember where the sprinkler heads sit in the grass. So, trot out the usual mix of national trialists, see who looks good, and work on the team chemistry piece once World Cup qualifying begins. No fuss, no muss as I see it (unless World Cup qualifying starts sooner than I think; at that point, unspecified disclaimers kick in).  There’s also the nature of this “cup” – e.g. the Nelson Mandela Challenge Cup: it’s a one-off, so no exciting tournament play to look forward to.

But there is an upside in this and it’s contained in the same sentence I lifted from Mike’s post: e.g. “the next day is MLS Cup.”

So, for my wife, I need you to put some instructions on the calendar: lock me in a room with one five-pound roast, two fifths of whiskey, two cases of beer, and a shitload of potatoes.  I got myself a two-game weekend BO-nanza in mid-November.  I’ll take a shower Monday morning…

Yes, like so many things, having these two games on consecutive weekends is an excuse for excessive behavior.

RSL 2-2 LA: Drunks Driving a Cadillac

I only caught the highlights to this game. When watching highlights, though, I shield the screen of MLSnet.com’s home page as I click through to the “video/audio” page (which, I suppose, I could bookmark…duh), so the game still, well, “unfolds” to some extent – and that’s significant for what comes below. Even in that chopped-up glimpse of last night’s 2-2 draw between Real Salt Lake and the visiting LA Galaxy, another paragraph in the remarkable, ongoing story of LA’s season was written.

Right around the mid-80-point of the game, the Galaxy offense surged forward in the best possible current circumstance: Landon Donovan on the ball and the RSL defense on their heels. Somewhere about 25, 30 yards from goal, Donovan slipped a simply gorgeous pass against the grain – we’re talking pure class and perfect weight – to a diagonal run by LA forward Gavin Glinton. Given such a top-drawer pass, Glinton couldn’t help but bury the shot that followed, which takes the game to LA 2, RSL 1 with just about 5 minutes remaining.

Leaning back in my chair, I thought to myself, “Hm…wonder how they’re going to fuck this up?”

Sure enough, the Galaxy did fuck it up by giving up a still-later goal off a free-kick. It was the seeming inevitability of events that struck me. Watching the Galaxy these days is like watching a rich drunk stagger out of restaurant with his car keys jingling in his hands and, periodically, dropping to the floor. You don’t know precisely what’s going to happen; you only know it’s not going to end well. And, sure enough, you see it on your way home: a Cadillac wrapped around a big tree on a leafy, prosperous street…perhaps there’s a man-child with a receding hairline pinned between the Caddy and the tree…and he looks an awful lot like Donovan.

Los Angeles Galaxy general manager Alexi Lalas has never, to my knowledge, called his woeful team “the Cadillac of MLS,” but I figure that’s sufficiently analogous to “a gem” and it has the added benefit of lending itself more readily to a metaphor. And, as the futility keeps piling up, describing the weight of it all in new ways definitely requires a broad arsenal of metaphors. So…I went with Caddies.

Whatever one calls it, the never-ending Parade of Misfortune that is LA’s season continues to surprise by being so depressingly unsurprising. There’s the old saying, “when you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.” The completely unprecedented nature of LA’s high-profile failure represents a twist on that: it’s as if they got to the bottom of the hole and not only kept digging, but started digging down and sideways. All that’s left is waiting for the collapse.

If and when someone sits down to write a history of Major League Soccer (MLS), I’m confident that the Galaxy’s 2007 season will find its way in.  The air of literature, even legend, surrounds the Faustian bargain that is the David Beckham trade.

MLS Week 24 Collective Rankings: Mysteries & Eroded Tiers

OK, I give up on Sports Illustrated’s Ryan Hunt: inconsistent posting means he’s not pulling the required compost duty here on the Collective (that’s the Semi-Detached Pundit Collective); turn in your beads, patchouli, and Widespread Panic CDs, Hunt…it’s over.  You probably eat meat anyway…bastard…

As for the rest, everyone else contributed this week and we even picked up two invitees: “Tim” (make anyone else think of Monty Python?) and Fire_Juve10, who I think is making his second appearance.  All this helps to get me back to my mellow center; the soy milk and seaweed smoothie should take care of the rest.  Kind.

