A Fan Finds A Team | US Soccer Players

By Dario Camacho – MIAMI, FL (Nov 11, 2011) US Soccer Players — When I was a little kid in Colombia, my father used to take me to a soccer academy.  Every Saturday morning I would wake up, and be whisked away so I could fulfill his dream of his son becoming the next Colombian National team goalkeeper.  Yep, a parent living through his offspring. 

In any case, the only thing I remember clearly was the day I learned my first intangible lesson about soccer.  I was in front of goal, and I remember my dad kicked the ball way into the sky.  As I remember it, the ball always seems to move slowly through the air, arching my way.  I outstretched my arms as if awaiting an incoming sack of potatoes, and instead of doing what a professional future Colombian National Team keeper should do with the ball, it slowly drilled my face.

I don鈥檛 remember the fall, or the crunch of my body hitting the pitch.  I remember my dad rushing to me, grabbing my head and inspecting it as if he was checking a melon for soft spots.  He then quickly shrugged it off and said, 鈥測ou鈥檒l be fine.鈥?/p>

I remember the taste of blood from my cracked lip.  I quickly learned one lesson about soccer: It hurts.  It will hurt you.

We always associate pain with feelings, and feelings to things.  It鈥檚 the link that makes us define what matters to us.  I always remembered how that day made me feel about soccer.  How that ball put the hurt on me and how soccer ultimately comes down to the sensation of feeling something.  Of course pain isn鈥檛 categorically specified by just playing the sport.  Across the globe, it鈥檚 also about experiencing it as a fan.

I was never much of a fan growing up, even though my childhood was nothing but soccer filled experiences as my father tried to instill in me the joy of the sport.  I didn鈥檛 get it.   Once I arrived in Miami, the full privilege of having four other teams pulled my interest in sports in all directions.  By the end of the 鈥?0s, I was sick of all of them.

Life has a funny way of teaching you things.  About three years ago I was asked by a couple of friends if I wanted to play soccer with them on a regular basis.  Since I was beginning to see the effects of a sedentary life and an expanding waistline, I agreed.  I was terrible at first, just trying to remember the basics of the game that I was taught so long ago.

Then it clicked.  Suddenly, you understand what makes the game tick, what makes it pang in your heart.  I was addicted.  I needed an outlet.

It鈥檚 a good thing then that today, if you are a fan of the game, you don鈥檛 necessarily have to have a passion for your local sports team鈥?especially when you don鈥檛 have one at all.  The rise of the internet, social networks, and paid subscription services have created multiple options for seeing the game of your choice. It鈥檚 a great time to be a fan.  Especially one with no local team.

Even for a country as big as the United States, we're living in a time that national can truly be defined as national.  A guy in Oklahoma can have the same respective feelings about a Seattle team that the home fan has when in the stands.  People can congregate on a discussion forum as if it was their local pub. 

It鈥檚 the soccer version of the world village.  It ultimately shrinks that cavernous expanse that sometimes is not filled by the general media.  You can disregard the traditional channels and pinpoint the information you want through the secondary ones, and it鈥檚 just as good, if not better.

This is a great time for soccer in America to grow.  That growth is aided by technology and availability.  How I came to love the sport in America, as flawed as it is, is because I was able to connect easily with it through computers and gadgets.

I started reading and discussing the sport on a daily basis once I got online and visited sites devoted to the game,  just like this one.  It also helps that watching the game has never been more accessible.  Even if you don鈥檛 have traditional channels like cable TV, if you are connected online, you are perfectly fine.  Own an Xbox360 and you can catch televised soccer games abroad and domestic, and even watch it on demand.  If you want to see a game involving Los Angeles and New York and how one team plays beautiful soccer while the other one disappoints, there is Match Day Live.

If you feel like venting your frustrations, your emotions, and everything else that can fit in 140 characters, just post a tweet.  You can also follow others with the same gusto about a team and read their frustrations.  Like when someone from Canada steals the soul of a team in Houston.  The cursing and damning will make some blush, but it鈥檚 also what the game is about.

It鈥檚 about the feeling and the connections that people from all parts of the country can make.  All of these things make it easy to fall in love with a team from another city when you don't have a hometown club.  It鈥檚 the 2.0 fan experience.  The online soccer age for fans born and raised under the tutelage of YouTube and Netflix.

Yet it all boils down to that feeling of pain, and sometimes joy, when a team that you鈥檝e never seen in person can still move you in a way that only sports can do.  We just live in an age and part of the world where it is so easily accessible to do so.  It鈥檚 a good thing.  I myself would never be able to experience the highs and lows of Real Salt Lake and their Champions League run without the online world we are so tied to these days.

