Superliga, Beckham and Getting TV Right (bonus: Clavijo Rumors)

A couple weeks back, the Powers That Be – I don’t know, at Soccer United Marketing (SUM) or in Major League Soccer’s (MLS) Halls of Power – decided to air the Los Angeles Galaxy’s visit to Toronto FC’s BMO Field on the tiniest of chances that David Beckham would manage his league debut. We all know how that panned out: a decimated TFC squad fought a bland, confused, and Beckham-less Galaxy to a draw – e.g. a mediocre game at best aired nationally.

Moreover, showing that game came at the cost of giving ESPN2 the night off from broadcasting what would have been tonight’s Soccer Thursday broadcast featuring the New England Revolution versus the Colorado Rapids. Now, I’m not about to argue tonight’s game will top the TFC v. LA affair for quality – hell, I’m expecting at least a half-dozen blown sitters out of Taylor Twellman and an own-goal to decide the game – but that’s not the issue. The issue is that the sum of these various decisions amount to swapping one mediocre game for another; add to that the break-even publicity garnered from airing that first game (more people tuned in, but to a lousy game) plus disappointing the expectation that New England v. Colorado will air as planned tonight on ESPN2 (as evidenced by the language used in a post on MLS Rumors that Rapids coach Fernando Clavijo could (finally) get canned if his team doesn’t win this “nationally televised game“) and you have a situation where you lost more than you gained.

Moreover, wouldn’t it just suck if Clavijo lived to coach another day based on the technicality of this game not being televised nationally?

With that error in the past, it’s time to correct another one on its way down the pike. As Who Ate All the Cupcakes so eloquently put it, albeit in service of a totally different point: “Pony up for the rights to the SuperLiga ESPN, don’t complain afterwards” (and it’s a good post by the way; though it doesn’t hold a candle to this one posted on the same site).

On the back of Beckham’s superbly-timed and narratively-sublime goal and with the following factors coming together – a decent likelihood of Beckham actually being available for the game, the general success of the Superliga both at the gate (in the semis, especially) and among the American soccer community, the Galaxy being in the final of said competition, the lucky coincidence this final will pit them against, not just any Mexican club, but the best of them – I can’t think of a better candidate for prominent, national broadcast outside MLS Cup (which no one watches anyway).

My issues (and the post*) with the breaks in Superliga play aside, it’s getting some good love out here in the Web (* I hereby retract my opinions about killed buzzes; I enjoyed both semis; I do still think they should create a break in the schedule and play Superliga within it). Whether it’s other voices correctly attaching the word “shame” to the decision to forgo English-language broadcasts, rock-solid ideas for re-branding the event, or good, random chatter (about halfway down the page under the header, “The Man Makes Some Solid Points”; hat-tip, du Nord), the right people took an interest in this event – and in spite of some serious handicaps. So, next year, let’s stuff the “World Series of Football” back up the disgusting hole from whence it came and make Superliga the highlight event it ought to be.

But, in the here and now, here’s my essential plea: don’t make me watch the final over a piece-of-shit on-line feed. You pricks.

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Yeah…That Goal…and Everything about It

“As soon as the free kick was given, I don’t want to sound too confident, but I felt that I was going to score as soon as I had the ball in my hands,” Beckham said afterward. “It felt good. Sometimes you feel like that, sometimes you don’t get any feeling. But tonight, I had the feeling that I was going to score.”
(LINK)

I didn’t see it till this morning – and one can find the video on MLSnet’s main page; no shock there – but, yeah, it finally happened. And exactly as The Powers That Be would have wanted it.

Returning to my bag of first-date/sexual tension metaphors, the American soccer public has at long last enjoy its first true, hot roll in the hay from one David Beckham and, in truth, it was pretty top-notch (for the record, I’m talking about the goal here, which I happened to see on a reasonably smooth video feed, as opposed to the game, which I did not.) On the other hand, the most interesting thing I saw in the video was watching Kyle Martino as Beckham took the kick. Watch closely and I think you’ll see Kyle studying the physical mechanics of Becks’ free-kick from the best seat in the house.

Shh…he’s thinking… (oh, Dreamcast! where did it all go wrong?)

Good as it was to see Major League Soccer’s highest-priced toy working as advertised, imagine the moment for the player. To be absolutely sincere about it, even more than the goal itself, I wanted to see some pure form of joy and relief – a moment of catharsis – that makes sports of all kind worth watching. All the contrived goal celebrations in the world don’t hold a candle to those rare instances of pure, genuine excitement; think Carlos Ruiz falling to his knees when he scored the winner for the Galaxy in 2002’s MLS Cup.

Did we get that with Beckham’s goal last night? I think so. If the man himself lacked in enthusiasm – and I don’t think he did – his dog-piling teammates made up for it.

