A Wrap on MLS 2013 & Where The League Goes From Here

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard

The 2013 MLS season came to a close on Saturday as Sporting KC hoisted their second MLS Cup in franchise history with a penalty shootout win over Real Salt Lake. It was the coldest MLS Cup ever played and the culmination of a fantastic rebranding by Sporting KC. Unfortunately a lot of people may not have been watching because the league is still not part of the fabric of North American sports culture.

MLS CUP 2013

An article in the Wall Street Journal this past week pointed out that despite Sporting KC being in and hosting the 2013 MLS Cup, there was not a lot of media coverage and most fans in the area would be watching the Missouri Tigers in the SEC title game which was on at the same time. Whether this still held water come game time remains to be seen but the lack of coverage outside of the soccer community speaks for itself.

So what is MLS to do?

A lot of soccer purists, and to some degree the league, wants to switch to the FIFA calendar which would put the season between August and May. Now outside of North America this works. In North America that is suicide.

SKC FANS

The NFL, NBA, NHL, MLB, College Football & Basketball all play during this time. The current league schedule ranges from March to December which in some people’s minds is still ludacris but it gives the league a fighting chance during to grab eyeballs during the summer months.

If MLS did go to the FIFA calendar the playoffs would presumably fall into April & May. The same time as the NBA and NHL playoffs not to mention the Masters, NFL Draft, Kentucky Derby and the start of the Major League Baseball season. So the consensus seems to be that there is no right answer. it’s a tough battle either way.

MLS also has to address the TV ratings issue. For as much support as you see at stadiums including the incredible turnout in Kansas City with the below freezing temperatures the ratings are not there as ESPN analyst and former league MVP Taylor Twellman has pointed out many times.

MLS cannot go head to head nationally with the NFL or major College Football games like the SEC Championship. The MLS Cup this year, when the smoke clears, would have been better served being played on Friday evening and here’s why:

-High School football would be winding down.

-The college football game or games would not be as anticipated as say the Big Ten or SEC title game on a Saturday

-The NBA & NHL are still early in the regular season.

The fact’s are that the MLS is not front and center in the North American sports consciousness. That could change over time but they league, the owners and the pundits cannot get wrapped up in their soccer silo and think that the rest of North America will come along for the ride.

Now a look back at our predictions made back at the start of the season:

5. New Coaches: There are 5 new head coaches roaming the sidelines in MLS this season and that now makes 12 former MLS players now managing clubs. Two of the biggest debuts square off in week one. Mike Petke of the New York Red Bulls and Caleb Porter for the Portland Timbers. Both teams have high expectations, a rabid fan base and a longing for MLS post season glory.  Porter and Petke lived up to and exceeded expectations. While neither of them won the MLS Cup, Portland was the top team in the West and New York the top team in the East and winners of the Supporters Shield.                                                                                                 

4. The Donovan Odyssey: US Soccer poster boy Landon Donovan has taken a leave of absence from soccer but is returning to the the 2-time defending MLS Cup Champions LA Galaxy at the end of March. Will he be the same player on and off the field? Can he lead, along with Robbie Keane, the Galaxy to a 3rd straight MLS Cup? Yes and no, but they did make the playoffs. 

3. Can Toronto FC Make The Playoffs?: Only the Red Bulls have gone through more coaching changes than TFC. However, the Red Bulls have been in MLS for all 18 years (formerly known as the MetroStars) while TFC kicks off it’s 7th MLS season on Saturday. They have never made the playoffs and after another off season of sweeping changes it is left to 1st time coach Ryan Nelsen to get this team into the MLS playoffs for the 1st time. Nope & they did make major changes in the front office…again.

2. Running With The Red Bulls: The New York Red Bulls have arguably the most dangerous player in MLS in Thierry Henry. They’ve shaken up the coaching staff and the team but is it enough to get them their 1st MLS Cup? Maybe. If new signee Juninho  can be half of what he was and the back-line and pull together then they may just be the team the beat. It’s a lot of ‘if’s’ but in the sports saturated New York market the Red Bulls have to win. Not just for the team but for the league. They won the MLS Supporters Shield. Their first major trophy in their history. 

