Hurricane Irene Forces MLS Schedule Changes

The DC United–Portland game scheduled for tomorrow evening was moved up from a 7:30 p.m. start to a 2:00 afternoon kickoff, and both of Sunday’s MLS matches, including the sold-out New York–Los Angeles match, were postponed to later dates as the league anticipated the arrival of Hurricane Irene along the Eastern seaboard.

Citing “general public safety concerns,” MLS made the following schedule changes (courtesy of MLSSoccer.com):

D.C. United vs. Portland Timbers (at RFK Stadium)
NOW: Saturday, Aug. 27 at 2:00 p.m. ET*
WAS: Saturday, Aug. 27 at 7:30 p.m. ET

*Major League Soccer, in collaboration with D.C. United and Portland Timbers, will continue to monitor the path of Hurricane Irene before making a final determination as to the status of the game between both clubs, originally scheduled for Saturday at 7:30pm ET at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C.

A further update on the status of this game will be provided by 12:00 p.m. ET tomorrow (Friday).

UPDATE: This game has now been postponed. Reschedule date is TBD.

Philadelphia Union vs. New England Revolution (at PPL Park)
NOW: Wednesday, Sept. 7 at 8:00 p.m. ET (Galavisión)
WAS: Sunday, Aug. 28 at 7:00 p.m. ET (Galavisión)

New York Red Bulls vs. LA Galaxy (at Red Bull Arena)
NOW: Tuesday, Oct. 4 at 8:00 p.m. ET (ESPN2, ESPN Deportes)
WAS: Sunday, Aug. 28 at 7:00 p.m. ET (ESPN2, ESPN Deportes)

Chivas USA Lands New Shirt Sponsor

The number of MLS teams with jersey sponsorship deals rose to 12 today with the announcement by Chivas USA that it had sealed a multiyear contract with Grupo Modelo, producers of Corona Extra beer, whose logo will appear on the Goats shirts starting in the 2011 season.

No word yet on whether or not each Chivas player will have to learn this trick.

Here is an updated list of the teams that have gotten brands to sign on with the Good Ship MLS:

Chivas USA: Corona Extra

DC United: Volkswagen

Houston Dynamo: Greenstar Recycling

Los Angeles Galaxy: Herbalife

New York Red Bulls: Red Bull

Philadelphia Union: Bimbo

Portland Timbers: Alaska Airlines

Real Salt Lake: Xango

San Jose Earthquakes: Amway

Seattle Sounders: XBOX

Toronto FC: BMO

Vancouver Whitecaps: Bell

KC Rebrand: Sporting Kansas City

Poised to move into a brand-new $180-million soccer-specific stadium for the 2011 season, the Kansas City MLS franchise officially changed its team name, logo, and colors yesterday.

The new name is … drumroll, please … Sporting Kansas City.

The new colors are slightly different shades of blue from the previous royal blue kits the Wizards wore (which were actually pretty tasteful). The new home shirts are a sky blue the club is calling “Sporting” blue, and the aways are indigo.

The new logo can be seen above. Some KC fans have already pointed out that it bears a strong resemblance to the MLS Eastern Conference logo, right here:

We have mixed feelings about the changes. We’re not sorry to see the Wizards moniker go (though it changes the answer to one of our favorite sports-trivia questions, see below*) but we liked the team’s colors and shirts.

We’re also skeptical of the new “Sporting” designation—especially of CEO Robb Heineman’s statement that it’s not an inspired-by-Europe choice of a team name:

“This, to us, is not European whatsoever. This is all about our connection to the community and us trying to be innovative in what we’re trying to do.”

Really Rob? You didn’t have Sporting Lisbon, or, to a lesser extent, Spanish club Sporting Gijon, in mind when you picked this name? And what connection does the term have to the Kansas City community?

Let’s see, the primary tenants of your previous venue, Community America Ballpark, are a baseball team called the T-Bones. Your NFL franchise is called the Chiefs; your baseball team (across the border in Missouri) is called the Royals and … you have a roller derby team called the Roller Warriors…. That’s about it for KC sports, and not a “Sporting” in the bunch—or anything that suggests or connects to the term.

