Thursday, December 31, 2009

My Favorite Soccer Memory of 2009

Today being New Year's Eve, there are a lot of posts going up on blogs about the year that was. For me there are lots of good soccer memories for 2009:
  • Fulham qualifying for the Europa League on the back of their best Premier League Finish Ever.
  • U.S. National Team making the Confederations Cup Final--their first FIFA international tournament final appearance (even if it was the Confederations Cup)
  • U.S. 2-0 Spain--what a great win
  • Jonathan Bornstein's header to assure U.S. wins the CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying
  • The MLS Rookie Class--man they were good
  • The Charlie Davies #9 9th Minute Display in the U.S.-Costa Rica qualifying match and at other MLS venues across the country that week
  • DC United's Ben Olsen in what turned out to be his final season as a player
The list could go on and on. There were some great memories this year.

But I think my favorite memory this year is one that maybe only 10 people saw this year. It doesn't involve any professional league, any professional player, not even college, high school or even premier level youth competitions. It took place on on a Sunday afternoon in September in a girls U11 match in which I was working as an assistant referee.

The memory goes like this: it is about 15 minutes into the second half. The play is going on in the far corner from my position in the other half of the field. The ball squirts in towards the keeper and she collects the ball and makes a big punt down field. The ball goes over the heads of the defenders and I start tracking along with the ball, as is my job. This young girl, her pony tail streaming behind her is chasing after the ball with this huge grin on her face. She collects the ball, dribbles twice and takes a shot that sails over the crossbar by about 6 feet--not even close. Her coach is dismayed, her teammates are dismayed, you hear this groan from the parents (they were on the side of the field opposite me). But I looked at this girl and she was just smiling away--not a care in the world. It didn't bother her that she missed a goal scoring opportunity--she was just smiling, playing the game.

That, to me, is what the game is all about, kids having a good time. It is easy to forget as fans of professional teams, fans of college teams or international teams, that soccer begins and ends with a bunch of people, young or old, kicking the ball around for fun. Everyday in America and around the world, you will find a kid, running after a ball, whether in an organized match with referees and coaches or a pick up game in the streets or park or beach, with a huge grin on his/her face. That is what soccer is all about--grinning kids.

That September Sunday didn't mean anything to any league--it was a recreational game with nothing on the line. Like I said, I would be surprised if 10 people saw the grin on this girls face; a girl whose name I don't know, wouldn't recognize her if she kicked me in the shin, but in that one brief six or seven seconds, she reminded me of why I love the game of soccer, why I referee and why I write about soccer:

Because it is fun!

So to that 10 year old girl with the big smile on her face--thank you for my best soccer memory of 2009 because it truly reminded me of why soccer is the Beautiful Game!!

Monday, December 28, 2009

DC United Will Name Curt Onalfo Head Coach

Officially in a January press conference, former DC United player and assistant coach Curt Onalfo will be named the new DC United Coach.

There are some United followers who are disappointed in DC United's selection of Onalfo and I am one of them, but not for the reasons that many supporters are disappointed. Some commnetators worry that Onalfo doesn't have the chops to make it as DC's coach based on his performance in Kansas City. I tend to give Onalfo the benefit of the doubt on this matter. I think at KC he had some personnel issues, i.e. lack of attacking talent and then some injury problems. I think though that he was on the right track in KC, but needed probably another season with healthy players and a couple of good acquisitions for attackers. But alas for Onalfo, that was not to be. In DC, Onalfo will not be begging for attacking talent, no his problem will be on the defensive side of things.

Rather my disappointment with the Onalfo selection has nothing to do with the man himself, but with the lack of creativity DC United showed with this process. DC United has one of the best front office staffs in the League and they know how to identify players, and work the salary cap. Why not bring in a coach from outside the MLS fraternity to push the envelope of soccer in America. Kevin Payne said that they wanted a coach that had ties to the tradition of attacking soccer in DC. But why do you need someone with ties to DC to promote attacking soccer.

There are coaches out there in the world, coaches with a background in attacking soccer who can introduce something new to the league, something few coaches have ever seen and would give DC a real leg up in the coming years, combining excellent knowledge with terrific talent. With Payne and the rest of the DC United front office, I think the inevitable hiccups that come with a non-MLS coach would be minimized.

But DC United went with a safe coach. I don't think Onalfo will do a bad job--it is just that DC United could have done a much better job by selecting a coach outside the MLS circles. This league cries out for that change and it may be New York (ugh) that makes that move.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Counter Attack Goal

One of the criticisms that I hear from non-soccer fans is that the game is slow, that there is little excitement. True, the game can be slow and negative sometimes, but when that is happening, don't blink because you might miss something brilliant--the counter-attack goal. The ball can go from one end of the field to the other in ten seconds and a goal result. There are few things as exciting in soccer than a brilliant counter attack goal, and few things as quick. The Brazilian national team is perhaps the absolute best at it, with the joke being that only against Brazil can they consider a defensive corner kick to be a potential goal scoring opportunity.

But done right, the counterattack goal can be an absolute thing of beauty. Although there have been many counters this year, the following two are gems of the counterattack goal:

Here is the Manchester United-Arsenel Champions League Semi-final in which Cristiano Ronaldo put on a show at the Emirates Stadium with two goals and an assist. The third goal in the clip is a brilliant counter attack, started and finished by Ronaldo.
Wath the bottom of the screen as Ronaldo puts on the burners and sprints some 80 yards to get on the end of Wayne Rooney's pass to score on a one-timer. Three players, seven touches, about 80 yards, and just about nine seconds to score. That is how long that took.

But, as a national team fan, this one has to be my favorite:
This one is similar to the Ronaldo goal but goes a little further in distance, the ball going about 100 yards, from Ricardo Clark, to Landon Donovan to Charlies Davies back to Donovan. Five touches, 9.5 seconds from Clark to the back of the net and three one touch passes to get it done.

It is the potential for a counter attack goal, which may come at any time, that makes soccer fantastic to watch, that makes it the beautiful game. In American football, the game comes in bursts of 8, 9 seconds, you would think the Americans would understand and embrace the possibility in soccer. So don't close your eyes to the speed of the game--it will surprise you.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

U.S. National Team January Camp

U.S. National Team Coach Bob Bradley has named a 30 player roster for the annual January camp. As expected the roster is heavy with MLS Talent (25 players) and players from Scandanavian leagues who are in their winter break as well.

Here is the roster in toto:

GOALKEEPERS: Kevin Hartman (Kansas City), Troy Perkins (Valerenga), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake), Zach Thornton (Chivas USA)

DEFENDERS: Kevin Alston (New England Revolution), Jonathan Bornstein (Chivas USA), Jimmy Conrad (Kansas City Wizards), Omar Gonzalez (Los Angeles Galaxy), Clarence Goodson (IK Start), Chad Marshall (Columbus Crew), Heath Pearce (FC Dallas), Marvell Wynne (Toronto FC)

MIDFIELDERS: Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Alejandro Bedoya (Örebro), Geoff Cameron (Houston Dynamo), Brad Davis (Houston Dynamo), Brad Evans (Seattle Sounders), Benny Feilhaber (Aarhus), Eddie Gaven (Columbus Crew), Sacha Kljestan (Chivas USA), Jeff Larentowicz (New England Revolution), Dax McCarty (FC Dallas), Chris Pontius (D.C. United), Robbie Rogers (Columbus Crew)

FORWARDS: Justin Braun (Chivas USA), Conor Casey (Colorado Rapids), Jeff Cunningham (FC Dallas), Robbie Findley (Real Salt Lake), Brandon McDonald (San Jose Earthquakes), Marcus Tracy (Aalborg)

Initial thoughts are that there are few surprises here on tis list. Bradley has called in a lot of young players who, while having no real shot at making the World Cup 23 next summer, deserve to get a good look for future years and possible Gold Cup inclusion for the 2011 Gold Cup. Given that most of the European leagues are still operational, there are some European youngsters that I would like to have seen, but there is little Bradley can do in that respect since this January camp is not a FIFA sanctioned break in league play.

Breaking matters down by position:
GOALKEEPERS: Kevin Hartman (Kansas City), Troy Perkins (Valerenga), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake), Zach Thornton (Chivas USA).
All three MLS keepers played themselves into camp this year. Hartman was consistent as always, if stuck on a team that seems a bit of a train wreck in all other areas. Rimando should make a training video about penalties and Thorton is a come-back story of the year. Despite all that, Perkins is the only one here that is really fighting for a spot on the World Cup Roster. Perkins will be battling Marcus Hahnemann for the third keeper spot. With that in mind, I would have loved to see Bradley call in Chris Seitz from the Philly Union or perhaps Bill Hamid from DC United. Short of a complete meltdown of Tim Howard and Brad Guzan, Hartman, Rimando and Thorton will not be seriously on the radar screen. Getting Hamid and Seitz some time with the National team would have been a good move.

