Friday Football: MLS Cup Close to Sellout & More

A few quick items before I head out to the HDC this morning:

*Tickets priced as low as $15 remain for MLS Cup Sunday, but officials have begun to sell $36 “seats” on the grass berm in an indication the game between the Columbus Crew and New York Sunday is heading for a capacity crowd.

*The Chicago Fire’s Cuauhtmoc Blanco became the latest MLS player to go out on loan during the MLS offseason, joining Santos Laguna of the Mexican Primera Division for the playoffs of the Apertura. He will rejoin the Fire for next season.

*Former Galaxy midfielder Jovan Kirovski is training with the club and is under consideration for a spot on the roster for the New Zealand trip, club officials said. He remains the property of San Jose. Also on the team’s training field in recent days: former Galaxy holding midfielder Simon Elliot, Torrance’s Jack Stewart, last seen with Real Salt Lake in MLS and Cedric Uras, a guest player from Litex Lovech in Bulgaria who played with Greg Vanney at Bastia, according to the Galaxy blog. Coach Bruce Arena just returned from a scouting trip to Argentina.

*Pac-10 champion UCLA (10-4-6) opens NCAA Tournament play at 7 tonight against Cal Poly (10-5-6) at Marshall Field at Drake Stadium. Tickets are $9 for adults, $7 for students and youth.

Game preview here.

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MLS Commish Rips Quality of National Team at USC Address

MLS officials are concerned about the quality of the U.S. Men’s National Team and how that could reflect on the league, Commissioner Don Garber told more than 200 students, faculty and guests Thursday at the USC Marshall Sports Business Institute.

“Our national team is struggling,” he said flatly. “We looked great last night – last night we beat Guatemala. … All of those players on that field were playing Major League Soccer or played in Major League Soccer. Many of them came up through the youth system, many of them played in the U.S. Soccer Academy down in Florida and they were pretty good – they beat Guatemala pretty handily.

“You take that team and play them against England’s – maybe not England’s, but Germany’s or Italy’s first team – and boy, we’ve got a long way to go. … Let’s not believe our own press and think that we’re OK because we’re beating each other. Let’s think about how we’re competing against the world – and against the world, we’re worried.

“I’m really worried about how we’re going to do,” (in 2010 is what it sounded like he was going to say here), before he quickly added “I hope there’s no media people here, they’ll get me in trouble for this,” (too late, Don).

“We’re going through qualifying pretty well, we’re one of the best teams in our region. But when we get out we have to compete against world powers who have been doing this for 100 years. It’s not the same game – and that’s a big concern of ours.”

That’s because, Garber observed, the league’s number one goal is to raise the respect and credibility of the league domestically and internationally in the eyes of an “increasingly more sophisticated soccer consumer.”

“We think we could be as big as the NFL,” said Garber, former head of NFL International.

But the quality of the product is the key to that.

“We have to have value, we have to have a product people care about,” he said. “We’ve got to show our fans and players the game matters.”

One way is to have more than a cursory knowledge of it.

So here’s a little “Are Your Smarter Then Don Garber When it Comes to Soccer?” quiz.

Question: How many teams are in InterLiga, the competition played in the U.S. (including Home Depot Center) that qualifies two Mexican teams to enter Copa Libatadores?
Answer: Garber wondered aloud whether the answer was 10. If you said eight, you’re smarter than Don Garber.

Question: Does Mexico have relegation and promotion?
Answer: Don said “no” they have the same system the U.S. does. Not so. If you said Mexico does have relegation, again, you’re smarter than Don Garber. (The system is based on a formula over three years designed to ensure the richer/bigger clubs are unlikely to go down and lose out on the revenues from the top league).

Still, he conceded about relegation, “Our fans are screaming for it. Our coaches are screaming for it,” while adding, “We’re not structured for it.”

Meaning rich dudes paying $40 million for a franchise plus the cost of building a soccer-specific stadium don’t want to entertain the prospect of playing in the USL.

Finally, Garber noted that although MLS has the cheapest average ticket price of any major sport ($21) “the sports business is not immune from the economic crisis we’re living through.” He said he didn’t feel “as good” as he did six months ago about the league’s financial prospects.

Join the club, Don.

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Bruin Supersub Leroux Scores Two Goals, Creates Another in 3-0 U.S. Win in Under-20 World Cup Opener

UCLA striker Sydney Leroux, who played for her native Canada at age 14 in the Under-20 Women’s World Cup four years ago, came off the bench to score two goals and create another in the 3-0 U.S. win today over France in Chile.

