ImageIt can be hard, at times, to judge the wisdom guiding Major League Soccer’s fairly accelerated program for expansion. It could be striking while the iron’s hot on the one hand, or, on the other, running headlong into a big ol’ wall with “hubris” written all over it – and without a helmet.

I’ve enjoyed the mad dash for the most part – it certainly helped that it appears sustainable – but there’s something about the latest round that finally left me uneasy. And looking at those seats behind home plate (pictured at bottom above) in the daydream sketch of what will be at Yankee stadium gets at why. Begging for a place to play (no matter how nice), the plain awful aesthetics of that set up, feels like a step back to the bad old days. Slapping an NYFC logo under that massive gap of dead air does nothing to shrink or hide something that manifestly non-ideal. Continue reading

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This is, like, right after team lunch…

Starting Tuesday and bleeding on into Wednesday, Major League Soccer (MLS) clubs fell one by one out of the CONCACAF Champions’ League (CCL). The word “bleeding” fairly describes the scene and sensation when a pair of clubs from Mexico’s contingent jabbed in nine goals over two games against MLS’s finest. And, by common consent, the two teams in question really are MLS’s finest: both the LA Galaxy and Sporting KC are tipped for deep playoff runs.

In the middle of the cross-border knife-fight, however, the bleeding slowed a little. Anyone glancing at the match tracker, or even checking the results later in the day, would have seen the unlikeliest member of MLS’s CCL delegation, the San Jose Earthquakes, applying the direct pressure (and…done with the blood metaphor). The ‘Quakes didn’t get a tail-wind of love for their trip to Toluca for Wednesday’s second leg in the CCL, not with a largely crippled/suspended backline, and especially not carrying a 1-1 draw to the Mexican mountains. But that backline let in only one goal Wednesday night and San Jose pushed Toluca all the way to PKs. And they showed up all right, even there. Continue reading

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Note the colors the guy who didn’t fall is wearing. It matters.

If a Major League Soccer (MLS) club makes it past the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Champions League (CCL), I will leave a flaming bag of shit on my next door neighbor’s front porch.

No, I’ll go one better: I’ll light the bag, ring the doorbell, stand there till he opens it, at which time I’ll yell, “Happy Halloween, motherfucker!”

That’s the frustration talking mith . That and the desire to come up with the first in a series of stupid bets to spice up MLS’s 2014 season. Fascinating as the league is, I know all about the league’s summer doldrums, that time when the buzz of First Kick has worn off, yet the playoffs seem like they’ll never come. When this hits moves around a bit, and it’s very dependent on how one’s team is doing, but the wind typically goes out of the sails sometime like July, maybe August. So making bets can’t hurt. Just sayin’.

Hold on…if an MLS club makes it past the current quarterfinal stage of the CCL – and this is something we’ll know by the end of the day – I will attempt a citizen’s arrest on a cop.

Wait. No. I have a wife, two kids, a dog and a cat. I can’t risk arrest. Gotta aim lower.

Here’s the thing: it’s not just what happened to the LA Galaxy in yesterday’s sorry quarterfinal against Tijuana Xolos; it’s the fact that the…same…damn thing happens every…damn…year. How anyone looked at those slim 1-0 leads (see: LA and Sporting KC), never mind a draw, no matter how well-fought (San Jose Earthquakes) and thought they would, or will, hold up on the return legs in Mexico is beyond me. They never hold up, people.

I’m not sure they ever will. And yet every year, so many dutifully ask, is this MLS’s year?

The real pisser is that this will not change until CONCACAF, or whatever semi-corrupt sporting association runs this flea circus, times the schedule so that the clubs from both sides of the better are somewhere within their season. So long as MLS hits the quarterfinals before they’re deep enough into their season to have the sea legs under them – and in the nose-bleed heights at which most of Mexico’s clubs play (and, yeah, while we’re on it; WTF, LA? Tijuana’s sea-level, right? Seriously, what?) – they will flop over this same bloody hurdle every year.

