Hickory, Dickory, Dock

Pity poor Don Garber.

No, not because he has to put up with reporters all the time; he handles himself pretty well amongst the unwashed, freeloading, neck-plastic wearing keyboard bangers of the world:

But so far, the Conference Championship weekend, one of the biggest TV ratings grabs of the MLS season, has been, if not a disaster then the next best thing to it.

(Yes, I'm taking pity on those of you who didn't sit up half the damned night waiting for Southern California to figure out how to generate electricity and ended up hitting the DVR. Fair warning.)

LA-Houston was the kind of scheduling that MLS needs: a high stakes ESPN match featuring name players – including the long awaited "David Beckham in an MLS game that matters" storyline – and it ends up kicking off around 11:30 Eastern on a Friday night, waiting in the lobby until West Virginia and Cincinnati get done sullying the airwaves with the Stumpjumper Bowl.

The very late kickoff time guaranteed that the casual "let's check out the game" crowd east of the Missisippi were gone before JP Dellacamera made his first inane comment.

That was bad enough, for sure. But at least we were going to get the west coast, right? 8:30 kick, done before the local news, surely there are some numbers to be had even if all you're getting from the eastern seaboard is the same hopeless geeks who'd be watching if it was mid-May and the game featured KC and Colorado.

Then, less than a half hour into what was looking like a pretty entertaining match, the house lights go down as if the next thing you're going to hear is "ladies and gentlemen, MARIAH CAREY!!!"

But alas, it was the power gremlins, not a key grip, who plunged the place into darkness.

All the players milled around a while, Terry Vaughn looked like he was going to throw up, Bruce Arena had a sour expression on his face and up in a sky box The Don was seen pulling out a Glock and jamming it into his mouth as ESPN went into commercials and the sound of TV remote control buttons became almost palpable.

When the game finally started up again, there wasn't much question the players were struggling to regain some tempo and flow, but surely a big part of that was the fact that there were two very good defenses out there.

Halftime saw goose eggs on the scoreboard but surely the second half promised better, and initially at least it seemed that everyone had gotten back in the mood to play a little.

Until the lights went out again.

20 minutes later, when the game resumed again to a national TV audience which at that point – almost 2 AM Eastern – could probably have fit into Garbers' rec room, any hope of the artistic tour de force the lague had hoped for had dissolved into a hackfest.

And as the thing dragged on through the night and neither team was able to put the ball into a net, you suddenly were struck with the seeming certainty that the MLS Western Conference Champion would be crowned after a 4 AM PK shootout, the pictures flickering off sound asleep fans from coast to coast.

Mercifully, a goal sometime after the bars had closed, followed by a PK caused more by exaustion than malice, gave us a winner, at least on the field.

I'm just hoping they can get The Don onto a plane to Chicago before he sees the Neilson "first look" score for the game.

Landon, Raul and Eternal Faith

Someplace on the scale of shocking news, here's one that ranks just below finding out that those dirtbags on Jersey Shore drive cars with cheesy ground effects:

Landon Donovan says that if things go really really well at Everton he might like to stick around after the ten week loan period is up.

WELL YEAH I think everybody knew that was how this was going to go.

Which of course leaves Galaxy Supremo Bruce Arena in pretty much the same bind he was in last year at this time: trying to assemble a team for the upcoming MLS campaign without knowing when or even if his best players (and around 20% of his salary budget) are going to be available.

For his part, DAVID BECKHAM is denying that he intends to hang up his snazzy custom made adidas boots after the World Cup, but even if that's true – and it's a big if – it's looking like LA will go until at least July without their stars.

Then again, with all of the exact same types of problems with the exact same guys last season LA came within a missed PK of winning MLS Cup, so I guess il Bruce will work it out.

Another day, another big European star prattling about coming to MLS.

This time it's RAUL who's threatening to cross the Atlantic for a couple of retirement-fund-padding years of fun in the sun.

At this point is there much of anybody left over there who hasn't claimed he was headed to MLS? And yet for all the ink and/or bits and bytes that have been devoted to the ever-growing list of suitors, as I look around the league I see the same number of European footballing superstars that we've had for several years now.

Now I'm sure that sooner or later one of these guys will probably turn up someplace over here, but until then I reserve the right to call bullshit on all of them. They don't really mean it and if they did MLS teams would be foolish to give them the kind of money they're looking for.

Everybody says they're planning on being "the next Beckham" but as we've been pointing out for quite some time now Beckham is a one-off. For MLS purposes, nobody else comes close.

In my continuing effort to demonstrate that soccer fans are more knowledgeable, better informed and, well, just plain brighter than fans of other sports, I note that NBA All Star fan balloting has both Alan Iverson and Tracy McGrady headed for starting spots even though neither one of them has had any noticeable impact on the court this season.

