Union City Blue

A Philadelphia Union Blog

The beINSport Debacle

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If you’ve been looking for La Liga or Serie A programming on GolTV or Fox Soccer Channel, you’ve been out of luck. Upstart Al Jazeera owned network beINSport has obtained the U.S. broadcast rights for both.

The problem is beINSport is only available in the U.S.on DirecTV and Dish Network. Needless to say this has provoked much consternation among U.S. soccer viewers, especially with respect to the popular La Liga matches. To add insult to injury, U.S. World Cup qualifying away matches will also be broadcast on beINSport.

There are reports that beINSport has reached a carriage agreement with Comcast and Time Warner cable. Comcast may add the channel by September 7.  I am a Verizon Fios subscriber. There is no news on that front at all. When I switched to Verizon Fios, I carefully checked their channel lineup to make sure I would have access to all the soccer channels that I watch. Now this. The European soccer season is off to a very depressing start for me, with Tottenham having started poorly and no AS Roma games available for the foreseeable future.

Apparently, the leagues involved are trying to maximize revenue ahead of visibility. This decision is already being questioned by some of the affected teams who face steep drops in visibility in the U.S. in exchange for some extra short term cash. The decision to go with beINSport seems strange in light of the recent push that Spanish and Italian clubs have been making in marketing in the U.S. Did you ever think you would be able to see Real Madrid twice in two years in Philadelphia?

It’s been clear for the past couple of years that the Qataris are trying to buy their way into the sports business. If their goal is to build up an American following for their sports programming and other broadcast products, effectively cutting off a significant portion of soccer programming for millions of viewers isn’t the way the create goodwill. Al Jazeera and beINSport are already facing an uphill battle for public opinion in the United States following the 2022 World Cup bidding process. The U.S. market is still not strong enough to support a large number of soccer broadcasters. The Qataris decision to enter the U.S. market may jeopardize the availability of the less glamorous programming that was available on GolTV, if GolTV doesn’t make it. Qatar needs to beOUT of the sports business.

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Liar, Liar …

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It has come to light in the last day that Everton and U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard will not be available for the friendly with the Philadelphia Union. Accoding to the Union, they were only informed of this fact a few days ago after previous representations to the contrary. To be blunt, Everton probably has minimal marketing value in the U.S. without Howard. The Union claim that they would have pursued other opportunities had they known of Howard’s absence.

Everton say that Howard is being rested after having played in the Gold Cup for the U.S. this summer. The team is well within its rights to rest its player, but they need to be upfront about their intentions. If Everton made representations that Howard would be available for the Union game, they now need a better excuse than he’s being rested. It’s a friendly. He can’t stand in goal for twenty minutes before being substituted? This scenario reminds me of Valencia backing out on their tour dates last year. Do European teams think they can get over on MLS? If so, they’ll only get away with it once.

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Bagels and Lox for Everyone

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The Philadelphia Union announced yesterday that they have traded starting left back Jordan Harvey to the Vancouver Whitecaps for a box of smoked salmon, a scrimshaw whale’s tooth and a First Nations’ ceremonial eagle feather.  In MLS’s world of cryptic parlance and partial disclosure, this is also known as “allocation money.” When I first read this shocking and unexpected development, you could have knocked me down with, well, a feather.

Harvey had been a regular fixture on the Union’s backline since the team’s inception and had played in every game but one. He was part of what had been a stable and effective back four this season.  Just when you think the Union is dangerously short on dedicated defenders, they go and sell one, and to think that I was beginning to feel that blogging for a successful MLS team was becoming boring.  The Union now have only four players officially rostered as defenders. Midfielders Keon Daniel, Gabriel Farfan and Michael Farfan have been used in the back this season. Ryan Richter has also been given a run out on defense, at least in reserve games. The cherry on top of all of this is that starting central defender Carlos Valdes will not be available for the game this weekend.

This move at this point in the season seems dangerous.  The team had been going well, although they had failed to pick up as many points during their recent run against Vancouver, Kansas City and Chivas as I would have liked. The Union are now in the middle of a consecutive stretch of three away games.  They have struggled to establish a regular starting eleven and formation. I don’t see a coherent plan for replacing Harvey, and the lineups I can envision are unnerving. For those that are upset about the value received in this deal, all I can say is that MLS players, save for a few, are not really worth that much in trade.

