Rising Unsteadily On Wobbly Legs

Okay, I have a blog back up and running. Now I have to figure out how to get all the old posts and comments into this new format. Anybody who can help with that, please let me know. Else we’re going to be starting from scratch, and I’m not sure I want to do that. Thanks.

Actually, I Don’t Hate It

St Louis Athletica logo 

The name of St. Louis’ new Women’s Professional Soccer team is actually growing on me, the more I hear it. Athletica.

Different, but really different. Not corny, not comical, not trendy or cartoonish. Kind of Hellenic, which makes sense in a way.

I kinda like it.

I think this gives us the seven names for seven teams for 2009:

  • Boston Breakers: Holdover name from WUSA (and, before that, the USFL if you can remember back 25 years). Nothing wrong with that name.
  • FC Gold Pride: We’ve been over this. Not a great choice.
  • Chicago Red Stars: Probably the best overall name in the league in terms of city relevance and gender neutrality. Color scheme and uniforms should be really sharp.
  • Los Angeles Sol: Makes sense on a lot of levels, even if it’s not particularly inspired or original.
  • Sky Blue FC: You’re going to have to tell everybody this is the New York/New Jersey team every time you mention them. Which might be a good enough reason to call this a poor naming choice.
  • St. Louis Athletica: As mentioned, I kinda like this one.
  • Washington Freedom: Another holdover from WUSA, one that makes sense, too. Though the whole DC “cradle of democracy and revolution” motif has been done to death sports-wise.

So they have seven teams with seven names and seven venues (I don’t know how many coaches have been hired – so sue me), five months or so from launch. Now comes the hard part, as we all know.

Had WPS launched in a normal economy, I’d have been much more optimistic about its chances. I think the painful lessons learned by WUSA have been taken to heart and I doubt WPS would have been the economic bloodbath that WUSA was under normal circumstances.

As we also all know, these are not normal circumstances. Corporate sponsorships (one of the things that doomed WUSA) are going to be a battle for everybody in sports. I’ve had one club exec tell me that the fact that some companies can no longer afford to be big sponsors with their local NFL or MLB teams could be a boon to the more affordable WPS, and here’s hoping that’s true.

Talent-wise, WPS will suffer a bit from a lack of the Golden Girls (who are largely all gone now – can you believe next summer it will be ten years since that day in the Rose Bowl?) from a name-player standpoint, but that could be good from an economic standpoint. The player costs being mentioned are much more reasonable.

And, hey, unless I missed something, WPS will be single-table! Which, as we all know, practically guarantees success!

Ratings Game

USA Today’s Michael Hiestand reports that the overnight rating for MLS Cup was a 0.7*, which is pretty much what the overnight has been for the last few years, if memory serves. It’s also fitting because Heistand trots out his same old “soccer is the sport of the future – and always will be” laugh riot one-liner that he’s used for the last several years.

The final national rating usually settles around 0.8. I don’t know if Columbus’ small market size turned the rest of America off or how much lift they get from having New York in the game, because New Yorkers, by and large, don’t care about the Red Bulls. So I figure it’s more of the same.

Until we get the final national rating, here’s what I have on MLS Cups from the past. I never did find final national numbers for last year’s game. If you’ve got them, or can fill in any of the blanks below, please let me know.

Year Date Site Teams Time Rtg Sh TVHH
1996 10/20 Foxboro LA vs. DC 3:30pm 1.4 1,330,000
1997 10/26 Washington COL vs. DC 3:30pm 1.4 1,358,000
1998 10/25 Pasadena CHI vs. DC 3:30pm 1.0 2 ——–
1999 11/21 Foxboro LA vs. DC 1:30pm 0.7 2 ——–
2000 10/15 Washington CHI vs. KC 1:30pm 0.7 2 ——–
2001 10/21 CLB SJ vs. LA 12:30pm 1.0 1,031,000
2002 10/20 Foxboro NE vs. LA 1:30pm 0.8 845,000
2003 11/23 Carson CHI vs. SJ 3:30pm 0.6 702,000
2004 11/14 Carson DC vs. KC 3:30pm 0.8 2 840,000

