Archive for the ‘Major League Soccer’ Category

Interesting

Posted: January 23, 2013 in Major League Soccer, US Soccer
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I read this article published by the Wall Street Journal Jurgen Klinsmann challenges the mindset of US Soccer internationals and our soccer culture as a country.  It’s interesting because I’d have to agree with him in some respects.

As a country we’ve taken it as a personal challenge to be the best at almost every sport we attempt in international competition.  And for the most part we’ve found a way to be successful.  No one can deny our dominance in such sports as basketball, baseball, and women’s soccer, but look at the other sports that are not popular in the USA that we have developed to become the best.  We won a gold medal in hockey, compete in wrestling off and on, and have developed a successful culture in winter events like skiing.  So why not soccer?

Soccer is one of the most popular sports in the USA when we look at participation, but we are unable to develop enough athletes to put eleven men on the field that can consistently compete against the top five nations in the world.  Given our natural presupposition to do what it takes to be the best at everything, it is kind of strange that we haven’t found a way to at least be a little more relevant in soccer.  Our biggest accomplishments in the sport since the 1930’s is a single win in the knockout stages of the 2002 World Cup and 2009 Confederations Cup final appearance.  Our FIFA international ranking usually fluctuates between 15 and 30, when we are one of the largest countries in the world with shear number of kids participating in the sport.

Maybe we have become complacent when it comes to soccer.  When we are satisfied with a World Cup appearance and advancement to the knockout rounds are a successful campaign we might want to re-evaluate what success is?

I believe it’s okay to demand more from ourselves, and I think we need to start doing that.  We need to start demanding a higher level of play from our domestic league (after we start supporting it), and demanding more from our professionals.  We need to hold the national team staff to a much higher standard, and should be ashamed when our U23 and U20 National Teams are eliminated from qualifying!

Maybe it is time for a change? Maybe we need to find that “go-old American competitive spirit” again and demand to be the best?

I’m taking an undergraduate course at the university this semester for personal growth and interest.  The class is called “Sports in Society” and it explores the relationship between athletics and the social structure and culture.

Today we were discussing the controversy of sport.  Each student was supposed to pick a topic that they felt was an issue of discussion in modern society and pick a stance to defend.  Through the conversations we had in class it came up that soccer was not viewed as a serious sport in the United States.  I kept my mouth shut since I didn’t want this to become a debate on what soccer is and is not.  But the instructor called on me to voice my opinion as a soccer fan.

The issue being discussed was revenue and TV rights, and of course soccer is not rated as one of the more popular sports in our society, but I feel it is growing (see my post “Is Soccer Growing in the US”).  As the discussion grew I felt that soccer was viewed by most of the class as a not only a second-rate sport, but not even something to be considered seriously as a market in the USA.

Well, when someone asks me what my opinion is then I feel that I am obligated to share it.  However in this setting I didn’t see it as doing much good.   pulled out a few of my statistics, but the fact is soccer in the USA is one of the fastest growing elements in the sports market.  Increased viewership on television and the MLS passing up the NBA and NHL for highest average attendance to become the new #3 sport in the USA behind football and baseball with 17,000+ fans for every home game.  I discussed the fact that American Football would not even come close to generating income in the rest of the world outside of the USA and Canada compared to the revenue generate soccer.

It doesn’t surprise me that people still feel this way about my sport, but it bothers me that we are so slow in breaking down the labels and presuppositions our country has about this beautiful sport.

So my question to the readers is this, what do you do to help change this?

The following article was published in our local newspaper (Soccer Won’t Catch on in US) , and I have to be proud that this was even a point of interest in a paper for a small town like ours.  Mitchell, SD has traditionally been a very “Big Three” sports town (basketball, football, and baseball) and I’m excited that soccer is even drawing the eye of the paper.  However I think there are a few facts that the editor is missing out on.  Below is my response to the editorial (we’ll see if it get’s printed in the paper, but here it is anyways).

To the Editor,

First off I have to say how much I’ve appreciated the Daily Republic’s coverage of the 2011 Women’s World Cup, and I hope soccer will continue to get attention like this in our sports section.  I just wanted to make a few points about the editorial written on July 21, 2011 concerning the “myth” that soccer is not a growing sport in the USA market.

Sports Media Watch reported that the ratings for the 2011 Women’s World Cup final game (7.4 U.S. rating and 13.458 million viewers ) between the USA and Japan put it as the “fourth-most viewed non-NFL program in ESPN history, behind the 2011 BCS National Championship Game, the 2011 Rose Bowl , and the 2011 Sugar Bowl.”  The game was also the second-most viewed daytime program on cable television behind the aforementioned 2011 Rose Bowl.

