GONZO’S PROFESSIONAL FOUL
Opinions, factoids and other stuff from a soccer guy from Chicago who happens to live in Seattle.
Week 1 of MLS season 16 in the books it’s time for the mid week Starting 11.
1) Let’s run some stats. We had 10 games featuring all 18 teams and all the games were on TV someplace. There were 27 goals scored (that’s 2.7 per match for those with math issues). The average attendance was 21,046, led by 36,433 fanatic green wearing Sounders fans on a Tuesday’s Opening Night in the rain. Some other factoids – four players lead the Golden Boot chase with 2 goals and the Seattle/LA tilt had a combined 0.43 US Rating (ESPN and ESPN Deportes) – that’s up 115% from last year. The big bump came from regular US viewers. And that doesn’t include ESPN3 viewers.
2) Congrats on Birthday number 16! Baseball’s Opening Day is an event, the pinnacle of sports openings, if you will. Personally, I’ve seen many opening days or weeks – most of them at a stadium someplace. This one may simply be the best week-end of games I‘ve seen in MLS history. It’s time to give MLS it’s due. At every point this past week was awesome. Every game was actually fun to watch. They weren’t universally the best games I ever saw but the atmosphere was great, the player’s heads (and hearts) were in it and the fans were back in droves. Every game seemed to have a hook as if the league was saving up storylines and releasing the all at once. The League, the partners, the players and especially the fans have to be extremely pleased – I am.
3) Fans In The Seats. The 21,046 average attendance was an amazing opening soccer weekend. Word spread through the interwebs is that it may have been the greatest opening weekend in MLS history. Think about it – 210,455 people saw pro-soccer live in the US (+Vancouver) – that’s freakin’ incredible. Hell, beyond incredible. Six of the matches played before 90%+ capacity, including Dallas who tripled their attendance from last year. Plus – extra awesome was the start of the Dallas telecast by showing the best traveling fans in the MLS. The Fire faithful, who even in Seattle have their own section, are all over the place. Love them Section 8 loonies.
4) Game of the Week. This one was easy. Vancouver’s home opener was an awesome, electric “whiteout” of excitement. I actually believe that every team should win their home opener. I feel that even more for an expansion team. The fans and organization work so hard to get their team to feel legitimate in the eyes of the existing base, that it ends up, more often than not, that the first game feels like a let down. Not in Vancouver. The crowd was alive and team came out to play. And play they did the to a four-goal onslaught. Go Whitecaps! Try and find this one some place and watch the full game on the net. It’s worth it.
5) Waste of the Week. The Galaxy and the Revs played what looked liked a youth soccer game with about 1000 thousand called disallowed goals and some seriously sloppy play. It rained so hard during the game my daughter asked if they were in a tsunami. After an awesome game in Seattle, LA looked like they would rather be anywhere else and NE was saying, “we flew across the country for this crap.” The 1-1 draw was generous to NE who escaped with a point against one of the one best teams in the league when everything conspired to make LAs nearly non-existent. It’s too bad for FOX that the game was such a slopfest. If you must, you can look the goals up on-line but really don’t waste your time.
6) Halftime! About six weeks ago, feeling cocky about the Sunderland, I made the claim that with a win potential win against Chelsea they were a sure thing to play in Europe in 2011-2012. Since that glorious prediction (which they lost) Sunderland reeled off a grand total of 1 point in 6 games. During this run of futility they have not scored in 3 full games and have dropped to 9th – only 6 freaking points from relegation. Again, like I do every season and like every Sunderland fan in England has ever done, all I can hope from this season is still to finish ahead of Newcastle (currently 36 points). Thanks Black Cats! Is it sooo hard to play for a full season? At least Leverkusen – just dumped in the Europa League – will play in the Champions League next year, which means I’ll have a horse in the big race.
