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.

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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!

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.