DEFENDERS: Kevin Alston (New England Revolution), Jonathan Bornstein (Chivas USA), Jimmy Conrad (Kansas City Wizards), Omar Gonzalez (Los Angeles Galaxy), Clarence Goodson (IK Start), Chad Marshall (Columbus Crew), Heath Pearce (FC Dallas), Marvell Wynne (Toronto FC)
Every one of these guys is a good call. Alston and Gonzalez, the two MLS rookies on the list, had great seasons, with lots of minutes with club coaches who really know what they are doing. Bornstein and Pearce are battling for the World Cup roster (and I give Bornstein a bit of a edge right now, but that can change in this camp). Marshall and Goodson are possibilities, but Conrad might be a bit more of an edge if for no other reason that experience. I once thought Wynne would be a lock for the national team, with his strenght, attacking mindset and mind-blowing speed, he looked to be on the fast track, but several weak performances put the brakes on his development. Perhaps with Preki at the helm in Toronto next year, Wynne could be looking at a 2014 World Cup roster spot. For now, Pearce, Bornstein and probably Marsall are the most likely contenders for a spot. But with Jay DeMerit healthy and playing for Watford again, it is looking like there will be fewer defensive spots than anyone thought on the plane to South Africa.

MIDFIELDERS: Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Alejandro Bedoya (Örebro), Geoff Cameron (Houston Dynamo), Brad Davis (Houston Dynamo), Brad Evans (Seattle Sounders), Benny Feilhaber (Aarhus), Eddie Gaven (Columbus Crew), Sacha Kljestan (Chivas USA), Jeff Larentowicz (New England Revolution), Dax McCarty (FC Dallas), Chris Pontius (D.C. United), Robbie Rogers (Columbus Crew)
This group is a little harder to see breaking into the U.S. squad if they aren't already there. I think Feilhaber clearly has a line for South Africa, if he can play consistently well in the next six months to the level he has in the past six months for club and country. The U.S. midfield is loaded with talent and barring injuries, I don't see many players from here making the cut. Outside of Feilhaber, Beckerman and Kljestan have the best shots. There are fewer players on the U.S. squad who can combine the unquestioned work ethic of Beckerman--a true box to box midfielder who doesn't mind doing the dirty work of a holding midfielder and does the job well. Kljestan has some attacking flair, but has been inconsistent of late, particularly since is hat trick performance in last year's camp.

As much as it seems odd to say about a seven year MLS veteran, Eddie Gaven isn't breaking into this U.S. squad. Robbie Rogers might, but with the resurgence of DeMarcus Beasley, I am starting to wonder if Rogers will be the U.S. left wing option behind Landon Donovan. As much as I like Chris Pontius and his massive season at DC United, he is at this camp for experience and I just don't see him on the South Africa squad.

Oddly enough, the wild cards here are Geoff Cameron and Jeff Larentowitz. Larentowitz had a solid year for a New England REvolution team that simply struggled with injury. Antoher box to box workhorse, Larentowitz played his way into this camp, but with several quality holding midfielders before him in the pecking order, I don't see him making the cut. Cameron on the other hand is a little different. Houston coach Dominick Kinnear has in Cameron one of the most versatile midfielder/defenders in MLS. Cameron played just about every position for Kinnear but goalkeeper and striker. Cameron is another workhorse who can play in any role needed. Bradley may need some flexibility, particularly if Bradley's go to utilty midfielder/deferner Mo Edu isn't back to fitness and game sharpness.

Of the midfield group, after Feilhaber, Beckerman, Cameron and Kljestan would have to be favorites for even a hint at a World Cup ticket.

FORWARDS: Justin Braun (Chivas USA), Conor Casey (Colorado Rapids), Jeff Cunningham (FC Dallas), Robbie Findley (Real Salt Lake), Brandon McDonald (San Jose Earthquakes), Marcus Tracy (Aalborg)
Of this list, most people are probably exicted to see Robbie Findlay's name on the list. Findlay is most like Charlie Davies and seems a natural replacement. The most notable name missing from this list is Brian Ching, who for a long time was Bradley's go to target striker. But I think something interesting has happened to Bob Bradley since the Confederations' Cup, namely that he doesn't always have to play a target striker and a speed striker and that mixing up the look can achieve results. The most interesting names on the list are Marcus Tracy (who just left Aalborg) and Brandon McDonald. I never really thought of McDonald as a striker, but more of an attacking midfielder. But Tracy had a great year for Aalborg and earned this shot. I don't think Tracy will make the World Cup squad before Findlay, but Tracy has held his own in the face of some good competition and a good showing here could see his stock rise well.

Despite the hopes of many that Charlie Davies will be back for the World Cup, I just don't see it. That puts Findlay in the driver's seat. I think Conor Casey might make the list anyway. He isn't pretty, he isn't fun to watch, but he gets a job done, is big, strong and can hold his own against defenders and that is somehting that Bob Bradley isn't necessarily ready to give up just yet.

At best, 12-15 players on this list have a shot of playing themselves onto 23 man World Cup Roster. Some of these guys are young, exciting MLS stars or future stars as well has players who are starting to light up the European leagues. I think Bob Bradley can learn a lot for the future, but not so much right now.

Monday, December 21, 2009

That Just Has to Hurt the Climate Crowd

Who is more respected, Sarah Palin or Al Gore? The Answer is Sarah Palin, buy five percent.

Sarah Palin may not be teh sharpest knife in the drawer, but people perceive her as real. In a time when too many of our leaders, are packaged, branded and handled, Palin comes across as just who she is? People may not like what she stands for, but at least they know what she stands for and that generates respect, even if you don't agree with her.

"It doesn't 'border on immoral': It drives straight through the frontier post and heads for the dark heartland of immoral."

Mark Steyn on the rank bribery going on to get the health care bill done.

Look, I know "favors" are traded in order to corral votes, but the Senate is not even trying to demonstrate any kind of trade here--it is simply the purchase of votes.

Here is the funny thing to me. Democrats and campaign finance demagogues routinely claim that a $5,000 or even a $25,000 bundle of contributions can "buy" votes in Congress. Sorry, there is no one better at buying votes and a Congressional leader who wants to get a bill passed. To paraphrase Steyn, if I give $2300 to a Congressional candidate--that is my money and my choice. But Congress is spending my money to buy votes of people who don't represent me for their bill that I don't support.

Yeah, the heartland of immoral.

Rhode Island Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse: A Man Who Knows How To Make Enemies

Washington Times has his comments and a video link.

Nice, real nice.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Funny Picture

I don't know why I think this is funny, but I do.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Seriously? This is a good argument?

President Obama says that unless we pass a $2 trillion dollar bill that will effectively socialize 1/6 of the economy, America will bankrupt. Seems like we are on that road without the bill.

When the Rules Don't Work for Democrats, They Simply Ignore them

The Senate, like any legislative body, has rules regarding the manner in which debate on the Senate Floor is supposed to occur. But the desperation of the Democratic Majority in the Senate to get a health care bill passed as soon as possible is such that they no longer abide by them.

James Simpson at American Thinker blog has the latest story of how Democrats will dispense with the rules when they don't like what is happening.

This is What is Wrong with MLS Rules: FC Dallas puts Van Den Bergh on trade block

Ives Galarcip ntoes that FC Dallas is shopping Dave Van Den Berg. Now, I don't necessarily have a problem with that, lots of teams do it. The problem is that FC Dallas declined to exercise the option on Van Den Bergh's contract, which essentially means that Van Den Bergh is a free agent. But MLS rules say that FC Dallas retains his rights. That is just bloody stupid.

For the non-soccer readers out this, this is comparable to you have a contract with a company for one year and an option by the company to extend that contract for another year. Now imagine that this company, after the first year determines that while they were happy with your work, they simply don't have the money to pay you the salary that would be required in the option, so they say, thanks, but we aren't picking up the option. It sucks but that is the reality. Now imagine further that this company that no longer can afford your services has the right to accept or reject any job offers you receive!! In the rest of the world, soccer and non-soccer, if the company doesn't pick up that contract, you are free to seek employment elsewhere.

But in the crazy contract world of MLS, FC Dallas still retains the right to accept or reject bids for Van Den Bergh even thought they don't want to employ the man any more.

In a nutshell, this is one of the three major problems the MLS Player's Union has with MLS contracts and it is against FIFA rules, labor law, and not to mention just basic common sense.

MLS News

There are lots of things coming out of the MLS on the news front.

My teams, DC United continues to look for a new head coach. The rumors about Akron's Caleb Porter coming to the Black and Red got axed when Porter decided to stay in the college game for a while longer. (In Porter's defense that is a smart move. He wants to build a legacy and while Akron is certainly on the way up, and it is all Porter's doing, I think showing that Akron can be a regular feature in the College Cup playoffs year-in and year-out like ACC teams or UCLA or Indiana would go a long way to cementing that status). Former Kansas City Coach Curt Onalfo is rumored to be atop the short list. But after reading this bit by Kartik Krishnaier, I am wondering why a coach like Colin Clarke hasn't been approached.