Oh yeah…and I here DC United was involved in some way. Good for them. And, in the video, did I see a trace of smile on Troy Perkins face? Much like Kelly Gray, who I think was the first MLS player subbed out for Beckham, Perkins owns the strange honor of being the first ‘keeper to be “Beckhamed.”

With regard to that last paragraph, frustrating as it may be at times to have so many discussions and commentary wend their way back to Beckham, there’s no point trying to wriggle away. Love him or hate him, Beckham is the story and will be for a while.

LA Wins! …or DC throws the game…

OK, so I enjo…ame…qual…viewing as I did last night, but – c’mon – seriously*, DC United threw the Superliga semis.  No, no, man…it’s cool, Don Garber never comes ’round here; neither does that Lalas dude.  So, DC threw it, right?

What about the refs?  Any weird calls?  A heavy lean toward LA throughout?  Anything?

Seriously…they threw the game, didn’t they

(* Seriously, seriously?  I watched the second half using the same hiccup-heavy video-feed-crippled-by-DSL method, so I don’t know much about the game.  My guess is DC didn’t throw it.  But, damn, it’d be kinda epic if they did.)

Superliga: Pachuca edges Houston….[buffering]

Here, courtesy of the Superliga site’s feed and the DSL set-up I have at home, is a re-enactment, edited for brevity, of how I viewed last night’s semifinal between the Houston Dynamo and CF Pachuca. Viewing started around the 47th minute (this is translated from Spanish):

Houston on the ba….Barrett passes up the….

[buffering]

Pachuca on the atta…..ball centered into the area, Jimen….Houston in possession at the midfiel….tly intercepted by…Ching runs it dow….

[buffering]

GOOO………ALLLLLLL!!!!!! GO……..ALLL!! Pachuca 2, Houston….

[buffering; me, “What the fuck just happened?!”]

Free kick for Hou….

[buffering]

GOOOAALLLL!!! Houston Dynamo have leveled the score through Eddie Robinson! As the ball gets played in, Robinson breaks to the center of the goal and simply out-muscled the defender (NOTE: For some reason, the feed worked pretty well around this time.)

Ball back in pl….

[buffering]
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Superliga, Bad Sex, and the Wisdom of Midseason Breaks

As with sex, soccer tournaments rely on a kind of momentum, a slow, steady build to the climax of the final…or, in the case of sex…you know…the messy bit at the end. Somewhere in the two weeks that elapsed between the final games in the group stage and tonight’s semifinal between the Houston Dynamo and CF Pachuca, I started thinking about, I don’t know, baseball or golf or something. Whatever I’m thinking about, it ain’t Superliga.

This is all to say rhythm is a good thing. League play has the week-in, week-out that keeps things humming along. On a more relevant note, the best tournaments – think World Cup, or even the Gold Cup – plunge ahead at a dizzying, almost reckless pace, which rather pleasantly recalls the giddy frenzy of a really fantastic fling, or a relationship a-birthing; either way, the experience leaves you breathless – and that’s a good thing. The thing is, the pace doesn’t matter so long as the build-up follows certain physical rules. The Superliga, on the other hand, effectively rolled over after August 1st to watch something on TV…Major League Soccer’s (MLS) regular season perhaps?

At this point, I’m really wanting for the whole thing to end so we can get back to focusing on the league. In my experience, few phrases are less titillating than “Are you done yet?” (Said the right way, this can be positively, and literally, deflating.)

And so, once again, these factors suggest the wisdom of having a mid-summer break. And, as I see it, this is needed to give due prominence to a tournament of this kind, one that should catch Mexican fans just as they’re getting giddy about their league’s kick-off (even if that kick-off probably means they’ll subsequently ignore MLS). That same break leaves open dates for the nine – or, early as 2009, ten – teams who don’t qualify for Superliga to schedule money-spinning friendlies with European clubs looking for preseason warm-ups of their own. It doesn’t have to be much time – two weeks would suffice, while three would be ideal – but a break of some sort just makes sense.

How this will play out during World Cup, or even Gold Cup, years is something else again. The league certainly couldn’t stop for two months with regular season observers suffering from a similar kind of blue-balls experience. Maybe the league just needs to suck it up on World Cup years and make Superliga run concurrently with MLS’s regular season; maybe that’s a bad idea as well. At the same time, three good years plus one bad one beats the current format where Superliga exists as just another after-thought on the domestic calendar. I, for one, count the tournament as too good a concept to abandon.

OK, all for now. That’s not to say good stuff isn’t being written about the tournament we have: for instance, Steve Davis turned in a bang-up review for both semifinals, while J Hutcherson (standing in for a vacationing Ian Plenderleith) picks Pachuca to go through (traitor!). And I’m planning on watching the semifinal pitting DC United against the Los Angeles Galaxy…in spite of the fact I don’t think it’ll be nearly as good. Still, the whole thing would have been more “sassifying” a week ago…(clearly, I’m grumpy; just give me that pint of ice cream and leave me alone).

Tomorrow, I’ll solve the issues with the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup…or have I done that already?