Unexpected Big Days In MLS

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard

The MLS season ended a little over a month ago and the last few days saw some major events. Big news was that it wasn’t just player signings.

Schedule

The 24 hour sports channels make an over hyped event of most professional schedules when they are released.  The MLS released their’s today without the hype. Just the schedule please.

It starts March 6th and ends somewhere in early December. MLSsoccer.com’s Andrew Wiebe has a quick breakdown of some of the can’t miss games. It features two new clubs and an expanded playoff bracket.

Players

Steven Gerrard revealed last week that he was leaving Liverpool at the end of the season. Now we know he is going to step into the midfield in LA for the Galaxy. It’s a reuniting of Gerrard and Robbie Keane since Keane’s failed move to Liverpool back in 2008.

The New York Red Bulls are apparently zeroing in on two US Internationals, Jozy Altidore and Sacha Kljestan. While there is still a lot of maneuvering to be done but this could be a major reload for NYRB.

Roger Espinoza is back from England to help out in the Sporting KC midfield along side Graham Zusi. This move makes a solid SKC team all that much better.

The Shock

PETKE

New York Red Bulls most successful manager Mike Petke is out. His replacement is Jesse Marsch. While no one is really surprised that Marsch is getting another shot in the managers chair but it is fairly shocking that Petke would be ousted after such a successful run.

Petke is Red Bull/Metrostars through and through and is even a native of the area. Marsch is going to have his hands full in replacing him. If the Red Bulls do not win an MLS Cup next year the fan base will have something to really cry about.

 

Advertisements

The Slowest Days In Sports Find Some Energy

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard

Monday kicks off four of the slowest sports days in North America. MLB takes their All-Star break which use to mean that there were no professional sports played the day before or the day after the Tuesday game making it some of the only days of the year without a live professional sporting event.

This year is a little different. Three organizations decided to finally take advantage of this wasteland.

FIrst MLS. Major League Soccer will have matches on Wednesday and one will be televised nationally on ESPN2 (New York vs Philadelphia).

The second is the UFC. Donald ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone will meet Jim Miller in Atlantic City, NJ on FS1. Why they won’t fight until around midnight east coast time is beyond reason but it’s a good fight none the less.

The third is the CFL. The Canadian Football League will have the Edmonton Eskimos  at the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Best part about this, both teams are undefeated at 3-0 and have looked very good in their first three games.

The MLB All-Star break use to mean that the sports world shut down for a few days except for the Summer Classic. But times are a changin and with it comes soccer, mma and football.

 

MLS 2014 Preview

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard

The 19th season of MLS kicks off this weekend. Sporting KC will attempt to defend their title against a serious pack of challengers. From perennial favorites like LA, Houston and Salt Lake to the upstarts in Portland and the dark horse in Toronto.

MLS 2014 KICK OFF

Can SKC Do It Again?

Sporting KC may have the most dynamic roster in all of MLS. From Graham Zusi and Benny Feilhaber in the middle, Matt Besler and Aurelien Colin in the back and multiple attacking options up top. Most of the team remains intact minus Keeper Jimmy Nielsen. It’s up to manager Peter Vermes to keep this team motivated. They way he screams, it shouldn’t be a problem.

NYRB 4 REAL?

The New York Red Bulls finally won a trophy of some kind last season when they walked away with the Supporters Shield. With that monkey off their back it’s time for them to take home and MLS Cup or a US Open Cup.

Like usual, there have been front office and player changes this off season. However, Thierry Henry and Tim Cahill still anchor the Red Bull attack and that means that Jonny Steele and Jamison Olave should get plenty of chances like they did last season.

New York finally found a goalkeeper they can rely on in Luis Robles. If he has a season similar to last year then he could be looking at an All-Star spot.

One interesting addition is Bobby Convey. He can do everything when on and healthy. If he can find a role then his service could lead to even more goals.

Sigi’s Last Stand?

Sigi Schmidt is in the last year of his contract. They previous times this has happened to him he has won an MLS Cup. First in LA then in Columbus. Seattle needs more playoff success but what they really need is an MLS Cup Final appearance.

Seattle cleaned house to an extent but they still have Clint Dempsey, Osvaldo Alonso, and Brad Evans. The added Chad Barrett and Kenny Cooper up top and brought in Chad Marshall to provide leadership and stability in the back. The have all the ingredients to win the cup now they just have to prove it.

