5 Questions: MLS Changes | US Soccer Players

By Tony Edwards – San Jose, CA (Jan 5, 2012) US Soccer Players — In Thursday's edition, Tony analyzes the Rapids' coaching choice, the same old news out of Harrison, and midfield options for the Sounders.

Are the Rapids getting everything they want in a coach?

With Colorado yet to make this Denver Post report official, possibly. In previous comments, they've prioritized someone who understands the League, but in Pareja, the Rapids are getting a coach who not only knows the League, but is grounded in youth development and potentially brings a more pleasing style of play.  Colorado has had attendance concerns that predate their MLS Cup win. What's positive about this hire is the Rapids are putting quality of play on the to-do list, maybe giving fans in the region another reason to look at the club.

With Seattle losing Erik Freiburg, what options are Chris Henderson and Sigi Schmidt considering to fill the hole in the middle of the midfield?

Alvaro Fernandez, among others. More than likely, the pair would be  Brad Evans and Osvaldo Alonso, but if either of them can't go, Fernandez might slot inside. When Steve Zakuani gets back, it would be interesting to see if the Sounders try to get all their attacking talent on the field at once.  That's always a risk with the physical style in Major League Soccer.

What is different about the new balls to be used in MLS, Euro 2012, and the Africa Cup of Nations?

Other than the graphics, very little as far as I can tell. And yet the MLS ball (the 'Prime') is supposedly 鈥渋nspired by the Anschutz Trophy,鈥?while the Euros ball is an updated version of the Tango, and the Cup of Nations ball is named after a river.

What's the big news out of the Red Bull camp?

A Swedish defender. Not to go all Paul Gardner on everyone, but Coach Hans Backe's focus on building a physical team seems at odds with the team's marketing. To draw the obvious analogy, Backe isn't exactly putting together a Formula 1 team at Red Bull Arena.

Did the Earthquakes get all the approvals they needed to begin construction on their new stadium?

Yes, but a property owner near the proposed stadium has filed an appeal about noise and fireworks, among other issues, which, at best, will delay progress, at worst, scuttle the project. The earliest the issue can be resolved is the end of January. San Jose has already agreed 鈥渘ot to stage any concerts鈥?as a concession to noise concerns.

Let's look at that agreement not to stage any concerts. There are already numerous concert sheds and arenas here in the Bay Area (in the South Bay in particular you've got the Shoreline Amphitheater and the HP Pavilion), so its not like the market is crying for another venue. Then scheduling also becomes an issue, as every-other Saturday evening in the Spring/Summer/early Fall isn't available. Even in a diverse market, the number of acts that can draw 18,000 to a stadium is limited. Still, it's a nice proactive move by the Quakes.

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What Ever Happened To… Arnie Mausser | US Soccer Players

What Ever Happened To . . . is a new monthly feature on US Soccer Players that attempts to update readers on what has happened to players. coaches and officials of the past who helped shape the game in this country. In our first installment, we catch up with NASL legend and former National Team goalkeeper Arnie Mausser.

By Clemente Lisi 鈥?NEW YORK, NY (Jan 9, 2012) US Soccer Players — Before there was Tim Howard, Brad Friedel, Kasey Keller and even Tony Meola, the US produced a world-class goalkeeper.  The keeper in questions was Arnie Mausser.  A National Team regular throughout the 1980s, Mausser earned 35 caps for the USA 鈥?a number that irks him to this day.

鈥淧robably would have played many more times, but we did not play as many internationals as the team does now,鈥?he explained.  鈥淚 would say that I would have had at least one hundred appearances or caps considering today鈥檚 National Team schedule.  Unfortunately, I never had the chance to participate in the World Cup, which I always dreamed of doing since I was a kid playing soccer.鈥?/p>

Despite that absence in his resume, Mausser, who was inducted in the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 2003, remains a legend.  Now 57, Mausser was an imposing figure in net.  His 6鈥?鈥欌€?frame gave him the look of a NBA player.  His outstretched arms were able to scoop balls with ease and his powerful left foot got the attack going in an instant.

Mausser played in the North American Soccer League for 10 seasons from 1975 to 1984 with eight different teams.  In 1976, Mausser was named the NASL鈥檚 Player of the Year while a member of the Tampa Bay Rowdies.  Some of Mausser鈥檚 greatest memories date back to his time with the Rowdies and Fort Lauderdale Strikers.

