Nov 24, 2010

Real Madrid Red Cards

UEFA is launching an investigation in to the two red cards earned by Sergio Ramos and Xabi Alonso in yesterday's 4-0 win over Ajax. Ramos had picked up a yellow card in the 33rd minute and Xabi in the 68th minute. They then each received second yellow cards for blatantly delaying the re-start of play in the 87th (Alonso) and 90th (Ramos) minutes.

The result of the sending off for each player is that their disciplinary records are wiped clean, including their yellow card accumulation. The important players for Real will begin the group stage without concerns of yellow card accumulation. The UEFA investigation will apparently focus on whether or not Real Madrid Manager Jose Mourinho ordered or directed the players to take the second yellow cards in a way to game the system.

Now, everyone is up in arms and calling for Ramos and Alonso to serve more than their one game suspension they receive as a result of their sending off. I say no-they shouldn't be punished more than the one game and neither should UEFA punish Mourinho or Real Madrid.

First, Ramos and Alonso, two men who generally don't fear going into to a tackle, could have picked up second yellows for all manner of fouls. If for example, Ramos had pulled down an Ajax attacker on a counterattack--a tactical foul requiring the issuance of a yellow card--no one would be talking about extending the single game ban. So, if the two men earn a yellow card for a non-physical, delaying the re-start of play, then the players should be applauded for not endangering any Ajax player.

Second, the rules on yellow card accumulation and the fact that red cards wipe away yellow card accumulation are well-known. Real Madrid will not need Ramos or Alonso in a meaningless final group stage match. For UEFA to change the rules in the middle of a tournament is patently unfair to Real Madrid, who looked at the rules, realized the impact and suffer the consequences.

If UEFA want to punish or prevent this kind of behavior in the future, then UEFA should not allow disciplinary records to be wiped clean for two yellow cards in a game. And to be frank, I think that is what may be necessary. But UEFA cannot change this rule in mid-stream.

Is what Ramos and Alonso (and perhaps Mourinho) did unsporting? Yes. Ramos and Alonso get a one game ban. Are they thankful for the break--maybe. So their unsporting behavior is being punished according to the rules set down already. The fact that they are smart enough to realize their yellow card accumulation, act upon it in a way that aids their club in the long run, does not harm an opposing player, and do so under the current rule is understandable. I don't necessarily want to applaud the action, but I can understand their action--both as a player and as a referee.

In the end, I think UEFA's investigation should continue, but I don't think it should be used for punishing this action but rather inform some changes to the rules in next year's competition. I don't think group stage yellow card accumulation should be wiped out until the quarterfinals. I do believe that accumulation should apply in the knockout stages into the semi-finals--even if a player misses the final.

Nov 16, 2010

Danny Allsopp Leaves DC United

Australian striker Danny Allsopp and D.C. United mutually parted ways after one season for the Black and Red. Allsopp has five goals for DC United, which tied him for the most goals for the team with rookie Andy Najar. Allsopp has 25 appearance and 18 starts.

I am a little sad to hear this. I think Allsopp was a far better striker than his numbers this year suggest. The big Aussie scored one quarter of DC United's goals this year, (DC only scored 21 this year) including 3 game winning goals. Allsopp is clearly not the fastest player on the field, but he does make the important runs, the slashing, outside-in runs to get in a good position to receive the ball. He also moves inside-out in order to open the field for others. Allsopp also holds the ball very well. In many ways, Allsopp is much like Brian Ching and could have played on that level if he had better service and support from the rest of the team. Allsopp might have played a good target man in a 4-5-1 or a 4-4-1-1 formation had DC United had the midfield and wingers to make that happen. No, Allsopp did not find the back of the net with enough regularity to warrant staying, but then the same could be said of the entire team.

So why are the sides parting ways--part of it could be financial. Allsopp was on $180,000 a year for salary and was guaranteed $217,000 for 2010. But DC United is not carrying a huge salary budget and outside of Branko Boskovic, no other player earns more than $200,000. But the departure of Allsopp is likely to be just one part of larger house cleaning at DC United. DC United is looking at a massive off-season turnover of players. Allsopp is not the only striker who is going to be shown the door this year. Jaime Moreno is retiring, Boyzz Khumalo will probably be off-loaded or loaned out, and Adam Cristman will likely be traded or waived as well. That leaves Chris Pontius and Pablo Hernandez left as a strike force. DC United's front office is looking for a head coach and I suspect that coach is going to want to have a say in player acquisition, particularly a strike force. I would also expect that a fair number of midfielders are going to be shown the door as well.

It is likely that Allsopp will return to Australia and play in the A-League. The fact is that circumstances this year were not good for DC United and Allsopp and the fault is not Allsopp's.

Nov 11, 2010

Scrap the Current MLS All-Star Game

MLS has always had an all-star game--it is one of those sort of uniquely American ideas that was embedded in the American soccer scene that doesn't seem to exist in other nations.  Early on in the league's history, the game was a competition between the Eastern Conference and the Western Conference.  In 1998, the MLS had the American Players on one side and foreign MLS players on the other.  A similar thing was done in 2002 when the foreign MLS players played the U.S. National team in another World Cup year.