2005 11/13 Frisco LA vs. NE 3:30pm 0.8 2 854,000
2006 11/12 Frisco HOU vs. NE 3:30pm 0.8 2 946,000
2007 11/18 Washington HOU vs. NE 12:00pm      
2008 11/23 Carson CLB vs. NY 3:30pm    

*They don’t give their weekend overnight ratings page a dedicated .html file, so if you read this next week, you won’t see the MLS Cup information referenced there. For posterity, here’s what Hiestand said:

“For anything to draw less than 1% of U.S. TV households on a broadcast network in a time slot when lots of people are watching is almost impossible. Especially given all the viewers who fall asleep but are still counted because their TV sets are still on and viewers counted from household pets accidentally hitting remote controls.

But Major League Soccer somehow overcomes those long odds. The 0.7 overnight rating for Sunday’s championship game on ABC likely will translate into a national rating that will keep the streak alive: MLS’ title game hasn’t drawn 1% of households since 1997. That suggests there are limits to ABC/ESPN’s vaunted hype machine, and confirms this trend remains intact: As a spectator sport in America, soccer is the sport of the future — and always will be. — Michael Hiestand”

Two Notes On The Passing Of The MLS Reserve League

1) Colorado was your all-time overall champion, nicking Kansas City in terms of points per game (the Wizards played one more reserve game over four years than the Rapids):

Colorado 44 25 11 8 83 89 61 28 1.89
Kansas City 45 25 12 8 83 92 63 29 1.84
Houston 33 17 12 4 55 66 50 16 1.67
DC United 45 22 16 7 73 81 64 17 1.62
Salt Lake 46 21 18 7 70 100 94 6 1.52
San Jose 19 8 8 3 27 32 32 0 1.42
New York 42 17 18 7 58 58 70 -12 1.38
Dallas 45 16 17 12 60 74 76 -2 1.33
Toronto 21 8 9 4 28 25 37 -12 1.33
Chicago 43 15 19 9 54 73 75 -2 1.26
Chivas USA 42 14 19 9 51 70 81 -11 1.21
Columbus 43 14 22 7 49 59 71 -12 1.14
New England 45 13 20 12 51 61 78 -17 1.13
Los Angeles 43 10 24 9 39 61 93 -32 0.91

2) Near as I can tell (MLSNet.com doesn’t even have updated stats), the leading goal-scorer in reserve league history was Chris Wondolowski of San Jose/Houston, with 31. MLS minutes played this past season, after he’d spent all that time “developing” in the Reserve League: 125.

See ya. Won’t miss ya.

Men Of Steel

Construction worker out my window 

There’s a big office building going up right across the street from my office. Right out my office window, in fact.

When I started working here, I had a great view of the north Valley. Now, not so much. When the new building is completed, I’ll have a great view of….an office building.

Office building being built

So…Crisis Averted, Right?

Columbus Crew wins MLS Cup courtesy Andy Mead of Yellow Card Journalism

We’re good now, right? New York didn’t win, the world is still on its axis? The team with the best record in the regular season actually went through the byzantine playoff structure so many decry and turned in an emphatic performance in winning MLS Cup 2008? Whew. That’s a relief.

(On a side note – Shawn Mitchell covers the Crew all season long and has to watch as Michael Arace gets to write the front-page, above-the-fold story in the paper the next day? WTF? Then again, Mitchell’s story had perhaps the single lamest lead in the history of newspapering. Not exactly “Outlined against a blue-gray October sky” stuff, is it?)

The game was better than some finals, not as good as some others, but representative of the two teams and the league. New York kept it interesting and for two minutes there was some genuine doubt as to the outcome, but then Chad Marshall scored on a header that a bigger, more experienced keeper might have kept off his noggin in the first place and that was that. Thirteen years and counting for New York, and if the Five Boroughs ever do get a team of their own, it might win a title before the MetroBulls. (But, hey, the Post actually covered the game!)

Continue reading So…Crisis Averted, Right?

Cup Day!

Somehow I don’t get the feeling it’s quite the holiday it is in other countries.

Anyway, I’ll be watching, and here are a few thoughts on that and recent announcements:

  • Columbus should win. They’re the better team. I can’t believe New York has all of a sudden discovered how to play the game when a month ago they were horrendous. That said, it’s a round ball that bounces funny and people tend to get tight in a final. If Columbus scores first, I think they’ll be okay. Crew 2, New York 0.
  • So the reserve league is no more? Well, that saves me from the offseason project of seeing how many players the league actually “developed” in four years. My guess is it wasn’t many. For years, we heard so much whining from Europoseurs that we just had to have a reserve league – “Oh, please can we have a reserve league? We’ll be just like Europe then! We promise we’ll feed it and take care of it! Oh, please, oh, please?” Meanwhile, it was “developing” guys like Chris Wondolowski. Yay. Don’t get me wrong – good idea, but MLS doesn’t have the depth to pull it off just yet. They were pulling guys off the street to make up numbers so they could play games each weekend. And did you ever personally attend a reserve league match? Didn’t think so.
  • Hey, they’re going to schedule around World Cup qualifiers next year, too! ARE YOU FREAKING HAPPY NOW? Jesus, another whine goes away. What are these people going to do if they ever get single table?
  • Oh, you’re not getting single table. So there. And the playoffs aren’t going away. Or changing format (much – instead of the top three in each conference being guaranteed berths, it’ll be the top two in each conference and then the next four best records. With everybody playing each other twice + 2 additional games, it hardly seems necessary to even have conferences with that setup.).
  • They have tweaked the qualifying format for the CONCACAF Champions League and SuperLiga. And, in essence, they’ve killed SuperLiga in its crib. Columbus, New York, DC and Houston are going to the CL and Chicago, New England, Kansas City and Chivas USA are going to SuperLiga. Again, yay. Easy to see where the priorities lie, huh? Those of you who whined about SUM taking the money and running – their personal tournament (SuperLiga) is going to be a virtual non-entity next summer. I can’t wait to see who Mexico decides to send.

The game’s in a few hours (ABC, 3:30pm ET). Enjoy.

Don Discord

I’m going to guess that MLS Commissioner Don Garber will take the chance to amend, extend and clarify his comments of yesterday (as reported by Nick Green) in today’s State of the League address.

I’m also guessing that Mr. Green’s piece is a little heavier-handed than it deserves to be, and that Garber’s big point is lost in the rhetoric: the US National Team is terrific in CONCACAF. No question. But it’s not at the level of, say, the top 10-12 teams in the world (however you rank them). Not consistently. Not yet. They can lose a very close game or get a draw or even a win in a favorable circumstance, but, over time, we’re not Italy. We’re not Germany. We’re not France. Not yet.

“Struggling” was a poor choice of words, one I would imagine Garber will admit to today (supposedly US Soccer is not pleased – though maybe this completes the trade that started with Bruce Arena ripping MLS when he was the national team coach – et tu, Bruce?).

Garber’s quote in the aftermath of Arena’s 2006 hissy fit is pretty interesting, though:

“I think it’s ridiculous,” MLS Commissioner Don Garber said. “If I were (Arena), I’d take a deep breath and think about what I say before I criticize anyone in American soccer.”

Mr. Commissioner, you know I love ya, but this right here is what they call a gaffe.

Irony, Thy Name Is Sigi

Sigi Schmid from sportsfrog.comMark Zeigler of the San Diego Union-Tribune has a really good story on the deliciousness of Columbus Crew coach Sigi Schmid returning to LA four years after he was dumped by the Galaxy.

The Crew hadn’t exactly been a model of excellence under Schmid before this year, but there he is, leading his club into MLS Cup while the host team is a month into its offseason.

Since firing Schmid, the Galaxy is 43-58-31 (.443) and they’ve missed the playoffs the last three years after doing the double under Steve Sampson in 2005.

I’m sure it would be sweet vindication for Schmid to win the Cup on the Home Depot Center field.