Clarke has coached at Puerto Rico Islanders in the USL for a number of years. Last year, he guided the Islanders to a dream run in the CONCACAF Champions League, including a semi-final appearance. Had they not utterly collapsed in the second leg of teh semi-final tie, they would have made the final. With the future of USL-1 in doubt for 2010, you have to wonder if perhaps Clark is there for the taking. Clark has experience in MLS (former with FC Dallas) and undeniable success with Puerto Rico. I think he is tactically sound, innovative and certainly capable of developing talent. He also knows how to not just win the league but how to work in the international competitions, which is the next big step for DC United. Of course, getting into the playoffs next year is vitaly important.

Onalfo doesn't cut it for me. I didn't think Porter would have either.

Landon Donovan's New Contract. This has to be one of the better moves the MLS has made in recent years. Securing Donovan to a four year contract does three things for the MLS. First, it shows the MLS is serious about keeping its star players, particuarly those who are the faces of the league (combine this with the effort to keep Stuart Holden and you can see a better understanding). Second, it makes Donovan's transfer value higher should Donovan do well for Everton on his short term loan AND performs well for the U.S. in South Africa. If Donovan does both of those things, an eight figure transfer fee will not be unreasonable as it has been in the past for Donovan. A $9 million deal means that the transfer fee would have to be $10 million or more. I would also suspect that there is a guaranteed buyout clause in the contract upwards of $20 million. Third, the contract extension sends a subtle signal that the MLS is not adverse to the notion of paying players more. Granted Donovan is, for all intents and purposes, a designated player without occupying a DP slot, but I think the league, during the time of the collective bargaining agreement negotiations, is a something of a positive sign. Donovan previously had a no-trade clause and I suspect he has one now and the contract is sure to be guaranteed for each given year. Despite Donovan's stature in the league, it is going to be hard for MLS to argue that junior players with $40,000 salaries shouldn't be entitled to the same protection, particularly when Donovan if for some reason he were released, would be able to get will employment in another league wihtout much difficulty. A squad player for New York Red Bull doesn't have the same employment prospects. So it shows that the league is willing to do contract guarantees for some players and they should do it for all players. has a photo-filled story of FC Dallas' keeper Dario Sala. It is an interesting story. I didn't know what led Sala to come to the U.S. originally, but he hints at security concerns for his (American) wife. There are no details, but hopefully he will return to full form this year in what could be a good year for Dallas. Note: I would love to see a discussion from Sala about team handball, which he played as a young man, I still don't get the game.

Masschussetts 2nd Grader Suspended For Drawing Crucifix

A Taunton, MA second-grader was not only suspended form school, but ordered to undergo psychological counseling for DRAWING A CRUCIFIX.
A Taunton father is outraged after his 8-year-old son was sent home from school and required to undergo a psychological evaluation after drawing a stick-figure picture of Jesus Christ on the cross.

The father said he got a call earlier this month from Maxham Elementary School informing him that his son, a second-grade student, had created a violent drawing. The image in question depicted a crucified Jesus with Xs covering his eyes to signify that he had died on the cross. The boy wrote his name above the cross.

“As far as I’m concerned, they’re violating his religion,” the incredulous father said.

He requested that his name and his son’s name be withheld from publication to protect the boy.

The student drew the picture shortly after taking a family trip to see the Christmas display at the National Shrine of Our Lady of La Salette, a Christian retreat site in Attleboro. He made the drawing in class after his teacher asked the children to sketch something that reminded them of Christmas, the father said.

“I think what happened is that because he put Xs in the eyes of Jesus, the teacher was alarmed and they told the parents they thought it was violent,” said Toni Saunders, an educational consultant with the Associated Advocacy Center.

Saunders is working with the boy’s parents after a mutual acquaintance referred them to her.

“When I got that call, I was so appalled that I had to do something,” Saunders said.

“They weren’t looking at the fact that this is an 8-year-old child with special needs,” she added. “They made him leave school, and they recommended that a psychiatrist do an evaluation.”
First, it does not matter if this was a "special needs" student or not. this is just blatantly stupid. You can argue about whether religion belongs in the schools or not, but even that kind of an argument doesn't apply when a student draws something that obviously had an impact on him.

Seriously, that is what we are doing? What kind of signal does that send to kids.

Baltimore Sued Wells Fargo--Seriously--For Causing Urban Blight.

The City of Baltimore sued Wells Fargo in an attempt to blame the mortgage lender for the blighted state of the city.

Seriously. The fact that Baltimore has so many blighted properties is all Wells Fargo's fault. In a time when the city has massive financial problems, it has decided to spend taxpayer money on suing a mortgage company that, according to the city's own attorneys, was responsible for 150 foreclosures. That is out of 30,000 vacant properties or one half of one percent (0.5%) of all vacant properties in the city.

I wonder how many mortgages in Baltimore that Wells Fargo has tried to work out? My guess, probably more than 150 and I am no big fan of Wells Fargo.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Soccer By Ives: Holden offered improved MLS contract as transfer window nears

Ives Galarcep, among others, are reporting that MLS is offering Houston Dynamo's Stuart Holden not on a contract increase but a massive contract increase in a bid to keep the young American in the MLS for the coming years.

Holden, probably Houston's biggest break out player from last year (maybe Geoff Cameron would give him a run for the money), is out of contract and has been rumored to be moving to Europe in January, with Scottish Premier League side Aberdeen being considered the most likely destination. Although details are sketchy, the rumor is that Holden will be offered a contract in the $300,00 to $400,000 range. This is not Designated Player salary, but it is a tenfold increase over Holden's $35,000 salary in 2009. the drawback is taht Holden can command a salary of $3 million a year in Europe.

However, MLS, if it is to grow as a league, needs to hold on to some of its young players, particularly those that have developed in MLS. Holden, two years ago, would be best considered to be the understudy to Dwayne DeRosario. But when DeRosario headed back to Canada, Holden was tapped by Houston Coach Dominick Kinnear to lead the midfield for the Dynamo. Combined with Holden's break out with the U.S. National Team, it has to be considered that MLS finalized the development of the young man.

So why the offer now? As has been reported by many MLS observers, the league needs to do a much better job keeping young talent in the league. And, Holden, even by objective standards is a good looking young man, is well-spoken and well-received by fans. He could become the American face of the league, particularly if a certain Landon Donovan moves to Europe on a permanent basis. But aside from the MLS player/marketing side, there is a bit more of a deviousness to the idea by the MLS.

MLS might be looking at Holden as a potential payday. Keeping Holden in the league through the World Cup, could result in a very significant payday in terms of a transfer fee. If MLS could sign Holden to a three year deal, then MLS could see a seven figure transfer fee, particularly if Holden has a good World Cup. As it stands right now, MLS gets nothing since Holden can leave in January on a free transfer.

I think Holden is heading to Europe, probably Scotland for at least a couple of years. Being Scottish born, with family in Scotland, Holden can make the transition to Europe a bit easier, allowing him to focus on playing rather than trying to get settled in and playing. Plus, even on $10,000 a week, he would be looking at a payrate well above what he would be making in the states.

The Sweeper: Elizabeth Lambert, Public Enemy #1 | Pitch Invasion

Elizabeth Lambert, Public Enemy Seriously? Come on, let the girl off the hook.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Obama Officials, Check Your Talking Points Sheet

Lawrence Summers:
The President’s top economic advisor, Larry Summers, told me that “by spring employment growth will start turning positive.”

During my "This Week" interview, Summers said that “everybody agrees that the recession is over,” but he did not say when the unemployment rate could be expected to drop further.
Another advisor, Christina Romer: Of course the recession is not over.

Look, I would expect Republicans and Democrats would disagree with whether the recession is over, but not two senior advisors to the President to publicly disagree on such a basic claim.

What are we as the American public to believe when it comes the message from our leaders when they can't even agree with themselves.

Why College Soccer is Still Important

Ives Galarcep makes the case that college soccer programs are still important.
In an ideal world, the task of developing pro prospects would fall to Major League Soccer, but the league has only recently begun making any real progress in establishing the infrastructure for such a role. In the interim, and for decades now, college soccer has helped fill that role by giving young soccer players in this country an avenue to pursue the game and grow as players.

There are some who still don't realize just how invaluable the college game is to player development in this country, which is disappointing because without college soccer the current pool of American talent would be much more shallow and the pro game in this country wouldn't have made as many strides as it has enjoyed over the course of the past decade.

Even as MLS continues to grow, and the academy programs slowly but surely being put in place start to increase their role in developing talent, the college game will still be important in developing players. Why? Because the United States is just too large a country for 15 teams to cover with academies and even as some colleges cut their men's soccer programs, there are still plenty that are flourishing a doing an excellent job of helping young talents hone their game.
Yes, ideally the MLS clubs would be developing the professional caliber prospects themselves, and yes, 15 or even 20 clubs in the U.S. cannot develop all the talent.

But I would argue that outside the ACC there is a dearth of consistently good college soccer programs. The ACC which is consistently the strongest conference in the college game (three of the Final Four in the past two years have been ACC teams), the ACC has won four out of the last five College Cups. In the last 20 years, the ACC has won 9 of the years (and tied one) and an ACC team has been in the final in 12 of the past 20 years. That is not to say that there are not quality teams in other conferences (Indiana and UCLA have a solid record). Having said that, how many quality programs, year in and year out over the course of ten or twenty years are out there. Programs that through a combination of good coaching and good scouting and good connections to PDL clubs are not big in number that can generate a flood of good talent.

