MLS Cup Promo, with Soundtrack by Sleigh Bells

MLS Cup is practically here, people: Tomorrow, 4:30 EST, on ESPN.

• Beckham’s last game on these shores.

Possibly Donovan’s, too (but not really, right LD?).

• Brad Davis, his lethal left foot, and their chance to make up for missing last year’s final due to injury.

Ireland’s all-time leading scorer Robbie Keane, who’s in deadly form right now.

Up-and-coming U.S. center back Omar Gonzalez.

• Calen Carr’s Peter Cech-like helmet.

This game has a lot going for it.

Here’s the promo, with music by Brooklyn duo Sleigh Bells:

Speaking of Sleigh Bells, if you’re a straight male (and probably even if you’re not), their singer, Alexis Krauss, will give you a tingly feeling. See here:

Back to the game, we’re calling it 3-1 for LA. Enjoy the Cup and the weekend.

Rubio Rubin Leads U.S. U-17s in Wild 4-4 Tie with Brazil

The United States Soccer Federation started the Bradenton U-17 academy program in 1999 and right out of the gate they produced/were blessed with an incredible crop of talent.

The 1999 group looks better with each passing year, having sent Landon Donovan, DaMarcus Beasley, Oguchi Onyewu, Kyle Beckerman, and Bobby Convey, among others, to the professional ranks.

With each new U-17 group that convenes in Florida, the question resurfaces: Where are the next Donovans and Beasleys?

It’s way too early to tell, but attacker Rubio Rubin of Beaverton, Oregon, could be the best answer to that question in years. Wednesday night, in the opening game of this year’s Nike Friendlies in Lakewood Ranch, Fla., he scored two goals and set up two others to help the U.S. tie none other than Brazil, 4-4.

The Yanks held a 3-1 lead in the second half, and were up 4-3 with nine minutes to play, but could not hold on to the lead.

Here’s some postgame reaction from coach (and MLS ref Michael Kennedy doppelganger) Richie Williams, striker Ahinga Selemani (Ann Arbor, MI) and Rubin:

These games are not being televised for some reason (they were on Fox Soccer last year), and US Soccer is so far being stingy with the highlights, but hopefully we’ll be able to post them as the tournament progresses. The U.S. takes on Turkey tonight.

BPFL Weeks 13 and 14: Family Affair

BPFL Subbuteo

Co-commissioner MGlo, who continues to rule the BPFL roost, is here with a recap of Weeks 13 and 14. The top of the table is crowded with familial relations as a father-son duo are 1-2 and a pair of brothers are 4-5—followed by their brother-from-another-mother in sixth place.

Also, there was trash-talk via hyperlink.

Take it away MGlo:

Well it’s nice to see that after 14 Gameweeks my Old27m squad continues to lead the way. I put up 70 points against the Nearpost for a comfortable win. The victory ended my two-game losing streak and leaves me 8 points clear of the two second-place clubs.

In Week 13 I struggled with four dead guys, but I took care of that problem in Week 14 and am ready to face Colorado Keeper this week. Always a lively match, the Keeper has thrown down the gauntlet with this taunting link.

All I can say is he best hope I don’t win or I will be writing next week’s wrap up as well!

Speaking of the Keeper, he has now won two straight and is tied on points for the fourth spot with his brother, Disgruntled Numpties, and Abes Army. The former has won three of his last four matches, while the latter, since making changes for the first time in months, has lost two in a row. He has also lost twice to the Average club, which I guess makes him … below average?

All three teams are just a point behind I Am Liverpool and Markansas. The young-un has lost two of his last three while Markansas has won three in a row and four of his last five, with just one defeat in his last eight (6-1-1). That should make for an interesting matchup as the two clubs battle against each other for the second spot this week.

