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World Cup

14 May 1:28 pm

ESPN may have finally exhausted its full allotment of Barclays Premier League television broadcasting rights – they'll relinquish that hold to the NBC Sports Group in the fall – and the broadcasting behemoth may only have one more World Cup to televise before FOX Sports takes over in 2018, but that doesn't mean the Worldwide Leader is looking to get out of the soccer business anytime soon.

ESPN announced on Tuesday morning that the network will launch a brand new, highlights-driven soccer studio show called "ESPN FC" later this year, set to hit cable boxes on August 11. The 30-minute show, which will air Sunday through Friday each week, will be shown primarily on ESPN2 six days a week, with the Sunday edition spanning an hour. ESPN FC's daily scheduling has not yet been announced, but soccer fans around the United States will be hoping for a prime, mid-morning or early evening time slot.

ESPN recently rebranded its online soccer coverage with a change from the old ESPN Soccernet to the new ESPN FC iteration, and the broadcast side will focus primarily on the English Premier League, UEFA Champions League, Spain's La Liga, the US and Mexican national teams and, of course, Major League Soccer. 

Some of the regular contributors to ESPN's digital and television soccer coverage – and potential on-air personalities for ESPN FC – include the likes of Derek Rae, Tommy Smyth, Shaka Hislop, Gabriele Marcotti and Janus Michalik. ESPN also boasts a stable of MLS-centric commentators and analysts such as Adrian Healey and former MLS-ers Alexi Lalas and Taylor Twellman. With Premier League and World Cup rights going the way of other broadcasting companies, MLS could be in a position to move closer to the forefront of ESPN's soccer coverage, both on television and digitally.

ESPN and ESPN2 have been a longtime official television broadcast partner of Major League Soccer since the league's inaugural season in 1996. The current broadcast agreement between MLS and ESPN runs until the end of 2014, with the network carrying 20 2013 regular-season games.

Stay tuned for further news regarding ESPN FC in the coming weeks and months. Who would you like to see spearhead this new venture for ESPN?

UPDATE: SI.com's Grant Wahl on a potential time slot...

14 May 10:00 am

We already know the British tabloids can be over the top and insensitive when it comes to issues they don't understand, but perhaps no one in the American soccer community knows that better than US national team and Everton goalkeeper Tim Howard.

The World Cup veteran and national team fixture since 2007 has gone from being called "disabled" and "retarded" by the British press when he moved to Manchester United in 2003 to something of a club legend and cult hero for current club Everton, all in the space of a decade.

Not only has Howard learned to cope with the Tourette's syndrome that accompanied him his entire life, but he's now raising awareness among children. The message? Tourette's hasn't defined Howard, and nor should it define them.

In the April-May issue of Neurology Now, Howard spoke at length about his life with Tourette's from his childhood struggles to life in the spotlight as a Manchester United and Everton star.

Said Howard of being a little boy with TS: “From the age of 9 to 15, it was just this chaos of different tics, and they were pretty strong. I would just begin to figure out how a tic worked with my body, and, bam, six months or a year later, a new tic would come.”

“On the field I wasn't Tim who had TS or Tim who had tics. I was Tim who scored goals or scored baskets or hit home runs.”

These days, Howard keep the goals out, but you can't help but admire him for pressing on and passing his message onto others with similar challenges.

Howard isn't the only professional athlete who thrived despite the sometimes nasty disorder. Former Major League Baseball player Jim Eisenreich had a 15-year career in the big leagues, while former NBA player Chris Jackson, who Howard himself cites as a role model in his early years with TS, was a first-round draft pick in 1990 and enjoyed a 15-year career in America, Europe and Asia.

03 April 10:46 am

Sin lugar a dudas ya era hora.

El martes en la tarde, la FIFA confirmó al proveedor que a partir de este verano en la Copa Confederaciones, será el encargado de implantar el sistema de detección automática de goles.

La licitación la ganó la compañía alemana GoalControl, la cual superó las expectativas del organismo rector del fútbol mundial por encima de otros tres proveedores. A través de 14 cámaras de alta velocidad alrededor de la cancha, la compañía se instalará en Brasil semanas antes del inicio de la Copa Confederaciones. Será la segunda que la FIFA utilice en uno de sus eventos la tecnología, luego de la Copa Mundial de Clubes en diciembre, aunque ningún incidente se presentó.

