simon borg

27 June 8:30 pm

Some MLS clubs spend years searching long, far and wide in the hope they finally find one. And even then, it's no sure thing.

Just scan the league. How many foreign No. 10 playmakers are out there? How many are panning out? 

And yet here we are with a few days remaining until Sebastián Grazzini's contract option is up with the Chicago Fire and the club still hasn't taken a definitive stance on whether they're bringing him back.

Little do the Fire know that they actually hit the jackpot. They have on their hands a left-footed, creative genius, in many ways reminiscent of D.C. United legend Marco Etcheverry, capable of great passes and great goals who has proven a great fit in MLS and with the Fire since the very first day.

If we're going to be picky, Grazzini's problem is that he landed in MLS a year or two late. His age (31) and his lack of name recognition hurt his cause. In fact, if Grazzini disappeared from the league, it's possible few would even take notice. He's only featured in 25 total MLS matches with little national exposure.

But even with all that, Grazzini is a keeper.

We don't know the details of his fitness levels and we don't understand what personality quirks there might exist with the Argentine. But no one can dispute his productivity. Seven goals and nine assists in 25 matches (across two seasons) would make for an All-Star season for most players. His five assists in 2012 are already better than Brad Davis and equal to maestro David Beckham.

What makes the Grazzini situation bizarre is that Chicago's playing style actually depends on having a real No. 10, who can maneuver down the middle of the field. Dominic Oduro needs Grazzini's service. Patrick Nyarko benefits from his vision.

The Fire were never the same after Cuauhtémoc Blanco left and it will be deja-vu all over again if they don't bring Grazzini back.

06 June 6:50 pm

Manchester United.

That’s the match – back in July 2010 – that many MLS observers still hang on to when it comes to reminding themselves of the promise of former Philadelphia Union striker Danny Mwanga.

But the magical days in a Union shirt for the former No. 1 SuperDraft pick have been few and far between in the last two seasons.

Mwanga’s last goal for Philadelphia in MLS play? It came nearly a year ago (June 25, 2011).

The 20-year-old has been on the field for 61 league matches over three seasons and found the back of the net in just 11 of those games.

One reason for the limited production is injuries. Plenty of them. Rarely will you find a third-year player who has missed matches due to the same variety of injuries: hip, right knee, groin, hamstring, shoulder and a case of sore ribs after falling on them in practice earlier this season.  

If Mwanga’s durability to withstand the physical rigors of MLS is a concern, his lack of production without Sebastien Le Toux is downright alarming. Of his 12 goals in his MLS career, nine came off assists from Le Toux. The other three were unassisted.

In MLS you have to be tough and you have to be ready to adjust to any situation and any player. That’s why the Union are better off with the experienced Jorge Perlaza.

The Timbers highlighted Perlaza's speed when they acquired him at the start of last season and we’ve seen signs of how much of a factor it can be. But not in the goal-scoring department. Six goals in 32 starts – none this year – is nothing to write home about.

However, put Perlaza’s production into perspective: The Timbers are a team that don’t score many goals in general, whether Perlaza is there or not. In fact, only three teams have scored fewer goals than the Timbers this year. It was the exact same story at the end of last year.

Does Mwanga have more upside? Sure. He also brings good hold-up ability and the potential to playmake and create his own opportunities. But that’s also what Darlington Nagbe was expected to bring at the second forward position.

Mwanga’s integration into Portland’s system and his impact on Nagbe’s position will be fascinating to watch. It may not prove as seamless, however, as Perlaza who has the traits to be the perfect partner for hard-working compatriot Lionard Pajoy in the Union attack.

05 June 10:09 pm

As they say, timing is everything.

On the same day the Houston Dynamo found out that they will face Honduran side Olimpia in the group stage of the CONCACAF Champions League this summer, the MLS club has reportedly plucked one of Olimpia's most prized possessions.

Honduran international midfielder Oscar Boniek García is apparently heading to the Dynamo after rumors of the deal first surfaced several months back. Diez is reporting that the president of Honduran club Olimpia has confirmed the deal.

