Could Marco Etcheverry be the next coach of DC United?

So yesterday evening I had a brief conversation with someone in MLS who tends to know things. He said that while he doesn’t think anything is brewing quite yet, it would be wrong of DC United supporters to think that Marco Etcheverry has no chance of ending up as the team’s head coach in 2011. He said that Marco actually has a chance.

“El Diablo,” who is currently managing Oriente Petrolero would fit many of GM Kevin Payne’s traditional requirements for staff including a past with DC United and an understanding and appreciation of attacking soccer.

What was really interesting to me was that this person I spoke to never once framed a possible “Diablo” hire in terms of his tactical or management ability. It was all in terms of how this hire might help rejuvenate a depressed fan base and draw a few more fans to RFK Stadium. It would also help to at least increase the team’s national relevance at least a little bit and might serve to just lift the “death grip” [his words] that Will Chang’s lack of finance and the lack of a new stadium hold over the club. But not once did this person ever raise the subject of Etcheverry’s actual ability to manage an MLS club.

But before folks get too excited over the mulleted one returning to RFK as coach, he said that this hire was a hugely risky one for the already beat-up DC front office. Here’s why. If Marco does well and DC improves, than everyone looks like geniuses, fair enough. But if DC struggles, or Marco just doesn’t have what it takes to succeed, the DC organization absolutely, positively couldn’t fire him. The person said how United could not afford to anger the Bolivian community, not after the not entirely amiable departure of Jaime Moreno. He said that no matter how bad things got in DC, the club could never fire him without seeing the bottom drop out of their attendance and goodwill in DC’s Latino community and amongst DC’s supporters in general.

The conversation wrapped up this way:

“If Payne fired the guy, the reaction would be so awful that he might as well just move the team….. But hey, that might happen anyway.”

Not getting “Sporting Kansas City,” not getting it one bit.

So rumors are flying out of KC that they’re going to get a new name along with a new stadium. The rumored name?

Sporting Kansas City.

Seriously.

That’s it.

Okay, I get that MLS teams are currently on a “let’s make ourselves sound as European as possible” jag now. And in some cases like Dallas, Toronto, and Salt Lake, the results weren’t that bad.

But it was transparent what those teams were trying to do. They were trying to look/sound like big successful European clubs like Arsenal FC, Real Madrid, FC Barcelona, and on and on. I got it. It was poseurish, but at least they were posing in the direction of something successful.

But now, here’s KC seemingly wanting to associate itself with Sporting Lisbon, the third-most successful club in Europe’s sixth-best league that itself isn’t known in this country outside of some older folks in Newark, NJ and Fall River, MA.

This is just bad marketing and the kind of really misdirected poseurism (yeah, I made that up) that actually makes the league look more bush-league rather than less.

I get the whole European name thing. Hell, I cheer for DC United. I get it. I really do. This isn’t a slap at KC for Europeanizing their name, it’s a slap at KC for doing it really, really badly.

Please KC ownership team, while there’s still time, think this out. If you want to re-brand the team, do it. But think this move through. Sporting Kansas City doesn’t really stir any echos, only the bowels.

Moreno Walks Away, as DC United Sticks to the Script

It was a melancholy night at RFK Stadium Saturday, as it always is for DC United supporters when the season finale hits, and we know going in there’s no playoffs to be had.

Beyond simply being the final game, it’s the final tailgate, and in many cases, the final time you’ll share stories and beverages and food with friends until hope springs to life again in March.

This was combined with the fact that United fans were seeing the final game for club and MLS legend Jaime Moreno. Fittingly, Moreno drew and then converted a penalty for his 133rd career goal (for now, the all-time MLS best). It was what we had all hoped for – that Moreno would tally in his finale, and with the goal giving United a 2-1 lead over Toronto FC, we hoped the second part of the script would include United holding on to the lead and giving Moreno a victorious sendoff.