Situations such as the Harvey trade underscore why I will never buy a jersey with a player’s name on it.  The nature of modern professional sports is that player’s stints with individual teams tend to be short. I support soccer clubs as institutions and deliberately do not become attached to specific individual players. I am not a fan of professional athletes in general. This is not a reflection on the Union or any of their players, but stems from my observations of American athletes in the more popular professional sports over the years. If you recently shelled out money for a Harvey jersey, you have my condolences.

Speculation about what all this may mean is rife. Are the younger players ready to step up? Are the Union thinking of bringing in a big name defender? Trading Harvey will create some salary cap room, but he was not earning that much more than league minimum and was very good value for money.  The Union also have not used all their available roster spots.

In other news: I will be at the Philadelphia Independence game this weekend. This may be the last one of the season for me, unless there is a playoff game. There is just a lot going on. Real Madrid have announced some modifications to their roster for the World Football Challenge. As a Real Madrid hater, I am not all that interested in their peripheral players, so I am not bothered by this. It just increases the chances it will be a competitive game. It has been announced that the U.S. Men’s National Team will play Mexico at Lincoln Financial Field.  If only the Gold Cup final had been played here.

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The Dreaded Nil-Nil Tie

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I replayed the Philadelphia Union – Sporting Kansas City game from midweek as I got ready to leave for PPL Park tonight.  I don’t feel like there is a lot to say here.  It was another disappointing result against a team we should have taken more points from. You really have to beat a last place team at home. Again there was fiddling with the lineup, which, again, did nothing to help resolve the Union’s offensive woes.  This team would really benefit from a stable starting lineup in a 4-4-2 formation. The Union also continue to be plagued with problems on set pieces, missed-timed runs, and poor finishing.

The nil-nil tie, along with diving and low scoring, is one of the obsessions of soccer haters in the United States. These scoreless draws can be entertaining games, but I don’t feel that this was the case here. There were too many missed chances and too much sloppy play. The highlight of the game was the crowd chanting “USA” when the result of the Gold Cup semifinal against Panama was posted. A close second was the response of the River End to the incident in New England in which supporters were arrested for obscenity for the “You Suck, Asshole” chant. All though I am not a big fan of this chant, I am disturbed by what seems to be an over reaction by the ownership and security of the Revolution. Self policing by supporters should be the way to handle this issue going forward.

There was a good crowd of 18,127 for the game considering it was a weeknight against an opponent that wouldn’t have been much of a draw. You could also practically swim through the humidity. There was also the conflict with the U.S. Men’s semifinal.  There will be a conflict again tonight with the Gold Cup final. The Union have to be pleased with their attendance figures this season. I know I am – at least I can sell my extra ticket when I need to.

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Twitter is Great, but Streaming Video Would be Nice

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The Philadelphia Union played its first pre-season game in a rainy Orlando this afternoon against the U-17 U.S. Men’s National Team. The Union managed a 1-1 draw against the teenagers. As there was no video of the match available, this synopsis comes from written sources.

The Union fielded two completely different teams in each half. The Union starting eleven consisted of Mondragon, Harvey, Valdes, Califf, Williams, Mapp, Carroll, Nakazawa, Le Toux, a mystery trialist, and Mwanga. Sebastien LeToux scored an early goal on an assist from Justin Mapp. He then scored an apparent second goal off a header in the sixteenth minute, but it was whistled offside.

The second half lineup consisted of MacMath, a trialist, Orozco Fiscal, Arrieta, Noone, another trialist, Miglioranzi, Okugo, Jacobson, Richter, and McInerney. The second half trialists appeared to be Keon Daniel and Chris Agorsor, from an online photo. Alex Muyl equalized for the U-17′s, assisted by Alessandro Mion, in the eightieth minute.

Photos of the match are on the Philadelphia Union Facebook page. The Union were wearing a new training shirt, which looked great with the dark blue shorts. The plain white background is certainly the best with the new Bimbo logo.

