Category Archives: Soccer

Leicester City: The Greatest Sports Story. Ever.

 

By Nate Flax

As the clock hit the 96th minute of the Tottenham – Chelsea match, the entire soccer world realized that the greatest underdog story in sport history had concluded. After trailing 2-0 at halftime, Chelsea came back to draw with the second place Tottenham Hotspur, thanks to a brilliant 80th minute equalizer by Chelsea’s Eden Hazard. As the final whistle blew to end the heated London Derby, Tottenham’s title hopes were dashed and for the second year in a row, a new Premier League champion was decided at Stamford Bridge. However, this time it wasn’t one of England’s heavyweight contenders, but instead a club that had been written off before the season even started.

Leicester City

Located right in the heart of England, world-famous clubs, always surrounded Leicester with Manchester just to the North and London to the South, but until this year, very few that did not follow the BPL closely even knew a soccer club existed there, even though the team was founded in 1884 (132 years ago). The Leicester City Foxes were simply insignificant, finishing at the bottom of the table the year before and had only received promotion into England’s top league the year before that. They entered the season 5000-1 odds to win the title this year and featured a team that had cost just £80 million to put together (to put in perspective Manchester City spent £80 million on one transfer alone earlier in the year). Billy Beane’s Moneyball scheme wouldn’t stand a chance against this. Other recent previous 5000-1 odds as explained by ESPN’s Paul Carr included 16-year-old Paul Chaplet’s chances at this year’s Masters (where he shot 21 over par and finished dead last) and the Minnesota Timberwolves’ chances to make the playoffs with a month left in the season and their record sitting at 14-35. The odds for Elvis Presley being found alive were also 5000-1.

Being written off before the season even started, Leicester really had no chance of failing any expectations given to them, quite frankly because there were no expectations to start with. But that’s when everything clicked. Led by Riyad Mahrez, Danny Drinkwater, Jamie Vardy, and seasoned manager Claudio Ranieri, the Foxes outdid themselves by continuing to be that pesky opponent that just wouldn’t give up even though they seemingly had no business competing with powerhouses like Manchester City, Manchester United, Arsenal, and Chelsea. Yet somehow, with Chelsea holding Tottenham to a draw, Leicester City sat seven points clear on top of the table with just two games to play, making it impossible for anyone to catch them, and crowning them the kings of England. With the third smallest budget in the Premier League, the Foxes became the first team not named Manchester City, Manchester United, Arsenal, or Chelsea in 21 years to win the title, and just the sixth to win out of 48 that have tried since 1992. After a season that proved that money can’t always guarantee a crown, Leicester City concluded the fairy tale of a season that underdogs could previously only dream of.

Does FIFA Need to Make Changes?

By Josh Roeloffs

What is holding soccer back from being an elite sport in the United States? It’s the most popular sport in the majority of countries around the world, why hasn’t it caught on in the U.S.?

Well at first glance there are a handful of problems that prevent soccer from reaching a popular climax. There are many reasons that seem prominent in the minds of Americans when it comes to how Soccer is played; these problems include low scoring matches, draws, yellow and red cards, faked injuries, the referee having too much influence on outcome, slow pace, the clock doesn’t stop and lack of stops in action or missing the goals.

The list is almost daunting, but there are some simple tweaks to the rules and culture of the game that would immediately fix these issues. There are a few solutions that help to minimize multiple problems on the list.

First of all, FIFA could lax the off-sides rule. At this point, if any part of your body is ahead of the defender, you are off-sides. If it were to be changed that if any part of your body is behind or in line with the opponent there would be a drastic increase in the pace of play as well as the amount of goals scored throughout a match, not to mention that the more goals that are scored by the players without a referee blowing the whistle is a good thing for the game.

To help the growth of soccer in the United States, FIFA may want to re-evaluate a rule that they have rejected for years: stopping the clock. This is something, that as a fan of soccer in America, I have heard over and over.  People say things like, “Soccer is ridiculous! Why would I watch a sport that doesn’t even stop its clock for injuries?” But a problem that would be addressed if FIFA were to implement this rule is the epidemic that is faked injuries. A player will fall to the ground writhing in fake pain just to waste a minute or two in the finals moments of a game; but if the rule is in place, there is no reason for them to do this as the clock will just stop.

An alternative solution for faked injuries would be to force anyone who stays on the ground injured, real or not, to stay out of the game for about 5 minutes to help discourage the action. When it comes to the clock, the opposition to this rule change would argue that the final attacks in extra time of the half and match are important. What if the referee could still let a final attack continue? It would be fine if the referee was the final say on the game ending clocks, but it would be on a shorter leash than it currently is.

