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31 May 4:47 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 11:13 am

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?

30 April 2:42 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.

25 April 6:15 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?

29 March 7:07 pm

One final consideration before we close the book for good on the Colin Clark-ball boy incident: Isn't it time soccer gets rid of ball boys once and for all?

Take a moment to let this sink in: Soccer is the only sport that depends on little kids to fulfill a critical function IN THE RUN OF PLAY. Professional soccer allows little kids to take active participation in a game WHILE THE CLOCK IS RUNNING!

In a game in which every second counts and a quick re-start can decide a match, it's time for pro soccer leagues to go the NFL rout and swap out their ball kids for adult ball persons. And even pay them a gameday fee. Forget using these ball person positions as a promotional tool. Get someone who can do the job and have them come back for every game if they're competent.

I've seen kids wiping the floor at basketball games, but they do it during clock stoppages. Baseball's bat boy is only seen when play is dead and there's no urgency. Tennis ball kids are never performing their duties during an actual exchange that matters. In these sports there is zero pressure on the kids taking part.

It just doesn't make sense any more in soccer. And not only because most ball kids don't do their job well to begin with and often times don't even know the game (Admit it. We've all made this comment at one point or another). The issue is that they're interacting with adult players during the heat of competition. It doesn't happen in other sports.

Why subject a kid to the pressure of getting yelled at by a goalkeeper who wants to quickly take a goal kick? Why give a kid a front row seat to soccer's intense moments and some of the other colorful language that is used during matches?

No, there's no excuse for what Clark said and he's paying the price. But would he have made the same comment had he been dealing with an adult who was working the game?

If we really care about these kids, soccer shouldn't put them in the line of fire to begin with. When it comes to the pro game, the field should be rated Adults Only.

15 February 7:08 pm

There’s a Jeremy Lin waiting to erupt in every league.

So we dug up the MLS names that have the identical combination of traits that have made Lin’s story transcend nationwide: a rise from relative obscurity, an unconventional path to stardom, far from dominant physical traits and the ability to impact his team in a significant way.

We narrowed down a list of 10 names that have the potential of replicating #LinSanity in 2012:

LA’s Jack McBean, FC Dallas striker Jonathan Top, the Crew’s Aaron Horton and RSL’s Sebastian Velasquez likely won’t get enough of a shot this season;

Columbus’ Ben Speas, Chivas USA’s Casey Townsend and Philly’s Chandler Hoffman come from collegiate soccer powers and don’t make the cut;

Chicago’s Orr Barouch and Portland’s Bright Dike are both doted with the athletic attributes of potential difference makers. It wouldn't be fair to name them.

Which leaves our favorite candidate: Lin’s fellow Harvard grad Mike Fucito.

He was never looked at by the US national team in his younger days, he went to a school that’s not a traditional soccer heavyweight and his 5-9 frame makes him a long shot to be a force at forward in a league where athleticism rules. 

The Massachusetts native made just 13 starts and scored two league goals for Seattle in 2011, so he still has a ways to go. Similarly, Lin came off the bench in 29 games for Golden State in the last NBA season, averaging 2.6 points per game.

Fucito may have the slight headstart with the beginnings of a cult following in Seattle. But he's no regular just yet and he has the chance to take ownership of the forward spot permanently if he can stay injury-free this year.

And if the goals can follow, #LinSanity may have to make way for a dusting-off of #LikeMike.

09 February 8:03 pm

Pick up the phone, David Beckham. It’s time to call in a favor.

LA Galaxy manager Bruce Arena was a big part of helping Beckham finally settle down in MLS after a rocky start. Now it’s time for Beckham to use his direct line with the English FA to nominate Arena as a candidate for the vacant national team post of the Three Lions.

There’s a strong argument to be made that Arena would leap to the top of the list if he ever got on it. Here’s how he matches up with the rumored finalists:

Arena has more World Cup experience than Harry Redknapp and a lot less baggage. Aside from his recent spell at Tottenham, Redknapp's resumé doesn't blow anyone away.

Arena has plenty more international experience, including management of star players, than second-division coach Sam Allardyce.

And let’s not flatter Stuart Pierce with a comparison to The Bruce.

Which leaves Guus Hiddink as the only real competition, although the Dutchman doesn't have Beckham's influence on his side like Arena does. Hiddink is the classic coaching mercenary -- the new Bora Milutinovic -- and his record says he's good for a short-term run, but don't expect him to leave a legacy. Not when the next big payday is waiting.