The first half lineup reflects what I believe will be the Union’s starting lineup in 2011, minus the trialist and possibly Nakazawa. I don’t believe there’s a clear choice for a second starting forward in the lineup played in the first half. LeToux was presumably playing midfield today, and it will be interesting to see the team experiment with him at forward with different midfield combinations in future preseason games.

I’m sorry that I was unable to make any of the open training sessions at YSC Sports – if only I still worked in the suburbs. The open sessions seem to have been well received, and I hope they do it again next year. However, the excellent work done by bloggers and fans at identifying the trialists may make them think twice.

Random observation from the weekend: Niko Kranjcar scored a goal in extra time to give Spurs a 2-1 win over Bolton. The goal reminded of the types of shots Andrew Jacobson takes on goal that, unfortunately, miss the back of the net. Maybe this season.

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A Different View

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U.S. Men’s National Team 0-0 Colombia
October 12, 2010

The U.S. and Columbia played to a nil-nil draw at the first appearance of the U.S. men’s national team at PPL Park. After a sixty year absence, the men’s national team has now played three times in Philadelphia in a little over a year. It’s interesting that this game was played in Philadelphia and not at the new Red Bull Arena (a.k.a. Pink Cow Palace) in Harrison, NJ.

The crowd was a little under 9,000, with a large number of Colombian supporters in attendance, in contrast to the 55,000 plus crowd at the U.S. – Turkey game in May. Despite the low numbers, it actually seemed like the stadium was reasonably full. The attendance figure could be attributed to a variety of factors, such as the fact it was a weeknight, the conflict with the Phillies playoff game, and the lack of promotion of the game by U.S. soccer. There was a strong presence in the River End from Sam’s Army and their local affiliate groups.

The U.S. squad was made up primarily of European based players, although many of prominent U.S. players did not participate in the game. Brek Shea and Eric Lichaj received their first caps for the U.S. The U.S. used the occasion to experiment with some different configurations. Fairly solid in the back, the U.S. had trouble moving the ball through midfield and generating any offense going forward. Speaking of forwards, the U.S. has now gone through yet another game without a goal from a forward.

I got a ticket in a section different from where I normally sit in PPL Park. I was in section 106 behind the U.S. bench. The Stadium Club was open for this match, and at halftime I was able to walk up to and across the deck to get a glass of wine. The perspective on the stadium from the deck and the Stadium Club balcony was quite different from what I am used to, but the view was beautiful. The Stadium Club seems nice but I don’t think I am really missing much by choosing season tickets in a non-Club section.

Toward the end of the game a young woman stood up in section 107. Eventually, a guy several rows behind her started shouting at her to sit down, which culminated in his calling her an effing see-you-next-Tuesday. Needless to say, this provoked some additional “conversation” with those sitting around the woman. Far from getting her to sit down, her companions responded by standing up as well and remaining standing. The whole incident was kind of funny and good example of a non-violent response to someone who was being an a-hole. Apparently, there was also a near altercation in Section 127 shortly before half-time. It seems all the action was off the field that night.

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Cheat on Your Wife, Spice Up Your Life

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Philadelphia Union 0-1 Los Angeles Galaxy
October 7, 2010

PPL Park had a record crowd for the first visit of the L.A. Galaxy to Philadelphia, which is an even greater achievement considering it was a weeknight game. I attended the game with a friend from work who is a big fan of European soccer but was still very excited to be at this game. She had a really good time and asked where she could buy tickets. Her whole family watches soccer, so maybe this is a good sign for the future.

David Beckham was booed and harassed. Welcome to Philadelphia, David. My favorite chant is the title of this post. However, Landon Donovan was cheered, which shows that Philadelphia fans can support opposing team players in certain circumstances. The Philadelphia media had been filled with Beckham sightings in the days leading up to the game. We learned such relevant tidbits as Beckham ate a $100 cheesesteak at Barclay Prime on Tuesday night. I’ll take a “sharp provolone with” at John’s Roast Pork, myself. Beckham attended the Phillies playoff game in which Roy Halladay pitiched a no-hitter. Is he now the Phillies good luck charm? Let’s hope not.

