It’s an unimaginable scene playing out at Chivas USA.
Here is MLS, seemingly at the height of its off-field success and soon heading into its 20th season, with franchise fees of $100 million, cities queuing up to join and a huge new TV contract.
Yet the franchise that signaled the start of spring growth following two failures in Florida–that club is bound for the scrap heap come season’s end. And that’s difficult to comprehend, let alone witness.
It’s not easy to watch, this writhing carcass of Chivas USA. Where more than 19,000 once watched the Goats at StubHub Center, only a scattering of diehards remain.
If you’ve followed American soccer beyond, say, 2002, the sight of failing franchises is all too familiar. One NASL offseason saw eight teams erased. And although MLS terms this two-year (minimum) hiatus a re-brand, it really looks and feels like the Goats are going to slaughter. Whatever form the so-called LA2 takes will bear little resemblance to CUSA. The crest and records will join those of the dusty Fusion and Mutiny archives. StubHub will once again become a single-family dwelling. Continue reading Sad, sad story and hopefully a silver lining→
While the captain’s armband is elastic, it’s far from being a one-size-fits-all.
Going back 40 years, the role of Sounders team captain has been filled by both noteworthy legends and relatively obscure players. Disparate as they may be, these Seattle skippers share two qualities: unquestioned respect and a contagious competitive spirit.
Nowadays the captaincy carries with it a certain amount of pomp and fanfare. He wears the armband, leads the squad onto the field, calls coin-flips and, if the season ends well, lifts some silver skyward.
Back in the day of the NASL or A-League, when armbands were largely absent, identifying the captain from afar was mostly guesswork for fans. But being a captain isn’t about fanfare, and it’s far from symbolic. And it starts with fanning the flame inside the belly of every teammate. Continue reading What’s in a Captain?→
When seen racing back to cover, or to be first to a loose ball, the lasting impression is of arms and legs furiously pumping, his chest bowed and practically a step in front–more than anything else. He’s giving everything he’s got. That epitomizes Zach Scott.
He appears to have broken through one brick wall and is prepared to lay waste to another. And another. Whatever it takes.
To know Scott’s story is to know how unbridled determination and belief can undo all those laws of probability. It has taken belief in one’s self and the providential belief of others in him to reach this point, this moment, when he becomes the first Sounder to reach 300 appearances.
First, a word about 300. It’s not some random number; it defines a rarity. Only 23 players have surpassed 300 appearances in the first 19 seasons of MLS. Furthermore, of those 23 only Cobi Jones did so for one club. Going back 40 years, only Bob Lenarduzzi’s 312 matches for Vancouver are greater.
Then there’s the Zach Factor. Jones and Lenarduzzi were national teamers for the US and Canada, respectively. This guy, Scott, was a longshot to play the game at the college level, let alone the pros. He was a walk-on at Gonzaga, a trialist for the USL Sounders and further defied the odds in winning (and keeping) a place in MLS with Sounders FC.
Growing up a fan of all things Seattle, my sense is that we tend to settle. As if that term is just an ‘a’ away from who we are. There’s rarely an outcry if sports team is stopped short of the summit.
Unlike some fan bases which shall remain nameless, web-footed western Washington supporters seem to have a comfort zone that begins with playing in bowl games your daddy watched and advancing beyond the first round of any particular playoff.
Oh, sure, we lament underachievement, and we have piques of frustration. But by and large we are OK with, say, winning 116 games but falling short of the World Series. Our passive/aggressive MO merely manifests itself in a faint cry of ‘We’ll get ‘em, next year!’
So what’s U.S. Soccer got to do to get Joe Fan interested in the Open Cup?
That remains the question as the tournament begins its second hundred years tonight with the Philadelphia-Seattle final at PPL Park. It seems that despite significant changes in the format this historic knockout competition is plagued by apathy and a general lack of appreciation, awareness and, consequently, attendance.
