Category Archives: MLS

The Football Brand in America

Beckham: The Face of Football in America

This week, Bloomberg Businessweek released its Power 100 ranking of the most prominent athletes in America.  Only two football players made it: Landon Donovan came in at 40th — on the strength of his exposure from the World Cup — and David Beckham… of course.

Becks came in at 19th… which is not bad, but it’s not great.  He came ahead of Derek Jeter (Mr. Yankee himself), Venus Williams, NFL photographer Brett Favre and NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (America luuuuuvvvvvs its NASCAR!!!).

David Beckham the Brand has become bigger than David Beckham the Player ever was.  The high-profile wife, the high-profile teams, the high-profile switch to the MLS.  Becks is photogenic, scandal-free (lately) and is one of the few soccer players who will get stopped on the streets of North America.  He’s a marketers dream… which is why the MLS inked a major deal to make him the poster boy for the LA Galaxy and, by proxy, the League itself.

Becks tells Capello he still wants to play for England...

Except it hasn’t exactly worked out that way.  Becks hasn’t played nearly as much as he was supposed to, focusing more on his waning England career… and trying to get as much continental football to fight for his place on the Three Lions. That quixotic quest led him to infamously tear his Achilles tendon while playing for Milan… excluding him from the World Cup AND his MLS obligations.  He tried to earn a temporary place back in England this winter… but the Galaxy are apparently getting fed up with his wantaway ways.

Thierry Henry looks miserable in NYC

Becks’ signing with El Lay hasn’t exactly brought the intended stampede of Europeans to American airports either.  Lots of fading players give lip service to wanting to end their careers here, but that’s all it’s been… lip service.  And those who have come have become anonymous. Thierry Henry — the world’s greatest striker in his day — claims to take the New York subway to home games and practices, travelling unaccosted.

Becks’ ranking indeed shows his marketing power… and his marketing potential.  But with only one other player on the list — an American who is a regular squad member in any big European club — it goes to show you how far football/soccer still has to go in the eyes of the North American consumer.

Brent Lanthier

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Filed under Major League Soccer, MLS

The Weekend 10: Things Get Dioufy

Bridge to nowhere. Get it? Wayne Bridge? It's funny 'cause he's awful...

1) West Ham Bad Decision #1: There’s a prevalent theory that Wayne Bridge is terrible when playing on good teams… but great when he plays on mediocre team.  That theory was rubbished on Saturday.   Best 90-thousand pounds/week they ever spent…

2) West Ham Bad Decision #2: The Hammers were going to hire Martin O’Neill behind Avram Grant’s back, before they fired the Israeli manager. But they mucked it up, O’Neill gave them the V, and now Grant will likely stay put knowing his bosses tried to turf him.  Awwwwkward.

3) Blackburn are thinking of dumping El-Hadji Diouf, because they realized what Liverpool, Sunderland and Bolton also found out the hard way… he’s a liability.

Dude, where's my team?

4) Speaking of model citizens, Derby County captain Robbie Savage could be on his way to the MLS.  Savage has twittered that he has been requested by the Vancouver Whitecaps.  Huh. A long-haired loud-mouth with an accent. In British Columbia.  How novel…

5) Manchester United: The Unconvincing Invincibles. Best nickname I’ve heard in a while…

6) Liverpool is reportedly chasing Uruguay’s Luiz Suarez from Ajax.  I can only assume they want him as a backup to Pepe Reina

7)  Win, Lose or Draw. Or Draw. Or Draw. Or Draw.  No honours in the Birmingham, Merseyside or Tyne-and-Wear derbies… and the “classic” match between Spurs and United wasn’t…

8 ) Crystal Palace are looking to move stadiums.  They might want to hang on until after the Olympics when White Hart Lane becomes available.  Or not. North is South, East is West, cats and dogs living together…

The Qataris celebrated by ordering shots

9) Qatar has refused to schedule the 2022 World Cup during winter.  FIFA officials are aghast, wondering how players and fans will cope in 53 degree Celsius heat, and may be secretly rueing their decision to let the sheikhs host the event.  I suspect it’s an Arab plot to sell more $20 pints of near-beer at matches…

10) For the first pick in the MLS Super Draft, Toronto FC picked a kid with multiple sclerosis.  What the… ?!?  If this was a move to guilt me into going back into the gym: mission accomplished.  Thanks for nothin’…

Brent Lanthier

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Filed under English Football, MLS, World Cup

Even Don Draper couldn’t sell this team

Draper gets a red card… for looking so damn good!

