What Can Zlatan Do For You?

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He has over 3.5 million Twitter fans.  He has over 14 million Instagram followers. Before he played his last game with PSG at Parc de Princes, he had this to say:

“I came like a king, left like a legend.”

Amazingly, this statement is quite accurate.  The club president even announced plans to name a stand after him upon his retirement. He is arguably the most interesting man in the world. In soccer, at least.  Oozing of Scandinavian confidence, and scoring goals like there is no tomorrow, the chance of having this publicity machine play on American soil should cause casual soccer fans to rejoice.  But what else could Zlatan moving to the U.S. possibly do to change the game here?

Major League Soccer could finally have it’s own counterpart to LeBron’s coverage on ESPN.  AND to top it off, he’s European.  Okay sure, you may be thinking so what? He has a reputation, a history of being temperamental off-field, an ego the size of Greenland, and his hair is an ever-changing piece of modern art.  Big deal, David Beckham fit most of those criteria and soccer still isn’t America’s favorite sport.  Very true.  But let’s take a look at the stats. David Beckham could kick a set piece like no other, and off the field he was a tabloid sensation.  But in his 6 seasons in MLS, he scored 18 goals, averaging just 3 goals a season.  Zlatan is a different story.  He isn’t just exciting to watch on set pieces.  This past season with PSG in league play, he scored 38 goals in 31 games.  He’s 34 years old.  While many could say MLS has held on to its less than admirable reputation as a retirement league, it’s hard to deny that Zlatan still has the right stuff to be considered one of the best in the world.

He’s played with Barcelona, Inter, Juventus, PSG, and now…Philadelphia? Probably not, especially if the man with an ego has conditions to coming here.  Early reports have reported that he would be coming to the LA Galaxy, as most stars from Europe appear to do, yet the Galaxy’s current stock of talent seems to have reached its limit, financially at least.  The team already has the maximum number of Designated Players allowed, so unless MLS somehow changes the rules to allow the Galaxy to become to American soccer what Glasgow Celtic is to Scotland, it seems another destination could be necessary if Zlatan is still interested in coming to America on the next plane.

How about New York? No, not New York City FC, they have already reached the maximum amount of Designated Players as well with Andrea Pirlo, Frank Lampard, and David Villa filling up plenty of cap space.  There is a team across the river with quite a bit less star power that could use a boost in the standings at the moment.

Yes, the Red Bulls have undergone a thorough restructuring process that most notably involved a philosophy shift from attracting aging European stars to building off of younger, more physical, homegrown talent.  Yes, this shift worked wonders last year as the Red Bulls coasted to a first place regular season finish despite an early exit from the playoffs. However, 11 games into the current season, the Red Bulls sit in 8th place out of 10 teams in the Eastern Conference, scoring a total of 13 goals in those 11 games.  Who has a reputation of scoring an unfathomable amount of goals?

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The next step in the progress of MLS is to get more people to watch games on TV.  This guy is quality television.  Who could possibly be a better draw for soccer ratings in the U.S? Mario Balotelli, maybe.

 

REFERENCES

http://www.espnfc.us/story/2871792/zlatan-ibrahimovic-confirms-paris-saint-germain-exit-this-summer

http://www.espnfc.us/paris-saint-germain/story/2873938/psg-to-honour-zlatan-ibrahimovic-with-parc-des-princes-stand-in-his-name

https://www.theguardian.com/football/blog/2016/may/16/major-league-soccer-zlatan-ibrahimovic-la-galaxy

 

 

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Should MLS expand to Sacramento?

sacramentoDuring a recent fan fest held in Sacramento, MLS Commissioner Don Garber announced that the next round of MLS expansion would most likely occur in the year 2020 after Los Angeles FC, Atlanta United, Minnesota United, and ideally Miami Beckham United, have all entered the league.  One of the biggest potential candidates would have to be the Sacramento Republic which already draws an average of 10,000 fans per game and possibly has the backing to get a new stadium deal completed in time for 2020.  This conversation has happened since before the team started play in 2014.  Don Garber has even called Sacramento “MLS ready” multiple times as evidence of all the pieces it already has in place. But will it become a reality?

As the Republic website states, Sacramento is “committed to bringing MLS” to the region. So far they would seem to be on the right track with a solid supporters group called the Tower Bridge Battalion, a soccer specific stadium named Bonney Field, and the backing of the local government.  The region would have very little competition from other sports as well, with no football, baseball, or hockey franchises to eat into fan interest.  On top of that, Sacramento has consistently high TV ratings for marquee World Cup games compared to other U.S. cities. The team even has a shirt sponsorship deal in place with U.C. Davis Children’s Hospital.