Maybe you should have echoed the legacy of George Brett, Frank White, and Bret Saberhagen of the 1985 Kansas City Royals championship team and gone with Real Kansas City. (Hey, Spain has several teams with ‘Real’ in their names; Salt Lake would get over it.)

Or better yet, you could have summoned the old Kansas City NASL team, the Spurs (which led the league in attendance in 1968) and bagged both local relevance and a European reference in one shot.

But Sporting? Please tell us how that connects to the Kansas City community.

In any case, the as-yet-unnamed stadium in Wyandotte County is on track to open in time for the team’s first game in 2011, and will put 12 of the league’s 18 franchises in their own soccer-specific stadiums (expansion Portland will begin play in their own venue, PGE Park, next spring).

*Name the five pairs of teams that share nicknames across different pro sports. (It used to be six, but the Wizards’ name change drops one pair of teams, as the Houston Oilers and Winnipeg Jets did when they went extinct years ago. Answers in the comments.)

The Bracket-Busting MLS Playoffs

The first round of the MLS playoffs is in the books, and the brackets of the 22 Backpost Playoff Pool participants are mostly in tatters.

Only one person in the entire pool correctly picked more than two of the four first-round matchups, as the heavily favored Red Bulls got upended by San Jose, and the defending champs, Real Salt Lake, were brusquely shown the door by FC Dallas.

The high-flying Sounders were brought to earth by the Galaxy—who emerged from the first round as the MLS Cup favorites—and the Rapids eked out a win over Columbus on penalties.

A number of people got two of four correct, so there’s a bottleneck in second place in the pool.

Who is currently on top of the leaderboard, you ask?

It’s—wait for it—Mrs. Backpost!

She had Colorado, Dallas, LA, and New York all advancing. If the Red Bulls had been a little better around the goal—at both ends—last Thursday night, she would’ve aced the first round.

She also has LA winning it all, so she’s very much on the inside track at this point. We couldn’t be prouder—though that copy of Soccernomics may go unread in the end.

A couple of others have picked LA to go all the way, and two, Rocky Mountain residents both, have tabbed Colorado.

The most fashionable picks to hoist the trophy were Real Salt Lake, Seattle, and New York, in that order.

Not one single contestant picked Dallas or San Jose to win MLS Cup 2010. We may be relying on those tiebreakers after all.

It should also be noted—as much as it pains us to do so—that the RefBaiter was completely shut out. The Tri-State area resident went with Columbus, New York, Real Salt Lake, and Seattle in the first round—and could be heard cursing Brian Carroll as far away as Western Pennsylvania on Saturday evening.

For a more detailed recap of the first-round playoff series, check our column at the MLS website, and if you’re on Facebook, post a comment.

The Backpost Compound was overrun with the first flu-like bug of the season this past weekend (it was delightful), so we’re playing catch-up ball today. More posts tomorrow.

Thanks for reading, and now, enjoy, apropos of nothing at all, Jeff Stelling’s famous rant (or non-rant, as he insists) in defense of Middlesbrough:

Americans in Europe: Tracking Back

It was a busy weekend for Yanks all over the continent, with Michael Bradley and Benny Feilhaber both bagging goals, Carlos Bocanegra’s team going top of the table and Oguchi Onyewu … continuing to be buried on the AC Milan depth chart.

Let’s take a look, with sidebar commentary on which U.S. players need to come back to the States and play in MLS—before the league gets too good for them. (Ha!)

Spain

Jozy Altidore dressed but did not play in Villareal’s 3-2 win over Malaga yesterday. New Jersey–born striker Giuseppe Rossi scored Villareal’s second goal in the triumph, which vaults the Yellow Submarine (4-1-0) into second place in the Primera Division.

Altidore has only played in the Europa League thus far this year for Villareal.

Should he come back to play in MLS? Nah. Altidore just left, and he’s only 20. We will not be surprised when he finally breaks through in Europe.

Italy

Oguchi Onyewu did not dress in AC Milan’s 1-0 victory over Genoa on Saturday. Onyewu has not played for the Italian giants this year, and earlier in the month he was left off the squad list for the Champions League group stages.