The article states that Boniek García, who was one of the stars of the 2011 Gold Cup, will be joining the Dynamo following the second of two World Cup qualifiers on June 12 in Toronto.

He's versatile enough to play in several of a number of positions from holding midfielder, to attacking midfielder and even on the right side of midfield, a position still in flux for Houston in 2012.

31 May 5:47 pm

The annual Soccer Hall of Fame induction ceremony is the place grown adult soccer people come together to cry.

Wherever they hold it. Whoever is inducted. That’s just the way it is. There’s more magic than you would imagine at the event and the emotion flows without the least bit of inhibition.

It was OK if you shed a tear, as many of us did, during Tony Meola’s induction speech. You probably called your mom and dad later that night after hearing Desmond Armstrong address the crowd. And all of us dusted off our fondest soccer memorabilia item thanks to Grahame L. Jones, who used his time at the podium productively.

Read on for the best of the best moments from the 2012 Hall of Fame Induction ceremony at FedEx Field on Wednesday afternoon.

GET OUT OF THE CITY: Hank Steinbrecher, the chair of the Hall of Fame committee told the story of how Armstrong hung up on him when he made the call to give him the news that he’d be inducted. “I know Hank Steinbrecher. This is a joke,” were apparently the words that came out of Armstrong’s mouth. Steinbrecher’s cell was ringing moments later.

HOMECOMING KING: It was a special occasion for 1990 US World Cup member Armstrong, who was born in nearby Washington, D.C. The pride he has for his family was on show, specifically his seven kids who were on hand: “I have a whole team here. Let me clarify, a whole indoor team.”

HUMBLE PIE: Armstrong says that when news came of his induction he wondered “Did I really do anything? … We played during a time when we weren’t really recognized.” He called himself “a great athlete and not so much a great player,” who got turned down about six times in a row for youth national teams as a teen.

DIFFERENT TIMES: This is the generation Armstrong belongs to: He says that when he family moved to Wheaton, Md. they were the first black family in a white neighborhood, revealing in his speech that they moved right next door to a KKK member.

LOW-BUDGET OPERATION: Armstrong gave a snapshot into how times were tough for US national team players in the late 80s. “There were five stops to go from Washington, D.C. to New York because there was no money in the budget. The gear we had back then – for us it was just a white t-shirt with no U.S. soccer emblem. And we used to fight over that stuff … There I am a national team player with a white t-shirt that you can get at Walmart.”

NO CHARLES BARKLEYs HERE: Former US women’s coach Tony DiCicco, who Julie Foudy called the greatest women’s soccer coach in the history of the sport, said that his boys “didn’t have men as role models [growing up]. They had fantastic female athletes.” Unfortunately two of DiCicco’s sons missed the induction ceremony after their car broke down in Goodland, Kan.

SPITTING IMAGE: Anthony DiCicco presented his dad and the resemblance between the two is remarkable. The younger DiCicco told the story of celebrating a world title with the Under-20 women's team in 2008 but his dad instead was up at 4 a.m. with his coaches conducting a video session. “He works his ass off,” DiCicco junior said.

CREDIT WHERE CREDIT IS DUE: Who does this at their induciton? DiCicco went out of his way to give credit to his assistant coaches for one of the brilliant coaching moves during his USWNT tenure: subbing in Shannon MacMillan in the 1999 World Cup quarterfinal against Germany. The match took place in the same building as Wednesday’s induction – FedEx Field 13 years before. And it was DiCicco’s assistants who urged him to bring on MacMillan to take a corner kick that Joy Fawcett would head home for the game-winner a minute later. The rest is history.

MISSING REYNA: One 2012 inductee, Claudio Reyna was not present on Wednesday afternoon for personal reasons. “Our thoughts and prayers are with Claudio and his family for sure,” Meola said. He is expected to have a formal ceremony with a future class.

SECOND BEST: Did you know that US national team goalkeeping legend Tony Meola wasn’t the top goalkeeper in his own high school? His childhood friend Sal Rosamilia, who presented him on Wednesday, wore the No. 1 jersey.

