Wednesday, July 23, 2008

TFC @ RSL -- the TLA cup on July 28th

I’ve been giving a lot of attention to the Cougars recently, and I’ll probably do one or two season wrap up posts about them now that their season is over, but now my attention is turning more toward RSL and the rest of MLS. Grabbing my immediate attention, RSL will face visiting Toronto FC in a battle of turf based, recent expansion teams this Monday.

RSL didn’t do too well against Santos in its last friendly, but has a chance to redeem themseves tonight against Saprissa. Their league record has been pretty good of late though, and their defense has been outstanding. With Fabian Espindola returning to the lineup tonight, I think we can look for some offensive spark to be added to the mix.

Toronto hasn’t looked good in league, tournament, or friendly play. They’ve not won a game since mid-June, and have dropped games (including the Canadian championship) to USL teams. I’m sure that pride and passion will be at the fore for TFC when they play in Salt Lake City.

RSL has a chance to pad their Western Conference lead with a win at home, and I think that’s what we’ll see. I think Rimando will extend his unscored upon streak, and that RSL will put a couple of balls into the back of the net, call it a 0-2 final.

RSL will probably need the full three points to stay on top since LA should beat FC Dallas. I don’t think Colorado or Houston will be taking any points from their games this week though, so (hopefuly) we’ll start to see some separation in the west.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Vancouver Whitecaps Residency @ BYU

I wasn’t able to watch the game live Friday night, but I did record the BYU-TV broadcast to watch on Saturday. I really wanted to see how the Vancouver Whitecaps Residency program looked. I’ve got to say that it’s an impressive program.

For the most part, Vancouver owned the field last night—coming away with a 2-0 win. While the whole team looked good Randy Edwini-Bonsu stood out, with both great speed and nice control. At one point he turned on the jets and made up about 20 yards overtaking a BYU midfielder in front of him.

I’m interested in seeing which other teams (USL or MLS) might start up another PDL level residency program. I don’t know that we’ll see anything for another year or two. If the Whitecaps can capture a couple of solid players I think we’ll see more teams picking up the idea.

While BYU didn’t manage to put anything into the back of the net, they did have some dangerous looking moments. Steve Francis and Zack DeFrancis both had good looks at the goal but weren’t able to convert. Bryan Black started in goal and looked pretty good, his size and positioning worked out pretty well.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

RSL Reserves @ BYU

Last night was a rarity in soccer, a big game in which the final score didn’t really matter. RSL’s reserves beat the BYU Cougars in the Coug’s brand new Stadium at South Field in front of 3110 fans. Beat is probably too soft a word, RSL’s Robbie Findley put the ball past BYU’s Brandon Gillam twice in the stretch of two minutes midway through the first half, at which point RSL seemed to let off the gas. They continued to play very well in the defensive and middle thirds of the fields, but didn’t look like they were trying very hard in the final third. RSL put a third goal on the board minute when Quinney Varela scored in the 90th.

Oft injured Nathan Sturgis started for RSL and took a knock in the opening minutes, and was off the field by the fifth minute. I saw him at halftime with ice on his ankle, but not looking too put out. Hopefully it’s just a ding and doesn’t affect his return to the senior side or his olympic aspirations.

It was also interesting to see Clint Mathis in the midfield for RSL. A Real staffer I was sitting next to said that he was just a friend of Jason Kreis and was playing to keep in shape for the upcoming European season.

Kenny Deuchar and Robbie Findley both started the game. Robbie looked pretty good, but my first up close and personal view of the good Doctor didn’t impress me too much. His touch seemed off, his passes were often weak dribbles, and he put another nice chance over the crossbar. Hopefully he gets past whatever is holding him back, but I’m no longer convinced that he’s the answer for RSL’s front line.

Mattias Mantilla started in the back, and looked good and not-so-good by turns. By the tenth minute of the game, it was obvious that Mantilla was unhappy with the refs. He seemed to be getting awfully close to a card for dissent at several points in the game. His tough challenges also earned the displeasure of the crowd who were booing his every touch by the end of the game. He did come up with several big plays, but also had a couple of gaffes—misjudging a long ball and letting BYU get control in the backfield at one point in the first half, and being undressed by a BYU player (Jordan Cushman?) in the second.

