Jurgen Klinsmann dropped an intriguing tweet into the Twitter timelines of US soccer fans on Tuesday morning, announcing that he had made the 6,000-plus-mile journey from Southern California to São Paulo, Brazil.
The US national team boss flew south to catch Tuesday's pivotal Copa Libertadores match between Palmeiras and reigning Mexican champions Club Tijuana (9 pm ET, Fox Deportes), where US internationals Joe Corona and Edgar Castillo are likely to feature for Los Xolos as they seek to advance to the quarterfinals of South America's most prestigious club tournament.
— Jürgen Klinsmann (@J_Klinsmann) May 14, 2013
With Tijuana facing an uphill battle far from home thanks to last month's 0-0 first-leg stalemate in Mexico, the big match at Estádio Pacaembú should provide Klinsmann with a useful perspective on the gringo duo's form and mentality as he prepares his roster for the USA's upcoming slate of friendlies and World Cup qualifiers.
Yet that's surely not the only reason the German-American coach has made the draining voyage across five time zones and many, many miles.
The USMNT's place in World Cup 2014 is far from assured and their destinations will not be known until next year's draw. But Klinsmann is a meticulous planner and he is probably taking this opportunity to scout the lay of the land where his team will – should their ship stay on course in the next few months – spend a month or more next summer.
São Paulo is one of 12 host cities for next summer's tournament, with both group-round and knockout matches scheduled to take place at the new Arena Corinthians, the future home of Palmeiras' cross-town rivals Corinthians, which is scheduled for completion later this year.
With the sprawling metropolis located in relative proximity to fellow host cities Rio de Janeiro, Curitiba, Belo Horizonte and Porto Alegre, it would offer a decent home base for the Yanks should they receive a southern Brazilian posting from FIFA. However, Brazil's somewhat controversial decision to make World Cup venues out of several distant northern and interior destinations means that it's likely too early to start reserving hotels and training grounds just yet.
São Paulo sits just far enough from the Atlantic Ocean for Klinsmann to miss out on the nation's famous beach culture on this trip. The chopper pilot-in-training might have been tempted to take his flight log with him, though – because epic density and congestion has made it one of the most helicopter-friendly cities on earth, with many well-to-do Paulistas avoiding horrendous traffic jams by commuting via rotary-wing aircraft.
LA Galaxy boss Bruce Arena has coached at every level of the men's game in the United States, and he's also kept an eye on the women's side, as he proved by sharing some intriguing observations with former WNBA president Val Ackerman in an in-depth interview for ESPNW this week.
The four-time MLS Cup winner and former US national team coach discussed the growth of women's soccer at the youth, collegiate and international levels – which he believes has accelerated “at a little faster rate than it has on the men's side” – and even praised female players for generally being more coachable and not as “contaminated” by greed and ego.
“In my experiences with coaching girls or women ... they are much more receptive to coaching than men,” said Arena. “They're eager to learn, and I believe they're more disciplined in terms of their concentration and training.”
He also issued a surprising mea culpa regarding the impact of Title IX, the law mandating gender equity which transformed the college sports landscape over the past four decades. Arena made his name at the helm of the University of Virginia's NCAA dynasty in the 1990s, and he admits now that his qualms about the change were mistaken.
“We see all the good things that have happened because of it,” he said of Title IX. “People like myself, at the time, thought it was wrong on so many fronts. I was absolutely wrong on every front.
“I thought it would take away from men. Nothing was taken away from men. It was appropriate to give women opportunities to participate and they've taken those opportunities and have grown them at every level.”
Arena and Ackerman also mulled the struggles of women's professional soccer in this country. Though he believes there is limited “crossover” potential with MLS, he sounded a note of cautious optimism about the NWSL, the new effort in that sphere being led by the U.S. Soccer Federation.
“They have a better financial model in place and, in the early going, I think there is going to be patience,” Arena said. “So, if we give it time, the women's professional league is going to be around for many years to come, and hopefully this new plan will make it work.”
Is the quest for a place in the UEFA Champions League comparable to liberating a faraway kingdom from a terrible dragon?
That might be a good question for Tottenham and US national team star Clint Dempsey, who is one of many English Premier League players taking part in “Premier League Reading Stars,” a commendable project intended to develop and encourage reading skills among children in the United Kingdom.