The New and Improved TFC

If you’re an MLS fan you may have noticed that Toronto FC made some big money moves this offseason. Enter US National Team Captain Michael Bradley, England National Team striker Jermain DaFoe, Brazilian striker Gilberto and multi-MLS MVP Dewayne De Rosario.

One of the bigger additions might very well be defender Justin Morrow. He’s young but with a lot of MLS experience. Look for him to shut down any counterattacks that come his way.

Let’s face facts, TFC has to get into the playoffs…and win. Missing the playoffs would be a disaster. Getting in and not winning a game would hurt but it’s a foundation to build on.

Porter-ball Round 2

The Portland Timbers last season were something that their avid fan support could be proud off. The won the western conference and went deep into the MLS Cup playoffs knocking off arch rival Seattle in the process.

Now they have to do better.

Portland is loaded with attacking options but everything hinges on Diego Valeri and WIll Johnson. If Valeri can stay on the pitch then watch out. If he can’t and Johnson does not repeat the MVP caliber performance that he had last year then it could be a long season in the Rose City.

Portland has proven that they can withstand key injuries but with manager Caleb Porter’s style of play, injuries are always a concern.

The Heat Is On

DC United had, with all due respect, a horrendous year last year. Manager Ben Olsen is back for another go round and has been given a great tool to succeed with in US National Team forward Eddie Johnson.

Johnson needs to be a rock start. DC has hedged their bets though with the addition of striker Fabian Espindola. Add these two with new addition Davy Arnaud and Sean Franklin and they should make a nice nucleus when you add in existing players Chris Pontius and Nick DeLeon.

Now all that’s left is a winning season and a soccer specific stadium to get DC back amongst the elite teams in MLS.

There are a lot of interesting questions to be answered over the next several months and that’s if there are no big player movements. So let’s get this started already!

The Stretch Run

By Brad Hubbard @bradhubbard

There are about two months left in the MLS regular season. Some teams will make a playoff run while others will begin playing for next season. Some players will rise to the occastion while some coaches will lose their jobs. Either way there are some intriguing match ups and interesting storylines heading into the stretch run for Major League Soccer.

The MLS Stretch Run

Can PorterBall Make the Playoffs? 

Portland has been one of the more consistant teams in the league this season. First year head coach Caleb Porter has been able to get his players to buy into his system. The result, the first ever playoff berth within reach if they can finish the season strong.

That run starts this weekend when they travel to Seattle in what should be the biggest crowd to ever see an MLS match. Some 66,000 will pack into Century Link Field in Seattle on Sunday night for a game with massive playoff implications. They also face Western Conference leaders Real Salt Lake two more times, Seattle again, the LA Galaxy, Vancouver and Colorado. In other words, a playoff berth is going to be a battle.

RBNY Makes Another Run

Like Porter in Portland, first year head coach Mike Petke has the Red Bulls believing. The question for this franchise is can the overcome the playoff slump and finally win an MLS Cup?

Like Portland, it won’t be a smooth road. They travel to Houston twice in the final two months and have to make two trips to the West Coast before the season is out. They have all the tools, including some of the most consistent goalkeeping in franchise history thanks to Luis Robles.

Who Gets Fired? 

The biggest surprise disappointment this year has to be DC United. They sit at the bottom of the league table with only 13 points. They have talent but it just hasn’t come together this year and people are frustrated. No one more than head man Ben Olsen.

Olsen and Columbus Crew’s Robert Warzycha are the most noticable managers on the hot seat while disappointing results led to the mid season firings of Frank Yallop in San Jose and Chelis at Chivas USA.

Does Dempsey Make a Difference? 

Seattle is on the outside looking in when it comes to the playoffs. They just signed America’s best player in Clint Dempsey but is that enough to get Seattle back into the playoffs?

Without Eddie Johnson and Obafemi Martins in the lineup, Dempsey and the Sounders were unable to get a point on the road against Houston. However, when all three are in the lineup, it could be one of the most potent offense in the league.

Dempsey can’t do it all himself. He needs help if the Sounders are to get back into the playoffs.

3 Peat?

Many consider the LA Galaxy to be the best team in the league…when they are at full strength. They are right now and if they can continue to be then they might just be the odds on favorites to walk away with their third MLS Cup.

Hang on soccer fans, this is about to get interesting.

