Thursday, March 26, 2009

It's just... a little thing.

The MLS has come a long way towards being a competitive professional soccer league respected by the rest of the world. With the signing of David Beckham and even just rumors of other stars (Thierry Henry, Ronaldino, etc) saying they'd seriously consider playing Stateside has given the American league something to puff it's chest about in recent years.

But in my opinion, one little thing will hold us back in the eyes of our European counterparts whose respect we so dearly crave: our fans. I was watching the Seattle Sounders' inaugural game against the New York Red Bulls and was so distracted by the pitch. Look at all that confetti!

I know it may seem trivial in the grand scheme of things, but think about it: what does all of that paper and trash all over the field look like? That's right, a Central or South American soccer game. Don't get me wrong, a lot of great players and national teams have come out of those two continents. But what about their club soccer leagues? All of their best players play in Europe (Messi, Ronaldinho, Kaka, Robinho, Dani Alvez, Rafa Marquez). Little world-wide impression is made by these clubs. Granted I do think there is a language issue here (Europe is all English-compatible and easily translates to infiltrate American news, whereas the Spanish-oriented Central and South American only has a niche market in the US), but it goes beyond that. These fans are so loud and passionate, but that's about all the noise these clubs make. They're known for having fans that are absolutely crazy and throwing all kinds of unimaginable things onto the pitch, but they're club teams aren't much to be feared.

Hands down, Europe is recognized as the hub of world soccer. The best players from around the world go to play there. Two (Champions League, Euro) of the 3 most important tournaments in the world are exclusively European, and the other (the World Cup) is frequently won or contested by European countries. Look at their fields. No confetti around the endlines. No trash blowing across the pitch. No streamers draped across the goal. Granted, Italy still has crowd control problems and Spain a history of racism and flares in the stands, but in the most respected professional soccer leagues in Europe (England's Premiership, Germany's Bundesliga, Spain's La Liga), the field is pristine. It's hallowed ground. Fans wouldn't dare affect their team's chances of losing the game because the goalie had to wade through toilet paper around the penalty box in order to save a shot. Or their star player has to clear the corner flag just to get the free kick off. They have too much respect for the game, too much respect for the historic stadiums in which history has been and is being made.

The MLS and US Soccer would do themselves a huge favor if they took a long hard look at the situation. There are many other ways to show a fans support of a team. For instance singing, or beating drums or wearing your team's colors. In fact, a true fan, can appreciate the little things in the Beautiful Game. English fans applaud great play in the middle of the field, because they know that's where the game is really won and lost. To me, that's a real fan; one that can watch and pay attention to a goalless draw and argue that it might've been one of the best games ever played. It just looks trashy and tacky to have stuff strewn all over the field and to feel that "this is how a real fan behaves."

If the American professional soccer leagues (heck, even the fans) want worldwide respect for what they put on the field, they better make sure that what they put on the field is respectable.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Wait, the BILLS?! What?!

We've had a few days to digest the fact the Terrell Owens has signed with the Buffalo Bills. But when I think about it, I still have the same reaction: are you CRAZY?!

Well, I feel that way for the Bills and Bills fans. Just looking at the face of situation makes one think, "here we go again." TO has done this before and to teams with backbones (Cowboys, Eagles) so we can imagine what he'll do to a team like the Bills. It's only a matter of time.

And it's not only his attitude. It's blatantly evident to anyone who watched a Cowboys game last season that TO is losing his touch. He dropped 12 passes last year, but that only means he touched the ball. Countless times he gave up on a route or didn't even try to grab the ball when the pass could clearly have been caught with even just a little extra effort. So frustrating as a fan of either the team or the game.

But if we take a second and look at the situation on a slightly deeper level, we find that this may just be a win-win for both the Bills and TO. Here's why:

1) It's a one year contract paying TO one of the highest WR salaries in the league ($6.5 million). If we look back at TO's tenures (San Francisco, Philadelphia & Dallas) his first year has never been the problem. At each stop he's tried to impress the league and prove that he's the best around. It's only after things don't go as planned that he blows up and starts to say some unnecessary things, letting his competitiveness get the best of his attitude. He has proven three times that he can be a team player in his first year or two. This gives the Bills the chance to have a potential playmaker on good behavior trying to prove he's still the best. If it doesn't work out, it's only one year and this young, rebuilding team is that much wiser.

