2007: A Look Back on the Domestic (e.g. U.S.) Scene

The long-promised look back at 2007 in U.S. soccer unfolds below. The talking points – 15 in all (what? you wanted a Top 10? I’m nothing like that disciplined; see, I slipped to 17) – come in, at best, half-random order; put another way, I ranked these things a certain way, but it has as much to do with themes intelligible only to me, as opposed to significance. They also came to me after only 15 minutes (or so) thought, so odds are I missed a thing or two; feel free to add any omissions in the comments.

Right. Here goes…

1. David Beckham. May as well start with the elephant in the room (propped up handsomely next to his wife with the weird tits). Beckham garnered (OK, sucked up) enough attention to transcend even the rule that bears his name – that will come in a separate section – which is perhaps why his arrival sits on our collective stoop like some kind of wet turd the neighborhood kids were too lazy to set on fire. He came, we obsessed, he went down injured, and, with an exception here or there, his team did better without him on the field. Sure, he made the Los Angeles Galaxy, and Major League Soccer (MLS) as a whole, a chunk of change, but the whiff of an injured, conceivably over-the-hill player that attached to him also revived the Ghosts of the NASL. Better luck next year, Tiger (with stuffed shorts).

2 . MLS Overview: My belief that, in 2007, MLS actually felt “Major League” for the first time in its existence doesn’t strike me as a lonely one. It’s not so much that the league has arrived in terms of media exposure, money, etc., and it’s not as if problems don’t exist (refereeing, gridlines, playoff format, small rosters, payment structure, the Colorado Rapids, etc.) than things seem to be headed in the right direction, complete with a “Big Mo” tailwind. On-field play looks better than ever, stadiums are popping up at a steady clip, the scouting system looks more established, and we have yet to see what kind of talent the league’s nascent youth academies will turn out. Hell, the league could even be making more money than ever…not that we’d ever know that given how firmly they hold shut the books. So, yeah, good trends, people. Let’s keep ’em up. Continue reading

Red Bull New York 2007 Review: An Atypically Typical Year

Red Bull New York
Record (W-L-T): 12-11-7; 47 GF, 45 GA
Source Material: Schedule/match reports; roster

All in all, and perhaps a little sadly, this was a pretty typical year for Major League Soccer’s (MLS) New York franchise: uneven, unsettled, and, as always, unrewarded.  But a couple oddities put a fresh twist or two on the familiar: a start to the season strong enough to convince a few that the team had rounded a corner; the simple, frankly shocking presence of a reliable scoring tandem; finally, the year of the designated player, the Year of the Bruce and how those factors interacted.  In a sense, then, the narrative for 2007 was all wrong in that it offered Red Bull New York something positively foreign: hope and promise.  That they kept that alive until, arguably, August inches a little bit further from the “typical.”  But Red Bull’s season ended as they always do, which means that even if things didn’t quite go to Hell after August, they got close enough to make legible the famous statement about hope posted on the gate.

Now, where does that leave us?  It was a typical year, but it wasn’t?  Damned unsatisfying, that, but it seems accurate.  For instance, in the typical column you had Clint Mathis back with the team and starring in the early going (not to mention getting sent off twice by early June – neat trick for an offensive player).   In the atypical column, the Red Bull roster featured one of the hottest American prospects in Josmer “Jozy” Altidore and one of the league’s deadliest forwards in Juan Pablo Angel.  Back in the typical column, Bruce Arena played the role of high-profile coach, while, almost tragically, Claudio Reyna played the too-familiar, over-priced under-achiever. Continue reading

Early Daily Sweeper: Arena Means the Coaching Carousel Is Swingin’

Holy crap, things are moving quickly today!

As I started my web-trawling, what’s the first thing I see? A “rumor” that Head Coach, Technical Director Bruce Arena got canned by Red Bull New York, one that Sports Illustrated picked off Soccer by Ives, again, a source I don’t feel like publishes stories lightly. So…Arena’s gone from NYC. Hm. I know I’m not the only wondering if Arena will make his way to Los Angeles. I’m not saying I would hire the man, but…still…who else will they get? Who else can LA get?

OK, one more thing: wouldn’t it be super-killer and four-times-funny if Jurgen Klinsmann took over with Red Bull? Now that, folks, is 100% raw, half-comical speculation; don’t take it anywhere near a bank or they might shoot you on principle. But the Arena to LA thing – I think that’s at least something to watch for…even if I can’t see Arena doing it.

One has to wonder, at this point, where Arena’s coaching-cred stands. The subtle tinge of controversy – here, I’m thinking the real-or-imagined spat between Juan Pablo Angel and Arena – recalled his semi-bitter firing from, or rather the decision to let his contract run out for, the U.S. coaching job. So, seriously, where will Arena go from here? Nowhere – aka retiring – seems possible, but I can’t see that either. What about a position in Colorado? Whatever his reputation, Arena looks to be one hell of a wild card for this off-season.

