Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Kljestan scores first goal for Anderlecht

Paul Kennedy of Soccer America reports on how Sacha Kljestan scored his first goal for Anderlecht in a UEFA Champions League qualifier.

American Sacha Kljestan needed just seven minutes to score his first goal for Belgian champion Anderlecht in its 3-1 win over Welsh club FC The New Saints in their UEFA Champions League third-round qualifying match.

Anderlecht was the heavy favorite in the first leg at the Racecourse Ground -- built in 1872 -- and put the game away with goals by Kljestan after seven minutes and Jonathan Legear in the 18th minute.
Anderlecht should clinch the series when it concludes next week at the Parc Astrid in Brussels.

Champions League qualifying wraps up next month with the fourth qualifying round. The winners advance to the group phase, while the losers move into the Europa League.
According to Anderlecht estimates, qualifying for the Champions League would be worth $12 million to $15 million in additional revenues and bonuses.

MLS draws rave reviews from Manchester United

Major League Soccer continues to grow as a league, and it's continued development of the standard of play has received rave reviews from Manchester United - and specifically from Sir Alex Ferguson and Ryan Giggs.

United's tour of North America could end on a high note in Houston tonight (Wednesday) when the Reds take on MLS All-Stars at the Reliant Stadium.

A victory for Sir Alex Ferguson's men would not only be historic - the All-Stars, a select team from Major League Soccer, are unbeaten against English visitors - but also hard-fought following improvements to the beautiful game in America.

Sir Alex said: "We look at this as the biggest hurdle of our tour. MLS possibly didn't think they were ready to play us when we came here in 2003 and 2004. But the progress since then is obvious - we realised that in our games in Philadelphia and Kansas City. The organisation and standard of play here has improved."

Ryan Giggs added: "There are a lot of talented players in the All-Stars team so we'll have to be up for it. We expect a challenge - when you play for United, teams are always motivated to beat you. But that's what we're used to and we relish it."

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Ferguson says Bob Bradley can make mark in Europe

Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson has backed United States coach Bob Bradley to make his mark in European soccer and expressed surprise that the American has not been offered a new deal by his country.

Bradley, who led the United States into the second round of the World Cup finals in South Africa where they lost to Ghana, has been linked with English Premier League club Fulham.

"I think he would do well, I like Bob, I like his approach, I think he has a steely determination about him and he goes into a lot of detail in his coaching," Ferguson told reporters.

Top 10 U.S. soccer crowds (2010)

Despite the absence of star players because of post-World Cup vacations, European teams like Manchester United continue to draw big crowds for their friendly matches in the United States. But they are nothing like what Mexico drew for pre-World Cup friendlies (all but one without its European-based stars). Soccer America lists the top 10 U.S. soccer crowds so far this year -

Top 10 U.S. soccer crowds (2010)

1. Mexico vs.
New Zealand
Pasadena, Calif.
(March 3)
Mexico vs.
East Rutherford, N.J.
(May 7)
Mexico vs.
Houston, Texas
(May 13)
Mexico vs.
Charlotte, N.C.
(March 24)
Mexico vs.
Chicago, Ill.
(May 10)
USA vs.
Philadelphia, Pa.
(May 29)
Kansas City Wizards
vs. Man. United
Kansas City, Mo.
(July 25)
Seattle Sounders vs.
Seattle, Wash.
(July 18)
Philadelphia Union
vs. Man. United
Philadelphia, Pa.
(July 21)
Seattle Sounders vs.
Boca Juniors
Seattle, Wash.
(May 26)

'My style suits Mexican Soccer well'

Attack-minded U.S. 2010 World Cup defender Jonathan Bornstein was born and raised in Southern California and remained in the area for college (Cal Poly Pomona and UCLA) and pro ball (Chivas USA). The 25-year-old explains to Soccer America's Mike Woitalla why he's joining Mexico's Tigres UANL following the 2010 MLS season and how his youth experience helped shape his career.

SA: How do you think your style of play will suit the Mexican league?

I think the Mexican league is very technical. For me personally, I think I’ll do well, being an outside defender able to attack. I think my style suits it well. I’m really looking forward to it. SA: It seems that American players such yourself – defenders who are capable of consistently contributing to the attack -- remain too rare. What do you think has made you a successful attacking defender?