Performance of the Week: Surprisingly this award went to Fall River Marksmen, who pulled down 79 points this week, and did so without a goalkeeper! [Goalkeeper? We don’t need no stinkin’ goalkeeper!Ed.] Rafael and PGA range ball John Arne Riise both earned clean sheets for the Marksmen, with the latter getting 2 Bonus Points. Jon Walters scored a goal and also added 2 Bonus Points, while Swansea’s Wayne Routledge scored 2 goals and got the appropriate 3 Bonus Points. Gareth Bale pulled down 10 points from 6 different categories (Goal, Assist, Minutes Played, Yellow Card, Own Goal, Bonus Points), while up front Captain Robin van Persie and Rickie Lambert each scored a goal and earned 5 Bonus Points between them. Disgruntled Numpties won this award in Week 13.

Unlucky Loser: This one put a smile on my face as I Am Liverpool took home the gong in Week 14, falling 58-48 to Colorado Keeper. What a shame. I was rooting for you! Abes Army and Rise* of FC Hammer were the unfortunate ones the previous week.

Match of the Week:  Along with the two matches I have already mentioned, there is a relegation 6-pointer this week, as 14th-place Prison Mike (15 points) hosts 10th-place Fall River Marksmen (16 points). The convict has lost two straight, while the Marksmen ended their four-game losing run.

Thanks MGlo! We’re going to play you out with a little request from the Colorado Keeper:

Don’t forget to set your teams today, and good luck in Week 15.

Beckham Is Still Quick on His Feet

At an MLS Cup press conference yesterday, LA Galaxy midfielder David Beckham was in the middle of summing up how things turned around for the Galaxy four years ago, when a reporter’s phone started buzzing on the dais in front of him.

Becks took it from there:

We need a follow-up from the owner of the phone. Was it accidental, or a wiseass friend of his who knew where he was at the time?

In Case You Missed ’Em: Three Great Goals from the Past Week

We’re a little late on two of these, but all three are worthy of multiple looks.

First up, Philippe Mexes, French center back for AC Milan, getting all Rivaldo-like* on Anderlecht in the Champions League last Wednesday:

Then there was Lukas Podolski’s stinging volley for Arsenal against Montpelier, also in the Champions League:

Sweet chip from Olivier Giroud to set him up, and what a finish.

Finally, a terrific team goal from Borussia Dortmund against Dusseldorf in the Bundesliga yesterday—a sweeping move from left to right, finished off by a one-touch exchange in the box and a clinical volley by Jakub “Kuba” Błaszczykowski**:

That one might’ve been the best of the bunch. Watch out for Dortmund in the Champions League, people.

*If you clicked the link and watched that Rivaldo goal, you may well have just witnessed the greatest goal in the history of the game. It was his third of the night, and it won the match 3-2. No, really.

**Kuba also scored what was, for our money, the best goal of Euro 2012. Here it is again, Poland vs Russia:

Assessing the MLS Year-End Awards

Most of the MLS year-end awards have been handed out. Who got robbed and who got properly rewarded?

Let’s take a look:

Rookie of the Year: Austin Berry, Chicago Fire

Runners-up (in order of votes received): Nick DeLeon, D.C. United; Darren Mattocks, Vancouver; Luis Silva, Toronto FC; Connor Lade, New York

Justice? A central defender, Berry started 28 games and had an excellent season. But he benefitted enormously from playing alongside German World Cup veteran Arne Friedrich. We’d have given it to dynamic D.C. winger DeLeon.

Defender of the Year: Matt Besler, Kansas City

Runners-up: Victor Bernardez, San Jose; Aurelien Collin, Kansas City; Jay DeMerit, Vancouver; Carlos Valdes, Philadelphia.

Justice? Besler was excellent in 2012, and a huge part of why Kansas City conceded a league-fewest 27 goals. But if you were starting a team, you’d probably pick Bernardez for your backline ahead of the 25-year-old former Notre Dame man. The players and clubs both picked Bernardez in the balloting. All that said, Besler thoroughly deserves a call-up from U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann—stat.

