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21 November 1:22 de la tarde

À quelques heures des matchs retour des finales de conférence (sur lesquels je m’étendrai demain), l’enthousiasme est au cœur de presque toutes les nouvelles de soccer en manchette dans notre coin du monde. Et aussi dans tous les pays qualifiés pour la prochaine Coupe du monde, dont la liste de 32 participants est complète.

L’effervescence de l’annonce de mardi soir n’est toujours pas passée à Orlando, où les grandes manœuvres ont commencé en vue de l’arrivée en MLS en 2015. Le club veut frapper fort et être compétitif dès sa première saison. Il cherche à cette fin un directeur technique qui « connaît la MLS et le football international ». Entraîneur depuis plusieurs années, Adrian Heath devrait rester en poste. Les dirigeants sont aussi persuadés que dès 2015, l’ambiance la plus fervente de MLS sera dans leur nouveau stade. On est loin des craintes suscitées par les échecs préalables de la MLS en Floride. D’ailleurs, Orlando veut sortir loin des frontières de son État et cible des supporters dans le monde entier.

Il faut dire que la situation financière de la MLS a bien évolué en quelques années. Le magazine Forbes détaille le changement radical de situation en cinq ans à peine : des moyennes de spectateurs supérieures à celles du hockey et du basket, la valeur des clubs qui monte en flèche et des perspectives très encourageantes. Si vous êtes intéressés par les gros sous, lisez aussi cet article sur les compensations prévues par la Fifa pour les clubs de MLS qui perdraient un joueur lors de la Coupe du monde.

À également ajouter à la liste des heureux : les prétendants à un des nombreux trophées que la MLS remettra en fin de saison (en fait, à partir de lundi) et dont la liste des finalistes a été annoncée hier. Le débat pour le titre de joueur de l’année ne se résume donc plus qu’à trois noms : Marco Di Vaio, Mike Magee et Robbie Keane. Selon ses coéquipiers au LA Galaxy, l’Irlandais devrait l’emporter haut la main.

Pendant ce temps, les clubs déjà éliminés préparent la saison prochaine. À Seattle, on a posé un geste fort en offrant un contrat de joueur désigné à Osvaldo Alonso. Statut que perdra donc Johnson, Rosales ou Martins, puisqu’il est limité à trois noms par équipe. Cela sent-il un départ vers d’autres cieux ? Exception notable au milieu de cet enthousiasme général : Juan Agudelo n’a pas obtenu de permis de travail pour jouer en Angleterre, alors qu’il avait signé un précontrat à Stoke. Pas vraiment le cadeau dont le joueur rêvait pour ses 21 ans, qu’il fêtera ce week-end…

28 May 10:30 de la mañana

L’émission de cette semaine (à écouter ici) ne pouvait pas passer à côté des deux sujets ultra brûlants du moment : l’arrivée de New York City en MLS et la finale retour du Championnat canadien Amway. Pour en parler, retrouvez Frédéric Lord, Matthias Van Halst, Olivier Tremblay, Olivier Brett et Patrick Leduc.

New York City se joindra donc à la MLS en 2015. Si on est loin d’avoir une équipe sur le terrain, les questions se bousculent déjà. Parmi les principaux thèmes de notre débat :

  • L’effet de cette arrivée pour la MLS
  • Les risques du mariage à trois Manchester City - New York Yankees - MLS
  • Le stade de New York City, clef de son succès ?
  • Marketing, un mot qui revient souvent dans les discussions
  • Les conséquences pour les New York Red Bulls
  • Et le Cosmos là-dedans ?

Ce mercredi, Vancouver reçoit Montréal pour le match qui décidera du représentant canadien en Ligue des champions. Qu’en attendre après le 0-0 à l’aller ?

  • Qui est favori ?
  • Avec quel état d’esprit Vancouver se présentera-t-il sur le terrain ?
  • L’effet du décalage horaire pour les joueurs montréalais
  • Di Vaio pourra-t-il autant peser sur la rencontre que face à Philadelphie ?
  • Le gazon artificiel et les vétérans italiens

On se penche aussi sur le match amical Canada - Costa Rica, sur son importance et son influence, ainsi que sur le feuilleton du sélectionneur national canadien (voir l’article de la CBC à ce sujet) et – n’y voyez aucun lien – sur le retour de Marc Dos Santos au Canada.