鈥淏oth franchises were models for the NASL at the time,鈥?he recalled.  鈥淭ampa did a tremendous job of marketing the team to a city that knew very little about the game. The team was embraced by the media and the city due to their on field success.  Not to mention the 40,000-plus crowds that witnessed the major games the Rowdies played in. On the other hand, the Strikers did a similar marketing campaign and drew crowds of 17,000 people considering they played in a smaller arena not unlike today鈥檚 MLS soccer stadiums.鈥?/p>

These days, Mausser has been as an assistant coach for Florida Atlantic University men鈥檚 team since 2010.  No surprise, he's responsible for coaching goalkeepers. 

鈥淚t was not a decision that was hard for me to make,鈥?he said.  鈥淚 also was on staff with Nova-Southeastern University as well as Lynn University.  I also have coached at Piper High School.  I have a 14- year-old son named Andrew who also plays soccer and was a coach for his team as well.  Teaching goalkeepers was a natural for me.  Playing a total of eighteen years in the professional ranks for teams in the NASL, ASL and MISL makes me uniquely qualified to coach goalkeepers.  I joined FAU because it is my ambition at this time to be a college head soccer coach.  I am pursuing that idea very vigorously at this time.鈥?/p>

For a goalkeeper who played in four of this country鈥檚 leagues before the formation of Major League Soccer, Mausser has a unique perspective on American players and their development.  He said the biggest difference between the original NASL and MLS is the improved quality of American players.

鈥淭he majority of players have come from the college ranks and the coaching there has improved tremendously. The coaching at the youth level has also been improved greatly as well,鈥?he said.  鈥淗aving good coaching early in one鈥檚 soccer career definitely improves the level of play throughout the country.  Another difference is that there is much more television exposure of MLS games and international games now.  That was not happening when the NASL was in existence.鈥?/p>

Mausser, who grew up in Brooklyn, NY, decided on a soccer career after excelling as a youth player.  

鈥淚 was very successful in soccer winning many championships in the league and state tournaments,鈥?he recalled.  鈥淚 was very agile for my size and that was a significant reason for my success in future years.  I usually played against much older opponents as I grew up enhancing my level of play and finally was offered the professional for a team in Rhode Island in the American Soccer League in 1975. The team was called the Rhode Island Oceaneers.  We drew crowds from a large Portuguese population of probably in excess of 10,000 fans.  We won a championship in our first season going undefeated.鈥?/p>

Mausser had such a great season in 1974 that Chelsea came knocking on his door, although he never ended up playing in England.

鈥淎t the time, no or very few foreign players were allowed to play on English clubs,鈥?he said.

Mausser鈥檚 fondest memories are with the National Team.

鈥淢y fondest memories of playing for the US is that I never lost a home match against arch rival Mexico,鈥?he said.  鈥淧laying against Mexico was always a tough task, especially in Mexico.  Many teams that travel to Mexico find this to be true.  I think that the fondest memory that I have was the match in 1976 US versus Mexico in the LA Coliseum with a highly partisan Mexican crowd of about 35,000.  We drew 0-0 and I received rave reviews from the media, saying that I might have given the best performance by a goalkeeper ever.鈥?/p>

Regrets?  Mausser has a few.

鈥淧robably against Costa Rica [in 1985], in which we lost 1-0 in Los Angeles and did not advance to the next round of the 1986 World Cup qualifier.  I came out of my goal to punch the ball away, but did not clear the ball very well and Costa Rica scored,鈥?he said.  鈥淲e had chances to score during the normal play of the game, but came away empty.  I believe that was the last appearance for me with the US National Team.  To leave on such a sour note always bothers me even to this day.鈥?/p>

Clemente Lisi is a New York-based writer. Contact him at: CAL4477@yahoo.com. Follow him on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/ClementeLisi

Soccer Winter Break | US Soccer Players

Corner is a new feature each Monday on US Soccer Players that attempts to breakdown an issue trending in the world of soccer in under 400 words.  Yes, this explanation counts.

Germany's Bundesliga hasn't played a game that counted in the standings since December 18th.  Their season won't resume until January 20th.  For some, this lengthy winter break should be a part of the schedule all over Europe.  It's not just the weather.  As we were reminded by Omar Gonzalez's unfortunately short trip to Turkey last week, Bundesliga clubs use early January for training.  That gives their league a competitive advantage, a chance to integrate new players and work on what went right and what went wrong over the first-half of the season.

The benefit of training camp is a competitive advantage not just for the rest of the Bundesliga schedule, but for those German clubs still alive in European competition.  What they get is time.

Compare that to the English Premier League where over that same period the schedule is packed.  Arsenal – still alive in the Champions League – will play  six times including today's FA Cup game against Leeds.  It's the same number of games for Chelsea, the other Premier League club with Champions League soccer on their schedule. 