One last RSL observation, it was interesting to see how intent Jason Kreis was even in the closing minutes of the game. Although he was very gracious in his post game comments (see Drew Daniel’s write-up for Kries’ comments), it was obvious he was ‘on task’ during the game.

On the BYU side of the ledger, they put a lot of players out on the field (working through four different keepers for example). I’m sure the experience was good for all of them, and they all seemed to have enjoyed the night. The usual suspects looked good. Jace Green and Zack DeFrancis both looked as though they might score at several points in the game.

The new stadium looks like it will be a great place for BYU mens’ soccer. The crowd was loud and fairly involved in the game. (They even drowned out the small contigent of RSL fans—at least from where I stood.) I don’t envy visiting PDL clubs, this place has the makings of a PDL fortress.

I also really enjoyed sitting with the BYU-International Spanish-speaking commentators. I loved hearing them call the game, and thought it was cool to hang it with them as they interviewed Javier Morales at the half. Javi seemed to enjoy being interviewed in Spanish, and it was nice to be able to follow along with most of the questions and answers.

Oh, and I’d like to thank Robbie Findley for being very friendly and posing for a picture with two of my former scouts who caught up with him right after the game. Moments like those go a long way in community building.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Good Weekend for RSL and BYU

It’s been a good weekend for the teams I follow. Both BYU and RSL won their games, with BYU claiming the season series over Ogden 3-0-1 and RSL climbing into 1st place in the (somewhat weak) west. RSL’s U-17 team also won it’s final round game against DC United’s U-17 team, earning both the SUM U-17 championship and entry into the 2009 Trofeo Quixote U-17 tournament in Madrid, Spain.

BYU and the RSL Reserves will be facing each other on Tuesday night to open BYU’s new ‘Stadium at South Field. This should be a fun game, and I can’t wait to go and see it. (As usual, I’ll be taking my son—not quite as usual, he’ll be on crutches after dislocating his knee.)

One interesting bit is that RSL’s win put them at 1.43 ppg, good enough for first place in the MLS West, while BYU’s 1.64 ppg is only good enough for fourth in the PDL Northwest and leaves them out of the playoffs. The PDL might be a few steps below the MLS in terms of quality, it looks like they’re ahead of them in terms of competition …

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

US Open Cup 2008: Thoughts after the quarterfinals

Intersting results last night. Crystal Palace Baltimore has to be a huge surprise, even in losing last night they were impressive taking the New England Revolution to penalties—what more could you ask from a USL2 side? I’m also glad to see both USL1 sides moving on (Seattle on PKs over the Kansas City Wizards after a 0-0 tie and Charleston on a 3-1 win over FC Dallas).

I’m not sure how I feel about the USL1 v USL1 and MLS v MLS semi final round. On the one hand, it guarantees an MLS v USL1 final, but it would have been nice to see two usl1 v MLS games in the semis too.

As the semi’s stand, I think we’ll see a very hot DC team beat New England and the MLS-bound Sounders beat Charleston. I’d like to pick Seattle in the final, but I don’t see anyone outside of the Super Liga stopping DC United right now.

Ogden at BYU: July 8th

Tonight I’ve decided to try something new. I’m typing up this blog entry and will post it once I get home (I’d have posted it from here, but I can’t get any WiFi signal here at Haws Field). Hopefully this goes pretty well.

After last weeks loss, BYU coach Chris Watkins talked about using the remainder of the season to get younger players some time as the Cougars build toward next season. Given the rivalry between these two teams you’ve got to think that the grooming process might have to wait for another game. We’ll see how things look when we get to game time.

Okay, BYU’s starting lineup seems like it’s pretty seasoned. It looks like the rivalry trumps last week's comments.

Game starts

At five minutes in, the game has been fairly balanced BYU has had a bit more posession, but Ogde has looked more organized. I still think BYU loses too much posession on the long balls they tend to play out of the back.

Jordan Cushman is taking the right side corners tonight.

Drew took a bit of a knock in the 12th minute, but game back onto the field quickly and doesn’t seem ot have lost a step.

Fifteen menutes in and things are about the same, BYU seems more energetic but not as crisp as Ogden.