Michael Orozco Fiscal was pushed aside by Edson Buddle, who scored the L.A. goal off a corner kick from Beckham. Was Orozco Fiscal’s loss of his mark a footwork problem, as opined by ESPN’s John Harkes, or simply result of having a 5’11” center back? I’m inclined toward the latter opinion. However, overall the result was not such a bad one for the Union, who lost 3-1 to the Galaxy in their trip to Los Angeles early in the season. In particular, the defense did a good job to make Donovan largely invisible in the game.

I have to wonder if MLS deliberately scheduled the Los Angeles and New York Red Bulls games for the end of the season to try to keep attendance up, guessing that the Union would not make the playoffs and attendance might flag. I know that several people were after my extra Red Bulls ticket. It’s interesting that this is even a hotter ticket than the L.A. game featuring two of the best known soccer players in the country.

We were lucky to have a nice autumn night for this game after several days of rain and cool temperatures. I attended the U.S. Women’s National Team game versus China the night before in drizzle and cold weather. There was a mini crisis in that hot chocolate was not available at kickoff time. The U.S. team played to 1-1 draw. The crowd was very light, which was quite disappointing, and, therefore, stadium services were very light. I found out that in-seat ordering was available in section 106 after I had walked half way around the stadium to buy a hamburger. It was not a particularly riveting game and a lot of people seemed more interested in following the action in the Phillies game via their smartphones. I have to say that the highlight of the game was Abby Wambach pegging a spectator in the head with a soccer ball. See it here.

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Some Food for Thought on the World Cup Bid

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I came across this interesting piece in the Inquirer from an economics professor at the University of Maryland entitled “A Goal the City Should Reconsider,” found at http://www.philly.com/inquirer/opinion/20100908_A_goal_the_city_should_reconsider.html.

The premise of the piece is that communities that host mega-events such as the World Cup don’t necessarily experience substantial economic benefits, but may actually lose money due to large expenditures of  public funds.  I don’t necessarily disagree with the proposition that there may be an initial economic loss or that more transparency is needed in bidding process or in how estimates of economic benefit are calculated.  I also feel that the U.S. Bid Committee should drop any pretense that no public funds will be expended on this venture. You know they will.

I do question whether longer term economic or intangible benefits are factored into the calculations mentioned in the piece.  Even if the U.S. lost money on the 1994 World Cup, the event served as a launching pad for MLS a year later and renewed interest in U.S. Soccer.  Isn’t some of the economic impact of MLS due in part to the World Cup? Mega-events may also cause a community to make infrastructure improvements in venues, transportation, communications, and hospitality facilities that may have lasting economic benefits.  Such events may also raise a communities profile nationally or internationally and contribute to increases in visitors.  I know that spending funds on such events in the current economy may seem frivolous. However, if a U.S. bid is successful,  we will not get a World Cup prior to 2022.  The economic situation in this country could be very different in the years leading up to the event.  Sometimes you just need to spend money on grand public events because it creates a sense of communal spirit and civic pride and its just the right thing to do.

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Heart Stoppage

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Philadelphia Union 2- 1 New England Revolution
August 28, 2010

I started the evening trying to check out the game at one of the Union’s pub partners.  I got there, found that the game was on all the screens, but no one was paying any attention.  There was also other music playing on the speaker system, so you couldn’t hear anything.  I didn’t stay long and went home to watch the game on tv.  Maybe some other time when there isn’t a Saturday night dinner crowd.

The field in New England looked okay.  At least Kraft is trying to remove the gridiron lines for the Revs games.  The crowd was also concentrated in the stadium in a way that looks good on tv even if there are large sections of empty seats.

The Union looked tentative early in the game, but with much better defensive discipline. I was afraid that the difficult season was beginning to take its toll on the team’s confidence.  The Union fell behind 0-1 in the first half on a goal by Ilija Stolica. Finally, a break went the Union’s way when Cory Gibbs was sent off for a hard tackle on Eduardo Coudet.

The Union continued to press ahead with their man advantage.  A couple of subs made as big difference. A beautiful ball from Justin Mapp led to Jack McInerney’s second goal of the season.  Jack was able to celebrate this one. Another beautiful ball from Justin Mapp in stoppage time resulted in the game winning goal.  The Union got their first win in over six games. The one downside was  the continued lack of a shutout.