Well, so much for the MLS SuperDraft reviving the hopes of the Toronto FC faithful. On a day when clubs are expected to get better, the Reds appear to have gone in the opposite direction – trading away a potential double-digit scorer in Chad Barrett while bringing in a prospect with an interesting bill of health and Ecuadorian soccer Smurf Joao Plata.

The diminutive playmaker promises goals, but until he can prove it the mantle of secondary scoring falls to Maicon and his 2010 tally of three.

So, if the ad men who operate out of 170 Princes Boulevard are able to come up with a plan to sell its wares to the growing group of south end malcontents, I suggest AtTheRails acknowledge the impossible with a first-annual Don Draper Award.

With that in mind, ATR is here to help with a few suggestions on how to sell the Reds in Season No. 5.

(Disclaimer: If any of the ideas listed below are adopted in any shape or form, ATR is entitled to one set of tickets to a Toronto FC playoff game of its choice. Said playoff tickets can also be written into any will.)

Winter year-round

Has anyone mentioned to coach No. 5 that his surname is a Canadian marketer’s dream? That said, for Reds’ marketing purposes the idea of Winter all year is a positive, for it means there will be just one coach instead of the token two fans have come to expect.

Season F-I’ve seen better

In Season Four the Reds cleverly (no, not Tom Cleverley) took the ‘our’ from ‘four’ and made it theirs. Fail. So in Season Five why not take the ‘I’ve’ from ‘Five’ and market better days, like when the team won 10 games and missed the playoffs on the last day. Nostalgia is a powerful drug.

At Least Our Guys Are Eligible

Sometimes the best way to build yourself up is to tear down those around you. With that in mind, remember that with the first overall selection, the expansion Whitecaps FC chose 17-year-old striker Omar Salgado. Due to his age and FIFA transfer rules, Salgado likely won’t be able to play a game for Vancouver until he turns 18 in September.

Of course, this marketing campaign would only be good for one season. By summer 2012, I fully expect Salgado will single-handedly win the undercontested Nutrilite Canadian Championship.

Now for a bit of Prem chatter, with a side of pub-bashing.

This is where Rafael goes, "Lalalala, I can't hear you..."

The best part about Sunday’s goalless draw at White Hart Lane was that it confirmed my local is no longer a reliable place to watch a match. While the breakfast fare is fine and the Caesars are spicy, the suggestion that volume is not necessary and may bother the other patrons sealed the deal.

Anyhow, my audio-free observations of the stalemate are that as long as the Premier League continues to be hotly contested this season, goals will remain at a premium. There is far too much at stake for the big clubs to play the football fans want to see.

Biased Man of the Match: Nemanja Vidic. The captain’s partnership with Rio is arguably the only reason United remain unbeaten.

Ryan Johnston

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Filed under Major League Soccer, MLS, Premier League

What’s so super about it, anyway?

The inappropriately-named MLS Super Draft is a tough place to generate super results, especially when all your picks are outside the top 25. With that in mind, Sportsnet.ca’s RJ will weigh in Sunday with his thoughts on TFC’s draft day activity…I believe the working title for his piece is is “Rejected TFC Marketing Slogans for 2011.” At least the local XI are getting DeRo back from bonnie Scotland.