Now the 2009 MLS rookie class has set a very high bar for the years that follow and I do hope that 2010 can produce as solid a class as well. In the end, that will be the measure of college soccer--how successful college coaches can develop talent to make the transition to professional playing. College soccer, again, outside the ACC, in not consistently of high enough quality, at this time, to truly be a breeding ground for professional talent on a broad scale.

What can be done to make college soccer a better breeding ground for professional talent? Simply put, a few rule changes can go a long way:

1. End the practice of unlimited substitutions. I am not suggesting that these games have to be three substitutions, but even a five or six substitution limit would be fine, so long as when players leave the game, they can't come back. This puts more of an onus on the players themselves making tactical changes, measure their output and effort, maintain their fitness, and increase their skills in the game. An interesting side effect that I can envision is that more quality players will get spread around among other teams as players will be seeking programs where they can get lots of playing time, perhaps even as freshmen and sophomores compete for serious minutes.

2. Play fewer games. The average college soccer team will play 20 regular season games in a little more than three months. In general, they are playing a game every three to four days, and that doesn't lend itself to learning. Professional teams might play a series of three games in ten days on occaision, but college teams are doing it every week for three months straight and that is before conference tournaments. Oddly enough, the College Cup Tournament has six or seven days between games.

3. Permit off season training camps. I am not suggesting off season training during the entire spring semester. But off season camps, maybe a three or four day camp every month, generates that which is helpful--skill development, tactical learning and team familiarity. Most high level college players will play PDL or other amateur clubs during the off season, but not all players have that availability. Hopefully the USL will continue to develop that program which provides professional level coaching for players. But until such time as every college program is permitted to have its own PDL team, then college programs should be permitted to train regularly in the off season.

Clearly, the college programs will, in the absence of quality MLS academy and/or academy networks, be the provider of much of the rookie talent for the MLS. So in that respect, the college game is important, but I don't think it should be the best source of talent in 30 years.

Democrats return to job-killing tradition

Paul Moreno on Democratic traditions regarding labor.
The nation's unemployment rate is 10 percent, and the Democratic Party effectively is doing all it can to keep it at that rate or raise it. Its health care and labor relations agenda are almost guaranteed to do this. In this, President Barack Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi are honoring the two-century tradition of the party.


After the Civil War, the Republicans managed the greatest job-creating country in world history. Between the Civil War and World War I, the United States became the strongest economy in the world. America absorbed about 60 million immigrants in these years, and inflation-adjusted wages still rose for everyone. It did this with almost no federal regulation, and no federal income tax. Government at all levels consumed about 5 percent of the national income in 1900, compared with about 40 percent today.

All Democrats, particularly those of a Populist and Progressive orientation, did was complain. What they advocated -- more taxes, more regulation -- sought to punish the job-makers. Federal regulation gradually drove the country's largest employer, the railroads, to ruin. The income tax was the prime example. It shifted the tax burden from consumers (primarily the tariff) onto producers.
I am not convinced of Moreno's premise that labor unions are job killers in an of themselves. I do agree that they certainly increase costs and generate obstacles to growth, but I am not sure they are job killers in the same way that taxes and regulations are. To be sure, unions have done some very good things in America in the past, but I am not sure they are absolutely necessary now. Given that union membership is growing only among government employees, I think unions are driving part of the problem with government expenditures.

I think that more and more private sector unions are starting to understand that they have to work as partners with corporate management instead of being simply an adversary. Working with corporate management means better job protection than contracting for absurd requirements.

Still, I think Moreno is right about the Democratic tradition of job killing policies. I don't see anyway in which the Democrats are going to create jobs with their current policy prescriptions.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Time to Get Dramatic

If there has ever been a time for the Senate Republicans to get dramatic, that time is now. When it comes to the debate over the health care overhaul, this is not the time for the GOP to be sitting back and being collegial.

Erick Erickson, over at RedState, has a solid piece encouraging the GOP to start forcing the Democrats to put a face on the health care bill. Erickson is encouraging the GOP to start using every parliamentary procedure available to them to do two things 1) simply delay the debate on the bill and 2) give time to the rest of America and people like Erickson and you to examine the bill in all its monstrosity. Make no mistake any single bill that is over 2,000 pages long, affects one sixth of the national economy and radically alters the manner in which Americans will receive and pay for health care is a monstrosity--regardless of the details. The term applies to what ever party is sponsoring the bill--it is too big and too unweildy.

But here is a better reason for enforcing the parliamentary rules. By constantly suggesting, as Erickson does, that the GOP actually require 51 Senators be on the floor, most Democrats, then you start making those Senators who are up for re-election to spend some time on the floor of the Senate, making sure the CSPAN cameras capture their face supporting this bill. Those Senators who are up for election in 2010 cannot simply hide. If they aren't on the floor of the Senate, their GOP challenger will say "where were you when the Senate was debating this big bill?" If the embattled senators are on teh floor, they cannot escape responsibility for those votes.

I am of the belief that as Americans learn more about this bill, the more they are not going to like it. It is not that the average Americans don't want to help people who don't have insurance. The problem is that people are afraid of losing what they have and make no mistake, if you have health insurance and you like it, that insurance will change in some respect and it may not be a good thing. Change is difficult enough when it is incremental. When it is radical change--without a solid reason for it--it is impossible.

So to the GOP--this isn't the time for being nice guys. It is time to stand on the principle if you truly believe it. If you don't believe in the principle of individual choice, of smaller government, of states rights, then just do what you are doing and watch the train wreck because you won't be affected, will you?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Another (Great) Goalkeeper Goal

Look, goalkeepers rarely score goals and rightfully so. But this goal by Standard Liege (Belgium) keeper Sinan Bolat did more than just earn the Belgian champsions a draw in their final Champions Leauge match, it guaranteed them continued European tournament play in the Europa League. Even sweeter was that their opponent AZ Alkmaar, was the team they supplanted.

I guess the goal is worth probably another three or four million Euros for the year. The best part of this goal--it is actually a pretty good goal.

So for all you goalkeepers out there, just remember to practice those field skills.

Bolat ran more to get up for the free kick and in celebration that he usually does in a single match.

Congrats to Bolat and Standard Liege--this is what makes soccer beautiful.

Dems to Lift the Debt Ceiling

In a bold but risky year-end strategy, Democrats are preparing to raise the federal debt ceiling by as much as $1.8 trillion before New Year’s rather than have to face the issue again prior to the 2010 elections.

“We’ve incurred this debt. We have to pay our bills,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told POLITICO Wednesday. And the Maryland Democrat confirmed that the anticipated increase could be as high as $1.8 trillion — nearly twice what had been assumed in last spring’s budget resolution for the 2010 fiscal year.

The leadership is betting that it’s better for the party to take its lumps now rather than risk further votes over the coming year. But the enormity of the number could create its own dynamic, much as another debt ceiling fight in 1985 gave rise to the Gramm-Rudman deficit reduction act mandating across-the-board spending cuts nearly 25 years ago.
We've incurred this debt and we have to pay the bills. I have a suggestion:


Then we don't have to increase the debt limit. Of course, the problem with increasing the debt limit is that we never seem to decrease the debt limit.

The Obama Administration Amatuer Hour Continues

Norwegians are incensed at the treatment that Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Barak Obama is giving them:
Barack Obama's trip to Oslo to pick up his Nobel peace award is in danger of being overshadowed by a row over the cancellation of a series of events normally attended by the prizewinner.

Norwegians are incensed over what they view as his shabby response to the prize by cutting short his visit.

The White House has cancelled many of the events peace prize laureates traditionally submit to, including a dinner with the Norwegian Nobel committee, a press conference, a television interview, appearances at a children's event promoting peace and a music concert, as well as a visit to an exhibition in his honour at the Nobel peace centre.

He has also turned down a lunch invitation from the King of Norway.

According to a poll published by the daily tabloid VG, 44% of Norwegians believe it was rude of Obama to cancel his scheduled lunch with King Harald, with only 34% saying they believe it was acceptable.

"Of all the things he is cancelling, I think the worst is cancelling the lunch with the king," said Siv Jensen, the leader of the largest party in opposition, the populist Progress party. "This is a central part of our government system. He should respect the monarchy," she told VG.
If I am invited to a party at a house, it is expected that I make an appearance with the host/hostess. It is a matter of respect. The Nobel Prize is a party thrown by the King of Norway. Laureates, no matter what the prize is, should make an effort to make an appearence with the host.

If you are the head of state to any country and you are visiting another country, then you should make time to have a meal with the head of state of the country you are visiting. This isn't about politics or the fact that I don't think the President earned the Peace Price, it is a matter of protocol and politeness.

If the King of Norway came to the U.S., the White House would be apoplectic if the King said to the President "Thanks but I don't want to have lunch with you."

This is just another example of the amatuerism of the Obama White House.

