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Soccer Culture

14 May 4:34 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.

13 May 5:09 de la tarde

Sometimes, supporters groups' tifo displays are designed to look really cool, to recognize a player's career-long contributions to the club or even to intimidate that day's opponent with a massive pregame display that covers the entire end of a 70,000-seat stadium.

And other times, the displays transcend the sport of soccer altogether, making a statement about life in general.

On the same day a match in Italy – one that happened to involve United States national team midfielder Michael Bradley's club team, AS Roma – had to be momentarily halted because of racist chants aimed at opposing AC Milan players, the Timbers Army chose to spend their Sunday afternoon taking a stand against another sensitive social issue in the sports world: homophobia. The 5,000-person section used roughly 4,500 colored cards to create the display, according to Timbers Army 107 Independent Supporters Trust board member Abram Goldman-Armstrong in an e-mail exchange with MLSsoccer.com on Monday.

READ: Robbie Rogers' revelation opens doors, but also leaves questions

The display spanned six sections at JELD-WEN Field and featured a banner in the center reading simply "Pride, Not Prejudice." The Timbers went on to put three goals past the Chivas USA defense, picking up yet another impressive home victory to extend their unbeaten run to nine games.

It just so happens you can check out video of the Timbers Army tifo here and here. This is what the organization itself had to say:

"The Timbers Army has had a 'zero-tolerance for intolerance' policy since its inception in 2001,'" Goldman-Armstrong told MLSsoccer.com. "Our display in honor of the International Day Against Homophobia demonstrates our commitment to making certain all people are welcome at the beautiful game, on the pitch and off of it.

READ: Gordon will use aftermath of homophobic slur incident "for the good"

"As the language San Jose's Alan Gordon used to attack captain Will Johnson shows, homophobia is still a real issue in North American sports. As supporters, we must do our best to show that there is no room for such bigotry in our sport. Sunday's display is an indication of that sentiment."

The Timbers Army will be the first of many independent supporters groups across MLS to lend their support to the "Pride, Not Prejudice" cause this week, as many groups have agreed to unveil their own unique stands against homophobia prior to their club's home game that falls closest to the 2013 International Day Against Homophobia on May 17.

06 May 5:05 de la tarde

The premiere of the latest American soccer documentary comes on Wednesday, May 15 (8 pm ET on ESPNU).

It's called Abby Head On and it's about — you guessed it — US women's national team star forward Abby Wambach and her rise from high school standout to international stardom.

The film is directed by Emmy award winners Erin Leyden and Gentry Kirby and it will be narrated by NFL Hall of Famer Jack Youngblood.

It will be the eighth documentary in the "Storied" series dedicated to the Southeastern Conference (SEC). Wambach bypassed other college soccer powerhouses to play for the University of Florida, and the Gators overcame none other than North Carolina in the 1998 title match.

“It’s like the first biggest thing I won," Wambach says in the documentary. "I’m a romantic when it comes to stuff so I think that getting to Florida and having the storybook ending—that was the only thing I was thinking about."

06 May 2:25 de la tarde

"What?! You don't want free Chipotle?"

That's what I imagine Kei Kamara is saying in the above photo from Monday's press conference in Kansas City to welcome the fan favorite back into the Sporting fold.

READ: SKC set to weigh offers for Kamara after Norwich City loan ends

There's a reason Kamara and his heart-shaped hands are beloved in Kansas City. He does things like offer all his Twitter followers free Chipotle.

Come one, come all. And leave your wallet at home. Kei's picking up the tab!

02 May 10:00 de la mañana

It's pretty much a dream assignment in MLS these days, even if you never know quite what to expect from the man.

MLSsoccer.com spent last Friday and Saturday shadowing José Luis Sánchez Solá, better known as "El Chelís," before, during and after Chivas USA's home match vs. San Jose. And if the teaser (above) is any indication, we're all in for something special.

I've never heard someone make cherries and manure so relatable, but Chelís does it with aplomb and he leaves me wanting more. Thankfully, more is coming. We just have to wait until next Tuesday.