I never played fullback until my first professional soccer game. In youth, I played forward. In college, I played forward, central midfield and outside mid. When I got drafted by Chivas USA, [then-]Coach Bob Bradley turned me into a left fullback and I played that position for the first time in my career. I grew up as an attacker and never defended. So I tried as quickly as I could to get my one-on-one defending down, my team defense down, and also kept contributing to the attack, because that’s what I already knew how to do. I think versatility is the huge attribute that elevated me to where I am in my career -- being able to play different positions on a whim during a game. They throw me at forward, they put me at forward, or at center back. I contribute my success to knowing the game and knowing how to play different positions.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Ralston couldn't pass up Dynamo job

Steve Ralston, MLS's all-time assist leader who announced his retirement Tuesday, has joined the Houston Dynamo coaching staff.

"I didn’t want to pass up this opportunity," said Ralston, who played several seasons with Dynamo coach Dominic Kinnear in Tampa, in a telephone interview. "I don't think the situation could be any better, to work with Dom. He was a great teammate in Tampa and his record as a coach speaks for itself."

Ralston replaces assistant coach John Spencer, who left the Dynamo two weeks ago. A top candidate for several MLS head coaching positions the past few years, Spencer is expected to be hired to coach Portland, which joins the league next season.

“All this happened pretty quickly,” said Ralston, who started his MLS career with Tampa in the inaugural 1996 season. “I heard about it from [Revs head coach]
Steve Nicol, because Dom asked him for permission to talk to me. That was just last week, so there wasn’t a lot of time to think about it, but for the last year or so, my body’s been telling me things maybe I didn’t want to hear.”

Ralston suffered a broken fibula near the end of the 2008 season, and last year went down with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. Rather than sign a new MLS contract at a reduced salary, in February he joined up with second-division AC St. Louis in his hometown as player/assistant coach. Financial problems with the club prompted a move back to New England in June, yet a dislocated elbow sidelined him once again.

Ralston, 36, retires as the league’s all-time assist leader (135), some of which he compiled playing with Kinnear in Tampa, which folded after the 2001 season. “It was great to play with him,” laughed Ralston. “He’d always tell me, ‘You go forward, Steve, I’ve got you covered.’

“Some days I wake up and I feel great, and I think I could play three or four more years. Other days I was thinking, “I just hope I can get through this training session.’ Like I said, this past year there were a lot more of those days than good days, and with all the injuries I’ve had, it just seemed like the right time to do something else.”

He joined the Revs in 2002 and that season played in the first of four MLS Cups (also 2005, 2006, 2007), all of which New England lost. “I came in at the same time Stevie did, and to be honest, there was never a day when I didn’t look forward to coming into training,” said Ralston. “I became a better player being here and working under him. All these [coaches] have been a big influence on my career.

“I know I had teammates for a few years but friends for the rest of my life. Jay [Heaps] and Taylor [Twellman] and myself have been through four unforgettable games. Unfortunately there wasn’t the outcome that we had hoped for.”

As negotiations with Houston moved along, he hoped to play one final game for the Revs on Tuesday in the SuperLiga, and announce his retirement afterward. Instead, he sat out the match yet still held a postgame press conference.

“I’m here tonight to let everybody know I’m officially retiring, for real, this time,” he said Tuesday. “Obviously, it wasn’t an easy decision, but I’ll look back with a lot of great memories on being with this organization.”

Ralston holds a U.S. Soccer ‘B’ coaching license and says he plans to take the ‘A’ course as soon as possible. He will meet up with the Dynamo in Columbus for a Saturday match against the Crew to join assistants
Wade Barrett and Tim Hanley on the bench.

“He’s been a fantastic player over the years,” Kinnear said of Ralston in a Dynamo press release. “Being friends with him, we’ve talked soccer a lot, and I have a lot of respect for his views on the game. He’s a person of excellent character, and he’s very honest and loyal, and for me that makes a great addition to the staff.”

Soccer's Steady Growth in the US

The World Cup has come and gone, but its effect on the American sports public is easy to see.

Ken Belson of the New York Times writes of soccer's steady growth in the United States.