BYU is starting to look like they’re getting it together. Their passing is more crisp and they’re winning more balls and creating some chances.

at the thirtieth minute BYU is controlling most of the possession, but can’t put the final touch together. They look pretty solid on defense though, when Ogden does gain control and pressese the attack. Steve Fellows almost put in a beautiful cross by Zach DeFrancis, bu the effort goes just wide.

I can’t tell if BYU’s problems are chemistry or concentration. They show flashes of great play, putting together good passes and nice control, but then drop a cross into a slot without a runner coming on to it.

Ogden puts a nice attack together with about nine minutes left in the hald, but it comes to naught as the shot is over the crossbar. The Outlaws continue to come on strong as time is winding down, they’ve put together three or four good attacks while allowing BYU only one.

Maybe I spoke too soon, with about two minutes left, BYU get’s a great run from Steve Fellows resulting in a corner kick. Derek Taylor gets on the end of it, but puts a header high and left. They take the ball back just past midfield and drive again, only to see a beautiful ball go just left of the goal.

Britton Osborn earns a yellow with a minute left on the clock, but Ogden isn’t able to capitalize. Brit continued to jaw at the ref, and could well have drawn a red.

End of first half.

Overall, the center ref has been a bit hesitant to call anything, but the game hasn’t gotten out of control. Neither team has been able to put their stamp on the game. It's been great fun to watch so far, I'm looking forward to a strong second half.

Second half starts

Ogden has owned the game in the early minutes of the second half, controlling posession and forcing two corner kicks.

BYU is able to take back some possession and go on the attack, though Zack DeFrancis put the final shot wide.

(BYU) Curt Graham goes in for Derek Taylor in the fifty-second minute. The substitution pays of moments later as Curt puts the ball in the back of the net.

0-1 BYU

The Ogden bench is steaming abut what they’re claiming are non-calls. But they manage to put a sitter over the crossbar when it’s dropped in their lap. You can complain about the refs all you want, but you have to make those shots if you want to win a game.

Play has evened out a bit, both sides are attacking well and looking dangerous.

Ogden makes a double substitution, let’s see if it pays off as well from them.

BYU counters with a substitution of their own, brining Steve Magleby on for Jordan Cushman.

Ogden has been on the attack, but is a call or two and a big save from Brandon Gilliam from equalizing.

BYU just dodged a bullet with a goal line clearance on a a shot by Ogden 21. Ogden earns a corner from the clearance though.

BYU subs their captain off, with #26 going on in his place. It looks like a trade for fresh legs and a bit of height.

Ogden equalizes on a beautiful cross to an unmarked Kyle Christenson.

1-1 Ogden

BYU gets it right back on a quick goal by Steve Fellows (assist Brit Osborne). One of the Ogden players had stepped out of play with an equipment problem and BYU struck fast.

1-2 BYU

BYU nearly picked up another goal as Steve Fellows drove a nice pass just beyond a driving Zack DeFrancis.

Another sub on both sides are standing on the side just waiting to be signaled in. BYU’s Zack DeFrancis is coming of and being replaced by Jace Green. While James Jarmillo is being replaced by Zach VanWagenen for Ogden.

BYU misses wide left on a nice shot by Jace Green. Brit Osborn is coming off and Scott Heaton replaces him after the shot.

Steve Magleby is able to take a shot, but it’s a low roller that’s easily stopped by Ogden’s keeper.

BYU has controlled the last 10 minutes or so of the game at the end of regulation. The ref has indicated 3 minutes of stoppage time, and the Ogden bench is going crazy.

Jace Green gets another great chance, but the Ogden keeper is able to touch it wide.

End of game

This was a very fun game to watch. The Ogden coaches and players are obviously still unhappy, but I don't think either team was unduly favored by the ref tonight. As usual, there were more chances left on the field by both teams than potential scoring opportunities lost to bad calls or non-calls.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Interview with James Edward and Michael Lewis

I’ve really enjoyed seeing more coverage of soccer in Utah (although it’s pretty RSL-centric). I wanted to get a better feel for the coverage, so I asked Michael Lewis from the Salt Lake Tribune James Edward of the Deseret News if they’d be willing to answer some questions in a joint interview. They were both happy to respond, and the following is the result:

Covering soccer seems like a dream job to a lot of fans, how did you end up in your positions?