On paper it seems like MLS in Sacramento would be a winning combination. But here are the roadblocks.

  1. The expansion fee.  One could expect the MLS to ask for over $100 million, especially after the record fees paid by NYCFC and Orlando City to join the league.  Money talks, and this could be one of the main reasons Sacramento has been bypassed thus far by cities with less concrete franchise plans in place.
  2. Location.  While the lack of competition in the area could be seen as an advantage, there is also a reason why few other major league sports franchises reside in the area.  There are bigger media markets out there to take advantage of.
  3. Commercial commitment and sponsorships.  This is more of a league-wide issue than a Sacramento issue.  In a recent interview, Garber stated that the “last piece of the puzzle” for the Republic ownership group would be to secure commercial commitment and sponsorship.  If a more lucrative shirt sponsorship can be found, and TV partners as well, Sacramento could be in business quicker than 2020.

Overall, Sacramento Republic FC is in great shape to move up to MLS.  It has the fans, the ownership group, the stadiums, and the can-do spirit necessary to take the next major step.  Sacramento has more pieces in place than Miami at present, and time will tell if the Republic can leapfrog Beckham to earn their fair place in the top tier of American soccer.

 

REFERENCES

  1. http://www.sacrepublicfc.com/community/sacramento-soccer-history/
  2. http://www.sacrepublicfc.com/football-club/built-for-mls-sacramento/
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sacramento_Republic_FC
  4. http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2016/apr/21/st-louis-sacramento-among-leading-mls-expansion-ca/

2016 MLS Predictions

2015-08-05-impact-VS-NY-RedBull-CIMON-225--2The new season is already underway, and with it comes a lot of uncertainty.  Which team will surprise us the most? Can the Portland Timbers repeat their performance in 2015?  Will the LA Galaxy continue their dominance over the league? Will the Seattle Sounders finally win a well deserved title for their passionate fans?   But most importantly,  will the attendance and TV viewership continue to grow?

The most intriguing aspect of this season may be that the league won’t see any form of expansion.  In 2017,  we could see two, maybe even three new teams in Atlanta and Minnesota, possibly LA too, but for the time being, Major League Soccer remains at 20.  Since many other sports have not seen any form of expansion in the past decade, this may not seem like a big deal,  but for a league like MLS that generates a considerable amount of hype every time it grows, this temporary halt in growth could arguably affect the buzz it relies on for ticket sales.  The good news is the decrease will probably be negligible

The last time MLS came out of an expansion season without expanding again the following season was 2013, the year after the Montreal Impact became the league’s 19th franchise.  2012 was a record-setting year for MLS in total attendance with over 6,000,000 fans.  2013 only saw a decrease of 1.1%, but for a league built around growth, any move such as folding a failing franchise (ie. Chivas USA) or building a soccer specific stadium (ie. DC United) needs to be calculated with careful consideration.

But here are a few things we can reasonably expect, with a small margin of error:

Average attendance figures will increase every so slightly from 2015 numbers by the end of the year.  As usual, the first few weeks of MLS action will generate the biggest crowds, but over time attendance will fizzle.

NYCFC vs. NY Red Bulls will be bigger than ever.  The crowds last season were very ample, and combined with increased marketing buzz and better play by the Bronx sophomores rallying around a new coach, this could quickly become a ratings boon for the league almost as big as all three Cascadia rivals across the country.

TV Viewership will remain stagnant or very close to it.  Until MLS figures out a way to draw attention away from the British Premier League,  it will be awhile before American soccer sees its large payday from TV Networks in the same way that the NFL, NBA, MLB, and even the NHL see to a greater extent.

The star power express from overseas will continue to flow in like we saw in 2015.  Building off the buzz created by stars like Sebastian Giovinco, Giovanni Dos Santos,  Andrea Pirlo, Kaka, and Didier Drogba, we are already seeing slightly older stars like Ashley Cole and Antonio Nocerino travelling across the pond in 2016, and there is no reason to believe the trend will stop anytime soon.  The day an abundance of young stars from overseas want to play in the US is the day MLS can finally challenge the European juggernauts in England, Spain, and Germany.

Only time will tell what happens, but for the time being, kick back, relax, and enjoy the new season of soccer in America.

