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Nov 082013

MLSCup2013PlayoffsLogo2 MLS 300x248 MLS Playoff Roundup


MLS Playoff Roundup

This week’s midweek MLS playoff action provided plenty of surprises and massive amounts of drama.  Although it is unfortunate that the Supporter’s Shield recipient, the New York Red Bulls, were bounced out of the tournament early, it is good to see three out of the top four seeds still alive. The Supporter’s Shield race was close all season so at least one of the teams that was in the running for the title at the end of the regular season will be rewarded with home-field advantage in MLS Cup  Here are the final results from this week’s action and the upcoming ties for the Conference Finals:

MLS Conference Semi-Finals Results

Conference Match Fixture Aggregate
Eastern New England 1-Sporting   Kansas City 3 3-4
Eastern Houston 2- New York  1 4-3
Western Los Angeles 0- Real Salt   Lake 2 1-2
Western Seattle 2- Portland 3 3-5




MLS Conference Finals Matchups

Conference Match Fixture(Lowest Seed First) Game #1 Game #2
Eastern Houston v Sporting Kansas City 11/9 2:30 NBC Sports Network 11/23 NBC Sports Network
Western Real Salt Lake v Portland 11/10 9pm ESPN 11/24 ESPN


A couple of thoughts before we get to the next round of matches:

  • While many people will give credit to the Houston Dynamo for once again pulling off the upset and beating the New York Red Bulls, let’s face facts: the Red Bulls blew this game. Much like in Sunday’s game the Red Bulls dominated the first half, controlling possession, taking good shots on target and having a stout, resolute defense. Even without Jamison Olave they looked like they were going to go through. It is very difficult to score on Houston Dynamo GK Tally Hall so one would have thought that would have been enough to get the Red Bulls through. Instead in typical Red Bulls fashion, their defense breaks down in the 37th minute (thanks in part to Ibrahim Sekagaya refusing to go off or at least stop play because of an injury,) and the team plays right into the hands of the Dynamo. Houston did exactly what they always do: play solid defense, rely on Tally Hall to make 1-2 quality saves, make the most out of free kicks and use their deep bench to their advantage. The Red Bulls had this team beat not just once, not just twice, but three times over the span of this two-leg playoff. Although I am sure that there are plenty of fans who will be happy with the Supporter’s Shield, the team’s first-ever trophy, it feels like yet another missed opportunity for the Red Bulls.


  • While the Red Bulls may have letdown their fans with the result on Wednesday, the worst performance thus far in the playoffs belongs to the Seattle Sounders. Facing a 3-1 deficit and going on the road to their hated rivals, the Portland Timbers, one would have thought that the Sounders would have come out of the box playing aggressive and trying everything to pull closer to Portland. Instead, within the first 47 minutes the club was down 3-0. Only a complete breakdown by the Portland defense made this game at least marginally close, but the Sounder’s last two goals felt more like garbage points than anything else. The Sounders have looked flat for the past two and a half months and really have not been the same team since Forward Eddie Johnson decided to give the “pay me” sign to owners back in August. I am not really sure why Adam Moffat and Shalrie Joseph were starting over Obafemi Martins and Mauro Rosales, but it seemed to be counter-productive to the whole “scoring” thing.

    What made Seattle so great for so many years is it felt like this team had a plan that you could see on the field.  From youth development to scouting to signing international players, you could always see that there is a clear direction for this club. But by signing players like Joseph, Martins, and let’s be honest Clint Dempsey, it feels like the club is unbalanced that there are too many overpriced, experienced players and not enough young talent to bring some creativity and flair. Perhaps with Lamar Neagle out due to yellow card accumulation they had to readjust their lineup.  But Seattle has not looked good for a few weeks now and I would think that there may be some changes in terms of player personnel at the end of the season.

  • As for the other two Semifinal losers, Los Angeles and New England, their postseason runs almost feel like trial runs for next year. Both teams are loaded top young talent, and to be honest both probably made it farther than they should have this year.

    That may sound strange with Los Angeles, but if you think about all of the things that they have gone through this season with David Beckham leaving, Landon Donovan heading to parts unknown for a few months, the goalkeeper mess, trading Mike Magee, and the Omar Gonzalez contract situation they have had a lot happen to them this season. As opposed to caving in, the club signed an excellent goalkeeper in Jaime Penedo, signed Gonzalez and Donovan long-term deals, and give playing time to many of their academy players. DEF Kofi Opare, MID Jose Villareal, FWD Gyasi Zardes, and FWD Jack McBean are all considered to be some of the top young talent in American and all of them will figure prominently in Coach Bruse Arena’s game plans next year.

    Unlike the Galaxy, no one expected the New England Revolution to make it this far, let alone take Sporting Kansas City to the limit in a two-leg playoff. Revolution management’s efforts to improve their academy and draft selections have led them to accrue a core nucleus of explosive, talented players. Credit should also go to Coach Jay Heaps, who has done a phenomenal job in getting all of these players to play as a unit, which can be difficult if you don’t have a foundation to build off of.

    What will be interesting is to see how this team replaces GK Matt Reis (retiring) and MID/FWD Juan Agudelo (Transfer to Stoke City) in the offseason. Backup GK Bobby Shuttlesworth was a very capable replacement for Reis during the season, but he often lacked decisiveness when it came down to the final minutes. Agudelo will be far more difficult to replace. His partnership with Fagundez and Rowe in the midfielder was the key for the Revolution’s success this year. You have to wonder if signing former US Men’s National team Forward Charlie Davies in August was meant to be Agudelo’s replacement. Davies plays a very similar style to that of Agudelo; however he has never been the same since the car crash that nearly took his life back in October 2009. The good news is that if Davies does not work out, the club has plenty of Allocation money and young players to move for a more proven veteran striker.