I mean, if Randy Moss can do it with the Patriots, TO would do well to learn from him.

2) TO is an amazing complement to Lee Evans. TO is the rough and tough underneath route runner while Evans is the downfield burner. With TO getting balls and drawing coverage underneath because he's capable of breaking one off if he catches it, Evans should now have an easier time running his deep routes and getting behind the corners and safeties. With a capable QB in Trent Edwards and a two-headed rushing attack in Marshawn Lynch and Fred Jackson, TO can only help these guys out.

3) As a natural attention getter, TO brings a lot of interest into the second-smallest market in the NFL. As I mentioned in my blog about a team moving to LA, Buffalo as a city is hurting for money, and thus the Bills are significantly affected by the situation as well. Bringing in TO has a lot of people getting excited about what he can do to boost the profile of the franchise he has now dubbed "North America's Team."

No one can tell whether or not this deal will work for either side, but there are compelling reasons to believe one or the other. Ultimately, I'm gonna say the same thing now that I said the when he signed with the Cowboys: "well, let's wait and see." Hopefully it ends a little better this time.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

It's Not a Question of Wanting, but Earning

It's now publicly known that Vince Young wants his job back as starting QB of the Tennessee Titans. Thanks for telling us, Capt. Obvious. It didn't take a referral to your psychiatrist to figure that one out. But he's not the only one wanting the job: Kerry Collins made it known to the Titans that he wouldn't re-sign with the team unless he was assured of being the starter again next year. He's now signed up with Tennessee again, so I guess we have our answer there. (Of course I'm sure Chris Simms would've loved a fair shake at the job too).

Don't get me wrong, Vince is an amazing talent. He single-handedly took the Titans to brink of the playoffs in his rookie season and into the playoffs in his second. But the guy has a documented attitude problem. He thinks he can do what he wants (first paragraph), he pouts, and he's not the sharpest knife in the drawer (he scored a 16 on the Wonderlic test). The guy has succeeded at all levels of football and thinks the NFL and the Titans (even the University of Texas) owe him something for it.

From what I've seen, there's no way Young should be starting with his current attitude. At least not yet. He may turn out to be a championship-winning QB for the Titans (or someone else), and kudos to him if he does. But winning the Super Bowl takes a team effort from a team that has complete faith in each other, especially in their team leaders, like the QB. Vince won't be that guy on that team until he stops acting like a child. I think another couple years or two behind an ultimately successful QB with his own list of past problems (Kerry Collins) can only do him good.

Hopefully Young will come out of his time on the bench as a more humble athlete ready to do whatever it takes (not whatever he wants) to win.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

A Big Day

Yesterday (Wednesday, March 4, 2009) had some big news involving a couple prima donnas.

If you've seen any sort of news today, you know that the Dodgers signed Manny Ramirez and the Cowboys finally cut Terrell Owens loose. All within a 24 hour period.

The Manny story broke first thing in the morning (at least here on the West Coast). I was in class at the time, but I was able to see the large flat screen TV in the new Outpost here at CSULB tuned to ESPN with all the Manny clips playing over and over again with Dodger logos scrolling across the bottom. I didn't need to see or hear anything, it was that obvious.

As a casual Dodger fan, I'm happy to see him back. Everyone (especially the Dodgers) know that LA is a better team (and has a better shot at the World Series) with Manny in the lineup. However, I'm a little nervous. Now that he's signed, all the "he quit on Boston" stuff is coming back up. I just hope it doesn't happen again. At least not before the Dodgers get a World Series win. This article is encouraging, but we've been burned as sports fans before.

And as for TO, good riddance. As a former Cowboys fan, I still have a soft spot for the team, and it's exciting to see them do well. Guys like Romo, Witten, Barber and occasionally TO made it that much better. But TO eventually became TO again. From the minute the Cowboys signed him, I knew it wasn't a good move. I was won over a little bit once I saw he seemed committed and relatively tame, but it was a matter of time before his true feelings character came out.