Since 2003, however, the MLS All-Stars have been selected by choosing a Best XI, including fan voting, and the coach and Commissioner picking the remaining seven players, along with other players that were "all-stars" but not on the All-Star squad.  The purpose of the latter category of players was to give them a modicum of a bonus and something to put on the CV, but had little other importance.   The MLS All-Stars then play a foreign, usually English or Scottish club.  In 2003, MLS played Chivas de Guadalajara.  This year, 70,000 people saw Manchester United beat up on the MLS team.  True the games mean little on the grand scale, but I think it is time for a change.

With the plethora of foreign clubs coming to the U.S. on pre-season cash grabs tours and the fact that every MLS club played at least one international friendly against those visiting clubs, it is not like American soccer fans aren't seeing their favorite foreign clubs in live action in the U.S.  So the purpose of the MLS All-Stars vs. a foreign club is a little outmoded and unnecessary.  We are seeing on a regular basis how MLS clubs match up against some of the best foreign clubs around and the match-ups are not nearly as one sided as they may once have been.

That is not to say that the MLS should not be selecting a Best XI every year or that we get rid of a Best XI vs. a foreign side.  My suggestion for the Best XI would be fore Soccer United Marketing to posit a MLS Best XI v.  a Mexican Best XI charity match kind of like a North American Community Sheild.  (Oh, and get rid of SuperLiga).  Since the U.S. and Mexico won't be meeting in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying, this kind of Best XI v. Best XI might keep something of a rivalry going.  With a number of Americans playing in Mexico, you might even see Americans on the Mexican Best XI and vice versa.  I think it could be fun.

But I think it is time to bring back the old conference against conference set up for the All-Star game.  First, we would get 36-40 players rather than just 18.  The All-Star bonuses aren't all that much to being with, so MLS can't complain about that.  Second, it will showcase MLS talent a little more, we have many very good players.  Third, I think it would be a nice advert for the league.  Fourth, it should be played after the season, like the NFL Pro-Bowl and should be played in a non-MLS venue.

I even think that MLS could take another page from the NHL and create a player pool of say 40 players, including a select number of rookies/developmental players and let those players then select two captains and let the captains have a "draft" of their players.  Then the league names the coaches for each side and then have a game.

I am American enough to like an All-star game.  But if MLS is going to continue to have an All-Star game, it should be a game among the league's best players only.  It should showcase MLS talent and bring in money to keep within the league.  Manchester United did not need whatever percentage they got from this year's match.

Foreign clubs are going to keep coming to the U.S. for pre-season tours or tournaments (like last years World Football Challenge).  We don't need the MLS All-Star game to be another game with another foreign team.

2011 MLS Playoffs: Don Garber Needs to Learn a Lesson from NHL

If there is one thing that the 2010 MLS playoffs have taught us, is that geography is a foreign concept in MLS.  At the end of the conference semi-finals, there are no eastern conference teams left--but since there were only two, that shouldn't be much of a shock.  There are a lot of purists out there who are arguing for the MLS to adopt a single table format and there are those who like the conference system.  The problem with the MLS playoff structure as it stands is that it bastardizes the worst of both systems.  So I have a solution that keeps the conference and makes winning the conference important, but eliminates MLS' geography problem.

This solution is based on a couple of premises:
  1. The MLS will keep conferences.  I think this may be necessary, at least for now, in order to build rivalries, some of which will naturally develop over time based on geography, but in some cases aren't there yet.
  2. The MLS current expansion to 20 teams will not come with a concurrent expansion of the number of playoff teams, which will remain at 8.
  3. MLS will maintain a balanced schedule, playing each team home and away.
So the first part of the solution--change the conference names.  The NFL has the National Football Conference and the American Football Conference.  MLB has the American and National Leagues. Now, of course, each of those conferences and leagues have geographic divisions and spread over the country, but I don't see anything wrong in renaming the Eastern Conference and the Western Conference as the National or American Conference--if only to avoid the confusion of year's past when New York Red Bulls were the Western Conference Champion or San Jose or Colorado being the Eastern Conference Champion.  You would have and American Conference Champ and a National Conference Champ.

Second, the winners of each conference would be automatically in the playoffs (so winning the conference remains important) and they would have home field advantage.  Then the next six best teams in MLS, regardless of conference, are in the playoffs and would be seeded 3 through 8 based on their record.  the Conference winners would be seeded one-two with the Supporter's Shield Winner being the number one seed.  So, this year, L.A. won the Supporter's Sheild, but NY would be second seed because they won the Eastern Conference even though Real Salt Lake had a better points total. 

Third, the first round play-offs, called the Quarter-Finals or Round of 8, but not conference semi-finals, are a home-and-home series with aggregate goals.  I like the fact that MLS does not use the away goals rule as I think it opens the games up a little.  The teams would play #1 v. #8, #2 v. #7, #3 v. #6, and #4 v. #5.  The winners of these series would be would advance to the next round.