Conference Final Previews:

Houston Dynamo vs. Sporting Kansas City

A rematch of last year’s 2012 Conference Semi-Finals matchup, which saw the Dynamo upset Sporting K.C. 2-1 on aggregate, this series should be a very close set of games. Although Sporting did defeat the Dynamo earlier this 1-0 in Houston, who at the time had a 25 game home unbeaten streak, the Dynamo were also able to get a 1-1 draw at Livestrong Park in Kansas City. Expect a very physical set of games: in their two previous matches this season the two teams had a combined 56 fouls and 6 cards (all yellow.)

The key to this series is if Sporting Kansas City can limit the number of unnecessary fouls. The reason why the Dynamo are so difficult to defeat in a two-legged playoff is that they have are able to exploit their opponents weaknesses and are deadly with set pieces. Kansas City cannot give away too many chances to the Dynamo or they will suffer the same fate as the New York Red Bulls.

Although it seems like Bad Karma to pick against the Dynamo, given their history, I give the slight edge to Sporting Kansas City. Yes they will be physical and probably draw a few unnecessary fouls, but they have also shown that they are able to come back from any deficit and pull out a victory. MID/FWD Graham Zusi has been in amazing form as of late, and I really like the partnership that he has developed with Sooney Saad. Also, if Claudio Bieler (game-winning goal in extra time against New England on Wednesday) is actually ready to play he could be a difference-maker in this series off of the bench.

Real Salt Lake vs. Portland Timbers

If you are a soccer mom or dad and you want to get your son or daughter to watch a game of American soccer, have them sit down in front of the T.V. and watch one of the two matches between Real Salt Lake and the Portland Timbers this month. No, not because Timber Joey gets to chop down a tree or because you want to explain to your kids what “YSA” means. Chances are they already know that one. You want your kids to watch this matchup because these two teams when they are at their best play the best form of American soccer.

What’s interesting about this match is that it would seem that the Timbers would have a distinct advantage over RSL. They have not lost a match since late August, a 4-2 loss to Real Salt in Utah, and just smoked the Seattle Sounders. Plus Real Salt Lake’s form has been very poor since the U.S. Open Cup final against D.C. United and it looked like all of the controversy regarding coach Jason Kreis’ contract had finally got to them.

Then Thursday night happened and the Real Salt Lake team that at the halfway point of season were the front-runners for the Supporters Shield showed up again. The swift counter-attacks on the right flank by Luis Gill was back, as was Alvaro Saborio’s clever touches and passes. I also really like the addition of Velasquez to the lineup, who was the only player to play with any initiative during the previous match.  They also showed tremendous perseverance after having Javier Morales’ splendid free kick nullified by a curious call by the referee.

Despite all of this, I still like for Portland to make it through to the MLS Cup. While Real Salt Lake has turned it on as of late, Portland has not really given one bad performance throughout this entire MLS Season. Even in the early part of the season, when the team was still trying to adjust to Coach Caleb Porter’s style, they always played with a commitment to defense and avoiding risky shot selection in the attacking third.

Going back to the 3-3 draw against Real Salt Lake in August, Portland found tremendous success in moving the ball through the center of the midfield through Will Johnson and Darlington Nagbe up to Ryan Johnson and Diego Valeri. Real’s midfield is more of an attacking midfield than a defensive one and had tremendous problems against the Los Angeles attack during their two game set. Although I would expect RSL GK Nick Rimando and RSL DEF Chris Schuler to continue their solid run of form, it will be difficult for RSL to keep up with the Timbers offense.




Oct 302013

Brian Sanders, Adam Uthe and Sean Maslin look at the 2013 MLS Cup Playoff play-in and Conference Semifinals

click here to listen

The Playoff Push

 Posted by on October 2, 2013 at 5:22 pm  Blogs/Media, MLS, United States
Oct 022013

MLS Cup 300x169 The Playoff Push

Robbie Keane’s face told the story. After heading in a Landon Donovan free kick in the 90th minute to put the Los Angeles Galaxy level with the Portland Timbers, his face went from incredible joy to sheer anguish as the referee raised his flag and called for an offsides on Keane. Keane looked disgusted, but he also looked slightly despondent. He knew how much that goal meant to the Galaxy and their season. The Galaxy had the chance to go level on points with the Timbers in the standings in the Western Conference. Instead, the club sees themselves four points behind the Timbers and only a point ahead of fifth-place Colorado and sixth-place Vancouver. On a weekend with so many exciting matches and so many different teams in playoff contention, Major League Soccer was able to show one of the true assets that it has over so many other soccer leagues: the playoff push.

One of the major criticisms that Major League Soccer receives from fans, ex-players, officials, and pundits is the supposedly awkward arrangement that it has between their regular season and the playoffs. Supposedly, the existence of the playoffs cheapens the regular season and devalues the merit of winning the supporter’s shield. Most experts in professional football will tell you that the best system is a single table system where each team plays every other team twice. Never mind that the United States is about 2-3 times as large as most European countries and has twice as many time zones. And never mind that that the English League Championship has a playoff system to determine who will be promoted to the Premier League. Or that the Champions League has a playoff system based off of seeding.  It is supposedly important that we implement this square peg of a “traditional” system into the round hole that is American geography. We have to be exactly like everyone else. Or at least the way the Europeans sometimes play.

Although it sounds tempting to once again follow the Europeans and do exactly everything that they do (sometimes,) let’s do some thinking outside of the traditional box of soccer. Although there are some flaws with the current Major League Soccer system (playing on international dates and too many international matches with foreign clubs come to mind,) the current playoff system does provide for tons of intrigue and can allow for many exciting games as the season winds down. If you look at this weekend’s slate of games, only one match did not include at least one team that has a shot at making the playoffs (Toronto- D.C. United.) In every other match, each team has a decent chance at winning a spot in their respective Conferences playoff spot.