MLS? It’ll never happen, but a move somewhere is not a bad idea for Gooch. He appears to be in a black hole with the Rossoneri, which just extended his contract through the 2012-13 season—which he will play for free. At 28, and theoretically in his prime, he should be getting regular minutes.

Germany

Steve Cherundolo got the start and went the full 90 in Hannover 96’s 1-0 win over Kaiserslautern on Sunday.

MLS? The 31-year-old defender is still a mainstay—and a deputy captain—at Hannover so, no, not now. But maybe in a couple of years.

Cherundolo’s new teammate, DaMarcus Beasley did not dress for the game.

MLS? If it doesn’t work out at Hannover, we say yes.

Michael Bradley started, went the distance and scored a goal in Borussia Moenchengladbach’s 2-2 tie with Schalke 04 on Saturday. Click here for the highlights. (Schalke’s two recent big signings, Klass Jan Huntelaar and Raul, each found the net.)

Bradley’s goal was his second of the year.

MLS? Nope. Bigger and better things await him in  Europe.

Potential U.S. national-teamer Jermaine Jones started for Schalke and played 51 minutes.

MLS? No. He’s only 28, and looks to be (finally) rounding back into fitness.

Ricardo Clark dressed but did not play in Eintracht Frankfurt’s 2-0 win over Nurnberg on Saturday.

MLS? No. The 27-year-old is still settling in at Frankfurt.

Scotland

Maurice Edu played 16 minutes in Rangers’ 3-2 win over Aberdeen on Sunday.

MLS? The 2007 MLS Rookie of the Year has a bright future in Europe.

France

Carlos Bocanegra played 90 minutes for top-of-the-table St. Etienne (5-1-1) in a 1-0 win over Lyon on Saturday.

MLS? Not this year—he’s 31—but maybe down the line a bit.

Charlie Davies did not dress for Sochaux’s 2-1 loss to Marseille on Saturday. Davies’ recovery is not going smoothly. See here for the details.

MLS? He just needs to get back to 100%—if that’s possible.

England: Non-Premier League

Championship

Former Duke star Mike Grella did not make the bench for Leeds’s 1-0 shutout of Sheffield United on Saturday.

MLS? How much is Leeds paying him to ride the bench? More than Toronto FC would pay him to start? His lack of playing time has kept him out of the USMNT pool.

Zak Whitbread has a calf injury and sat out Norwich City’s 2-0 loss to Hull on Saturday.

MLS? Maybe it’s time for the 26-year-old—who has bounced from Liverpool to Millwall to Norwich City—to give the U.S. circuit a try.

League One

Frank Simek started and went 90 in Carlisle United’s 2-0 loss to Bournemouth on Saturday.

MLS? Carlisle United, Frank? Really? You were called in to the U.S. camp for last March’s Netherlands friendly, for crying out loud. Here are three MLS teams that need help on their backline: New England (45 goals against), Houston (45), DC United (42)—and every one of them could beat Carlisle United.

Greece

Freddy Adupoor Freddy Adu—did not dress in Aris’s 1-0 win over Ergotelis on Sunday.

MLS? If any team would have him.

Belgium

Sacha Kljestan did not make the bench for Anderlecht’s 5-0 rout of Mechelen. But he does have two goals for his new club this season. He’s just returned from an injury.

MLS? He just left. Let’s give him some time in Europe.

Denmark

Michael Parkhurst went the full 90 in FC Nordsjaelland’s 3-0 shutout of Horsens on Sunday.

MLS? He’s doing fine in Denmark and getting paid more than he would earn in the States.

Chris Rolfe and Marcus Tracy sat out Aalborg’s 2-0 defeat to Sonderjyske. Rolfe has a hamstring injury and Tracy has a knee injury.

MLS? Rolfe just left the U.S. and Tracy is determined to make it in Europe, which he seems capable of—if he can stay healthy.

Benny Feilhaber went the distance, scored a goal and had two assists in Aarhus’s 3-2 win over Koge in the Danish second division. The man is on a roll, with five goals and two assists in his last three games.

MLS? If his current white-hot form doesn’t get him a solid European offer this winter, then why not? The Danish second division is surely a lower level than the U.S. top flight.

