Friday, November 30, 2012

Examining the Beckham Experiment

On the eve of David Beckham's final game for the LA Galaxy and in the MLS, Sensible Soccer proudly brings to you it's very first guest post! And it's a must read... Enjoy people.

I have fond memories of the LA Galaxy - NY Red Bull match at Giants Stadium on a balmy summer evening in August 2007. The game was a thriller -- the sellout crowd was treated to a 5-4 win for the home team that featured Jozy Altidore, Juan Pablo Angel and Clint Mathis (remember him?). But most of the 65,000+ people packed in to Giants Stadium were not there as Red Bull supporters, nor were they there to watch the sloppy play, shoddy defending or frenetic pace that characterized this particular match. No, we were there to see David Beckham's first match in New Jersey as an MLS player. More accurately, we were there to take 50 or 60 pictures of him swinging in one of his trademark free kicks.

And now, 6 seasons later, the Beckham MLS affair is coming to an end. On Saturday, David Beckham will don the LA Galaxy kit for the final time in a competitive match when his Galaxy take on the Houston Dynamo in the MLS Cup final. This marks the end of an era that began in 2007 with all the glitz and glamor you'd expect from the Hollywood premiere of an international icon. Even as he's battled injury and the onset of age, there's no question he's made an impact as a player. The technique and vision we all witnessed in his fabled East Rutherford debut -- two assists, dangerous set pieces, and defense splitting passes -- were prevalent throughout his MLS career when he was healthy enough to take the field. Add in a bit of arrogance and few doses of petulance and an indomitable work ethic largely unnoticed by casual fans and you've got David Beckham, American Player.

But I'm not really interested in debating his legacy as a player. When healthy, Beckham was in a class above the vast majority of his league peers. Though his career was slow out of the gate due to injury, he put in an All-Star performance in 2011, tallying 20 assists. He followed up with a strong 2012, especially during the Galaxy's turn around in the second half of the season and their progress through the playoffs -- only he and Mike Magee have started every Galaxy playoff game. And during his tenure, the Galaxy have gotten the results, too; three MLS Cup final appearances and one (perhaps two) titles.

What's entirely more interesting and difficult to analyze is Beckham's overall impact on soccer in the US and what that will mean for the future of the sport. Love him or hate him, David Beckham has probably changed the game in the US more than any other individual ever. There's no arguing that he's been instrumental in the rise of soccer's popularity in the US and the acceptance (albeit a reluctant, lukewarm acceptance) of the MLS as an actual, professional sports league. The mere potential of his interest in moving here literally caused the MLS to change its rules when it launched the Designated Player rule to accommodate his arrival. He opened the door for other international stars like Juan Pablo Angel, Thierry Henry, Robbie Keane, Tim Cahill, and the immortal John Rooney (Wayne's kid brother) to play the beautiful game on our home soil. And while he undoubtedly did well for himself financially, he also helped bring home the bacon for the league. The Beckham experiment led to a league expansion from 12 to 19 teams, big TV contracts, a boost in attendance, and increased exposure at home and abroad.

While not the only factor in the rise of soccer here, David Beckham was the driving force, the icebreaker that paved the way. Beckham wasn't the first international star to play soccer here, and he certainly won't be the last, but his arrival was different. It came at the most opportune time, and like two shrewd businessmen, both the league and team Beckham capitalized. But the real question is: what happens next? Is the Beckham Experiment the template the league needs to follow to thrive? Does aging star power + sponsorship deals + average domestic talent = soccer success in America?

Stay tuned to find out..

In the meantime, I'll leave you with these 3 classic Beckham goals against my beloved Timbers that I was fortunate enough to witness. 2 were in the face of the Timbers Army. All 3 were things of beauty.

-- John LaRose - Sensible Soccer MLS/USMNT Correspondent

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Mexellent! Another Spectacular Overhead

Philippe Mexes reaffirmed why he is one of my favorite players ever by doing this in Milan's UCL match with Anderlecht today:

MLS Update: LA vs. Houston

Finally, the MLS Cup is upon us: LA Galaxy and Houston Dynamo play for the coveted trophy on Dec. 1st at 4:30pm ET, a game that will slowly and painfully end the MLS season.

I have a huge beef with the MLS. A few years ago, I was excited for the MLS. Top players were flowing into the league, gameplay seemed to be less like little kid soccer and more like professional soccer, and the buzz about the league seemed to be growing. But today, I haven't thought of or heard about the MLS season until I stopped caring about my precious Red Bulls in August. Is that my problem? I'm not sure. But there is an argument to be made that a lackluster league did not hold my interest.

To me, the MLS season comes to the American population in four waves:
1. Genuine excitement at the very beginning of the season.
2. Bitter disappointment from after the fifth game until the point you realize your team is not making the playoffs.
3. Mild jubilation that there is actually a "cup final" in the USA.
4. Hatred and anger that the LA Galaxy are in the final.

The fault of this disinterest (mine at least) is based largely on the league's affinity to make this sport "American friendly." We still have a playoff structure, where winning the league tragically means nothing. I want to see a top of the table clash, last gasp goals meaning the league goes to LA or NY and relegation battles pitting all the crappy Canadian teams against each other. Why not have the European league setup then stroke America's ego with a cup competition? Because conforming to European fat cats is not the way of the Founding Fathers. But I'll have to say, as a huge fan of the sport, the way this league is structured pushes me away. Take that how you will.