Generally speaking, MLS fans make excellent ASG selections, even if the writer-player-league voting block outweighs and overrules them, as in the case of Guillermo Barros-Schelotto two years ago when the fans voted him in, everybody else voted him off and the guy went on to win both league and MLS Cup MVP honors.

(This leaves aside the yearly "Stuff the Ballot Box" effort by the latest expansion teams' fans. Toronto did it, Seattle tried it last year and there's not much doubt that Philadelphia fans will do the same thing this year. It's become sort of a rite of passage.)

I have to say up front that I am surprised and pleased with the optimistic reaction that most RedBulls fans have displayed with regard to the announced hiring of Hans Backe as their new head coach.

I have to confess that one of the more amusing facets of last week's draft was watching guys like Backe and the Fires' Carlos de los Cobos trying not to look like visitors from the planet Zepton in the middle of a bizarre process they had probably barely ever even heard of until a couple weeks ago.

Of course fans of both teams are saying all the right things, like "coaching the game is the same once they blow the whistle" and "his contacts overseas will bring in lots of exciting new foreign players" and "his ability to speak other languages is a big plus".

The fact that MLS fans have been saying exactly the same things every time a foreign coach has been hired into the league over the last 15 years and it has never, ever turned out to be even remotely true is beside the point, I guess.

As is the fact that sooner or later some team will indeed hire a coach overseas and he will lead said team to fame and glory and a case full of Cups.

But until that happens, all we have to go on is history. And history says that these hires are not going to turn out well.

It's the difference between science and faith. Science is based on empirical evidence, whereby you come to a conclusion based on repeated, and repeatable, results.

Faith, on the other hand, comes from wanting something to be true so badly that you are willing to ignore substantial, irrefutable evidence to the contrary.

Fortunately, being a sports fan, and particularly an MLS fan, is nothing if not a giant exercise in raw faith: I don't care how few MLS draftees ever make substantial contributions; THIS year, the four or five guys my team drafted will all end up 20 years from now thanking the voters for enshrining them in Oneonta.

The fact that 90% of them will be selling insurance and coaching their kids' U11 club team, and we all know it good and well, doesn't matter a bit.

We dream, therefore we are.

"USSF D-2": Fear and Loathing in New York

The United States Soccer Federation held the functional equivalent of a shotgun wedding yesterday, with Sunil Gulati playing the role of the backwoods daddy holding a Remington double barrel 12 gauge.

And they say chivalry is dead.

When the confetti settled and the happy couple were finally headed down the road in the three-tone 87 Ford pickup, it was comforting to know that amongst all the hysterical blather of the past few weeks there was at least one thing that the "The Sky is Falling" crowd got right:

Neither USL nor NASL will be sanctioned.

In their place there will arise a new entity, prosaically titled "USSF D-2". (Gulati says he'd be happy to sell the league naming rights)

Contrary to what you're reading elsewhere, this won't be a two league setup with some limited interleague play and a championship along the lines of the World Series. Although the "Conferences" will be called USL and NASL, Gulati says this will be a fully integrated league (he used the term "full interplay") which will play a more or less balanced schedule of either 28 or 32 games.

Scores of headlines to the contrary there was never a chance in the world that the US would forgo having a second division. USSF's power to create and destroy is absolute – thanks to FIFA – and in the end they were always going to make something happen. Those who figured Gulati would just throw uo his hands and say "Ah to hell with it" were simply not in touch with reality.

Ditto all the guys – including, I'm sorry to say, some of the most prominent and highly-regarded writers in the field – who claimed that the lawsuit put the US in the same boat as Chile, (the situations were completely different) and that FIFA might yank our World Cup bid.

There was never any chance of that happening – this was a private squabble between team owners and FIFA isn't much interested – and it was particularly silly considering that most of those comments were written AFTER the two sides agreed to binding arbitration, meaning that it was going to be settled one way or the other.

Of course the topic we really hate to see vanish over the rainbow with Dorothy and Toto is the "Sunil Gulati won't sanction any Second Division soccer so that there'll be a ready pool of available scabs for lockout-bound MLS teams" theory. Pity. That was my favorite.

As for the deal itself, Gulati made it clear that he plans on it being a one-year-and-out arrangement, and while I'm certain that's what he'd like I wouldn't bet the ranch on it happening.

In any case, the agreement – or settlement or arrangement or whatever it is – has one simple goal: stability. The turmoil, the league shifting (and that's not to mention the expensive competition for players) and the "now you see them now you don't" nature that has characterized USL1 hasn't been good for anyone.