Major League Soccer is just a very different league than many other professional leagues throughout the world, and that is not a bad thing. Variety is good. It makes things interesting and gives fans plenty to talk about. Although I wonder what a Premier playoff would look like, I do understand that the last few weeks of a Premier League season can be quite dramatic. It was like that two years ago, when Manchester City forward Sergio Aguero scored against Queen’s Park Rangers in the last game of the season to claim their first Premier League title while Manchester United was still on the pitch hoping a result in their match would keep them alive.

If the Europeans would like to have a single table system with no playoffs, then go ahead. But given the relative age of Major League Soccer and how most clubs outside of the Northwest are still growing their fanbases it makes more sense right now to have a playoff system. Our country loves playoffs and we love the drama that leads up to it, even if the team we support has no shot of winning it all. It is why the NCAA tournament so huge. People in this country want to believe that their club has a chance. They don’t want to be complacent with mid-table.  And it is good for the teams to use situations like the playoffs to build support for their team. It is good for a team like the New England Revolution who has not been a relevant team for 4-5 years to show their fans that they are respectable again because they have a shot at the playoffs.

Having this many teams with a chance for a playoff spot spurs interest in not only the players, but the fans as well. Due to the parity of the league, any team has the chance to knock off any other team at any venue. This why you were able to see the Philadelphia Union shock Sporting Kansas City 1-0 on Friday night at Live Strong Park. It’s why the Columbus Crew was able to go down Dallas Park and eliminate their Pioneer Cup rivals F.C. Dallas. And it’s why a team like the Portland Timbers was able to step up in a rainy mess at Jeld-Wenn field in Portland and pull out an important 1-0 victory. In each of these matches, because other games were going on at the same time, you would see fans pulling out their iPhones to check updates on other games, to see where their teams would be in the standings, and to try and cheer their fellow fans up who feel like all hope is lost. As sad as it sounds, one of the true signs that I have seen all season of the attachment that has grown for Major League Soccer with the supporters was when Tim Cahill scored to even it up for the New York Red Bulls against the Seattle Sounder. There is nothing like seeing and hearing an arena of 50,000 supporters completely deflated.

I had the pleasure of watching last year’s slugfest between D.C. United and the Columbus Crew and seeing the playoff push firsthand. Both clubs were tied on points for the fifth and final playoff spot. In a match where the game was 2-1 throughout the majority of the match, members of the Barra Brava the D.C. United Supporters groups seemed to lose interest as it dawned on them that they would have to go to Bridgeview and get a result against the Chicago Fire. Fans were routinely checking their iPhones for the latest results from the Houston Dynamo match or waiting for any information from RFK Stadiums decrepit scoreboard. Although any fan would be happy with clinching a playoff spot anywhere, there is something special about doing it at home. United ended up scoring the tying goal in the 59th minute, which then led to Lewis Neal scoring a game-winning goal in the 91st minute to send D.C. United into the playoffs. Although the club has won three MLS titles, if you ask any member of Barra Brava what their favorite moment in D.C. United history is, I would imagine that Neal’s goal is up there.

Although this weekend did not provide any playoff-clinching goals, there was no short of theatrics. The San Jose Earthquakes continued their Cinderella run by beating Chivas U.S.A. 1-0 on a goal by Forward Chris Wondlowski in the 87th minute (And yes, you even got to see Steven Lenhart get sent off.) Houston- New England played to a draw keeping both of their playoff hopes alive. Real Salt Lake, playing a mostly reserve team in preparation for Tuesday’s U.S. Open Cup final with D.C. United, managed to shock Vancouver away from home and further tighten their lead on first-place in the Western Conference. Chicago blew a two goal lead to the Montreal Impact and nearly could have won the match had Mike Magee, one of the league’s leading candidates MVP, hit a penalty kick off of the crossbar dooming his team to a draw and possibly a 7th place finish in the Eastern Conference.

Even the D.C. United- Toronto F.C. match featured a beautiful volley by D.C. United forward Jared Jeffrey and even more amazing scissor kick goal by Toronto F.C. forward Daryl Russell. Whether you were watching a match at the park, the bar, NBC, or on whatever D.C. United is using for coverage now, you got to see two teams playing hard for nothing more than a spot on the team.

While no MLS match could feature players of the quality of the Premier League or any of the other top European leagues, each came with its own set of drama and flair. Having watched enough Premier League matches at the end of the season when players go at half pace and where things feel predetermined. I still remember being completely shocked last season when Queen’s Park Rangers were relegated and seeing the players laughing and feeling just terrible for their fans. Rather than seeing a team work hard and try to gut out a victory, they seemed like they did not care and were more interested in just collecting their paycheck. At least Chivas U.S.A., a club who may not exist next season, tried to keep up with the Earthquakes and put on a good show for their fans.

In the weeks ahead, the number of teams that are still eligible to make the playoffs will be trimmed. F.C. Dallas was knocked out this weekend and I would suspect that there will be a few more casualties this weekend. For some fans, the end of the season will just be another stepping stone towards the playoffs and hopefully towards an MLS Cup. For other fans, they will reflect upon missed opportunities in June and July, on injuries, and on player management. But until then if you are an MLS fan you should turn your television and watch the emotions  of October soccer.

Sep 172013

1556 300x300 Know Your MLS Teams: The Los Angeles Galaxy


Here in LA
We’re the greatest of all
We love women and beer
It’s the only way to live

Club Founded:

Record: 13 Wins- 10 Losses- 5 Draws (4th Place in the Western Conference.)

Pedigree: 4-time MLS Cup Champions (2002, 2005, 2011, and 2012,) 4-time winner of the Supporter’s Shield (club that has the best record at the end of the MLS regular season- 1998, 2002, 2010, and 2011) 2-time U.S. Open Cup Champion (2001 and 2005,) winner of the 2000 CONCACAF Champions League

Rivals: San Jose Earthquakes (California Classico,) Chivas U.S.A, pretty much the rest of the league.