In comparison the 2010 Men’s World Cup final drew 24 million viewers across two networks; ABC (15.905M) and Univision (8.821M).  The 2010 World Cup saw a 68% increase in viewers here in the USA compared to the 2006 World Cup held in Germany (which means games were at an easier time for a US audience to watch live than the 2010 World Cup in South Africa) for the first three US Men’s games.

Probably the best indicator of the sport’s growing popularity is shown through our own domestic league, the MLS.  Average attendance at games has increased gradually over the leagues 16 year existence.  In 2000, the league’s fifth season, the average attendance over 192 MLS matches was 13,756 compared to this season currently averaging 17,410 fans.  This could break the record for the highest average in league history with more than an additional 60 league games.  According to Fox News the MLS could overtake the NBA and the NHL as the third most attended sport in the US by the end of the season if these numbers continue to hold.

The MLS All-Star game was the second most attended all-star event in the US compared to the other professional leagues.  In 2010 the MLS All-Star game had a total attendance of 70,728 fans, more than the NFL’s 70,697 or the MLB’s 45,408.

The other factor to look at is stadium capacity for domestic games.  MLS teams are filling their stadiums more now than they have ever before (due in large part to higher attendance in soccer specific stadiums) at a rate of 73% compared to the leagues opening season in 1996 when most teams averaged around 30% capacity.

And finally TV ratings for domestic league games are way up this year compared to last year as well.  The 2011 First Kick (opening day) games showed an increase of 112% in viewers for the opening round compared to 2010.

Two comments about the rise in popularity of this sport in the US; First, the sport is becoming more accessible at the high school and collegiate levels, which translates into more dedicated fans as they grow older and can invest financially in their love of the game.  And second, the demographics of the US are changing.  The most supported team in the USA is the Mexican National team.  In June at the Gold Cup final 94,000 people showed up to watch the US Men’s National Team compete against the Mexican National Team.  The demographics of the US citizen and resident are changing, and this directly impacts the popularity of soccer as well in our country.

I believe soccer is on its way up in the USA.  It’s a slower process than soccer fans would like it to be, but I really believe that soccer is going to become a major part of our sport culture.  We’ve only had our professional league in place for 16 years to date, so there is still a lot of catching up to do, but we can wait for the most popular sport in the world to grow here in the USA.

I had the opportunity to sit in on the Chicago Fire’s training session on July 19th as they prepare to take on Manchester United this July 23rd.  First, just need to say thanks to Frank Klopas and Brendan Hannan for letting me join the Fire, what a friendly and accommodating organization.

9:45 am – Assistant Coaches have the field set up already and players start arriving and playing small games.

10:00 am – Physio Coach takes the player for a ladder warm-up with several dynamics intermixed followed by static stretching and water.  Goal keepers warm-up separately with the keeper coach.

10:15 am – Four corner passing.  Four cones set up a grid approximately 20x20yds, and a coaching stick is set up one yard inside of each cone.  Field players divide up evenly at each cone with a two balls starting in corners diagonal from each other.  The team trainer puts the guys through a series of passing drills and combinations.  The coaching sticks are defenders and the players are asked to go game speed in beating the “opponent.”  They start with just an outside of the foot touch, wall pass, drop pass, and over laps.  Keepers are still working on footwork and positioning with multiple shots from different positions.

10:40 am – Players moved to a grid 30×40 with a half way line down the middle and are divided into two even teams of eight players.  Greens are on one side of the half and blues on the other.  The objective is to connect five passes to score a point, the other team is allowed to send four defenders into the other side of the grid to break it up.  After they score a point they have to find the coach.  Play was very tight and quality first touch and passing is demanded of the players to be successful.

Game changed a little with having to connect a pass into the other half after five passes on their side to score a point.  And then moved on to include a drop pass to score the point.

11:00 am – Team moves to a grid with two full sized goals set up around two penalty areas.  A line extends at the half to the full width of the field.  Players are divided into two teams of eight with two players left wide in the channels for each team, four defenders, and two attackers in the attacking half.  Ball must be played wide by the defenders and then that wide player looks to combine with the two attackers and join them. Goalkeepers joined the session at this point as well.

Game changed to where both wide players can join the attack when the ball is played wide by the defenders.