Even though the American team had long since left the tournament, more than 24 million fans watched the championship match, between Spain and the Netherlands, on ABC and Univision, a figure more than the average viewership for last year’s World Series games between the Yankees and the Phillies.

Midfielder Landon Donovan became a household name thanks to his on-field exploits for the United States. Americans bought more tickets to World Cup games than fans from any country other than South Africa, and more than half a million fans are expected to see Europe’s best teams play in the United States this summer, including the 44,213 who saw Manchester United beat the host Philadelphia Union, 1-0, on Wednesday at Lincoln Financial Field.

Major League Soccer also got a boost from Thierry Henry, the French striker who signed with the Red Bulls this month. Henry made his debut Thursday, scoring his team’s goal in a 2-1 exhibition loss to Tottenham Hotspur in Harrison, N.J. He is the latest in a string of high-priced, aging superstars to join M.L.S., a list that includes CuauhtĂ©moc Blanco, Freddie Ljungberg and David Beckham.

“Our challenge is how to convert all that interest in the event and sport over all to passionate support for an M.L.S. club,” said Don Garber, the commissioner of the league.

Even the most ardent soccer fans ought to temper their enthusiasm, experts who follow the sport in the United States say. Every four years, the impact of the World Cup has been subtle and sometimes slow to emerge. And though the benefits to M.L.S. are often the easiest to track, the World Cup has also rubbed off on youth soccer players and soccer fans who follow overseas leagues.

“The M.L.S. won’t be the N.F.L. in our lifetime,” said Jeff L’Hote, a consultant to soccer teams and companies interested in working with them. “Maybe it’s not as sexy as some want, but we’ll see steady growth.”

Still, growth is growth. This year, M.L.S. signed two World Cup sponsors — Castrol and Continental Tire — to multiyear, multimillion-dollar league sponsorships. In June, the Aon Corporation, an insurance giant based in Chicago, won the rights to have its name on the shirts of Manchester United, the world’s most recognizable team, for four years.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

England blueprint includes emulating Spain

The English FA, which held talks last week with Coach Fabio Capello in the wake of England's disappointing World Cup showing, announced its rebuilding plan includes calling up a new generation of young England stars, order them to play like Spain, and groom a group of top ex-players into coaching as part of the FA’s post World Cup blueprint.

The FA said Capello’s new generation must be schooled to play soccer with “similar technique, mental alertness and passing ability, combined with goals” of the world champion Spain. Capello is to speed through the “best younger players” into the senior lineup. Adam Johnson, Theo Walcott, Jack Rodwell, Kieron Gibbs and Jordan Henderson are the prime candidates.

The FA also wants Capello to extend his role to developing coaches so that a “group of Englishmen” will be available to consider as the Italian's successor when his contract runs out in two years.

England Managing Director Adrian Bevington said, “We fully understand the fans and the wider public anger and frustration. ... We have a responsibility to put immediate and long term plans in place to give England a genuine chance of success in tournaments to come. ... [FA director of football development] Sir Trevor [Brooking] is working very hard with his counterparts at the Premier League, Football League and all club academy directors to ensure we do develop, share and deliver a long-term plan.

Sir Alex on MLS

Sir Alex Ferguson has watched with interest the rise of Major League Soccer – and now the United boss is predicting a golden era for football across the pond.

Speaking ahead of Wednesday night's friendly against Philadelphia Union, Sir Alex said: "The MLS has improved a lot over the last few years. Fans here are more knowledgeable about soccer now and the MLS is very competitive.

"The form of the national team has helped and there are so many kids playing soccer in America. What we’re seeing is just the start: in 10 years I think soccer will be huge."

FIFA Rulemakers balk again on technology

FIFA President Sepp Blatter said "it would be a nonsense not to reopen the file on goal line technology" after Frank Lampard's shot crossed the German goal line at the 2010 World Cup but was not awarded. However, soccer's rulemakers -- the International Football Association Board (IFAB) - will not discuss goal line technology when it meets Wednesday in Cardiff.

The technical sub-committee of the IFAB has just one item on the agenda: the continuing experiment with additional assistant referees behind the goals as trialled in the Europa League last season.

The earliest date for any debate about goal line technology would be at the next IFAB meeting in October. Any rule-changing decision on goal-line technology would not be taken until IFAB's next annual meeting in March 2011.