From now on USSF wants to see the goods. Performance bonds. Full time CEO and PR person. Involvement in youth soccer. Solid leases. Financially stable and committed owners.

You know, all the things Frank Marcos didn't care about as long as your check didn't bounce.

Two conferences of six teams. (The alignment doesn't really matter). No New York. No Atlanta. Tampa Bay is still up in the air.

Gulati isn't even pretending that this is anything other than what it looks like: he's taking over.

The Federation will take a much more direct role than it does in other professional leagues in the United States for this year in our arrangement. We’ll be involved with officiating, scheduling and some of the marketing issues if there are any of those, disciplinary issues, and operational issues in terms of settings and general guidelines.

In short, USSF CEO Dan Flynn is now the Commissioner of a league.

There'll be a Board of Directors, consisting of representatives from all 12 teams, but day to day management will rest with a five member Executive Committee consisting of two members from each side an one from USSF. (AKA: "The deciding vote").

But beyond the nuts and bolts, the intriguing part was when Gulati opined that some form of partnership or formal relationship with MLS would be looked on with favor at Soccer House:

We’ve had discussions with MLS, some of the teams and some of the leadership of the groups we’ve been talking about had their own independent discussions prior to all these processes starting with MLS.

They talked about working together and potentially partnering, having MLS handle some of the functions and developmental relationships. There was a longstanding relationship early on between MLS and the USL on player development and players moving up and down.

All of that is possible, and we certainly encourage everyone to try and do things in an efficient way financially. If there is an economy to be had, or a player development scheme that makes sense, then terrific.

READ THE WHOLE THING, particularly the last item where Gulati is asked about what is becoming known around the world as The Archer Plan.

Make no mistake: this was a compromise made necessary by two cold hard facts:

1) neither side was willing to let the other take the lead role

2) neither side could field 8 teams.

There's not much doubt that having USSF run the league (has anyone heard from the Canadian Soccer Association? Why wasn't their federation even in the room? Why does nobody even wonder why? Do they have a telephone? Why isn't Canada embarrassed by the fact that they're being treated like a province of the US?) was not Gulati's first choice.

In fact, it's likely that USSF had to clear the arrangement with FIFA, although the Boys in Zurich have never shown a keen interest in second division affairs.

In the end though, Sunil Gulati had to bow to the reality that without USSF stepping in there would be no US Second Division, and he was never going to let that happen.

The Daily Snark: NOW with 50% More Conspiracy Theories

Since we're still reading about how Seattle is "the center of MLS" or "the Soccer Capital of the US" or "the heart of American soccer" or whatever other mildy-insulting-to-everybody-else term they can dream up, I have an idea that will demonstrate, once and for all, that they're not just blowing smoke up our skirts:

Pony up for the National Soccer Hall of Fame and Museum.

Either all this Seattle civic chest thumping is just a bunch of empty preening and silly blabber or it's not. If they're really serious, if they really mean it and believe it, and soccer has overtaken incomprehensible, overpriced, monopolistic software and burned coffee served by arrogant yuppies-in-training as the Citys' most popular products, then great.

Prove it.

It's no secret that Oneonta is in trouble and will be seriously curtailing operations, hours and staff, and it's a shame. Apparently the minivan crowd that drags a gaggle of sticky, smelly rugrats to Cooperstown so they can ask Daddy who Rogers Hornsby was (he doesn't know either, but he'll give them a speech about it anyway) aren't making the detour to Oneonta that the founders hoped for.

(Maybe they're visiting Fenimore House instead, or one of the thousands of "George Washington slept here" houses – complete with gift shop – which are as ubiquitous around there as strip joints in Ontario.

Seems to me if GW had spent a little less time sleeping in every damned house in New York and a little more time fighting Cornwallis maybe he wouldn't have needed the French to win the war for him. But that's a topic for another day.)

If Seattle is serious about wanting to be known as Ground Zero for soccer in the US, then let's see them get on board: move the HoF out there, maybe build something next door to Qwest and show all of us rubes what real soccer fans look like.

I'm more than willing to be convinced.

Perhaps it has escaped your attention, but there's a team of Generation adidas players in South Africa at the moment. They're training, playing some games (they beat Orlando Pirates 2-0 yesterday on a Chris Pontius first half strike and another by Patrick Nyarko after the break) and will attend the World Cup draw in a couple days.

The team is being coached by Crew top man Robert Warzycha, but there's no indication that he'll be benching his best players in case he needs them some other time.

The Rochester Rhinos announced yesterday that they will be the tenth member of the neo-North American Soccer League, although they were reportedly disappointed to learn that being in the NASL does not mean they'll all get to wear porn staches, long hair and short, tight pants.