Coach:  Bruce Arena

Supporter Groups: The L.A. Riot Squad, the Angel City Brigade, the Galaxians

Key Returning Players: DEF Omar Gonzalez, MF Juninho, MF Landon Donovan. FWD Jack McBean, FWD Robbie Keane

Major Additions:  GK Carlo Cudicini (Tottenham Hotspur,) GK Jaime Penedo (C.S.D. Municipal-Honduras,) DEF Robbie Rogers (Leeds United-England,) MF Colin Clark (Houston Dynamo,) and MF Laurent Courtois (Chivas U.S.A.)

Major Departures: GK Josh Saunders (Colorado Rapids) MF David Beckham (Paris St. Germain,) FWD Edson Buddle (Colorado Rapids,) and FWD Mike Magee


Full disclosure: I actually like watching the Galaxy play. Now before you paint me as a Laker-loving Dodger devotee, I still cannot stand most things about the city of Los Angeles. Perhaps it is watching too much of the Kardashians, or listening to comedian Adam Carolla’s rants on the Los Angeles County Public School system, but I have never wanted to go to Los Angeles. Unless it is to watch a Galaxy match.

Many things have changed since I watched the first MLS Cup final between the Los Angeles Galaxy and D.C. United. The Kansas City Wiz are now called the Wizards. Clocks move forward instead of backwards. Supporters have replaced soccer moms. But the one thing that has remained consistent through the league’s history is the quality of play that they have brought every season.

Since the league’s inception, the Galaxy has only missed the playoffs three times in their existence (2006-2008.) In addition, the club has made the MLS Cup 8 times, winning 4. Although it is easy to knock them for their success, and some of the questionable methods from which they have acquired their players, let’s give credit where credit is due: their success has been remarkable.

While I am sure AEG, the company that owns the Los Angeles Galaxy, would like to take full credit for their success I would like to commend their coach Bruce Arena. Having watched him coach since his days at the University of Virginia, one cannot be anything but impressed with his coaching success. He is someone who runs a tight ship, who is able to get players who have massive egos to work together, and plays a style that is aggressive and engaging. His imprint on this team can be seen with the younger players, as well as the veteran ones.

A team that always looks to make the big splash, the Los Angeles Galaxy were actually quite quiet this past offseason with their only major addition coming in the form of Carlo Cudicini, the Italian goalkeeper at the bottom of Tottenham’s depth chart. Although I am sure the club would have liked to have signed the likes of Frank Lampard, Kaka, or even Andrei Arshavin, the best moves that they made were promoting their younger players to more prominent roles. Players like Forward Gyasi Zardes, Forward Jack McBean, and Forward Jose Villareal have all played prominent roles with the team this season. The trio has logged a combined 2910 minutes this season and scored 6 goals.

Although their three young players have been exceptional this season, this is a team that rides and dies with its three designated players: Omar Gonzalez, Robbie Keane, and Landon Donovan. Before this season, it would have just been Keane and Donovan, but Gonzalez has come back so well from the torn ACL that he suffered last season that his work merits recognition. He is a tall, strong defender who always seemed to lack some of the judgment skills that are important in becoming a top defender.

You could see the improvement in the May U.S. World Cup Qualifying match between the United States and Mexico, he seemed to be more aware of his surroundings and was able to make crisper passes and clears to his teammates. He is paired up with some quality veteran defenders in Sean Franklin, Todd Dunavant, and A.J. DeLaGarza. DeLa Garza, in particular, has been a major asset for the Galaxy because he has exceptional dribbling abilities and has no problem driving the ball down the field, and tossing in a long cross to the likes of Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan.

With Robbie Keane, the thing that you first notice when you watch him play is his tenacity. He never stops on any play, and has no problem getting physical with defenders. Part of the problem that American forwards have is that they lack this skill. Sure, he is one of the best shooters in the league and can be extremely accurate on goal (13 goals, 24 shots on goal.) But what makes him so much better than everyone else is that he works on every play. The run and finish that he made against the Portland Timbers on August the 27th to me is one of the best goals of the year because of the work that went in to making the goal.

Donovan, an MLS and United States Men’s National Team legend, has been critical to the development of soccer in this country. Earlier in the season, I wondered when he did come back from his self-imposed exile in Cambodia if he would still be interested in playing. I was not expecting him to be the same player that he was when he was 22, but I was concerned that he had just lost interest in the game. The man has had an immense amount of pressure on him for many years to be the face of American soccer.

That being said, I have been pleasantly surprised by his performance in recent weeks for the Galaxy. Although he does not have the speed that he once possessed, his passing and decision-making is as strong as ever. I have always liked the connection that Donovan and Keane have with one another. In the August 17th match against Real Salt Lake, the Galaxy were able to pick apart a strong RSL defense mainly because Donovan was able to feed Keane balls in the box that on a top class player can get to. Donovan still has his shot as well: in only 17 matches this season he has 8 goals and 16 shots on goal.

The problems that Donovan has had, speaks of a larger problem that this team has. There seem to be two Galaxy teams: the one that plays when Donovan, Keane, and Gonzalez play and the one that plays when one or all three are out. Now you could say the same thing about any team if they were to lose their players due to injury or international duty. But, this seems to be a greater problem for the Galaxy. In the last two matches against the Colorado Rapids and D.C. United this team has looked flat. Without their three designated players for last Saturday’s match, and with all three coming back from international duty (and Landon Donovan out with an injury) they did not have the same sense of urgency or flair to take care of two winnable games. You look at teams like Portland, Real Salt Lake, and Seattle and you see squads that are 13 or 14 players deep.

You could also see the difference in the 5-0 drubbing the team took against the New England Revolution earlier this season. Though their younger players have played well when being second fiddle to the Big Three, they still need to step up when Keane, Donovan, and Gonzalez are not all available. In particular, I would like to see more out of Jose Villareal. A fast winger, he should have been able to pick apart a pourous D.C. United defense on Saturday. Instead, the club drew against an opponent that they should have demolished and lost points in the standings.