El sistema tecnológico de GoalControl también será el utilizado en la Copa Mundial de la FIFA Brasil 2014.

En cuanto a la Major League Soccer, ejecutivos de la Liga han expresado su interés por el uso de la tecnología, a través de las licencias provistas por FIFA, pero aun no se define una fecha para su implementación.

¿Creen que es necesario implementarlo en la MLS? Déjennos saber en los comentarios a continuación.

02 April 5:40 pm

Put this one in the "It's about time" file: FIFA finally approved goal-line technology last summer, and now they've picked out a provider for this summer's Confederations Cup and next summer's World Cup, both of which will be held in Brazil.

The lucky winners are GoalControl of Germany, who were chosen ahead of three other competitors from around the world, according to a FIFA press release.

Goal-line tech has already been used at last December's Club World Cup, so the Confederations Cup will mark the second FIFA tourney to use it should the final tests go to plan. The Club World Cup went off without incident.

The move for goal-line tech gained momentum after the 2010 World Cup, in which Frank Lampard had what appeared to be a good goal ruled out against Germany in an eventual 4-1 England loss. Some, however, still argue that the shot didn't cross the line.

MLS executives have previously expressed interest in using goal-line technology, though FIFA licensing requirements make the timeframe a bit of a moving target.

Think it's time to make goal-line technology standard? Let us know in the comments section below.

05 February 6:06 pm

Gus Johnson has some work to do. Five-and-a-half years worth, to be exact.

On Tuesday, Sports illustrated's sports media maven Richard Deitsch let us in on Fox Sports' plans to put an American voice, and a distinctive one at that, on center stage during the 2018 World Cup in Russia. That would be Johnson, known for his high-energy play-by-play coverage in college basketball, who surprised many by branching into soccer last year – check out the clip of some of his calls as a radio broadcaster for the San Jose Earthquakes above as well as his interview with ExtraTime Radio (scroll down to the May 2, 2012 episode).

Of course, Johnson won't get thrown in the deep end come 2018. Fox is dedicated to building him up from water wings to the equivalent of play-by-play free diving through their other soccer properties, most notably Champions League broadcasts. Along those lines, Johnson will make his prime-time debut on Feb. 13 when Real Madrid faces Manchester United in Round of 16 action, and augment his CL duties with English Premier League MC honors as well as stints in the booth for the Champions League and FA Cup finals.

Now, Johnson isn't exactly a universal taste in the sports world, mostly because of his sugar-high style of bombastic broadcasting. He also has a very limited background with the Beautiful Game, admitting he's a soccer "novice" in the grand scheme of things.

To his credit, Johnson has closed-door run-throughs under his belt in addition to Quakes duty, but the Champions League knockout stage isn't exactly a low-profile way to kick things off for a novice, especially with a pair of internationally relevant Cup finals on the docket. You can bet the American soccer Twitterati and blogosphere are going to be looking for chinks in his soccer armor from the minute he opens his mouth.

Deadspin already gave their take here, and – to no one's surprise – it wasn't entirely positive and posed the following question: What will Johnson do without a bevy of opportunities to exhibit his trademark excitability? It's a valid point.

Meanwhile, I'm a bit torn.

On one hand, I'd love for American soccer fans to once again have an American voice to narrate the world's biggest sporting event. On the other, Johnson is going to have to remake himself in the booth, a move that could turn out smelling like roses or, just as easily, reek like a crowded subway car in the midst of an oppressive NYC summer. More likely, Fox's experiment is going to fall somewhere in between, and that makes me wonder what the decision to groom Johnson says about the network's opinion of the current crop of American soccer broadcasters.

Apparently, they're not good enough to develop into national voices in five-plus years, although I don't subscribe to that belief. More likely, they're simply not flashy enough and have yet to break through into the American sporting consciousness. Or they're already contracted to a competitor.

All of which is fine. I get what Fox is trying to do. But, like everyone else, I have no idea how the network's gambit will turn out.