Michael I’ve covered a lot in my 15 years at the Tribune, including college football and basketball, the Jazz and the Olympics. So when RSL came along, it was sort of something new that I hadn’t done. Plus, let’s be honest, they make some great road trips (though we don’t travel much anymore, with the slumping industry and economy) and nobody else really wanted the beat.

James I guess you would say I’ve been in the right spot at the right time each step of the way. I was a student at the University of Utah when women’s soccer was added for Title IX compliance 1996, and I ended up covering the Utes for two years for the Daily Utah Chronicle. That was my springboard to cover high school soccer for the Deseret News after college. Within a few years I’d established myself as the soccer beat writer for the Deseret News, so when the Utah Blitzz came to town that was my beat as well. From there it was a natural transition to Real Salt Lake.

What are the up- and down-sides to covering the game professionally instead of just being a fan?

James One of the reasons I love soccer is the unpredictability of when a goal will be scored, and thus the excitement when it finally happens. In journalism neutrality is one of our main responsibilities. You can’t be a fan, it’s a simple as that. There are times when I would like be excited about Major League Soccer in my home town from a fans point of view, but it’s just not realistic with my job.

Michael The upside is getting to know a little bit firsthand about why coaches and players do what they do, in terms of strategy, in particular. Not many fans have access to those guys, to ask them questions about the way they work. The downside? That’s easy. You can’t go right home when the game’s over; you have to stay and write your articles. Plus, no beer during. Ouch.

It looks like interest in soccer is on the rise in Utah and the rest of the country. What do you see as the next steps for the sport locally?

Michael I don’t know. I’ve grown a bit skeptical of the whole “soccer on the rise” story we’ve been hearing for a number of years now. Not that it hasn’t grown or won’t continue to grow, but I don’t know that it’s going to suddenly “explode” in the fashion that sometimes seems to be expected. Rather, I think the sport’s growth will be more gradual, as it slowly becomes more a part of the culture, particularly with children as they grow up. But the dominance of other sports in the United States is going to make that a very long road, in my opinion. However, if the U.S. men’s national team could ever become an elite team—that is, capable of regularly beating some of the best teams in the world, and not just Grenada and Turks & Caicos—I can see a bit more of a surge happening because of what I presume would be significantly more exposure.

James In actuality, attendance is on the decline for Real Salt Lake this year. If you take away the Chicago and L.A. Galaxy games, and their obvious draws, RSL is averaging several thousand fewer fans than in previous years—despite a better product than those previous years. I think the team is paying past disappointments. Fans are deciding to spend their money elsewhere (maybe on gasoline). There are probably countless reasons why, but Utah is a fickle sports town and fans won’t come if you aren’t winning. And when you aren’t winning local TV stations don’t pay attention, which only compounds the issue. In this market, it’s all about winning.

Since both of you are playing the skeptic card, do you think RSL and Soccer in the US are going to make it?

James As for being skeptical, I’m more skeptical about RSL’s current attendance predicament than soccer in this country. I am a soccer guy, and I believe it’s here to stay. But I just don’t see it becoming mainstream for another 15 or 20 years, until my kid’s generation become adults who are more likely to purchase tickets to matches because they’ve been exposed to it their whole lives. The majority of 40, 50 and 60 year olds in this country have never had any exposure to soccer so it’s completely foreign to them. My generation (early 30s) is much more accepting because it’s been around professionally and therefore we’ve been exposed to it for over a dozen years. I give it one more generation until our U.S. National Team is truly competitive, and MLS is playing in front of sellout crowds almost every weekend.

Michael Certainly, James is right about the waning attendance at RSL games; I do believe they ruined their chance to enjoy a greater degree of public goodwill with a stadium effort that was widely viewed as a boondoggle and a product that was atrocious for three years. I know a number of people who wanted to be fans early on, and bought tickets, but ultimately couldn’t bring themselves to do it anymore, because the team was so bad. That’s an element that might be hard to recapture. I would venture to say that most—not all, but most—people who would identify themselves as sports fans in the SLC market would not call themselves RSL fans.

How do you think the fans will respond to starting the ‘09 season in the new stadium?