(Extra credit for identifying the guy with the beard)​

This latest defection leaves only Cleveland, Puerto Rico, Portland and Austin remaining from the 2009 edition of USL1, although New York is scheduled to join in 2010.

And with Cleveland likely to fold (or drop down to USL2) before the start of the season, NYFC beginning to look suspiciously like a myth and Portland leaving in 2010, all the talk of "New Franchises" busting down the doors can't hide the reality. This is the next best thing to a moribund league.

I'm sure this latest announcement will elicit another round of increasingly shrill threats and accusations from NuRock, the new USL1 ownership group, but he's likely just shouting into the wind.

As I've said before, it's highly unlikely – indeed almost inconceivable – that any of this is happening without a wink and a nod from USSF (and, probably, MLS as well). These guys aren't stupid.

And since Sunil Gulati is really the only person who can stop this – the thinly veiled threats of legal action aren't going anywhere – it's safe to start speculating on the end of USL1, since it's hard to imagine them making it as a five (or four or three) team league.

Which leads us to another, more sinister but vastly more entertaining question:

How complicit are USSF and MLS in the demise of USL1? Were they simply interested but passive bystanders, or were they, in fact, active participants?

Anywhere along the line USSF could have told the TOA group "Look, we're just not going to go along with this. Make nice with NuRock and make it work".

At which point the TOA/NASL group would have had to fold their tents.

Despite what I've read in various corners, there was never, ever any chance of these guys establishing a "renegade" league.

Anyone who had anything to do with such a venture – players, officials, owners and broom pushers alike – would face an immediate lifetime ban from FIFA and the USSF. They take that sort of thing extremely seriously and don't fool around.

The only thing that prevents us from leaping to the USSF/MLS Plot theory of the demise of USL1 is that it would take a level of foresight and cleverness that, frankly, neither of them demonstrates very often.

At the same time, it's clear that neither party is shedding any tears, either.

And somewhere on a beach in Portugal, Francisco Marcos is smiling.

CONCACAF player of the year!!!!

Well, it's come to the point where I can no longer give this award out single-handedly. But the last thing I wanted to do was call in just anyone. Fortunately, we got the scheduling done at the last second, and he's right here, ready for the presentation.

Ladies and gentlemen, BigSoccer is proud to present the 2009 CONCACAF Player of the Year award, hosted by myself, with our special guest, Santa Claus.

File photo

Ho ho ho! Or, should I say, ho ho DE RO! WOO! THIS IS OUR HOUSE!

Thank you, Santa! Well, as you can see, Santa is a fan-

You ********ing got that right!

And especially this time of year-

Nah, the job's a ********ing doddle. Just between you and me, the elves do most of the work. All I do is sign for the reindeer steroids, and then it's just me and the ********ing Russian Air Force!

That's interesting, I didn't know-

There's only room for ONE Red killing machine on Christmas!

It's a very- wait, killing machine?

Sometimes, Santa's gotta regulate.

That's a little-

Then by 12:20, I'm pounding the leftover Christmas ale watching elf porn, while the Commies are whining "Wait 'til next year" like a ********ing Leafs fan. Good ********ing times.

Okay, that's something I didn't-

Kidding! ********, I'm kidding you! Lighten up! 'Tis the season! I haven't killed a Russian in, gotta be three years now. Here, have some elf porn. Look at the pointy ears on that one, huh?

Well, we should really get on with the presentation. Now, I've been giving out the CONCACAF Player of the Year award for a few years-

Oh, yeah. Yeah, I looked at your list.

Did you check it twice?

Shut the ******** up. I looked at your list. Pretty heavy on the Yanks, considering you didn't learn to kick the ball forwards until the year 2001. There are other countries in the region, you ********ing BIGOT.

Okay, why don't you tell us who you voted for this year.


Okay, seriously-

DE RO! Now and forever! Best ********ing player ever.

Oh, come on, Toronto didn't even make the playoffs, and De Rosario didn't-

******** you, Seppo! THIS IS OUR HOUSE!

I'm gonna need a little more than "seppo" in order to-

You know what "seppo" means, don't you?

I know what it means.

Seppo. Septic tank. Yank.

I said I know what it means.

At least De Rosario can make a PENALTY KICK when it COUNTS.

This isn't 2007, you know.

No, it isn't! In 2007, you needed the refs' help for the Gold Cup! Refs didn't help you this year, huh? Bet you couldn't hear the whistle over all the Mexicans yelling "BOHICA!"

But the Gold Cup-

You know what "BOHICA" means, don't you?

File photo

I know what it means.

It means "Bend Over – Here It Comes Again!" HO HO HO!