01 May 6:32 de la tarde

Sometimes the game just isn't flowing your way, and you run out of ideas on how to change it.

It was a lesson a forlorn FC Barcelona side experienced at the ruthless hands of Bayern Munich in Wednesday's UEFA Champions League semifinal second leg, and Gus Johnson gained much the same lesson in the broadcast booth over those same 90 minutes.

After a two-month layoff, FOX Soccer used the Barça-Bayern match to resume its controversial on-the-job training of Johnson as the network's lead soccer announcer, a daunting challenge for the veteran sportscaster but one that he's handled reasonably well to date.

But this week was a harder slog for the demonstrative Johnson – and perhaps his predicament is best summed with a hackneyed old coaching phrase: Johnson wasn't really put in a position to succeed.

After pairing him with the more experienced Warren Barton in previous Champions League matches, for today's match the decision-makers elected to leave Barton in his familiar studio environment alongside Rob Stone, Eric Wynalda and Brian McBride. Johnson was instead assigned retired English striker Ian Wright as his partner on the call – and the chemistry just didn't take.

Wright offers a clipped London accent and a wealth of knowledge from a career full of famous goalscoring exploits in the English Premier League, which probably adds up to a can't-miss combination in the eyes of network executives.

But his staccato delivery of repetitive talking points – how many times did Wright castigate Barcelona for their lack of width (which surely sounded more like “whiff” to any untrained American ears watching this game on FOX's more widely carried FX channel)? – left Johnson with limited room for his trademark bursts of excitement, or even the occasional bit of scene-setting.

There were also worrying signs when it came to Johnson's own preparedness, however. He got off on the wrong foot in the early going by referring to Bayern's high-pressure approach as a “full-court press,” which he should know will court scorn from soccerphiles suspicious of his basketball background.

Johnson consistently stumbled over the pronunciation of Barça star Andrés Iniesta, and his allusions to the Spanish giants' famed “tiki taka” passing style were downright malapropisms.

Unfortunately for the broadcast duo, Bayern's systematic blunting and dismembering of their hosts left little drama in the occasion, which only magnified their slips and shortcomings. The anticlimactic game's latter stages challenged Johnson and Wright to provide analysis and conversation without tuning out the action on the field – an underrated challenge that the best in the business manage subtly and adroitly.

Wednesday provided a reminder Johnson hasn't joined their ranks quite yet. And it doesn't get any easier in his upcoming assignments: an EPL match this weekend, followed by the FA Cup and Champions League finals later this month.

30 April 12:21 de la tarde

Entre les matchs aller et retour des demi-finales du Championnat canadien Amway, cette compétition est au centre des discussions de l’émission de la semaine (à écouter ici) animée par son quatuor désormais habituel.

Le fait d’avoir de nombreux réservistes traditionnels dans le onze de départ a suscité beaucoup de commentaires. On se demande si les clubs prennent cette compétition au sérieux et si les supporters peuvent se sentir floués. En alignant beaucoup de jeunes, chacun n’a peut-être pas pris les mêmes risques. Les résultats ont aussi suscité des débats sur les responsabilités des joueurs sur le terrain ainsi que sur la qualité en profondeur des divers effectifs. L’essentiel de la discussion porte sur Toronto - Montréal mais on parle aussi d’Edmonton - Vancouver.

Avec l’arrivée d’une équipe de NASL à Ottawa l’an prochain, le format de la compétition sera légèrement adapté avec un tour préliminaire entre les clubs de NASL. C’était prévisible mais quel message cette décision passe-t-elle ?

Chicago vit un début de saison difficile, qui a été confirmé lors de la dernière journée à Montréal. On a pu constater de près certains progrès de l’équipe mais surtout un manque d’imagination, un potentiel mal utilisé et une défense susceptible de s’effondrer à n’importe quel moment au sein d’un onze qui semble être entré dans une routine menant difficilement à la victoire.