NBC Sports Double Standard

By Brad Hubbard @bradhubbard
NBC Sports owns the rights to a few sports including the NHL and MLS. While they do an outstanding job with the NHL (especially during the Stanley Cup playoffs) the do a very poor job with the MLS.
This past weekend the MLS had three games starting at the 1pm Pacific Standard Time. Two were regional broadcasts and the third was on the NBC Sports Network. One game was Montreal at San Jose. That match kicked off at 1:07pm. The NBC Sports game, New York at Columbus, kicked off at 1:25pm. Both were regular season matches and yet one game kicked off nearly 20 minutes sooner.
If you’ve seen MLS coverage on NBC Sports you’ll notice that this is the norm. They talk. They call it a pre game show but the guide on DirecTV says otherwise. While NBC Sports does do some things fairly innovative (like having their color commentator, in this case Kyle Martino, announcing from the sidelines as opposed to the booth) it still doesn’t excuse the fact that it takes an MLS game on NBC Sports almost an extra 20 minutes to get the ball kicked off.
Contrast this to NBC Sports coverage of the NHL. During the Stanley Cup playoffs they have enlisted the help of all of NBC’s other properties so that they can broadcast each and every playoff game live. This means using NBC’s financial channel CNBC. They also start their games 10 minutes after the scheduled start time. That’s right, they drop the puck 10 minutes after coming on the air with the game.
Why the difference? Why does a nationally broadcast MLS game on NBC or NBC Sports Network take 15 more minutes longer to start as opposed to an NHL game on the same network? It falls under NBC Sports method of operation, talk.
NBCSports.com covers every sport. Their pages are titled PRO FOOTBALL TALK, PRO BASEBALL TALK, and PRO HOCKEY TALK, etc. Does that sound appealing to you? Talk? That may be the most uncreative categorization in the history of the web. It reflects how NBC Sports views itself. It’s not bout the sport for them, it’s about them and what they have to say. In other words, they love to hear themselves talk.
NBC TALK
Can NBC improve the MLS experience? Yes, kick the ball off. It’s that simple. You can still keep a short intro if you want but don’t make it longer than 10 minutes. Fans of the teams and the sport do not tune in to watch people yap and to admire a combo feature. They tune into to watch the game.

Fatigue Makes Cowards of us All.

By Brad Hubbard @bradhubbard

3 Eastern time zoned based MLS teams started out with back-to-back West Coast games to start the 2013 MLS Season. 2 of the teams stayed on the West Coast after their first game while 1 team made the trek back and forth. In total the teams went 3-2-1.

Impact Score

The Montreal Impact are in their second MLS season and on their second head coach, Marco Schällibaum. They were able to equal their road win total from last season by gaining victories at Seattle and at Portland. Arguably 2 of the toughest places to play at for a road team. The Columbus Crew were able to capture 1 win on their West Coast excursion and nearly drew with the Vancouver Whitecaps in their second match. Only the New York Red Bulls did worse, they let 2 victories slip away in matches at Portland and at San Jose.

Can you guess which team made the cross-country trip twice?

While Montreal and Columbus stayed out west New York chose to fly back to New York in between matches. In both cases the flights out west experienced delays (their first flight to San Jose was cancelled) and arrived later than expected for each match. In both matches they failed to close out the game by allowing both Portland and San Jose to score 2 goals each in the second half. The collapse in San Jose was almost unprecedented.

Did the travel have something to do with it? Probably. While everyone agrees that New York has one of the better clubs on paper in all of MLS they were unable to gain 3 points in either match. Montreal, complete with a new coach and the oldest average staring lineup in all of MLS (30 years old) were somehow able to gain a total of 6 points on their road trip. Was Montreal better rested and hence better prepared than New York? Probably. New York spent roughly 12 extra hours in the air traveling as opposed to Montreal and Columbus who only made the trip out west once.

Staying in the same time zone has proved beneficial in other sports as well. Over the last 2 seasons the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers have twice played back-to-back East Coast road games. Both times, after the first game they stayed in Youngstown, Ohio for the week before traveling to their next game. The result, 3 wins and 1 loss.

Cross-country travel takes a toll. It’s not just the 5 to 6 hour flight in coach but also the waiting at the airport. The getting to and from the airport and the stress of making sure that you brought the essentials. Combine these with a time change and it can wear you down. 2-time Super Bowl winning Head Coach Jimmy Johnson once said that ‘fatigue makes cowards of us all’. He’s right. Fatigue leads to cutting corners and mistakes. When you start doing that bad things start to happen that can, in the world of sports, lead to losses. Unnecessary travel can lead to fatigue and hence to losses.

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.