Weekend Rewind: Becks, Donovan & More

i-a8f46417b21930559420f24abc5eb034-beckshead.jpgDoh! It was that sort of day for AC Milan and David Beckham today against struggling Livorno. The two teams drew 1-1 (AP Photo).

More here.

Roma took advantage of Milan’s dropped points , by pulling into a tie for second in Serie A.

Also this weekend:

*The Galaxy’s second on-loan star, Landon Donovan, helped Everton narrowly beat Wigan Athletic 0-1 on Saturday. BTW, check out the nice little chalkboard device you can use to break down Donovan’s or anyone other players’ performance at The Guardian. Donovan was subbed yet again, but again showed some good touches, especially in the first half.

Next: the Merseyside derby against Liverpool live at 4:45 a.m. Saturday on ESPN2.

*Spoiler alert! Fox Soccer Channel will air the CONCACAF U-20 final at 2 p.m. today on a delayed basis. If you want to know what happened click here.

*Finally, while (former?) Sol GM Charlie Naimo didn’t return a call seeking comment about the team’s demise Friday, he did send some e-mailed comments via the WPS office:

“Yesterday was a sad day for the franchise, staff, players and fans. Until I see our players on other rosters I will continue to work for the organization. This is a very special group of players that we assembled and it’s very tough for me to see this team dispersed next week.

“In just one year, we built a great brand in women’s soccer and in the Los Angeles area. It takes time to build up a following in any sport and over the season, we developed a terrific and loyal fan base.

“It was a special first season, winning the regular season title like we did and playing the kind of soccer that no one thought would be possible in just the first few weeks of a new league and a new team. I’m hopeful that the team can return for LA fans in the not-so-distant future.

“It was hugely disappointing that our efforts to find a new ownership group came up short. We felt like things were really looking good until the latest stages of the transaction. Those conversations in and of themselves, leave me optimistic for the future of WPS in Los Angeles.

“We proved in 2009 that it’s a viable market, we just need to locate the right ownership group that is interested in being with the team for the long-term.

“WPS has so many incredible things going for it in 2010, including the quality of the players assembled from around the world and the U.S., stadium upgrades, two new franchises and some changes to its regular season. I’m only sorry that the Sol won’t be part of that in 2010.”

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MLS and Players Union Agree to Continue Negotiating on New Labor Agreement Through Feb. 12

The move eliminates the possibility of a lock-out as of Sunday, when the current five-year contract expires. And it means preseason training, which for some clubs like the Galaxy and Chivas USA began this week, will continue.

Said MLS Commissioner Don Garber:

“While we still have areas of disagreement, the talks have been constructive and both parties believe it makes sense to continue to work hard to reach agreement. This extension provides both MLS and the players the opportunity to continue our discussions while clubs are in training camps preparing for the 2010 MLS season.”

Said Players Union Executive Director Bob Foose:

“Both the Players Union and MLS have concluded that a new agreement will not be reached by February 1, but we have agreed to continue to talk and we will be meeting over the next two weeks to determine if a new agreement can be reached.”

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WPS Commish Reacts to LA Sol’s Demise

If you haven’t heard today’s news, click here.

And yes, the sun has indeed set on the Sol despite a press release from the Women’s Premier Soccer League that just arrived in my inbox that insists:

“Yet, it still may not be too late to save the franchise. If another investor group jumped into the fray within the next week, scheduling for the Sol for the upcoming season could be easily worked out in time.”

No, it can’t, said Women’s Professional Soccer Commissioner Tonya Antonucci who spoke this afternoon to 100 Percent Soccer:

“We had a buyer for the L.A. Sol which regrettably fell through in the 11th hour. Not only did (the sale) fall through, it’s right up against the steps we need to take to get on with business for 2010.”

She said that Anschutz Entertainment Group had pledged to get the franchise started, but had never intended to stay for the long-term.

Antonucci said this is not the first step in the eventual folding of the league, as some observers believe:

“Regrettably, it hurts to lose a major media market in our early growth stage. But we don’t believe, nor do we believe fans believe, this is a statement on the viability of Women’s Professional Soccer. … Ticket sales have surpassed where they were last year (elsewhere), sponsorship sales are beyond where they were last year. It’s not as if expectations are out of the ordinary. We’re surviving, we see an uptick. This is a setback we’re going to get past.

“We have eight strong, committed ownership groups in eight markets. If anything they’ve gotten more united in the course of this process.”