Coach of the Year: Frank Yallop, San Jose Earthquakes

Runners-up:  Peter Vermes, Kansas City; Ben Olsen, D.C. United; Frank Klopas, Chicago; Sigi Schmid, Seattle

Justice? Yes, as coach of the Supporters’ Shield winners, Yallop deserves the honor, but Olsen, who got a D.C. team held together by chewing gum and dental floss to the playoffs, should have received more votes.

Comeback Player of the Year: Eddie Johnson, Seattle

Runners-up: Chris Pontius, D.C. United; Alan Gordon, San Jose; David Ferreira, FC Dallas; Steve Zakuani, Seattle.

Justice? Yes. There’s some confusion about the criteria for this award, but Johnson’s comeback from four years in the career doldrums to produce 14 goals and three assists for the Sounders works for us. Gordon would’ve made an excellent Most Improved Player, but the league doesn’t have that award (they should though!).

Here’s Eddie lighting it up for the boys in green this season:

Fun fact: EJ won this award in 2007, too. At the ripe old age of 23.

Goalkeeper of the Year: Jimmy Nielsen, Kansas City

Runners-up: Dan Kennedy, Chivas USA; Michael Gspurning, Seattle; Nick Rimando, Real Salt Lake; Andy Gruenebaum, Columbus

Justice? Sure. Truth is, all of the nominees had sensational seasons, from Kennedy standing on his head repeatedly to keep Chivas USA from getting embarrassed, Gspurning ably replacing a legend in Seattle, Rimando combining the rock-steady with the spectacular for RSL, and Gruenebaum pulling saves out of his nether regions on a regular basis for the Crew. We’d have been fine with any one of them winning.

Here’s the White Puma in action, and then deflecting credit for the award:

Newcomer of the Year: Federico Higuain, Columbus

Runners-up: Victor Bernardez, San Jose; Michael Gspurning, Seattle; Young-Pyo Lee, Vancouver; Oscar Boniek Garcia, Houston

Justice? Another very competitive field, but we’d have to say yes, justice was served, because Higuain almost singlehandedly revived Columbus’s offense, and nearly carried them to the playoffs, bagging five goals and seven assists in 11 starts down the stretch. Crew fans can’t wait till next year, when they’ll have him for a full season.

Higuain highlights here:

The MVP award will be announced tomorrow, when it will be handed to San Jose striker Chris Wondolowski.

Joey Barton Is A Performance Artist

This is occasionally thuggish former Premier League midfielder Joey Barton speaking to the English press last season (after Shaun WrightPhillips goes first):

Sounds like a lad reared in Merseyside, right?

Now here’s the same Joey Barton speaking to the French media after his debut with Ligue 1 side Marseille, where he’s on loan this season:

Cheeky b******.

That’s some Andy Kaufman–level japery right there.

Here’s Barton’s explanation on Twitter:

“In my defence, it is very difficult to do a press conference in Scouse for a room full of French journalists. The alternative is to speak…

…like a ‘Allo Allo!’ character which is choose. Its simply a case of you had to be there. #youstupidwomen!”

And here’s a clip of ‘Allo ‘Allo!, a BBC sitcom from the 1980s.

H/T to Our Man at the Valley.

Garber’s State of the League Address: Expansion, Beckham’s Buy-In Option, and Donovan’s Future

On Monday, five days before the 2012 MLS championship game, commissioner Don Garber gave his annual “state of the league” address, covering a wide range of topics in a 90-minute conference call with national media.

The Soccer Don discussed the imminent departure of David Beckham, and talked about how much different the league is now compared to when Golden Balls arrived in 2007. “We needed David Beckham in 2007 to help drive our credibility, to help grow our popularity,” the commish said. “We don’t need anything today to get us to the next level. It’s a wide variety of initiatives.”

When Beckham met the media under a cascade of glittery confetti at the Home Depot Center in July 2007, MLS had 13 teams, five soccer-specific stadiums and a threadbare TV deal.