Look, an American at the helm of England is the longest of long shots, but hasn't Beckham always said he wants to help grow the American game? Is there anyone who doubts that merely having Arena’s name in the mixer for the most important national team job in the world would leave a mark?

It just takes a phone call.

02 February 7:33 pm

Raise your hand if you are clueless about the Roman numerals involved in this upcoming NFL Super Bowl on Sunday. 

Ok, so it's "XLVI" and I've drawn a massive blank on that grade school class that I need to decipher it.

When it comes to the Super Bowl, I lost count a long time ago, which is why I think it’s inevitable that the NFL will eventually buckle and go the MMA route with how they identify their main event: Super Bowl 60, Super Bowl 61, etc.

And MLS should give some thought to making the switch as well.

In the event the regular season ever moves to a winter-spring schedule that overlaps two calendar years, attaching the actual year to "MLS Cup" will be irrelevant. Take England for example: How muddled is it to call Manchester United the 2010-2011 Premier League Champions? No, they were technically never champions in 2010.

And so why not take advantage of the fact there is a new format for MLS Cup this year with the highest remaining seed hosting the final, and rebrand the way we refer to soccer’s championship match in the USA?

The new nomenclature would also allow for multiple championship matches in the same calendar year if MLS ever opted to go to a split season (ala the aperturaclausura set-up in other leagues in South America). Ever try to follow the champions in Mexico? It’s a mess.

So "MLS Cup 17" this December! Has a decent ring to it.

 

31 January 7:01 pm

Kris Boyd doesn't know it yet but he has more than just MLS defenders he'll be contending with every weekend in the USA.

Portland's new designated player already has a minimum goal target he MUST hit in 2012 to even qualify as a moderately successful signing: nine.

That's the total that would surpass Kenny Cooper's production from last year in a Timbers jersey.

And make no mistake about it: By offloading Cooper on SuperDraft day and committing the big bucks to Boyd, the Timbers absolutely need Boyd to have the better season this year.

It will be the game-within-the-game to watch throughout 2012. Who is the more productive player in MLS? Boyd may not know who New York's Cooper is yet, but you have to figure Cooper, for one, will be checking Boyd's stat line every weekend.

They are very different players -- Boyd is considered a natural scorer while Cooper enjoys playing outside the box -- but in the end both will be judged by the ultimate measure of a striker's success: balls in the back of the net (and assists). And Boyd has the edge going into it purely based on his characteristics.

If the Scotsman does not bang them in for Portland, then it would likely point to wider personnel issues for the Timbers (do the wingers provide enough service? do the central midfielders have enough ideas?).

And in that scenario, the much-maligned Cooper would come out smelling like, well, roses.

 

 

31 January 4:59 pm

Philadelphia fans who are up in arms over the trade that sent Sebastien Le Toux to Vancouver are missing the big picture.

As if it wasn't easy enough to notice, the Union are managing their club very differently from every other side in the league. And it's the right way: building on youth.

It's not merely the obvious transfer fee opportunities that come with grooming quality young professionals. There will be handsome rewards in this department, no doubt.

But youth is the way to go in a league structured around a salary budget. The younger the player, typically the less onerous is the salary hit that accompanies him. Younger players are also more attractive trade bait when a team is ready to offload them.

And going young gives a team maximum flexibility in a league in which roster management skills are severely put to the test. A young squad allows a coach the luxury of time to make a more informed decision on which players are worth the long-term investment.

Union fans will see this happen with the commitment the club is set to make to 20-year-old Roger Torres and 21-year-old Sheanon Williams, who manager Peter Nowak wants to reward with a better contract. Williams and Torres earned it based on performance, not based on their resumé.

Yes, a 28-year-old Le Toux will score goals and run his heart out for the Vancouver Whitecaps. But the cash received in exchange for a player entering the final year of his contract will help further Philly's youth movement.

Sure, Union management could perhaps be a little more forthcoming in specifically addressing how the move impacts current contracts or future acquisitions. But fans can have faith that there is a plan the team is sticking to.

Keeping Le Toux would have been nice. But it would likely have meant Danny Mwanga and Jack McInerney riding the bench for yet another season. Wouldn't Union fans have been just as upset at that scenario?