L'émission Coup Franc est disponible sur Stitcher et iTunes. Vous pouvez nous joindre par courriel (coup.franc@MLSsoccer.com), sur Facebook ou sur Twitter (@CoupFrancMLS).

14 May 6:01 de la tarde

When I was a 10-year-old boy growing up on the east side (of the suburbs) of Kansas City, I had as many of the latest NFL player cards by Topps as I could con my poor mother into buying for me. She couldn't walk me down a checkout lane without my begging mercilessly in hopes I'd land my latest prized Barry Sanders or Dan Marino card.

Well, beginning in July, it'll be Thierry Henry and Robbie Keane gracing the latest set of Topps player cards, as the Sports Business Journal reported on Monday that Major League Soccer and the trading-card company have signed a six-year deal that is set to launch at or around the 2013 MLS All-Star Game in Kansas City.

I think the biggest question on everyone's mind, though, is this: Who will headline the "Designated Player Flops" special collectors series to debut a couple years down the road? Denílson? Jéferson? Luis Ángel Landín? Or the most recent, Kris Boyd?

You'll obviously want to load your kids' stockings and birthday cards with pack after pack of these hot, new MLS Topps player cards. The actual cards haven't yet found their way onto eBay as of yet – as everything does ahead of release these days – but be sure to snag your 2013 MLS Team Checklist for the low, low price of one American dollar today!

What do you think? Will you be tempted to buy your soccer-playing child a pack or two, in hopes that it will increase their level of knowledge and interest in MLS?

14 May 3:34 de la tarde

There might not be a "Most Interesting Man in MLS Award" at the conclusion of each and every Major League Soccer season (there should be, by the way), but if there was, Sporting Kansas City goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen would be a worthy finalist for the award, year after year. And Nielsen got just that much more interesting on Tuesday afternoon when The Guardian's Paolo Bandini announced that he has been working in partnership with the 35-yeard old Danish keeper to write his second autobiography, Welcome To The Blue Heaven.

Just ask anyone who's spent more than five minutes with Nielsen; they'll tell you the only thing more infectious and inspiring than his net-minding on the field, is his friendly and lovable personality off it. Needless to say, this is a book that you're going to want to get your hands on and breeze right through.

The official release form Ascend Books, publisher of Welcome To The Blue Heaven, states the book will range from topics, but not limited to, Nielsen's past gambling addiction that almost cost him his career, the trials and tribulations it caused amongst his family, the woman - his wife - that stuck by his side and helped him piece his life back together, and a whole new lease on life and career found in - of all places - the United States' Heartland, that has seen him become one of the club's all-time fan favorites and finally a Cup-winning captain.

READ: A career rebirth for SKC's Nielsen

Sporting Kansas City forward Kei Kamara was first to break the news of Nielsen's book, tweeting out a picture of his copy last week, followed up by this picture with the subject at hand, and the first ever signed copy of Welcome To The Blue Heaven:

There's only one thing that could be a more interesting time than Nielsen's autobiography itself, and that's the Jimmy Nielsen book tour, which kicks off later this month and into the summer at various Kansas City retailers.

READ: Sporting Kansas City's Jimmy Nielsen makes the toughest save of his life

You can order your copy of Welcome To The Blue Heaven on Amazon, for $24.95.

14 May 12:28 de la tarde

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...

20 March 11:35 de la mañana

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

25 July 12:26 de la tarde

How often can you call an All-Star Game historic? Ground-breaking? Or even revolutionary?

Well, the 2012 AT&T MLS All-Star Game will classify as all of the above, no matter who wins the match or whether or not a goal is even scored.

Unless you've been under a rock these last few weeks, you've likely heard about the Smart Soccer revolution that's being pioneered by adidas through their miCoach technology. 

It's science fiction meets soccer: The players are wearing devices that track details of their movements and their overall performance like it's never been seen before. All in real-time. Who's covering more ground? Who's the fastest player on the field? Who's working hardest?