I have always felt that making the MLS playoffs was an ambitious goal for a “from scratch” expansion team. I would be happy with a mid table result in the Eastern Conference.  This is still an achievable objective over the remainder of the season.

In other news, it was announced during the first half that PPL Park will host the U.S. Men’s National Team vs. Colombia on October 12.  This is in addition to the U.S. Women’s game against China on October 7.  I don’t know about you, but I’ll be there, and hopefully near my regular seats.  You know they really didn’t want to play the Colombia game in New York.  It looks like my crazy July will be repeated by a crazy October.

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One Crazy Day, and Night

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Philadelphia Union 3 – 2 Houston Dynamo @ Houston

Yesterday was a crazy day in Philadelphia sports history – one of the craziest in my memory at least. The Union wins its first away game, the US men’s national team plays in Philadelphia, the Flyers are in the Stanley Cup final, and Roy Halladay pitches a perfect game -  all   in   the   same   day.  So, take a deep breath, this may be long and rambling  post.

The Union won their first away game by a score of 3-2 at Houston. The win was a result of good efforts on many different fronts. The Union went one goal up (finally) in the first half on an amazing individual effort by Shea Salinas. After two Houston goals in the second half in a ten minute period, they were able to come back to win in typically hot, humid Houston weather. The Union continued to hustle with additional goals by Sebastien LeToux and another late goal by Danny Mwanga. Overall, there was better discipline, even with the yellow cards, and a lack of costly mistakes.

The game appeared to be lightly attended.  I don’t know the official figure.  I also always notice attendance, because it is something which concerns me.  Having waited 15 years for an MLS team, I want the league to prosper and grow, and attendance is a big part of this. Houston fans need to get with it. On a positive note,   I noticed some Houston supporters wearing leis in support of Brian Ching, who was controversially cut from the USMNT. I also noticed that, apparently, Chivas isn’t the only MLS team with “cheerleaders.” “Cheerleading” in soccer is something I can do without.  It isn’t traditionally part of the game, and it’s a sexist and regressive institution that doesn’t need to be brought into soccer. I also use the term in quotation marks because, like NFL “cheerleaders,” what goes on in MLS has little to do with real cheerleading, and the girls look more like strippers and B and C level porn stars than cheerleaders.

On Saturday afternoon, I attended the USMNT game held at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.  I have never seen such craziness trying to get into a game. Once again I was running late to a soccer game, this time due to a client meeting in the morning.  It seems everyone else was trying to get in fifteen minutes to kickoff as well. Some still seemed intent on continuing their tailgating. In short, there were too many people trying to get into too few entrances. I arrived at my seat about 20 minutes into the game, all the way at the top of the second level.  The area was mixed between US and Turkey supporters.  The atmosphere at the Linc was great with a 55000 plus crowd.  With both US and Turkey supporters in red it was hard to tell who’s who.  Sam’s Army was out in force but seemed quieter than during Gold Cup matches last summer.  Maybe they just couldn’t be heard over everyone else?

I was seated next to a very friendly family from New Jersey. The Mom was Manchester United fan and said that she is the principal soccer fan in the family.  It is unusual to find another female in same situation as myself (primary soccer fan in the family). I was seated two rows from top of the second level in midfield.  It was my fault for forgetting to get a ticket right after they went on sale. I will not let this happen again, but it was a very different perspective on the game. I have photos from the game. As they are crowd shots and shots of soccer players that look like ants, I don’t think I’ll post them. The US maintained the ball in the Turkey half much of the game and kept good pressure going forward.  Most of the defensive problems seemed to come on the Turkey counterattack. The US played better in second half, coming behind for a 2-1 victory.  The crowd was ecstatic and it was a good send off for South Africa for the team.

This being Philadelphia, there were chants of “Let’s Go Flyers” as the crowd filed out of the stadium.  It seems everyone was already thinking about the Stanley Cup finals that evening.  The Flyers lost, but, as that was happening, everyone became aware the Phillies’ Roy Halladay was pitching a perfect game against the Marlins.  The result was the second perfect game in franchise history and only the twentieth in major league baseball history.  It was a crazy day in Philadelphia sports, indeed.

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