11:20 am – Team moved to a 9v9 match with standard match rules.  Field was 50×60 yds.

11:50 am – Closing comments by Coach Klopas, and then they were given a few minutes to stretch on their own.

Primary coaching points by the staff related to possession in small spaces to develop the attack.  Could they find a way to advance the ball with small space and lots of pressure.

Personal Notes: The elements were fighting against the players, it was extremely humid and hot and did not create a very conducive training environment.  The players were given several water breaks, but I thought it was interesting that they didn’t leave them any subs during the session.  Every player was asked to train the entire session and to go hard without substitutions.

I thought for the most part that the training session was successful, and the activities brought out the topic fairly well.

Always a positive when you can learn from coaches who have been around the game longer and at a higher level.  The love of learning is the first step to excellence, the second is application.  Really enjoyed the experience, and even had a chance to talk to Frank Klopas a little after the session.

On the eve of the 2011 season a lot of my players have been giving me a hard time. I love the MLS! I think it’s a huge privilege to have a professional soccer league in my country. My players on the other hand think we need to be supporters of European clubs to be real fans of this beautiful game.

Don’t get me wrong, I love watching European soccer. I’ve been watching EPL, La Liga, and Serie A matches since I was a little kid. I spent part of my childhood growing up in Europe and Asia, and soccer was much more available on public TV than it was here in the USA. The quality of soccer in these traditional regions is undeniable (along with Latin and South America). But one thing I learned hard and fast growing up as an expatriot was a deep passion to see my country develop and succeed. Any international competition was a matter of pride. As a US citizen I had to rely on the summer Olympics, baseball and basketball to really come through for me. But something happend in 1994 that shaped my love for the US-MNT forever; we didn’t fair too badly! In fact, we out right belonged at the World Cup! I was able to hold my head up high around the neighborhood and not be ashamed of how my country men faired in the greatest competition of the world.

When I moved back to the USA I started supporting the MLS right away. Here was our chance to make an impression and develop the internationals that would challenge for World Cup glory. Sure it wasn’t as sharp and beautiful to watch as some of the soccer I saw growing up, but it’s OURS!

I still love to watch international clubs. Watching Barcelona dominate every match with beautiful team play and amazing ability is something you can’t take your eyes away from. And yet there is something about sitting in the stands of a professional soccer match here in my home country supporting a sport I love, and want to see grow from where it is right now.

We’re starting to make our mark on the world. The 2002 WC was another very exciting time for us, and whether you thought 2010 was a success or a disappointment the fact of the matter is we have higher expectations of our MNT than we did in 1994. We expect to make it out of qualifying as one of the top two teams in CONCACAF. We expect to come away with points out of our group at the WC, and we even expected our team to win the group and press on in the finals of the WC. This shift in our presuppositions has a big part to do with the development of our domestic league.

So what is our obligation to our home league? Do we owe it to the MLS to pick a team and sit through the season pretending to be a fan? WHY NOT? These boys are playing the best soccer our country has to offer (and I’m not one of them even if though I tried my hand at it). I’m coaching young, aspiring athletes and my dream is to see them play at our collegiate or professional ranks. What am I communicating to them if I don’t even watch it?

Why not be a fan of MLS? Doesn’t mean we can’t have our favorite teams in La Liga or EPL! But if we were real fans of the game wouldn’t we want the best in our nation to be better? And how can our league grow and expand if the soccer faithful here don’t even support it?

I really didn’t have a club in the MLS because I grew up moving around so much as a kid. California, Colorado, Georgia, etc. So when I finally landed in Dallas, TX I adopted FC Dallas because it was the first city I had the privilege of living in that had an MLS franchise. I attended as many games as I could, took my players to local SMU and FC Dallas games, and became a fan. Even though I don’t live there anymore I’m committed, and I make that known to my players. I still support PSV and Everton, but I make sure people know my first love is the MLS and our MNT. We need to start developing a national pride and support for our home teams. We need to be passionate when we talk about the USA WNT dominating international competitions. We should be sitting around TV’s on game nights supporting our MLS clubs like the American football and baseball fanatics.

The soccer culture in the USA needs to make this transition to become a real sport culture in our society. If we don’t have national pride and support for our own soccer, we’ll never develop the growth or the players to compete. And I believe it’s happening. Some of the clubs in the USA are really showing how local support is growing (FC Dallas struggles a bit though). Let’s keep it going! If you’re a citizen of the USA and haven’t found an MLS club to support I challenge you to adopt a team that puts even a small fire in you.