1No Beckham? No Problem: The loss of one of the world’s sports and entertainment icons shouldn’t slow down MLS or the LA Galaxy. The Galaxy will get Donovan back after a few games and they still have the man who lead them all the way to the MLS Cup glory in Robbie Keane. The league on the other hand is entering it’s 18th season and is bringing in more and more top talent from around the world. There is only one David Beckham but the level of play, energy and popularity of the sport are growing and with all due respect to Becks, he probably couldn’t have taken the league any further. Who? Oh the guy with the discounted rate for a new franchise in Miami that will fail miserably…yeah we’re good but we appreciate all you do. 

The Retirement Pt. 2 of 2

By Brad Hubbard @bradhubbard

At the end of the May there was a flurry of retirements. From football legends to a man who helped launch the sport of mixed martial arts into the modern day psyche. Sir Alex Ferguson, David Beckham and Forrest Griffin all at some point had to ask themselves this question, ‘what else is there left for me to accomplish?’

Sir Alex & Becks Retire

For the first time in 26 years Sir Alex Ferguson will not be the manager of Manchester United when they take the pitch next season. In those 26 years he has led the Red Devils to 38 trophies and 2 Champions League titles among other things. Along the way one of his most famous players was David Beckham. Beckham won 6 premier league titles and a Champions League title with United. He also won league titles with 3 other clubs ( Real Madrid, LA Galaxy and Paris St-Germain) and is one of the most famous people in the world.

Forrest Griffin Retirement

Forrest Griffin was on season 1 of the The Ultimate Fighter. He defeated Stephan Bonnar in the finale in what is consider the greatest fight in UFC history and pointed to as the fight that helped launch the UFC to where it is today. He later won the Light Heavyweight title by defeating Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson. He’s also a 2 time New York Times bestselling author.

Each of these individuals accomplished a lot in the world of sports. Now each has to find a new endeavor to fill the void. Those outside of the athletic world know this feeling having encountered it on occasion. Maybe after losing a job, graduating from school, getting a divorce, etc. It’s the ‘now what?’ question that has to be answered.

Sir Alex will remain with United as a director. Beckham worked out a deal when he initially came to MLS that after he retired he could get a deal on an MLS club ($25 million to be exact) and now there is talk of an expansion team in Miami. Griffin will stay on with the UFC in a yet undetermined capacity.

Yet for these 3 there are hundreds more who don’t have a retirement plan per say or at least a very quiet one. Athletes, as the saying goes, retire twice but the first one may be the hardest to do if they are not prepared. The acknowledgement that at some point you’ll put your hands on your hips and say, ‘what else is there for me to do here?’ is a great first step. In other words, knowing that there is an end will allow you to begin.

CNN – The End Game

5 Things To Watch For This MLS Season

 

 

MLS 2013

 

By Brad Hubbard @bradhubbard

A new MLS season is kicking off in North America. With any new season in any sport there are a lot of question marks. Below are our Top 5 things to look out for during this 18th MLS season.

5. New Coaches: There are 5 new head coaches roaming the sidelines in MLS this season and that now makes 12 former MLS players now managing clubs. Two of the biggest debuts square off in week one. Mike Petke of the New York Red Bulls and Caleb Porter for the Portland Timbers. Both teams have high expectations, a rabid fan base and a longing for MLS post season glory.                                                                                                  

4. The Donovan Odyssey: US Soccer poster boy Landon Donovan has taken a leave of absence from soccer but is returning to the the 2-time defending MLS Cup Champions LA Galaxy at the end of March. Will he be the same player on and off the field? Can he lead, along with Robbie Keane, the Galaxy to a 3rd straight MLS Cup?

3. Can Toronto FC Make The Playoffs?: Only the Red Bulls have gone through more coaching changes than TFC. However, the Red Bulls have been in MLS for all 18 years (formerly known as the MetroStars) while TFC kicks off it’s 7th MLS season on Saturday. They have never made the playoffs and after another off season of sweeping changes it is left to 1st time coach Ryan Nelsen to get this team into the MLS playoffs for the 1st time.

2. Running With The Red Bulls: The New York Red Bulls have arguably the most dangerous player in MLS in Thierry Henry. They’ve shaken up the coaching staff and the team but is it enough to get them their 1st MLS Cup? Maybe. If new signee Juninho  can be half of what he was and the back-line and pull together then they may just be the team the beat. It’s a lot of ‘if’s’ but in the sports saturated New York market the Red Bulls have to win. Not just for the team but for the league.