REFERENCES

http://www.mlssoccer.com/post/2015/03/25/expansion-timeline-minnesota-united-becomes-mls-newest-expansion-team

Attendance worries have quietly disappeared for Major League Soccer

http://www.sbnation.com/soccer/2013/10/31/5047982/mls-attendance-2013-report

MLS Cup: How Far Back Is The Futbol Championship from the Football Championship?

MLS-Cup-2015-imageIt’s a question you both want to ask and don’t want to ask at the same time.  Exactly how far back is the MLS Cup from its American football counterpart in terms of popularity? Without a doubt, the gap isn’t even close. But it would be nice to know what you’re up against when you face an upward climb, right?

Continue reading “MLS Cup: How Far Back Is The Futbol Championship from the Football Championship?”

A Fitting End to the NASL Season

2895399918This Sunday, in a college football stadium, repurposed as a lacrosse stadium, temporarily outfitted as a soccer stadium,  the modern iteration of the New York Cosmos raised their second Soccer Bowl trophy in three years.  10,166 fans turned out to the game in Hempstead, NY, a North American Soccer League record for the championship match in its still young existence.  With Spanish legends Raul and Marcos Senna retiring this year, it was a fitting end to the Cosmos’ season.  However, with the loss of both these players, the Cosmos, and the NASL lose a considerable novelty factor.  Can minor league soccer flourish in America?

A player who perhaps stole the show was the Argentine forward Gaston Cellerino who moved to the Cosmos after a respectable career in South America.  On the night, he scored a hat trick, proving to be the difference between the two sides.  The Cosmos have many other players that put in admirable performances not just this game, but all season long like goalkeeper Jimmy Maurer, and leading scorer Leo Fernandes.

While Maurer played in the Chilean Primera division prior to coming to the NASL, Fernandes provides a feel-good story of a local boy turned team hero.  Born in Brazil but raised in Suffolk County, the NASL website reports that Leo played college soccer at Stony Brook,  leading the team in goals and assists before being promoted to the premier league of American soccer, MLS.  In January of 2015 he was signed on loan by the Cosmos, and made a huge difference for his local club, ending the regular season as its leading scorer, even higher than the legendary Raul.  These are the kinds of stories that NASL needs, but in reality we live in a saturated sports landscape filled with football, college football, baseball, basketball, hockey, European soccer, and American soccer.  To expect minor league soccer to succeed is almost an unfair expectation given the circumstances.

In England, the reality of promotion and relegation definitely tempers expectations for lower division sides that stand to make far less money than their Premier League counterparts who also profit from Champions League participation, Europa League participation, and massive television contracts.  In the closed system of American soccer,  this challenge becomes even greater as the teams in the lower divisions have no outside chance of promotion to the majors, especially when the MLS officially decides to end its expansion efforts.

The NASL has many success stories to be proud of.  One only needs to look at the other team playing on Sunday to see an example.  In their second season, the Ottawa Fury averaged around 5,400 fans at TD Place Stadium, over half of its capacity, without the novelty factor of Raul or Marcos Senna.  Another franchise, the Indy Eleven continued to draw large crowds despite failing to make the playoffs, and averaged almost 10,000 fans at their own setup in a university stadium.  Also in attendance at the championship match was Knicks superstar Carmelo Anthony, part of the ownership group that announced earlier this year that a franchise was returning to Puerto Rico.

Even though expectations are not as high as one might expect in MLS, the NASL still aims to be competitive.  The Cosmos have already set to work finding a replacement star for Raul, and are still attempting to rescue an ambitious stadium plan a few miles down the road from their current situation at Hofstra University where they only averaged less than 5,000 fans per game this season.  Unfortunately, the Empire State Development Corporation has shown no sign of interest in the project despite any political and union support that the team generates.  While the championship win definitely strengthens their argument for elite status in the league, a 25,000 seat stadium plan may need to be diminished in order for any movement to take place.

Time will tell if this version of the NASL can succeed in its own right.  If novelty factors like star Europeans choose to go to MLS instead, the NASL might need more reliance on local loyalties and the off-the-wall promotion strategies you can expect to find in other minor league sports to survive.