House Passes Bill Challenging the Bowl Championship Series

A House subcommittee approved legislation Wednesday aimed at forcing college football to switch to a playoff system to determine its national champion, over the objections of some lawmakers who said Congress has meatier targets to tackle.

The bill, which faces steep odds, would ban the promotion of a postseason NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision game as a national championship unless it results from a playoff. The measure passed by voice vote in a House Energy and Commerce Committee subcommittee, with one audible "no," from Rep. John Barrow, D-Ga.

"With all due respect, I really think we have more important things to spend our time on," Barrow said before the vote, although he stressed he didn't like the current Bowl Championship Series, either.
I agree with Rep. Barrow although I won't stress my view about the BCS. Seriously, I could give a toss how a national football championship is awarded. The BCS conference have a monopoly because no one else in college football outside of Boise State is challenging it.

The Death of Coal Mining and Coal Based Energy

Coal company says environmentalists are to blame for the need to cut 500 jobs in West Vriginia.
Chalk up another 500 to the list of jobs President Obama will need to create or save.

A Pittsburgh-based coal company, CONSOL Energy, will lay off nearly 500 of its West Virginia workers next year and its CEO blames environmentalists dead-set against mountaintop mining who have waged “nuisance” lawsuits for the job loss.

But CONSOL Energy’s political problems are not unique to the mining industry, which has suffered under the Obama Administration. The Environmental Protection Agency is already holding 79 surface mining permits in West Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee. The EPA says these permits could violate the Clean Water Act and warrant "enhanced" review. And, agency went even further in October, announcing plans to revoke a permit for the Spruce No. 1 Mine in West Virginia.


CEO Nicholas J. DeIuliis said the poor economy compounded by legal challenges by environmental activists forced CONSOL to slash jobs.

"It is challenging enough to operate our coal and gas assets in the current economic downturn without having to contend with a constant stream of activism in rehashing and reinterpreting permit applications that have already been approved or in the inequitable oversight of our operations,” he said in a statement. “Customers will grow reluctant to deal with energy producers they perceive are unable to guarantee a reliable supply due to regulatory uncertainty. It inhibits the ability to remain competitive."
Now it is not just environmental groups that have caused CONSOL to cut jobs, such an explanation would be simplistic.

But if you read between the lines of both this story and the recent efforts of the Environmental Protection Agency promulgating rules that declare, for the first time ever, carbon dioxide as a pollutant. That is right, everyone who is living and breathing is a polluter, even while you are sleeping. For those of you who have forgotten your basic biology, we breath in oxygen and breath out carbon dioxide. A quick review of botany--plants breath in carbon dioxide and breath out oxygen. Seems to work well for us.

But when carbon dioxide is declared a pollutant, it will limit the abilty of energy companies like CONSOL or other companies that fuel our power hungry society. A full sixty percent of America's power useage is fed by coal fired power plants. That's right, 3 out of every 5 megawatts of power is done by the use of coal, which when burned to power the turbines that generate the power emits carbon dioxide.

So where will America get its power? Alternative energy? There aren't enough windmills in America to power the nation. Solar-not nearly as efficient as being touted--although admittedly it is far superior to what it was 20 years ago.

Now nuclear energy is terrific, but the same environmentalist who hate coal power plants also hate nuclear energy. The spector of Chernobyl, Three Mile Island and The China Syndrome is simply too great despite the record of nuclear energy and the efficiency and cleanliness of nuclear energy.

So my question to the environmental lobby is this? Where does it end? What is the proper balance between human needs and protection of the environment? Can that be explained to me?

Being green is a luxury of being rich, if we are no longer rich, what then?

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Strike Rumblings in the MLS

Soccer America's Ridge Mahoney is reporting that rumblings of a possible strike are coming out of the MLS/Player's Union Collective Bargaining Agreement talks. Writes Mahoney:
I'm starting to hear the S-word in talking to people about negotiations regarding a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between Major League Soccer and its players, and that word has nothing to do with salaries, as in minimums or maximums or caps or anything else.

The S-word is "strike," which could result if no agreement is reached by Jan. 31, when the current CBA expires. Discussions began early this year and haven't gone anywhere, from what I've heard, and the dynamics may have slid backward two weeks ago when MLS Commissioner Don Garber decried the involvement of FIFPro, an international players agency, which had petitioned FIFA on behalf of the MLS Players' Union regarding certain strictures utilized by the league in its contracts.

FIFA promptly issued a statement to the effect that it had no intention of meddling in a domestic labor-management negotiation. FIFPro and the MLSPU contend that by not guaranteeing contracts for their full duration and not permitting players unrestricted movement within MLS when their player contracts expire the league violates FIFA statues regarding transfers and movement between clubs.

For all its power and influence, FIFA is loathe to be dragged into any court in any land, and it seldom intervenes except in specific cases. Its transfer windows only apply to contracted players moving between associations in different countries, and thus, say, a short-term loan between two English clubs in October or an MLS trade in May that doesn't jibe with those windows doesn't break any of its rules. While option years may be more common in MLS than in other leagues, they are neither unknown nor "illegal."
The issue of contract guarantees was one that I was positive was going to come up. I didn't think that the Player's Union was going to get fully guaranteed contracts, but would get some sort of guarantee change. As Mahoney points out, usually only the first year of a contract is guaranteed and the second and remaining years only guaranteed if the player is on the club's roster on July 31 (the close of the MLS transfer/trade window).

But the Player's Union dragging FIFPro and FIFA in the discussion, which on the surface sounds like a good idea, may not have been the best tactical move. In the end, the Player's Union might win this battle but lose the overall war.

What is interesting to me, as Mahoney writes it, is that issues such as salary cap and minimum salaries don't appear to be on the table. That means one of two things:

1. The salary cap issue has been addressed and all sides are happy with what the new cap will be, i.e. that it is liveable for the owners but comes with minimum salaries that are acceptable to Player's Union; or

2. The negotiations have gotten bogged down on the guarantee issue and the sides haven't even talked financials.

If the situation is the former, all the better and I think the Player's Union should push for two guaranteed years and be happy. If the situation is the latter, the battle over guarantees are going to kill the discussion and there will be no talk of significant changes in salary caps.

The issue of the rights of players should be simple to resolve and the fact that MLS and the owners don't see this to me is shocking. As it stands now, if an MLS player is out of contract, meaning his current contract is over there are four options with the following consequences:

1. He can resign with his current club. Player and club are both happy--great.

2. He can retire from club soccer, in which case the club has no rights to him, unless he pulls a Brett Farve.--see caveat

3. He can try to transfer to another league--usually Europe but not always. See caveat.

4. He can try to go to another MLS club. See caveat.

CAVEAT--even when and MLS player is out of contract, meaning his contract with MLS (who holds all player contracts under the single entity structure), his former club retains his MLS rights. So in case 2 above, if the player retires but pulls a Brett Farve, then his rights are retained by the last club he played for. Ditto for case three and case four. There are exceptions, such as the case of Brian McBride which is a little different.

But this fix is so simple. An out of contract player is out of contract. He should be free to contract with any club he wants, in the MLS or other leagues. But I can see a modicum of protection for the MLS to MLS free transfer--a right to match or first refusal.

If say Houston have the rights to Rico Clark and Clark wants to go play for Seattle and he is out of contract. Seattle can make the best offer they can and Houston has to either match the offer or lose out. If Seattle really want Clark then they will make an offer that Houston can't or won't match. Seattle have to be judicious since those terms would become binding on the club and unless they make Clark a designated player, they have to pay him with the salary cap in mind. If Houston really want him, they have to match the offer again, with the salary cap in mind.

But a player should be free to sign with whoever is willing to give him a deal he likes and wants. Assuming the player sees out his contract, there should be no roadblocks to allowing him to ply his trade where he wants.

Back to the topic, I don't see a strike happening. MLS is coming off a great season (New York Red Bulls aside). While attendances (outside of Seattle) held steady or slightly declined, much of that can be attributed to the financial climate. The quality of the game is getting better and MLS is taking steps to becoming a proper league in terms of helping the game develop.

There is so much to lose and really nothing to gain by the Player's Union striking. A strike could set the league back 10 years if not kill it altogether. The owners know that the trend in the league is toward moderate profitability and the best way to get profitable is to put a quality product on the field. In a year when the World Cup is coming (complete with a massive game between the U.S. and England for the first time in 60 years), both sides have to know that a strike or a lockout is not a good thing for American soccer.

The Top 10 American Soccer Stories of 2009

As we come to the end of the year 2009 and look forward to what is sure to be a jam packed 2010 for American soccer, it is time to consider, like most people, what has happened in the past year. So from 10 to 1, here are my top American soccer stories of 2009:

10. Arguably the best rookie class in Major League Soccer history. This year, at least in soccer households, Steve Zakuani, Chris Pontius, Rodney Wallace, Stephan Frei, Omar Gonzalez, A.J. Delagarza, Sam Cronin became household names long before anyone thought they would. IN five years, I predict that everyone of these players will be superstars in MLS or playing in Europe and I hope it is a mix of both.

