What To Watch Sat. 3/22-Sun. 3/23

Be advised, March Madness is in full swing. See it on TV and online throughout the weekend via CBS and Turner.

Saturday March 22nd

Chelsea vs Arsenal – 5:45am NBCSN: All aboard for some top flight soccer on a Saturday morning!

Tampa Bay Lightning @ Pittsburgh Penguins – 10am NHLN:  If ice, sticks and some of the world’s best players is more your thing then the NHL Network has you set on Saturday morning.

Montreal Canadiens @ Toronto Maple Leafs – 4pm NHLN: It’s the Habs vs the Leafs. They are both in playoff contention at the end of March. You’re welcome.

LA Galaxy @ Real Salt Lake – 1pm NBCSN: RSL has been nothing but good over the last four or five years. But so have the Galaxy. It’s a display of some of the leagues best players and two teams that don’t seem to like each other very much.

San Jose Earthquakes @ Sporting KC – 5:30pm MLS LIVE: Both teams are coming off of tough Champions League losses during the week. SKC is a tough place to play but San Jose is a tough team. Or as they say in Quakes territory, ‘Goonies never say die!’

Sunday March 23rd

St. Louis Blues @ Pittsburgh Penguins – 10am NHLN: Two of the best teams in the east face off in Pittsburgh.

Real Madrid  v Barcelona – Noon beIN Sports: El Clasico is on. Messi, Ronaldo, Bale, Fabregas and then some. See two of the best clubs square off with some of the best players on the planet.

Dan Henderson vs Shogun Rua – 4pm FS1: The last fight between the two was, in some circles, the best MMA fight…ever. So don’t miss rounds 6-10.

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. 

What to Watch Friday 11/1-Sunday 11/3

By Brad Hubbard @bradhubbard

Baseball is done…and back to football.

FRIDAY NOVEMBER 1st

Miami Heat @ Brooklyn Nets- 5pm ESPN: The two time defending champs head north to take on the revamped Nets. Could be fun.

USC @ Oregon St. – 6pm ESPN2: Corvallis, OR is always a tough place to play especially with one of the top scoring offenses in the country resides there. USC has one of the best defenses around (minus the Arizona St game of course). It’s a battle of wills on your Friday night.

SATURDAY NOVEMBER 2nd

Virginia Tech @ Boston College – 9am ABC: Trap game for Va Tech. They get Miami next week and the Fighting Addazio’s make life tough for everybody. Look for an upset in Chestnut Hill which would be back to back losses for the Hokies.

UNC @ NC STATE – 9:30am ESPN3: Not a sexy game on paper but this one is going to be all about pride. Both schools need a win and both have enough talent to be a lot better than their records indicate.

Minnesota @ Indiana – 12:30pm BTN: Normally a really good basketball game but this one features a high powered offense by IU and a stanch D by Minnesota. Bowl implications on the line in Bloomington.

Oklahoma St @ Texas Tech – 4pm FOX: Gus Johnson will announce this possible shootout in West Texas. You’re welcome.

Miami @ Florida St. – 5pm ABC: It’s awesome to see this game matter again and in primetime no less. Famous Jameis gets another stage to show off for the Heisman voters.

Portland Timbers @ Seattle Sounders- 7pm NBCSN: A Cascadia Playoff game? This is must see TV. Even if you don’t like soccer, you should watch this. It will change your mind.

SUNDAY NOVEMBER 3rd

San Diego Chargers @ Washington – 10am CBS: Could be a shootout of epic proportions in DC.

Pittsburgh Steelers @ New England Patriots – 1:25pm CBS: Tom Brady vs Ben Roethlisberger. It’s not what it use to be but it’s still a battle of Super Bowl winning QB’s. Not a bad way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

Real Salt Lake @ LA Galaxy – 6pm ESPN: The defending champs have a tough road to another MLS Cup. It starts against the one team you don’t want it to start against, RSL.

The Retirement. Part 1 of 2

By Brad Hubbard @bradhubbard

All athletes retire. Some are forced to, others do because their bodies are breaking down, others lose the fire, and some do it to pursue something better. This past week Robbie Russell of DC United announced his retirement so he could pursue a career in medicine.