Perhaps鈥?perhaps, the case could be made that running a gauntlet of games makes a high level professional team better, but it's a tough one to seriously make.  It certainly wouldn't be stressed by any manager.  It's easy enough to find quotes from elite Premier League managers wondering why their team is expected to compete across multiple competitions with a crowded schedule.  This isn't a new point, but it gets stressed every December into January where some leagues opt for a needed break. 

Serie A resumed play over the weekend after a two and a half week break.  That's not the length of the Bundesliga's but it does have the Italian clubs idle during the same period where Premier League clubs play on a couple of days rest.  Again, it's a competitive advantage for those teams not playing.  This doesn't have to be necessitated by the weather.  It's a realization that contemporary soccer is very different than it was even a couple of decades ago, and time off is a necessity. 

Corner Rating: (1-11 with 11 being a lock that this issue doesn't go away) 11

Last Week's Corner: In our debut, we talked about Manchester City's loss to Sunderland and the push from the English media that City were in crisis. Since then, City shutout Liverpool 3-0 in the Premier League, but lost to Manchester United 3-2 in the FA Cup Third Round.  Dropping out of the FA Cup to their local rival continued the crisis headlines, but in real terms?  City are focused on winning the Premier League and perhaps the Europa League.  It's the Premier League taking precedence, and with City still in 1st-place we stand by our original Corner Rating of 3.

5 Questions: Operating In Major League Soccer | US Soccer Players

By Tony Edwards – San Jose, CA (Jan 10, 2012) US Soccer Players — Tuesday's Five, and Tony considers a big name in CONCACAF coming to MLS, Chicago's latest signing, and coaches who were fired after they won MLS Cup.

Which has been the quietest 'big name' signing by an MLS club this offseason?

How about Dallas signing Panamanian forward Blas Perez. For all the Perez potentially brings as a target forward and physical presence, he's 31 and just now making the adjustment to MLS. While he should be able to handle the physical play, is this a sign Dallas is trying to win this year because Perez is not a signing for the long-term?

So, the Fire signed a midfielder who is going to help their creative play, right?

No, but… Chicago signed 27-year old Colombian midfielder, Rafael Robayo, from CD Los Millionaros in Colombia. Chicago Coach Frank Klopas described the player as 鈥渟izable,鈥?and with an 鈥渆xcellent work rate鈥?and 鈥済ood defensive energy.鈥?We'll forgive the MLS 'coach-speak,' and assume he's an answer as a holding midfielder. Robayo brings with him a track record of success and achievement, on the club level, but is he the guy to help turn those 16 draws last season into wins?  Continuing to make a prophet out of Juan Pablo Angel, New England has also signed two Colombian players.

Four MLS coaches have been fired by the team they won an MLS Cup with (Rongen, Schmid,  Sampson, and Gary Smith), going into the season, what is the likelihood of a fifth name being added to that list?

Not very likely. The candidates are Frank Yallop, Dominic Kinnear, and Bruce Arena (Schmid and Nowak won Cups with other teams). Arena just won MLS Cup and Kinnear just signed a new contract with the Dynamo.  Yallop signed a multi-year deal last summer, and the Earthquakes are likely to be focused on getting their new stadium built unless the bottom really falls out of the team early.

How did MLS respond to concerns about attendance, FIFA dates, and some playoff tickets being a tough sell against baseball, international soccer, gridiron, college gridiron, hockey, basketball, etc?

By extending the total length of the season, of course. Points to the League for reducing the number of games on FIFA dates, but if Kansas City, Philadelphia, or the Red Bulls, say, host MLS Cup on December 1st, we might see MLS debuting the orange version of the 'Prime' ball.  Easy jokes aside, we all understand there is no perfect solution and that MLS is looking to use weekend dates and give its broadcast partners slots that maximize the number of possible viewers. But you're asking players to train starting in January and potentially play until December. You've got at least five months (March-May, September-October) where teams are trying to sell and compete against other non-summer sports, kids being in school, youth soccer, etc.

Say all you want about MLS not going after the youth soccer/family market, but when established teams are struggling to sell out 18,000-seat stadia, there's no market you can afford to pass over.

Which Mexican club, in the Primera, has three Americans playing for it, advertises US tryouts, is relatively close to the Mexico-US border, and yet even its US website doesn't have an 'English Language' button?

Tijuana. With Edgar Castillo, Joe Corona, and Greg Garza all seeing playing time this past weekend in the draw against Morelia, Tijuana's a team to follow in the Clausura.  Add I the threat of relegation, and this is the kind of story that should grab attention.  Then again, if you're looking to draw from the Southern California/Arizona areas, it probably doesn't cost too much extra to have a decent English-language website and maybe make it possible to buy a shirt or a cap.