“Today, it was Sydney who was the star,” said U.S. Coach Tony DiCicco. “I have a lot of players who can step in and be the star. We felt that this was the right situation where Sydney could step in and help us in the second half. She was very determined to prove that we were correct.”

Leroux came on at the half and set up Alex Morgan’s game-winning goal in the 55th minute. Leroux added goals in the 56th and 71st minutes, her third and fourth strikes of the year.

She scored five goals and added six assists for the Bruins this season.

After a 0-0 draw between Argentina and China in the first game of today’s doubleheader, the U.S. now sits in first place in Group B with three points. The Americans play Argentina Saturday.

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MLS Goal of the Year (& Other Awards)

It’s that time of the year.

Real Salt Lake forward Will Johnson’s game-winner in a crucial Oct. 18 game against Dallas was voted the MLs Goal of the Year in balloting revealed today. Nicely-controlled and well-executed, but Goal of the Year material? I think not.

MLS detractors will seize upon this as more evidence of the stolidly unspectacular level of play in the league. I will simply note there were better candidates. See it here.

Which begs the question: how many of these previous Goals of the Year do you recall?
2007: Cuauhtmoc Blanco – Chicago Fire
2006: Brian Ching – Houston Dynamo
2005: Dwayne De Rosario – San Jose Earthquakes
2004: Dwayne De Rosario – San Jose Earthquakes
2003: Damani Ralph – Chicago Fire
2002: Carlos Ruiz – Los Angeles Galaxy
2001: Clint Mathis – MetroStars
2000: Marcelo Balboa – Colorado Rapids
1999: Marco Etcheverry – D.C. United
1998: Brian McBride – Columbus Crew
1997: Marco Etcheverry – D.C. United
1996: Eric Wynalda – San Jose Clash

Meanwhile, those still seething that Landon Donovan prevailed over Tim Howard for the Honda Player of the Year Award have a chance to put things right in the annual U.S. Soccer Athlete of the Year competition. Those two are among the finalists for the Male Athlete of the Year Award. Voting began today.

Shannon Boxx of Torrance is a contender for the women’s version.

Robbie Rogers of Rolling Hills Estates and Maurice Edu of Fontana are among those up for Young Male Athlete of the Year, along with Sacha Kljestan of Chivas USA.

The complete list:
U.S. Soccer Female Athlete of the Year Candidates
Shannon Boxx, Midfielder
Lori Chalupny, Defender
Angela, Hucles, Midfielder/Forward
Carli Lloyd, Midfielder
Christie Rampone Defender
Hope Solo, Goalkeeper

U.S. Soccer Male Athlete of the Year Candidates
Carlos Bocanegra, Defender
Michael Bradley, Midfielder
Clint Dempsey, Midfielder
Landon Donovan, Midfielder/Forward
Tim Howard, Goalkeeeper
Oguchi Onyewu, Defender

U.S. Soccer Young Female Athlete of the Year Candidates
Kristie Mewis, Midfielder
Vicki DiMartino, Forward
Michelle Enyeart, Forward
Alyssa Naeher, Goalkeeper
Keelin Winters, Midfielder
Courtney Verloo, Forward

U.S. Soccer Young Male Athlete of the Year Candidates
Maurice Edu, Midfielder/Defender
Stuart Holden, Midfielder
Sacha Kljestan, Midfielder
Michael Orozco, Defender
Robbie Rogers, Midfielder
Marvell Wynne, Defender

Vote here.

Finally, UCLA Coach Jorge Salcido was named Pac-10 Coach of the Year after leading a young Bruin team (12 newcomers) to a fifth conference title in seven years and a dominant 7-1-2 record.

And junior midfielder Michael Stephens was named the Pac-10 Men’s Soccer Player of the Year, the third Bruin – Matt Taylor (2003) and Patrick Ianni (2004) were the others – to receive the honor. He has seven goals and nine assists on the season.

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World Cup Qualifying Gameday & More

OK, so you don’t care about the U.S. Men’s National Team game against Guatemala (live at 5 p.m. on ESPN Classic and Galavision from Colorado) because the Americans have already qualified for the final round of World Cup qualifying.

Still, there are five teams vying for three remaining places in CONCACAF’s hexagonal.

Guatemala must win and hope Cuba beats Trinidad & Tobago, which only needs a tie to qualify.

