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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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MLSE’s ticking time bomb

If Saturday’s away defeat to Seattle proves one thing, it’s that Toronto FC has an awful long way to go before the club can justify the support it gets.

At one stage during the 3-2 defeat at Qwest Field, it felt scarily like the men against the boys, providing clear evidence on the differences between the operation of the two clubs. Seattle, resplendent in their attacking, free-flowing style, looked light years ahead of their Canadian counterparts. Toronto struggled to match the hosts for pace, passing and persistence.

Arguably, you cannot blame the players. TFC has something of a reputation for not being aesthetically pleasing but robust, solid and unwilling to surrender. As their form earlier this season suggested, they don’t go down without a fight. But try as they might, they simply don’t possess the quality to compete. So, who is to blame?

Let’s have a look at Toronto’s other teams. The Maple Leafs, bursting with proud hockey history but without silverware in 43 years, frequently fill their arena and subsequently annoy their fans with sub-par performances. The Blue Jays, World Series Champions in 1992 and 1993, produce fine displays in infrequent bursts, and even finished with a winning record against the New York Yankees this season. However, regardless of their fine start, they yet again failed to make the playoffs. As for the Raptors, now without Chris Bosh, they’re really pretty rubbish, aren’t they?

Sensing a pattern yet? All four of Toronto’s sports teams offer so much, yet always fail to deliver. With finance readily available, the sensible application of it is distinctly missing. Money is thrown around and season tickets prices are hiked.

But the biggest connection is ownership. Three of these four teams are run by the Maple Leas Sports and Entertainment. In fact, the one that isn’t is the most recent champion, the Rogers Communications-owned Blue Jays.

MLSE take it for granted that their huge fan base will always come out, regardless of price. Toronto FC charges an extortionate amount for its top tickets. Even more, in fact, than Manchester United charge. Next season, fans will have to fork out even more.

Mark my words, if Toronto FC doesn’t invest in three top acquisitions during the off-season, and I mean top signings, next season will see a mass exodus of support. Already, red seats seem to outnumber real fans at home games. If things keep going like this, TFC will sink without a trace. A revolving door of playerd and management simply doesn’t work.

Do yourselves a favour, MLSE, give Tomas Rosicky and Deco a call and agree a contract. It may seem ludicrous, but who’d have thought three years ago that Thierry Henry and Rafa Marquez would be playing for a team named after an energy drink?

Sam Saunders

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Cruz-ing TFC gored by Red Bulls

Toronto finally stumbles at home

Toronto F.C. started a grueling schedule on Tuesday — three games in seven days — with a CONCACAF Champions League game versus five-time winnners, Cruz Azul.  The Mexicans arrived in Toronto after a 4-1 win over league rivals, Pachuca. Cruz Azul made six changes to their squad for the Champions League game, including starting national team member Gerardo Torrado on the bench.

TFC celebrate Mista goal vs. Cruz Azul

But La Maquina Celeste didn’t seem divinely inspired as Toronto forced the play from the start. The Mexicans found themselves down 1-0 in the fourth minute of play, after TFC midfielder Martin Saric took advantage of some poor clearing to head home his first of the year.  Perhaps Cruz Azul looked out of sync because of the shock of finding out BMO field had natural grass (they had practiced on artificial turf in Mexico to prepare for the match).  Toronto ended the half with newly-signed designated player Mista scoring his first from just outside the 18-yard box to complete TFC’s best half of soccer this year.

In the second half, Torrado came in, and clearly had an impact, controlling the midfield and creating chances as soon as he stepped on the pitch.  His play resulted in a goal — but too little too late.  The win gave  TFC three points in the group stage, which is rounded out by Panamanian side Arabe Unido and MLS champion Real Salt Lake.

Three days later, Toronto welcomed the New York Red Bulls in a battle for second place in the Eastern Division.  New York came into the game five points ahead of the Reds after a 1-0 win at home two weeks ago.  They were looking to extend their lead by bringing a star studded team to BMO, including designated players Thierry Henry, Rafa Marquez and Juan Pablo Angel.

Red Bulls' stars all over TFC

Surprisingly Toronto took it the stars — who seemed to be on a stroll — but couldn’t convert on three great chances from close. Nick LaBrocca hit the crossbar and Dwayne DeRosario’s shot from inside the 18-yard box was stopped by defender Tim Ream.  But on the Red Bulls’ next possession, Marquez found himself unmarked from about 25 yards out. He half-volleyed a bullet with the outside of his right foot into the top right corner, leaving TFC keeper Stefan Frei with no chance.

Toronto defenders did a pretty nice job defending against French international Henry, allowing him only one chance that he put over the bar. After the game, Henry said he wasn’t match-fit because of a nagging hamstring injury.  But he did say he liked BMO’s atmosphere — where he was loudly booed every time he touched the ball.

After an own goal by Joseph Nane made it 2-0 for the Red Bulls, Toronto came out of the second half with purpose. Their aggressiveness paid off as DeRosario scored from in close to cut the lead in half.

A straight red to TFC’s Nana Attakora for a hand ball in the box resulted in an Angel penalty that essentially sealed Toronto’s fate.  Adding insult to injury, former Toronto midfielder Carl Robinson made it 4-1 after Frei couldn’t control a cross. Robinson was let go earlier this year after failing to see eye-to-eye with coach Preki.  Afterwards, the classy Robinson said he didn’t celebrate the goal because he had too much respect for the fans and organization after spending three years here.