Brings into question the entire point of the stupid exercise. I mean, if CONCACAF is just going to send a Mexican club to the World Club Cup every year, let’s just skip the dog ‘n’ pony shit of having BOTH Mexican and MLS clubs beat up on clubs from Central America and the Caribbean. Let the Mexican Federation can sort out who goes on their own.

This isn’t a call to disadvantage the Mexican clubs either. I don’t know. Maybe there’s a way to block out time on the edges of summer – say June or September – when all the clubs involved can do the whole thing at once, World Cup tournament style. Sounds hairy, but the current incarnation doesn’t really hold water.

Anyway, back to the bet. Tell you what: if an MLS club survives this current round, I promise to pick up my dog’s shit bare-handed on his morning walk and post a photo on this site. I am that confident*, people.

(* And, with this bet now made, finding some small part of me hoping that the MLS clubs lose. Because, ew.)

(NOTE: Links will go up later. I just wanted to place my marker in time.)

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Please avoid.

How’d 2013 Treat ‘Em (14-5-15 (W-L-T), 54 gf, 33 ga; 1st in West)
Having made the personal, if non-participatory, goal for the Portland Timbers to make the playoffs, one can imagine what it felt like seeing them sitting criss-cross applesauce on the top of the West at season’s end. (Something about feeling giddy.) The whole season felt improbable, really, almost like Portland had taken some other longer-suffering team’s place in the line where they hand out the happy seasons. (Something about feeling dirty.) That a season so insanely full of draws ended with even the Supporters’ Shield still in reach only made it weirder. To their credit, the Timbers climbed the heap playing pretty stuff – great stuff at times – and without “real” forwards. (Look, I admire Ryan Johnson, honest, but he’s more labor than art.) Real Salt Lake did what all those ties could not – e.g. provide the singular (totally unwelcome) service of proving that miracles are special for being rare. Ah, well. We’ll always have the playoff series win over the Sounders…

Exciting Additions! – Gaston Fernandez, Norberto Paparatto, Schillo Tshuma, Steve Zakuani

Tricky Departures… – Andrew Jean-Baptiste (sorta), Ryan Johnson, Sal Zizzo (sorta)

Quality Parts: Diego Chara, Will Johnson, Pa Modou Kah, Darlington Nagbe, Donovan Ricketts, Diego Valeri, Rodney Wallace

It Gets Better If They Come Good: Kalif Alhassan, Fernandez, Michael Harrington, Jack Jewsbury, Paparatto, Frederic Piquionne, Tshuma, Maximiliano Urruti, Steve Zakuani

What I’d Expect Based on the Above:
Sure, Timbers could fans manage expectations for 2014, but what’s the point? Even if hope is just god’s tiger trap loaded with spikes aimed at one’s still-beating heart, fuck it, go all in. Besides, there’s more cause for optimism this season, not less. Balance the worry about Valeri’s against another year of leveling up on the savvy for players like Nagbe and Alhassan. For the rest, we took stock of our two main problems – e.g. the pretty passing dying about 30 yards from the opposition goal and that problem with defending set-pieces – and threw a couple Argentines at them. In the former case (e.g. offense) Portland made up in skill (Fernandez) what they lost in size (Ryan Johnson). As for the defense, Paparatto might work, he might not. How much does that glass jaw really matter in the context of  the league’s second best goals-against number? It’s not all perfect: with Jewsbury a year older and me unwilling to accept the validation that Harrington’s call-up to the Men’s National Team should provide, the defensive flanks do concern me (crosses come from somewhere); and I’d be worried about Ricketts’ age…except last year pointed out, rather insistently, that it didn’t matter. For me, the season pivots on Valeri’s groin, just how good Fernandez is, and how Porter fits together that mess of attackers. Those seem like good problems to have. If Porter solves them all, I see no reason why Portland can’t make this season last at least one week longer than the last one.

2014 Season Opener: v. Philadelphia Union, March 8