On whether the WPS hopes to return to Southern California:

“We’ll keep the brand. … This now becomes an (expansion) priority for us. We think it’s a very viable market.”

Antonucci said a WPS team could return to L.A. as soon as 2011.

Antonucci said players such as Marta, Torrance’s Shannon Boxx and Aya Miyama have guaranteed contracts and will be picked up by other teams:

“What’s actually going to happen is that the other eight teams are going to get stronger.”

It’s unclear whether Sol sponsor Amway will remain a partner in WPS, although because the company also has a personal endorsement deal with Marta, Antonucci said she believes the company may wait to see which club picks up Marta’s playing rights.

Sol GM Charlie Naimo did not return a phone call seeking comment.

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WPS: LA Sol to Fold

Women’s Professional Soccer will officially announce on Friday announced today the termination of the franchise following the league’s inaugural season and the dispersal of the team’s 19 players, including Brazilian star Marta, via a draft Thursday to other teams.

The league operated the Sol for the last couple of months after one of its two original ownership groups pulled out in mid-year, leaving Galaxy owners Anschutz Entertainment Group in charge of the team until the end of last season until they, too, pulled out. The Sol lost as much as $2 million last year, despite leading the league in attendance, WPS officials said.

The league had attempted to sell the team, which last year won the regular season title before losing in the championship game at Home Depot Center, but those negotiations to an “investment group” fell through, officials said.

The Sol had suspended season ticket sales while it was operated by the league.

Coach Abner Rogers was fired via e-mail two days before Christmas and General Manager Charlie Naimo took over in that post.

In an interview last week with 100 Percent Soccer Naimo sounded optimistic the Sol would continue operating, although he didn’t directly answer the question of how close the franchise came to shutting down.

“Sometimes with new ownership comes new direction and we’re just looking to move forward,” he said. “We’re hoping in the next week or so (the sale) will become official. We want to get the right message out to the fans and get them back on board. We’ve been working hard to make sure we can come back and be bigger and better than last year.

“I don’t want to comment on any of the budget stuff,” Naimo added. “We’re confident we’re going to make up for lost time.”

The team participated in the recent WPS draft and was lining up some European stars to play for the franchise, although oft-injured national team veteran Aly Wagner had announced her retirement.

While the Sol’s demise appears to echo the end of the now defunct WUSA, league officials observe this season will see two new expansion teams (the Philadelphia Independence and Atlanta Beat, which will have a new stadium built specifically for the team), a longer regular season with more home games for each team, increased sponsorship and a reformatted All-Star Game that will take place in mid-season rather than at the end of it.

Still, the end of a franchise in one of the nation’s two largest media markets is not going to enhance the credibility of supposed national women’s soccer league.

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Thursday Kicks: The “Adorable” Chris Klein & More

More on the Galaxy’s Mr. Klein later in this post, but you should know:

*The Galaxy had their first general media availability Wednesday (although loyal 100 Percent Soccer readers got the inside scoop here a couple of days ago). And while the waived Tony Sanneh and Leonard Griffin weren’t around to answer questions, plenty of other players were to reflect on the coming season.

*That Chivas USA will host a benefit event for Haiti tonight at Grunions in Manhattan Beach.

*What the English papers are saying about Landon Donovan’s stellar performance Wednesday for Everton courtesy of the Soccer Insider blog.

*One game stands between the U.S. U-20 Women and a World Cup berth, an 11:30 a.m. clash against Costa Rica live on Fox Soccer Channel.

*About that promised Klein item. Here is an exchange between Galaxy Coach Bruce Arena and an apparently hard of hearing reporter at Wednesday’s training session regarding veteran Klein via colleague Phil Collin:

Arena: It still demonstrates a guy who’s been a good player, a durable player, a fit player and a good player.

Reporter: Adorable player? I’ve never heard that adjective used.

Arena: Durable.

Reporter: Oh, durable! I thought you said adorable, I apologize.

Arena: Adorable, wow. Well, he is that as well, I might add.

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ESPN Counting Down to World Cup Coverage

ESPN is firming up its World Cup coverage plans, including announcing today that it will show the U.S.-England game on ABC HD.

Gotta love this quote from ESPN’s executive vice president of content from the story below:

“At some point you’ve got to treat it like the significant sporting event that is,” said John Skipper. “I understand it has not traditionally stopped work and stopped the country to watch it in past years. But we’re going to treat it like it should.”

It will and it does, Skippy. Just not in your parochial world.

