Friday, July 20, 2012

Seattle Sounders draw world-class crowds

Mike Woitalla of Soccer America writes of how the Seattle Sounders, who lead MLS in attendance for the fourth straight year, has seen it's attendance grow to the point that it now competes among the best clubs and leagues in the world.

The Sounders have led the MLS in attendnace for the past four years, dating back to their inaugural 2009 season, and now average nearly 40,000 fans. To see how Seattle's attendance compares to some major European leagues and for MLS team attendance rankings ...

* After 10 games, the Seattle Sounders are averaging 39,537 fans.

Here's how Seattle's current attendance average would rank in some major European leagues if compared to 2011-12 figures:

3rd in 18-team Dutch Eredivisie (League-wide: 19,516; No. 1, Ajax Amsterdam 50,044; No. 20, Excelsior 3,091).

3rd in 20-team French Ligue 1 (League-wide: 18,665; No. 1, Paris SG 41,921; No. 20, AC Ajaccio 6,918).

4th in 20-team Italian Serie A (League-wide: 23,459; No. 1, AC Milan 51,442; No. 20, Cagliari 9,692).

6th in 20-team Spain La Liga (League-wide: 30,272; No. 1, Barcelona 84,119; No. 20, Getafe 10,736)

8th in 20-team English Premier League (League-wide: 34,601; No. 1, Manchester United 75,387; No. 20, QPR 17,295).

13th in 18-team German Bundesliga (League-wide: 44,294; No. 1, Borussia Dortmund 80,521; No. 18, Freiburg 22,676).

* MLS league-wide attendance this season after 181 games is 18,736. MLS's highest season attendance averages were 17,872 in 2011 and 17,406 in its inaugural season of 1996.

* Seattle has set the all-time MLS attendance record in each of its first three MLS seasons: 2011 -- 38,496; 2010 -- 36,173; 2009 -- 30,897.

Bradley moves to Roma

The Serie A has always been considered the gold standard for tactics, midfield play, and team defending.  Those were all on display as Italy raced on to advance to the Euro 2012 Final, with the vision of Pirlo and grit of DeRossi on display.

That only highlights the significance of Michael Bradley joining DeRossi at Roma, and is a watershed moment for US Soccer.  Bradley is looking forward to proving himself on the highest levels of club soccer.

The 24-year-old American midfielder signed with Serie A side Roma on Sunday after standing out last season at Chievo Verona. It was a move Bradley called a "dream" when speaking to reporters on a conference call two days after the four-year deal move became official.

"To be here now and to have the chance to play for Roma, it's something that means an incredible amount to me," Bradley explained. "To be here at a club with so much tradition, so much passion, so much history, this is what I've always dreamed of. Now that I'm here I'm determined to give everything I have to help make this team and help make this club the best it can be."

One of the intriguing debates of Bradley's move to the Olimpico Stadium is his role. He has played holding midfielder for the past two clubs where he's played, Chievo and Gladbach in Germany. At Roma he will be teamed with De Rossi, one of the top-five players in the world at defensive midfielder, raising concerns of how the two players will mesh.

But Bradley believes he has unique attributes that will benefit him in fitting the squad and is ready for the challenge.

"If you're going to play at the highest possible level, to become the best player you can possible be, then you have to be ready to take these kind of challenges," said Bradley.

"Having the mentality and determination and commitment that says, 'Listen, no matter what, I'm going to go there, I'm going to fight every day, I'm going to show every person there that I'm a guy that has to be on the field in important moments,' that's a challenge."

Bradley also stated that Roma was excited by his work ethic and revealed he could feature more offensively this season.

"Being a midfielder who is in all parts of the game," said Bradley. "In attack, in defense, help win battles, control the game... that's what I'm about as a player."

Bradley last featured on offense for Dutch side Heerenveen, where he scored 16 goals in his final season at the club. In having the opportunity to play in a more advanced role, Bradley should be able to develop into a more complete central midfielder.

This is a massive move for both Bradley and US Soccer.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

American TV ratings soar for Euros

Paul Kennedy of Soccer America reports on the outstanding ratings here in the United States for the 2012 European Championships.

Sunday's Euro 2012 quarterfinal between Italy and England drew the highest rating yet on ESPN: a 2.4 overnight rating. That's an increase of 50 percent from the Spain-Italy game at the same stage four years.

How does the Italy-England overnight rating compare? The rating for ESPN's New York Yankees-Mets game the same evening was only 2.7.

ESPN has enjoyed solid numbers through the tournament. Through the 24 matches in the group stage, ESPN’s live coverage averaged 1,002,000 viewers -- up 82 percent compared to the group stage matches in 2008.

The top 10 metered markets through the group stage include: New York (1.6), Miami-Ft. Lauderdale (1.6), Providence (1.3), Los Angeles (1.2), Washington, DC (1.2), Richmond, Va. (1.1), Atlanta (1.1), San Francisco (1.0), Jacksonville (1.0), and Austin, Texas (1.0).

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Mariner to lead Toronto FC

Paul Mariner has paid his dues as a player and coach, so I was excited to learn on Thursday that Toronto FC announced that Mariner will become the club's seventh head coach in franchise history.

The longtime New England Revolution assistant Mariner now takes the reins, as TFC return to action on June 16 at Sporting Kansas City before playing in Houston against the Dynamo on June 20.

"At the present moment, we've just got to try to change things a little bit," Mariner said. "Only a few minor adjustments need to be made, in my viewpoint. We've got a lot of work to do starting this week. Two very, very big games and very important games. You've just go to wait and see what happens. We're going to get results, it's just that simple."