When they lost that game in Utah, I finally understood that I was a fan of a team, a League, and dare I say it a movement.  I was a kid with a cracked lip, relearning a lesson.

Dario Camacho made the move from regular commentator as Pesmerga7 to columnist.  He writes weekly for US Soccer Players. Follow him on twitter at DarCam7.

More from Dario Camacho:

Managing A Disappointment Something Given鈥?A League In Transition Playing Favorites

Adjusting To The Game | US Soccer Players

By J Hutcherson – WASHINGTON, DC (Nov 29, 2011) US Soccer Players — When I was a kid, there was a guy at my church who was the son of a professional baseball player.  His dad spent 14 years pitching in the big leagues.  The son played major college football and minor league baseball.  Obviously, this was of interest to those of us who were into pro sports – meaning every kid I knew. 

One thing he made clear was that we had no idea about the degree of difficulty at the professional level.  Watching games either on television or in person tends to normalize what you’re seeing.  Actually standing in against a 95 mile per hour fastball or getting up after taking a hit from a player that’s faster than anyone you’ve ever encountered in football?  Completely different. 

He told us a story about being in a spring training game and doing fine against a young pitcher.  Eventually, that team swapped in one of their regulars, and ‘doing fine’ quickly turned into realizing that there was a world of difference between another wannabe Major Leaguer and one of the best pitchers in baseball.  Playing in the majors meant facing a type of talent that quite simply only exists there.  You can train for it, but it still requires an adjustment that very talented athletes are unable to make. 

I experienced this for myself my freshman year of high school.  Playing Fall baseball, a recent graduate showed up to help out the coach.  We were all excited.  After all, we were about to spend time with an actual professional, a player that had just finished his first minor league season.  The outfield wall at my high school backed onto the student parking lot.  On the other side was the football stadium. 

We watched our real life professional take a couple of swings with a wooden bat he took out of a bag with his name and number on it, then start crushing the ball into that fortunately empty parking lot.  Once properly warmed up, he was reaching the football field.  I’d watched a lot of baseball up to that point, lots of minor league games and a few games at the nearest Major League city five hours south, but I’d never seen it out of its element.

Here’s the thing.  The player in question signed a pro contract to be a pitcher for an American League team.  His bat wasn’t considered professional quality, even as he showed us a completely different level of the game.  At the time, it wasn’t exactly motivating.  None of us had any feeling that there was a path that got us from where we were standing on that high school field to some minor league team with a creative nickname.  We weren’t going to be Myrtle Beach Sea Dogs, much less Altoona Curves or Las Vegas 51s.  We knew the game, were passionate about it, and were under no illusion that our skill set translated. 

That held when we started playing other high schools and saw how much better a handful of players were than everybody else.  Take an entire state, and a handful of that handful would get a real shot at the pro level. 

Pick a sport, and it’s the same story.  Short of growing up with a future professional, stick with any sport long enough and you’ll encounter that moment when you realize that your definition of ‘good’ needs a rewrite.  You see professional athletes doing things you recognize.  Like the story from the old minor leaguer, extraordinary skill looks normal when the basic level of the game has been raised.  Things that would be amazing on a park field near you are just part of the game, and it takes truly exceptional talent to amaze. 

Taking that for granted is easy enough.  After all, they’re professionals and that minimal level is part of the job.  In a place like England where soccer is dominant and there are 92 professional clubs, it’s almost taken for granted that someone you know got a tryout or trained with a pro club.  Yet we all know there’s a distinct difference between the lower divisions and what happens week after week in the Premier League.  We can also probably take it for granted that these trialists and might have beens got a taste of what’s needed at the highest level. 

In the United States, that’s what makes stories like Clint Dempsey’s, Tim Howard’s, or Jay DeMerit’s so amazing.  These are players that didn’t move from strength to strength from a very early age.  Dempsey and DeMerit played college soccer, but not for powerhouse teams with a trophy cabinet full of championships.  Howard started his career in the American minor league. 

As professionals, all of them had to prove they belonged.  Dempsey is the standout of these examples, but he spent his Rookie of the Year award winning season trying to show he should’ve gone higher in the draft than 8th.  Howard might have been fast-tracked from the minors to Major League Soccer, but he spent two seasons as a backup with the Metrostars.  DeMerit’s story is so unique it was turned into a movie. 

What makes that fascinating is how all three of them – and again these are just three examples -adapted to various levels of good.  There’s a substantial difference between youth soccer good, college soccer good, and Premier League good.  Even now in the United States, how to define good isn’t as obvious as it is for the other major leagues where clubs compete against each other to sign and develop the best players.  There are 240 minor league baseball teams to go with the 30 Major League teams.  Basketball and football have hundreds of colleges creating their definition of good. 

