Academy vs High School Soccer

Today’s washington post looks at the tug of war between MLS’ Academies and High School soccer for elite players. Each kid should make the choice that is best for him. But for those that want to play at the highest pro levels, that will increasingly mean forgoing High School and College soccer programs in favor of developing in a professional stadium. US Soccer is making progress toward developing players as it is done in the rest of the world.

The movement pits those who believe training with elite clubs is the best route for developing international-caliber players against others who say the trend could undermine a uniquely American tradition in which the best athletes compete alongside their classmates for their high school teams.

U.S. youth soccer: Is high school or playing on an elite academy team the best route? – The Washington Post

Bobby Convey, Former Boy Wonder, Turns Comeback Kid –

I’ve long been a fan of Bobby Convey, and was glad he was included on the 2006 World Cup squad, along with another favorite of mine, Ben Olsen.  He did it again, last week, making D.C. United fans everywhere happy by knocking New York out of the MLS Playoffs.  Given the lack of options on the left side, anyone else wish he’d come back to D.C. instead of San Jose?

It has been a long, undulating road for Convey, going from Washington to Reading, England, and back to the United States with San Jose in M.L.S. But perhaps one of the most significant detours came last Thursday night at Red Bull Arena, where Convey’s virtuoso performance (two goals and an assist) propelled the Earthquakes past the Eastern Conference champion Red Bulls, 3-1 in the match, and gave San Jose a 3-2 victory in the two-game, total-goals series.

Bobby Convey, Former Boy Wonder, Turns Comeback Kid –

When will soccer fans get MLS games without a cable provider?

I'm looking forward to when MLS is available on one or both of these online video services(?).  Will they do it anytime soon – maybe in time for next season?  Superfans would love this much access to video of games.  I think it'd be particularly cool to go back and watch the 1996 MLS Cup, for example. But how do broadcasting partners feel about it?

Boxee and the NHL have launched a port of the GameCenter Live computer-based video streaming service. Like MLB.TV, a subscription ($20/mo or $80/yr) is required and grants you access to all of the (out of market) hockey – games, live or archived. Of course, this will be significantly more meaningful when the actual Boxee Box launches, allowing us to leave the PC entirely out of the equation

NBA lands on Roku, NHL on Boxee

Jorge Flores living the dream

I hope US Soccer can find, and cap, more players like Jorge Flores, although there’s a lot of debate about how many undiscovered, diamonds-in-the-rough like him are out there. Still, if MLS and US Soccer can give opportunites to players like him, we could add some much needed Latin-flair to the game here. OK, I’m done channeling Paul Gardner now.

From TV to M.L.S., One Mexican Teen’s Soccer Dream –

A lot more people are coming to know Flores, an 18-year-old, left-footed midfielder who had scored three goals in three games for Chivas before Thursday night’s 1-0 loss against the Red Bulls in East Rutherford, N.J. The most recent goal — a left-footed volley he ripped into the side netting against Columbus — was the type of dead-perfect shot any player dreams about hitting.

This is why MLS paid to have its games on ESPN

MLS had to pay to be on ESPN2 for so many years, because that’s what gets and keeps you on the general sport fan’s radar.  On the other end of th spectrum, the NHL refused a revenue-sharing agreement, one without a big fat rights fee, with ESPN last year and chose to go to the more obscure Versus network.  Now, we’re treated to posts that ask "Is ESPN killing the NHL?"  Before we proceed, let me say I have nothing against Hockey as a sport, although I’m not a fan myself. 

It seems to me, that the NHL owners had to have considered the effects of not being on carried on ESPN’s networks.  To not have thought it through is either delusions or incompetent, so to try to blame ESPN for the lack of interest in the NHL rings a bit hollow. Its also naive to complain that ESPN doesn’t promote hockey enough, when it is in its own interests to promote programming that it carries.   Ask any soccer fan how much they promoted MLS before this year to see if this behavior should come as any surprise.

The NHL is in the same position as MLS, a niche sport with a passionate fan base, but limited appeal to casual fans.  Hockey had the good fortune to fly close to the sun, and certainly enjoyed big cash and exposure.  Its just a pity that the fall back to earth is so painful.