Deuce's favorite book? J.R.R. Tolkien's fantasy classic The Hobbit, which he enthusiastically describes as “a good read” and “a story about personal growth” in a video for the project.
“It's being able to go outside the comforts of your own home, and go out into the real world and see what's out there,” said the Texan as he explained why he loves the 75-year-old tale. “And even though it's going to be tough, and it's going to be ups and downs, it's about the adventure that you would've never got if you'd never left home. Without putting yourself outside your comfort zone, you don't know what you're capable of doing.”
As Dempsey narrates the harrowing adventures of Bilbo Baggins and his colleagues, it's not hard to see parallels with Dempsey's own professional journey from an unheralded rookie with the New England Revolution to USMNT captain and standout performer in one of the world's toughest leagues.
“He was able to find that he had a lot of strength inside himself and that there were a lot of things he could accomplish,” said Dempsey of Baggins. “I think it's a great story about how you find strength from within, and strength from putting yourself in uncomfortable situations sometimes and being able to prevail.”
Though he's since moved on to become Toronto FC's head coach, Ryan Nelsen is also featured in “Premier League Reading Stars” with footage recorded during his final season as a player with Queens Park Rangers.
Nelsen picked a slightly different book, one from his five-year-old son's current rotation: Chicka Chicka Boom Boom.
“It just has a good buzz and wording to it, you can kind of sing it or you can read it,” said Nelsen. “My son absolutely loves it."
Sometimes the game just isn't flowing your way, and you run out of ideas on how to change it.
It was a lesson a forlorn FC Barcelona side experienced at the ruthless hands of Bayern Munich in Wednesday's UEFA Champions League semifinal second leg, and Gus Johnson gained much the same lesson in the broadcast booth over those same 90 minutes.
After a two-month layoff, FOX Soccer used the Barça-Bayern match to resume its controversial on-the-job training of Johnson as the network's lead soccer announcer, a daunting challenge for the veteran sportscaster but one that he's handled reasonably well to date.
But this week was a harder slog for the demonstrative Johnson – and perhaps his predicament is best summed with a hackneyed old coaching phrase: Johnson wasn't really put in a position to succeed.
After pairing him with the more experienced Warren Barton in previous Champions League matches, for today's match the decision-makers elected to leave Barton in his familiar studio environment alongside Rob Stone, Eric Wynalda and Brian McBride. Johnson was instead assigned retired English striker Ian Wright as his partner on the call – and the chemistry just didn't take.
Wright offers a clipped London accent and a wealth of knowledge from a career full of famous goalscoring exploits in the English Premier League, which probably adds up to a can't-miss combination in the eyes of network executives.
But his staccato delivery of repetitive talking points – how many times did Wright castigate Barcelona for their lack of width (which surely sounded more like “whiff” to any untrained American ears watching this game on FOX's more widely carried FX channel)? – left Johnson with limited room for his trademark bursts of excitement, or even the occasional bit of scene-setting.
There were also worrying signs when it came to Johnson's own preparedness, however. He got off on the wrong foot in the early going by referring to Bayern's high-pressure approach as a “full-court press,” which he should know will court scorn from soccerphiles suspicious of his basketball background.
Johnson consistently stumbled over the pronunciation of Barça star Andrés Iniesta, and his allusions to the Spanish giants' famed “tiki taka” passing style were downright malapropisms.
Unfortunately for the broadcast duo, Bayern's systematic blunting and dismembering of their hosts left little drama in the occasion, which only magnified their slips and shortcomings. The anticlimactic game's latter stages challenged Johnson and Wright to provide analysis and conversation without tuning out the action on the field – an underrated challenge that the best in the business manage subtly and adroitly.
Wednesday provided a reminder Johnson hasn't joined their ranks quite yet. And it doesn't get any easier in his upcoming assignments: an EPL match this weekend, followed by the FA Cup and Champions League finals later this month.
Many MLS fans associate D.C. United's Carlos Ruiz with the game's so-called “dark arts,” thanks to his reputation for diving, gamesmanship and a general “anything goes” approach when it comes to scoring goals.
The veteran striker's true character off the field is something different, however, and is being hailed by CONCACAF with a rare honor this week. “El Pescadito” will receive the confederation's first-ever President’s Award for his role in uncovering match-fixing in his homeland of Guatemala.