Today, the league has 19 teams, 13 soccer-specific stadiums (with two more on the horizon) and broadcast agreements with ESPN, NBC, TSN and Univision. (Fox Soccer also televises CONCACAF Champions League games involving MLS sides).

The league set records for average attendance and number of sellouts this season, and surpassed the NHL and NBA in per-game attendance last season.

As for Garber’s “wide variety of initiatives,” some of the highlights:

On expansion, in New York:

“There’s a lot of work that needs to happen to finalize our agreement with New York City over our use of the land [in Queens] and our ability to lease that land to build a stadium. I do believe that we will resolve that shortly. I can’t put any timetable on that, but we are at the finish line.”

The league’s goal is to have a stadium and franchise in Queens ready to join the league by the 2016 season.

On expansion elsewhere:

We’ll continue to monitor what’s happening down there [with USL club Orlando City and its owner, Phil Rawlins] and I think at some point, if they’re able to finalize a stadium plan that makes sense, we’d be very interested in working with them on an MLS team.”

Garber also said MLS suitors Atlanta and Arthur Blank, owner of the NFL’s Falcons, would be taken seriously if they could sort out stadium possibilities, and the commish mentioned that a return to Miami would “make sense” at some point.

On Beckham’s franchise buy-in option:

“Anything’s a possibility other than his right to exercise that option in New York. So there is a possibility for him to work with the league office to find ways to transfer that option into an opportunity in LA. It’s way too premature to talk about that or even speculate about what that would look like. But that opportunity does exist if it meets the approval of the league. …David holds the option and the LA Galaxy would have to be part of that discussion.”

Beckham has a contractual option to buy an MLS franchise for a reported $25 million. The Montreal Impact joined the league in 2010 for $40 million.

On youth development:

“[The league] will continue to invest massive amounts of money” in player development, and “we’re working on ways to have a more comprehensive reserve league. Part of it could be a closer relationship with the second division [the NASL] and giving those players opportunities to get minutes. Part of it could be incentivizing our teams to provide playing opportunities for those players on their first team.”

MLS currently spends $20 million a year on player development, and the reserve league stages 10 games per season.

On Landon Donovan and his uncertain future:

“I hope to spend a little time with Landon. I don’t think anybody who loves this game and is connected to U.S. Soccer or Major League Soccer doesn’t fully appreciate what contributions Landon has made to our sport in this country. He’s arguably the best player in U.S. soccer history.

“He started as a teenager and has spent his entire life committed to the sport. I sympathize with what he is experiencing in trying to soul search and figure out what his future might hold, on and off the field.

“… He not only had to be a great player, but he also had to carry a lot of the promotional burden of growing the sport for a decade or more on his shoulders. He played during the day and had to promote it at night and that’s tiring.

“I hope he can continue to help grow the league and the sport here and I want to do everything I can personally to help him figure out a right way to be able to do that.”

In that same passage, Garber likened LD to Wayne Gretzky, Michael Jordan, and Lionel Messi. He understands how important Donovan, the poster boy for U.S. Soccer, is to MLS.

All in all, though, it’s a fairly rosy picture for the league. Apart from TV ratings (which need to be goosed), and problems with Chivas USA (stagnant team, overshadowed by the Galaxy), Toronto (no continuity and no postseason play in six years as a franchise), New England (need a proper stadium) and D.C. (ditto), the news is all good.

BPFL Weeks 11 and 12: Think You’re Good at This? Abes Army Is Beating You Without Even Trying

Happy Thanksgiving weekend to all the Yanks out there. BPFL Co-Commissioner Our Man at the Valley has the recap for Weeks 11 and 12, and if you’ve been toiling with weekly changes to your roster all season, get prepared to be depressed:

Every few weeks we’ve been handing out an award to the member of the BPFL whose lack of attention to the league has caused his team to plummet in the standings. We’ve called it the Asleep at the Wheel Award and I’ve been waiting for 11 weeks to present it to Abes Army.