The post that started it all – Negative Press: Is ESPN is Killing the National Hockey League by Influencing Public Attitudes?

The Middle Class Player?

He starts by saying that "Those are the players MLS needs to keep or go out and get, the players who might be great stars one day, but right now are simply solid role players who increase the team competence on the field."  No one can argue with that statement, clearly any sports league needs a healthy mix of rookies, solid supporting players, and stars.  But then, he makes a statement that I just can’t process, and if you look closely, contradicts itself quite obviously.

MLS doesn’t need to pay them more money, but they do need to pay them just enough to keep them here, something they have yet to do as a corporate directive.

OK, so players are leaving because they can make more money overseas.  MLS needs to keep these players, presumably because they don’t pay them enough.  But to keep them the league "doesn’t need to pay them more money"?  Unless the league convinces the players to use some new sort of math where the difference between what they make here and what they could make elsewhere, which is negative, actually means they make more money – why should a player stay with MLS?  For the prestige and honor of playing in the Champions Cup, Interliga, and maybe the Copa Sudamericana?

It’s easy to spend other people’s money, particularly when they are billionaires who own sports teams.  What we are seeing this off-seasonare the effects of tensions that have been in the league putting the squeeze on the "Middle Class" player.  Because it IS happening more and also because the league is covered more in depth than it was just a few years ago.

Can we conclude that the MLS business plan is predicated on building a team based on a few star players, a sprinkling of supporting players, and a higher-than-most-of-us-would-like reliance on raw, young players?  I think so.  With the labor agreement in place through 2010 (Soccer Insider), the owners have little incentive to raise their labor costs across the board.  Of course, more money is coming into the league thanks to team operated stadiums, and TV rights fees. Come 2010, this could setup a tense negotiation of the next labor agreement, players will look to get a bigger share of, hopefully, a much bigger pie.  Until then, we’ll keep watching some players leave (Dempsey), others return (Reyna), and why some go play in the USL (Mctavish).

Bright future for Major League Soccer

What’s the best indicator of the health of the league?  For non-fans, the Beckham signing earlier this month was a huge deal.  But, there are actually many reasons to be optimistic about the state of Major League Soccer and its future.

While the recent signing of Beckham represents the highest-profile announcement to date from the 11-year-old Major League Soccer (MLS), several other recent and important developments will also impact positively on MLS and the future of US football.

MLS headquarters has done a lot to strengthen the foundation of the league by, first, bringing in new owners, and getting stadiums built for teams.  Diversifying the ownership stakes help spread risk but more importantly makes teams, like Colorado and DC United, the primary focus for the owner-operator.  Stadiums help to cut costs and bring in more game-day revenue compared to leasing big stadiums, and that can only help the financial situation.  With the announcement of television rights and a tournament against Mexican league teams, the league is now taking the next step to increasing its exposure and solidifying its place in the North American soccer landscape.

For MLS die hards, these developments are re-assuring, considering its only been a few years since the league had to fold its two Florida teams.  Hat tip: Sports Law Blog (Potential for good comments over there)

This Beckham guy is a pretty big deal, eh?

No pun intended by the headline, honest!  Unless you’ve been living under a rock like one person I know (who lives in L.A. for crying out load), you’ve already heard that David Beckham signed with Major League Soccer today.  I’m as excited as my compatriots over at The DCenters, but I think it’ll be a good move for the league.  The cynics amongst us might smell the faint taint of Lothar Mattheus here, but I think Beckham will play well, definitely bump attendance, and give the league a well timed publicity boost.  If you don’t think its a big deal – check out the popular stories for today on Soccer Blogs.  There are at least a ton more people, especially outside of MLS cities, that are now aware that this country has a soccer league.  I caught talk of the signing on PRI’s business program Marketplace, our local Fox news affiliate here in DC, and on Canada’s As it Happens. 

Already, this was shaping up to be a good year for the league, with the sale of DC United, and the transfer of Clint Dempsey (yes it was good for the league).  I’m not looking forward to the throngs of screaming Beckham fans that will be at RFK next season.  But, this is a turning point for the league – will the hard core stick with the league if it gets popular and loses its "outsider" aura?  Will Eurosnobs give American Soccer a fair shake?  After this year, we’ll be able to tell…