TEARS: They were flowing when Meola paid homage to the late Lamar Hunt, who owned the Kansas City team which Meola led to a 2000 MLS Cup title. He struggled to get through these words: “I played for an owner who had a profound effect on myself and everyone in our locker room. He always wanted me not to use his name because it wasn’t about him. I would be remiss if I didn’t recognize the impact on my life of the late Mr. Lamar Hunt. He was a gentleman, a role model in every sense of the word and through his actions he taught us all about humility. Thank you for your lessons and for your support, Mr. Hunt. “

MORE TEARS: Meola outdid himself with another story to tug at the heart strings. The subject? His son's Under-15 soccer team he’s been coaching for the last five years: “When I didn’t have a place in the game, there were a few months in my life I wanted nothing more than to walk away [from the sport] … I had an opportunity to coach an 11-year-old boys team, including my son Jonathan. That group of boys gave me more reasons to love this beautiful game than anything that ever existed.”

KUDOS KC: Kansas City supporters received a special mention from Meola. “I especially want to thank the fans of Kansas who supported me for seven years of my life. It’s not easy for a kid from New Jersey to move to Kansas City. I am honored to have shared an MLS Cup and a Lamar Hunt Open Cup with you and I’ll cherish it forever.”

TOAST OF THE TOWN: Reporters always have great stories and Jones, the retired former Los Angeles Times soccer writer who was inducted in the Hall of Fame for his contributions as a writer, told one about Mia Hamm celebrating her 21st birthday during the 1995 Women’s World Cup in Sweden with a glass of champagne at the team hotel. On Jones’s recommendation, his photographer picked up the glass when she abandoned it in the hallway. He still has it 17 years later.

VIRTUAL SOCCER MUSEUM: Jones left us with one final soccer commentary piece to close out his speech. “It would be really nice for US Soccer’s centenary year to have a virtual soccer museum where fans can donate memorabilia or just a photo and build it and find out more about the rich history of this country. There will be 10 to 12 new items every day and there’s a reason to come back to see what’s new. It wouldn’t be expensive. A virtual soccer museum wouldn’t be a bad idea.”

30 May 12:13 pm

For a change, it was the US national team coach's turn to tell someone else how to do their job.

In Tuesday afternoon's pregame press conference ahead of a massive match against Brazil, Jurgen Klinsmann on two separate occasions encouraged the Brazilian press on hand to support their national team. It was also an indirect message to the US soccer media on hand just before CONCACAF World Cup qualifying kicks off on June 8.

"[Mano Menezes, Brazilian national team manager] only has a chance to make that transition to integrate a new generation of players if he has the support by you — the Brazilian media, the Brazilian people," Klinsmann said in response to a question from a Brazilian reporter. "If you constantly doubt whatever he’s doing every game and every loss he has on the way to the World Cup in 2014, he’s going to have a really, really difficult time.

"I think you chose a very good coach and you have a very good coach and you've got to support him. So even if on the path to 2014 maybe it doesn’t work out perfectly, you have a new generation of players coming through. So I hope you give him the support and you don't doubt him every time maybe something goes wrong."

It brings up an interesting debate: Is the media's job to get behind their country's team? Or is the media's role to document, tell the story and analyze a situation when things go right and when they go wrong?

Fans of England's Three Lions may not want to read further. Klinsmann makes an example of the English national team to drive his point home later on in the press conference.
"It is very simple. In a soccer-driven country, which Brazil is, Argentina is, Germany is and England is, it all depends on how much you all go in the same direction," Klinsmann said when asked to share his experiences at the helm of Germany when that nation hosted the 2006 World Cup. "So you have two choices you can make: I support my team from a media perspective, too, or I given them trouble or give them doubts or give them nasty comments or whatever.

"If you look at England, England often beats itself. It's not the opponents necessarily. They make themselves so much problems they create before tournaments and you see how the last tournament went for then. So it’s the environment that you create. However, we were able to do that, the people started to be really positive [in Germany ahead of the 2006 World Cup]."

Does he have a point? The media has a role in the type of environment surrounding a sports team. But does the press really have any sort of moral obligation to their country?

