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Soccer Culture

23 May 2:33 de la tarde

Bien aidé par ce milieu de semaine sans match, New York City continue d’alimenter l’actualité. À plus d’un an et demi de son premier match, l’équipe a le temps de se construire. D’ailleurs, Claudio Reyna a confirmé que son entraîneur n’entrerait pas en fonction cette année. Si vous voulez mon avis, ce sera pour l’été 2014, histoire de pouvoir choisir parmi ceux qui auront des obligations jusqu’en juin de l’année prochaine.

En attendant, les supputations vont déjà bon train sur les joueurs désignés qui pourraient rejoindre la nouvelle entité… Mais ses dirigeants insistent sur le travail qui sera effectué auprès des jeunes : le club les accueillera dès l’âge de 5 ans et veut former l’essentiel des joueurs qui feront partie de son effectif dans 10 ans.

Pendant qu’un club prépare son futur, Montréal célèbre son passé. L’équipe chère à Joey Saputo a disputé son 1er match officiel le 14 mai 1993 au Los Angeles Salsa, et a effectué ses débuts à domicile contre Tampa Bay le 21 mai. Ce vingtième anniversaire est fêté à plusieurs occasions cette saison : ce samedi contre Philadelphie, en plus de manger le gâteau de circonstance, le club soulignera le titre remporté en 2004 en D1 des United Soccer Leagues.

L’Impact de Montréal est aussi très actif sur la toile, puisqu’il vient d’ouvrir une nouvelle section sur son site Internet pour relater son histoire en détails, et va régulièrement publier des vidéos et des photos de ses 20 ans d’existence.

21 May 5:35 de la tarde

L’émission Coup Franc de cette semaine (à écouter ici) prend une perspective très canadienne et s’intéresse de près aux deux sujets les plus chauds du moment au pays de la feuille d’érable.

« Nous entrons dans une période fort excitante pour le soccer canadien », clame l’Association canadienne de soccer, qui a mis en ligne un sondage auquel vous pouvez répondre ici. Le thème principal est ce qu’il faut faire pour que le Canada devienne une nation de soccer modèle d'ici 2018. Une démarche a priori intéressante qui suscite néanmoins autant de perplexité que de questions… et un vif débat entre les animateurs. Et vous, qu’en pensez-vous ?

On est à mi-chemin de la finale du Championnat canadien Amway. Après le 0-0 entre Montréal et Vancouver, les deux clubs prétendent avoir effectué la bonne opération du match aller, disputé entre une équipe locale amoindrie et des visiteurs dont le seul but était de ne pas encaisser, avec un arbitre qui a pris beaucoup de place. Quel est le réel niveau de Vancouver ? Qu’attendre du match retour ?

Bien entendu, l’actualité de la MLS n’est pas laissée de côté. Parmi les faits saillants des derniers jours, les rumeurs annonçant que Francesco Totti jouerait bientôt dans notre championnat. L’arrivée d’anciennes gloires de ce genre est-elle bonne pour la compétition et son image de marque ? L’action sur le terrain n’est évidemment pas oubliée, avec entre autres la confirmation du retour en forme de Seattle, l’esprit conquérant de San José ou la victoire de New York contre le LA Galaxy (lisez aussi le texte de Christian Jack sur le jeu offensif de New York).

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 7:01 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 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).