9. The playoff run of Sky Blue FC in the WPS. Like Real Salt Lake (See #5), they were the last place qualifier for the playoffs and won the whole thing by playing their game.

8. The rebirth of women's professional soccer in America. Say what you want about the ladies game, it truly is some good soccer and if America wants to keep in Women's World Cups, they need this league.

7. The massive outpouring of support for Charlie Davies and the #9 Displays both at the qualifier and around the MLS. Classy stuff from the supporters.

6. The resurgence of the L.A. Galaxy--at least until the second half of the MLS Cup Final.

5. The playoff run of Real Salt Lake in the MLS. Jason Kreis showed the MLS that a TEAM of lesser known players can play their brand of soccer and win championships.

4, Two Words--Seattle Sounders. The rave green mass is changing the way we look at and support professional soccer in America.

3. The U.S. qualifying for their sixth consecutive World Cup. It got a little hairy there for a while, but they pulled it out.

2. Jonathan Bornstein's header in the final qualification game against Costa Rica. The only thing that could have made that goal any sweeter would be if the header had eliminated Mexico instead of Costa Rica.

1. Duh! The U.S. 2-0 win over Spain at the Confederations Cup to cap an amazing run and the U.S. first finals appearance in a world international competition.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Why Do So Many People Hate Health Care Reform?

Megan McArdle looks at the problem. One explanation might be risk aversion.
If somebody has a 50/50 shot at winning $1 million or can take $500,000 for certain, what will he do? A risk neutral person would be indifferent. But most people's risk aversion will make them eager to take the sure thing. People are extremely risk averse when it comes to health care precisely because the stakes are so high.
That was McCardle quoting Jay Cost. But McArdle suggest that is not risk aversion that makes people leery of the health care overhaul, but loss aversion.

Reconfigure Cost's scenario and you would get a different result. If someone has $300,000 in hand and has a 50/50 shot of winning a $1 million with no cost, most people would take the risk. If the scenario was, you have a 50/50 chance of winning $1 million or a guaranteed opportunity for $500,000, but no cost, the risk adverse person would generally take the $500,000 in order to avoid the possibility of not getting anything. But what if the chance to win $1 million or take $500,000 guaranteed cost $300,000. Even taking the guaranteed $500,000 means a net 33% loss. I don't think anyone would take that risk or guaranteed loss.

That is what we are facing with health care. Most people like their health care. They may not like the means by which we are paying for the health care (which is the real subject of the debate), but they are satisfied with the level and quality of care they get. If you give people the chance of Cadillac level health care (but not a guaranteed chance) or their current care guaranteed, I think most people will stick with their current care out of fear of unknown. This is the $1 million chance or $500,000 guaranteed case. But if you tell people that the cost of this opportunity is their current health care quality--you are less likely to see people support the idea.

A Review of Basic Labor Economics

In my entire working life, I have had only one job that was not created by someone richer than I creating the job opportunity and that one exception was the United States Navy. Thomas Sowell reiterates that matter is a very simple way:
What does it take to create a job? It takes wealth to pay someone who is hired, not to mention additional wealth to buy the material that person will use.

But government creates no wealth. Ignoring that plain and simple fact enables politicians to claim to be able to do all sorts of miraculous things that they cannot do in fact. Without creating wealth, how can they create jobs? By taking wealth from others, whether by taxation, selling bonds or imposing mandates.

However it is done, transferring wealth is not creating wealth. When government uses transferred wealth to hire people, it is essentially transferring jobs from the private sector, not adding to the net number of jobs in the economy.
It takes wealth to create jobs--even my soccer refereeing--a paid job--is created by families who spend money on the activity for their children (although most of them will not tell you they are wealthy and I wouldn't presume they were unless their kids pulled up to the soccer pitch in a limosine). What is the government, particularly the current Democratically lead government, good at--taking wealth from those who have it and giving it away to those who don't have it.

If the Obama Adminstration really wants to create jobs, the task is simple--stop taxing the rich so much. There is only so much the IRS can take from a rich person before that rich person stops investing their time and energy in creating something valuable. Tax breaks and reduced governmental mandates makes the cost of business go down, which will create wealth for rich people who will then hire poor people like me to work for them.

What strikes as particularly inane is how so many allegedly smart people in Washington don't seem to understand the basic economic principle. There is no single set of government jobs that actually creates wealth directly. Every government job must be funded by a group (and yes it is a group) of non-government workers paying taxes to support it. Hence, Sowell's point:
When government uses transferred wealth to hire people, it is essentially transferring jobs from the private sector, not adding to the net number of jobs in the economy.
I think at a gut level, most American understand this--hence the desire to start one's own business. The idea of being rich enough to employ other people is magical and inherently understood.

Monday, December 07, 2009

More On MLS Collective Bargaining Negotiations

There is much talk in MLS circles about the ending of the collective bargaining agreement and the efforts of the Player's Union to come to a new deal with MLS and the team owners. In a previous post, I suggested that the Union seek not a five year deal, but a three year collective bargaining agreement.

My reasoning was based largely on internal league economics, i.e. that within three years the league will have at least 18 teams and as many as 20. With the addition of Phildelphia Union in 2010 and the Portland and Vancouver Franchises in 2011, MLS will see a significant expansion in the next two years. With a CBA that would expire after two seasons of the Northwest trio, it is quite possible that MLS could be looking at a far different internal economic picture than the one they currently see.

But there are three other external factors that will be known within the next three years that could put both the league and the player's union current and likely future demands in a different light.

1. The first is World Cup 2010. Sure, a good U.S. National Team performance is likely to generate some interest in the MLS. How much interest is, of course, the question. With a number of players playing overseas, there will be pressure on the current crop of MLS players on the national team, of which there are few--Landon Donovan being the most obvious. But ESPN will also be looking to translate some of that World Cup interest to MLS interest. Of course, the deeper the U.S. run in the World Cup, the more interest that may be had. By 2013, ESPN and MLS will be coming to the end of their current contract and will be a year away from renewal. These factors can place some attention on a new CBA at a time when MLS will be looking for more money from the sports broadcasting giant.

2. The general economy will, if we dare hope, be on the rebound. The more disposal income Americans have, the more dollars MLS can compete for. A recent article in Parade Magazine by Sally Jenkins noted
While the average cost of attending an NFL game for a family of four is $412.64, it's a staggering $758.58 to watch the Cowboys. (That figure includes tickets and drinks for four people, as well as a couple of caps.)
For that same $758, I can get season tickets for two adults to DC United's 20 game package which includes all MLS home games and five other matches such as friendlies. So as the economy in general is beginning to recover, a concerted three year effort to market the game, both through the leagues, the teams themselves and most importantly the players can translate into not only better game day revenue for clubs, but pressure and incentive on ESPN to pay more and show more games.

3. World Cup 2018 and 2022 will be awarded. The U.S. is in a strong position to be awarded one of these and that means big revenue for soccer in America. The MLS will have between 8 and 12 years to capitalize on the coming tournament to increase not only the quality of MLS play, but to expand the league's player development, reserve divisions, youth academies and other aspects of the game in the game in America.

These three external factors, some longer term than others, can provide a boon for the Player's Union in the next round of CBA negotiations. That is why a three year CBA at this point is a smarter option for the Union.

The Hypocrisy of the Climate Changers

I don't know if Drudge was intentionally doing this (he probably was), but here are two items that appeared on the Drudge Report this evening:

Copenhagen climate summit: 1,200 limos, 140 private planes and caviar wedges


Christmas trees banned for climate summit

Now admittedly, the ban on Christmas trees has more to do with political correctness than with the climate impact of the trees. But just imagine the dichotomy, on a day when the Obama Administration is preparing to issue new rules that could require business to cut down on carbon dioxide emissions, that the natural carbon dioxide scrubbers (trees) are banned from a summit designed to reduce the trees workload.

I profess to not spending as much time on the climate change hullabaloo as others. But the environmental impact of a climate change summit seems more than a little hypocritical to me.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Some Do's and Don't's for the MLS Player's Union

Updated 12/8/2009 (updated section in italics--Thanks to commenter Frank for pointing out my math problem).

Earlier this year, MLS Commissioner Don Garber announced that the MLS will not play matches during the group stages of the World Cup. The solid move to come into agreement with the rest of the soccer world was hailed by soccer lovers across the country. MLS has sort of moved to a single table-ish type of playoff system, which admittedly has yeilded some funny results in the two years it has been the norm, with New York Red Bulls winning the 2008 Western Conference, despite being further east than the Eastern Conference Winners Columbus Crew. (At least in 2009, Real Salt Lake won the Eastern Conference and is actually east of LA).

As much as I have criticized MLS for being something of a Mickey Mouse League, I do believe that Garber has generally steered the ship in the right direction. But as the MLS enters adolescence, the league is going to face an identity crisis or two--it is simply inevitable. To be fair, I think MLS has faced one crisis and come through pretty well. For a long time, I think the league truly wanted to be a world class league in the near term, but have struggled with the quality of play. But by admitting, at least implicitly, that they are a regional league at best and a feeder league to the top flights of soccer, MLS can focus on building a brand and building the game.

