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Soccer Culture

04 April 12:42 pm

TORREÓN, Mexico – Toronto FC's hotel on the eve of the Canadian club's CONCACAF semifinal second leg against Santos Laguna was a scene of tranquility.

Only one state police car waited outside, watching on.

The legions of fans that Aron Winter was expecting to be chanting, banging drums and keeping the players awake throughout the night did not turn up and the Reds arrival was decidedly low key.

Not that it should lull the Canadian club into a false sense of security, as could be witnessed when I reported the above via Twitter last night.  

“The hell will be tomorrow … we don't need to disturb them today,” responded Santos fan Braulio Rodríguez.

Fellow Guerrero Nick Simonis summed up the mood: “Don't you know … it's the calm before the storm.”

A sellout is likely at the Estadio Corona, with 25,000 tickets sold by yesterday afternoon, the Santos Laguna press office confirmed to MLSsoccer.com.

On-form US striker Herculez Gomez – fast becoming a legend in Torreón, according to locals – did his bit to promote the game yesterday, teaming up with Santos Laguna teammate Marc Crosas to buy and then give out 100 tickets to local fans.

Around town this morning, there are plenty of green-and-white Santos Laguna shirts and a sense of excitement is building, with los Guerreros and their fans determined to reach the Club World Cup.

Toronto FC, on the other hand, have already achieved more than most expected by reaching this stage of the competition.  

Is a surprise in store? We'll find out a little later, but at least the Toronto boys go into the game after a good night's sleep.

Tom Marshall covers Americans playing in Latin America. E-mail him at tom.marshall.mex@gmail.com.

02 April 1:17 pm

After being subbed off at halftime against the New England Revolution on Saturday, it appears superstar LA Galaxy midfielder David Beckham is no longer worthy of a full 90-minute performance. I don't know, man. Ask Bruce Arena about it.

But no matter how LA are doing on the field, one thing remains clear: Beckham is still in the conversation for "Dreamiest Man in MLS." I dare you not to get lost in those eyes.

And don't worry if you can't, because you are not alone. Apparently the poor people at Burger King can't manage it either. Or at least that's what this new commercial would have us believe.

In reality, I'm skeptical that one could remain smitten by a man who says "smoovie." But it's still a funny ad, and Beckham is still a dashingly handsome man. Seriously, just look at the guy...

02 April 10:19 am

NEW YORK -- Giorgio Chinaglia died on Sunday.

Younger and newer soccer fans in the United States probably know nothing about Chinaglia. On Wikipedia, they can learn that he scored 242 goals in 254 games for the New York Cosmos, 98 goals in 209 appearances for Lazio, and earned 14 caps for Italy (including two in the 1974 World Cup).

On YouTube, they can watch his famous assist on a Fabio Capello goal against England at Wembley from 1973 (below). And on Twitter and various blogs, they can discover his famously prickly personality, the one that dared to criticize Pele and in all seriousness said things like: "I am a finisher. That means when I finish with the ball, it is in the back of the net."

But what you can't learn from Wikipedia, Google, YouTube, or Twitter is the symbolism of Giorgio Chinaglia. He was a living symbol of the efforts made in the 1970s and '80s to make soccer a major sport here. Sometimes, he seemed like a ghost of the NASL's bittersweet run, but he was always there, carrying the banner of the game's past that eventually gave rise to the its present. 

Unlike Pele or Franz Beckenbauer or Carlos Alberto, Chinaglia remained in New York after he retired from the Cosmos. He didn't just pick up and move on when the money ran out on the NASL. Instead, he stayed, worked in the game, did some TV analysis (including his legendary head-to-head on-air battles with Eric Wynalda during the 2002 World Cup), and c0-hosted a radio show on Sirius XM with longtime friend and soccer executive Charlie Stillitano.

And because of all of that, he was one of the most visible flagbearers for the NASL's ongoing legacy.

MLS, early in its existence, wanted nothing to do with that legacy. The league was meant to be a break from the past, a new venture, one that would not fall into the same patterns and turn down the same dead ends that the NASL did.

But in recent years, MLS' mindset has shifted with regards to the NASL and the past in general. The Seattle Sounders, Vancouver Whitecaps, and Portland Timbers all chose to fully embrace their NASL histories, right down to the clubs' names. This year, the San Jose Earthquakes -- who likewise adopted their NASL moniker -- celebrated their past by putting historic images on their season tickets. And, of course, there is the on-again, off-again New York Cosmos resurrection.

To me, the remembrance of things past is vital to the success of the present and the potential of the future. I enjoy both watching MLS matches and sporting my Detroit Express t-shirt. It reminds me that, no matter what people around the world say, soccer is not a "new" thing in the US and Canada. It's been around for a 100-plus years.

I believe that Giorgio Chinaglia died appreciating that history. He was just waiting for the rest of us to appreciate it too.

31 March 11:24 am

Leave it to Jimmy Conrad to liven up media day, a normally subdued affair defined by the same five questions and lots of fringe players waiting patiently for someone -- anyone -- to meander over and stick a recorder in their face.

Conrad and the KickTV cameras made their way to Red Bulls media day a little more than a week ago to ask the hard-hitting questions normal journalists don't have the courage to ask. You know, things like whether Victor Palsson prefers yogurt or cereal. I won't give anything else away, other than to say Thierry Henry wasn't particularly amused by Jimmy's line of questioning. Seems to be a theme there.