(L) Robbie Russell (R) John Frank
(L) Robbie Russell (R) John Frank

Russell is not the first professional athlete to retire and pursue a medical career. Former San Francisco 49er Tight End John Frank left football after 5 seasons and 2 Super Bowl wins to pursue a medical career. Frank retired after his second Super Bowl win and was on the field during a terrible injury to Cincinnati Bengals Nose Tackle Tim Krumrie in which Krumrie broke his leg. Frank is now a hair loss transplant doctor living in New York.

Russell did experience a lot of succes on the pitch. He scored the winning goal in the 2009 MLS Cup to give Real Salt Lake their first and only title. He played overseas from 2000-2008 and made 98 appearances in MLS matches. He’s had a solid career. One he can be proud of. And one where he is making the choice to walk away.

John Frank In Depth

MLS Player Movements in 12 Easy Steps

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By Dave Trausneck @trausneck

Sideline Signals recently highlighted the recent comments by FIFA President Sepp Blatter and his criticism of Major League Soccer.  Blatter said it’s been 18 years since the United States hosted the World Cup and the country still does not have a strong professional league.

But it’s not for a lack of ways a player can join the league.  A simple glance of MLS’ roster rules for 2012, and you may need more than a high word score on your SAT to understand the complexities of MLS as compared to the rest of the world.

The more notable professional leagues around the world have a simplistic way of dealing with player movement.

They are…

  1. Signing a youth player into their academy and developing him from a young age.
  2. Paying a transfer fee to another club to acquire the rights to a player. (For example, Real Madrid paying Manchester United 80 million British Pounds in 2009 for Christiano Ronaldo.)
  3. Loaning a player out to another club. (Often done by bigger clubs with massive rosters and good players who are not getting as much playing time.  They loan players to smaller clubs in lower divisions, with certain stipulations.)

Major League Soccer is different, and possibly because the league owns all the player contracts, not the club.  Here’s how players may join a MLS club

1. SuperDraft

(Most of the eligible players are the top collegiate seniors, and some top underclassmen known as Generation adidas players.)

2. Expansion Draft

(Only done when a team joins MLS, like Portland, Vancouver and Montreal in the past few seasons)

3. Allocation Ranking

(Teams are given a ranking in reverse order from the previous season’s finish. When a US Men’s National Team player leaves a foreign league to play in MLS, the teams with the worst record the year before get first crack in acquiring the player.

4. Designated Players

(Players like David Beckham, Thierry Henry and Robbie Keane command high salaries. In order to lure them to MLS, the league allows teams to only count a fraction of that salary toward the team’s salary cap.  The league has to pay the rest, which can be in the millions.)

5. Player trades between MLS clubs

6. Discovery claims

(Clubs may make a “discovery claim” on a player who does not have an MLS contract, and are not part of the league’s allocation ranking.  In short, this allows teams to call “dibs” on a player.

7. Homegrown player

(Similar to international clubs signing a youth player, this allows MLS clubs to sign the top youth players in their area and get around the draft process.

8. Re-entry draft

(Players who no longer have a MLS club to play for can re-enter the league with a different team through the re-entry draft.)

9. Claim player off MLS waiver.

10. Weighted lottery

(Generation adidas players who sign with MLS after the draft can join a team through a lottery. Teams with worse records have a better chance. The most recent example was Portland winning the lottery for Mobi Fehr. The other two teams in the lottery were San Jose and Seattle.)

11. Extreme hardships

12. Injury Replacements

(Both of these are available to clubs when their rosters are extremely depleted due to injuries.)

This complex set of rules isn’t to suggest MLS has to bend over backwards just to field a viable league.  Merely, it suggests league officials who oversee competition have to work harder to make sure the league has parity, and the same teams are not the only teams competing for a championship year after year.

Of note, former Real Salt Lake Forward Robbie Findley was released by Nottingham Forrest last week which clears his way back to MLS. Although the Portland Timbers hold his rights they apparently traded them back to Real Salt Lake. Everyone paying attention?