The next crisis is upon the league now. For the third time, the MLS Player's Union and the league are renegotiating the collective bargaining agreement. While the legalities of MLS player contracts and the specific terms of those contracts may be the subject of a future post, this year's negotiations are a real crux for the league. While there are those who believe that a work stoppage is possible or a lockout, I simply don't share those beliefs.

As a unit, the Player's Union have legitimate concerns about the rate of pay for the squad players, about transfers within the league, transfers to other leagues and about the development of younger players. But as a unit, I think the players also understand that without the MLS, there is little future for most of the American players. The identity crisis is about American players and the MLS, not about the Freddy Montero's or Marco Pappa's of the league. It is about Logan Pause, Kyle Beckerman, Santino Quaranta, and Jon Busch. It is also about the guys just below these men on the playing tier, players who would not even seen a professional contract in a decent league around the world because they won't be seen.

The Player's Union must realize that this kind of a battle is not fought in one fell swoop and must be managed over the long term in order to ensure the health of the league moving forward. Yes, they control a great deal and have a great possible influence on the league--but they cannot think they are Billy Big Boots who can dictate what is going to happen in the league. Threatening a strike (which hasn't happened) will get them nowhere. But I do believe the Player's Union can make some steps in the short term that will influence the direction of the league and help it grow a great deal.

1. Don't negotiate a five year CBA--make it three years maximum. In three years, MLS will be 18 and will have at least 18 and as many as 20 teams. The league will have admitted four teams in three years and if they are half as successful as Seattle was this year, they will have put the league on a pretty solid foundation for the next five years. But in three years, the Player's Union will not only have expanded, but the Union and the League will be in a much better position to assess what should be done next and why not have that built in decision point with a shorter term CBA.

2. Ask for an increased salary cap AND increased player responsibilities to sell the league. Player salaries are going to hinge, in part on ticket revenue. True, ticket revenue will not cover player salaries at all. Right now, there are 15 homes games a year, if a team can get 15,000 fans a game, that is 225,000 tickets a year. Even at $20 dollars a head on average, that is $4,500,000 a year in ticket sales alone, which is more than the current salary cap and would cover most of the team staff salary as well. Nor does this figure cover sponsorships, other game day revenue or other sources of funding for a team. But there are teams that don't draw 15,000 a game, and that is a problem. MLS clubs need to consider ways to get bodies in the seats and the only way to do that is to get the players into the grassroots. That means spending a few hours on Saturdays at the local soccer fields, seeing parents, seeing players and inviting them to games, giving out tickets to the teams that win their match, etc. Simple, even silly things, like an adopt a player program, where by youth teams can adopt an MLS player who will come to that youth team's training sessions a couple of times a month will get some local buy in and interest in the club. I think MLS needs to take a page from women's soccer in this country and spend some time selling the product at the grassroots.

3. Don't insist on a reserve division--yet. Instead of building on a top down style, like the last reserve division, the Player's Union should insist on a bottom up division, whereby each MLS team shall put into place an academy structure, with teams as young as U12 or U13 and on up to U18 and even a Super 20 or PDL team. That way the clubs build organically and then have a reserve division, whereby academy players down to the U17 level can play the reserve team matches. the Player's Union needs to work with the league to develop talent at the youth levels in order to foster the growth of the team's talent for the long term. This will also require rules that are now coming into play that allow clubs to sign players from the academy/PDL teams without having to expose them to the draft.

4. Do insist on free agency. This is probably as big, if not bigger in the long term than an increase in the salary cap. The stupidity of a player's right being held by a team even when that player's contract is up is ludicrous. No other sports league in the country has such a structure. If a player has a three year contract and that contract is completed all the way through, there is no reason why his club has any rights to assert as to his services. The owner's fear of a bidding war for players is unfounded, after all there is still a salary cap, meaning that there may be no limit as to what a player thinks he is worth, there is a limit to what a club can pay him and still remain under the salary cap. There won't be any 8 figure transfer deals or 7 figure salary offers coming into an MLS player. When a contract is up, a contract is up and neither the player nor the team should be beholden to the other or necessitating a "by your leave" approval to go elsewhere.

5. Don't keeping trying to wield the FIFA or FIFPro hammer. While FIFA and FIFPro may have some influence, FIFA more than FIFPro, going to the international body is not going to sit well either with the public or with the owners. The issue has been put out there and for now, let FIFA make a determination (which they won't) on its own. Yes, the MLS contracts probably don't meet FIFA standards, but don't keep rubbing the issue in the League's face. Keep negotiating for contracts more in line with FIFA standards, but don't expect full compliance right now, but keep moving toward it. If the Player's Union can get free agency, an increase in the salary cap, an earlier contract guarantee date, and an increase in the minimum salary, it should consider itself on good footing. If the Player's Union can get all that and a five percent cut of transfer fees, then the Union should declare victory and move on. Getting progress toward a FIFA standard contract should be the goal, not full compliance. Here's a hint, get the World Cup here in 2018 or 2022 and by that time I can guarantee you that MLS will have fully compliant player contracts.

6. Do start thinking of the Union and Players themselves as owners of the league rather than just labor. While I don't suggest caving on legitimate demands for the CBA, I think that if the Player's Union started thinking about their relationship with the League and the owners as more of a partnership than an employment relationship, with the Union responsible for not only playing but also for growing the league, I think more responsiveness in the future to player demands will be forthcoming. Over the long terms, the League needs the players and the players need the League. Better to be co-dependent and cooperative than co-dependent and combative.

This year's collective bargaining negotiations is an identity crisis time. Just as the league is turning 15, so too is the player's union and there are opportunities present for the Player's Union, I just don't want to see them blow it by trying to do too much.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Initial Thoughts on the World Cup Draw

The World Cup Draw was pretty kind to the U.S. The U.S. find themselves in Group C, with England, Algeria and Slovenia. I think the U.S. will be able to advance to the group stage. The U.S. will face England on June 12, Slovenia on June 18 and Algeria on June 23.

Algeria is arguably the weakest of the African teams, although they can be dangerous at times. The Slovenians did beat Russia in the Europe playoffs, but they did so on the away goal rule, having scored a goal against Russia when playing in Russia. If the U.S. can grab a draw against Engaland and win out, they will see the group stage. I think the U.S. can win against England though, so I certainly hope Bob Bradley doesn't play for the draw in the opening match.

Should the U.S. advance, they will face the teams that advance from Group D. Group D is a little hard to call. Certainly I think Germany will go through, but that is not exactly a given. The Socceroos of Australia have been tough for several years now and Ghana has been a force in African football for years. Slovakia can't be ignored either. But if I had to choose I see Germany and Austrial advancing.

FIFA have to be happy with the draw, the groups look to be pretty good for the most part. Additionally, assuming Brazil and Spain win their groups, the two pre-tournament favorites can appear in the Final since they would be on opposited sides of the knockout stage play.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

My Mock World Cup Draw

Okay, Friday is a big day for me, in order of priority of events:

1. It is my oldest daughter's 8th Birthday (Happy Birthday Peanut).
2. It is the day that my oldest daughter will march in the Frederick Kris Kringle Procession (a big deal here in Frederick)
2. Yes that is an intentional numbering--it is the World Cup 2010 Draw to determine who will play in the group stages. It is an important day for soccer fans across the globe and for the 32 teams that are in the Cup finals.

Earlier today, the pots were announced for the draw, one team from each pot will be selected for each group of four teams. Here are the pots

Pot 1 (The Seeded teams): South Africa (as hosts they are automatically seeded), Argentina, Brazil, England, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, and Spain.

Pot 2 (Asia, CONCACAF, Oceana): Australia, Honduras, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, North Korea, South Korea, United States.

Pot 3 (Africa, South America): Algeria, Cameroon, Chile, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Paraguay, Uruguay

Pot 4 (Eurpoe): Denmark, France, Greece, Portugal, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Switzerland

Teams cannot face another nation from their regional confederation except European teams. So for example, Brazil cannot face Paraguay in the group stages or South Africa can't face another African nation.

Based on this, here is my mock draw:

Group A
1. South Africa
2. Japan
3. Paraguay
4. Greece

Group B
1. Argentina
2. New Zealand
3. Ghana
4. Slovenia

Group C
1. Italy
2. South Korea
3. Cameroon
4. Slovakia

Group D
1. Brazil
2. Honduras
3. Ivory Coast
4. Portugal

Group E
1. Germany
2. Mexico
3. Nigeria
4. Switzerland

Group F
1. England
2. United States
3. Chile
4. Denmark

Group G
1. Spain
2. North Korea
3. Uruguay
4. France

Group H
1. Netherlands
2. Australia
3. Algeria
4. Serbia

Although this draw was not done exactly right as the selections for pots 2, 3 and 4 rotate on some manner, this is not exactly a great draw for the U.S. Chile are a quality team and the U.S. has already had trouble with Denmark, albeit both sides brought a B team to the friendly. Each game is winnable for the Americans, but they will need to bring their A game.

In the round of 16, should the US Advance, they would be paired against teams from Group E.