Mariner was an assistant to head coach Steve Nicol for the Revolution's glory days from 2004-09, helping the Revs to three straight MLS Cup appearances between 2005-07. The Revolution qualified for the postseason every year Mariner was on the bench during his time on the job before he left to manage English Championship side Plymouth Argyle in 2009.

He returned to MLS during Toronto FC's overhaul in January 2011, named to his position as director of player development the same day Winter was named head coach.

"I'm a very modest man, but I've got unbelievable confidence in my own ability," Mariner said. "I know exactly what I'm doing in training this week. I know exactly what the team will be next weekend, barring injuries, I know how we're going to play. It's almost written what's going to occur. … I can't wait to get started."

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Brazil 4, USA 1

Despite the scoreline, the USA showed some encouraging signs in their 4-1 defeat against Brazil in Washington D.C. last night.

Regardless as to how well the USA played against Scotland over the weekend, you knew that they would be under signifcantly more pressure on both sides of the ball versus Brazil.  The same midfield that dominated the game for long stretches against Scotland had challenges being able to grab a hold of the game and dictate tempo.  Saying that, Michael Bradley once again shown positively that he can play a key role as a playmaker and fulcrum in the US midfield.  He continues shows poise in possession, as well as the ability to break things up in midfield.  Jose Torres and Jermaine Jones - two players who were standouts against Scotland - were up against it quite a bit in this match.  Inconsistent performances during the week present that they were maybe not as good as they appeared over the weekend, but also not as poor as they had shown last night.

I wouldn't jump off the US midifield bandwagon just yet - I remember a couple of years ago when the US played Spain in an exhibition and struggled, and a friend criticized how poor Bradley and Co. looked.  I reminded him that they were playing against SPAIN, and that any midfielders would have challenges agains the likes of Xavi, Iniesta and Busquets.  I like what the US offers in midfield, and if Klinsmann can find the right compliments for Bradley, we could have the makings of something special.

Fabian Johnson appears to be a revelation to the US team at left back, and the US have sorely lacked a key contributor in that role for some time.  His ability to bomb down the left flank added combination to a Bradley through ball at the end of the first half, which resulted in a great cross to Hercules Gomez on his goal.

Tim Howard was called on to put out fires on numerous occasions, which is to be expected when playing against the top teams in the world.  US coach Jurgen Klinsmann refered to him as 'one of the top 5 goalkeepers in the world' in pre-game, and performances like last night continues to show why that is the case.

Gomez was a bright spot for the US, and created numerous chances all night.  A poacher in front of the goal at the domestic level in Mexico, he appears to be a perfect vice for Jozy Altidore in the #9 shirt.  He was dangerous throughout the match, and if we can get Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey and Altidore played in as compliments to him, the US attack could be in good shape.

The biggest holes in the US team appear to be in the heart of the defense - Gooch Onyewu really struggled, and Carlos Bocanegra didn't show much better.  I was hoping that Klinsmann would give Geoff Cameron, Michael Parkhurst and Clarence Goodson more of a run to measure them against a top opponent, and hope that we'll see more of that prior to the start of qualifying.

This has been an encouraging week for the US, and hopefully they can build off some of these strong signs as we head into World Cup qualifying.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Houston leads MLS big attendance this week

Mike Woitalla of Soccer America reports on the continued rise of MLS attendance.  After the 12th week, the MLS average of 18,596 is starting to compare favorably with some of the top leagues in the world.

Week 12 featured 13 games that averaged 18,000-plus as Houston sold out its new stadium for the third straight game and Seattle packed them in for a midweek game. For MLS team attendance rankings ...

* The Portland Timbers sold out their 23rd straight game at their Jed-Wen Field -- a 1-1 tie with Vancouver.

* Houston's third game at its new BBVA Compass Stadium, a 2-1 win over defending champ Los Angeles, was a third straight sellout (22,039).

* Seattle drew 38,311 for last Wednesday's 2-0 loss to Columbus.

* Fireworks helped Columbus draw well above its average -- 16,024 for a 2-1 win over Chicago.

* The league-wide attendance after 120 games is 18,596, an increase of 6.4 percent from last year's average of 17,425 after Week 12.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

USA 5, Scotland 1

The US national team gave a thorough beating to Scotland on Saturday in Jacksonville, FL, and despite the match being only an exhibition, US fans came away with a tremendous amount of optimism heading into qualifying for the 2014 World Cup.

Fresh off exhibition victories over Italy and Scotland, the US now take on Brazil on Wednesday before starting qualifying in the CONCACAF region.

A combination of US pressure and warm temperatures had the Scots back on their heels right from the get-go, and before they could blink, the US had scored twice.

Whether you considered the US alignmen a 4-3-3, 4-1-4-1 or the 'Christmas tree' 4-3-2-1, the idea of having versatile midfielders to combine with center forward Terrence Boyd created a lot of movement and combination play that the US were able to exploit.  Landon Donovan and Jose Torres were constantly involved in the attacking third of the field, and Donovan was a one-man strike force as he recorded a hat trick; Michael Bradley scored a scorching blast from 25 yards out for the US 2nd goal; Jermaine Jones shed his destroying midfield role, to put in a performance of a true two-way midfielder - scoring once and setting up two others; Fabian Johnson combined well with Torres, and was able to get forward and penetrate down the US left flank - something that hasn't been seen to regularly or often in previous US teams.

US manager Jurgen Klinsmann will have more key attacking players at his disposal this week for final exhibition tune-ups against Brazil (Wednesday) and Canada (Sunday).  Clint Dempsey recovers from a groin injury and Jozy Altidore joing the squad.