While players like Defender Todd Dunavant, Midfielder Marcelo Sarvas, and Midfielder Collin Clarke are quality role players they cannot run a team by themselves. Although the Galaxy almost always makes good player moves, I think that they regret trading Mike Magee to the Chicago Fire for Robbie Rogers earlier this season. Magee is a player that may not be a regular in the U.S. National Team, but he is an exceptional striker (20 goals this season) and he can provide leadership to the younger players when their main players are out. You can certainly see his mark on a young Fire squad as they are making their way to the playoffs.  Although they play different positions, the addition of Defender Pablo Mastroeni seems to be an acknowledgment that this team needs a stronger veteran presence on the team.

They also have to figure out what they are going to do at goalkeeper. To say that the Carlo Cudicini signing has been a disappointment would be an understatement. Although the club has only given up 36 goals this season (which ties them for 10th in the league) Cudicini has a Goals Against Average of 1.29 which is sixth highest among starting goalkeepers. While at first I thought it was just rust (he had not played in a match for Tottenham in at least 3 years,) it seems like his confidence is just shot. In their August 24th match against F.C. Dallas, Cudicini was not able to make simple stops on both goals by Dallas and was bailed out on numerous other shots by the Los Angeles Galaxy defense.

Although he has been benched, their other two goalkeepers, Brian Rowe and Jaime Penedo have also not looked suspect. I think Penedo will eventually settle into the role fine. Having watched him closely during the 2013 Gold Cup, he is someone that will take control of this team when necessary, and improve their movement from the back. However, it is very late in the season to be making a change like this. A team’s success largely depends on chemistry and consistency. There is no position greater that requires this skill than the goalkeeper position. Although I think the trade is an upgrade for the position, I am just not sure if now is the time to be adding a goalkeeper from outside the organization and making them your starter.

If the Galaxy are to repeat they are going to have to improve their work on the road. During the 2013 season, the Galaxy have allowed 27 goals on the road and 3 have wins, 8 losses, and 3 draws. And while the Galaxy have been very good at home, they have shown that they can be beaten at the Home Depot Center by the likes of the Colorado Rapids. In a Western Conference that is loaded with exceptionally strong teams like the Rapids, Real Salt Lake, and the Seattle Sounders the Galaxy are going to have to show the temerity on the road that they have shown at home.

If the Galaxy are going to do what no Major League Soccer team has ever done and win three consecutive MLS Cups, they are going to have to learn how to play better on the road, to get better performances out of their role players, and find an answer at goalkeeper. The good news is that the club features three of the best players in Major League Soccer in Landon Donovan, Robbie Keane, and Omar Gonzalez. The bad news is that if any of the three players receives an injury, or if they have a poor performance then this team may have some difficulties in making back to the finals.

Beer of Choice: Firestone Double Barrel Ale, Firestone Brewing Company. To watch a Galaxy match, you need a drink that has a bit of a smooth taste to it, but a good kick. With a high scoring offense, and a defense that is renowned for either being great or terrible, the Double Barrel Ale can either go well with a five goal drubbing or a 5-4 slugfest.


Jul 072013

Oh yeah, we’re doing this.

Columbus was robbed of a result against the Los Angeles Galaxy on Thursday night, but bounced back with a 1-0 victory over Portland Timbers on Sunday. Both games were pretty straight forward, so I thought it would be more fun (and productive) describe the results in Lord Of The Rings quotes.


Columbus Crew 1-2 Los Angeles Galaxy

-”One does not simply walk into Los Angeles and win. It’s black gates are guarded by more than just PRO Referees. There is evil there that does not suit up in white. The Great Don is ever watchful. It is a barren wasteland riddled with fire, ash, and dust. The very air you breathe is a poisonous fume. Not with 10,000 men could you do this. It is folly.” -Everyone

-”And you Robbie Keane. I give you the light of Sorin Stoica, our most beloved star. May he be a light for you in dark places, when you are trailing late in the game.” -Don Garber

-”Fool of a Sanchez! Throw yourself out next time and rid us of your stupidity (and temper)!” -Me

-Bruce Arena: “Do you know how the PRO Referees first came into being? They were students of the game once, taken by the dark powers, tortured and mutilated. A ruined and terrible form of life. Now…perfected. My fighting PRO Referees. Whom do you serve?”

Sorin Stoica: “Bruce Arena”

-”Look for my sign in the second half. In the 85th minute, look to the middle of the field.” -Sorin Stoica

-”We do not have the strength to fight both Robbie Keane AND Sorin Stoica!” -Andy Gruenebaum

-”I will take it! I will take the free kick that leads to our only goal. Though…I do not know who will finish it.” -Federico Higuain

-”If by set piece or from the run of play I can score a goal, I will. You have my head”-Bernardo Anor

Columbus Crew 1-0 Portland Timbers

-”Flogging Molly! The Flogging Molly are coming!” -90% of the crowd

-”Where is Konrad?? Where is my son?!” -Robert Warzycha

-”By all that you hold dear, on this good earth. I bid you: Stand! Men Of Columbus!” – Frankie Hejduk

-”It is in Aaron Schoenfeld we must place our hope.” -Robert Warzycha

-”You shall not pass!” – Matt Lampson

-”Oh yes. Word has reached my ears of this Guillermo, brother of Gustavo, and I tell you now: I will not bow to this ranger from the South!” -Robert Warzycha

-”I ask only for the ability to score goals!” -Aaron Schoenfeld

-”It’s a Trapp!” -Caleb Porter

(OK, OK that last one was Star Wars, but how could I not include it after Wil’s performance??)


Know Your MLS Teams: Chivas U.S.A.

