Tag Archives: MLS

Shooting Stars – San Jose Earthquakes Shine in Being the Best

22 Oct

Americans of all creeds gathered to grab a blue shovel to build a home –  the new domain of the San Jose Earthquakes. On Sunday, a world record crowd of 6,256 fans grabbed shovels and dug for two minutes on the land destined to spring forth a new era in Bay Area soccer. The man from the Guinness Book of World Records gave his assent and the deal was done. Fans cheered when the official word came through. This was a day for the true blue Quakes fans. Everyone there deposited a little bit of heart and graft into the future of their club.

There was business to attend to after the groundbreaking event – the final homegame of the season. Across the rail tracks at Buck Shaw stadium, the Quakes took on their rivals from the southland, Los Angeles Galaxy, a distant constellation missing a couple of bulbs. David Beckham and Landon Donovan were absent but no one really noticed or much cared. After all, the Quakes had lorded over the Galaxy this season with a brighter magnitude of talent.

Pre-game, there was a majestic tifo display unfurled by the 1906 Ultras, the Quakes fireball supporters that pack a sonic boom. A marvelous roll of canvas covering their section depicted the iconic Star Wars credits featuring the Quakes stars Steven Lenhart and Chris Wondolowski in the leading rolls. The ref blew the kickoff whistle and the job of running all over the Galaxy commenced again.

Yet the Empire from LA was intent on striking back. The Quakes had won the two previous duels this season. The Galaxy were determined not to lose again and they set about their business convincingly. San Jose struggled and were lucky not to find themselves behind at the half.

After the interval, both teams powered up, more territory opened up, and the battle engaged. LA went for the win, twice taking the lead, only to have the advantage pulled back by the dogged Quakes set on keeping their unbeaten record at home this season intact.

All eyes were on Wondo, chasing the single season goalscoring record of twenty-seven, set in 1996 by Roy Lassiter, who watched the game from the stands. The Danville native needed two to tie Lassiter and when he bagged the equalizer to make it 2-2, many thought destiny was at hand. Wondo hit the post twice, prompted the Galaxy keeper to produce saves but could not fling the final peg. He has one more chance next week against Portland. “Records are made to be broken,” said Lassiter, and Wondo knows it.

The Quakes had won the coveted Supporters’ Shield the night before thanks to Kansas City being unable to beat New York. Naturally, the team would have preferred to snatch the silver for themselves from Los Angeles, the current holders. But it didn’t stop the celebrations at the final whistle. San Jose were the rulers of the 2012 MLS season with the most points. The scenes in the locker room went pop with splashdowns of champagne. The MLS Cup now beckons, the final shot for a team that has shone brilliant all season long. May the force be with you.

Money Makes the Ball Go Round

11 Jun

You play professional in one of the big three sports. Your real estate footprint is large and your fancy car is marvelous. Valet park every time. Your plate is the most expensive on the menu. When you get old and tottery it is unlikely you’ll be wandering around penniless on city streets. Investments will soften your end. And you earned it. Talent pushed you from the humble class to the wealthy one. Sports can do that. But if you play professional soccer in America, you may still eat at Sizzler and drive home to your modest apartment in a 2001 Honda. Don’t think too much about getting old.

Major League Soccer’s player salaries were published recently. Some earn less than forty grand a year. The median wage is about eight-five thousand. Six years ago, it was fifty thousand. Not a bad improvement considering incomes for US households have fallen seven per cent over the last decade. But when you compare it to the big three American sports, choosing a career in soccer pales by comparison – hoops can pay you about five million, three million for hardball and a couple of mill at the Grid Iron.

MLS teams play to a median of about three million dollars in total wages. In the English Premier League it hits nearly sixty million. This explains why most of America’s top talent plays overseas. LA Galaxy’s Landon Donovan is the exception, arguably the best US player of his generation. Praise him for investing much of his career on the home front. Not too long ago, he was earning peanuts compared to the two million plus he pulls now. He can thank David Beckham.

Beckham arrived in MLS in 2007 and immediately liked the drive-thru at In-n-Out Burger. But he wasn’t willing to pull up in a 2001 Honda for his fix. His nickname was Goldenballs. He didn’t work for a few hundred grand unless it was by the week. MLS needed his brand if interest in the league were to grow. So they enacted the Beckham Rule – teams could now sign a couple of top drawer players and pay them salaries that would set them apart from the rest of their teammates. Class on the field met economic class in the locker room.

Back then, San Jose striker Alan Gordon played for the Galaxy. A second job as a youth team coach supplemented his thirty thousand a year income. Roommates were necessary. Job security was dependent on him banging in goals. Today, playing for the Quakes, he pulls in over one hundred grand. Comfortable but soccer players retire when they hit the mid-thirties. And what do you do then when all you know is the ball?

Zach Slaton, a contributor to Forbes, analyses soccer by the numbers. He believes MLS is moving in the right direction. “As with any rapidly expanding business (approximately fifty per cent increase in number of teams and a nearly seventy-one per cent increase in number of players since 2007), MLS has had to manage sustainable growth in player wages to keep the quality of play high and the cost of operating the league low,” he says, and with the median salary rising, “all of this means a family can at the least dream of seeing their young soccer-playing son making an upper-middle class income if he were to sign an MLS contract…most importantly, the family won’t be fearful of their child falling into the trappings of celebrity associated with other major US sports in pursuit of such a dream.” Soccer – the humble game of the middle class.

Can US Soccer Flourish Without Dangerous Rivalries?

17 Apr

Celtic and Rangers

The 2010 MLS season kicks off and I heard a bunch of moaning. Some commentators take the field and kick the game with sharp spikes on how weak the league is. Rootless cosmopolitans continue to look to Europe. And what is it that drives them to seek out their fix from these foreign dealers. The quality of the football drug is vastly superior and there is one huge snort – the rush of bitter rivalry.

While there are some developing rivalries in MLS, what it lacks are the crazed battles of the old world. Take a rivalry like Celtic and Rangers in Scotland. Murderous, dangerous, and sectarian and you can go to other parts of Europe and find the same. In Spanish soccer, it’s bloody civil war and nationalism; in Israel, it’s politics; in Argentina, it’s the class divide.

Scattered geography, the lack of two-team cities, the success of the liberal American mixing bowl makes it harder to show up and hate fellows from Dallas, or Canadians, when the only thing they have hurt the USA with is a hockey stick. At the national level, American fans could up the ante in the rivalry with Mexico by showing up in large numbers to the stadium but as we all know, home games for the USA often seem like away.

At some point in the future, maybe MLS can merge with UEFA to create a trans-Atlantic tournament or bounce into the Mexican divisions to form a NAFTA Super League – The North American Futbal Association. That could kick in some fierce rivalries. If the clubs could attract the airlines to throw up cheaper flights and short stay packages, maybe the crucial factor of an away support can crystallize. Leaving a victorious insult in another town stokes the rivalry furnace.

So, can powerful adversaries in American soccer be forged? Or is it even necessary or desired? Maybe the game in the USA need not mimic the style of old world anger. Maybe the game could thrive on a more mellow and technical path without bloody murder, rancid protest and playing from the heart – then again, maybe not.