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Over there (at The Shin Guardian)

February 5, 2010 5 comments

For anyone who missed it, I got invited to take part in The Shin Guardian‘s new jumble roundtable series, wherein I try to appear smart and knowledgeable amongst other folks who actually are smart and knowledgeable.

Two parts of the series have been posted so far: here and here.

Many thanks to The Shin Guardian bros for the invite.

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More proof of Philadelphia’s large, passionate fan base for soccer

January 22, 2010 3 comments

The excellent footiebusiness blog provides us with an interview of Cara Joftis, the Union’s VP of marketing.

FB: Philadelphia is a sports mad city with strong passions for teams that have been passed down through generations.  What can the Union do to penetrate those mainstream sports fans?  Should that be a goal of marketing efforts?  Is it important to gain exposure on mainstream sports outlets like WIP?

CJ: A recent Wharton study showed that approximately 1.5million people in Philadelphia DMA identify themselves as avid soccer fans.  There is an extremely strong fan base for soccer.  We talk to those people and do not go after people who are not interested in soccer.  Approximately 80% of our founding members do not have season tickets to any other professional sports team in town.

FB: What lessons can the Union take from the marketing success of Seattle and Toronto?  Similarly, what lessons can the Union take from some of the marketing mis-steps of the early years in the League?

CJ: Seattle and Toronto have done a terrific job of staying true to the sport and authentic to their fans.  That is definitely something that we also strive for.

So just to review, that’s 1.5 million self-identified avid soccer fans. And 80% of the team’s founding members do not hold season tickets to any other local professional sports teams. Wow. Here’s looking forward to a big, loud, passionate first season.

Guest post–MLS basher on Wednesday, Union fan on Thursday–the Peter Nowak effect?

January 18, 2010 7 comments

The following was sent to me by Gary Kleiban of 3four3.com.

Peter Nowak

Could Peter Nowak and his team convert even the most cynical of MLS cynics?*

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If someone asked me if I was going to follow the MLS season in 2010, I would have laughed in their face. Surely they were trying to coax me into some vulgarities about the level of play and why I would never waste my time.

However, a month before the draft, I started to take an interest in the league. You see, speculation about our former club opponents, Danny Mwanga and Amobi Okugo, started circulating. Were they going to sign with MLS? These were the players I considered the best forward and defensive midfielder in our age group, and I was very delighted to see that someone in MLS had recognized true quality.

Read more…

Diminutive Jack McInerney and the niggling non-issue of a striker’s height

January 16, 2010 9 comments

For those of you wondering how Jack McInerney came to be called overrated–or, rather, how he became rated so highly that he was then labeled overrated–the following video should suffice.

Read more…

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Sure, a strike would do irreparable damage to MLS, but, hey, at least this isn’t the Chinese Super League

January 7, 2010 Leave a comment

Alright, we’re all well aware by now of the upcoming negotiations over the collective bargaining agreement. Most people seem to come down on the side of the players and everyone seems to think that if a strike happens it will be disastrous for the league (me included). But, just for a breath of fresh air, I thought I’d turn the collective heads of US soccer fans eastward, towards China, where professional soccer is in an equally if not far more precarious situation.

Badge of the Chinese football association

Badge of the Chinese Football Association

In many ways, the situation in China is the opposite than in the US. The sport does not suffer from apathy among the general population. Soccer is huge in China and has millions of fans who predominantly support teams in the Premiership or Serie A. Go to any available field in the afternoon–on any day of the week–and it will be filled to bursting with pick-up games.

Yet, still, this country of 1.3 billion people fails to produce develop world-class talent and hasn’t qualified for the World Cup since 2002. It’s top flight league, the Chinese Super League, struggles to draw crowds and develop a fan base.

So what gives?

For a country so big, with such an immense sporting infrastructure, the causes are numerous. Players lack structure, facilities, and top-class coaching. The developmental system for finding and training young players is inadequate at best (China excels in training athletes for individual sports but not team sports, as the Beijing medal count can attest). Chinese families also place a far higher value on academics than sport, so there is a great deal of pressure on children in China to excel at their studies while eschewing everything else.

But the biggest problem in China has nothing to do with the quality of the coaching, players, or youth development system. It has to due with corruption. Massive, systemic corruption. From march-fixing to gambling to pay-offs for relegation and promotion, the Chinese Football association has been a playground for corrupt politicians and businessman since it was founded in 2004. Just do a google news search with the words “China football corruption” and you should find about a week’s worth of reading material on the subject.