Toronto will now continue its Champions League run on Tuesday night in Panama before returning home next Saturday to host Real Salt Lake in MLS play.

Len Grammenopoulos

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Hello, I must be going…

News in the football world is dominated today by the international retirement of two, er, giants.

Just a day after the New York Red Bulls signed him (on Bastille Day no less), all-time French scoring leader Thierry Henry announced he would no longer play for Les Bleus. After France’s World Cup performance, saying you’re quitting is like crashing your car, and then saying you don’t want to drive it anymore. Henry will likely make his debut for New York against Tottenham Hotspur on July 22nd.  Look for our own Yid Army member — Ian Harrison — to file as he heads to the Big Apple for the second half of the Red Bulls challenge…NY vs. Man. City and Spurs vs. Sporting Lisbon.

Emile Heskey

As well, the much-maligned Emile Heskey has announced he’s retiring from the English team. The debate rages over Heskey’s value to the Three Lions. The hulking forward didn’t score a lot of goals.  But teammates like Michael Owen said they wouldn’t want to play off anyone else.

German prosecutors have expanded their probe into match-fixing.  The thing now covers more than 270 games in nine countries.  It’s reminds me of my oh-so-clever scheme to try and fix the International Rock-Paper-Scissors Tournament.  Good ol’ rock. Nothing beats rock.

If you’re Michael Ballack’s agent, you’re probably blaming gay people for the crime.

The Premier League kicks off in a month… and with Roy Hodgson up on Merseyside trying to convince his big players to stay, Fulham is looking for his replacement.  There are rumours that U.S. coach Bob Bradley will take over. I hope not. He scares me

The English FA is thinking about eliminating FA Cup replays in order to make room for a winter break.  It seems the poor poppets in England are tired.  Rich and tired.  So very, very tired…

Apparently, Manchester United’s gaffer — Sir Alex Ferguson — is sitting pretty after the World Cup.   The Red Devils are in Toronto tonight and we’ll bring you details from the presser with SAF and Man U midfielder Darren Fletcher later.

Finally one more reason to love Steve Gerrard-Gerrard.  Wow.

Brent Lanthier

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Best of the Prem: Burnley to Hull City

Brent Lanthier

Don’t get yer knickers in a bunch, we’ve got more World Cup coverage coming! But you should probably keep the Premier League in the back of your mind, since the backroom machinations are still ongoing. Several clubs can’t wait for the tournament to end to start their wheeling and dealing.

Burnley: Wade Elliott (ENG)
Burnley’s Player of the Year, At The Rails has already sung the praises of Wade Elliott. He created width down the right while adding some grit to the Clarets: he led the team in both fouls and yellow cards. A team leader on last season’s version of Blackpool.

Future: While Burnley descends back into the Championship, Elliott will likely remain behind with one of the Prem’s lesser lights. Reports say his former boss Owen Coyle will offer Burnley 750,000 pounds to bring the winger to Bolton.

World Cup-bound? No, but at least it would have been nice to see him get a taste. Alas, playing on a relegation-bound club shut him out of Don Fabio’s plans immediately.

Chelsea: Frank Lampard (ENG)
This is going to bring the wrath of my fellow ATR writers: Fat Frank should have been the league’s Player of the Year.  After a shaky start, he was the real leader of Chelsea when Captain Schtupping was busy…. um, getting busy. The axis around which the entire team rotates, Lampard had 22 goals (as a central midfielder!) and led the league with 14 assists. Rooney had a stunning season but Frank was the complete player.

Future: Stamford Bridge, Fulham Road, London, SW6 1HS.

World Cup-bound? Yes but where to play him? And who with? Barry or Gerrard?

Everton: Leighton Baines (ENG)
Last Monday’s performance notwithstanding, Baines was a model of consistency this season.  He started more games than any other Everton player and proved to be a force on the left side, defending and attacking with equal measure.  He also led in time of possession for the Toffees.

Future: A Scouser who grew up in Wigan’s system, he seems to finally be home.  Let’s hope his England experience will leave him with something to prove next season.

 World Cup-bound? No.  Apparently Baines is painfully shy… and now the whole world knows. Ugh.

Fulham: Mark Schwarzer (AUS)
The Cottagers allowed one more goal than Manchester City this season, and Schwarzer was a big part of that. The big Aussie faced a barrage of shots this season in the League, not to mention the club’s improbable run to the Europa Cup final. In fact, the last two seasons have been improbable for tiny Fulham. Guess when Schwarzer showed up?

Future: Schwarzer has one more year on his contract. But there are rumours Arsene Wenger wants to bring him to the Emirates… because Almunia is sh!te.

World Cup-bound? Yes. Pim Verbeek has built his team around Schwarzer and a strong back-four.  Many a punter has picked the Socceroos as their dark horse this tournament.

Hull City: Stephen Hunt (IRE)
Is he a bad luck charm or is he just unlucky? Hunt has been relegated from the Premier League twice… but it’s not been his fault.  The Irishman led the Tigers in scoring, even though he was injured for the last two months of the season. An intense midfielder, he was voted Player of the Year by the Hull faithful.

Future: Hull will be selling and he doesn’t appear to want to go back anyway.

World Cup-bound? Ask Thierry Henry.

Up Next: Liverpool to Stoke City

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