Norway

Hunter Freeman and Clarence Goodson both went the distance in IK Start’s 0-0 tie with Honefess yesterday.

MLS? Freeman can make more money in Scandinavia, apparently, and Goodson could jump to a continental European league if he keeps up his solid play.

Mikkel Diskerud played 88 minutes in Stabaek’s 2-1 win over Kongsvinger on Sunday.

MLS? The U.S. youth international has bigger aspirations—including getting called into the senior USMNT—and at 19, time to pursue them.

Show Your Distaste for Tonight’s LeBron-apalooza on ESPN by watching Chicago vs Real Salt Lake on … ESPN2

Okay, ESPN has colonized the known sports world, and there’s not much we can do about it if they want to stage an hourlong worship session at the altar of The King (who was still without an NBA title as of this writing).

But we’ll vote with our cable box and opt for their MLS broadcast tonight, and when it’s over, we won’t feel we’ve participated in something historically self-aggrandizing, unnecessary, and anticlimactic. Unless Kyle Beckerman* shaves his dreads in a post-goal celebration during the RSL match.

The defending champs (8-3-3) are riding a nine-game unbeaten streak and have shut out their last four opponents, including a 5-0 demolition of New England on July 1.

They roll into Chicago’s Toyota Park to take on a Fire team hit hard by injuries. Striker Collins John (gastrointestinal illness) and attacking midfielder Patrick Nyarko (concussion) are out, while forward Brian McBride (quadriceps) and defender Dasan Robinson (hamstring) are questionable.

The Fire (4-4-5) has been inconsistent all season, but will be looking to get some momentum with a solid home win tonight, as well as avenge a penalty-shootout loss to RSL in last year’s Eastern Conference finals.

Kickoff is at 9:30 p.m. EST, so, if you must, you can tune in to the first half hour of this mess.

*This is especially unlikely, as Beckerman is out with a foot injury and did not make the trip to Illinois.

Now let’s catch up on some MLS updates:

Toronto FC Signs Former La Liga Striker Miguel “Mista” Martinez

The 31-year-old has played for Real Madrid, Valencia, and, most recently, Deportivo La Coruna. He has two caps for Spain’s national team.

Seattle Says Swiss International Blaise N’Kufo Will Join Sounders FC On July 14

And not a moment too soon: The Sounders are suffering through a nightmare 4-8-3 season after a dream debut campaign last year. They need all the help they can get, even if it’s from a 35-year-old striker in the twilight of his career.

Branko Boskovic Begins Training with D.C. United

The former Red Star Belgrade and Rapid Vienna midfielder, 30, had his first practice with D.C. yesterday, and, pending the completion of his paperwork, could be eligible to play in the Red and Black’s July 15 game against Seattle. Boskovic, who captains Montenegro’s national team, is D.C.’s Designated Player.

Buddle, Donovan Pick Up where They Left Off Before World Cup

Landon Donovan set up Edson Buddle for the Galaxy’s first goal in a 3-1 romp over Seattle on July 4. The game, played before a sellout crowd at the Home Depot Center, was the duo’s first since the World Cup, and the goal put Buddle back on top of the league scoring leaders with 10. Donovan leads MLS in assists, with 10.

Rookies Shine in Pair of Week 14 Draws

San Jose centerback Ike Opara and D.C. midfielder Andy Najar scored the goals in their teams’ 1-1 tie last weekend, while Chivas USA’s Blair Gavin and Philadelphia’s Danny Mwanga did the same in a 1-1 draw at the Home Depot Center. All four players are rookies, and though Mwanga (Congo) and Najar (Honduras) were not born here, all four can potentially play for the U.S. in the future.

Here is Mwanga’s goal, his fifth of the season:

And here is the 17-year-old Najar beating San Jose vet Bobby Convey at the back post (great work by Stephen King to get him the ball):

MLS at the Break: Your Against-the-Grain Post of the Week

For obvious reasons, it’s been all-World Cup-all-the-time in the soccer universe lately. But as France struggles mightily against our CONCACAF brethren Mexico this afternoon, let’s take a brief look back at Major League Soccer, which has shut down for the group stages of the World Cup.

