Friday, July 22, 2016

MLS Quest: The Summer of Soccer

With the end of the Euros, we're officially two-thirds of the way through the grandiosely titled 'SUMMER OF SOCCER' and it's been interesting so far. I'll be the first to admit that I didn't get to watch as much of either the Copa or the Euros as I would have liked, but there's been a lot of interesting things going down out there in the sport, so here's what I've learned so far:

1. Chile might be my new favorite South American team. While the first half of the Copa America Final might have resembled a UFC Match, the second half, Chile (and Argentina) calmed things down and Chile pulled out a gritty performance that eventually forced penalty kicks- and like in 2015, they managed to pull out the win in the shootout. Consider me a fan of La Roja.

2. Portugal was dreadful to watch throughout the tournament, but losing Cristiano Ronaldo early in the final seemed to liberate them somewhat. The French never pressed their advantage and I think the more time went on, the more the Portuguese realized that they could, in fact, do this without His Majesty on the field. Eder's strike in extra time was absolutely beautiful and despite the fact that Cristiano Ronaldo immediately took his shirt off (of course), I can't help but be happy for Portugal. While France was good, if I have a choice between the host country of a tournament or a country that hasn't won any tournament before, I'll go with the latter. They've produced some excellent football over the years and it's pretty cool to see them hoist a trophy- especially when Cristiano Ronaldo was out for the bulk of the game.

3. England, oh England...  lost to Iceland and went home. That's not really all that surprising...  I actually had some hope for a decent run from England. They had a lot of young, up and coming talent on the squad- and my goodness me, did they have speed. They were pressing forward, actually attacking- they were not incredibly frustrating to watch. This felt like a different England.

Silly me.

So, England needed a new manager and turned to Big Sam to fill the void. At this point, I really don't know what to say- there's a lot to be said for what Germany did at their nadir- and you can't argue with the results. The FA seems to be flailing for answers while sticking to a familiar script: the Manager must be an Englishman. I mean, who cares? Isn't the right manager more important than the nationality of the manager? I almost wish that the rumors of Klinsman to England- or even Wenger to England were true. 

I guess the biannual descent into despair will continue- that is until the English Women hoist a World Cup and really make the men look like fools. (It'd be great to see some reforms from the FA- a revitalization of the FA Cup or, a suggestion I heard on Men In Blazers- to bring back the old British Home Championships. There seems to be this weird, 'go along to get along' attitude that really is starting to get old. Some indication that the FA actually wants silverware would be nice to see. Maybe Big Sam will prove us all wrong, but I doubt it.)

4. Arsenal...  needs a striker. Giroud had a good tournament, but will probably need some recharging before getting back into the swing of things. Ditto with Alexis. I'll admit, Giroud has his moments, but then again, he doesn't have his moments, you know? They need more offense up front and so far, they've made a play for Jamie Vardy- which was a pleasant surprise, but he turned them down. They signed a striker from Japan by the name of Takuma Asano, but despite rumors of Mahrez, there hasn't been a lot of movement in the transfer market thus far from the Gunners. (I mean, yes, they did go get Granit Xhaka which is something, but the universal, overwhelming opinion out there is that they need a damn striker. Where they get one, short of plonking down a bunch of cash for someone like Higuain, I don't yet know- but then again, they snagged Ozil at the end of the window, so maybe they'll get something done yet.)

Just as a tangent: I've been listening to Arsecast for awhile now and it's a solid podcast, but what's almost entertaining is the difference in commentary about the transfer windows. NBA or NFL free agency isn't nearly as free wheeling as this and there's a free market aspect to this I find refreshing. It's really and truly, all about the players in many ways. The better they are, the more money they can make. The lack of public subsidies for stadiums or any other American sporting shenanigans makes for a very different commentary/punditry experience. I dig it.

5. MLS Quest continues...though I need to actually make some time and watch more than I have. When we last we left things, this is where we stood:

Western Conference:
FC Dallas
Sporting Kansas City
Colorado Rapids
Real Salt Lake

Eastern Conference:
Columbus Crew SC
Chicago Fire
Toronto FC
Montreal Impact

(Minnesota United remains in the mix, but then, there's this. Ouch.)

I really think that The Quiet Man might well have hit the nail on the head giving the prize to Sporting KC. They continue to intrigue me- and when I read things like this and hear about how vibrant the fan culture is down there, it makes me even more intrigued. But, fair is fair and I have to try and meet my goal of watching as much as possible before deciding on a team. (But I also heard a fascinating interview with Earnie Stewart of the Philadelphia Union (and found an article) which makes me wonder if they deserve a slot in the MLS Quest.)

Speaking of articles, this one is a nice deconstruction of the The New York Times beclowning itself with an attempt to dig into 'American Soccer Culture'.  It's worth a read. (The burgeoning Hudson River Rivalry is getting interesting too. Slowly.)

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