For now, our friend Paul Attfield of the Globe & Mail did a nice job documenting TFC’s picks today:

Highlight #1: Multitple sclerosis cost  newly-drafted defender Demetrius Omphroy a contract in Portugal, but after returning to the US and  playing college soccer at Cal, he hopes he has the disease under control.

Highlight #2: Late pick Joao Plata of Ecuador stands just 5’2″ and was the leading scorer at the MLS scouting combine with three goals. I’d say that’s no small achievement, except it is. But the man I’m dubbing The Wee Assassin seems to have a nose for the goal.

Vancouver used the top pick on Omar Salgado, even though they need FIFA permission for a full transfer before his 18th birthday on Sept. 10, ruling him out for nearly all their debut MLS season. The Whitecaps like Salgado and know him: he trained with the team last year. And they didn’t want to get the Steve Francis treatment from Darlington Nagbe, who went second to Portland and had made noises about not wanting to leave the United State. Because Vancouver and Toronto are such foreign, scary, evil, ugly places.  What a doofus. He deserves to get booed in both cities this summer.

Englishman John Rooney doesn’t mind going abroad for a game of footy – he went to the New York Red Bulls in the second round. Henry and Rooney on the same team, they can’t lose.

Back in Blighty, big brother Wayne and his Man. Utd teammates will take on Tottenham this Sunday…RJ’s team against mine. He’s promised to deliver a reasoned, rational, FOXNews-esque account of the EPL encounter. Don’t miss it.

Ian Harrison

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Filed under MLS, Premier League

Determination by dolphin at MLS draft

Paul the Octopus is dead. Long live Willy! Or Flipper! Or whatever they call the dolphin who’ll be predicting the first pick at Thursday’s MLS Super Draft in Baltimore.

Anyone who’s read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy knows that dolphins are at least the second-most intelligent species on the planet, so you know the fellow with flippers be taking all the angles into account before deciding who the expansion Vancouver Whitecaps should select with the top selection. Plus, if he picks wrong, the team will send him to The Cove.

Toronto FC doesn’t have a dolphin, or even a first-round pick, in this year’s draft. The Reds have one second-round selection and two third-rounders, the 26th, 43rd and 44th picks overall. Expect our man Ryan to check back with an update on their selections in the next couple of days.

When they weren’t in training at this week’s MLS combine in Florida, some of Thursday’s potential picks were out in the Everglades looking for alligators. Among that boatload of  hopefuls was John Rooney, younger brother of Wayne, who’s over here looking for a job, and generating a bit of buzz. No idea whether they saw any dolphins down there.

In Florida, of course, the Dolphins and Gators generally play their football on the gridiron, not the soccer pitch. Despite a huge population of South and Central Americans, the state has had two failed MLS franchises and won’t be getting another until they can prove things will work out better, as commish Don Garber told a disappointed audience in Miami this week.

From strange animals in Florida to strange decisions in London, where Tottenham say they’d demolish most of the Olympic Stadium if they move there after the 2012 games. Spurs seem determined not to meet the requirements for moving into the venue, but would rather bolt the borough and save some cash by working with an existing site. Hard to see how the Olympic Park Legacy people won’t rule in favour of West Ham when they make their decision on January 28th. Even a dolphin would pick the Hammers for this one.

Ian Harrison

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Not Total Football, more total makeover

A big welcome this weekend to a new voice for At The Rails. Ryan Johnston has done plenty of TFC coverage and other soccer reporting for Sportsnet.ca in recent years. He’s here to blog about Toronto’s Reds, his beloved Red Devils of Manchester, and other stories from the footy world. In his debut, Ryan says playoff-poor TFC was smart not to hire big names for its management vacancies.

Dan Gargan at wing back? Don't make me laugh.

Enough with the total football references; Dan Gargan at wingback will never work.

That said, and as odd as it may seem, the best thing supporters can sing in the wake of Toronto FC (finally) hiring a new management team is, ‘Who are ya?

The fifth year MLS club with a first-year resume made the right decision to take the path less chosen and opt for a set of names known to very few outside of the aforementioned Total Football circles.

