Klinsmann vs. Everyone

I am tired.

As you probably know by now, Don Garber held an impromptu press conference today. During it, he offered an impassioned rebuttal to what he saw as a slight from Jurgen Klinsmann towards Major League Soccer. There are almost certainly behind-the-scenes reasons for Garber to pick up the microphone, but to an outsider it reflects insecurity and pettiness. Garber doesn’t come off looking great in this fight. But Klinsmann has been picking a lot of fights lately.

Klinsmann has set himself up as an anti-US-establishment figure, and the “Klinsmann vs. the system” narrative has been a constant since he began. He arrived on the job as USMNT head coach with promises of overhaul and change, most notably the youth system. Most people recognize that there are flaws in the American soccer structure, and so we embraced Klinsmann as a harbinger of change. After some early stumbles, the USMNT saw success under Klinsmann in last year’s World Cup qualifying. On the field success is the best way for a manager to endear himself to a fanbase.

With the security of a long-term contract given to him following the World Cup draw, Klinsmann has broadened his targets. First: Donovan. This duel had personal aspects, but it was also symbolic. To really grab the attention of American soccer and the media, Klinsmann slaughtered its most sacred cow. Where fans and proponents of US Soccer viewed Donovan as embodying its best aspects and potential, Klinsmann saw the negative aspects and unfulfilled potential. Donovan stayed in MLS rather than go to Europe, and the media often praised him for accomplishments that are small on an international stage.

And here is where Klinsmann, if he didn’t have them before, spawned enemies. Lots of them, particularly from American media outlets that are unaccustomed to soccer and only view Klinsmann as a foreign interloper telling us how to do our jobs. Xenophobic sportswriters aside, even parts of the soccer media were skeptical of the decision. Some Klinsmann supporters noted that the decision got the American mainstream talking about the make up of a World Cup squad weeks before the tournament, which was a first.

After a fairly successful World Cup run (though that assessment is not shared by everyone), the furor surrounding American soccer largely died off. There were critics who noted that Michael Bradley wasn’t in his best position, that Klinsmann had no replacement for Jozy Altidore, and that Donovan could have offered more than Brad Davis or Mix Diskerud or Timmy Chandley. But largely there was peace, and American soccer’s supporters were just thrilled with the attention given to the World Cup.

The peace was shattered about a week ago. Donovan’s farewell match was always going to be a testy moment, but he and Klinsmann each added fuel to the fire in the build up. Donovan seemed to confirm suspicions that the rift was more personal than tactical, and Klinsmann said that Donovan could have done more in his career, a statement both vague and all-meaning depending on how you wanted to read it. Klinsmann also selected an NASL player for the friendly squad and poked the sleeping bear of promotion and relegation. ESPN dedicated a halftime discussion to pro/rel, and nothing new was said because nothing new is ever said in pro/rel debates.

Effectively, this is is all the same battle. Pro/rel vs. closed shop, Europe vs. MLS, Klinsmann vs. Donovan, Klinsmann vs. Garber. These are all different names for arguments that, if they aren’t exactly the same, have an awful lot in common. They are about soccer, but they are also about insecurity and authenticity and identity and setting the course for the still nebulous American soccer culture. These arguments are old, divisive, and tiresome, and neither press conference nor blog post will bring us any closer to resolving them.

Since taking charge of the USMNT in 2011, Jurgen Klinsmann’s mouth has garnered more attention than his managerial ability. I happen to think he’s a fairly good manager, even if his best talent is attracting talented dual-nationals. But intentionally and otherwise he has served as a wedge in the American soccer community.

There are some who’ll say that we needed to have the discussions Klinsmann has sparked. That may be true, but I think we can have them without the vitriol and politicization that they currently accompany. Everyone involved here wants what’s best for American soccer. There are disagreements on what is best for American soccer. But we can all agree that the petty arguments and drama of the past week are not it.

Soccer on US TV, 10/10-10/12

Friday, October 10th

2:45 p.m.: Netherlands vs. Kazakhstan, Fox Sports 1

2:45 p.m.: Wales vs. Bosnia and Herzegovina, Fox Sports 2

2:45 p.m: Bulgaria vs. Croatia, Fox Soccer Plus

2:45 p.m: Italy vs. Azerbaijan, ESPN Deportes (Spanish)

7 p.m.: United States vs. Ecuador, ESPN

Landon Donovan is expected to play about half an hour in his final game for the USMNT, in front of more than 30,000 fans at Rentschler Field in Connecticut. Donovan aside, the U.S. squad features relatively few MLS players, and a bevy of young talent. The surprise inclusion of Miguel Ibarra, from the NASL’s Minnesota United, may give him his first serious national exposure. Their opponents aren’t to be overlooked; Ecuador qualified for this summer’s World Cup, though they finished third in their group.

8 p.m.: Chile vs. Peru, BeIn Sport

10 p.m.: Seattle Sounders vs. Vancouver Whitecaps

The Cascadia Cup is on the line tonight in Seattle, with more than 54,000 tickets already sold. Seattle needs just a draw to claim the silverware, but will be looking for all three points in their quest for the Supporters’ Shield. The Sounders are 11-0-3 all-time when more than 40,000 fans attend, but they’ll be without right back DeAndre Yedlin, who was called into the USMNT. Vancouver needs a win both to retain the Cascadia Cup and to leapfrog Portland for the final playoff spot in the West.

