By The Numbers: What about Armas?
and in case MLS Wrap co-anchor John Harkes is reading this, I'd like to point out that the 'o' is before the 'e' -- really taking over as the go-to guy in the defensive midfield? Does Landon Donvan's ascendancy to the attacking midfield spot mean Claudio Reyna is now the first choice to play behind him? Are guys like Richard Mulrooney, Kerry Zavagnin and now Clint Dempsey crowding the player pool so that the Fire captain can't get wet? Or has Arena finally rid himself of that nasty penchant for loyalty to players who have helped him reach unprecedented success when they start getting older?
While elements of all of these may or may not affect Armas' playing time during World Cup qualifying this year, it may be simpler than all that. The training camp for this match was drastically abbreviated by the recently-resolved labor dispute between the players and U.S. Soccer. Armas is still coming off that knee injury from late last year. Two weeks isn't a whole heck of a lot of time for an older player coming off an injury to get back to the international level. Sources close to the Fire have told me that this is the likeliest explanation. I still expect to see Armas figuring into Arena's plans on the road to Germany 2006.
The Alumni Network
Meanwhile, it was refreshing to see some former Fire players make it all the way back to basic cable. If you haven't been paying attention to overseas action, both Carlos Bocanegra and DaMarcus Beasley are enjoying considerable success in their post-Fire careers. Despite being played nominally out of position at left back, Bocanegra has started nearly every match for Fulham of the English Premier League that he's been available for. Beasley seems to be relishing his more offensive role with PSV Eindhoven in the Netherlands, netting 5 goals in league play and 2 in the Champions League tournament.
And while Kansas City sometimes seems like a whole other country, I can't say I had the same warm fuzzy feelings seeing Josh Wolff on the bench.
I mentioned my choice of venue for at least the first half of the match. It wasn't anyplace particularly known for showing soccer, as evidenced by the lousy fish and chips I had for lunch. There's this overarching trend among soccer fans to establish friendly territory for watching the sport, and then only going to that one place for every game. While I understand the notion that more soccer fans makes for a better soccer atmosphere, I like to approach this in another way. I walked into the restaurant, and they had ESPN on -- snowboarding, or something like that. I just asked if they could put on ESPN2, and they did. On nearly every TV in the place. Nobody had a problem with it. Some may have even enjoyed it.
There's a pervasive opinion in the United States that you're either for soccer, or against it, and the best marketing strategy is to cater almost exclusively to the first category. I still maintain that there's a middle ground of regular sports fans who simply need to know that the game is out there. One way to achieve that is by just going to watch games wherever you can get them to switch it on. I've always thought that MLS teams should go so far as to assign non-traveling staff members to a couple of new places for every away match, as a low-level outreach program of sorts. There's no need to try to convert the heathens or anything. Just get the game on a couple of screens and let it speak for itself.
Obviously, there are places you're going to want to go for big matches, when you want that atmosphere, particularly when you want that atmosphere at 6 in the morning for games from England. But I still think there's a vast untapped potential audience for the sport out there that doesn't go to those places, and this seems like an easy way to try to reach them.
Chris Costello is a contributor to Chicago-Fire.com.