On connaîtra dans les prochaines semaines l’identité du vingtième club de MLS. Les signes mènent vers une deuxième équipe New Yorkaise basée dans le Queens. Alors que les Red Bulls peinent à remplir leur stade, certains s’interrogent sur la pertinence de cette décision qui pourrait cependant amener de nouvelles vedettes internationales en MLS. Et après, quel développement pour la ligue ?

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).

29 April 3:51 de la tarde

Does playing at home influence referees' decisions?

Answering that question may depend on which side fans are on for a given match, and what the outcome of the game is. But there is growing evidence that referees do inadvertently tip the balance in the home side's favor more often than not.

In this article from The Guardian, Sean Ingle discusses the ways in which a home crowd can help their team receive fewer cards, as well as increase injury time if the home side needs more time to get a result.

These results are not only present in English and German soccer, the countries highlighted in the article, as evidence from other sports, including the NBA, also supports the hometown bias.

Still, given the frequent complaints leveled at officials from fans of home teams, the bias isn't the sole determinant of outcome, and obviously has a larger impact on some contests than others. Furthermore, if cheering for one's team and trying to coerce favorable decisions from referees is a hallmark of attending games for fans, the article notes that the impact of fans on actually helping the team perform looks to be negligible, at least statistically.

Don't let that hold you back from heading to the stadium and cheering on your local team, though – you could help give the home team the slightest of edges.

23 April 11:20 de la mañana

Le Toronto FC soulèvera-t-il encore la Coupe des Voyageurs ? À quelques heures des demi-finales aller, l’équipe de Coup Franc aborde l’édition 2013 du Championnat canadien Amway dans son émission de cette semaine (à écouter ici).

Outre ces deux rencontres, Montréal a un calendrier très lourd pour les trois prochaines semaines : comment Marco Schällibaum va-t-il gérer son effectif ? Toronto joue-t-il encore la carte jeunes ? Les plan A et plan B de Toronto offensivement. Le danger pour Montréal de laisser centrer son adversaire. Le duel contre Edmonton sera-t-il une formalité pour Vancouver ?

L’attaquant du Toronto FC Robert Earnshaw trouve que le style de jeu en MLS est moins direct qu’en Angleterre. Alors, physique ou technique la MLS ? D’un côté, des défenseurs costauds qui s’engagent pleinement dans les duels ; de l’autre, beaucoup de matchs joués en été avec une grande influence latino-américaine. Le débat est ouvert et votre avis nous intéresse !

On revient sur le match San José - Portland. Battue une seule fois depuis le début de la saison, l’équipe de Caleb Porter est une des plus agréables à regarder et nous offre un jeu positif, avec un état d’esprit offensif. De son côté, le dernier lauréat du Supporters Shield commence à retrouver ses blessés et s’est découvert une nouvelle idole en la personne d’Adam Jahn (revoir son but).

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).

16 April 7:14 de la tarde

Matt Besler's recent ascension to the US national team's starting lineup might just be the biggest honor of his career so far.

But having a large slab of red meat named in his honor isn't half-bad, either. 

Kansas City-area residents hungry for the beautiful game have a new place to fill up with Tuesday's opening of the Fütbol Club Eatery & Tap in Overland Park, Kan.

The region's passion for soccer has already been underlined by the wild success of Sporting KC and their beautiful Sporting Park home, and now patrons at this new establishment can further satiate themselves on Besler or Beckham burgers, Pele's Home Style Pot Roast, Mia's Hamm & Cheese or even an edamame appetizer named after retired D.C. United legend Marco Etcheverry.

Those are only a few of Fütbol Club's soccer-centric menu offerings, including a health-conscious line for young players seeking an appropriate pre-game meal.

And as you might expect, there's also an ample weekend breakfast menu – Preki's Biscuits & Sausage Gravy, anyone? – to go with live airings of English Premier League and other European matches on the place's many television screens. There's reportedly a dazzling array of jerseys and other footy memorabilia displayed on the walls as well.

So next time KC fans find themselves without a ticket for a sold-out Sporting match, they've got another appealing spot to catch the big game.