Mexico needs a draw against Honduras to qualify (live at 5 p.m. on Telemundo). Honduras needs to beat Mexico or tie and hope Jamaica beats Canada. Jamaica is still mathematically alive, but needs a big win over Canada.

The draw for the final round is Saturday.

In other televised World Cup qualifying games today it’s:
*Saudi Arabia-South Korea at 8:30 a.m. on Fox Soccer Channel
*Bahrain-Australia at 10:30 a.m. on FSC
*Quatar-Japan at 12:30 p.m. on FSC

*GOLTV has the England-Germany friendly at 11:45 a.m.
*Greece-Italy at 1:30 p.m. is on ESPN2
*At 10 a.m. it’s the U.S. Under-20 Women’s National Team-France on ESPN2 in the opening game of the FIFA Under-20 Women’s World Cup.

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MLS Cup Schedule

If you’re going to be in the L.A. area beginning Wednesday, here’s what you need to know:

*At about 2 p.m. the MLS Goal of the Year will be announced.

*At 4:25 p.m. the Columbus Crew arrive at LAX on Delta Flight 945 from Atlanta.

*From 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. at Dolphin Park, 21205 Water St., Carson the Galaxy and Volkswagon host a pick-up soccer tournament with the Galaxy’s Chris Klein and Chivas USA’s Panchito Mendoza. Fans can have their photo taken with the new Phillip F. Anschutz Trophy.

*From 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. the Columbus Crew train at Field No. 1 at Home Depot Center.

*At about 1:45 p.m. on ESPNews the MLS MVP – either Cuauhtmoc Blanco (Chicago Fire), Landon Donovan (Galaxy) or Guillermo Barros Schelotto (Columbus Crew) – will be announced.

*From 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. the Road to MLS Cup Block Party at The Block at Orange with the MLS Cup championship trophy on display.

*From 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. the Columbus Crew train at Field No. 1 at Home Depot Center.

*From 11:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. the New York Red Bulls train on Field No. 6.

*Noon to 3 p.m. the Road to MLS Cup Block Party at the Third Street Promenade with the MLS Cup championship trophy on display.

*From 8:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. the Supporter’s Summit at the Home Depot Center Stadium Club with special guest MLS Commish Don Garber. Breakfast will be served. To attend call Mike Breton at or at 714-893-8312.

*8 a.m. to 5 p.m. adidas MLS 7v7 Soccer Challenge at Home Depot Center with MLS Players available for autographs and photo opportunities with fans and 7 v 7 Under-14 soccer tournament.

*Comeback Player of the Year and MLS Best XI announced at the Gala Awards Ceremony in Los Angeles.

*10 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. MLS Cup Soccer Celebration at Home Depot Center with interactive games and live t-shirt screening.

*12:30 p.m. MLS Cup from the Home Depot Center live on ABC.

Note: The teams train Saturday inside Home Depot Center, sessions that are not open to the public, although the Supporters Summit is being held in the bar overlooking the field while the Crew train in the morning. Specific flight information for New York’s arrival at LAX was unavailable,

Not enough? MLS is twittering.

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Tuesday’s Column: A Sigi Schmid Fairytale & More

I had never written a fairytale before.

But the literary device seemed apt for today’s column.

Of course, Red Bull New York is a bit of a Cinderella story, too, so come Sunday we’ll see who lives happily ever after.

Columbus management gave Sigi the time and perhaps most importantly, didn’t interfere in the playing side of things, and are now reaping the reward. Are you listening, Galaxy front office?

“I’ve always felt if you hire somebody to do the job let them do the job and if you’re not going to let them do the job don’t hire them,” Schmid said. “It’s impossible for anyone to have too many fingers in (too many) pies.”

UCLA beat San Diego 1-0 Monday on an own goal in a game delayed by the unhealthy air quality caused by the wildfires this weekend to advance to the last 16 of the NCAA Tournament. The Bruins play USC at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday at Drake Stadium.


“This is the NCAA Tournament and nothing is going to be easy and nothing is going to be handed to you,” said UCLA head coach Jillian Ellis. “To be able to win and not play as well as we can play – we have to take that as a positive. Good teams find a way to win. San Diego certainly didn’t make it easy for us.”

*UCLA outshot San Diego 20-9 on the night.
*The Bruins have allowed goals in just four of their 22 games this season.
*It is the fourth season in a row that UCLA has reached the 20-win mark, and the Bruins’ 10th straight appearance in the round of 16.
*The Bruins defeated the Trojans 2-1 earlier this season.

U.S. Soccer has named its annual award finalists. Voting begins today here.

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