The IFAB, which conisists of one representative from each of the four British associations and four from FIFA, rejected the implementation of goal-line technology last March.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Henry's MLS move continues football'ssoccer's US progress

There is no question that soccer in the United States has gained more credibility since the World Cup, both domestically and abroad.

Thierry Henry's move to Major League Soccer to play for the New York Red Bulls only enhances the potential growth for soccer in the United States. Tim Love of BBC Sport writes of the soccer revolution taking place in the United States.

Football is fortunate to have excellent TV exposure in the US. Almost all MLS games are available to watch and the World Cup was a major success for broadcaster ESPN.

ESPN invested more financially in its coverage of the World Cup than any other event in its 30-year history and the viewing figures throughout the tournament were very impressive.

A total of 19.4m people watched the USA's loss to Ghana in the second round of the tournament and 24.3m people watched the final between Spain and the Netherlands.

This is compared to the 22.3m who watched the decisive games in last year's baseball World Series, while ice hockey's Stanley Cup this year pulled in just 8.3m.

"We don't expect a single event and the viewing figures to change the landscape of our game overnight," explains Gulati.

"But the sport has been on a pretty upward trend for a while now. The difference between 1994 (when the US hosted the World Cup) and now is that we have a 16 team league, 10 soccer specific stadiums, soccer on TV and players who the public know about."

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Coaching in Europe would be an intriguing option for Bob Bradley

Steve Davis of Sports Illustrated writes about the potential of Bob Bradley managing at Fulham FC of the English Premier League.

So while it may be tough to follow such a well-respected personality, no one would expect Bradley to take the Premiership by storm. If he could establish a safety-first system (a la the U.S. in South Africa) and keep Fulham swimming in Premiership waters, he would be hailed as an unquestioned success. On the other hand, like plenty of American players in the high-minded world of the English game, Bradley won't receive much benefit of the doubt. Managers make mistakes all the time, of course. But any mistake made by an American manager would be seized upon by the merciless British press, offhandedly blamed on his perceived shallow depth of knowledge or paltry background at the highest level. So the manager's seat, always hot as it is, would be extra spicy with Bradley sitting there.

At least one respected figure in England wouldn't mind seeing Bradley at Craven Cottage. Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp, in a column written for The Sun over the weekend, called the U.S. boss the best manager of the World Cup.

If a few other people are thinking along the same lines, Redknapp could soon be coaching against Bradley.

Bradley a candidate for Fulham Job

The Independent has confirmed that Bob Bradley is on a short list of candidates for the Fulham job.

Switzerland manager Ottmar Hitzfeld and United States boss Bob Bradley are also thought to be on Fulham's wishlist as they look for a manager with proven experience to succeed Hodgson, who guided the Londoners to the Europa League final last year.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Henry Joins Red Bulls

France National Team forward Thierry Henry is now officially a member of the New York Red Bulls. The club announced that Henry has signed a "multi-year" contract and will likely play against Spurs in their July 22nd friendly.

"This marks an exciting new chapter in my career and life," Henry said. "It is an honor to play for the New York Red Bulls. I am fully aware of the team’s history and my sole goal during my time here is to help win the club its first championship. Knowing Red Bull’s significant commitment to soccer locally and internationally, I am confident that my teammates and I will succeed."

Donovan to lead MLS All-Stars

Major League Soccer announced the starting XI for the 2010 All-Star team, and US National team members Landon Donovan and Edson Buddle will lead the MLS All-Stars.

The MLS All-Stars face Manchester United on July 28th at Houston's Reliant Stadium.
The First XI was determined by vote, with fans holding 25% of the total. The remaining 75% was split between players, coaches/GM's, and the media.

GK: Donovan Ricketts (LA Galaxy)
Def: Chad Marshall (Columbus Crew), Omar Gonzalez (Los Angeles Galaxy), Jamison Olave (Real Salt Lake)
Mid: Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Marco Pappa (Chicago Fire), Javier Morales (Real Salt Lake), Dwayne De Rosario (Toronto FC), Guillermo Barros Schelotto (Columbus Crew)
For: Landon Donovan (Los Angeles Galaxy), Edson Buddle (Los Angeles Galaxy)

It will be exciting to see emerging US stars like Omar Gonzalez get the opportunity to measure himself against Manchester United - which could evolve into a coming out party for this potential US international.