There's all kinds of talk out there about where he'll go next. Someone will inevitably take the bait. Personally, I think he'll end up with the Raiders. He just seems to fit with the attitude of the culture and the team needs a public face to get some attention as well as some skill at WR. And we all know Al Davis isn't afraid to make a splash. But we all know this. It's the idea that he could land somewhere else that gets me thinking. Would anyone else take the risk? I doubt it. He's eventually torn down every team he's been on, and it's no secret that he has a severe case of the dropsies and the I-don't-care-enough-to-make-an-effort-sies. It's different from Manny where he's been a good player on two out of his 3 stops (Cleveland and LA) with a lot of positive years in Boston (again, we'll wait and see what happens after a championship). Randy Moss is a similar case. He had his moments with the Vikings and got frustrated with the Raiders but he was still an amazing talent in his prime (arguably still) who sucked it up when it came time do so. TO's had his chances and blown them all.

On both fronts, I'm just tired of hearing about both... let's get the season under way!!!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

AFC West Landscape: Cassel and Cutler

All kinds of things going on in the NFL free agency market since it opened late last week. Two of the biggest stories so far have involved fierce AFC West division rivals Broncos and Chiefs. (Though if you think about it, any combination of the four teams in the division are some of the fiercest in the League)

If you've seen any sporting news this week, you've likely heard that Denver Broncos QB Jay Cutler is bent out of shape over hearing that his name was involved in a possible three way trade that would've brough (now former) Patriots QB Matt Cassel to the Broncos, sending Cutler to the Buccaneers and Tampa draft pics to New England. The trade (obviously) never materialized, and when Cutler got wind of the idea, he was understandably miffed that his position as undisputed franchise QB was being challenged.

In the days since the story broke, there's been a lot of reaction pieces, both sympathetic and not so much. Personally, my initial reaction was to take Cutler's side. I'm a fan of the kid. He plays very well, with flair, gusto and class, and he deserves to be given confidence in his job as the Broncos QB of the present and future. Too often I'm annoyed with NFL teams' impatience to wait for a player to develop on the field, at any position, but especially with a young QB.

However, I'm also starting to see the front office side of it. It is a business, and the GM and coach need to be able to put the best players on the field in order to get wins. If new Denver coach Josh McDaniels thought his former New England pupil Cassel was more suited for the job, then he's gotta do what he thinks is right. But in all fairness to Cutler, McDaniels hasn't even worked with him yet. And it's hardly clear whether or not Cassel's one good year in a great system on a great team trumps Cutler's constant progress on an average yet emerging team.

It seems that the best solution is for Denver to realize what they have in Cutler and stick with him. With a QB guru like McDaniels, it seems they can only get better. But on the other hand, Cutler needs to man up a bit and realize that your name will be shopped, that's just what happens, and it's nice to know that there's someone on the other end who's interested and eager to add you to their team.

As for Cassel, he was part of likely the Deal of the Offseason. New England sent him and LB Mike Vrabel to Kansas City for only a second round pick. There's a lot of back story behind it, but basically, the Chiefs undisputedly got a lot (an up and coming QB and an amazingly versatile veteran defensive presence) for a little (a second round pick). Speaking of offensive wizards, it'll be interesting to see how new KC head coach Todd Haley works with Cassel and how they can improve an exciting young Chiefs offense.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Is the NFL coming back to LA?

I recently saw this story, on

This story is an intriguing one to me. Right off the bat, I'm excited to see that a city in the LA area is finally willing to get a modern stadium built in order to bring an NFL team to LA. But ultimately, I know that there are many other ways to look at the situation:

1) This is awesome! LA has been hurting for an NFL team to call its own since both the Raiders and Rams left the area. I'm stoked to see that some city (Carson, Anaheim, LA and Long Beach had all been thrown around as possibilities) finally pulled something off to get the ball rolling on bringing the NFL back to LA.