 Posted by on June 6, 2013 at 4:09 pm  Blogs/Media, Chivas USA, MLS
Jun 062013



chivasusa fans1 300x225 Know Your MLS Teams: Chivas U.S.A.

Founded: 2003

Where they Finished Last Season: 7-18-9 (Did Not Make the Playoffs)

Pedigree: First place in the Western Conference, 2007.

Rivals: Los Angeles Galaxy

Supporters: The Union Ultras, Black Army 1850

Coach: Jose Luis Real (Just took over for Jose Luis Sanchez Sola)

Top Returning Players: GK Dan Kennedy, DEF Bobby Burling, DEF Jorge Villafana,

Key Additions: MF Steve Purdy (Free Transfer,) MF Gabriel Farfan (New England Revolution,) MF Edgar Mejia (Loan- C.D. Guadalajara,) MF Carlos Alvarez (MLS SuperDraft,) FWD Julio Morales (Loan- C.D. Guadalajara.)

Key Departures: DEF James Riley (D.C. United,) MF Shalrie Joseph (Seattle Sounders,) MF Ben Zemanski (Portland Timbers,) FWD Alejandro Moreno (Retired,) FWD Juan Agudelo (New England Revolution.)

Young Player to Watch: Mejia


The point of this series has never been to talk down to any team. There are far too many people in the United States and the world, so-called “sports fans,” who will take anything negative that happens in football and MLS and spin it into their own narrative. The fans of MLS are some of the most loyal, knowledgeable fans in all of professional football, and they do not deserve to be treated like garbage. The whole point of this series is to articulate the positives and negatives of each team, to try and understand their club’s strategy, and to see where they are going with the direction of their franchise. For some teams it is pretty easy. For Chivas USA it is not. With the recent firing of Jose Luis Sanchez Sola, it is time to take a critical look at this club and try and figure out a path out of its current despair.

If you consider yourself a U.S. Soccer and MLS fan and have never heard about Chivas USA, you are not alone. Their actual name is not Chivas USA, but rather Club Deportivo Chivas USA. The team was originally founded 2004 and acts as a feeder club to Mexican League giant Club Deportivo Guadalajara. And no the team does not play in Mexico, but rather in the suburbs of Los Angeles sharing  StubHub stadium with Los Angeles Galaxy. While Los Angeles Galaxy has flourished winning numerous MLS Cups, developed a strong fanbase, and securing a large television contract with the Los Angeles Lakers, Chivas plays in relative anonymity with no television deal, a sparse fanbase, and no real direction for the club.

The original idea behind having C.D. Guadalajara buy an MLS squad was not a terrible idea. MLS has always had great difficulties in breaking in to the Hispanic market. With more and more people coming in from Guatemala, Honduras, and of course Mexico every year there is certainly a market for soccer in this country. I have seen that MLS has been able to break through to different Latin American nationalities by bringing in local stars on their teams. There are still some Salvadorean neighborhoods in Washington D.C. that consider Raul Diaz Arce a soccer god. So the idea of a team that caters to Mexican-American soccer fans is not a terrible one.

The main difference between previous smaller efforts that the league tried with Latin American fanbases and Chivas USA is that the league worked with nationalities and countries, not with specific teams. This was a very poor judgment by the league. Not all Mexican- American soccer fans like C.D. Guadalajara. In fact, many fans hate C.D. Guadalajara. “I’ve said this before, the name ‘Chivas’ has done more to divide fans than to unite them. That’s what I’ve learned from years of ownership futility,” said John “ELAC” Sandate Chivas USA fan and presenter on podcasts such as What the Flock, Chivas USA podcast  and Around the League, both of which can be found on the Champions Soccer Radio Network.

“In theory, we should have galvanized all Latinos since 2005. It really is a tragedy. Today, it all seems trite and fake.”  If you are a Monterrey fan or a Tigres fan and you are caught wearing the red and white of Chivas, you are going to be in trouble. Soccer is not a pastime in Mexico. It is life. And for MLS to think that all Mexican soccer fans would just drop their allegiances and support Chivas USA because they are a Mexican team is a foolish decision, and brings up some serious questions on what MLS thinks about their Latino fans.

One thing to note here, and it is fundamental to understanding Chivas’ current tailspin, is that their parent club has never had a non-Mexican player play on its team. There are only Mexican players in their youth academy, Mexican coaches, and an all Mexican starting eleven. So it should surprise no one that in 2012 and 2013, Chivas USA ownership slowly started to remove players who are not Mexican or of Mexican origin. It would also be important to note that the club is being sued by two former coaches for allegedly being fired for not being able to speak Spanish. While I am not going to go into much detail about these allegations because we do not know if they are true or not, it is just another blemish on this team and only further hurts the club’s image.

While the club had some difficulties early on, trying to employ the same system as their parent club, around 2005 their fortune started to change. From 2005 to 2009, Chivas USA was one of the top clubs in MLS. During this stretch, Chivas finished first in the Western Conference in 2007, made the playoffs in four successive seasons, and featured the likes of Brad Guzan, Jesse Marsch, Ante Razov, Sacha Kljestian, and Jonathan Bornstein. Chivas was also the launching pad that Bob Bradley used to coach the United States Men’s National Team. But the club started to flounder again as Guzan, Kljestian, and Bornstein all left for Europe and the club’s CEO Shawn Hunter stepped down. In his place, C.D. Guadalajara majority owner Jorge Vergara took over and the club’s true downfall began.

The unfortunate part of the plan is that it has left the team absolutely bare. It would be one thing if Chivas management was bringing over top class young talent or veteran players who are looking to get back into form. They are not. Most of the players coming in are players like Martin Ponce and Giovanni Casillas, players who may end up being good utility players but who are projects. I am going to save my wrath for Edgar da Luna later. When your team gets rid of quality players like Shalrie Joseph, Juan Pablo Angel, Juan Agudelo, James Riley, and Casey Townsend and you replace them with kids, then you are facing disaster. Chivas may not have been able to predict that Alejandro Moreno would be retiring, but that is no excuse for their lack of mismanagement. If Chivas thinks firing Chelis will change anything, they are sorely mistaken. Coaches need players.