“Mr. Ruiz’s courage and integrity led him to denounce match-fixing within the Guatemalan national team,” explained a CONCACAF press release on Wednesday. “His actions led to a full-scale investigation, as well as unprecedented measures taken in the fight against match-fixing in the region.”
In addition to being one of the most successful goalscorers in MLS history, Ruiz also carved out a distinguished career in his country's colors, scoring a record 55 goals in 104 appearances for Guatemala over more than a decade of service to Los Chapines.
Though the release did not state so explicitly, Ruiz's award may be related to the lifetime FIFA bans handed down to Guatemalan players Gustavo Cabrera, Yoni Flores and Guillermo Ramírez last year for their roles in three suspicious matches from 2010-12. Two of the games were Guatemala national team friendlies and one a CONCACAF Champions League match between CSD Municipal (the club where Ruiz began his pro career) and Mexico's Santos Laguna.
“The success of football within our region is constantly being shaped by individual actions of players, coaches, administrators and executives,” said CONCACAF president Jeffrey Webb in the press release. “We want to recognize Carlos for his incredible courage to stand up for the integrity of our game and denounce match manipulation activities. His long legacy to football has now a deep footprint both inside and outside the pitch.”
Ruiz's actions will be celebrated in a ceremony at Palacio Bolivar in the Cancillería General de la República in Panama City, Panama, on Thursday.
Are you a US national team fan? Are you getting more and more amped as the hours tick down towards the next round of World Cup qualifiers on Friday night?
Jimmy Conrad the the rest of the crew over at KICKTV are right there with you. They've just dropped the latest episode of “The Hex,” KICKTV's video series on the final round of CONCACAF qualifying.
“Hexagonal 101” delivers a fast-paced refresher course on the long, global road to the World Cup, the structure of the competition and the many challenges that the USMNT and their five regional counterparts must overcome in order to book a place in Brazil 2014.
Sporting the USA's brand-new centennial jersey, which the Yanks will debut against Costa Rica at Dick's Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, Colo., on Friday, Conrad reminds us how difficult the two-and-a-half-year-long process can be, a lesson he's learned through firsthand experience.
This is a great way to start the final countdown to the big games – and an excellent primer if you've got friends or family who could use a bit of Hex background.
Portland Timbers' Merritt Paulson, Sporting Kansas City's Robb Heineman named to SBJ's "40 Under 40" list
Two of the brightest, boldest executives in MLS have earned places on Sports Business Journal's annual “Forty Under 40” list of top young personalities in the sports business world.
Portland Timbers owner Merritt Paulson and Sporting Kansas City part-owner Robb Heineman (right) have received the honor, a repeat feat for both men.
In fact, it's the third straight year Paulson has made the list, elevating him to the “Forty Under 40 Hall of Fame,” while Heineman (at right, with MLS Commissioner Don Garber) can savor a second consecutive nomination.
As part of the honor, SBJ profiled both executives, hailing Heineman's role in his club's renaissance over the past two years and his forward-leaning approach to technology and fan relations.
“Through social media, we’re trying to give fans a sense of ownership,” Heineman said. “They’re not just fans, but they help shape some of the decisions that we make.”
Meanwhile, Paulson spoke to the publication about his outspoken public profile and use of Twitter to connect with the public – and occasionally even share his opinions of refereeing decisions and the like.
“I’m trying to be a little bit less of the face of the team this season,” Paulson (right) told SBJ. “I don’t mind being out there, but if the owner is too much a part of the story of the team, that’s ultimately a negative thing.”
LA Galaxy and Chivas USA fans may be interested to note that Ray Elias, chief marketing officer for StubHub, who will assume naming rights for the Home Depot Center later this year, is also on the list.
The city of Orlando has quietly purchased more than $8 million of downtown real estate in recent months in the area mooted as a potential location for a new soccer-specific stadium, offering further proof of the central Florida community's strategic positioning for an MLS expansion bid.
Third-division side Orlando City SC have made no secret of their desire to someday join MLS, and the club seems to have found a willing partner in mayor Buddy Dyer, who hopes to help facilitate the development of a $110 million soccer stadium for the Lions. Some $30 million of that estimated amount would come from the club, and the rest would be provided by a mix of city, state and county funds and taxes.
Last week, Dyer received authorization from the city council to buy four parcels of property worth $4 million near the Amway Center, the downtown arena which is home to the NBA's Orlando Magic.