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I had the pleasure of being on the other end of the microphone during media day a few years in Kansas City when Conrad was still knocking heads in MLS instead of cracking jokes in front of the camera. Let me tell you, it was nothing like this.

30 March 5:03 pm

The US Olympic team may have crashed out of the CONCACAF Qualifying tournament earlier this week, but Kansas City is still going to be a happening place for soccer this weekend. And I'm not even talking about Mexico vs. Canada or Honduras vs. El Salvador.

I'm talking about Budweiser Poolball. If you haven't heard of it, which you probably haven't, check out the video below. As someone who enjoys the occasional game of pool and takes any opportunity to kick the ball around, this is a beautiful marriage of footy and nightlife entertainment. Kansas City had the good fortune of having a couple of these tables set up around the city on Thursday and Friday for the lucky residents to enjoy.

If you gave me a day to mess around on one of these tables, if that's the right term, without limit, I would ask for three. Seriously. It's that awesome. I'm sitting at my desk imagining trick shots, seeing-eye combos off the rails and chips cross table. The possibilities are literally endless.

Even more intriguing, what if MLS organized a Poolball tournament around All-Star Weekend? Who wouldn't want to watch Dwayne De Rosario and Graham Zusi go head to head? Thierry Henry vs. David Beckham?

28 March 4:54 pm

Former Oasis guitarist Noel Gallagher considers himself quite the football fan. He's famously a Manchester City fan, "loves" Mario Balotelli (whom he interviewed recently), and shows up regularly at Etihad Stadium.

But is he also becoming an MLS fan? In this Q&A with ColumbusAlive.com, in between promoting his concert in Columbus on Thursday and pimping his brother Liam's new band, he sings the praises of a recent MLS match he attended.

"I was amazed at the size of the stadiums and the amount of people that attended these matches," he says. "It was like, it's a big [expletive] deal, man, d’you know what I mean? It’s a big deal. And I was expecting it to be little more than, you know, a kick about in an athletic stadium with a few people attending. And I went to see the Galaxy and they were playing some team from Philadelphia, and it was real, d’you know what I mean? And the fans were all great, and it was a great atmosphere."

28 March 4:41 pm

Maybe this new proven goalscoring tactic could become commonplace in MLS? Fans of goal-shy Montreal, Toronto, New England, Chivas and D.C. may want to look across the Atlantic to see how one group of fans helped to turn their side into a goalscoring machine....well they scored once at least.

Fans of German side Magdeburg took a different approach to their team's scoring drought. Instead of booing and hurling abuse at players and coaches, fans of the Regionliga Nord side (Germany's fourth tier) made the task a little easier for their team.

Supporters assembled behind the goal their beloved team was attacking, holding up giant colorful arrows to point their team in the direction of the opponents goal!

And remarkably it worked.

American forward Chris Wright scored the bottom club's first goal for five matches and ended their 558-minute goal drought. However his equalizer wasn't enough for a point as the home side slumped to a 2-1 defeat and remain rooted to the bottom of the standings, scoring just 16 times in 25 league games.

Either way, it’s a novel approach from the German fans. A for effort.

23 March 2:59 pm

Leave it to the Timbers to create new boundaries for extreme MLS fandom.

I have no doubt there are plenty of MLS fan tattoos out there*, but I can't think of another organization that would be willing to create a contest around the concept and pay for the ink themselves.

But that's the contest Portland dreamed up, and winner Nathan Kensinger recently got his custom designed "Timbers Tattoo" by Igor Mortis at Tigerlily Tattoo in northeast Portland.

Check out footage of Mortis applying his artwork to Kensinger's calf below and watch Eric Brunner and Jake Gleason narrow the field to the winning design.

*I would love to feature MLS fan tattoos here on "The Sideline." If you want to show yours off, tweet me at @AndrewWiebe_MLS with a short explanation of your ink.

23 March 1:49 pm

Oh, that Jay DeMerit. Always thinking up new ways to share his passion.

This time, he shows off his knowledge of the wave-breaking phenomenon and applies it to innovative effect for the Whitecaps fans.

Surf's up!

22 March 4:04 pm

The link between Fulham Football Club and the US soccer world over the years has become so strong that they are often colloquially referred to as “Team America” in the UK. 

It’s hard to argue with that playful nickname and their long history of enticing players from the US to try their luck in the EPL is one Fulham are very proud of, according to the Cottagers website.

Several US national team stars such as Brian McBride, Carlos Bocanegra and now Clint Dempsey have turned out for the West London side at Craven Cottage, all earning high praise for their performances from fans and pundits alike.  

On Fulham’s official club website on Thursday they highlighted an article coming up in the clubs Fulltime magazine. The EPL side, who are led this season by US superstar Dempsey with 18 goals, are quick to point out their strong links with MLS soccer in particular.  

“While our Premier League rivals are only now just discovering the delights of America’s top league, it’s fair to say that we’ve been unearthing its hidden treasures for 13 years.”

So just like any good relationship, the benefits are reciprocal. Former Fulham and US national team captain Brian McBride explains.

“Fulham have been major players in increasing awareness of what American soccer players have to offer,” said McBride.  

Well said Brian, long may the loving relationship continue.