The situation is so bad that Chinese fans have given up on the sport. The national team is a national joke. A telling series of quotes from recent Irish times article helps explain the fans attitude better than I possibly could:

Ordinary fans are frustrated with the state of the sport in China. “I used to watch Chinese soccer games. Even when I was 22 I went to the stadium with my father to watch a soccer game. But the games were boring and the teams didn’t play well,” says Xiaoxiao (26) from Shandong province, who prefers Italian football these days.

“I’m a little bit pessimistic about the outlook for Chinese soccer. It has many bureaucratic problems in its system. If it wants to become world class, Chinese soccer needs fundamental changes,” he says.

Meng Xiajie (29), a teacher from Beijing, is a major Manchester United supporter. “A long time ago I used to watch Chinese soccer games, like the national team or Beijing Guoan. But I have to say I was let down. They have so many problems. The players don’t play like true professionals, you have the ‘black whistles’, game-fixing, scandals, problems with the system . . . I feel sometimes Chinese soccer is hopeless. But still in my heart I hope one day we will have great Chinese players,” says Meng.

Now even President Hu Jintao is getting involved. Last week, China announced the arrests of over 20 sport officials on charges of corruption, including the president and two coaches of the Chengdu Blades*, a team owned by England’s Sheffield United. If this latest batch of arrests doesn’t help end the corruption (and 20 arrests are honestly not likely to make much of a difference), then Chinese soccer may soon become completely irrelevant:

Some people, such as Nan Yong, vice-president of the Chinese Football Association, insist the current clean-up is the last chance to save the game. He said: “If match fixing and gambling remain rampant as now, Chinese soccer will be dead. We are ready to pay a huge price to weed it out once and for all.” (The Guardian)

So, MLS fans, as the CBA negotiations near, and you begin to anxiously fear for the future of the league, take solace in the fact that, even if a strike occurs, our situation still isn’t as bad as China’s. That’s got to mean something, right?

*A self-indulgent side note: I lived in Chengdu for three years and went to a few Blades games. Okay team, fantastic fans. For their sake I am really sorry to hear about the troubles at the club.

**Self-indulgent side note #2: My kind-sorta-semi-pro team once played the Blades’ youth team. I was hugely disappointed by the quality of play. The biggest difference between their team and ours was the size of our bellies and the amount of alcohol we had drunk the night before (we lost 4-1 with a little help from the ref). An MLS youth team would have demolished these kids.

Mock drafts galore–various yanks abroad goodness–and, hey, Jen Chang’s still alive, and blogging!

January 5, 2010 Leave a comment

Mock drafts are coming out left and right (and are even being aggregated here). Just about everybody has Danny Mwanga going first. And why shouldn’t they? Ives Galarcep reported last week that the Union  pushed hard for the OSU sophomore striker to be added to the Generation Adidas class. So, unless this is some wicked deceptive smoke-and-mirrors tactic by the Union (or Ives was taking some Twitter feed a little too seriously), it sounds like Mwanga will be in a Union jersey very soon.

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In Yanks Abroad news, it now seems likely that Greece’s Aris FC will be fielding two Americans soon–Freddy Adu and Eddie Johnson. This is basically both player’s last chance to impress in Europe, and let’s hope they both light fires under one-another’s asses. If Adu fails to see regular playing time in Greece, he should put his tail between his legs, take a pay cut, and come back to MLS.

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Landon Donovan has arrived at Merseyside and is all smiles–as are most American soccer fans. Optimism is running high on both sides of the pond as we anxiously await his first match, which may very well be as sub in the club’s Premiership clash with Arsenal this Saturday.

At Soccernet, Jen Chang analyzes Donovan’s likely role with the club.

I see Moyes using Donovan primarily on either the left or right wing to rotate with current incumbents Steven Pienaar and Diniyar Bilyaletdinov. The other possibility is using Donovan in the hole behind the main striker as the primary AM option (Leon Osman has been used there recently). Having said that, since both Pienaar and Bilyaletdinov are comparable talents to Donovan, it’s unlikely he’ll be able to displace either as the starter from the get-go and will have to earn his minutes as a sub initially.

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Speaking of Jen Chang–hey, he put up a post! Yes, for a portion of this latest piece he waxes romantic about the future of Belgian soccer, which bores the hell out of me, but Jen Chang generally does not bore the hell out of me. In fact, he’s probably my favorite US soccer blogger–it’s just too bad he’s so absorbed with his editorial responsibilities at Soccernet that he doesn’t put up a post more than once every other week.

So, hey Jen, is there any chance you’ll pull an Ives and start  your own, full-time blog? Please?

More masterful Mwanga

January 2, 2010 Leave a comment

Here is another video that is not about Danny Mwanga but has some nice highlights of him: the 2009 Oregon State Beaver’s men’s soccer year in review. Mwanga, #10, scores some beauts: