Ramblings of a Soccer Junky
Friday, August 20, 2004
You would think a team that won the title twice in three years would have a team in a great financial situation. Unfortunately, not in MLS. Despite winning the MLS Cup in both 2001 and 2003, San Jose has traditionally been an MLS market that has disappointed investors.

There are many reasons San Jose has not done well attendance wise. Everything from the constant change of Investor Groups and Team Management to the Bay Area just not having enough people interested in attending MLS matches. Of course, that stadium is not a great facility but was it not only a couple of years ago that Don Garber was saying it were exactly what MLS needed after they did some renovations?

Sure seems like complete control of all revenues is the MLS business plan these days. Just look at all the additional events held at the HDC. It is a sad trade off, but if that is what it takes to provide good professional soccer in this country, I guess we have no choice.

Here is the problem, whatever the reason; San Jose's attendance has been a disappointment. AEG are not going to support a money pit for long. After all, they did step in and save the club a couple years ago when the previous owners decided to bail.

Now that Chivas have a team in MLS, their arch rivals, Club America, want to do the same. Therefore, AEG offers to offload its money pit to the Mexican Club so they can move the team to Texas.

A group known as Soccer Silicon Valley was formed to make sure AEG did everything possible to keep the team in San Jose. This afternoon, they will hold a rally in Downtown San Jose to show support for the team. Good luck to them. It seem they have 30 days (until the end of the season?) to find a new local owner or a site for a new stadium (free land?) or the team will play in Texas next year regardless of AEG selling to Club America or not.

I have seen in before many times. It is sad that professional sports can do that. Bay Area folk I am sure are aware of how Al Davis cashed in on the Raiders move back to Oakland. Cities now seem to be fighting back. They are now making sure that any new stadium deal is not going to leave them with a huge overdraft.

So why does this have me thinking about Wimbledon? No, not the tennis, the team.

A little history, Wimbledon had been one of England's top non-league (semi-pro) teams for as long as I can remember. They finally are elected to the league and promptly climbed to the top of the league. However, their rapid promotion to the top level of the English game brought problems with their stadium. Seems even in well establish leagues, they have stadiums not suitable for the business needs. So, they packed everything up and moved cross-town to share Selhurst Park with Crystal Palace while looking to improve Plough Lane (their old stadium) or another suitable site.

Things then got crazy and there was even talk about moving the team to Dublin (that's in Ireland, not England for those of you geographically challenged). They eventually decided that the newest city in England was the best place to relocate (Milton Keynes was built on marshlands about 30 years ago). Milton Keynes had no team and is one of the fastest growing cities in the country. They were promptly relegated from the Premiership and started life in a new town at the bottom of the First Division. They now play their matches at the National (field) Hockey Stadium. Numerous improvements and stadium expansion were made to make it suitable for the newly renamed Milton Keynes Dons.

When the move was made official, the fans of Wimbledon decided their old club was not theirs any more. They decided to start their own club, back in Wimbledon. In just a few months, they had managed to put together a new club (AFC Wimbledon) and joined one of the local leagues. Of course, AFC Wimbledon had by far the best support and most money of anyone else in the league and they easily won promotion. The fans have bought the original stadium in Wimbledon and though they no longer see top-level games, they do have their local team back. They are climbing the lower levels of the English Football Pyramid and could be close to the actually league in a few years. Meanwhile, the Milton Keynes team is dropping just as quickly.

So, why does San Jose's situation remind me of Wimbledon? Well, if MLS does not want anything to do with San Jose right now, why don't Quake fans thumb their collective noses at MLS buy requesting that the team name and history (Cleveland Browns) stay in San Jose? Why not an A-League team?

With Soccer Silicon Valley in place, I am sure they could find the money needed for start up costs (the A-League start up costs are a great deal less than buying into MLS). True, the New Quakes would not be able to afford Landon and the other stars. However, you could make an argument that most of the current Quake roster is comprised of former A-League players and MLS cast offs already.

It's not Spartan Stadium but I always thought the field at Santa Clara was decent. Improvements could be easily done there to use at least as a temporary location. It is just as close to downtown San Jose and it is a school with a rich soccer tradition. If done right, the place could be packed for games.

I am not saying that Quake fans should give up hope of keeping the MLS team in the Bay Area, but if the worst happens, there is a decent back-up plan available to keep professional soccer in the Bay and continue the history of the Quakes...Not to mention Open Cup games against LA.

The A-League does not have a salary cap. In theory there is nothing stopping the team, if they have the financal ability, to sign about anyone they can. It seems every spring there are players deciding to play either MLS for next to nothing or A-League for better money. San Jose should be able to build a team that could challege the A-Leagues best right away.

Anyway, it's a thought.

By the way, Milton Keynes Dons are now saying their new stadium does not meet their needs and are looking to have a new one built. Some people are never happy.
Wednesday, August 18, 2004
Color me shocked, but Doug Hamilton pulled the trigger and fired Galaxy head coach, Sigi Schmid. I cannot see Sigi's biggest critics expecting this call to be made now. LA are still top of the league thanks to performances from their nearest rivals worse than we saw at the HDC. So, why now?

From my midfield seat in the Upper Deck at the HDC, something did not look right. This was the fist time in over a month I was able to see the Galaxy live. The team looked like a collection of individuals who would only send the ball down the wing, cross in into the middle and hope for the best. The team was not on the same page at all. Then Kirovski runs straight to the locker room when he was substituted which just seemed strange at the time.

Then, add in the reported bust-up between Suarez and Herzog last week and things start to make since.

Fortunately, my friend Ben Bird connected all the dots for me on The Hitchhikers Guide.

So, you have a coach who led your organization to all of their silverware who seems to have lost control of the team over the last year and a half. What does Doug Hamilton do? He does the right thing and lets Sigi look for another job. It is a lot easier to replace the coach than half the squad right.

There is never a good time to fire a coach (or anyone from any job) regardless of how well the team is performing. It probably would have been easier for Hamilton to replace Sigi at the end of last season. Start fresh, new season and all that. But Hamilton did what I felt was the right thing…He gave a coach who had brought the Club's only success a chance to right things. He was doing that for the first half of the season.

Something must have happened since the last home match. I have no idea what it was though. I guess I will have to wait for Cobi to write his "Tell-All" book on the events-I am still waiting on one about the '98 WC team. But in retrospect, you can see that things just weren't right with the players and they were no longer a team.

If all my assumptions about what happened in anyway correct, Doug Hamilton had no other choice but to make the change he did.

So, now comes the difficult part for Hamilton. He has to find Sigi's replacement. This will not be easy. He is not exactly the most popular person on Victoria Street. He has to bring in a coach that will be able to rebuild a team with eight regular season matches left. If the coach does not perform, it could really hurt things at the turnstiles. It is not like there is a roommate moving into the HDC trying to take away his business or anything.

Much has been made about signing Hong Myung-bo. It has always been accepted by Galaxy fans that Hamilton was more interested in bringing to Korean to LA than Schmid. The coach did not exactly give "Bo" much playing time and the defender was collecting a league maximum salary while watching from the sidelines. You cannot tell me Sigi and Doug did not have a difference of opinion here.

Regardless of each fan's opinion on Schmid, Herzog brought a new dimension to the side. The season started well with him taking over the role Cienfuegos has owned for most of the first 8 seasons of the league. Herzog was widely accepted to have been a purchase Sigi wanted.
So, do we really want Doug Hamilton to be deciding who the best coach for the Galaxy should be?

Well, as long as it is not Steve Sampson. Did I mention I'm waiting for a "Tell-All" book about what really happened during the '98 World Cup?

What? You are kidding. Hamilton seems to think the coach who lost control of the team during the 98 World Cup is going to turn things around in LA.

In true AEG fashion, it now appears the new coach was "waiting in the wings" when the old coach is sacked.

What was looking like a positive move the Hamilton has just proven it is business as usual in the AEG offices. It took less than 2 days to find a replacement. Are we to believe that Hamilton meet with all the best available candidates in that time? Sounds to me like Sampson was already lined-up to take over the reigns before Schmid was replaced.

Okay, so things were not as great at the HDC as they should be. However, while a change seems to have been needed, I just cannot get excited about this one.
Thursday, August 05, 2004
All-Star Fiasco

What is it about the news today that the planned MLS All-Star game against Real Madrid so amusing? Certainly, it could have been a great event for ABC to broadcast. However, I do not think Don Garber and co really thought things through very well. When MLS first announced the match up, it was due to take place in June. With Real Madrid possibly being involved, the date of the match was moved to go up against the ChampionsWorld Series which involved just about every other major team in Europe not in Spain. ChampionsWorld had their schedule set, and ABC only seemed to have one time slot available so MLS vs. Real would go up against Manchester United and Milan. Oops.

Then, a month or so before the scheduled date for the match, Real Madrid decide their preseason tour could make more money be going to Japan. The solution was to have an MLS XI head to Spain to play the match in the famed Bernabeu Stadium. Of course, the fact that it would take star players away from MLS teams during the run up to the playoffs and even cause the Open Cup final to possibly need to be moved didn't effect the decision. No, it was all done to promote the brand regardless of the effect it had on the product.

So, when I read that they (MLS and Real Madrid) decided it would not happen this year, I just had to laugh.

Now, I know a lot of the desire to get a match against Real Madrid stems from the way ChampionsWorld has ignored MLS. I am sure the fact that Manchester United played Club America at the Coliseum in LA last summer rather than a match (possibly against LA Galaxy) at the Home Depot Center as LA GM Doug Hamilton had told Galaxy fans would happen had nothing to do with it.

Here is an idea for Mr. Gerbar, the next time some big Club in Europe wants to sign an MLS player. It has become a common practice these days when smaller lower league teams lose a star to top-level teams to make a friendly part of the deal. Last year Ipswich sold Darrin Ambrose to Newcastle. Part of the deal was that Newcastle would come (with all their stars) to Ipswich for a preseason match before the next season: An added cost of the transfer. Ipswich then had a match against a quality Premiership side and could make a few extra quid at the gate. Everyone wins.

Just think of the possibilities. If MLS had told PSV Eindhoven that in order to sign DaMarcus Beasley, they would have to come over before their 2005-06 season and play friendlies against MLS teams. Of course, they would have to insure that Beasley would have to play in the match against Chicago Fire. At a time when MLS players are more in demand by Europe's best, why not use that approach. True, it may reduce transfer fees, but look what it will bring in return.

As for the All-Star Game, wouldn't the sport in this country be better served if that weekend was instead used as the round of the Open Cup that MLS teams enter? You will open the league to a much larger audience than the ABC broadcast of some marketing run match up. MLS teams playing in various non-MLS markets on a weekend rather than mid-week? Just think of the potential.

Of course, I am sure the brain trust at MLS HQ have already played with those ideas and thrown them out so never mind.
Tuesday, August 03, 2004
The Goats are coming!!!!

So yesterday's announcement can hardly be considered news. But it's official now, Chivas USA will share the HDC with LA Galaxy. Already message board posters have been predicting the demise of the Galaxy. I'm reminded of "Chicken Little."

First thing, Chivas owner, Jorge Vargara, wants to limit the play pool. He wants to use only Spanish speaking players. Chivas (the Mexican version) have developed the largest fan-base in Mexico by only ever having Mexican born players on their squad. This has cost them in terms of Championships over the years as other teams have brought in talented players from Central and South America. But there is no team that is better supported in Mexico. The hope is the do the same here in LA.

Vargara and his people have been branding the team since MLS first announced the intentions of the Chivas expansion team. They have given a segment of the population a team to identify with. This is very different from the Galaxy's, "here's your team, support it" attitude. They've brought in token Mexican players who could care less about the team or the league and it's shown as the massive population of Mexican fans have shown up once and then couldn't be bothered to return.