Michael Very much like they did with the team itself. I expect a great deal of interest in what really will be a beautiful stadium—for awhile. But after an initial surge of interest, I think fans once again will attend or not depending entirely on whether RSL is any good. Nobody goes to games for the stadium, after all, with a couple of rare exceptions. Once fans get familiar with the new place, the novelty will wear off and the team is going to have to perform to fill it.

James Utah a front-runner town, everyone loves a fad. Beanie Babies, the Cheesecake Factory and the Utah Grizzlies just to name a few. Some anti-stadium people will never set foot in the stadium—until there kid plays a high school football playoff game there somebody and then they’ll forget about their lame boycott—but enough people will come each weekend to check out the novelty of the stadium many nights will be sellouts. If RSL treats them to victories and entertaining soccer, many of them will come back.

One complaint that I’ve heard is that the RSL front office doesn’t do a good job of marketing to the local latino population. How do you think they could improve?

James I honestly have absolutely no idea. It’s clear though that they would prefer to keep their affiliation with a team they can only ever watch on television instead of embracing a team where they live. At the end of the day, the overall level of soccer is comparable.

Michael That’s a good question, and one to which I don’t really have an answer. I’m not a marketing guy, after all. I would posit that even successful marketing might not show a tremendously tangible result here, considering that while the Hispanic/Latino population is growing in Utah, it’s still a small minority. That said, it might help to have some players on the team from Mexico and/or Central America, which I think is the region from which most of our local Hispanic/Latino population originates. In fact, RSL has never had a Mexican player, and its only Central American players of any consequence were Costa Rican—and there were only two of them, now gone. (Currently, I think all of RSL’s Spanish-speaking players are South American, from Argentina or Colombia.) It might also be that local Hispanic/Latino fans are accustomed to a higher level of soccer and/or more educated about the game, and perceive RSL to be a poor quality substitute. Certainly, the results on the field in the first three years could have reinforced that idea. And if that’s the case, no amount of marketing is going to “work.” Winning is the best marketing, always.

What’s your favorite RSL memory?

James For me it has to be that first game ever in New York in 2005. I was fortunate enough to be there, and excitement leading up to that game was unbelievable. It was surreal that an MLS team from Salt Lake City was actually taking the field for the first time. Then there was the weather. The wind and rain were so strong, it was really a comedy of errors. In reality, the game should’ve just been postponed. There were maybe 300 people there watching the 0-0 tie. It’s one of those stories I will always tell, one with a disclaimer that says you really had to be there to believe it.

Michael I think it’s probably the first game-winning goal they ever scored, by Brian Dunseth in RSL’s first-ever home game. Dunseth scored in the 81st minute to beat Colorado, then ran over and lifted the corner flag, theatrically “planting” it again into the turf, as if to “announce his presence with authority,” to paraphrase one of history’s greatest fictional baseball players. It seemed like great theatre at the time—the demonstrative start of a great story—but after everything that has gone on since then, it seems now so laughably impotent.

Other than RSL, what are your favorite soccer teams/leagues/events?

James I follow high school soccer for my job, but other than that there really isn’t time to get involved locally. I've watched the EPL and other European Leagues for several years now thanks to Fox Soccer Channel. I struggled to pick a favorite team until Bobby Convey helped Reading make the jump to the EPL. Now Reading is back in the League Championship, but I'm committed to the core when it comes to being a Reading fan from now on.

Michael I must say, I was pretty new to soccer when I started covering it (can’t tell, can you?), so I don’t have much of a built-in history with the sport. However, I have been to exactly one (1) English Premier League game, at West Ham, thanks to a player who helped my wife and I secure tickets. So I’m a big Hammers guy now, still angry at ManU for taking Carlos Tevez. :-)

If you had a friend that was headed out to his first MLS game, what would you want him to be doing/watching for to have the best experience at the game?

Michael For starters, I would hope that he gets to see his first MLS game at the Home Depot Center, or BMO Field, or somewhere that has a better atmosphere than Rice-Eccles Stadium. That’s half the fun, it seems to me, enjoying the excitement of the fans when they’re really geared up. Otherwise? Geez, I don’t know. The one thing I’ve always told people who ask is that watching soccer live is so much better than watching it on TV, if only because your full-field view allows a much better appreciation for what the teams are trying to do, strategically. You can see the way they try to set up attacks, or get back to defend, or what have you. Much of that is difficult to appreciate on TV. I guess I would tell him to try to appreciate the athleticism involved in doing what these guys do. That’s another thing I think is much better communicated in person.