With the cupboards bare, it is no coincidence that this team cannot compete in the Western Conference. Well they could until they traded Agudelo for allocation money. While I would hate to say that one player makes the difference, if you watch the New England Revolution match from earlier this year and the Seattle match from last weekend it feels like you are watching two different teams.  They cannot defend, they cannot score, and they have little to no chemistry. They have not had a single shutout this season, have only scored 13 goals, and have not won a game since March the 30th. It seems like Chivas’ problems stem from two things: one, they do not know very much about the style of play of MLS and two, they do not care.

From a defensive standpoint, they at least have a quality goalkeeper in Dan Kennedy. Kennedy, the nine year MLS veteran who has also spent some time in Chile with Municipal Iquique, has kept this team in most of their games this year. He has absolutely phenomenal vision, and seems to have a good understanding of his team’s defense. I think he also understands how young and inexperienced this team is and the need to educate his defenders and not yell at them.

Perhaps some teams would use their greatest strength in Kennedy to smart, compact defense and take their chances on offense on counter-attacks. That is not the method of their coach Chelis and C.D. Guadalajara. Chelis normally employed three backs and liked to bring defenders up on the attack. Unfortunately, with a defense that has 19 and 20 year olds and opposition that employs Robbie Keane, Obafemi Martins, Blas Perez, and Nigel Rio-Coker among others that is not a wise solution. This also makes the team very susceptible to chip shots, such as the goal that Seattle scored on them this past weekend. Also Mario de Luna’s own goal was the second worst own goal I have ever seen (which was somehow bested by the German goalkeeper’s in the USA-Germany match this weekend.)

If this team is to make anything out of this season, and not be bought out or folded, then there has to be some changes. Fortunately, there are some pieces on this squad to build around. Oddly enough after last season’s purge of non-Mexicans and influx of Mexican league-based players, their best addition did not actually come from C.D. Guadalajara. Joaquin Velasquez, who was picked up this offseason from Puebla, has been a godsend for a team needing veteran leadership in their backline and for a little bit of firepower from the defense. At 37, he is no spring chicken. But that is not what this club needs. They need leadership and someone to be able provide those short decisive passes to players who can drive the ball twenty-thirty yards down the field. I could also see Walter Vilchez getting more time as the season goes along.

I am really interested to see how his influence can rub off on a player like Jorge Mejia, who was shooting some rockets in the Chicago Fire earlier this year, but has been exposed on the counter-attack. I also like the raw talent and power of Jose Erick Coreia. The Colombian is a strong forward who was pushing around the Seattle defense for most of the game. He has to work on his finishing touch though.  He had multiple chances in the Seattle match, but just could not convert. I am also intrigued by their first round pick in the MLS Superdraft, Carlos Alvarez. Chivas has a very poor history with the draft, but it apeears that they may luck with Alvarez. He is a strong midfielder who has shown an ability to expand the field with his passing.

The real crux of the issue with this team is the image. It cannot be a team that is solely for the C.D. Guadalajara fans. There are not enough C.D. Guadalajara fans in Los Angeles and enough MLS fans that want to be treated like second class citizens to root for this team under its current marketing. Mr. Vergara needs to go. Even if the allegations of discrimination are proven to be unfounded, the self-destruction that he has willingly imposed on this team is a disgrace to football, to Major League Soccer, and most importantly the Chivas USA fans.

There is a market for a second Major League Soccer team in Los Angeles, and there is certainly one for a team that caters to the Latin American audience.  While the Galaxy are a great team, I am sure that there are plenty of hard working people in Los Angeles who want nothing to do with superstars. That is the nature of this game. For every River Plate fan, there is a Boca Juniors fan. For every Newcastle supporter there is a Sunderland douchebag. Local rivalries are built up because of economic and social differences. Los Angeles is large enough to support two quality teams.

While I always like to believe that every team has a chance to make the playoffs, I unfortunately do not see it in this team’s plans. I do see a team with a ton of heart, and with players like Kennedy, Velasquez, Steve Purdy, and Number Two Overall pick in this year’s MLS Super Draft Carlos Alvarez you get the feeling that this team will scrap in every game. But the Western Conference is just too strong and their Management is just a mess. My hope is that by the end of this year that this team will be on the rise and that the next time Jorge Villafana scores a goal, there will be somebody behind the goal to cheer for him.

Beer of Choice

Blue Moon Agave Nectar Ale, Blue Moon Brewing Company

“It’s crisp, refreshing, and smooth. All the things that Chivas USA is not. “

-          ELAC, Chivas USA Supporter and What the Flock, Chivas USA podcast  Presenter

Nov 302012

Brian Sanders (@sportingkcgft) and Chris ‘UZ’ White (@uzworm) of preview the rematch of MLS Cup 2011 in this fun filled audio adventure.

Click here to listen

Nov 202012

I’m a 24 year old, American born soccer fan.

I was going to Columbus Crew games long before David Beckham joined the Los Angeles Galaxy in 2007. I would have continued going to said Crew games regardless of whether or not “Becks” was playing in the US.

During his time in MLS, Beckham often put his own personal desires ahead of his responsibilities to his employer. He routinely sat out games because he didn’t feel like travelling or because his ankle was a little sore. He missed more games in Columbus than he showed up for and the same could be said for America’s smaller markets that are home to MLS teams. He even missed time in MLS because he thought he could make his way back into the English national team by playing for AC Milan. Ultimately he got himself injured during his time spent on loan in Italy. Between injuries and European loans Beckham average just 17 games played each season. Shocking when you consider an MLS regular season is usually right around 32-34 games (depending on how many teams were in the league at the time).