I know what it means. I just think the Confederations Cup trumps the Gold Cup.

Are you ****ting me? Did you SEE the Nads in group play?

Yeah, I did! Did you see them against Spain and Brazil?

Uh, I saw the SECOND HALF of the Brazil game!

All right, what about the Hex? Where was Canada?

******** YOU, that's where we were!

Okay, if you're going to be like that-

******** you, ******** Landon Donovan, ******** Obama, and in case you didn't hear, ******** YOU!

What happened to "You better not shout"?

You're getting coal in your stocking next year. Straight from my heart, ********er! You know what coal in your stocking is? It's a bullet from a ********ing gun, ********er! You receive coal in your stocking from me, and you're ********ed forever! You understand, ********? I'll send you straight to hell, ********er!… In dreams… I walk with you. In dreams… I talk to you. In dreams, you're mine… all the time. Forever.

…what the hell was that?

It's from my one-man tribute to David Lynch. I call it "Red Velvet."

File photo

You're a strange person.

At least I don't have a ********ing man-crush on Landon ********ing Donovan. If I ever need a brown-nosed reindeer, I'll know who to call.

Do you even have a vote for Women's Player of the Year?

Sinclair! Best player ever!

You didn't see the Gold Pride this year, did you?

The what?

That's what I thought.

Oh, I suppose you're going to give it to Hope Solo.

No, I'm going with Rampone.

But the United Seppo Soccer Federation gave the award to Hope Solo.

Well, they don't take into account WPS.

You know what "seppo" means, don't you?

I do. You said already.

Well, how come when Landon wins your fed's award, it counts, but when Solo does, it doesn't?

Because I think US Soccer gave Hope Solo this award as an apology for what happened in the 2007 World Cup. She was a pariah, now she's back in the-


Okay, well, congratulations to Landon and Christie-


Rampone. Christie. Not Christine.

And DE RO!

Not De Rosario.

With a lifetime achievement award for Danny Dichio!

Thanks for joining us.


18 again

Here's a fun game for you. Who is Jere Longman referring to in this sentence? I'd provide a link to Longman's New York Times article, but the answer is given in the link. Also whited out the club name, but if you're stuck, you can at least give that hint.

Another hint – it's nice to see that the New York Times still wakes up every morning and says to itself, "How can we insult Dan's intelligence today?"

Speaking of Mainstream Media – so, Ian Plenderleith on When Saturday Comes interprets the new Washington Freedom ad as a shot at DC United, Kevin Payne, and MLS. Not so, says WPS. Instead, it was a shot at a bigger target – Dan Snyder, the NFL, and the Washington Racist Nicknames.

The ad in question is here. I'm on the other side of the continent, but from here it looks like much more of a shot at Snyder than Payne and MLS.

But does that invalidate Plenderleith's point, that MLS has no business restricting access to those who are critical? We're not discussing whether they can – of course, they have the right to. The issue is whether they should.

I think you pretty much have to go case by case. I won't embarrass the leagues and teams that have given me a press pass, but the Galaxy never have, and the USSF has stopped. I interpret that as "Ah, I see you are familiar with my work." I could also interpret it as the Galaxy and USSF saying, "You have a readership volume roughly equivalent to opening the window and shouting," which, while damaging to my fragile ego, is an equally valid reason to make me pay to get into games.

This could be another callback to Jamie Trecker, who has the readership to warrant a press pass, at least. I don't know if MLS also bars Trecker, but if they do…he's Jamie Trecker. He's perfectly capable of lambasting American soccer from a paid seat, or his couch.

Anyway, this was Ian's main point:

Well…geez. I think it varies team to team. AEG is the Kremlin, sure, and the Rapids are following that example. The Fire aren't nearly as open as they were in the Peter Wilt days, and the various New York ownerships have been alienating their fanbase since day one.

But I don't think you can say that about Seattle, or Houston, or San Jose, or even Toronto. Certainly not getting the vibe that Philadelphia and Portland are going to be run like the Stasi. Fine, all those teams are still in the honeymoon phase.

There is still a Supporters Summit, the Commissioner still addresses it. And there's a difference between engaging critics, and giving in to them. Parity is a painful example, I suppose, but you can't say that MLS hasn't answered the question. They like parity, they like playoffs, the team with the best record isn't always the champion, and that simply is not an issue in North American sports, including North American soccer. (Note the correct use of "North American.")

While scoring is down in MLS this year, that's almost singlehandedly down to the Galaxy hiring professional athletes to play defense. SOMEWHAT less facetiously, Evan writing to Bruce at Du Nord should have shot down any criticism along this line weeks ago, by actually looking up stats at RSSSF:

So the criticism of MLS seems once again to go back to it not being as popular as the Premiership. Gotta think they've noticed, but who knows, maybe not?