25 May 9:40 am

Where there's smoke there's usually fire.

News surfaced earlier this year of a proposal for a unified tournament between CONMEBOL and CONCACAF to take place in 2016 in either Mexico or the United States. Now it seems like it's a reality.

The Jorge Ramos y su Banda show on ESPN Deportes yesterday confirmed that the first edition of the Pan American Cup will take place in the USA in 2016 and feature a combination of nations from both Confederations.

It's one of the news elements that has reportedly emerged from the CONCACAF Congress held in Budapest, where Jeffrey Webb was elected as CONCACAF's new president.


11 May 6:11 pm

It was only a matter of time before someone came up with this.

Adidas have come out with a new soccer shoe that actually helps players with specific facets of their game. And that's not just promo copy.

In Kick TV's latest Gear Show, they showcase the new Predator LZs that have a cushion to help with passing and grips on the outside of the boot that enhance dribbling and control.

Find out why the hosts call it a "radically different predator" than any that adidas has produced. And they're not just referring to the colors.

You need to see it to believe it. Check it out below.

30 April 3:42 pm

They don't happen that often, but when they do we're often at a loss for words.

What are we supposed to call goals scored off of corner kicks?

In Spanish they have "gol olimpico" to describe it and depending on whom you speak to, English speakers use a variation of that "olympic" reference.

But it's never uniform and it's all over the place. Until now. The poll in this blog post will be the final arbiter.

29 April 1:57 am

As if the San Jose Earthquakes' victory in Philadelphia on Saturday wasn't thrilling enough, Gus Johnson's call on Steven Lenhart's game-winning goal made it that much more memorable.

Take a listen below and feel the goosebumps for yourself.

It looks like the voice made famous by numerous March Madness moments is showing to be a natural fit for soccer.

GUS by bubbaprog

25 April 7:15 pm

We're seeing lots of this lately:

"I think we were the better team, we had more chances, but they did well holding on for the win.” -- FC Dallas' Brek Shea after his team's 1-0 loss to Vancouver on Saturday.

"We didn’t give up many chances. We played well but came up short even though I thought we created more chances. Sometimes, that’s the way it happens, but we kept pressing it. All in all, I was happy with the performance.” -- Sporting Kansas City manager Peter Vermes after his team's 1-0 loss to Portland on Saturday.

“If you look at the game and the number of chances we played, and potential opportunities, possible ... questionable calls that could have led to different results ... We did quite a bit tonight and could have been rewarded a bit more for what we did.” -- Chivas USA manager Robin Fraser after his team's 1-0 loss to the Philadelphia Union on Saturday.

"We should have won the game on the scoreboard. When you create so many chances and play so well, it's just so frustrating. But you have to take a positive from this game. We were by far the better team ... We did everything possible to win the game." -- Colorado Rapids defender Drew Moor after his team's 2-1 loss to the LA Galaxy on Saturday.

“I’m disappointed with the result. We had a couple more chances and could’ve won this game, but we just got a point.” -- Columbus Crew manager Robert Warzycha after a 2-2 draw against Houston on Saturday.

That's five MLS teams who feel they didn't deserve the verdict adjudged by the field. All on the same DAY.

You get the picture here. Barcelona fans get it loud and clear these days.

But don't blame the coaches, who see the payoffs that result from betting on defensive "anti-soccer" tactics. Blame the format of competition.

Fans don't want to see teams bunker in? Create a competition format that draws them out. Reward goals scored handsomely. Lavish the team that scores more of them with a bountiful bonus package. The greater the goal differential in your match? The more points you take away in league play.

But fans and soccer officials around the world would rather huff and puff about goal-line technology, which would only have a marginal effect on the game.

There is a much more meaningful discussion that could be taking place. That it's not is perhaps the most revealing sign that soccer fans actually enjoy the status quo but are too hypocritical to admit it.

That's because the status quo allows for cinderella stories. It creates "villains" and even allows them to win now and then. If the good guy won every time, that'd be a lot less compelling, wouldn't it?