Another way to help prevent these late game injuries would be to allow for one or even two more substitutions. It has most definitely been a problem in the past when it comes to the final ten or fifteen minutes, as well as regarding the longevity of players’ seasons and careers. Another benefit of additional substitutions means that the fans as well as the coaches will be able to see a larger variety of players on the pitch. It would also benefit the young players as it would give them opportunities to grow their skills with in-game experience. It could potentially hurry the maturity of superstars, therefore getting them into the match earlier in their career.

There’s a concept that Americans struggle to accept and generally refuse to watch soccer because of it. This concept is a tie. Americans grew up with tournament style, elimination, no ties type of games. When it comes to soccer, a 0-0 draw is possible, and many Americans hate it. Unfortunately, it’s a tough problem for FIFA. FIFA’s only option is to make draws less likely. They have a few options to consider. First of all, there could be a short extra time in regular season matches, decreasing the chance for a draw.

A final reason that the sport has seen slow growth in the United States is the lack of commercial stoppages available for TV providers. With a lack of potential income comes the lack of TV coverage. With the lack of TV coverage comes a lack of attention and fan dedication, which has been a massive problem for the MLS in the United States. Say if FIFA was to rule that there would be a few minute stop at the 20th minute mark as well as say the 65th minute mark, therefore increasing advertisement profit possibly all the way up to 30%! This income could allow for cash to be put back into the sport furthermore increasing coverage specifically in the United States, but potentially around the world. It would also provide the players for a quick break to rehydrate. It could reduce the amount of late game injuries and cramps that are all too common from game to game.

In response to the proposed rule changes, FIFA has a responsibility to make changes to adapt our beloved sport to competition in the 21st century. America is slowly taking interest in soccer, but the U.S. lags way behind when it comes to national interest in comparison to countries around the globe. The adoption of any of these small changes would be a step in the right direction for the sport as a whole, and would eventually lead to an extreme increase in interest in the United States in the years to come.

The Ugly Face of Racism in International Soccer

By Kaleb Page

February 23, 2015

This past Tuesday a huge match in UEFA Champions League play took place between Chelsea and PSG (Paris St-Germain). An anticipated match-up between two premiere soccer clubs from England and France that will decide who can move along in the biggest tournament aside from the World Cup.

The first leg of this ended in a 1-1 draw, and despite the draw the intensity was high all the way to the finish. It will be interesting to see the finale in England on March 11th as both teams have aspirations of taking the entire tournament.

Prior to this match however, Chelsea fans did show the ugly side that has been plaguing international soccer for many years.

In the video below you will see a metro station in Paris and in that metro there were Chelsea fans boarding to make their trip to the match. As the train car began to fill up a man tried to board and fit in the last little space available. Now I say “tried” because he was pushed off by the Chelsea fans.

As you can see from the video the Chelsea fans are white, while the man getting on the train is a black man. The worst part of the entire video is the explicit chanting of ‘we’re racist and that’s the way we like it.’ It is videos like these that really put a horrible stigma on supporters of football clubs around the world.

This past year we had a post by fellow blogger Alex O’Connor about how Manchester City player Yaya Touré was sent racial slurs over social media. These tweets coming from none other than Chelsea supporters.

The Chelsea front office has condemned such actions by their supporters and for this most recent incident in Paris, have suspended three of the fans in the video from attending their home grounds. A possible lifetime ban is also on the table says the club if there is sufficient evidence to support that ruling.

FIFA, for as long as I can remember, has been pushing to end this type of behavior. You will see prior to matches players, coaches and officials take pictures with a banner titled ‘say no to racism.’ Sometimes even they have players read off speeches prior to events encouraging fans and fellow players to end this terrible behavior.

I find it interesting that this story really has not picked up much of a reaction here in the United States. I know that this is ‘across the pond,’ but it is something I think needs to be talked about here as well. It still plagues us here as a society with not only racism in everyday life but as well in sports.

I hope that the media picks up on this story and shows the faces of these people who blatantly showed the ugly side of sports and racism. It is time to dismantle this in the world of sports because sport is something that should bring us together no matter what race or ethnicity you might be.

If FIFA and Chelsea are as serious as they say about this, they will come down hard on these ‘fans’ once and for all.

