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Friday, July 17, 2009

Taking a Break

I am taking a break from lax effective immediately; I will not be there tomorrow. I do not plan on playing for at least two weeks. There is some personal/family stuff that has come up and is weighing heavily on my mind right now.
I will not be scheduling or planning anything for the time being. Everything will be the same as it has been unless an email is sent or a change is noted on the message board by one of the other key people (Cam, Zach, Tyler, Jim).
Sorry for any inconvenience.

RAGBRAI 2009 Day 3 - Refuel

I am not sure how many readers participate in RAGBRAI, but Two Saints Winery in St. Charles, IA (just a few minutes south of West Des Moines on I-35!) asked me to pass the following information along:
2009 RAGBRAI ®
Riders- check out our winery on day 3. Located approximately 2/3 through the day's ride, Two Saints will offer that refreshing stop for those who want to get away from the normal trail. Travel through St. Charles east towards St. Mary's on Highway G50 (official route), after crossing Interstate 35 continue approximately 3/8 mile east and turn north on 20th Ave. (Note we are on a gravel road which in most cases is a packed surface with very little loose gravel.) The ride up is an easy ride with gentle hill(s). We offer free wine tastings and sell wine by the glass or by the bottle. Enjoy casual style Tex-Mex food from Howlin' Coyote and live music featuring
ONE NIGHT STAND. Additional refreshments for the day will include water, soft drinks, sports drinks and beer. We have an excellent viewing deck where you can relax and enjoy the vistas of our vineyards in the Iowa Countryside. Parking is available to rendezvous with your support team. Escape the hustle and bustle of the tent town activities and experience a true taste of Iowa's rural beauty. Please contact us if you would like to make any special arrangements for larger parties.
Distance to Ragbrai Destinations(by published route)-St Charles 3 miles, St Marys' 3 miles, Indianola 24 miles, Greenfield 53 miles
So whether you are participating in the ride, know somebody that is, or are just looking for some fun to do on Tuesday night, then please check out Two Saints Winery!
All of Two Saints' wine is made from grapes grown in Iowa - most of which are grown on the property itself. Visit Two Saints Winery Tuesday through Friday from 11:00 AM to 6:00 PM, Saturday from 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM, and Sunday from 12:00 PM to 5: 00 PM. Free tastings are available!
I received no financial or promotional consideration for this message.

Congratulations Menace!!!!

Congratulations to the Des Moines Menace for winning last night!!!
They are now the Heartland Division Champions for the second time in club history!
They will be hosting the opening round of playoffs on July 24 and 25 at Valley Stadium.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

PDL - Premier or Professional Development League?

Despite the fact that I have not made it to a game yet this season, I am a huge supporter of the Des Moines Menace. With two games left in the regular season, the Menace have already clinched a playoff spot and secured a share of the Heartland Division Championship. With at least a tie in either tonight's match against the Brass in Kansas City or against the St. Louis Lions on Saturday at Valley Stadium, the Menace will win the division outright. Even if they lose both matches they can still lay sole claim to the division as long as Thunder Bay does not beat Rochester (who they beat 3-0 last night) Saturday night. Winning the division means a first round bye in the division playoffs and hosting both division playoff games the weekend of July 24-25.
All of the excitement surrounding another possible run to the Premier Development League championship got me to do some research. There are currently 68 teams in the PDL. They are divided into four geographical conferences which are each subdivided into two regional divisions. The Heartland Division might be the most widely dispersed with teams in Thunder Bay, ON in the northeast, Springfield, MO in the south and Denver, CO in the west.
Primarily the PDL has been about developing players beyond their college programs and increasing their exposure to professional soccer scouts. Former Menace players such as Andy Gruenebaum and Matt Nickell have benefited from playing PDL soccer (although Nickell's pro career seems to be finished). The bulk of each team's 26-player roster must be under 23; three players must be 18 or younger. However, each team can have up to 8 players over age 23. Allowing so many older players has led to the adoption of a program call PDL-Pro.
Traditionally the PDL has been a great tool for college players because they have been able to play very competitive soccer during the American professional season and compete in the prestigious Lamar Hunt US Open Cup against professional teams, including Major League Soccer teams. The PDL is technically amateur soccer (the players are not paid) but is run like a professional league, which allows the players to retain their college eligibility. The NCAA allows its athletes to compete against paid players, as in the US Open Cup, but never on the same team as paid players. PDL-Pro allows for small salaries to be paid to players on PDL teams; their unpaid players are not NCAA eligible by rule. Considering the PDL's basic structure, having the PDL-Pro rules seems kind of counter intuitive.
In effect the PDL-Pro rule allows for semi-professional and/or professional reserve teams to compete against amateur select teams. While these teams may not be up to snuff compared to USL Second Division teams, I am not sure that they should be competing against the amateur PDL clubs. Instead I propose a fourth United Soccer League division slotted between the USL-2 and PDL.
The USL Third Division would be semi-professional and would require an adjustment to the American Soccer Pyramid. In addition to privately run semi-pro teams, many MLS, USL-1 and USL-2 sides could field reserve teams of players that could be called up to the "big club" as needed. Since the American league system does not have promotion and relegation or a true reserve division like European countries, USL-3 teams could become farm clubs for the top tier teams in US. Preferably these reserve clubs would operate outside of the MLS/USL teams' cities, but still in a close regional market (similar to most US minor league sports systems). This would increase exposure and expand the fan base. Of course a stringent salary cap would have to be in place with possible concessions for players contracted to larger clubs.
Proposed US Soccer Pyramid - Expanded
Changing the pyramid would definitely affect the US Open Cup system, but such a change may be a positive. In fact with an additional league currently playing at roughly the same level as the PDL, a change already needs to be made. The current format sees eight teams each from the MLS, USL-1, USL-2, PDL, and USASA. The eight berths granted to the United States Adult Soccer Association include truly amateur men's teams and teams from the National Premier Soccer League. Since the United States Soccer Federation acknowledges that the NPSL is roughly equivalent to the PDL (in many cases competing for college players), they deserve their own qualifiers. One of the joys of the US Open Cup is watching an amateur side, like Dallas Roma, roll through professional clubs so they must remain as well.