1. No Beckham? No Problem: The loss of one of the world’s sports and entertainment icons shouldn’t slow down MLS or the LA Galaxy. The Galaxy will get Donovan back after a few games and they still have the man who lead them all the way to the MLS Cup glory in Robbie Keane. The league on the other hand is entering it’s 18th season and is bringing in more and more top talent from around the world. There is only one David Beckham but the level of play, energy and popularity of the sport are growing and with all due respect to Becks, he probably couldn’t have taken the league any further.

MLS 2013 Schedule and Another Big Loss

Right after MLS Cup 2012 we pointed out that MLS was running into some huge question marks when it came to 2013 season. No David Beckham and possibly no face of US soccer in Landon Donovan. Now as it announces its 2013 schedule it’s faced with yet another loss, that of Seattle Sounders goal scoring maestro Fredy Montero.

Montero

Montero had been Seattle’s main offensive weapon during it’s 4 MLS seasons. With his transfer to a Colombian club all but signed, MLS and the Sounders face the very real truth of losing a young goal scoring machine that they could have built a very prosperous future upon. Tie this into the release of the 2013 schedule and you can’t help but wonder if the travel has something to do with it.

MLS is a hard league. While other North American sports are just as tough travel wise few leagues have the influx of foreign players that MLS does. From LA to New York, Montreal to Houston and Seattle to…well anywhere, the airline miles rack up pretty fast.

Besides the time on airplanes, the MLS plays in 4 different time-zones and multiple climates and elevations. From the rainy soaked Pacific Northwest to the high altitude of Salt Lake and Denver to the heat and humidity of south Texas and the freezing temperatures of eastern Canada during the early spring. It’s a commitment to the team, fans, league and sport just to play a season in this league.

Look at the Barclay’s Premier League. They play in a country the size of California’s Central Valley.Travel is a non factor their while in MLS it can mean the playing in the playoffs and having an early off-season.Does this travel affect foreign players? Absolutely. Does it shorten the career of US born players? Maybe. One can’t help but wonder how Landon Donovan would feel if he didn’t fly all of these MLS miles plus the US National Team plus the loan spell to Everton.

The MLS should really look at this seasons exodus of talent and PR with a spoonful of salt. The scheduling needs to improve but before it can the league needs to get a 20th team in the door and fast. Whether it’s New York or Atlanta just get a team up and running. Having Montreal play matches at San Jose then in New York 4 days later in the first month of the season is just draining. There is a better way to do this, not a perfect way, but a better way and with that better way comes players like Donovan, Beckham and Montero sticking around with their clubs.

MLS’s Bigger Problem

The LA Galaxy won their fourth MLS Cup this past weekend in what will be David Beckham’s final game with the team and possibly with MLS. While this is a very big deal, not just for the league but also for the team, the possible loss of America’s best player, Landon Donovan looms as an even bigger loss.

DONOVAN

Donovan has now won five MLS Cups. He is the all time leading goal scorer for the US National team and is the unequivocal face of American soccer. Now he may have played his last game ever at the age of 30. If Donovan decides to call it a career it will not only be a loss for the Galaxy but also for MLS, the national team and for American soccer as a whole.

Years ago Donovan turned down the part-time (but well paying work) of playing for a European club to play in MLS and in particular for the Galaxy. It was a great coup for MLS having America’s best player choose to play at home and help build the league. He hasn’t disappointed. He even has the best selling MLS jersey for an American and third most popular behind Beckham and New York’s Thierry Henry.

Donovan’s departure from soccer would be an unexpected blow to the growth of soccer in American. While there are several possible replacements none have reached his level of success and those who have come chose play overseas.

If you look at the Galaxy in particular his lost would be bigger then the loss of Beckham. While Beckham is a brand name that reaches beyond soccer, sports, and into pop culture, Donovan provides so much more on the pitch. His ability to score, set up teammates, stretch the defense makes him a player you always have to account for. The minute you don’t, well you can just look for the ball in the back of the net. 

The Galaxy, MLS and the US National team have some interesting times in front of them. They want him back but at what point do you reach out to him. Too soon and you might drive him further away. Too late and you may never be able to get him back. The timing has to be just right. We should all hope they reach him at just the right time.

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