 (There are six MLS players involved in the tournament, by the way—four for the U.S., one for New Zealand, and one for Honduras).

The league will pick it back up on Friday, June 25, with all 16 teams returning action that weekend. Until then, here are the Backpost (Nearly) Midseason Awards, followed by an update on the latest headlines:

Best Team: Los Angeles Galaxy. They’ve come roaring out to a 10-1-2 start while scoring a league-best 22 goals and conceding a league-fewest four. Defending champs Real Salt Lake, which handed LA its first loss (1-0) on June 9, are nipping at the Galaxy’s heels.

Best Coach: Bruce Arena. His team has accomplished the above and barely missed a beat after the departures of top scorer Edson Buddle and best player Landon Donovan to the U.S. national team on May 15. They’ve also been missing a certain golden-haired Englishman all season.

Biggest Surprise: San Jose Earthquakes. After a lopsided season-opening loss to Real Salt Lake, the Quakes have turned into a tough out. They were weary going into the break, losing their last game, 2-0 to FC Dallas, but they’ve got a handful of hungry young players, a wily, experienced coach, and winger Bobby Convey approaching his national-team form of yore. Watch out for them in the second half.

Biggest Disappointment: Seattle Sounders FC. Their dream first season is transforming into a nightmare sophomore year—as symbolized by Kasey Keller’s stunning goalkeeping gaffe in their 3-2 loss to D.C. before the break—and subsequent talk of hanging ’em up.

Purple Heart Award: Houston Dynamo. They lost U.S. national-team midfielders Stuart Holden and Ricardo Clark to transfers in the offseason, then saw rising star (and U.S. call-up) Geoff Cameron go down with a season-ending knee injury. Also did without striker Brian Ching (hamstring) for a spell. Tough times for Dominic Kinnear’s men.

Best Goal: This strike from Real Salt Lake’s Javier Morales, in the season opener, wasn’t too shabby:

And neither was this tracer from Houston’s Lovel Palmer against Chivas USA on April 12:

Second-half surgers? See San Jose above, and also keep an eye on the Colorado Rapids, whose stirker Conor Casey seems determined to make up for missing out on the World Cup. He had a goal and an assist in Colorado’s last game, a 2-2 tie with Chicago.

Red Bull New York is tied for first in the East, and they entered the break with two wins in a row. They should be healthier on the other side of it, and may just be adding a marquee Frenchman.

The Chicago Fire’s Baggio Husidic and Marco Pappa are heating up, and look for Brian McBride to peak at the right time. Throw in the potential return of Cuauthemoc Blanco after the World Cup, and you have a team to be reckoned with.

Toronto FC was great over the past four weeks, going unbeaten over five games; but not so much before that. What remains is anyone’s guess.

Top Rookies: It’s been another solid year for first-year men in MLS, with Zach Schilawski scoring goals for New England, Tim Ream showing poise beyond his years on New York’s backline, and 19-year-old Bill Hamid challenging U.S. international Troy Perkins for the starting goalkeeping job in DC.

The most intriguing youngster of the group may be Andy Najar of DC United. The 17-year-old academy product has one goal in nine appearances, and as Perkins told ESPN, “He plays like he’s 22, 23 years old. He’s got grit, he’s got the toughness and he’s quick and creative. He’s going to be a fantastic player.”

Updates:

• Chivas USA midfielder Sacha Kljestan, who narrowly missed making the U.S. World Cup team, has signed a four-year deal with Anderlecht of the Belgian first division.

• New England re-signed Revs legend Steve Ralston, the alltime MLS assists leader, plucking him back from D-2 AC St. Louis. Unfortunately, the midfielder dislocated his elbow just minutes into his first return appearance with the club—in a friendly against Brazilian team Cruzeiro this past Sunday—and will miss four to six weeks. 

• DC United signed Montenegrin midfielder Branko Boskovic as a Designated Player. The 29-year-old (he’ll turn 30 on June 21) captains his national team, and has played for Paris St. Germain and Rapid Vienna. He will join DC in July.

Now back to your regularly scheduled World Cup programming….Enjoy the big U.S. match in the morning.