Though it’s changing, that’s not the same for American professional soccer.  Even with the attention the rest of the world pays to the United States as a potential outlet for players, the net still has holes and players still have to prove they’re among the elite well after they would’ve been identified by the other professional sports. 

When you think about it, that might not be a bad thing.  It certainly keeps the dream of making a career out of professional soccer alive for players that would already know the limits in baseball, football, basketball, or hockey鈥?not to mention professional soccer in the countries where it’s the top sport. 

Comments, questions, solutions to problems that have yet to present themselves.  Please, tell me all about it.

5 Questions: Who Knew Edition | US Soccer Players

By Tony Edwards – San Jose, CA (Nov 29, 2011) US Soccer Players — Tony asks about Carlos Bocanegra鈥檚 injury, looks at what Fulham and Everton might need to do to move higher in the EPL standings, and is the last one to become aware of AZ Alkmaar鈥檚 nickname.

How does Carlos Bocanegra鈥檚 injury affect Rangers?

Even with 10 defenders on their squad list, quite a bit. Bocanegra was only signed in August and he鈥檚 already third among defenders in minutes played and also leads their defenders in scoring. There鈥檚 a lot to be said for the quality of a player who can walk into a line-up and produce. Rangers, despite this weekend鈥檚 loss, remain four points up on Celtic in the Scottish Premier League.

What problems do Tim Howard鈥檚 Everton and Clint Dempsey鈥檚 Fulham share?

Scoring goals. Everton has only scored four times away from home, while Fulham has only scored 7 goals at home. Everton is ninth, with 16 points and a minus-1 goal difference. Fulham has 12 points, is in 15th place, and is also minus-1 in goal difference.

Dempsey is second (by 3 minutes) among most minutes played by Fulham field players and he鈥檚 tied for most goals scored (with 3). You鈥檇 expect Fulham to gel in the second half of the season and stay well clear of any relegation battles.

Everton鈥檚 situation is interesting. The seven teams in European places (Arsenal is in 7th on goal difference) all have at least 23 points already (say what you will about Newcastle鈥檚 chances of staying in a European place all season). Is a team in financial flux, as Everton are, going to invest in a short-term answer to their scoring problems in hopes of getting to the Europa League next season or should they look at rebuilding, if they feel secure knowing they have enough to stay in the EPL?

Can you name the colors you鈥檒l find on the Sounders new third jersey?

"Super cyan and electricity.鈥?But MLS uniforms have come a long ways since celery and cloudy jade, right? The Union have released their new uniform and the Revolution do so this coming weekend. Here is DC United鈥檚 new uniform.

What is the nickname of Jozy Altidore鈥檚 AZ Alkmaar?

"Cheese Farmers," according to the mighty Wikipedia, Alkmaar is known for its "traditional cheese market."

What American companies are getting into the soccer shirt business?

Warrior Sports and Under Armour. Warrior Sports is supposedly paying Liverpool more than $40 million a season to take over from Adidas. Under Armour is replacing Puma for Tottenham. Easy snark about Adidas focusing on Swansea and Derby aside, this is a huge investment for Warrior Sports (owned by New Balance).

Under Armour, maybe best known for its uniform stunts with the University of Maryland鈥檚 gridiron team, has less of a mountain to climb after several years of frankly uninspiring Tottenham shirts.

The Schedule | US Soccer Players

By J Hutcherson – WASHINGTON, DC (Nov 30, 2011) US Soccer Players — And once again it’s the schedule.  This time, it’s Blackburn openly admitting they’re prioritizing the league on their way out of the Carling Cup.  Blackburn manager Steve Kean made the headline writers in England happy by using the term ‘forfeited’ in his post-game comments, making it clear that the team with the worst record in the Premier League needed to focus on that rather than advancing in a cup competition. 

Cardiff City obliged, knocking them out 2-0 at the quarterfinal stage. 

"This game was important," Kean said.  "The fringe lads deserved the opportunity, we’ve been quite strong in this competition, but when we don’t win then the spotlight is obviously on everybody, me included.  So we’ll all face up to that, we are really disappointed tonight, but if I had to decide what team had to be the stronger then it has to be Saturday’s."

You can hardly blame him. Regardless of which side of the Atlantic you reside in, prioritizing competitions is nothing new. Blackburn’s argument is certainly stronger than what we saw last season in Major League Soccer, a league without the trapdoor of relegation.