More Questions:

MLS Changes Points In the Premier League Timbers, Fulham, Rangers, Rapids, Union Preseason, Dome, Cup, Breakout, Gifts

Questions: MLS Fans Turned Players | US Soccer Players

By Tony Edwards – San Jose, CA (Jan 12, 2012) US Soccer Players — In the Thursday edition, Tony looks at how Major League Soccer values the Super Draft, contraction 10 years along, and the kind of enthusiasm from a Crew signing that bodes well for the league.

Where can I get an autographed jersey from the guy with the most yellow cards in any one season in MLS?

Right here, for the Leonel Alvarez fans in the crowd. From the same page, there are a couple of Tampa Bay Mutiny jerseys available to be bid on, which is a reminder that it was 10 years ago Tampa and Miami were contracted. Far from 鈥渟aving MLS,鈥?#0160; as the hyperbolic contraction article headline asks, the contraction left a hole in the league as wide as the South. And for all of MLS' press about stable, innovative ownerships, MLS Cup this year was the Anschutz Cup in more ways than one, again.

In the just-released FIFA Ballon d'Or voting, who did the American voters honor?

Captain Carlos Bocanegra went for Messi, Xavi, and Cristiano Ronaldo, from first to third. US Coach Jurgen Klinsmann went for Messi, Ronaldo, and Diego Forlan, and media voter Paul Kennedy chose Messi, Ronaldo, and Xavi.

How about a feel-good MLS signing to counteract all the cynicism?

"I've always dreamt of this day. To be a professional, to do it with the Columbus Crew, the team I've been going to watch games since I was eight, it's something I couldn't pass up,鈥?said Ben Speas of the University of North Carolina when he signed with the Crew this week as a homegrown player. Speas, who was Soccer America's 2011 College Player of the Year, left UNC early to sign with Columbus.

Salt Lake has been kind of quiet this offseason, what's going on there?

Even the subheadline acknowledges that re-signing Ned Grabavoy was among the first moves of the off-season. With all the changes and injuries in Seattle, and the Galaxy potentially distracted by the Champions League and loss of Juninho, Salt Lake might be favorites in the West.

According to the latest Castrol rankings, who is the highest ranked American abroad?

Unsurprisingly, Clint Dempsey. Let's not overlook strong play from Brad Friedel, Jermaine Jones, and Steve Cherundolo, who all jumped in the rankings. However, highlighting the difficulties of measuring play, Michael Bradley moved up almost a hundred spots from the last rankings, but according to the Index, there are more than 1100 players who rank higher than he does in Europe. In a huge surprise, Lionel Messi, tops the rankings, followed by Mario Gomez.

More Questions:

Operating In Major League Soccer MLS Changes Points In the Premier League Timbers, Fulham, Rangers, Rapids, Union

The Premier League’s Self-Assessment | US Soccer Players

By J Hutcherson – WASHINGTON, DC (Jan 16, 2012) US Soccer Players — Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore’s interview with the Daily Mail’s Martin Samuel has something for almost everyone.  Depending on your constituency, there’s something to confirm a position, challenge a view, or generally set you off.  In retrospect, those running the Premier League might be wondering why their chief executive bothered.  The aftermath is discussion, but not necessarily of the type that flatters the highest level of not just English soccer, but English professional sports. 

For American fans, the knock is obvious.  The American way of sports business isn’t the English way, cross-Atlantic club ownership notwithstanding.  For instance, here’s Scudamore on North American sports, a quote that’s already made the rounds with the expected result:

"I envy America their equality but theirs is an incestuous, contained, domestic world. They have pulled off a trick of putting on a lot of meaningless sport, with nothing to play for, no  promotion and relegation, yet still having people watch. The World Series isn’t really. It’s America and one team from Canada. I wouldn’t swap our global appeal."

Ah, the British and their general annoyance at arrogant North Americans using ‘world’ to describe any championship in which the world isn’t invited.  It’s a fair point when taken in general terms, yet it’s the British normally at the forefront of defending the reputation of Dutch, Korean, and Japanese baseball.  That’s not the important point, it’s the global appeal and use of the word ‘ours.’

Back in the mid-2000’s I went to a sports business conference that had a panel discussion on global appeal of American sports.  Representatives from the traditional North American professional leagues talked about how the ramp-ups for building globally didn’t start even in theory until relatively recently.  The Olympics and national team competitions in hockey weren’t the same as clubs playing clubs under the auspices of the leagues rather than domestic associations.  They were building what sports like soccer could take for granted. 