It seems that if the Lamar Hunt Open Cup is to survive the next century, it must aspire to do more than just slog along. There must be an intentional effort to reinvigorate this event. Failing that, it will remain just a niche attraction, valued by pockets here and there who respect it for either history’s sake or the least path of resistance to a CCL berth.
As it is, only about 60,000 folks are interested in tonight’s outcome. Thirty-five thousand of them live in the Puget Sound region. Another 15,000 will venture to Chester. Judging from the obscure broadcast provider, GolTV, the rest are scattered about in soccer pubs around the country, or wherever else that elusive signal rebounds to earth.
If only a suitable Seattle venue had existed in 1996. That void proved the major obstacle preventing the Sounders from becoming a charter member of Major League Soccer.
Before MLS opened its doors, Seattle reigned as America’s best by virtue of winning the 1995 A-League title (and repeating the following year), and did so with virtually a homegrown side. Imagine if Hinton had taken them en masse to the next level.
Eight players from the ’95 squad are listed on either the first of second XI below, and were MLS caliber. In fact, of the first team, eight went on to play MLS while two others had already made the NASL grade. Of course, Hahnemann–the only unanimous choice–went on to play the majority of his career in England.
The A-League in 1994 and ’95 was the U.S. de facto Division I, with a high concentration of domestic talent. The voting reflects that; six players from ’94-95 made the first team, effectively bumping latter day MVPs Baena and Le Toux to the second XI. Le Toux is one of nine on the first and second teams to have played on either the ’05 or ’07 USL-1 champions.
It was termed The Grand Experiment. Initially it involved putting out a team of almost exclusively young, local players against the best in the business. More than anything, however, FC Seattle simply kept hope alive.
By and large this generation of local players had dreams of playing for the NASL Sounders, only to have the club go out of business in 1983 and the league the following year. Plan B was to go indoors with Tacoma and MISL, then spend summers with FC Seattle. At first the schedule consisted of challenge matches, with league play evolving out of necessity midway through the second season.
Goulet first joined the Storm as a guest player for the ’87 postseason tour of Britain, and used it to earn a contract with Bournemouth, then managed by former Sounder Harry Redknapp. Goulet was also named US Soccer Player of the Year. Both Goulet and Fry proved prolific scorers, each with a 57 percent strike rate.
Of the 22 players, 19 were raised in the Puget Sound area. Three–Crook, Fry and James–played for both the NASL and A-League Sounders as well. Willoughby, from Beaverton, Ore., attended UW and Soriano, raised in Miami, attended SPU. O’Brien, a former Ireland international, is the only selection not to have been a local youth or college product.
It’s not surprising that England and Hudson were unanimous choices. England set the standard by which all center-halves have been measured to this day, tower of strength in the air and uncompromising on the ground.
Seattle opted for the direct approach at Memorial Stadium, then began to play through midfield upon opening the Kingdome. Hudson’s arrival cemented that ball-control style.
Traditionally strong at the back, Seattle selections reflect that as coaches arranged lineups to get added defensive personnel (Rioch, Webster, Gabriel) in midfield. There’s also a proclivity for wingers. Robertson and Hutchison, both flying Scotsmen, are in the first XII, Redknapp in the 2nd and Crossley honorable mention. Those moves made it difficult for strikers to break in, consequently Ward (a league MVP) and Peterson (all-time scoring leader) pushed to second XIV.
While many would say talent level climbed through ’82, four members of the ’74 originals made first and second teams. Hutchison is the only 1-year player in first XII; he made quite an impression.
The giants of Europe and South America have been around seemingly forever. Man United turned 136 years old this year, Real Madrid is 106 and Argentina’s River Plate is 113.
The tendency of these ancient institutions is to celebrate their centennials and major anniversaries with some all-time selections. Take England’s Derby County, for instance. A few years back the Rams marked 125 years by honoring Alan Hinton and 10 other greats.
That’s great for our Alan, of course. He got a trip home to hear the applause. One of the other chaps, however, couldn’t make it; he’d passed on four years before Alan was born.
It seems a shame to wait and extol the virtues of people. Instead, how about paying tribute sooner rather than later?