Wednesday's match is the first-ever "Smart Soccer" match and fans at home will be able to experience it for themselves by following along on the adidas Facebook page (click here during the match).

Below is a sneak peek of what the data will look like. It's just a preview of what is to come next year when MLS becomes the world's first "smart league" with every game tracked this way.

21 July 11:43 de la mañana

American owners in the Premier League have a tendency to divide the opinions of even the most like-minded supporters.

Such is the case at Liverpool, where John W. Henry and Tom Werner's (pictured above) Fenway Sports Group are attempting to bring the club back into the English elite after a few disappointing seasons.

PHOTO GALLERY: John Henry at Liverpool training in Boston

On Thursday, I chatted with Mariner about a myriad of topics surrounding Saturday's friendly against the Reds at the Rogers Centre (4 pm ET, Fox Soccer/Sportsnet), including his thoughts on American owners in general as well as what was happening at Liverpool specifically.

READ: Henry says Rodgers is inspirational

Here is what he had to say:

“I’m a massive fan of North American ownership. Being around some fantastic owners in Robert and Jonathan Kraft [in New England] and now Larry Tanenbaum at MLSE, these guys are extremely wealthy people but they really care about the game. It’s similar to with [American players], there’s a certain stigma attached to American owners: ‘Oh, they don’t really know the game.’ They absolutely do know the game, the traditions, everything about what it means to take ownership of Liverpool Football Club. They know what it means to all the fans. They’re fantastic businessmen.

"If you look at what we have in MLS, it’s single entity and we’ve got the salary cap, which early on – I must admit – was laughed at a little bit by the European clubs. But with the advent with teams going into administration, like Glasgow Rangers which I never ever in a million years would have thought that they would be going into administration, they’re looking at the American model and thinking, ‘You know, this is not such a bad idea.’ When I would go to business conferences before I was head coach and I was director of player development, people would come to me and say, ‘You know, this business model that you’ve got, this salary cap, is not such a bad idea.” A lot of people are looking at this in a really serious way and saying this is a really good way to go. I know for a fact that Liverpool Football Club are in fantastic hands.”

10 July 8:28 de la tarde

The irony will not be lost on D.C. United fans that without the help of their rivals, the LA Galaxy, there would probably have been no new investor announcement in DC.

New investor Jason Levien, one of the two additions to D.C.'s ownership group on Tuesday, talked about how it was a meeting with good friend and fellow Philadelphia 76ers co-owner Erick Thohir at a Galaxy match in Indonesia of all places, which led to the groundbreaking news for United fans.

Levien was in town for the 50th anniversary party thrown for Thohir's parents last November — "one for the ages," explained Levien — and it happened to be held the same week that the Galaxy made a stop on their Asian tour to face the Indonesian national team, a match set up by Thohir.

"We went to the game, the exhibition and that night we stayed up well into the night," Levien said. "And we really talked to each other and Erick had a strong conviction about soccer. And we shared a passion for it and a passion for MLS and having the opportunity through Major League Soccer to make a difference here in the United States.

"Through the late hours that night and the following days we sort of made a pact to do our best to try to invest in Major League Soccer," he continued. "Quickly our attention turned to Washington, D.C., and D.C. United."

The rest is history, as they say. And D.C. fans will always know they have the Galaxy to thank.

19 April 10:58 de la mañana

LeBron James’ love for Liverpool keeps growing, so much so that he's now launched his very own Liverpool FC sneaker, the Nike LeBron 9 low.

However the minority owner in LFC seems to have made some big design flaws before the shoes expected release on May 5, the day of Liverpool's FA Cup final match against Chelsea.

The famous “Liver” bird which is the symbol of the city of LIverpool, is placed on the heel of the shoe….but it looks more like a dragon. And emblazoned on the sole of the shoe are 18 logos of Premier League trophies. Yet Liverpool have never won the EPL title.... but they have won the English league title 18 times; which is a completely different trophy.

The original story announcing the sneaker release on the New England Sports Network (NESN) has been removed, after angry responses from Liverpool fans about the botched design.

Back to the drawing board, LeBron.

(Images from NESN.com)