In the Semi-Finals, the teams would be re-seeded, with the team with the best recorded seed first and so forth.  Then the reseeded #1 v. #4 and #2 v. #3.  This is the big change taken from the NHL.  Re-seeding would add a dimension to the playoffs that may add some excitement and you have a better chance of having the best two teams in the Final.  This round would also be a two game, home-and-home series, but played on the Wed.-Saturday and Thrusday-Sunday after the Quarter Finals.  The top two seeds get home field advantage, playing at home in the second game.

The MLS Cup Final would be played as it is now, in a fixed venue.  I would like to see MLS start thinking about venues outside of MLS venues or cities.  I think a game in St. Louis, Atlanta or Baltimore would be fantastic and probably well attended.  

If you had implemented this idea in 2010, the playoffs would have looked like this.  I am assuming LA Galaxy won the coin toss just for this example:

The Playoff table would look like this:

  1. L.A. Galaxy (Supporter's Sheild Winner
  2. New York Red Bulls (Conference winner)
  3. Real Salt Lake  (56 Points, +25 Goal Difference)
  4. FC Dallas (50 Points, +17 Goal Difference)
  5. Columbus Crew (50 Points, +6 Goal Difference)
  6. Seattle Sounders FC (48 Points, +4 Goal Difference)
  7. Colorado Rapids (46 Points, +12 Goal Difference)
  8. San Jose Earthquakes (46 Points, +1 Goal Difference)

#1  L.A. Galaxy v.  #8 San Jose Earthquakes
#2  N.Y Red Bull v. #7 Colorado Rapids
#3  Real Salt Lake v. #6 Seattle Sounders
#4  FC Dallas v.  #5 Columbus Crew 

The biggest change would be that after each playoff round--even if MLS expands to more than 20 teams or expands the play-off field, the remaining teams should be reseeded and therefore, you don't have a fixed bracket as we do now.  Who knows how the 2010 playoffs would have come out, but I think that Real Salt Lake would probably still be in.  It is very possible that New York and Columbus would still have been eliminated, but with a playoff format like the one I propose, the better teams will usually rise to the top and we would probably have the most exciting teams still in the playoffs.

Generally, I think this set up would be more effective at producing the best teams to make to the final.

Bradley Names 18-Man Roster to Face South Africa on Nov. 17 in Cape Town - U.S. Soccer

Today, U.S. Men's National Team Coach Bob Bradley Named and 18-Man Roster to Face South Africa next week. As expected, Bradley went young for this match next week.

GOALKEEPERS (2): Dominic Cervi (Celtic), Brad Guzan (Aston Villa)
DEFENDERS (7): Gale Agbossoumonde (Estoril Praia), Nat Borchers (Real Salt Lake), Jonathan Bornstein (Tigres), Clarence Goodson (Brondby), Eric Lichaj (Aston Villa), Tim Ream (New York Red Bulls), Jonathan Spector (West Ham United)
MIDFIELDERS (6): Alejandro Bedoya (Örebro), Brian Carroll (Columbus Crew), Mikkel Diskerud (Stabaek), Eddie Gaven (Columbus Crew), Logan Pause (Chicago Fire), Robbie Rogers (Columbus Crew)
FORWARDS (3): Juan Agudelo (New York Red Bulls), Teal Bunbury (Kansas City Wizards), Robbie Findley (Real Salt Lake)

What strikes me most about this squad is the midfield. The U.S. midfield usually boasts the most depth, and this midfield crew adds to that notion of developing depth. Brian Carroll, Eddie Gaven and Logan Pause, on almost any other day, would not get a call. Gaven, a nearly 8 year veteran MLS player at age 24 or 25, is a quality MLS midfielder, but has never shown that he can make the step up to the international game. Given the availability of Kyle Beckerman, I am surprised that he didn't get the call, if for no other reason than to put some age in that midfield. So what is to be inferred from this list--probably nothing. Bradley was a bit hamstrung by the FIFA date and the acceptance of the game in South Africa with a short period of time for the camp and game.

Canadian fans have to be worried about losing Teal Bunbury--but after turning down a Canadian call-up and holding dual citizenship, I am not surprised at Bunbury answering Bob Bradley's call. Canada, even under the revamped CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying, is probably at least 2 World Cup cycles away from making it to the World Cup. Bunbury probably wants to go to the World Cup and playing for the U.S. is probably he best bet. Bunbruy isn't cap-tied, yet. Under my understanding of the FIFA Rules, Bunbury could play in this game and still not be cap-tied, but if he plays in a Gold Cup match or qualifier--then he will be cap-tied.

The three players I am excited to see more of is Gale Agbossoumonde, Mikkel Diskerud, and Agudelo. I have not seen Diskerud in a full match, so I am hoping Bradley gives him some time. Agudelo impressed me with with New York Red Bull in the playoffs, but he is being asked to make a jump from Development Academy teams, to MLS first team to International all in the space of one year. He looks good, but I am not ready to jump on the Altidore--Agudelo bandwagon just yet.

So the question will be--what is the starting line-up? Here's mine:





I can see Bunbury and Diskerud getting about a 30 minute appearance. I could also see Spector starting rather than Lichaj to get him some time. The next big question will be Tim Ream. I could see Ream even starting rather than Borchers, but I think Bradley will want to see what is happening before putting the rookie into the mix.

The captain will be Bornstein or Goodson.