In the US Open Cup, the New York Red Bulls sent an understrength team to Chicago without their head coach.  In the CONCACAF Champions League, coaches openly prioritized the MLS schedule with their squad selections.  At Champions League level, that roll of the dice actually worked.  Squads that wouldn’t be favored in MLS games picked up road wins in Mexico of all places, bringing an end to the run of MLS futility in that country. 

As the thinking goes, there’s always a chance for an upset.  That’s true even if you’ve made the choice to push the odds against you.  In MLS last season, it was Western Conference teams in the Champions League trying to make sure they didn’t slip into the wildcard slots or worse.  In the Premier League, it’s a club making the pragmatic decision to save their best for the games that will determine their league status. 

With the immediate economic impact of dropping to the Championship costing more than several MLS payrolls, Blackburn and any team in their situation are almost sympathetic.  Short of making the final, few will remember that they crashed out at the quarterfinal stage of the Carling Cup whether or not they end up safe or relegated at the end of the season.  Thinking solely in terms of what they need right now, they probably made the smartest decision. 

Of course, that doesn’t mean it was the best decision for the Carling Cup.  Though Blackburn was by far the most overt in describing their priorities, there are other clubs who probably aren’t in need of therapy after losing on Tuesday.  Arsenal lost 1-0 at home to Manchester City using an experimental lineup, and manager Arsene Wenger made a familiar point.

鈥淲e want to continue our unbeaten run in the Premier League now, that’s where it is important,鈥?he said. 鈥淥verall it’s a shame to lose a game like that at home, especially when you feel you do not deserve to lose it."

We’re back to our ‘on the night’ thinking, when any team can beat any other regardless of roster decisions.

Keeping that in mind, the big clubs create a type of parity by opting for squad players in this competition.  It’s expected, just like the Mexican clubs in the CONCACAF Champions League fielding weaker teams at home where they already have a sizeable advantage. 

Don’t confuse ‘expected’ with ‘appropriate.’   "Come see second best" isn’t the way anyone wants to promote a cup competition, even when the attendances don’t drop off dramatically.  Most fans understand when their teams need to prioritize the league, or at least they’ve adjusted over the years.  Enough fans continue to show up.  Still, there’s the basic idea of a sporting competition and the ideal of best effort. 

Look at it like this. In the modern era of the cup competitions in England, the idea of a cup team has become a backhanded compliment. Why would any team admit to prioritizing a competition that so many others have written off? The downside is steep for a first choice club losing to one that played their reserves. Seasons have shifted on less.

It’s that artificial parity issue, caused when enough of the clubs involved in any competition start significantly tinkering with their lineups.

Coaches tend to use ‘best effort’ to cover any member of their squad on the field at any given time.  As the thinking goes, the player on the field is giving his best, even if that’s normally saved for reserve team games.  We get that, even as it erodes the spirit of the competition. 

Comments, questions, solutions to problems that have yet to present themselves.  Please, tell me all about it.

FIFA And Seasons Of Change | US Soccer Players

By J Hutcherson – WASHINGTON, DC (Dec 1, 2011) US Soccer Players — On Wednesday, FIFA took its latest step on toward a new future that is supposed to stop the barrage of questions over corruption, ethics, and accountability.  I’m willing to bet that for most of you this story has already fallen well down your personal watch list, and that’s part of the problem.

One of the most valuable lessons FIFA has learned since the summer of ethical lapses is the value in controlling the timeline.  That was the most significant moment from yesterday’s press conference announcing the findings of Swiss law professor Mark Pieth, the author of the independent governance report and chair of the Independent Governance Committee that is intended to direct FIFA’s reformation movement.

For an organization known for acting and reacting as quickly as possible, FIFA is now switching to the long view.  Pieth’s "Governing FIFA" report needs to pass through FIFA’s multi-level bureaucracy and then wait a year before taking effect.  In other words, there will be more than enough time to tinker with the final product. 

A few things immediately stand out.  The Governing FIFA report (available here as a pdf) stresses the evolution of FIFA from a governing body to a corporate structure capable of generating significant revenue.  Per the report, it’s FIFA as a multinational enterprise shouldering all that entails rather than the traditional understanding of a non-profit organization with charitable ambitions. 

With that in mind, member associations become as much shareholders as anything else.  Though that might seem obvious from the outside, it’s not the way FIFA self-defines.  This is a ‘for the good of the game’ organization that even in moments of crisis keeps to the ideal of one vote per country equality in the organization and helping all over the world.  That the 1994 World Cup showed it was possible to generate significant revenue from that marquee event simply gave world soccer’s governing body more resources. 