Proposed US Open Cup System (current leagues)

40 teams
USASA: 6 teams (1 for each region; runners-up playoffs)
NPSL: 6 teams (1 for each conference; playoff of final spot)
PDL: 6 teams (1 for each conference; runners-up playoffs)
USL-2: 6 teams
USL-1: 8teams
MLS: 8 teams

Proposed US Open Cup System (expanded)
42 teams
USASA: 6 teams
NPSL: 6 teams
PDL: 6 teams
USL-3: 6 teams
USL-2: 6 teams
USL-1: 6 teams
MLS: 6 teams

*An alternative solution would be to change USL-2 to a semi-pro league, leaving only two fully professional soccer leagues in the US and Canada. Current USL-2 teams would move up to an expanded USL-1 or significantly cut player salaries. This would be similar to the French Football Pyramid. This option might make more sense in terms of structuring our soccer leagues, but may be harder for US soccer fans to embrace. It might also be less financially appealing to current operators of USL-2 clubs as they will either have to increase expenses to join USL-1 or lose their professional designation. The soccer pyramid would be relatively unchanged.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Fixing the Gold Cup

Yesterday I wrote about the 2009 CONCACAF Gold Cup. I mentioned the fact that this year's tournament is particularly meaningless. Several countries have sent back up squads of guys who might otherwise never see international duty. While that is not necessarily a bad thing, it does bring into question the legitimacy of this year's event.
Some of the major problems with the current Gold Cup format:

  1. The event is always held in the United States (since 1991). Other FIFA federations move their respective championships to different host countries.
  2. The event is held every other year. Other federations only hold their every four years.*
  3. Every other year of the event interferes with CONCACAF World Cup qualifying. This does not happen in other federations.
  4. The event occurs during the height of the Major League Soccer season. Part of this is due to the MLS having a summer schedule; most of the professional leagues in the world are on break during this time.

Suggestions for creating a more meaningful Gold Cup:

  1. Open up bidding to host the tournament in other nations. If a federation as diverse as the AFC can hold the event in different countries every four years, CONCACAF can certainly find a way. Plus the event can bring revenue and prestige to the host nation. Adding an automatic berth would allow an opportunity for a host stuck in the development stages of an international program the chance to play with the "big boys" in the federation on their home soil. Hosting such an event for a nation like Guadeloupe could have the same effect that hosting the 1994 World Cup had for the US. An increase in the quality of their domestic soccer would no doubt follow. Creating more capable soccer programs in our federation helps strengthen CONCACAF as a whole.
  2. Playing the Gold Cup every four years instead of two would make the tournament even more meaningful. By cutting the number of potential winners between World Cups in half, teams will work much harder to ensure victory in the Gold Cup. Holding the tournament in the year following the World Cup (like 2007's event) creates a comfortable niche for the Gold Cup that slots easily between other major soccer events.**
  3. Removing the second Gold Cup also frees national teams to focus on qualifying for the World Cup. Sure this year's Cup is providing some opportunities for new players, but national team coaches should not be worried about a minor regional trophy when there is a much bigger prize on the line. Due to an issue at this year's Cup, Mexico may have to use an alternate coach for the next three games, which could include World Cup qualifying considering how poorly the squad has played in the Gold Cup. This is definitely not the situation you want to be in knowing your next World Cup qualifying match is against your arch-enemy, especially when said enemy recently defeated the world's number one team. World Cup qualifications are an event unto themselves. They are virtually the opening round of the world's biggest soccer tournament. They deserve to be the primary focus of every federation.
  4. If the event was held every four years like the World Cup, it would make sense for MLS to take a break. Under the current format, MLS stands to lose too much money by stopping for a month every other year (plus World Cup years). Part of the problem is undoubtedly due to the MLS schedule, but in the crowded North American sports landscape (what other nation has five major leagues plus big money college sports?!?), MLS has to compete where it can. In addition, the harsh climate in much of the US prevents outdoor soccer during the winter months. Both MLS and the Gold Cup pretty much have to occur during the summer. Perhaps dropping the All-Star game could be the first step in a resolution...
  5. If CONCACAF feels the need to have a regional championship every other year, perhaps the later Gold Cup (2009) could be replaced by a tournament featuring U-23 squads. This would balance the World Cup and Olympic soccer programs while still helping smaller members play more games. The overall development of national soccer programs would still be similar to the current Gold Cup only now a greater emphasis would be placed on younger players. The event would interfere less with both World Cup qualifying and MLS. It would also keep the "regular" Gold Cup (in the year following the World Cup) meaningful; the event would still determine the CONCACAF champion and Confederations Cup entrant. Perhaps this is the ultimate win-win situation...

Regardless I will continue to follow the USMNT in the current Gold Cup. In the end it does not matter to me if we are fielding our A-squad or our D-squad; as long as we are performing well and winning games I will be happy. The action will continue this Saturday on FSC (Mediacom 212) as the US takes on Panama in a quarter final match. World Cup qualifying resumes on August 12 on ESPN 2 when the US travels to Mexico City hoping to get an elusive away victory against El Tri.

*The Championships of other FIFA federations:
**Schedule of major soccer events between World Cups:

  1. World Cup
  2. CONCACAF Gold Cup
  3. European Championships, Olympics
  4. Confederations Cup, World Cup Qualifying, (Currently) Gold Cup
  5. World Cup

Monday, July 13, 2009

CONCACAF Gold Cup 2009

After reading a review of the 2009 CONCACAF Gold Cup's group stage, I realized how dumb the event is. For those that might be unaware (I realize there probably is not a huge soccer following on this blog), the Gold Cup is the championship tournament for our soccer region - North America, Central America, and the Caribbean. It is currently held every four years and has been primarily held in the US since 1991. Mexico is the all time leader of the event with seven championships. The US is next with four, including the last three.
The last Gold Cup was held in 2007. A year removed from our embarrassing exit from the World Cup in Germany, we beat Mexico 2-1 at Soldier Field in Chicago. This earned the US Men's National Team a berth in the Confederations Cup, a warmup event held the year before hosting a World Cup. In South Africa this year, the USMNT made international news by defeating number one ranked Spain 2-0 in the semifinal round. We achieved our best result ever in a FIFA international tournament after losing 3-0 to Brazil in the championship game (for more information, click here).
This year's Gold Cup started just a couple of weeks after the Confederations Cup wrapped up. It ends just a few weeks before World Cup qualifying resumes. The top three nations at the end of the fourth round will qualify for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. The winners of the Gold Cup get a trophy.
Because the World Cup is the absolute premier event in the world of international soccer (the Olympics and Confederations Cup are a distant second and third), qualifying for the event is of utmost importance. For many nations that means making sure their top players are in the best form when qualifying resumes.
In the case of the USMNT, that resulted in a Gold Cup squad made up of Major League Soccer based players, many of whom have had little or no exposure at the national level. Many soccer fans are referring to the team as our C or D roster. Still, we have managed to win our division during the group stage with two wins and a tie. Regardless of how low on our national totem poll the current players are, they are still heavily favored against most of our opponents at this year's Gold Cup.
Whether or not we win the Gold Cup is a moot point. Pretty much every one of the "powerhouse" nations (Mexico, Honduras, Costa Rica) in CONCACAF has sent a B-D roster to the event. It is clear that this year's Cup is being treated as an afterthought or even a joke. With six teams still in the mix for a World Cup spot, everyone is eager for the Gold Cup to wrap up and the "real" national teams to resume playing on August 12. The USMNT will journey to Mexico City; you had better believe both teams will bring their fully rested regulars for a game completely unlike anything going on in the Gold Cup...

Tomorrow I will have a post with some suggestions for improving the Gold Cup!

In other soccer news, the Des Moines Menace have secured a PDL playoff spot and at least a share of first place in their division! Congratulations guys!

Tribe 7