James This is a tough question. I think everyone watches the game differently. If I had to explain one thing before the game to a friend I would let he or she know that the game might end in a tie. That’s just the way soccer is. Each game represents 1/30th of the entire season, and you have to treat each game as extension of the season. Explain why overtime isn’t played because of a fatigue. Soccer haters just can’t grasps this, but I think it’s because no one’s every explained it to them properly. I think most objective people will understand why a 0-0 draw wasn’t worthless if they have a little background.

Will RSL make the playoffs this year?

Michael Dare I say it? Yes. But just barely.

James That’s a tough one. I will say yes, because you’ve got to think RSL will find a way to win a few more road games. But that stretch in August and September when RSL plays 6 of 8 games on the road, that is going to be brutal. It will definitely make or break their season, which is why 0-0 draws against Kansas City and San Jose have the potential to be extremely costly in the long run.

Ogen Outlaws at BYU Cougars: July 4th

Last night my family and I went to take in the Ogden Outlaws – BYU Cougars game, and watch the fireworks afterward. It was a hard fought game, though the Cougars (who have come to expect to beat the Outlaws) have to be disappointed with their play and the result. With the fireworks show after the game, and then yardwork that needed to be done this morning, I haven’t been able to get to my write-up until now. I was glad to see Drew from the Deseret News was able to get his story done, and Kim Christenson got her press release out on time … sometimes it’s nice not to be tied to a deadline though.

As I watched the teams warm up the Cougars looked more composed, though that’s probably just my bias showing through. I asked BYU coach Chad Sackett about two of his players suiting up for the RSL reserve game earlier that day—forward Zack DeFrancis suited up as a midfielder but did not play, while midfielder Richie Bindrup suited up and played about 30 minutes as a left back. Coach Sackett said:

Well, it’s better for us that Zack didn’t play and I think Richie could play three games a day if he wanted to. But really, anytime these guys can get that kind of exposure, well, that’s why we’re here. Originally, we thought the game would be yesterday but that’s the way things work out sometimes.

I was also able to catch Bindrup to ask him about the difference between an MLS reserve match and a PDL match. He said:

They play at a faster pace, and everyone is more involved. I came in as a left back, but I was able to get up into the attack. The biggest difference is that they just finish their chances. It’s like we played last year.

During the first half of the game, BYU controlled long stretches of possession, earning several corner kicks (and having one goal called back on an offside). Ogden seemed to play a prettier game though with more one touch exchanges moving the ball down the field compared to BYU’s over reliance on long distributions to start attacks.

BYU opened the scoring in the 51st minute, when Richie Bindrup scored on a free kick earned by Zack DeFrancis. Ogden answered with 2 goals in an 8 minute stretch, the first by Flynn Stewart (set up by a free kick taken by Matt Broadhead) and the second on a Matt Broadhead free kick.

As you’d expect in a game where all the goals came from free kicks, it was pretty chippy out on the field with 18 fouls and 6 cautions. I don’t think either side was really happy with the officiating though, as the crew seemed to lose control of the game a couple of times. Zach DeFrancis said that, “It’s always a physical game, this is out big rivalry. Both sides are probably unhappy with some of the calls, and we both started to lose our composure.”

Zach also said that while the team had talked about getting knocked off their game plan saying, “We’ll be working on it.”

After the game, I caught up with coaches Sackett and Chris Watkins to follow up on the RSL Reserve game. Coach Watkins said that the whole team looked tired after running soccer camps all week in addition to Richie playing earlier, and that being tired certainly affected them. Coach Sackett said that he didn’t think Richie and Zack’s involvement in the earlier game affected the outcome of this one because: “There was a whole team out there, not just the two of them.”

Coach Watkins also said: “We’re not a very good team right now. ... In the next several games.” He seems resigned to missing out on the playoffs this year, when asked about his plans for the rest of the season, he responded that “during the next couple of games, we’ll focus on getting some of the young guys in to get them experience.”