What I do know is that I'll follow the building crescendo from Feb. 13 until the summer of 2018. If nothing else, Johnson's unique style won't let us tear our eyes and ears away from the action. Whether that's a good thing remains to be seen.

30 January 10:04 pm

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.''

05 October 2:44 pm

Jurgen Klinsmann has spent much of his year-plus at the head of the US national team talking about big ideas and expansive long-term goals.

A few gritty rounds of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying seem to have brought out the flinty realist in him, however.

The German-American coach shared his thoughts on the qualifying grinder and his team’s overall progress in a Q&A with ussoccer.com on Thursday. And while he claimed that the rigors of regional competition have been “pretty much what I expected,” and largely adhered to his optimistic outlook, it’s hard not to believe that he’s adapting his ambitious outlook to his current circumstances.

“They are very difficult games going into countries in the Caribbean and Central America,” said Klinsmann. “You have to adjust to the environments there. You have the crowd’s influence. You have refereeing that here and there may not be the way you want it. It’s difficult. It’s very physical and tough.

“You have to respond to it with the right attitude. You have to have respect for those teams. You have to battle them. You have to win your battles first before you play nice football.”

Remember, this is the same coach who proclaimed his desire to play flowing, “proactive” soccer and stand toe to toe with world powers. A week after suggesting in an ESPN.com interview that he would even “send a tall center back up front” and go Route-1 style if the US somehow found themselves chasing the game against Antigua and Barbuda next week, Klinsmann acknowledged his own on-the-job educational process.

“From a coaching perspective, I learned a lot about having games in Jamaica and Guatemala, so I know what to expect the next time I go in there,” he said. “Every coach goes through those learning curves. At the end of the day, we are here for points. We need to qualify for the World Cup, so we need to make sure the players understand the urgency of doing things.

“Going into these last two qualifying matches of the first group stage, it’s really important that the players understand from the first second on that we have a sense of urgency in everything we do.”

Comparing CONCACAF’s underdogs to the awkward UEFA minnows his German national team wrestled past during qualification efforts in his own playing career – including a tight home victory over Wales that nearly kept Die Mannschaft out of the 1990 World Cup that they eventually won – Klinsmann acknowledged the underrated challenges that US teams perennially encounter in their own backyard.

“You have to explain to people that even if you are on paper the big favorite, for your opponent the game against the United States is the game of the year, and maybe the game of the decade,” he said.

“If you take just five percent off the gas, you will struggle. They will come away with a tie, they might beat you. It is important that the players must understand there is no easy game on the agenda. There is no such thing. Soccer is unpredictable. You can mess up again with one set piece, and then they bunker themselves in and you do not find a way through that wall and you lose 1-0 and wonder why afterwards.”

US fans can only hope that Klinsmann and his squad make sure that feeling, which befell them after last month’s upset loss to Jamaica, doesn’t return any time soon.

13 July 6:56 pm

The final of the 2014 World Cup is two years from today. Amazing, huh? Seems like only yesterday, we were all huddled in soccer pubs and living rooms and tapas bars watching Spain beat the Netherlands in the final in Johannesburg.

But, in reality, that was a while ago. And now, everything is focused on 2014. Samba on the brain. Caipirinhas before dinner.

Seems like a good to look at what Jurgen Klinsmann's US national team needs to do to get to Rio.

Qualifying – "The Semifinals"

Technically, the current round of qualifying is called the Third Round. It's a group stage, and the US are in good shape after two matches. They beat Antigua and Barbuda 3-1 in Tampa on June 6 and then drew with Guatemala down in Central America four days later.

So at this point, the US are tied with Jamaica at the top of Group A, with four more matches to play.

That Guatemala away game would traditionally be the most difficult one of this round. But this cycle is a little different.

The trip down to Jamaica – who have improved greatly in the past few years – on September 7 will not be a Rastafarian walk in the park. It's made trickier because the two nations square off just four days later in Columbus. Klinsmann will have to manage his roster and squad smartly to avoid fatigue and any letdown in the second match.

Other than that is the away game in Antigua and Barbuda, on October 12, which will indeed be a walk in the park. The return match against Guatemala, at Livestrong Sporting Park in Kansas City on October 16, won't be an easy three points, but the hope is that by then, the US won't need points. By then, they should've clinched a spot in the next round.