But in the end, even on this special night, it perhaps wasn’t wise to think United would shed what has been their 2010 identity. United did in fact give up the lead early in the second half, then fell behind as Toronto scored twice and walked out 3-2 winners.

Despite the score, most United fans stayed, and Moreno was given a warm, emotional sendoff when subbed off in the final 10 minutes. He exchanged greetings with all his teammates, and even with a couple members of classy and sporting TFC players. And in that moment, Moreno walked out of our lives forever. It was hard to watch Moreno’s family be so broken up after the game, as the player greeted fans in front of the supporters’ club sections at midfield.

Perhaps just as sad as that thought, is the realization of what now is left. Which, barring a keen offseason from the front office, is very little. There’s the young Andy Najar, and a full season of Branko Boskovic and Pablo Hernandez is somewhat intriguing to me.

But as we’ve seen multiple times this season, a complete defensive upgrade is needed, United have to be more dangerous on the wings, and perhaps an upgrade in goal could be sought (though, better defensive work might make the Troy Perkins/Bill Hamid combo look better, to be fair to both).

All of this, however, makes this the perfect time for Moreno to exit. There’s no reason for him to hang on for another season that may well look much like what we saw in 2010. He’s done all he can do, more than anyone else in league history. His records will be surpassed, his legacy never will be.

United have many changes to make, and even if we don’t like it, it’s time to move on. I know there’s a big segment of fans that would love to see Moreno play forever, just as we did when the end finally came for Ben Olsen as a player. United fans hold their heroes dear, and the bond between Moreno and the community has been tight and has uplifted all involved.

No one replaces Moreno. No one will step in next year and instantly become that kind of hero. And it would be unfair for us as fans to put those expectations on a single player.

Seeing the end of Moreno’s career is a monumental transmission for the club and the fans, even if his goal and assist numbers have declined (as almost everybody on the team’s did this year). With Moreno gone and Olsen not likely to continue as head coach, the links to the glory years are now just about completely fractured for good.

United have never gone this long without winning an MLS Cup. No one would make them favorites in 2011. There are many changes to be made, and there’s no time like the present to get down to business.

My heart wishes Moreno could be a part of it. But my brain knows that 99% of good things must end … and it was time for this to end. I wish Jaime Moreno nothing but the best in whatever endeavors he takes on. I have no doubt he will be a success. He will always be a hero to me.

And I wish United nothing but the best in getting themselves out of the MLS cellar. I have no doubt … there’s a long way to go.

And maybe, just maybe, that’s what made last night all the more difficult.

Scooby Dooby Roo(ney), Where Are You?

… It’s been the question on everyone’s minds (maybe not everyone’s) for a week now.

Where is Wayne Rooney going to take his talents?

Chelsea?

Manchester City?

Real Madrid?

Arabe Unido?

… and it turns out, at least for now, that the answer is … Manchester United!!!

Why then does it feel like Manchester United just picked what was behind Door #2 and instead of winning the $10,000 cash and a 1982 Ford Fiesta, they instead got a lifesize Shrek doll filled with chocolate covered grasshoppers?

Some want to credit this as Rooney creating a row as a ploy to get a better contract. Can we really believe this one, though? Is Rooney really that smart? Is his agent really that slick? Somehow, I find it hard to believe that’s the case.

I’m tempted to think Rooney was truthful in his worries about the club’s shortcomings. I’m not even sure he was wrong. United haven’t looked the part of a Big 4 contender this season, and the players brought in to carry the torch as players like Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, and Edwin Van der Sar play out their time before transferring to AARP Rovers simply aren’t of the level expected by the club’s fans – and to be truthful, probably by the club itself.

Sir Alex Ferguson was notable and hailed as astonishingly honest in what many perceived to be door-opening comments into the psyche of the club at his press conference earlier this week when discussing RooGate. It certainly seemed like there was no way back for Rooney, who was to go the way of David Beckham and Carlos Tevez and find success elsewhere. And in my mind, if he really wanted to go, United should have shipped him off. No reason to keep a want-away player, no matter who he is.