Saturday, October 11th

8 a.m.: Argentina vs. Brazil, BeIn Sports

If you accidentally wake up early expecting to find the Premier League, you won’t be totally out of luck. Argentina and Brazil are playing a friendly in China.

12 p.m.: Scotland vs. Georgia, Fox Sports 2

12 p.m.: Armenia vs. Serbia, Fox Soccer Plus

12 p.m.: Romania vs. Hungary, ESPN Deportes (Spanish)

2:45 p.m.: Finland vs. Greece, Fox Sports 2

2:45 p.m.: Northern Ireland vs. Faroe Islands, Fox Soccer Plus

2:45 p.m.: France vs. Portugal, ESPN Deportes (Spanish)

4 p.m.: Montreal Impact vs. New England Revolution, Univision Deportes (Spanish)

7 p.m.: New York Red Bulls vs. Toronto FC, MLSSoccer.com and Univision Deportes

If you don’t mind watching on your computer, this should be a good game. The Red Bulls haven’t lost at home since May, but TFC’s loss at home to Houston on Wednesday leaves the Reds in a position where they all but need three points from this game. If things work out for New York elsewhere, they could clinch a playoff spot with a win.

Sunday, October 12th

12 p.m.: Ukraine vs. Macedonia, Fox Soccer Plus

12 p.m.: Estonia vs. England, ESPN Deportes (Spanish)

2:45 p.m.: Luxembourg vs. Spain, Fox Sports 1

2:45 p.m.: Sweden vs. Lichtenstein, Fox Sports 2

2:45 p.m.: Belarus vs. Slovakia, ESPN Deportes (Spanish)

3 p.m.: Houston Dynamo vs. DC United, UniMas (Spanish)

5 p.m.: Mexico vs. Panama, ESPN2

7 p.m.: FC Dallas vs. LA Galaxy, ESPN2

The Galaxy will have Landon Donovan available to them, but not Omar Gonzalez, as they seek to keep pace with Seattle in the Supporters’ Shield race.




CREW_DLThe Columbus Crew—sorry, Columbus Crew SC, that’s going to take a while to get used to—unveiled a new logo and name last night. Over on Empire of Soccer, I wrote about how that’s part of a much larger turnaround in Ohio’s capital, but now for some deeper thoughts on the logo itself.

On the whole, I really like it. If I were re-ranking the MLS Crests, it’d fall easily into the top 10, possibly the top five. It’s symbolic in the right ways and, most importantly, it looks nice.

But there is that SC. That wasn’t there before (neither was “Columbus,” a significant problem with the old crest). In the buildup, the Crew talked about how people seeing the original crest were often unable to discern that it referred to a soccer team. So rather than throw a soccer ball into the design, we now have Columbus Crew SC. If there’s a controversial element to the redesign, it is this.

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I have accepted a position as an at-large MLS Contributor for Empireofsoccer.com. My first post went up there today, and while it’s a fairly-standard weekend preview, I encourage you to read it. This is good news for me personally, as it gives me an opportunity to reach a broader audience than I currently do.

This means that my posts on this blog will become more limited; I probably won’t write here every day, and when I do it will usually be about leagues other than MLS or offering my opinion. My book posts should continue. I hope, if you’ve read and enjoy my work in the past, you’ll continue to do so wherever it may be posted.

The Soccer TV Marketplace

Yesterday, the NBA announced a new nine-year contract with ESPN and Turner worth $2.66 billion per year, a massive increase over the current deal. That’s a lot of money, and surely inflated by the fact that sports programming will be scarce over the next few years. The NFL, that juggernaut of juggernauts, is under contract through 2022. The NHL has a contract with NBC for $200 million a year (a figure that now looks paltry) through the 2021-22 season. Even MLS went long, and won’t be done with the ESPN and Fox contract until 2021. Add those to baseball, NASCAR, the college football playoff, and March Madness, and you realize that the major American sports competitions are all locked down into the next decade.

But cable sports networks can’t just sit still from now until 2021. Both NBC and Fox have created alternatives (if not yet competitors) to ESPN. Live sports have resisted the erosion of viewership that seemingly all other television has suffered in recent years, and so they’ve become very valuable with the new cable competition. Fox in particular wanted a piece of the NBA pie, while NBCSN still often appears bare in the summer months. In a world where sports are increasingly valuable for television networks, and in a country where soccer is increasingly popular, we have a market where the largest available properties are soccer competitions.

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Red Bull Out?

photo credit: wallyg via photopin cc

photo credit: wallyg via photopin cc

It feels like MLS is playing a game of Whack-a-Mole lately; they take care of one problem, and another one pops up. Yesterday, we learned that MLS had found an ownership group willing to spend more than $100 million on the second Los Angeles franchise, putting an end to much of the confusion surrounding Chivas USA.  But Grant Wahl, who broke that news, now has the story that Red Bull may be on the way out as MLS owners.

There have been warning signs. Two months ago, Wahl wrote a short bit about how there were “growing questions about whether Red Bull will continue owning a team.” At the time, he noted that they hadn’t filled the third designated player spot during the summer window. But more evidence of apathy has begun to show. Red Bull opted not to field its own USL Pro side for next season, despite benefits that the LA Galaxy have already made clear. Last week, they sent a subpar squad to El Salvador, and with a draw were eliminated from the CONCACAF Champions League. Many people theorize that Red Bull is more concerned with their German club, which is now on the verge of joining the Bundesliga for the first time.

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