And let us know when ESPN starts taking MLS seriously, too. Hey, at least we’ll get rid of those amateurish broadcasts with the announcers stuck in a U.S. television studio. About time.

Here’s the story:

NEW YORK (AP) — At ESPN’s offices in Bristol, Conn., a World Cup countdown clock is outdoors, clicking down the hours until the kickoff on June 11.

A room inside has a “Wheel of Fortune” style spinner, where staffers can come in to pick up additional teams to root for. But when the action shifts to South Africa, ESPN and ABC will make a major shift in their coverage.

The U.S. networks will have crews on site for all 64 games at the 10 stadiums.
During the 2006 tournament in Germany, two of five crews stayed home and called 20 matches from the U.S. studios.

“At some point you’ve got to treat it like the significant sporting event that is,” said John
Skipper, ESPN’s executive vice president of content. “I understand it has not traditionally
stopped work and stopped the country to watch it in past years. But we’re going to treat it like it should.”

The networks, owned by The Walt Disney Co., announced Wednesday that 10 games will be on ABC, including the U.S.-England matchup on June 12 and the final on July 11.

ESPN will televise 44 matches, with the remaining 10 on ESPN2. All but the ABC games also will be on ESPN360.com, 46 games will be on ESPN Mobile TV and every game will be replayed at night on ESPN Classic.

In what appears to be an attempt to ambush Univision’s Spanish-language coverage, ESPN Deportes will broadcast up to 40 matches — Cristiano Ronaldo fans take note — in Portuguese.

ESPN2 will go all soccer for a 24-hour countdown before the opener.

The pre-World Cup concert will be televised live on ESPN on June 10, with an edited version replayed on ABC the following night. ESPN plans about 250 hours of originally programming around the games.

Jed Drake, an ESPN vice president who is executive producer of its World Cup coverage, said the network is sending 165 people to South Africa and will have 50 local hires — double the staff it used four years ago. The network will be broadcasting soccer 12 hours a day during the first round.

“The level of ambition we have for this project is second to none compared to anything we do at ESPN,” he said.

ABC/ESPN acquired rights to the 2010 and 2014 tournaments directly from FIFA in late 2005 for $100 million. For the previous two World Cups, the rights were owned by Soccer United Marketing, an affiliate of Major League Soccer that bought them for $40 million and then purchased air time. Univision bought the Spanish-language U.S. rights for 2010 and 2014 for $325 million.

But South Africa especially will be an expensive place to produce.

One of ESPN’s first actions was to hire its own private security company for the tournament. The logistical issues are unusual for a major event.

“How are you going to get around? Eat? Sleep? Get to the stadium? Get in and out? Get there on time? Park or take the bus in?” said Skipper, who thinks people will be safe as long as they don’t go off the beaten track. “FIFA, the South African government, the South African police, international security, they can only control so much if guys get themselves drunk and wander down the street with 1,000-rand bills ($132) hanging out of their pockets.”

Drake already has made four trips to South Africa in the past year to prepare and is scheduled to go back in February and March.

“It doesn’t feel nearly as foreign as it used to,” he said. “And the flight doesn’t seem as
long. I know that sounds bizarre.”

Soccer is one of the few sports whose ratings haven’t declined.

ABC’s 12 telecasts four years ago averaged 3.5 million households, according to Nielsen Media Research, up from 1.7 million for ESPN’s 21 games and 919,000 million for ESPN2’s 31 matches. In addition, Spanish-language coverage averaged 1.5 million for 56 games on Univision and 122,000 for four on Telefutura.

When ABC and ESPN broadcast the entire tournament for the first time in 1994 — it was in the United States that year — the 52 games were viewed by an average of 1.95 million households.

That was up from an average of 685,000 homes for the 25 games televised by Turner
Broadcasting’s TNT network in 1990, when the U.S. made its first World Cup appearance in 40 years.

In an effort to widen soccer interest, ABC and ESPN televised the European Championship for the first time two years ago, and Spain’s victory over Germany in the final was seen by 3.76 million viewers on ABC. Skipper said ABC/ESPN intends to bid aggressively for rights for the 2012 Euros, which likely will be put up for bid in about three months.

And this time it has jettisoned Dave O’Brien, criticized for his lack of soccer knowledge, and added Martin Tyler of Britain’s Sky Sports along with a pair of retired European stars, Ruud Gullit and Steve McManaman.

For all the enthusiasm, Skipper keeps soccer in perspective. Speaking on Monday afternoon, he cited ESPN’s broadcast of Spain’s La Liga the previous day.