Line break for no reason. So I'm reading a thread about newspaper comics at a comedy website, and someone posts a link to this handy guide for what The Youth of Today Believe. Now, some of you out there may be the Youth of Today, but I happen to be older than God's grandfather, so some of these hit me as really harbingers of the Generation Gap.

There are a couple of items missing from that list, as far as we are concerned. "The United States has always qualified for the World Cup" is the top of the list, followed by "There has always been a Women's World Cup" and "Diego Maradona has always had drug problems." But while those are jarring now, imagine what a similar list will look like in five years, when we will be faced with adults who have never known a time without Major League Soccer.

Just struck me as interesting, is all.

There's a world outside my window, and it's a world of dread and fear

Hm, I've kinda been tunnel-visiony about MLS Cup, what with The Most Important Team In The World going to play the Galaxy and everything. (See what I did there?) (No, seriously, Real Salt Lake has this scrappy underdog thing going that I find both irritating and frightening. I sat through the Sol gagging against Sky Blue, and if this god-damned game isn't looking like its identical twin brother, then, in the words of "Bored of the Rings," I don't know lunch from din-din.)

…so, yeah, like I said, let's see what's happening elsewhere.

*raises the shades of the window*

*sees mushroom cloud*

Okay then.

Thierry Henry said to the reporters,
"A man ain't nothin' but a man.
Before I'll let Ireland go to the Cup
I'll score the winning goal with my hand, Lord Lord,
Score the winning goal with my hand."

I'd love to trot out a "And where in the rules does it say you can't touch the ball with your hand?" crack. Pity The Simpsons did the joke already along those lines.

Justice is unfortunately meted out pretty easily. Did Shay Given grab Henry earlier in the penalty area, and was that uncalled?

"Yes, but-"

Thank you, please drive through.

That said…you know what, I'd love to be a contrarian about this, but I think there should be instant replay. (Replay as in cameras, not replay the game.) I don't see implementation to be insurmountable, and for the most part automatic replay of goals won't take even as long as the goal celebration.

I used to be a supporter of having human eyes only, but I've come around for a couple of reasons. I think the job is too difficult for one man (plus a couple of dudes running on sidelines trusted with their own impossible job). And the whole premise of the referee is to ensure the right call is made. If you want wrong calls, might as well let the players or fans decide based on the honor system.

Would I want the United States to advance on the basis of a wrong call? OH GOD YES, MORE THAN ANYTHING, THAT WOULD BE EVEN BETTER THAN WINNING CLEAN!, which is another good reason for instant replay. This is also why I can't get mad at Henry (or Given, or whoever commits some affront to the game in MLS Cup, and you KNOW that'll happen) – too much is at stake anymore for us to go back to the Corinthians era. Ideally, France would offer a replay, but I understand if they say "tough merde, enjoy watching us next summer." They don't have to, and there's nothing in it for them. I wouldn't play Russian roulette, no matter how many strangers would respect me for it.

Oh, people are still bringing up John O'Brien's handball against Mexico? Haven't we been over this? Friedel would have saved the penalty anyway.

Speaking of which, apparently there were some Nat games in Europe this week. Who cares.

Look, I hate to be the bearer of good news, and sure, it's particularly easy for me to ignore the Chivas USA National Team. But…okay, we can't win road games in Europe with our B-team. I lost faith in our B-team sometime between the fourth and fifth goals of the Gold Cup final. My Kubler-Ross process for these friendlies took about a nanosecond.

"Yeah, but what about Frankie Hejduk? Aren't you worried that he might be-"


"But come on, first the Salt Lake series, now this? Even you have to admit-"


Look, the question is, do you want a young guy or a veteran at the bottom of the roster depth chart. If three or four guys don't get hurt, then bringing the young guy is probably a good idea. But what if, man? WHAT IF?

Benitez Beaten by a Beach Ball!