7) Play of the Week. One play dominated the weekend in my opinion. It was classic old school English style play. I’m talking about the basic straight down the middle counter attack. It seemed like a thousand years since we saw it used so effectively in the MLS, if it ever was – maybe Chicago with Novak and Razov back in the day. Recently the teams seemed stuck in the fast wingers and then center cross type of attack. Seattle had made it’s mark with that recently and you can see teams like Dallas really take it to a high art. Lately the teams seem to prefer the sleep inducing slow build with 10,000 passes until the team eventually gets down to the goal area. But this week we watched Seattle get burned twice by a pair of awesome down the spine counter attacks. Also, Toronto used it in De Rosario’s goal in Vancouver, Josh Wolff in DC, and you can argue that two of Colorado’s goals came on the counter. Welcome to the new MLS where the counter – the “fast break” of soccer is more than welcome.
The Cascade War. I truly believe the success of the rivalry here in the Pac NW is parallel to the future success of the league. If this rivalry takes off then I think the league has a template that will make the league a long-term success. So I plan on tracking the spotlight up here who’s got the upper hand. Right now, there is a dual spotlight; Vancouver and Seattle are sharing it Vancouver is trending way up and in Seattle it may be a bit harsh. Now I don’t expect Vancouver to go undefeated and their first trip to Philly may well mean their first loss in MLS. But what they this did this past weekend put them on the MLS map as must watch. Seattle on the other hand, has the focus for an entirely different reason. Two losses in less than a week and the very strange release of Blaise Nfuko left the team backtracking in the media. I’ve never seen the heat on Seattle shift so quickly. This really makes the Houston game on Friday a must for Seattle on so many levels. Portland hasn’t played at home just yet, so they are trending third right now, even though they may end up with a win in Toronto.
9) The Sounder Way. Something is very weird in Seattle and I can’t put my finger on it. But the loss of two European DPs, both let go in mysterious ways makes me very nervous. It also makes me wonder who’s running the ship. Now it’s no secret Freddie Ljungberg wanted to use MLS to get in shape and get back to Europe. I knew that, so I assume Sounder management did, but when he started taking about it – he’s got traded to the Fire mid-season. He played hard and made the Sounders better – they haven’t been the same since he left. Now I wasn’t a real fan of Nfuko, but after one season in which he played in Europe and in the World Cup, AND then in a half season of MLS, I was somewhat eager to see him play this year. But he admitted he wanted to retire at the end of the year and possibly clashed with the team on playing time and position and since then every then everything seemed to sour. So I have to ask the million dollar question – is it the DPs or is it Sigi? My fear – seriously, my biggest fear, is that it’s Sigi.
10) An idea…I think. Let me toss this at you. What if the MLS allowed each team one Injury Transfer slot for a European player? Hear me out…going back to Beckman in his Euro star days and the Brazil teams of the 90’s, the US has trained various star names in our training facilities. Even Wayne Rooney was down in Oregon at the Nike facilities to get back in shape this past season. What I propose is that the MLS embraces our facilities, and the fact that players like training here AND we are playing meaningful games when other leagues are down – so that we can offer them the opportunity to get their players trained back up to game shape. Let’s call it the Charlie Davies rule (yes I know he actually signed with DC, but if this was offered maybe he could have transferred to DC to get in game shape so he could go back to Sochaux and play in Europe). I think the transfer idea is something that will really help the MLS with the European teams…I mean wouldn’t you rather have a player train and get time in a MLS tilt in the good old US of A in the summer instead of transferred down a division to play in Ipswich in the fall and winter.
10) Rating this week’s games.
4 Freekicks – must watch to claim you are a MLS fan
Seattle v Houston: Seattle needs a win, Houston can’t fall too far behind in the East. This week 2 game actually matters.
RSL v LA: An early season preview of the playoffs?
3 Freekicks – If you can find the time do so…
New England v D.C. United: DC looked great last week and the Revs were in a horrible match – it’s interesting to watch just to see if DC has the mojo to go two games in a row.
2 Freekicks – Actually interesting beyond the fan base
Toronto FC v Portland: Can Portland get its first win?
Chicago v Kansas City: What did the Fire learn last week and can they deliver at home? It’s road game 2 for the lost tribe of SKC, when will it start to affect them?
Philadelphia v Vancouver: I don’t think Vancouver will have the same excitement in week 2 on the road.
Columbus v New York: Watch it if you have an Eastern Conference bias.
FC Dallas v San Jose: Watch it if you have a Western Conference bias.
1 Freekick – Only the team’s fans are interested
Chivas v Colorado: what’s the over/under on Chivas getting a point? I say 3 games…