Enough about me: on to the rankings/commentary.  The usual stuff applies: in parentheses after the current week’s ranking and average, you’ll see the most common ranking for each team (e.g. three #1 votes, which will show below as “#1 X 3”) and the previous week’s ranking and average.  One more thing: I entered the 20th century for the first time this week by using a spreadsheet to do the math as opposed to doing the calculations long-hand; let’s just say the old way feels more comfortable right now and I blame the switch for any errors below…which is not say I think any exist.

Here are the participants for Week 24’s pool:

Center Holds It (Me)
MLS Underground/American Soccer Daily
On Soccer (who combined USL-1 teams with MLS teams in a separate set of rankings)
My Soccer Blog
Sideline Views (Luis Bueno)
Fox Soccer (Keith Costigan)
ESPN (another collective)
Tim (see comments of post)
Fire_Juve10 (see comments; D missed the pool)

And…drumroll, please….here are the collective rankings, comments to follow: Continue reading

UEFA Champions League: Turkish Delight

Group standings. 

Group A

FC Porto 1, Liverpool 1

Jermaine Pennant was sent off with 30 minutes to go, but Liverpool survived finding the equalizer well before Pennant’s ejection and hanging on from there. Lucho Gonzalez converted an 8th minute penalty to put Porto up early.

Marseille 2, Besiktas 0

Having trouble finding domestic success again, but Les Bleus found a way past Besiktas with two late goals from trusty Julien Rodriguez and Liverpool outcast Djibril Cisse.

Group B

Chelsea 1, Rosenborg 1

Mourinho’s last game was a dud and the real question of the day was did he know he was walking out before the game or was his exit brought on by the result? Abrahamovich’s man Sheva saved the Blues’ tail by scoring on a header in the 53rd minute.

Valencia 1, Schalke 04 0

Not a great overall week for Bundesliga clubs, but it was David Villa’s class in the 63rd minute that propelled Los Ches by the blue-clad Germans. Otherwise, it looked like everybody else was content to settle for a draw.

Group C

Olympiakos 1, Lazio 1

Luciano Galletti put the Greek champions up 10 minutes into the second half and Lazio struggled to find someone to do their bidding as both Rocchi and Pandev were being shut down. With 10 minutes to, Luciano Zauri found the equalizer and Lazio accepted a tie – but the real question is, was he offside?

Real Madrid 2, Werder Bremen 1

There is still long way to go before we can fully evaluate this year’s Madrid squad, but they have shown more heart and dominance then in recent season’s past. Raul scored in the 16th minute but Boubacar Sanogo cancelled that out a minute later. We all know, however, that if you’re going to shut down Real – you must not give Ruud van Nistelrooy ANY – and I mean ANY – room. Well, Bremen did. Ruud replied – scoring with 15 minutes to go.

Group D

AC Milan 2, Benfica 1

Benfica never really threatened and for us American fans, all we really want to know is why no Freddy Adu? Anywhere? Andrea Pirlo exercised his ‘I’m better than you’ card and put Milan up within 10 minutes of the start. Pippo Inzaghi caught the bug and scored not long after effectively digging Benfica a nice grave to lay down in.

Shakhtar Donetsk 2, Celtic 0

I don’t get it. Rangers can rally against the likes of VfB Stuttgart while Celtic gets out-classed by Shakhtar, but when it comes to domestic play, Rangers loses 4-2 to Hearts of Midlothian while Celtic goes their first 5 unbeaten. Hmmm. A real nice crop of Brazilians have come out of Shakhtar (Elano to Manchester City, Matuzalem, etc.) and Brandao will surely be the next one to grab Western Europe’s eye. Especially after his performance against Celtic, scoring in the 6th minute. Claudio Lucarelli added his own 2 minutes later. The Brazilians really dominated this game, however, with Brandao, Fernandinho, and Jadson all having respectable games.