Things to note about the Budweiser Cheetos Sony Allstate Fritos 2012 MLS Cup:
1. Houston is the Eastern Conference team, FYI. For some reason, this bothers me. I hear Houston, Texas, and think West. Stop bothering me with this, MLS. And stop making the final and complicating things, Houston.
2. The LA Galaxy just need to stop. They played so bad all year and now they're in a final (my above case in point). They are always in the final and never deserve it. Bias alert: New Yorker here; but still. LA Galaxy: just stop.
3. David Beckham announced it is his last game for the LA Galaxy... Okay. So what? No one cares, Beckham. You are three years and 3,000 promises to make this sport better past the point of caring. Good luck acting, because I'm sure that's where you're going.

I leave you with what we all hope to see on Dec. 1st:

Beckham dejection
Stayed tuned for more Beckham centric posts as he departs the MLS scene.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Commentators React To Ibra's Wonder Goal

Nice little compilation of a few excitable commentators reacting to Zlatan Ibrahimovic's wonder goal (aka the best goal ever scored).

Link to the sound bite via SoundCloud user Off The Ball

Top quote: "Oh my days, Zlatan Ibrahimovic... I wanna go and give you a man-hug!!!!"

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Best Goal Ever Scored: Period

I almost just had to quit blogging...

Earlier today, I set up a hate post on PSG and Sweden striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic. I felt his recent pompousness deserved to be exposed.

But, thank goodness it went unfinished and unpublished, because Ibra decided to light everyone's life up during Sweden's friendly with England by scoring four goals, including an extra-time stunner: hands down the best goal ever scored. Did I mention it was his 100th cap?

Bravo Ibra, bravo. This is the best goal ever scored. If you deny it, you're saying a bike from 35 yards out is anything but the best. That just sounds foolish.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

VOTE: For Your Favorite Midfielder

In light of the spirited election going on in the USA right now, I urge you, football fans, to vote for your favorite midfielder in the world: that candidate you'd like to see in the middle of the park donning your team's colors, representing change in the lineup and signaling hope for a title. Who is that midfielder for you?

Here are your candidates:

Daniele De Rossi

Why say no when it feels so good to say yes?
The marauding midfielder Daniele De Rossi promises to patrol your midfield with the tenacity and fight of 150 lions. That's 50 times the potency of England. If your midfield is lacking a middle-class hard-worker who also brings elegance to the position, vote Daniele. A vote for Daniele is a vote for the Beard of Pride.

Cristiano Ronaldo

"I'd vote for me."
The above message has been spoken and approved by Cristiano Ronaldo. You want a fast midfielder? You got it. You want a goal scorer? You got it. You want a good looking motherf*cker? You got it. Vote for Cristiano and he'll treat you right, baby.

Andres Iniesta

Hope for tiny balding men
Unlike the previous specimen on the ballot, looks don't matter to Andres Iniesta. He urges you to consider his vote, because even though he's small, balding and holding a strange award, he's just as good as the chump above. Iniesta: better than the other guy at soccer.

Vote for me, the best Xavi.
The diminutive little big man aims to make your midfield the best in the world. He hopes to do so as the best Xavi in the world, better than those other Xavi(s). Think big, vote small: vote Xavi.

Xabi Alonso

Don't vote for that Xavi, vote for this Xabi!
He's played in the best league in the world and also won the Champions League, European Championships and World cup! He's just as good as that hack who uses a "v" instead of a "b" in his name. Priceless experience. Better looking guy. Better Xabi.

Bastian Schweinsteiger

"I am Bastian."
"I am Bastian." The robotic Munich midfield extraordinaire urges confidence and perpetual consistency in your midfield. His monotone campaign slogan is meant to mesmerize you into voting for him: "I am Bastian. I am Bastian. I am Bastian..." Germans.

Javier Zanetti

Running on education...
As a young boy, Javier Zanetti always dreamed of running a midfield. Now, as a man, he's done it. Winning the treble with Inter gave him the experience needed to make the difference in your midfield. He also believes in teaching fellow footballers how to read and will do so on your team! 1 goal education for all: vote Javier.

Steven Gerrard

Javier help with words
So you can't understand what he says?  Just vote for him anyway! The Scouse speaking, hard tackling, 30yd goal-thumping midfielder asks for your vote for a more aggressive and secure midfield. "Vhrrhte fer meh" -Steeven.  

Yaya Toure

Yeah Yeah
Vote twice! A yeah yeah for Yaya on election day 2012 could get your team a midfielder so acclaimed, he can wear huge beads around his neck without looking like a hippy! Not to mention his tenacity and skill will definitely make your team better. Vote for Yaya... Just say yeah yeah.

Paul Scholes

Vote for a wily veteran
With your vote, Sat-nav, as he's called, will furiously drag your team up from it's boot straps by using the guile and expertise gathered over a heralded career. Also he'll use the fury of his red hair. Vote for the red-headed dandy before he becomes too flustered to see.

Zinedine Zidane

Vote bald-head slick. Back from the dead.
Zizou is back. Only if you vote for him... The tactician is that candidate who is way too old to choose, but threw his hat in the ring at the disgust of the above list. Vote Zizou, because midfield's just aren't the same without him.

My vote: you guessed it, the marauding midfielder Daniele De Rossi. I elect that he stays on my team for another term. Who are you voting for?

Note: all midfielders were not listed on this ballot because I have a day job, people. So instead of being a moron and giving me a hard time about it, just suggest your candidate in the comments.

Photo Credits:
No photos are mine. All from the internet!