Through the first 11 weeks of the season the Army fulfilled one necessary part of winning the award. That is, he made no changes from the team he organized at the beginning of the season. However, instead of sinking down the table the Army has steadily risen, and occupied third place after 11 weeks, with a stellar 7-0-4 record.

He’s had some long term absentees, through either injury or managerial indifference, in Michael Vorm, Scott Sinclair and Mousa Dembele, but a core group of 11 players has kept the Army chugging along nicely.

Now the Army might have had a little luck of the draw, given that he had the same number of total points through 11 weeks as our 13th-place team, but I’d prefer to credit good scouting and a solid back five.

Leading up to Gameweek 12, the Army finally made his first two changes of the season, bringing in Marouane Fellaini and Yaya Toure for Sinclair and David Silva. While the changes didn’t help in the short run (Silva had a lot of points and Fellaini is now banned for an accumulation of yellow cards), the result was another good one, as Abes Army beat Fall River Marksmen, 51 to 43.

The Army has reached the lofty heights of second place, only six points adrift of our leader, Old27M.

In addition to Abes Army there were multiple wins for Nearpost and Prison Mike. There were consecutive losses for ColoradoKeeper, Fall River Marksmen and Average.

Performance of the week: I am Liverpool took the honors in Gameweek 11 with 64 points. In Gameweek 12, Prison Mike and Rise* of FC Hammer each topped the group with 61 points.

Thanks OMATV. And curse you, Abes Army! Don’t forget to set your teams this week, folks, and good luck.

Beckham Announces MLS Cup 2012 Will Be His Last Game for Los Angeles

As you’re undoubtedly aware by now, LA Galaxy midfielder and global icon David Beckham has announced that next Saturday’s MLS Cup final at the Home Depot Center will be his last game with Los Angeles and in Major League Soccer.

He has not yet revealed what his next move will be, but he did say that he is not retiring from the game, and that he would like to take on “one last challenge” before hanging up his boots for good. The speculation as to where that challenge will be has begun in earnest.

So his MLS career will end on Dec 1, 2012, in the exact same place that it began on July 13, 2007. Nice symmetry there.

The rest of his time in MLS wasn’t quite so balanced, but on the whole he provided most of what he came to the league to provide. He got off to a rocky start, with injuries, apparent disinterest, more injuries, some hostilities with the public, and some squabbles with Landon Donovan in the midst of a struggling Galaxy side. But once Bruce Arena got the team in order, and results started to improve, the Beckham Era started to take on some shine.

The team made it to the 2009 MLS Cup final, losing on penalties to a rising Real Salt Lake side (Beckham made his penalty; Donovan missed his); they won the Supporters’ Shield the following season as the team with the best regular-season record, and they won the championship in 2011, clipping Houston 1-0 in the final, with Beckham and Donovan hooking up on the winning goal. And of course they’ve made it back to the 2012 MLS Cup final, where they’ll meet Houston again. That’s four conference finals, three championship games, and a shot at two titles in six seasons. Not bad at all.

(Click here for some more stats on the Beckham Era.)

He also did this:

And this, which was fun:

Success arrived off the field, too: Beckham boosted attendance wherever he went, his name sold gazillions of dollars in merchandise (that’s the official league figure), and he boosted the profile and credibility of MLS worldwide, opening the door for players like Tim Cahill and Thierry Henry to follow him here. That’s all to the long-term good of the league.

Over all, the Beckham Era was a pretty resounding success, early friction aside. And the timing of his decision was a perfect piece of PR/showmanship: It gives the league a great hook to market the MLS Cup with, as well as a potential exclamation point on the end of Beckham’s MLS career, if LA win the title again. As Houston coach Dominic Kinnear said, the league owes him a big thank-you.

He may be gone soon, but he won’t be soon forgotten.

And he won’t be gone long: Beckham said he intends to return as an MLS owner in the near future.