Even with all evidence to the contrary, in their own self-examination FIFA is distinct.  President Sepp Blatter likes to talk of mandates, and that’s a key component to understanding how FIFA operates.  Even with the multiple scandals concerning how FIFA does business, they would likely stress that they’re not operating with traditional cost cases and business models. Instead, it’s the good of the game.  In their dialogue, that’s the reason for using the World Cup to open new markets rather than returning to sure things.  That was how last year’s World Cup hosting vote was justified, pushing against those countries that have shown they can maximize revenue with major events as simply sore losers. 

Setting aside individual gain, there are a number of decisions FIFA would have made differently had it been the overall profit motive.  It is highly unlikely they’re going to suddenly take on corporate responsibility when they’ve never adjusted to that as their role.  Benefitted, certainly but that’s not the same thing. 

Pieth’s report recognizes that, and goes a step further in making it clear that the rest of us – those outside of FIFA – are well aware of the appearance/reality distinction in play.  From page 10 if his report:

Sports are, more than ever, linked to money and to power. One needs to be careful therefore not to expect that sports take place in a vacuum, in a better world than real life.

As much as anything we’ve seen following last December’s World Cup hosting vote and the FIFA presidential election cycle with its resulting corruption charges, this is a clear defining of FIFA’s primary problem.  With a predictable yet startling regularity, FIFA’s leadership returns to the idea that they’re operating for the greater good, even when individual bad actors do wrong. 

This isn’t a new point, but it’s worth returning to Blatter’s press conference following the Congress that reelected him.  In a presidential election cycle that saw the only other candidate – a sitting Confederation president from the county that just won hosting rights to a World Cup – withdraw under allegations of votes for bribes, Blatter chose to lecture the media on professional decorum in the workplace. 

If you happened to see the live feed, this was FIFA as ageing relative more concerned with the tenor of the conversation than the quality.  It was an open and immediate disconnection following one of the more bizarre sequences of events in the organization’s history.  What we saw was a moment of shamelessness when what needed to happen for the good of the game was a moment of humility. 

Again, returning to that appearance/reality distinction, there’s no doubt in my mind that FIFA and its leadership considers themselves humbled.  They’ve seen colleagues taken down by ethics probes and an organization they’ve devoted significant portions of their working lives to called into question all over the world.  Where that’s failed is how it has been relayed to the rest of us.  Extending the season for reform does very little to change that feeling.

Comments, questions, solutions to problems that have yet to present themselves.  Please, tell me all about it.

5 Questions: Keepers, Suites, Openers, Reforms, Origin | US Soccer Players

By Tony Edwards – San Jose, CA (Dec 1, 2011) US Soccer Players — In today鈥檚 edition, Tony finds it鈥檚 a tough time to be an experienced MLS goalkeeper, looks at the going rate for luxury suites in not-even-built MLS stadia, asks about an opportunity for FIFA reform, and examines the zen of home openers.

Where can an MLS team find an experienced goalkeeper at a decent price?

In the MLS Re-Entry Process. Joe Cannon, Zach Thornton, Greg Sutton, Bouna Coundoul, and Adin Brown are only some of those available. There鈥檚 a lot of talent in the draft, not just at keeper, even presuming some of those whose contract options were declined are headed elsewhere. The first step of this draft process is next Monday.

How much does a suite cost at the not-even-approved Earthquakes Stadium?

$350,000 for five years. I double-checked that figure, its right. Seventy thousand dollars a year. There鈥檚 only going to be 12 suites and they are going to be the MLS equivalent of 鈥渇loor seats in the NBA,鈥?according to David Kaval, Earthquakes president. They will also have plush seats, flat screen televisions, etc, which I鈥檓 pretty sure NBA floor seats don鈥檛 have. The renderings on the official site do look nice.

What is the sound of only one team showing up for a home opener?

We鈥檙e all pleased MLS is working to get next season鈥檚 schedule out significantly earlier than last season鈥檚. But announcing only the home teams for the weekend of March 10th openers is silly, at best. Sometimes you don鈥檛 need to publicize everything.

What are the chances for what most people paying attention would call relevant reforms at FIFA?

Perhaps a little better today, but the most important part of FIFA's big announcement is that the chair of their Independent Governance Committee and author of their Governing FIFA report has no power to hold FIFA to any recommended changes.  So things like  term limits for officers and more transparency still need to go through the Executive Committee and the FIFA Congress as well as a "12-month cooling off period" before any new regulations take effect.

Besides the US and Canada, which country has the most players represented in MLS?

Colombia, with 16. Brazil is next with 15.

