MLS Daily Sweeper, 12.13: A Contribution to MLS Underground’s New Direction; Stadiums; Collapsed Rumors; Parsed Trades

– For those who haven’t seen it already, MLS Underground is under new management and, with that, is headed off in a new direction.  And this isn’t so much a sharp right-hand turn as it’s a three-to-four-point turn with an e-brake slide.  Rather than deal in its former insider-dish/rumor-hawking stuff (and I’m still baffled by the commenter to the post who said “there are enough rumor blogs out there…says who?), MLSU is changing its focus to supporters’ groups, whether it’s history, circulating their songs, or making them go national.  It’s a cool idea.  So cool that it triggered something I was thinking about, maybe last night, maybe another night…or maybe I just dreamed it.

That can be found in the comment left by manlyferry – who happens to be me, though I’m leaning toward a change in handle (not yet affected): the basic idea – and I give this with my blessing to anyone who can get their shit together and get it off the ground before I can get my shit together and get it off the ground (should give you, oh, a decade or three; and that assumes it’s even possible, or even desirable) – is to build up a database on places for visiting fans, even away fans, to stay as they visit MLS and, what the hell, USL-1 cities.  These should be cheap options at most, free at best – e.g. places with people who are willing to put up other people (he writes, knowing he has no space of his own); but a simple guide to cheap hotels, contacts in the city to help people with getting around, etc.

The idea is to facilitate, say, summer tours for people wanting to follow MLS teams.  As I said in the comment, it’s like following the Grateful Dead, but without all the shitty music…yeah, you’d lose the drugs, but, on the upside, you get to keep your kidneys.  Pie in the sky?  Quite probably.  But a fella can dream, can’t he?

At any rate, cool concept for MLS Underground and tip of the hat to SF of The Offside Rules for making it happen. Continue reading

Book Review: Maradona

The autobiography of a professional athlete – or even a biography written by the greatest wordsmith of his or her generation – will rarely, if ever, pass for literature. I found this out the hard way when I picked up Maradona: The Autobiography of Soccer’s Greastest and Most Controversial Star immediately after reading John Le Carre’s engrossing Little Drummer Girl. I mean, the ending of that one – no spoilers! – left me feeling more emotions than I knew what to do with.

But the autobiography of Diego Maradona succeeds on another level, due mainly to the immense and complicated personality of its subject. In other words, if there’s a soccer fan/biography-philic person in your life, Maradona has plenty to feed their fancy. His career spanned an era in world soccer made by many famous names and events. That Maradona was in the middle of so much of that history allows him to provide his own highly unique perspective on those personalities and events. One of the most enjoyable things in the book for me, personally, comes with hearing his version of events that I’ve seen during World Cups – things like the goals, both famous and infamous, against England in 1986, or reliving the loss to Cameroon that opened Argentina’s 1990 World Cup. Continue reading

Asia Rising? Relative to the U.S. at least?

This is just a quicky, an idea I want to throw out there to see if I can’t kick up a discussion/round of speculation. For the record, watching Urawa Red Diamonds play AC Milan this morning inspired it.

Question: Is Japanese club football at a higher level than Major League Soccer (MLS)?

My answer: The way Urawa played against Milan makes me think yes. And it’s less that I think an MLS club couldn’t manage the same result than I suspect we would look at lot less polished and a lot more desperate in earning it. More to the point, whenever I watch Japanese, or even South Korean teams and players, I get the sense that they’re learning a more efficient and tactically sophisticated style of play. Add their insane fitness level and I’m to the point where I’d be less surprised at seeing Japan or South Korea win the World Cup than the United States National Team.

Fortunately, we’ll have something of a test on club side of the equation during this spring’s newly announced Pan-Pacific tournament, which will include two MLS clubs – the LA Galaxy and Houston Dynamo – plus one from Australia’s A-League and one from Japan’s J-League. That won’t be the best of tests, mainly because MLS’s clubs will be in preseason – early preseason, no less – and, well, LA is LA, by which I mean they’re the distracted mess from 2007 as opposed to one of their earlier incarnations. But, if my theory holds true, the Japanese team should do well in the tourney.

Against the larger theory, though, are two factors. 1) Apart from having a larger population all told, we’re making more babies than the Japanese and will have a generally younger population going forward; this augurs better for our future; the growing Hispanic/Latino influence in that population growth hardly hurts, either. 2) On the international level, we’ve held our own and, if you trust a really small sample, things might be trending our way already.

This last point is based on something less than the most thorough research – in fact, I’d love it if someone who knows where to look up the United States’ all-time record against the rest of the world would tell me where to look. But it looks like we’ve split the all-time series with Japan, losing in 1993 (referred to in an article that mentions an upcoming friendly in 2003, but we played Venezuela on the date mentioned) and beating them in a close one ahead of the 2006 World Cup. Now, it’s possible we played the Japanese “B-team” – I don’t know Japanese players well enough to say one way or the other – but, against that, we definitely played our B-team.

So, that’s a theory, one possibly informed more by impatience than reality. In any case, have at it.

CWC: Urawa Red Diamonds 0-1 AC Milan…dang it.

(I’ll start with a confession: for the second day running, I screwed up my attempt at recording Club World Cup semifinal between Urawa Red Diamonds and AC Milan. Being an insomniac, however, I woke up in time to turn on the cable and record the second half. I can’t even beat old technology. The 21st Century is clearly going to be a bitch.)

And so we have the inevitable final – AC Milan v. Boca Juniors – the one I didn’t want. No one doubts these are the better teams; having watched the second half of AC Milan’s win over Urawa Red Diamonds, I have to admit the Italians played the better, more decisive game. For my money, the Brazilian Kaka was the difference, the man with that little something special to create the deciding opening, setting up a goal so neatly that even I could have finished it; Clarence Seedorf scored the winner. And AC Milan certainly controlled the tempo – Urawa contented themselves with counter-attacks – whether by choice I couldn’t quite tell – and they played with the precision and savvy I love about the Italian game; at times, it seems the Italians set out to prove with every game that precision alone is sufficient.

For all that, Urawa made Milan work for that goal. Moreover, the only thing stopping them from scoring a goal of their own was a modest boost in quality; in as little of the game as I saw, they found openings – big ones on a couple occasions – that flummoxed the Milanese, once to the point where Dida got all up in Gennaro Gattuso’s grill. They forced a couple saves, but Dida stood up to each.

What really separated the sides, however, was something simple as confidence; you could see it in the subtle shimmy Kaka used to slip by his defender, just the slightest pause to freeze the defender, before he bolted by him. This characterized most of what Milan did: their players move with the ball and react to one another seemingly on the assumption that the move will come off; it’s to the point where it’s second nature, automatic even. And it applied on both sides of the ball: once during the time when Urawa pushed for an equalizer, Milan lost possession on their side of the center circle; the second that happened, one of Milan’s defenders immediately dropped a couple steps and into the likeliest path forward for Urawa; it ended where he expected and that was it, attack thwarted. So…damn…efficient. And still Urawa found openings. A little better finishing from Urawa, just a little bit more speed of thought in the offensive third, and this one could have gone either way.

In fact, between this year and last year’s tournament (at least what I remember of it), I sense the Asians are getting close to the inevitable upset. Didn’t happen this year, but it’s coming…which gets me thinking about something else, but that deserves a post of its own. Coming shortly.