2) The article mentions that there are "at least 8 franchises" that would consider making the move to LA and named the Buffalo Bills, Minnesota Vikings and Oakland Raiders as the obvious candidates. The Raiders I can understand, they've played in LA before and there are still a bunch of die-hard Raider fans in the area. Plus, the harder cultures in parts of LA (especially East LA, where the proposed stadium will be) can easily connect with the Raiders' identity. And if the Raiders really are having trouble with Oakland, then it makes sense.

But c'mon, the Bills? I know that would make Erin happy (well, assuming they remained the Bills, but with Buffalo no longer a part of their name, it’s highly doubtful that they'd keep the name or mascot), but it would absolutely crush the city of Buffalo. With their crippled economy, the Bills and Sabres are about all this town has left to be proud of. Losing half of their identity would surely have the city’s survival on life-support. It would be heart-breaking to see a city essentially die before our eyes because their last remaining shred of dignity and hope skipped town for the golden sunshine of Southern California.

It's also no secret that Zygi Wilf wants a new stadium for his Vikings, and if Minnesota wont give it to him, it seems he'd have no trouble pulling strings to move them to LA. However, this is another area (like Buffalo) that has its identity attached to their team. I can't imagine a team like the Vikings not being in Minnesota. Granted, hockey is king up there, but what would Minnesota and Wisconsin have to bicker about if there were no Vikings to play the Packers? The NFC North just wouldn't be the same. That's one of the most storied divisions in all of the NFL with names like Payton, Butkus, Sanders, Tarkenton, Carter, Starr, Nitschke, Lombardi and Purple People Eaters as recognizable as the teams they were affiliated with. The Great Lakes just wouldn't be the same without a Vikings team in the mix. Plus it would be difficult to imagine a mascot like "Vikings" aligning with the beach/desert of California, it just doesn't fit.

Other names I've heard rumors of in the past were the Colts (but they just got a shiny new dome in Indy), the Chargers (I can't imagine San Diego letting them get away), the Jaguars (this makes sense, such a small market out in Jacksonville), Saints (New Orleans needs them too much), and the Rams (a wonderful homecoming for a team that should never have left, though the team did originate in Cleveland).

I realize that with the expense and difficulty of starting a new franchise, the most cost-effective option is to relocate a team. But that could just turn ugly (see, Seattle Supersonics or Cleveland Browns). With the way most NFL teams are now so established, it would be a shame to see a city lose a significant part of their identity and revenue.

The only real alternative to relocation would be (as mentioned before) an expansion franchise. But that option doesn't seem to likely because of the expense, not to mention the monkey wrench it throws in the current division alignment (we can't have an odd number of teams!). So that would mean finding another city to host another team to round it out, but again, there's extra costs involved in that option.

So I'd just like to apologize in advance to the rest of the country for LA again raping and pillaging other cities to take something so dear to them only to make it an ensemble cast member in an already crowded LA sports scene of 2 hockey teams, 2 baseball teams, 2 basketball teams and two NCAA Div 1/FBS universities. Which brings me to my next point...

3) Does LA really want an NFL team? Since the Raiders and Rams have left, LA has hardly skipped a beat. With all of the other sports and entertainment options all year long, the fact that football isn't one of them makes few notice. Yes, California produces and has produced a lot of quality football talent. But as a recent survey by ESPN has shown, that's mostly because of sheer volume. With a population of almost 37 million people (larger than many countries) we're bound to produce some good and great athletes. But we're nowhere near the football crazed kinda people Texas, Florida, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, Ohio and many others are (which is disappointing to me personally). We've got too much sun and surf to care.

And without the NFL, the Trojans and Bruins fill the void for most football fans in the area. Around here, you're either one or the other, and that seems to be good enough for most people. Though there are still some lingering sentiments toward the Raiders and Rams. Most of the rest of NFL fans in LA root for other NFL teams. It's usually because LA is a magnet to people from other places, so those migrants hold on to their old allegiances. For example, you can find people wearing gear of and cheering for 10 different teams at any sports bar in the area.

Ultimately, I personally think it would be great to have a nice shiny new stadium in the LA area with a competitive NFL team or two to fill it (can you imagine two NFL expansion teams, both in LA?), but I'm scared that it will come at the cost of another fanbase's happiness. Like I said, no one needs a repeat of the Seattle incident.