Group E

Barcelona 3, Lyon 0

Thierry Henry opened his account with Barca, while Lyon fought themselves mostly for the first 20 minutes but when Barca’s class kicked in – there was no fighting. Lionel Messi and Henry scored within the last 10 minutes of the game to put it out of reach.

Rangers 2, VfB Stuttgart 1

Stuttgart struck early thanks to the revelation of last year’s Bundesliga champion, Mario Gomez. Rangers evened it up not long after through the efforts of Charlie Adam, who since his terrible play against FK Zeta has seen little time. Adam came through, but Fernando Meira silver-plattered the lead with a foul on Alan Hutton. Hutton scored making it 2-1, giving the Gers 3 vital points, and taking the unofficial MVP of the match as he had his hand in both goals.

Group F

Manchester United 1, Sporting Lisbon 0

Cristiano Ronaldo’s homecoming was a good one – except for the whole destroying the lives and dreams of every Sporting Lisbon fan out there sort of thing. Okay, a little excessive – as it’s just the first match of the group round but Ronaldo scored the goal (on a diving header no less) that gave the Devils the win.

Roma 2, Dynamo Kiev 0

An out-classing – much of which had to do with the goalscorers Simone Perrotta and Francesco Totti. Trying to rack up points and goal difference before they meet Manchester United for a revenge-filled rematch?

Group G

Fenerbahce 1, Inter Milan 0

Brazilian Deivid supplied the goal just before the half-time whistle and Inter couldn’t respond at all. Could it really be that the presence of Roberto Carlos could push a team over the top? Either way, the key to the Turkish Champion’s victory was the efficient shut-down of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, as he saw very little in the way of chances.

PSV Eindhoven 2, CSKA Moscow 1

Vagner Love’s late 89th minute goal couldn’t counter the firepower of Danko Lazovic and former AZ/Ajax striker Kenneth Perez who struck in the 59th and 80th minute respectively.

Group H

Arsenal 3, FC Sevilla 0

Yikes. Arsene Wenger has created a monster or else a little bit of confidence goes a long way. Cesc and Van Persie put the game out of reach but Eduardo grabbed another goal in injury time to drive the point home. The Gunners have started strong in both their Premiership and European campaigns, but are they pacing themselves?

Slavia Prague 2, Steaua Bucharest 1

An entertaining Eastern European battle that involved a showcasing of some burgeoning talent that you could see in the EPL/La Liga/Bundesliga/etc. sometime real soon. Marek Suchy showed why he’s considered one of the brightest prospects since Niko Kranjcar. Goals were scored for Slavia by Zdenek Senkerik and Tijani Belaid and for Bucharest, Dorin Goian.

Mourinho axed, hari-kari’d, whatever you want to call it…

He said his goodbyes this morning and got on out of London. His next destination – who knows?

Former Isreali coach and current Chelsea director of football Avram Grant will take over first-team duties with the help of Mourinho’s number two Steve Clarke (Ryan, at least it was a quick decision without the rumor of Juande Ramos flying around). Many thought it would be former Juventus man Didier Deschamps, but it seems that Grant’s role will be permanent. In fact, his arrival from Portsmouth in the summer certainly compounded the already iffy relationship between Roman Abrahamovich and Mourinho. The feud intensified way before that, however, in January when Mourinho was looking to solidify his squad but Abrahamovich wanted him to play with what he’s got, namely Andrei Shevchenko. Communication between the two fizzled and after three years at the helm, Mourinho left by “mutual consent” – the football-world’s version of hari-kari.

Some reading material:

Well put together time-line of Mourinho’s unravelling

The crisis meeting

Former captain Ray Wilkins had this to say,

“I’m absolutely astounded at what’s happened. Winning football matches is what the game’s about and he is a winning manager who puts a winning msentality in players’ heads and they go and win things.”

It’s one of those things you hear about but you completely expect things to work themselves out between Abrahamovich and Mourinho. But that was not the case. I mean – how much higher can Mourinho go when it comes to prestige and resources? Where does Mourinho go from here? And who exactly is Avram Grant?