But now, for better or worse, he’s back – even if he never actually left. In the end, maybe Rooney won, maybe the club won, but it’s really hard to tell. Hell, knowing United this season, it’s probably a draw. Rooney has been a top-class player in the past, but he isn’t right now. And to sign him to a deal through 2015 is a gamble, given that he probably won’t be healthy until at least 2013.

I get where Rooney was coming from. While still young, he’s been a pro now for a long time, and probably shouldn’t have to tolerate a rebuilding year. And surely, England’s abbreviated World Cup was no picnic, either. I understand him feeling there is greener grass in another country, or across the city … then changing his mind. He’s still young enough to be impressionable, and my guess is that SAF mind-tricked the hell out of him, convinced him that Manchester City wasn’t the Jedi he was looking for, and that was that.

But what have United really gotten here? They’ve missed a chance to sell Rooney and bring in funds that they surely must need. They keep a player with world-class potential, who’s been disappointing for some time now, and that’s when he’s actually on the field. Certainly, there’s plenty of time for a return to glory between now and 2015, but will this deal save the current season? I don’t think so.

And if United now cannot do the things required when the transfer window opens again to address some of its issues, then Rooney will find that he was right along, and the voices in his head, which we’re all pretty sure only he can understand, will start all over again.

On Liverpool and the folly of relegation

As I am not an expert in corporate law in this country nor any other, I don’t want to delve too deeply into the Liverpool ownership case before a judge today in London.

But, one aspect of this has made me think a bit. Yet again, we’ve seen the risk of relegation make a well-capitalized and intelligent owner potentially think twice about investing in the sport because the risk of relegation and its associated financial calamities is just too much to bear. I’m not a Liverpool fan, but I don’t want to see a very smart, forward-thinking, and wealthy owner like John Henry (above) chased away from the sport.

But if Liverpool are given a 9-point penalty (for administration) and shoved close enough to relegation that Henry’s group turns its back on the club, I think it only serves to support my point that relegation turns European soccer into such a high-risk enterprise that it scares good, smart owners away from the sport, leaving the sport, its clubs, and their fans to the whims of charlatans, morons, and schemers.

The $50M ChampionsWorld lawsuit against MLS and USSF allowed to proceed


Charlie Stillitano just won’t go away

Remember ChampionsWorld? It was an organization setup by disgraced former MetroStars executive Charlie Stillitano to promote and organize friendlies between European and South American teams. After three years of promoting these matches, it went into Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Since 2006, it has been engaged in a lawsuit against US Soccer and MLS claiming $50 million in damages and now, according to Sports Business Journal, an Illinois judge has allowed the suit to proceed into court with the case starting as early as Spring 2011.

According to the SBJ piece here are the basics:
Now, before I go on, allow me to add that I am not a lawyer, but it appears to me that the basic question is whether the Ted Stevens Olympic Sports Act allows for US Soccer to charge fees to promoters when the events don’t immediately relate to the “Olympics, Paralympics, and Pan-American Games.” Now, after reading the law (PDF) and specifically the part “Granting sanction for amateur athletic competitions,” it looks like US Soccer is granted the sole ability to sanction and charge fees for competitions held inside the US. But the law does say that the fee must be “reasonable and nondiscriminatory.”

If the intent of the lawsuit is to challenge the USSF’s exclusive ability to sanction soccer matches held within the United States, then I suspect it’s fairly doomed. That ability of US Soccer was one of the secondary elements settled when MLS players’ lawsuit failed a few years back.

Thus, that appears to leave open the question of whether the fees were “reasonable and nondiscriminatory.” I must admit, I have no idea what “reasonable” means in a legal context.

What do folks out there in comment-land think? If anyone out there is a lawyer, I’d be curious to see how you think this lines up.