Getting back to the other coaching change – e.g. Frank Yallop – The Bigs (the soccer MSM) are already plugging in some gaps. Sports Illustrated’s Jonah Freedman describes Yallop’s move as a “face-saving” way for everyone now and previously associated with LA to move forward. Jeff Carlisle’s Yallop-clocker for ESPN analyzes the move from a more practical, what-does-it-and-did-it-all-mean perspective.

I suspect I’ll be spinning my wheels on this one all day. I’ll add to this one if I see something that makes us all smarter.

UPDATE: The New York Times’ Goal blog posted something on Arena containing two noteworthy additions to the story. Citing “a number of reports” Goal reports that Arena was fired, as opposed to resigning. The second item is a curiosity: why, as the report suggests, would MLS officials be “worried” that Arena might find work as a television analysts. I know his nasal drawl drives my wife insane – she thinks he sounds…well, best not go into that; feelings might be hurt – but I don’t see why Arena condemning the league on TV matters in the grand scheme.

UPDATE II: As one would expect, Soccer by Ives is following the Arena canning fairly closely and has posted some great updated material.  First, a post about Claudio Reyna’s  future – interesting in its own right – mentions a “falling out” between Reyna and Arena some time during the year – which begs the question of why every last single one of us didn’t know; these guys are famous (well, semifamous) and, hence, have no right or expectation of privacy.  An earlier post considers where The Bruce’s coaching talents met Red Bull management’s expectations for success.

DS, 10.30: Bruce-Gate Over Already?; The “Don Garber” Ball; Predictions Fun

With the soccer blogging world struggling for content today, I figure an early edition is in order.

– Few things bring the fun like a he-said/he-said, something happening over the little to-do over Red Bull’s coach Bruce Arena’s seemingly alleged call-out of Juan Pablo Angel after Saturday’s draw with New England.  Soccer Source, an attendee at the post-match presser, provides the full-text of the quote, which, as he points out, is qualified out of “bitch-slap” territory.  Then again, as things work with retaliation versus instigation (just ask Ricardo Clark), the “Arena bitch-slap” lives on: toward the end of Pat Walsh’s Goal.com write-up on The Bruce’s reputation-spraining stint with Red Bull, Walsh faults Arena for driving “a knife into the back of his unsuspecting MVP candidate.”  I’m not really knocking Walsh, so much as marveling at the magical life-cycle of a media myth.

– I didn’t find much of interest in Don Garber’s Q & A session with Sports Illustrated’s Jonah Freedman; the man – that is Garber – is simply too slick to say anything interesting without timing it just so, never mind something shocking or offensive (I’m also guessing I’m the last man to have read the thing).  At the same time, the Garber Years really have been something else – so much so that I predict the following: the future powers-that-be will rename the Alan I. Rothenburg Trophy for Garber.  Oh yeah, I’m feeling saucy today.

– I’ll end (this post) with something of an itsy-bitsy cheap shot – though not one actually intended to insult.  I don’t spend much time on Fox Soccer’s web-site; it just doesn’t it for me.  I meandered over today, perhaps out of boredom, and finally read Keith Costigan’s 2007 playoff predictions.  As noted above, I’m hardly belittling Costigan’s powers of prognostication – especially given how hard I’m struggling with my second-leg picks – but I do find something funny, say, in his expectations of a goal-fest between New England and Red Bull.

OK then….I’ll just keep biding time till Thursday…just like the rest of you.

Then again, I expect I’ll have my picks for the second leg posted by the end of today.

DS, 10.29: Big, Brimming Bowl of Post-Season Links/Chatter

Seriously, what else is there to talk about? The ever-shady FIFA’s decision to end the rotation system – or, as they call it in Geneva, après Brasil, Le Free-for-All? How ‘bout the Portland Timbers beating up on Toronto FC on Sunday night? Nah…it’s gotta be the playoffs.

– A good number of people seem to be lining up for kicks at the set-up after the first leg of the MLS post-season – and, for the record, I find it kind of relieving to know I wasn’t the only one to almost fall asleep (screw it; I actually did) at one point. Some of my favorites:

“It’s just odd that we spend six months and 195 games building up towards this — a long Saturday night of anti-soccer ruled by the tactics of fear and caution.”
– Ian Plenderleith, USSoccerplayas.com (LINK)

“We entered the playoffs without a single team carrying anything resembling momentum. It was more like eight runners stumbling towards the finish line and struggling to push through the tape. Combine that with the dour playoff psychology of ‘not losing’ and you get 3 goals in the opening round of matches. Ugh!”
– Um…Mr. Fullback, The Fullback Files (LINK)

Good plugs to be sure, but few crystallized the blue-balls mood of the weekend so well as The Beautiful Game. Open this link and enjoy.

The uninspired opening weekend has a couple people talking about changing the post-season formula (again); for instance, Soccer by Ives suggests a return to best-of-three series. For the record, WVHooligan’s drew epperly doesn’t think that would matter all that much. Here’s my two cents – and it’s informed by a lot of the same bitter-tasting shots of reality cited by mr. epperly: if everything must stay the same, make the playoff single-elimination from start to finish with the higher-seeded team hosting. Nice, neat, and simple as you please…next! Continue reading