We were absolutely atrocious against Sunderland at the weekend. You’d have thought that after the game at Stamford Bridge, the players would be fired up and ready to make a statement that Liverpool are serious about winning the title. You’d be wrong.
Firstly, the beach ball situation. Yes the goal should not have stood, as the rules state that in occasions such as that, a bounce-up on the edge of the area is the correct course of action. However, the fact remains that we got exactly what we deserved from that game. Nothing.
I am struggling to find the words that accurately describe how pathetic that performance really was. I would say that that was the worst I have ever seen Liverpool play, but that doesn’t quite cut it. There was no passion, no fire and worryingly with Torres and Gerrard missing, nobody stepped up.
I played in a pickup game a few days ago, where I only knew a couple of the other guys on my team. We played a team who regularly play together, were organised, knew all the strengths and weaknesses of their teammates and as a result we got absolutely destroyed. Defensively we were a total shambles, regularly being caught short at the back, and were being overrun by the other team on a regular basis.
As we were a group of strangers, this was understandable. Where it is entirely unacceptable is when it is a team of experienced international players who play like they have never met before. Remember the bad-old days, defensively, of the Roy Evans era? When we were shipping goals at an astonishing rate and every corner was the equivalent of a penalty, such was our inability to defend?
They were better than our current back line. Jamie Carragher has been taking a bit of a beating in the press and by some fans lately but I’m far more concerned about Martin Skrtel. What the hell has happened to him? He was absolutely all over the place on Saturday, getting out-muscled, out-jumped, out-paced and out-thought. His judgement was terrible, and kept presenting the ball to opposition players.
What is going on with the communication in the team? In every single game this season there has been an instance of two of our players jumping for the same ball and only succeeding in impeding each other. It’s not just that, we had players chasing the same ball, not working hard enough to get into space to receive the ball and defensively we were all over the place.
We had some bad news before kick-off, with Mascherano and Insua unable to start after arriving back late from international duty, in addition to Torres and Gerrard being injured and some even worse news with Lucas able to make the starting line-up.
With Torres and Gerrard out, Benitez looked to replace them with other attackers, then remembered he hadn’t bothered to buy any sort of attacking players, despite the yawning chasm in our squad, preferring to spend our entire summer budget on a right wing-back (when we don’t play wing-backs) and an injured midfielder. This meant we got to see a formation akin to the back seven we played at Fratton Park last season. Our squad is appalling and there is only one man to blame for that.
We lost the game in midfield, where Lucas showed just why Liverpool fans get on his case by putting in a woeful performance, missing tackles and giving the ball away far too often. Jay Spearing was given a start, and floundered badly. Let’s hope Benitez hasn’t done any long-term damage to his development because it is one thing putting Spearing next to Mascherano, another entirely asking him to continually bail out Lucas. Cana and Cattermole completely dominated the middle and stopped us in our tracks, reducing us to long balls that nobody could win. This midfield also meant that the “attack” were totally isolated.
Ah, the attack. We had a striker, who has been so successful up front he plays right midfield mostly, in Kuyt, on his own. He was supposedly supported by Ryan ‘I-never-get-a-chance-despite-playing-absolutely-shit-while-putting-in-no-effort-every-time’ Babel who was shockingly poor, and Benayoun, who showed why he cannot be relied upon to play a leading role in the team, by completely shying away from the game. He had about as much affect on the game as me. The man didn’t even break sweat.
One incident sums Kuyt up for me. The ball was played over the top of the defence to him and instead of taking the ball down and having a shot, he tried to chest it backwards to a teammate and it was easily cleared. He just doesn’t have the instincts of a top striker and despite his high levels of effort, is just not good enough.
Our best attacking option was Glen Johnson, who while regularly unsuccessful, at least showed some positivity and tried to make something happen, which is more than can be said for anyone else. We didn’t have a proper shot until 84 mins and that was a weak header by Voronin. That is just not good enough for any professional team, let alone a team with supposed title aspirations. We didn’t make Gordon make a save until injury time. We got 7 minutes of injury time but it could have been 70 and we wouldn’t have scored. We were disgraceful.
We looked to the bench to make something happen. We got Voronin, the man too fat to play for the Ukraine. He fitted right into the game, playing just as badly as everyone else. N’gog came on late but he’s never going to strike fear into the opposition. We had no viable attacking options on the bench; a half-fit Albert Riera is not an option.
The worst was after the final whistle when Benitez has the gall to blame that performance on the international break. Every Premier League team will have had players on International duty, not just Liverpool. Other teams lost players to injury too, Man United lost Rooney. The diference is that Alex Ferguson is aware that its generally a good idea to have more than one striker and one attacking central midfielder in your squad. Yes, he didn’t get all of his players back until later than he would have liked and we had a few important players injured or not available but this team looked like it had been cobbled together at the last-minute. At least he had the good sense not to blame the balloon for his and his team’s failings. It’s interesting what his excuses will be; now he doesn’t have Rik Parry to blame for his squad.
Benitez is known for his thorough preparation so I find it hard to believe he didn’t have any sort of contingency in place for Mascherano and Insua not coming back in time. There seemed to be no discernable tactics and playing with three centre-backs completely imbalanced the team. He could have moved Carragher or Agger into a defensive midfield role to keep the usual formation. He seemed so obsessed with finding a way to nullify Jones and Bent, which totally didn’t work, that he forgot once again you can’t win a game 0-0.
He had this shell-shocked ‘what the f*** do I do now?’ expression on his face all game, and it was obvious he had no clue how to change things for the better. This is a huge flaw with Benitez; he has no Plan B if his initial tactics do not work. He just tries the same old tired ideas that don’t work./www.bigsoccer.com/forum/images/smilies/tongue.gif[/img]>/www.bigsoccer.com/forum/images/smilies/tongue.gif[/img]>
Benitez has ruined the squad with his short-sightedness and stubbornness, refusing to buy in positions because everyone has said we need more attacking players, his ego ruined our chances of winning the league last season and he has completely destroyed the youth system, either loaning out or selling any young prospect that looked to have any sort of promise. As a result we have no real options to bring in.
We have probably blown our title chances already. You can’t win the title in October, but you can lose it. To have any hopes whatsoever we need to beat Man Utd next week, which looks highly unlikely, despite United being far from their best.
We look no closer to winning the league, which is the competition that all Liverpool fans want, than we did 5 years ago, despite all the money Benitez has spent. For that alone, any potential new owner must look to replace him, as we will never win the league whilst he is allowed to run our club into the ground./www.bigsoccer.com/forum/images/smilies/tongue.gif[/img]>/www.bigsoccer.com/forum/images/smilies/tongue.gif[/img]>