In are Aron Winter, Bob de Klerk and Paul Mariner, out is the adage that only the best will do.

Sure, the soccer intelligentsia are familiar with Toronto’s new triumvirate, but consider the following: TFC fans have spent the past few months being regaled with names of the well-known: Roberto Donadoni, Iain Dowie and Carlos Quieroz. It reeked of redundancy, because ever since this red rag-tag of names and numbers took the field for the first time in 2007, every big name available in soccer has been linked for a trial or tryout.

So exhalations of here we go again were excused when the type-A (Mo) Johnston was sacked and succeeded by someone just his type in Juergen (Klinsmann, whose SoccerSolutions firm was brought in to consult). But when the fickle former German player and manager admitted his time with TFC was akin to a hobby, not a full-time habit, supporters exhaled once again.

But this time it was with relief.

And so it goes that the German great stayed silent as the Reds’ rumour mill noisily churned out big name after big name. Then just as ‘cause for concern’ was being typed in to keyboards country-wide, Klinsmann quietly delivered.

Ryan Johnston

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TFC Mines Aron to Strike Gold

Winter promises improved summer

Total football is coming to Toronto this season, thanks to newly-appointed Head Coach and Technical Director Aron Winter and his new management team. Winter will be Toronto FC’s sixth head coach, as the team heads into its fifth MLS season.

It has been a tumultuous four years for Toronto FC as the revolving door of coaches and G.M.’s goes round and round.  Every year since the franchise broke into the league, MLSE has made announcements of firings and hirings of coaches. Finally last fall, the man who was in charge of making those coaching changes — Mo Johnston — was shown the door.

This time around — with the help of German international Juergen Klinsmann — the club hopes to get it right.  Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment C.O.O. Tom Anselmi says there’s pressure to please the 20-thousand faithful who come out every game in support of a team that hasn’t been able to get into the playoffs since the “model franchise” joined the league.

Call me optimistic but it seems TFC has finally got the right team of front office staff, who looked confident in front of a packed news conference, answering questions about a franchise that had hit rock bottom in the way it handled business on and off the field.

Director of Player Development Paul Mariner brings MLS experience to the club.  In his six seasons in New England, his teams made the playoffs every year while reaching the finals in three consecutive seasons.  Winter and Assistant Coach Bob De Klerk will be in tough as they try and develop a style of soccer not seen in Toronto and will need an upgrade in personnel to do so. With just over two months until the start of the year, they know it will be a challenge.

Meanwhile, the head coach — a Dutch international and former Ajax midfielder — says he wants to develop a system which will see three strikers up front with plenty of ball movement… a style he says fits the way he envisions his team playing.  Winter has played in three World Cups with Netherlands and four European Championships…  so the pressure and challenges presented to him in Toronto should be a piece of cake.

Len Grammenopoulos

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Winter of TFC’s (dis)content?

As rumoured for most of the week, Winter is here at Toronto FC.

After four fruitless seasons under four five failed head coaches, the Klinsmann plan was enacted today with the hiring of former Ajax and Inter midfielder Aron Winter as head coach and Bob De Klerk as his assistant. Winter, a former Dutch international, and De Klerk come to Toronto from Amsterdam, where they were working with Ajax’s academy and assisting the first team. Paul Mariner will serve as director of player development.

Winter wants TFC to play with three up front in a 4-3-3 formation. But he’s never seen this collection of chumps play, and he’s already got to deal with news that designated player Julian De Guzman has “shredded” his meniscus and needs to go under the knife.

Mariner, formerly Steve Nicol’s sidekick when the New England Revolution were good, is back on this side of the Atlantic after 15 TFC-esque months with Plymouth Argyle. In his day, the former England international was a  prolific scorer for Plymouth and Ipswich.

Over at The Globe & Mail, our man Paul Attfield says he likes the moves. Here at At The Rails, we’re waiting for new blogger Ryan Johnston to make his debut with a breakdown of the hirings. He’s a little busy with his day job right now, but has promised to weigh in this weekend. Stay tuned.