“It’s great counterprogramming for us to the NFL,” he said. “We didn’t quite beat it
yesterday. I think we did a 0.2 and they did a 33.”

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Chivas USA Changes Date of Season Opener, Waives two

Chivas USA announced today its season opener against the Colorado Rapids has been switched from Sunday, March 28 to Friday, March 26 at Home Depot Center.

The date was changed because Telefutura would not have televised Sunday’s game anyway, due to changes in its schedule and Chivas USA officials believe the game would be a bigger draw on a Friday evening. MLS clubs – and especially Chivas USA given its fan demographics – have historically had a tough time drawing fans on Sundays.

Kickoff for the Friday game, the second of the MLS season, is at 7:30 p.m. A complete MLS schedule will be released next month.

Also, Chivas USA, which began preseason training Tuesday, has waived veteran defender Jim Curtin and Serb Bojan Stepanovic.

Stepanovic made seven starts for Chivas USA after arriving in mid-season, scoring one goal and recording two assists.

Curtin, 30, a nine-year MLS veteran, made just two starts last year.

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Donovan Scores First EPL Goal in Everton Win

i-e32dbb575567666d8850bcfe1141e5a6-donovansunderland.jpgNow that photo to the right is a familiar sight for Galaxy fans when Landon Donovan scores, no?

And LD almost got a second goal, too.

LIVERPOOL, England (AP) — U.S. midfielder Landon Donovan scored his first Premier League goal, helping Everton defeat Sunderland 2-0 on Wednesday night.

Donovan, on a 10-week loan from Major League Soccer’s Los Angeles Galaxy, scored in the 19th minute at Goodison Park with a left-footed shot off a headed pass from Tim Cahill.

Cahill put Everton ahead with a sixth-minute header at Goodison Park.

Donovan has signed a new contract with the Galaxy through 2013 and is scheduled to rejoin the team for its March 27 league opener, but a MLS work stoppage could start next week and prompt Donovan to try to extend the loan.

“The games he started were Arsenal and Manchester City, two of the better teams in the
country, and I thought he played really well in those games,” Everton manager David Moyes said. “He has not had many chances in those games but tonight he got his first one and he was a bit unlucky not to get a second with it cleared off the line. If he can add us a goal or two, that will be great.”

More details here.


Said LD on Facebook:

Fantastic night and a great result for us! It was nice to play a mid-week game after a disappointing result on Saturday against Birmingham. It was really nice to get my first goal…great header by Cahill and a great run by Saha to take the defender away. Not too much time to enjoy it with Wigan coming up on Saturday. Thanks, as always, for all the love and we’ll see you guys Saturday.

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A World Cup to Die For?

This news would have been unheard of four years ago in Germany:

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — World soccer’s governing body says one-third of World Cup tickets remain unsold less than five months before the first tournament held in South Africa.

About 1 million of the 3 million tickets are still available, FIFA officials said Wednesday.

South Africans and Americans had made the most bids for tickets in the third round of sales, which will be settled by lottery on Monday.

FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke dismissed concerns that South Africa — notorious for its high crime rates — would be dangerous for visiting fans.

“Don’t kill the World Cup before the World Cup is taking place,” Valcke said. “I mean give us a chance. Give South Africa a chance to organize a great World Cup. Give a chance to people to fly to South Africa and don’t tell them every day that they should not fly to South Africa.”

FIFA has received 1.2 million ticket applications from 192 countries for the Feb. 1 draw and said that the semifinal and final matches are attracting the most demand. Some 960,000 applications came from South African residents, who are eligible for cheaper tickets.

U.S. residents sent in some 50,000 applications, followed by Britain with 41,000. Neighboring Botswana, Mozambique and Namibia made a combined 5,500 bids.

Two ticket draws remain before the World Cup begins June 11.

Valcke’s words echoed those of South African President Jacob Zuma. Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Zuma said Wednesday that his country would ensure the safety of fans.

South Africa has one of the world’s highest murder rates, with at least 50 people killed each day. The country plans to beef up police and training by investing in high-tech equipment and crime-busting surveillance to combat crime as well as threats from terrorists and hooligans.

Safety fears mounted after three people were killed this month when the Togo national soccer team bus was attacked en route to the African Cup of Nations in Angola.

For a more vitriolic (sensationalistic?) view of this apparently unfolding debacle check out this story from frequent FIFA critic Andrew Jennings.

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