Soccer-Tennis Entrepeneur and Indoor Star Named to Hall of Fame

We would also have accepted "1998 US World Cup Superstars Elected".

Preki's election isn't a surprise, because he was the top non-winner last year, no one hugely impressive entered the ballot, and someone had to go in. Preki and Dooley avoided the indignity of a runoff or a Hall pass or whatever it would have taken to avoid having nobody accept induction into a closed building.

117 votes were cast, down – WAY down – from 159 last year. Years of unexciting ballots? Or did the Hall take my advice and Cull the Unworthy? This would explain Dooley's election as much as anything. Preki got 96 votes last year, which was only six out of ten. This year, he got 80, which put him just over the magic two out of three.

Thomas Dooley, meanwhile, got 85 votes last year, and 83 this year. Either Thomas himself was in charge of the ballot list, or he changed a heck of a lot of minds over the past few months.

From anecdotal evidence, people change their minds on Soccer Hall of Famers very gradually, if ever. First year on the ballot? Last year on the ballot? New people on the ballot? Not a heck of a lot of change.

But the percentages went nuts this year. Dooley went from 50-50 (and thus, nowhere near election) to seven out of ten and a red jacket.

Earnie Stewart went up fifteen points in the polls, Valderrama went up ten points…and Etcheverry held pretty much steady. Oops.

Whether Earnie will hold out against Cobi Jones and Eddie Pope next year is a good question. But there's another factor.

Shannon MacMillan inherited all the Cindy Parlow voters, and there isn't going to be another decent female candidate for years and years. Mac got 51 votes last year, and 64 votes this year. With 32 fewer voters. No one else got more votes this year than last.

Okay, except Chris Henderson, for all the good that will do him.

So next year's election is going to be pretty fiercely contested. Maybe even enough to open the place back up somewhere.

Do Dooley and Preki deserve it? Sure. Provided you rate them against their peers and don't use their stats to try and judge their successors. Dooley's national team totals are wonderful, but he should be judged with the Harkes-Waldo-Balboa era. If future voters conclude "He was in two World Cups, and in one he was pretty awful, so that's the basis for Hall of Fame voting" – well, that would be bad. He was an early 90's star, and probably should be the second-to-last of that gang inducted (we're still waiting on Tony Meola).

Preki – yeah, unless "sweet goal against Brazil" is going to be your benchmark, you're judging him on his MLS career. (Or you're a serious 80's indoor soccer honk…and there are more of them out there than you might think. Be afraid.)

Hopefully he and Jeff Agoos have proven that a storied MLS career is good enough for induction…but there's Etcheverry, sitting there way off the pace, and I wonder whether people are just looking at cap totals.

Anyway, it's nice the little guy has something to cheer him up after what's left of his club coaching career gets…okay, since he's in Canada now, do I have to spell it "sodomised"?

Dooley's post-playing career has been much less stellar than I thought it would be – he's now player development guru for a youth club in SoCal, but we're getting to the point where there's one youth soccer club for every child down here. He's also tried his hand at promoting beach soccer and "soccer tennis", the latter of which apparently has a website on perma-renew. Hopefully adding "Hall of Famer" to his resume will get him some attention. I mean, he hasn't even coached the Red Bulls yet. Of course, neither has Preki.