O’Neill’s Job | US Soccer Players

By J Hutcherson – WASHINGTON, DC (Dec 2, 2011) US Soccer Players — If the reports describing Martin O'Neill's move to Sunderland a done deal prove to be true, it's an interesting decision from both parties.  O'Neill has been the next great manager for over a decade, the media's regular candidate whenever a high profile job comes open.  That's not Sunderland, obviously.  How O'Neill fits with a struggling club could turn into one of the most interesting stories of the 2011-12 Premier League season. 

You might recall that O'Neill's time at Aston Villa ended with his resignation over available transfer funds.  He believed he needed more money to keep pushing the club up the table.  They were 6th in his last season, something that wouldn't be lost on any struggling club making a change. 

O'Neill's name is almost a reactionary response when a job might open.  Is your illustrious manager considering retirement?  O'Neill is a hypothetical candidate.  Did your team just drop yet another chance at three points?  Wonder what O'Neill could do?  He's held that shadow manager role in the minds of fans of multiple clubs for obvious reasons.  He's supposed to be the next great manager.

That dates all the way back to when he was in charge of a massive club in a small league, O'Neill's Celtic years.  At one point, he was supposed to takeover Leeds United when it was Leeds threatening to disrupt the Arsenal-Manchester United lock on championships.  Pick an elite club, and it's likely that at some point O'Neill was linked with their job. 

Part of the problem for a manager like O'Neill is the lack of coaching changes at clubs like Arsenal and Manchester United and the lack of fit with clubs like Chelsea and Liverpool.  Remember, O'Neill was linked with the Liverpool job that eventually went to Roy Hodgson.  That was an experiment in hiring a coach that had done surprisingly well with a club that was in the bottom half of the table financially.  Imagine what a manager capable of turning over that economic disadvantage could do with money to spend.  It didn't take long for Liverpool to decide they knew the answer and make yet another change. 

Meanwhile, O'Neill chose to stay unemployed.  That's become an interesting part of his story, letting what at least in the media's appraisals were opportunities simply pass him by.  It's a situation most managers won't allow themselves to end up in.  We've seen managers take jobs that were never a good fit, lose them or move on, and spend seasons hunting for what they already had. 

Resisting that urge has become a key component in the O'Neill story.  What he might see in Sunderland becomes a very good question, full of the kind of speculation that wouldn't be happening if he hadn't emerged as a willing candidate.  After 13 games played, Sunderland are two points above the relegation zone in 16th-place.  All three newly promoted teams are ahead of them in the standings.  It would take a substantial amount to salvage the current situation and turn it into a respectable finish.  This is a club that very much looks like one that will need significant time to get to where O'Neill had Villa. 

It's worth repeating that O'Neill quit Villa over an unwillingness to spend after leading them to three consecutive 6th-place finishes.  His first season in charge, he got them up from 16th to 11th.  With Villa, O'Neill ended up needing a handful of points to do even better. 

Though you can always argue that the same handful of points in the other direction drops them a couple places down the table, O'Neill was well aware that points in the Premier League carry a price tag.  Reduce the spending, and barring a whole lot of luck you're not going to be finishing sixth or higher the next season. 

O'Neill's resignation was a pragmatic decision based on experience.  This isn't college sports where the coach stays for decades knowing he'll be rebuilding recruiting class after recruiting class.  Premier League managers are supposed to want to be dynasty builders. 

Again, that returns us to the situation at Sunderland.  What the rest of the Premier League – especially those clubs at or just outside the bottom of the European places – need to be asking themselves is what O'Neill is seeing. 

It's not an issue of getting the kind of commitment he lacked just before the start of what would have been his fifth season at Villa.  Not yet anyway. 

What happens should O'Neill end up needing money to push Sunderland past that 6th-place barrier several other clubs have encountered is a question for another season.  Right now, it's about stabilizing a club and beginning to build.

Comments, questions, solutions to problems that have yet to present themselves.  Please, tell me all about it.

A Glimpse Of Socrates | US Soccer Players

By J Hutcherson – WASHINGTON, DC (Dec 5, 2011) US Soccer Players — Those of us that grew up in the televised soccer wasteland that was the United States for a lot of years probably share a similar story and a similar affection for a collection of video tapes.  After all, it was how we saw what we read or heard about.  The great moments from games that we had little or no access to prior to the availability of video on the internet. 

It wasn’t just about finding the videos, it was about finding them in the right format to play on a North American VCR.  Thus the likelihood that you or somebody you knew had 500 Greatest Goals, maybe a couple of the official World Cup films, and selections from an almost random variety of English videos that had been improbably converted for the US market.  Match of the Day The 70’s for instance. 