REFERENCES

http://www.nasl.com/roster/leo-fernandes

NASL Attendance: 2015

 

 

 

When will it end for the USMNT?

jur The word of the season is despair.  After a stunning loss to Jamaica at home and early exit this summer in the CONCACAF Gold Cup, the United States Men’s Soccer Team woes continued into the fall with another shocking defeat in the newly billed “CONCACAF Cup” against rival Mexico in extra time.  Adding insult to injury, the team had another embarrassing home loss in a friendly to Costa Rica a few days later.  Naturally, passionate American fans are calling for Coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s head.  What happened to the magic wonder team that defeated the Netherlands and Germany? 2015 started off with so much promise, but in retrospect it looks like a failure.

Where does the US go from here? Are things so bad that they need to start fearing how a World Cup run is going to end before it starts? Is Klinsmann’s time up? Some questions surrounding the team are easily answered, others not so much.  Having signed Klinsmann to a massive contract after the 2014 World Cup success, short of failing to qualify for 2018 Russia, Klinsmann looks like he is here to stay, good or bad.  From a publicity standpoint this could be beneficial given his media celebrity, but negative given the poor press the team will keep generating if it continues to lose under his regime.

In recent news, former Mexico head coach Miguel Herrera entertained the idea of a move to the USMNT if the call was given to him.  While this is all speculation, it does highlight the uncomfortable fact that the country’s confidence in Klinsmann is increasingly dwindling.  The even more recent U.S. Women’s National Team visit to the White House serves as a reminder of just how far behind the men’s team stands in terms of world power.

When the U.S ended a 40 year drought to qualify for the World Cup in 1990 it was the start of a promising era.  Since that year, the team has qualified for all six subsequent World Cups, and even hosted one in 1994.  The coaching carousel has changed many times in that period with no coach appearing in more than two consecutive World Cups.  Klinsmann would like to be the next coach behind Bruce Arena to accomplish that feat.  But first, he needs his team to qualify for one.  The U.S. missing the 2018 World Cup stands to severely damage all the progress made in American soccer’s popularity and reputation in the past 15 years.  There is faith in this team that reached a high point with Tim Howard’s performance against Belgium last year.  But that faith is hanging by a very small thread.  If Klinsmann’s team does not qualify in 2018, he stands a lot more to lose than just his job.

When Will The U.S. Open Cup Be Taken Seriously?

TUSATSI_7914304_167117624_lowresonight is the U.S. Open Cup, the American equivalent to England’s F.A. Cup, Italy’s Coppa Nazionale, and Spain’s Copa Del Rey. The game is between a team in the thick of an MLS Cup Playoff push, Sporting Kansas City, and a team on the outside looking in, the Philadelphia Union.  If Sporting Kansas City wins this year, it will be their third trophy in four years (U.S Open Cup Champs 2012, and MLS Cup Champs 2013).  If Philadelphia wins tonight, it will be the club’s first piece of hardware in its 6 year history.

This is the 102nd edition of the oldest soccer tournament in the country, and the game will be broadcast on ESPN2 and Univision.  Sporting KC expects a respectable 800 fans to trek to Philadelphia for the game on a Wednesday.  On the flip side, Philadelphia is trying to make up for last year’s loss in the final at the same venue, PPL Park.  The game is a tale of two teams in very different positions, with SKC not only in the playoff hunt, but also at the back end of a very successful rebirth that transformed the once lowly Kansas City Wizards, playing in cavernous Arrowhead Stadium to the very popular Sporting team that plays in the more intimate, often sold-out Sporting Park.  In Philadelphia, while PPL Park has a beautiful view of the Delaware River,  and a passionate fanbase in the Sons of Ben, the team has historically spent very little on star power, leading to a disconnect with fans, but making their second straight U.S. Open Cup Final appearance an impressive feat.

My question is why is this game in the middle of the work week? It’s like American soccer is trying to belittle its own major events.  The Super Bowl is on Sunday for a reason. Everyone is home whether they’re 5, 25, or 75 years old, male or female.  By holding this event at 7 pm in the middle of the week, up against network premieres of many primetime programs, it’s like the U.S. Soccer Federation is asking prospective viewers not to watch.  This mentality needs to change soon, or the U.S. Open Cup will just serve as another example while Premier League soccer gets better ratings in America than American soccer.

REFERENCES

http://www.si.com/planet-futbol/2015/09/29/us-open-cup-final-sporting-kansas-city-vermes-feilhaber

http://www.philadelphiaunion.com/history

http://www.si.com/planet-futbol/2015/09/28/us-open-cup-final-philadelphia-union-sporting-kc

http://www.sportingkc.com/es/image/paulo-nagamura-sporting-kc-vs-philadelphia-union-may-14-2014