MLS MVP Award Name Change

By Kaleb Page

The game of soccer in the United States is still on the upswing and still has vast improvements to be made not only in international play, but also here in the states as part of Major League Soccer.

A major factor in the growth of soccer here would be a player that not only was an exceptional athlete on the field but an even better person off of it. This player would be none other than Landon Donovan. A player that is easily the most recognized faces in the soccer community (and by casual fans) as not only an ambassador for the sport but as someone who was there for the tough times in U.S. soccer that have led to a bigger and better following today.

This Thursday at the MLS Superdraft, the MLS made sure to pay tribute to the player who lead countless U.S. men’s national soccer teams and finished his career being the all-time leading scorer in the league. This tribute made by the MLS was to re-name the MVP trophy the “Landon Donovan MVP award.”

Donovan was on hand to be presented with the honor and went on to say:

“I am incredibly honored. I will try to live my life in a way that is worthy of having a MVP award named after you.” – Landon Donovan

Fox Sports talked with MLS commissioner Don Gerber on what made the league do this and the answer was simple. He said that the league wanted to enshrine Donovan’s achievements permanently after his influential role in the growth of the league over the past decade.

I think it is cool for this league to make it a point to honor and remember someone who put in the effort and work to make the league better than it once was. Donovan had all the talent to go play in other more top flight leagues at the time, and instead looked to stay home in hopes of one day making the MLS a league worthwhile.

In his 14 seasons as a player in the MLS Donovan has a resume to be proud of, amassing over 144 goals, 136 assists and a record six MLS Cup titles. It is safe to say the MLS made the right decision in making this living American soccer icon the title bearer on its highest trophy to an individual player. An appropriate way to commemorate the man who carried the torch for U.S. soccer for so long, and now can sit back and watch how this sport will grow for years to come. This being in large part to the foundation he laid and passion he brought to the game.

Thank you for all you did #10.

 

Alexi Lalas: Moving to Fox Sports

By Kaleb Page

Quality soccer commentary in the U.S. is at a premium. Especially for commentators that are from the U.S. and can actually articulate not only the names, but the chess match that is soccer. ESPN had this premium in more ways than one with commentators Taylor Twellman and Alexi Lalas. Recently both of these key American soccer analysts went their opposite ways.

In the world of soccer, America is looked at as a lackluster soccer playground. Especially when it comes to the knowledge of the game and the subtle nuances that lends itself to the phrase “the beautiful game.” This past summer with the success and valiant efforts put forth by the U.S. men’s national soccer team, it started to show the change here in the states. In Brazil the following by the U.S. could not be mistaken and those that could not make it showed tremendous support unlike most World Cup’s in years past.

Twellman and Lalas both brought a knowledgeable American voice to the forefront of soccer. Something that those not up to par on their soccer could look to and get their facts in order to really learn the game. I think over the years these two have built more of a soccer following here and allowed more people to actually know what they are talking about with soccer (possibly why Brazil had such a successful following). With Twellman and Lalas exclusively on ESPN, it provided a platform to reach the masses and it opened the eyes to the rest of the networks.

Recently the contract for Twellman and Lalas came up at ESPN which led to Fox Sports jumping in to sign them away. With a battle between the two networks it came down to the two analysts to make a decision. For Twellman it was to stay with ESPN, and for Lalas it was to move on to Fox Sports. In something he said was like them giving him the godfather treatment.

Fox Sports still has to officially announce that Lalas has made the move, but for Lalas it was a no-brainer move. Creatively Fox Sports is one of the best sports outlets for soccer coverage, and some would say even better than their counterpart ESPN. Fox has these key soccer fixtures under their rights: 2015 Women’s World Cup, 2018 Men’s World Cup, a new MLS package and their already great coverage of the Champions League, FA Cup and soon the German Bundesliga. For any soccer analyst, especially one as outspoken and knowledgeable as Lalas, this network is a dream come true. This move also allows Lalas to be closer to his kids. Lalas lives in Los Angeles and Fox Sports has its studio in LA, which for Lalas is a 20 minute trip instead of his ESPN 3,000 mile flight.

For myself I would say it is a blow to the ESPN soccer analysis to lose the likes of Lalas since he gives such an honest take on what is going on in soccer. To be honest in years past I would be in the group of Americans who had little knowledge of the game and the tactics. With the help of a friend like Seth Glover, countless soccer matches on TV, FIFA videogames and analysis by those like Lalas; I now have a better understanding. It will be interesting to see how Lalas is incorporated to Fox’s already vast array of soccer coverage, and is able to give more of the country knowledge on “the beautiful game.”