Now that we sound like dinosaurs talking about an abandoned format and items that probably went the way of all things years ago, I’ll get to my point.  On one of those highlight video compendiums that I had, we see footage of Socrates with his club team.  It’s been years, and I don’t remember which one.  We find him directing his own run, pointing to where he’s going, getting there, and insisting on an unlikely pass.  He knocks that high pass down, turns and lays the ball off for an on-rushing player who has gotten the message.  Why it made the video is because it’s Socrates who actually scores, knocking in the rebound after his teammate was unable to complete his vision.  He celebrates like it went exactly as planned. 

Here’s where I half considered tracking down the clip on the web, but I might be misremembering and I would prefer not to know.  What I thought of when I read that Socrates had died was that moment.  Him not in a Brazil shirt, not connecting with Zico at World Cup level, and not in one of his truly classic moments.  We’ll assume the producers of that video didn’t have access to the truly great stuff.  What I remembered was a glimpse of a player that stood out years later from the bulk of those 500 Greatest Goals.

Too often in the contemporary era, that’s not enough to appropriately eulogize a sporting figure.  We’re supposed to get past what happened on the field, figure out the individual, and judge accordingly.  It’s an exercise in popular psychology in the true sense of that term.  We have to know more, and only them can we really have an opinion. 

Biographies and re-examinations of the importance of musicians almost always centers on this move.  You take someone who should be able to stand on what they built through recordings and performances and sweep away any and all presumptions.  Then you go after what’s left, the true or real story that usually ends up dispiriting the work – the art – that brought us there in the first place. 

Have you ever seen an internet forum go after a popular act or album?  Make no mistake, even the most reviled mainstream release will have someone claiming it’s actually the best thing the artist ever did.  That will be chased by those that can’t understand how the artist in question ever drew an audience to begin with.  Then we’ll normally see someone go after the artist’s influences as more than influences.  If you’re into the electric guitar heroes of the 60’s and 70’s, there’s a message board somewhere eager to let you know that the successful ones are sloppy, derivative, personally suspect, and ultimately of questionable value. 

Yes, but did any of the critics ever enjoy the music? 

That’s Socrates, overcoming his own back story as the soccer playing physician with the wild beard who had to be told to celebrate his goals.  How he did that was by giving up enough of his game to fit in at the highest level for the best soccer playing country in the world.  Setting aside all the talk of visionary and maverick that seems to tag any successful player from the 70’s who managed to setup a goal or score it while his manager was yelling in frustration from the sideline, we get a player who saw how his theories could work in practice at that top tier over 90 minutes. 

It doesn’t take more than a highlight to see that Socrates was using the sport of soccer as a platform to think through his own unique ideas.  Why not try this, and if it works we all win?  That’s a recipe for frustration in most settings at that level.  Even the samba version of Brazil needs players sticking to roles and assignments.  To prosper with an individual style there is world’s apart from entertaining on a Saturday in the English League in the early 80’s. 

Where that leaves us is a fully appropriate obituary.  Socrates was different, and those Brazil teams adjusted accordingly.  They made that choice, they made him captain, and they ended up doing enough to make two Brazil teams that didn’t win World Cups as memorable as some of those that did.

Comments, questions, solutions to problems that have yet to present themselves.  Please, tell me all about it.

The Impact Of ISL | US Soccer Players

By J Hutcherson – WASHINGTON, DC (Dec 6, 2011) US Soccer Players — For those of you still following the story of FIFA's bid for reform, earlier today world soccer's governing body announced a delay in releasing what is now being commonly referred to as 'the ISL file.'  For those needing a quick reminder, the expectation is that the release of that file will show who received money during the 1990's when International Sports and Leisure was FIFA's official marketing partner. 

That partnership ended with ISL's bankruptcy and rumors that significant FIFA bureaucrats had been bribed by ISL as part of doing business. In terms of impact, that was the major moment in FIFA president Sepp Blatter's announcement on October 21st that his organization was committed to becoming more transparent. 

Blatter might have stressed the committee structure that's intended to realign FIFA's ethical compass, but it remains the ISL case that still looms large almost a decade later.  The reason for that is simple.  The rumors have always been that ISL's bankruptcy centered on their inability to both make money and pay individual FIFA officials what they expected in return for voting to continue to do business with ISL.  It's the votes for bribes scandal that never happened in full view of the public, with ISL going out of business, FIFA righting its own finances, and the case mainly serving as fodder for critics of FIFA without the necessary specifics. 

Why?  Three years ago, FIFA was drawn into a court case in Switzerland over those allegations, but FIFA paid back the full amount of money supposedly spent by ISL on bribing FIFA's own officials. As part of the deal, the ISL file was sealed.  Without the specifics, the accusations remain vague and unproven. 