UPDATE: Here is the ruling from the judge. This looks to me like ChampionsWorld is going after the sort of inherent anti-trust exemption given to national sports governing bodies by the Olympic Sports Act. I find it hard to see how the ruling in the MLS players lawsuit doesn’t stop this one cold, but I’d like to hear from those more adept in reading legal opinions than I am.

Why an MLS move to the international calendar wouldn’t just be bad, it’d be destructive.

First of all, I am getting to this dreadfully late. I’ve been just hammered at work and with travel and thus have been terribly behind on writing here on the site. I am reminded by the saying my old Ohio State journalism professor Rose Hume used to bat dated story ideas down.

“This is a newspaper, not and oldspaper.”

Well, this is an oldpaper, my apologies.

Okay, so a week or two back there was brief blip of non-news after the Russian league decided to move itself to the standard FIFA/UEFA calendar. My good friend Brian Straus (Fanhouse) and I tweeted a bit about it and I said that beyond all the very difficult logistics of deciding to shift the entire calendar of your league’s matches (though not impossible, after over 100 yearsBritish Rugby League went to a summer calendar in 1996), the biggest problem with an MLS move to a European calendar is that it would completely undercut clubs’ abilities to promote themselves both in advertising and the media. Here’s why.

Let’s start with the media issue. Quite simply, it’s already really hard for most MLS teams to get themselves media coverage in the printed versions and even online versions of their locality’s newspapers. While it’s definitely better than in the league’s early years, it seems self-evident to me that moving the calendar into the meat of football/basketball seasons would immediately shove coverage of MLS to notes pages and agate columns, if not out of the section all together. You don’t have to have worked in journalism to see how the industry is hurting, all you have do is look at the reduced page and ad counts of major dailies like the Washington Post, USA Today, and Boston Globe, to name only a few. MLS would have to be suicidally dumb to think that its stature is such that its exposure wouldn’t take a major hit by forcing it to compete for space with coverage of the professional/college football and basketball.

Beyond print media, a winter move would almost certainly punt MLS out of any local news sports reports, an anachronism yes, but one still viewed by many people that I would perceive as casual fans. Additionally, you would waive goodbye to what few seconds MLS already receives on Sportscenter and other mainstream ESPN programming like SportsNation, PTI, etc. There’s also the issue of finding time around ESPN’s near-constant broadcasts of NBA, college football and college basketball to get MLS’ live broadcasts on the air. That already difficult task would be made nearly impossible if the calendar changed.

Finally, a move to football/basketball seasons would make it far more difficult for MLS clubs to buy advertising time in local print/TV/radio. The NFL is one of the few things that virtually guarantees large numbers of eyeballs/ears and as a result, TV/radio stations and newspapers raise their ad rates knowing that companies want to get their logos in front of one of the last large male audiences left in the media landscape. Will MLS clubs be able to advertise as much, if at all, if forced to pay the NFL-inflated rates?

Finally, I know there are some of you saying to yourselves that MLS doesn’t need any of this because online media is going to replace it all anyway. You’re wrong. The internet (especially in sports) is a narrowcasting medium, to people already interested in the subject of the websites/social media they’ve already surfed to, whether it’s pro soccer (Bigsoccer), snarkiness (Deadspin), or undignified sucking up to B-list celebrities (Kyle Martino’s Twitter feed). Coverage and advertising in seemingly anachronistic places like newspapers, local television and even radio are opportunities (especially in the advertising deadzone of Summer) to expose MLS to potential new fans. MLS, as an “emerging” league, simply can’t afford to turn those opportunities down.

Seriously though, I don’t think we’ll ever see promotion and relegation in MLS and I view it and its proponents as annoyances. This is different. I actually worry that the league could, in a fit of arrogance, actually try this and that it would be really, really destructive on the league and sport’s ability to promote itself in this country.

See, I managed to get through an entire column about MLS possibly aping Europe without calling anyone any names… except for Kyle Martino – soccer’s less funny, more feminine version of Chelsea Handler.