This week the Orlando Sentinel discovered, via a public-records request, that Dyer's administration had actually spent more than twice that amount overall, thanks to the acquisition of 17 more plots worth $4.3 million. Because none of those land parcels were worth more than $500,000 each, Dyer was not required to attain prior permission from the council for those purchases, but Mayor Dyer's deputy chief of staff Heather Fagan told the Sentinel that “the commissioners were briefed on potential options for future uses of the site.”
The land itself is described as “mostly vacant lots and warehouses,” in the words of the area's City Commissioner, and it adds up to an estimated three-quarters of two city blocks.
City officials refused to confirm that the land purchases are related to the stadium project, calling them only “a strategic acquisition.”
But it certainly looks like the ideal location and footprint for a downtown soccer venue.
When it comes to the men in the middle, the 2013 MLS season is off to a good start, says Peter Walton, the head of the Professional Referees Association, in a new post on the PRO website Wednesday
PRO was created a year ago to assign, manage and evaluate officiating in MLS, MLS Reserve League and lower-division leagues as well as other top North American competitions like CONCACAF Champions League and the US Open Cup.
Its stated goals: "To increase the quality of officiating in U.S. and Canadian professional leagues, develop more professional-quality officials at a younger age, and produce officials who will represent the United States and Canada in FIFA competitions."
Walton, a retired referee with two decades of experience overseeing matches in the English Premier League, FA Cup and elsewhere in his native country, pronounced himself pleased with the efforts of his officials over opening weekend.
"It doesn’t seem three months since that epic MLS Cup Final in LA, but here we are at the start of another season," writes Walton. "Saturday saw the kick-off to the 18th MLS season, the first for the Professional Referee Organization. After a busy pre-season it was so important that we, the officials, got off to a good start; and from what I saw and what others have said, we did just that."
Walton also announced that PRO will be producing a "plays of the week" segment to shine a light on examples of effective refereeing practices over the course of the season. PRO also communicates with the public via its official Twitter feed, @PROreferees.
North American soccer fans have heard it a thousand times from countless different voices, from FIFA boss Sepp Blatter on down: If you want to be a serious league on the world stage, move to a fall-spring schedule like everyone else (by which they actually mean Western Europe, of course).
This argument shrugs off a range of important factors behind MLS and other leagues’ choice of a spring-fall alignment, but perhaps the most important one is the simple fact that it can get awfully cold and snowy in places like Montreal, Chicago and New England every winter.
As it turns out, some people across the pond have taken note of this obvious fact, too, including one of the most powerful men in German soccer.
Namely Karl-Heinze Rummenigge, the chairman at Bayern Munich as well as the chair of the European Club Association, a lobbying group for more than 200 of Europe’s biggest clubs.
"Everywhere, be it Germany, France or England, summer is the best period of the year. And that is the season we don't play,'' Rummenigge told France Football magazine for its latest issue. "In deepest winter, when it is very cold and snowing, we play nearly all the time in conditions that are disagreeable for both players and spectators. It is not logical.
"My sense is that we are heading straight in this direction,” he added. “It's completely possible, even if this idea does not thrill our friends in South America.”
Laying out a future in which European leagues open in January and run until the fall, he predicted that the change would make for more pleasant conditions for both players and supporters and even help reduce the conflict between club and international soccer by leaving a month-long window for national-team play.
"In future, there could be two phases: one for club competitions, the other for qualifying matches or finals of the World Cup or the Euros,'' Rummenigge said. "For one month, national teams would be completely free to call up their players.''
That would also help resolve the looming problem caused by FIFA’s selection of Qatar as the host of the 2022 World Cup, allowing the desert nation to host the world’s biggest sporting event during the mild Middle Eastern winter.
Skeptical reactions from ECA and FIFA officials underlined the difficulties of making this sweeping change to the current status quo. But Stateside soccer folks can take heart from the news that Europe’s elite might actually be coming around to our way of doing things this time.
"It is clear that there will soon be negotiations to examine what can be done. My point of view is that an eventual change to the calendar shouldn't be viewed critically but more as an innovation that could improve the general context,'' Rummenigge said. "Changing the calendar carries risks but it is also an opportunity. The issue of the calendar will become more important the closer 2022 gets.''