My guess is that the US will get nine more points – I think they'll struggle in Kingston – and move on without too many issues.

Qualifying "The Hex"

Everyone's favorite game of Russian Roulette – the final round of qualifying for CONCACAF. Here are the most likely countries with bullets in the chamber:

Mexico: The Gold Cup champions are perfect in qualifying so far and will eventually cruise through.

Costa Rica: Los Ticos have been here before, and although they slipped up at home against El Salvador, they have enough firepower and experience (e.g. RSL's Alvaro Saborio) to make it.

Honduras: Loaded with familiar names, such as Sporting KC's Roger Espinoza and New England's Jerry Bengtson, los Catrachos are not the powerhouse they were a few years ago, but they still have enough to make the Hex. 

Jamaica: This is the year for the Reggae Boyz – led by Colorado's Omar Cummings and Vancouver's Darren Mattocks – to make another serious run at a World Cup berth for the first time since 1998.

The sixth country is probably going to be either Panama or Canada.

Panama look very good through the first two matches, securing two wins, including a 2-0 shocker in Honduras. The other one, though, was a squeaker at home to unfancied Cuba. Still, Blas Pérez and the Panamanians are alone at the top of the Third Round Group C.

But Canada are nipping at their heels after battling for a win in Havana and then earning a draw at home against Honduras. They're in a good position, but will probably need to beat Panama at home and earn a result on the road against either Honduras or Panama.

No matter who makes it, the Hex will be rough road for the US, as it always has been. Klinsi got his first taste of life in CONCACAF when the US went to Guatemala. But the quality is better in the Hex. And the urgency, too.

The US has done well in the Hex recently, coming on top of the final six in each of the past two qualifying tournaments. But this is a different Mexican team than in the past – maybe the best Tri we've ever seen.

But the Yanks don't have to top the group. Just finish in the top three. Most likely, the cut-off for qualifying will be 16 points. That's what it was in 2010 and 2006. It was 17 in 2002, the last time the US qualified in the third spot.

Qualifying – Interconfederation Playoffs

What if the US stumble in the Hex and somehow finish out of the top three? Well, all is not lost. In fact, this year, the scheduling gods have smiled on CONCACAF: The fourth-place team in the Hex will still have a chance to get in through an inter-confederation playoff against the top qualifier from Oceania (a.k.a., New Zealand).

Last time out the playoff was between CONCACAF's fourth-place finisher and South America's fifth-place finisher. Costa Rica lost to Uruguay, as expected.

The hope for US fans, of course, is that it never gets to that point.

06 July 4:36 pm

The year 2026 may sound like a long way off, but the Canadian Soccer Association already has its eyes firmly fixed on the date.

That, after all, is the next available World Cup following the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 events to Russia and Qatar, respectively. And Canada wants to have a crack at it.

As US soccer fans know all too well, though, even if the CSA can put together an impressive bid, it's no guarantee that Canada will get the tournament.

Still, their track record is encouraging, and Canada certainly has the facilities and infrastructure to put together a solid case. The 2007 U-20 World Cup, hosted in six venues across Canada, stands as the most attended U-20 World Cup in history.

In just three years time, Canada will further get a chance to showcase its hosting ability when the 2015 Women's World Cup makes its way north.

How do you think a potential Canada bid would fare? Would Canada host a strong World Cup, or would you rather see US Soccer make a try at the event? Weight in with your comments below.

11 May 4:50 pm

Earlier this week, MLSsoccer.com profiled Earthquakes right back Steven Beitashour as a player that could be on US national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann's radar.

Turns out, Klinsmann and US Soccer may have to move sooner rather than later if that's the case.

Beitashour, who led the Quakes last year with seven assists and already has four to his name in 2012, holds dual US-Iranian citizenship. According to Centerline Soccer's Robert Jonas, the San Jose native has been contacted by the Iranian national team, but not yet by the United States:

So it appears for the time being, Beitashour will hold out for a call from Klinsmann. But if the coach dawdles in calling up the third-year defender, Beitashour could easily be added to US Soccer's list of ones that got away.

Power 5: Steven Beitashour on Klinsmann's radar?