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Bound for Bhoys? Don’t ask TFC

Sign this or I'll sign for Celtic!

Besides the fact that Tottenham can apparently defend as well with 10 men as they can with 11, the strangest story in football this week has to be Dwayne De Rosario’s dalliance with Celtic, and how little Toronto FC claim to know about it. As surprise announcements go, it’s a saga with far more grips, twists and turns than Newcastle’s Jose Enrique’s taking to the Twitterverse to spread news of an injury.

DeRo, who you might remember from his “show me the money” cheque-signing celebration after a superb goal this season, also caught his team off guard, or so they’d have us think, when news broke that he was to have a one-week trial with the Glaswegians. TFC first denied the story, but having their player get off a plane in Scotland made that look foolish, so they claimed it was news to them, too.

De Rosario is under contract for two more years, but his brother insists TFC was aware of the move, and happily made it sound as though the Scarborough-born Canadian international could make a long-term move to the SPL.  “If it’s long-term for a loan or he comes back has yet to be determined,” Mark De Rosario told the Toronto Star. “If it works out, fine, we’ll work on the particulars (between TFC and Celtic) later.”

Someone is full of shit here, maybe both sides, and it stinks pretty bad. Expect this one to get weirder before it makes sense. It’s hard to blame De Rosario for wanting to bail on the rudderless ship that is Toronto FC, still listing along without a coach or full-time GM. But while fans may wish the somewhat mercurial DeRo the best, they should be sharpening their knives for the stuffed-shirt stooges who run the team.

Ian Harrison

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Filed under MLS, Premier League, Scottish Premier

MLS Cup Runneth Colder

The MLS Cup fittingly came to an end on Sunday night with an own goal in the 107th minute. Most of the announced crowd of 21,700 had smartly exited the building as the game went into extra time. The first 15 minutes of that extra time were probably the worst soccer played at BMO Field; hence the mass exodus. But Colorado Rapids coach Gary Smith was happy with the win… even if wasn’t, as he put it, “the best game for viewing”.

Standing on the sideline on a cold and windy night, watching two teams most fans would never have cared to see if they weren’t forced to buy tickets, I thought of MLS Commissioner Don Garber’s pre-game press conference. One of the points he made was that the league is looking into altering its schedule to align itself with the international calendar. That means playing through the winter. Even with a break through the coldest months, it’s still not good news for sideline reporting.

Toronto FC might get another break as the league looks to expanding playoff teams from 8 to 10, with the inception of the Vancouver Whitecaps and Portland Timbers next season.

I’ll give credit to the Toronto faithful who more or less filled the stadium, and withstood the cold breeze late on a Sunday night, the game ended just after 11 p.m. Singing in the 23rd minute to honour TFC’s first-ever goal by Danny Dichio was a nice touch. The loudest ovation was reserved for former Toronto midfielder Marvel Wynne; the loudest jeer was fittingly reserved for another former player, Jeff Cunningham.

Those who did stay until the bitter end saw a fantastic finish. Dallas pressed for the equalizer but were thwarted by Colorado goalkeeper Matt Pickens when he dove to his right on a reflex save, essentially winning the game for the Rapids.

Well, it IS coloured grey...

All in all, Toronto did well as hosts for the finals. From the Mounties bringing in the Phillip F. Anschutz Cup to a boisterous rendition of the Canadian national anthem by the fans… I’d call it a success… and it didn’t rain.

TFC Notes
With two expansion teams coming into the league next seasons, teams had to protect 11 players on their rosters. Here are the players TFC has left unprotected for the expansion draft:

Chad Barrett, Julian de Guzman, Gabe Gala, Nick Garcia, Raivis Hscanovics, Fuad Ibrahim, Milos Kocic, Mista, Joseph Nane, Amadou Sanyang, Martin Saric, Maxim Usanov, O’Brian White

Len Grammenopoulos

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