The thing that I noticed about yesterday's big press conference was how Vargara and crew spoke to the fans rather than the sponsors. Take MLS Commissioner, Don Garber's, State of the League address the other day. Every word he spoke was directed at the media and sponsors. Yeah, their money helps keep the league alive, but why not speak to the fans? When Doug Hamilton held a Press Conference at the end of last season to announce Sigi Schmid would return as the Galaxy coach, he really didn't direct his comments to the fans. However, there's Vargara at the HDC with a large number of Chivas fans talking promising them the new team will win Championships. Hamilton seems more worried about just playing 'attractive soccer' and keep sponsors happy. Here's an idea, take care of the fans so they pack the stadium and the sponsors will find you Mr. Hamilton.

Of course, Galaxy season ticket holders may have noticed that the Galaxy may be taking note. I've been a season ticket hold for a while and for the first time, I've actually been sent a questionnaire asking my opinion on how well things are being run off the pitch.

Well, it's not the end of the world for Galaxy fans. Actually, I'm a believer that competition is good. Now Hamilton and his staff will need to actually pay attention to what their customers (fans) want and quit giving excuses. That's what capitalism is all about.

As for what goes on game wise, well, Chivas USA have already announced that 2 aging Mexican stars will be part of their squad. Galaxy fans only need to remember Jorge Campos, Carlos Hermosillo and Luis Hernandez to see how effective that can be.

It's still too early to predict that "the Sky is falling."
Sunday, August 01, 2004

Maybe it's just me, but for some reason I just couldn't get excited about any of the games on offer this weekend.

Yeah, ABC had the MLS All-Star Game in DC, but so what? Watching a bunch of guys who, for the most part, have never played on the same team together knock the ball around for an hour and a half. Sorry, but for a "showcase" event, I find it very difficult to care.

Of course, I could switch to Fox Sports World and watch some ChampionsWorld Series matches. But while it involves some of the top clubs teams from Europe, it's preseason. As is the case with the biggest clubs these days, most of the players on show are still learning each others names. They are on this trip for two reasons, 1) to start building a team for the upcoming season and most importanly, 2) to make money so they can buy more players who will need time to work into the line-up.

What is really amusing is how MLS chiefs managed to really blunder the All-Star Game. They'd been in talks with Spanish Giant, Real Madrid about coming over and playing against the MLS All-Stars. Real were interested and MLS moved the date of the game back a month (competing with the ChampionsWorld matches) in order to make it possible. The Spanish side then changed their mind and went after a money deal which takes them to Asia and more money than MLS could offer. So, MLS was then left scrambling to set up a second match between MLS vetran sides to make the even more attractive to ticket buyers. Sadly they still only managed to pull 27k at RFK and the "Old Timers" match (which I thought sounded more entertaining) wasn't even on TV.

Perhaps it's time for MLS to rethink their need for an All-Star game in the middle of the season. But they won't.

As for the ChampionsWorld matches...well, they do sell tickets. But stadiums this year haven't been as packed as they were for the events last year. Many ticket buyers in Chicago were upset when Manchester United fielded a line-up of second string players. I was more disappointed when the half-hearted nature both teams played the match with. But it is preseason, what do you expect? However, most of the matches have been somewhat entertaining though there hasn't been anything to really grab my attention. Certainly not interesting enough to pay the ticket prices being asked even if there was a match here in LA.

Thankfully, MLS will resume next week as do the lower divisions in England (c'mon Ipswich!!) so I guess one weekend a year of no decent footie isn't the end of the world.
An American who fell in love with soccer while living in Europe.

Location: Hoosierville, IN, United States
August 2004 / September 2004 / October 2004 / April 2005 / May 2005 / June 2005 / July 2005 / August 2005 / September 2005 / October 2005 / November 2005 / February 2006 / March 2006 / April 2006 / May 2006 / June 2006 / July 2006 / August 2006 / September 2006 / October 2006 / November 2006 / December 2006 / January 2007 / February 2007 / March 2007 / April 2007 / May 2007 / June 2007 / July 2007 / August 2007 / September 2007 / October 2007 /

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