But there is one thing David Beckham did accomplish during his in time in MLS: he got people out to the games.

I managed to bring my college roommate (who hails from Pittsburgh) out to Beckham’s only match in Columbus. Said roommate joined me again for the following season’s opening game against Toronto. I believe it’s merely a coincidence that the Pacific Northwest clubs (Seattle, Portland, Vancouver) came into the league during Beckham’s tenure. What is NOT coincidence is the rise in MLS attendance numbers (on average) since Beckham’s arrival. Before David Beckham people had no reason to try soccer. There was no motivation for them to go out and see what it’s like to attend a soccer match. But Beckham gave them a reason to get in the car and drive to the stadium. And once they were there, many of those first time fans realized how much fun a soccer match is. And after that they started coming back.

Beckham was never necessary for the aforementioned Pacific Northwest clubs. He wasn’t even necessary for Toronto FC; the club that ultimately introduced MLS fans to the “Supporters Culture”. But he was necessary for teams like Columbus as well as Colorado, Kansas City, Dallas, New England. I spent a quarter of the 2012 MLS season working in ticket sales for FC Dallas. Los Angeles was the only game where I was an order taker instead of a sales rep. People actually called in asking for tickets to the game against the Galaxy; and it was to see Landon Donovan or Juninho. They wanted to see Beckham. While that job never really worked out for me, Dallas saw an increase in attendance during the second half of the season. Consider it a small scale example of what happened to the league as a whole from 2007-2012.

So maybe David Beckham never really cared all that much about MLS or the Los Angeles Galaxy; although to his credit he had a fantastic 2011 season en route to an MLS Cup title. He flew around the world at will, regardless of what LA’s schedule looked like. He hurt himself trying to make a comeback in Italy. He didn’t care, but sports fans in America did. All they needed was a little nudge out the door and Beckham gave them just that. Granted, there will always be those fans who only came out to see “Becks”. But those fans were never going to put a dent in the attendance figures long term.

But for fans like my college roommate, Beckham got them in the door. After that they were hooked, whether he was there or not. Whether Beckham wins another MLS Cup title or not (and whether or not he cares) he can ride off into the sunset knowing he did make at least one lasting contribution to the league he always seemed so nonchalant towards.


Emotional Evening Ends With 1-1 Draw

 Posted by on August 16, 2012 at 6:03 am  Columbus Crew, MLS
Aug 162012

Thursday, August 16, 2012

By: David Burgin

 Emotional Evening Ends With 1 1 Draw

Tributes for Kirk Urso could be seen in every conceivable shape and size last night. From banners with the number 15 to jerseys and flags, the Columbus Crew rookie, who tragically passed last week, was as much a part of The Black and Gold’s match against the Galaxy as anyone in attendance or playing on the field.


Songs, bagpipes, and even a moment of silence during the 15th minute accompanied the tributes throughout Crew Stadium. Perhaps, and only perhaps, the greatest tribute occurred when the opening whistle sounded. Only then did the part of Kirk we all share grace the field.


The game which took place tonight, one initially dominated by LA and then taken over by The Crew, was perfect. Not because it was of high standard. Not because professionals strove for victory. Not because The Crew opened the scoring through Jairo Arrieta. Not because Andy Gruenebaum once again proved he is one of the top five goalies in Major League Soccer.  No, the game which took place tonight was perfect, because it was a game, simply… a game.


And so, I add my own tribute below and dedicate it to Brian and Brian; two soccer playing teens taken much too early, but always and forever a part of the beautiful game, me and each of us who dares to touch the dream.


The ball rolls

We crawl

On hands

On knees

To touch the dream

The ball rolls

We fall

Then get

Back up

To touch the dream

The ball rolls

We run

Fast as

The wind

To touch the dream

The ball rolls

We shine

Bright soul

Bold gift

To touch the dream

The ball rolls

We slow

In body

Not mind

To touch the dream

The ball rolls

We stumble

Laugh loud

And true

To touch the dream

The ball rolls

We watch

With friends

With child

To touch the dream

The ball rolls

We cry

Think dream

Not won

Deceitful lie 

The ball rolls

And we



Create the dream

The ball rolls

And we

Who strive

To touch

Join all before

The ball rolls

And we

Merge self

And dream

Small piece by piece

The ball rolls

And we

Who ache

To shine

Become the dream

The ball rolls

And we

Who are

The dream

Forever live






A Wednesday Evening Soccer Celebration!

 Posted by on August 15, 2012 at 4:46 pm  Columbus Crew, MLS
Aug 152012

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

By: David Burgin

Every game of soccer, or football, is a celebration. Whether taking place in the grandest of stadium, on a school field, or in the park with trashcans for goals, when the booted, sneakered and barefooted amongst us meet with like minded celebrants, life sighs happily. Tonight’s match between The Black and Gold and LA should find the players on the field, and all in attendance, intimately united with the long sigh which begins when the whistle sounds and the ball rolls.

Tonight there will be thousands in the stands, and they will be watching twelve starters, boots laced up, wearing The Columbus Crew colors. The twelfth man will sprint from end line to end line. He will cover the ground between the west stands and the east stands as if breathing from the energy created by every person in attendance.

When that twelfth man first kicked a ball he unwittingly became part of the infinite sigh. He became part of a group without a leader. He became part of a group which meets millions of times a day all over the world. He became part of a group with only one goal; grab hold of the intimate, uniting sigh and pour every drop of creativity, energy and love swirling within us into the sigh.

When that twelfth man first kicked a ball he forever found a place in the hearts of those who played before him, those who played with him and those, not yet born, who will play long into the infinite sigh. For within the sigh reside all who have willingly immersed their soul in soccer’s whisper.

The Columbus Crew host the Los Angeles Galaxy tonight. Kick-off is scheduled for 7pm. The game will be broadcast on Major League Soccer’s newest affiliate, NBC Sports Network.

The Crew still have it all to do…