Based on this draw, I see the following teams advance:

Group A
1. Paraguay
2. Japan

Group B
1. Argentina
2. Ghana

Group C
1. Cameroon
2. Slovakia

Group D
1. Brazil
2. Ivory Coast

Group E
1. Germany
2. Nigeria

Group F
1. England
2. USA (seriously)

Group G
1. Spain
2. Uruguay

Group H
1. Netherlands
2. Serbia

Monday, November 30, 2009

Jimmy Conrad Has a Vision and It is A Good One

Kansas City Wizards centerback, MLS veteran and U.S. international Jimmy Conrad writes a column for ESPN Soccernet (and he actually writes it) and his latest piece is here. This column is about a vision he has for MLS and I must say that I like a lot of his ideas.

My favorite one is not MLS1/MLS2 with promotion and relegation (and he defends it pretty well as well) but a monopoly on professional soccer in America. See here:
Become a monopoly. MLS needs to buy the United Soccer League, the Major Indoor Soccer League and any other league with thoughts of being a competitor. Despite my instincts to the contrary, competition, in this regard, creates gray area and confusion, and if our main goal is to become one of the great leagues around the world while developing homegrown talent and a superior national team, everyone needs to be working together.
In many ways this is a brilliant idea--despite my usual belief that competition in the marketplace breeds success better than a monopolistic enterprise. But take a look at the National Football League--they absolutely dominate that sport. While there are club leagues and of course youth leagues, the NFL is really the only place where professional football is played. Even the Arena Football League, a somewhat distinctive game (which it must be said produced Kurt Warner and other NFL players) has failed financially. But unlike professional American football, the collegiate system of soccer in America does not greatly serve the player development needs. Conrad makes some pretty convincing arguments for this aspect of his vision.

Conrad posits that USL would be come a reserve league, a place where young players or veterans rehabilitating from injury can get some game time with something at stake. The demise of MLS's Reserve Division in 2008 meant that young players would only see action in a limited number of games, usually U.S. Open Cup games and maybe the odd friendly here and there. The result is that the U.S. Open Cup doesn't draw fans because it was known that MLS teams, the teams with the biggest stars wouldn't play those big stars, negatively affecting the fan draw. I liked Conrad's idea for the indoor leagues.
The MISL can be converted into a "See Them Before They Are Stars In MLS" Indoor League. The league could and should be held during the MLS offseason from the end of November to the beginning of March, and the rosters for these teams could and should be littered with players who played less than 1,000 minutes during the regular season in MLS. Again, it's an opportunity to get players valuable touches on the ball under pressure with lots of eyes watching instead of having them sitting on the couch waiting for preseason training to roll around. The league could barnstorm around the country, hitting a variety of markets, or a rule could be introduced that each team in MLS has to have an indoor team. The best example I can give to prove why this would be beneficial to the league is that the majority of professional soccer players from America grew up in California, Texas or Florida. That's because, due to the climate, the kids in those states can play all year. The indoor league would provide MLS with this opportunity.
My only addition to this idea would be to have the indoor game played with futsal rules rather than the traditional indoor rules with boards and astroturf. Futsal would generate young players with skill on the ball, quick passing skills and short bursts of speed that also generates a lot of excitement and skill on the outdoor pitches. It should be noted that a lot of Brazilian superstars developed their ball skills by playing futsal as youngsters. A MLS off-season futsal league also will keep the game itself in the public's eye.

I would like to explore Conrad's vision of league structure, which for soccer purists includes a single table with promotion and relegation. But that is a topic for a different post.

MLS Players Union, Contracts and the rest of the Footballing World

Now that the MLS season has ended, attention this off-season will be focused on the Collective Bargaining Agreement between MLS and the Players Union, which ends in January and if the league, owners and players cannot come to an agreement, a work stoppage and/or a lockout is possible. Neither scenario is good for the league and the development of the game in the U.S.

In that light, the guys over at Major League Soccer Talk have been having a series of posts about the talks and the position of the Players Union and even the recent intervention of FIFPro, the international body that represents professional players around the world.

In a recent post, Eric Altshule discusses the difference between a MLS player contract and a European contract. Altshule writes:
If there is one thing the owners fear and will try to avoid at all costs, it is having a situation like what exists in Europe where a player contract is really a one-way street with the top players in a ridiculously powerful position. In American sports, a player contract is a binding and respected document, but in Europe, it is really only binding to the team.
I will admit that owners no doubt fear this kinds of arms race and I can see the desire of MLS to keep teams in rough parity. To that extent, Altshule is right. Altshule then makes the following analogy to professional baseball:
To illustrate the difference, let’s take the case of one of the best American athletes on a mediocre team – San Francisco Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum. Lincecum may be the best young pitcher in a generation having won two straight Cy Young awards while the Giants have missed the playoffs for the past six seasons. I am sure that a wealthy team like the New York Yankees have already photo-shopped pictures of Lincecum in pinstripes, but they know that Lincecum is contractually obligated to the Giants, in one form or another, until after the 2012 season. Until that time, Lincecum is a Giant, and there is no way for him to realistically agitate for a trade to the Yankees and there is no way for the Yankees to “unsettle” him without violating Major League Baseball rules in a way they would not dare. Lincecum knows that though he may be underpaid at the moment, he does have a humungous payday coming in 2012, and there is nothing he can do to change that date. He just needs to stay healthy and keep pitching well.
This is accurate insofar as it goes, but there is one aspect significantly missing in this analogy.

One of the demands that the Player's union is looking for is guaranteed contracts. I don't think they are going to get it, but I understand the demand. But in Europe, the contracts are guaranteed. As much as Altshule may protest about the contracts in Europe being slanted toward the player, the contracts are more or less guaranteed. European leagues are regulated by UEFA and includes specific legal protections that guarantee freedom to contract. The teams are used to this and there are, at least on paper, rules against tapping up a player. But lets assume that the world operates as Altshule notes, in that players can essentially engineer a transfer for themselves, their old club is at least compensated in the form of a transfer fee. Keep in mind that the earlier a player is in their contract, the larger the transfer fee will be.

But a big difference between a player in Europe, a Major League Baseball or NFL player and a MLS player is what happens when the player is that when his contract is up, he is a free agent. This is exactly how it is handled in Europe, a player whose contract has ended can transfer anywhere he likes. Case in point is Oguchi Onyewu, whose contract at Standard Liege had concluded and he went to AC Milan on a free transfer. Taking Lincecum above as an example. When his contract is over in 2012, he is a free agent, free to pursue a spot with Yankees or any other team in MLB or overseas.

In MLS that is not the case and that is a big problem. Take the case of Ricardo Clark, the Houston Dynamo holding midfielder whose contract is now over. Clark is looking for a transfer to Europe. Now he can do that as he is technically a free agent. But let's assume that Clark doesn't get that transfer to Europe and another team, say the Philadelphia is looking for a holding midfielder--that transfer is not necessarily going to happen because Houston will still hold the rights to Clark. Thus, he is not a free agent at all because he can't sign with any team he wants.

There in lies the problem, in the fear to prevent a price and player war, MLS and team owners have gone too far. It is not simply the veto power over player transfers, or even the common demand that players surrender the traditional 10% of the transfer fee they are entitled to get, but rather it is the overall control that MLS and clubs have over player and player rights.

As an analogy, imagine you are an IT specialist and you work for General Electric's shipbuilding division. But that division is facing cutbacks and you are told by the company "Thanks for the years of work, but your services are no longer required. Sorry." You try to get a job with another company, but it doesn't work out for you. You hear from a buddy that the electric generator section as General Electric is hiring IT people. But because you worked for the shipbuilding division, you can't take a job in the generator section because the shipbuilders have the rights to your services. You can't take the job with the generator division without the say so or release of the shipbuilders.

If you worked for General Electric, this state of affairs would never be allowed, particularly in the world of at will employment. Essentially what MLS has is the exact opposite of what Altshule claims to exist in Europe--here MLS player contract are cancellable at will by the teams and the MLS (up to a defined date where contracts and pay for the year are guaranteed) can fire a player without much notice and no recourse for the player. At least in Europe, when a player gets transferred there is a transfer fee that eases the blow for the club.

While I don't expect the owners and MLS to give in on the guaranteed contracts, I do believe there has to be some sort of true free agency at the end of a contract. If a player is transferred to another club via an intra-MLS trade, fine. But if the transfer is to Europe or elsewhere, then the player is not only entitled to his share of the transfer fee. There must be more parity between the parties to this contract.

The Funnies

This clip had been making the rounds in soccer circles, but I can't get over how funny it is.

Last year when Hull City played Manchester City in the English Premier League, Hull City were playing so poorly that manager Phil Brown held his half-time team talk out on the pitch in a move that you don't usually see outside of lower league or youth games. Well, in the same fixture this year, midfielder Jimmy Bullard scored an equalizer (on a dodgy penalty call) and then had a "team talk" goal celebration.

timing is everything and apparently Brown is not at all angry about being shown up. Of course, he wouldn't be, since after an unbeated November, the Tigers are four points clear of the relegation zone, are playing well and Brown has kept his job.