In a statement on Tuesday, Blatter said:

FIFA has been working intensively over the past few weeks with its lawyers and legal team to be able to publish the ISL file at the next meeting of the FIFA Executive Committee in Japan on 17 December 2011. It was my strong will to make the ISL file fully transparent at this meeting. I have now been advised that as a result of the objection of a third party to such transparency it will take more time to overcome the respective legal hurdles. This does not change my stance at all. I remain fully committed to publishing the files as soon as possible as an important part of my many reform plans for FIFA, which include handling the past as well as preparing the future structure of the organisation.

And so he should.  It would be almost impossible for Blatter to take a step back from releasing the ISL file at this point.  FIFA's project for transparency hinges on it being made public, regardless of the ramifications.  It's those ramifications that continue to loom large. 

Now do we think that the eventual release of this file will be the dramatic moment that shakes FIFA to its core?  Probably not, but it would certainly be the next moment in a series of events that confirm what many already suspected about the organization.  This is a group of people that allowed themselves to become isolated from the norms of how non profits and corporations operate, adjusted their own ethics to allow for things that might have been explainable internally but would look suspect in public, and let a lot of things go that in retrospect created the scenario they're currently trying to put in the past. 

Which begs the question why release the file at all?  Too much could become common knowledge for this to just be a PR move.  It's also not the kind of thing that organizations do to quickly put in the past and move on.  When that file becomes public, the likelihood is other important people in FIFA will fall.  FIFA knew that when they authorized Blatter to make the announcement. 

As it stands, the ramifications of what might be in that file led to an International Olympic Committee investigation of former FIFA president Joao Havelange.  On Monday, Havelange resigned as a member of the IOC, with that group ending their investigation.  At issue?  Money supposedly taken during the ISL era when Havelange was running FIFA. 

Havelange isn't the only one that has dual positions in FIFA – where he's still the honorary president – and the IOC.  That's a list that includes high ranking FIFA officials, and the IOC investigation into what's supposedly a list of FIFA members who took ISL money remains open.  Actually releasing the ISL file would make that investigation significantly easier. 

Again, we return to what's in it for FIFA.  Moves for greater transparency are laudable, but the ISL file doesn't exist in a vacuum devoid of any impact on current events.  At the same time, it might not be the smoking gun so many FIFA critics expect.  FIFA knows what the file contains and what the likely impact will be.  Whatever losses it will cause, FIFA seems willing to allow that to happen. 

So here we are, waiting for a court case that's already been settled to become public knowledge.  For FIFA's administrators, this is already an instance of what will happen next. 

Comments, questions, solutions to problems that have yet to present themselves.  Please, tell me all about it.

5 Questions: DC, Crew, Quakes, Academy, And Suites | US Soccer Players

By Tony Edwards – San Jose, CA (Dec 6, 2011) US Soccer Players — In today鈥檚 edition, Tony asks about goals in Columbus, looks at an already productive MLS youth development academy, and follows up on the suite business in Major League Soccer.

What former US National Team and DC United midfielder retired last week?

Santino Quaranta. Twenty-seven and at one time the youngest player in MLS, he鈥檚 made it through some rough times and is going to work with the Baltimore youth soccer club he helped start. He also said he would work with Dan Cronin, MLS and NHL鈥檚 substance abuse advisor, to help others.

Who is going to score goals for Columbus next season?

Not Andres Mendoza, that鈥檚 for certain. Jeff Cunningham also did not have his option picked up by the Crew.

Does Earthquakes coach Frank Yallop see the glass as half-full or half-empty going forward?

Half-full. Clearly, it鈥檚 his job to say that, but let鈥檚 also remember when coaches talk about the tactical limitations forced on them by the salary cap and small rosters that they all had a say in putting together said roster. Let鈥檚 take the positive road and highlight the solutions Sigi Schmidt and his staff found last season in the face of injuries and schedule complications.

Which MLS team鈥檚 Academy received the highest rating available from the US Soccer Federation?

FC Dallas' academy. Academy Direction Oscar Pareja and FC Dallas received Four Stars in the end-of-the-year evaluation. Six players already have gone on to play for the senior team, a laudable accomplishment.

With the Earthquakes announcing sales for suites at their not even fully approved stadium last week, what's the capacity for the elite seats in other MLS stadiums?

For a league built on real estate, there鈥檚 more variability than you might expect. A somewhat random sampling with the focus on soccer-specific stadiums: Toyota Park and the Home Depot Center each have about 500 seats available with 6 鈥減arty鈥?suites that hold 20 and 42 regular suites that hold 8 to 10 ticketed spectators. There鈥檚 360 suite seats at Red Bull Arena and FC Dallas鈥檚 stadium in Frisco has 18 suites.