One of the presenters spoke directly to that point, calling soccer’s broader appeal when random fans in far flung parts of the world identified with small clubs in places they’ve probably never been as a side effect of soccer’s popularity.  While the North American sports were building connections, soccer and its higher profile leagues and clubs were simply taking advantage of the game’s obvious global popularity. 

With that in mind, there’s the argument that the Premier League took advantage of that obvious opportunity, strengthening connections that already existed rather than building them from scratch.  For the Premier League, it’s a nonissue.  Why focus on building what’s already there, instead taking advantage and building up? 

It’s a competition after all, and one soccer almost has to win by default.  The North American sports can make inroads, but soccer is the ultimate insider.  Premier League clubs might congratulate themselves on how well they’ve taken advantage, but those meaningful connections already exists in the minds of the target markets.  They simply had to turn on the tap.  In some of the most significant markets on the planet, North American sports had to establish the water supply. 

Most North American fans know that, along with how lucrative globalization of any brand becomes in continuing growth.  The Premier League – global brand that it is – still has to revert back to the hyper local anytime a club’s actual community demands better, but in the race for mattering across international borders and datelines they’re winning.  It’s not because of the glories of promotion and relegation, but they’re winning.  It’s the why that rankles their North American counterparts, a historical advantage played up for maximum competitive impact. 

Add to that  phrases like "incestuous, contained, domestic world" and "meaningless sport" and critics of the North American model might nod along.  The rest of us are probably wondering what we’re really supposed to be seeing in a mid-table battle in April or May between clubs with nothing to play for.  It’s not like fans of North American pro teams in most markets continue to fill stadiums for bad teams late in the season. 

There’s a pragmatism that might just be starting to show at Premier League level where apparently we’re supposed to ignore the empty seats.  It’s certainly something North American owners of English Premier League clubs would recognize and be in an arguably better position to understand.  It’s also not the story Scudamore, and by extension the Premier League itself, wants to be telling. 

What North American sports have done over the last couple of decades is define sports business in practical terms.  The Premier League and every league of significant size anywhere in the world benefits by paying attention.  That’s true even for the Premier League.

Comments, questions, solutions to problems that have yet to present themselves.  Please, tell me all about it.

More from J Hutcherson:

Watching The SuperDraft Montreal Moves On MLS Figures Out The Schedule The National Team’s New January

MLS Draft Picks | US Soccer Players

Corner is a new feature each Monday on US Soccer Players that attempts to breakdown an issue trending in the world of soccer in under 400 words.  Yes, this explanation counts.

How many viewers began to wonder if there's such a thing as a bad draft pick after watching ESPN2's coverage of the first round of the 2012 Major League Soccer SuperDraft?  All of the players invited to the combine and eventually drafted seem to hail from Lake Wobegon where all are above average by MLS standards.  Add to that the bulk of the pundit coverage, and you might begin to think that college soccer is producing a caliber of player that offers immediate answers for every club. 

We know that's not true.  Few drafts produce more than a handful of players that end up impacting a team's immediate future.  Yet what we got was the non-stop hard sell. 

Let's  set aside the critiques that begin and end with the age and experience of college players as compared to players that join clubs as teenagers and have big game experience before turning 20.  The college system is no more broken now than it was 20 years ago in that regard.  College players factor in MLS, and foreign clubs have no problem signing them.  Whatever disadvantage it creates is no more severe than the European leagues cycling through youth prospects.  Enough once upon a time prodigies having to revamp their careers at the outskirts of the professional game tells that particular story. 

For MLS, the expectation is the SuperDraft doing enough to bolster the resources of a handful of clubs.  All involved know that, so why the pick-by-pick hype?  The no mistake draft, where everyone is a winner on a Thursday afternoon in Kansas City?

MLS is borrowing from the established sports here, where every event is a big event simply because it's yours.  If it doesn't live up to the hype?  By the time that's obvious, the game has already moved on.  That's why we get expansion drafts the day after the MLS season ends, and why whatever follows on the MLS agenda will quickly take the stage and the attention. 

Training camp, for those keeping score at home.  It opens today, just in time to shift the conversation to what happens next. 

Corner Rating: (1-11 with 11 being a lock that this issue doesn't go away) 8

Last Week's Corner: In the comments section, another benefit of the winter break was raised: rest for players participating in the summer National Team competitions.  The Bundesliga is still a few days from returning, spending time in training camp where the pressure and the fatigue shouldn't be what it normally is in season.  As for the Premier League?  See that comment.  This is a competitive advantage that can't be underestimated.  We've already rated the Winter Break issue at 11, and at 11 it stays.

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