Jozy Altidore’s Tweeting Mishaps

By Alex O’Connor

Jozy Altidore is currently dealing with a Twitter dilemma following several rumors of Altidore potentially leaving his current team. Altidore currently plays for Sunderland A.F.C., which is an English professional soccer team that plays in the English Premier League. Altidore’s career path has taken him on several pit stops in his young twenty-five year-old life. He has played for the New York Red Bulls, Villareal CF, Hull City, Bursaspor, AZ Alkmaar and Sunderland. This boils down to six teams in his young eight year career. On Saturday, rumors of Altidore leaving Sunderland for the MLS and The Los Angeles Galaxy were clarified on Twitter. However, the manner in which it was clarified was not in the best light. Altidore tweeted: “@LAGalaxy really? Stop blowing up my agents phone then. No means no.” There has been some consideration among media that Altidore was not the person behind the tweet, and would be the absolute wrong way to conduct a formal transaction of this nature.

Twitter is never the way to convey a message that is usually secret and professional. Though TheGuardian.com has acknowledged that Altidore may be leaving Sunderland this past January, this tweet harshly quieted those rumors. In an already hectic career for Altidore, it seems strange that he would personally latch out publically to the entire Galaxy organization and in such a manner as Twitter. The Galaxy organization also may have simply tried too hard to lure Altidore away from Sunderland. Altidore is known for being a generous and kind athlete, as he has aided citizens of the 2010 Haiti Earthquake. In addition, in honor of the twenty-six Sandy Hook victims, he wrote their initials on his cleats in a game against FC Twente on December 21, 2012.

However, this tweet comes only days after Team U.S.A. lost to Columbia by a score of 2-1. There could be an underlying factor of bitterness that carried over to his message. In another opinion, NBCSports.com’s Kyle Bonn questions whether or not Altidore sent out the tweet himself. Athletes simply do not negotiate with other organizations over social media. Bonn connected the “no means no” excerpt of the tweet to the recent incident of Colt McCoy’s post-game interview on Monday Night Football after his win against the Cowboys. A PR employee with the Redskins refused an interview request by yelling “no means no” to ESPN reporter John Sutcliffe. Though the two instances are not related it is interesting to see two distinct media connections using the exact same phrasing.

Landon Donovan Goes Unnoticed

By Kate Roth

Unless you are a follower of soccer you are probably unaware that the Major League Soccer playoffs here in the United States are in full go. If that is true, I would also be willing to bet that you had no idea a player in the Western Conference semi-final scored a hat trick for the first time in a playoff game since 1999. The name of the player you ask? Well none other than Landon Donovan of course.

When I read the headline on Major League Soccer’s homepage and found out this news TWO DAYS after the actual game, I felt the same way I’m sure most felt upon hearing the news, “How did I not hear about this already?” Landon Donovan has become known as one of the most iconic figures in United States Soccer history and it is quite shocking to me that the media is paying so little attention to him as he makes his last run before retirement.

Soccer may not be the most popular sport in the United States, but it is certainly on the rise and the media needs to take notice of this. By covering Donovan’s final games throughout the rest of the MLS Playoffs the media could help spread the popularity of the sport around the country and help soccer gain the respect it gets in other countries throughout the world.

It seems that the only time we hear or see ESPN or any of the other major sports reports talk about soccer is when the FIFA World Cup is on or there is some sort of controversy to cover.

Just think back to a few months ago right before the World Cup was set to begin and the United States coach decided that Donovan was not fit for his team. The media could not get enough of this story and seemed to be interviewing Donovan everyday with his thoughts on the matter. The media sure seemed to care about Donovan then, but where are they now.

The media makes it seem like without controversy they have nothing to report on, but that is not the case. The man who has helped shape the United States Men’s National Soccer Team into what it is today is on his final tour and so far, going out in style. He scored 3 goals and had an assist in a conference-semi final game which could have easily been the last game he ever played. Landon Donovan is going out in the way we dream of legendary players leaving the field for the last time. Accomplishing things that haven’t been done in over a decade and leading his team to victory.

Landon Donovan has been one of the most exciting players to watch play the sport of soccer for the United States and deserves more respect from the media. Even though the media may not think they need to pay any attention to soccer, this is different. Landon Donovan changed the way we look at soccer in the United States. He plays every game with more passion than you will see more athletes show throughout their entire careers, and for that we need to thank him and support him as he plays in his final games.