US moves up in FIFA Rankings

The United States moved up a spot to 13th in the July 2010 FIFA Rankings released on Wednesday. The US gained 12 points during the rankings period that included the Australia friendly and the World Cup. They are tied with Serbia at 969 points. Mexico dropped seven slots to 24th.

This makes the US winning their group stage in the 2010 FIFA World Cup even more of an accomplishment, knowing that they shared a group with England (ranked #7) and Slovenia (ranked #19).

FIFA World Rankings: July 2010
Spain 1883

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

2010 World Cup Final: The Most Watched Soccer Game In U.S. History

The 2010 World Cup Final set a new record for the most watched soccer game in U.S. history Sunday when 24.3 million people watched the Spain versus Netherlands game on ABC and Univision, according to Nielsen.

Univision drew 8.821 million viewers, while ABC drew 15.45 million viewers according to Nielsen fast-nationals.

The 2010 World Cup set another record in the United States by being the most-viewed World Cup ever on English-language TV. The 64-match World Cup averaged a 2.1 U.S. rating and 3.261 million viewers on ESPN, ESPN2 and ABC, up 31% in ratings and 41% in viewership from 2006 (1.6, 2.316 mil). Average viewing numbers for Univision are not yet available, but in comparison to viewing audiences for other sports, ESPN averaged 4.596 million viewers for the 2010 NBA Playoffs (ABC averaged 10.970 million for its 16-game coverage), and 4.311 million for its coverage of 2009-10 college football bowl games (ABC averaged 22.179 million for its three games).

“The 2010 FIFA World Cup was an overwhelming success for ESPN,” said John Skipper, ESPN executive vice president, content. “We experienced record viewership across multiple platforms, including television, broadband, online and ESPN Audio, and it was evident from the overwhelmingly positive reaction just how much fans were drawn to the spectacle of this global sports event. We are already looking ahead with great anticipation to the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.”

For Univision, this marks the most-viewed World Cup Final ever on the network and the second-most viewed World Cup match – behind Mexico/Argentina on June 27 (9.405 mil). Overall, the World Cup Final match ranks as the third-most viewed for any television program in Univision history.

UPDATE: Univision averaged 2.374 million viewers for coverage of the 2010 FIFA World Cup, up 15% from 2006 and the highest average ever for the World Cup on the network.

How does the TV viewing audience for the 2010 World Cup Final compare to previous records, other countries and other sports? Let’s put this into perspective:

  • The previous record in the United States for the most watched soccer game on television was the 19.4 million viewers who watched the U.S. versus Ghana on the same networks earlier during the 2010 World Cup, followed by the 1994 World Cup Final (staged in the United States), which drew 18.1 million viewers on ABC and Univision. The final of the Women’s World Cup in 1999 between the United States and China drew 18 million on ABC.
  • The 24.3 million viewers marks the fourth-largest audience for any sporting event in 2010 (excludes NFL and primetime Olympic telecasts). Only the USA/Canada Olympic Hockey Gold Medal Game (27.600 mil), Game 7 of the Celtics/Lakers NBA Finals (28.203 mil) and the BCS National Championship Game (30.776 mil) drew more viewers.
  • The combined audience drew more viewers than every single Major League Baseball game since 2004 and every single college basketball game since 1999.
  • In the United Kingdom, an average of 18.4 million viewers watched the 2010 World Cup Final on BBC and ITV combined.
  • Spain registered its highest ever TV audience as 15.6 million — an 85.9% audience share.
  • In Holland 8.5 million viewers — a 90.6% share — watched the game.
  • According to FIFA, a worldwide television audience of more than 700 million people watched the final.

Without a doubt, the 2010 World Cup Final is a landmark moment in the history of soccer in the United States. If anyone doubted whether soccer was growing in popularity in this country, then these are the numbers to prove them wrong.

If the United States had progressed farther in the tournament, one can only imagine how much higher the TV viewing audience would have been. Still, these are incredible numbers and full credit needs to go to ESPN, ABC, Univision and you, the soccer fans, for making the 2010 World Cup the most successful soccer tournament in US history.