Pitch Points plays catch-up

Hey! It’s been a while since one of these posts. Herein, I round up links of interest in the world of Nashville and US Soccer. If you ever find something you want me to include, you can hit me on the socials or via e-mail. On with the show.

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US Soccer taking notice of Nashville. This was a hype piece for the US Open Cup game against Louisville, but it ages pretty well.

“Coming in from Sporting Kansas City, the Open Cup, and what it means to American soccer, is just part of my DNA,” said [Mike] Jacobs, an understated front-office wizard who had a large hand in finding the talent to fit the needs and desires of coach Smith. “We’re making a statement in the Open Cup in our first year and that’s massive for the equity and credibility of this club and for the future of soccer here in Nashville. We’re showing we can compete with teams from all levels of the American soccer scene.”

Nashville aren’t just competing with teams higher up the food chain, they’re beating them

Yes, the loss to Louisville stunk. It prevented NSC from getting the national hype that Cincinnati received for its Open Cup run. However, some of that groundwork has hopefully already been laid, and the club can grow from it.

There may be positives in terms of reduced fatigue down the home stretch as well, though I’m sort of skeptical that playing two extra games really tired FCC out all that much last year: they were just the sixth-best team in the East, and earned a deserving first-round playoff exit.

Of course, there’s plenty of reason to be excited about Nashville SC’s trajectory, including inaugural season ticket record. Hopefully that means we don’t have to have extended season ticket discussions ever again (unfortunately, “Twitter” and “the FC Cincinnati fanbase” still exist, so that’s a pipe dream).

World Cup on the way. It doesn’t feel like the World Cup in the United States is eight years away – the level of celebration has been higher than something not happening for nearly a decade – but that’s fine. It’s going to be a massive positive for the United States, no matter how far off in the distance it is.

Sorry for subjecting you to the absolute nightmare that is SI.com. How have they not hired new web designers?

Anyway. It’s a big first step for USSF president Carlos Cordeiro (along with hiring Earnie Stewart as the GM for the MNT), and it’ll be extremely interesting to see where his focus goes now. He campaigned largely on a platform of “change but not too much change” and “landing the World Cup is very important.” Will he focus on development? Stay on the side of building finances for the federation? A lot about the future of US Soccer depends upon where he goes with it.

So far, the federation has been more “let’s stay focused on this big win“-oriented, which is fine for the short-term.

The striker whisperer. I’ve actually been higher on Gyasi Zardes than literally every other USMNT fan ever, so it shouldn’t surprise that I’m very happy to see him thriving in Columbus under Gregg Berhalter.

Perhaps no team in the league has as defined a system as Crew SC. Columbus play one of the more consistent, recognizable styles in MLS. They’re committed to playing nearly everything out of the back, they almost always dominate the ball and they’re very rarely out of step with each other. The system makes them better than the sum of their parts – and it regularly serves up gorgeous chances for their strikers.

That… also sounds like a system that you’d like to see the USMNT play, yeah? Berhalter has been one of the most-mentioned names for the managerial position, and he and Jesse Marsch (New York Red Bulls) have probably emerged as my top two, if General Manager Earnie Stewart intends to hire domestically.

Bobby Wood could certainly use a guy to generate scoring opportunities for him schematically to help snap out of what feels like a two-year slump (but is actually only one year and ticking).

Hot takes are dumb. It sucks when your team doesn’t make the World Cup. There’s a lot of blame to go around in the case of the USMNT in 2018. “The team lost its fight,” however, is a dumb hot take. However many former US Internationals (or current US Soccer staffers!) say that, it’s a level of analysis that you expect from a sports talk radio caller, not someone who’s actually interested in identifying or solving the problems.

Again, it sucks. How many countries made the previous seven World Cups in a row, though? (Hey, time for me to make a Sporcle quiz!). Evaluating actual weaknesses that you can take action upon (like don’t hire somebody to be coach and technical director if you’re not willing to implement his plan, don’t then fire him only to hire a worse coach, etc.), rather than “DURRR GRITTY GRIT” is preferred, thanks.

Etc.: All sports is political. Part 2. … US Soccer feature on Timothy Weah. … A country that’s the subject of “hey, not quite as racist as you think, but still really racist” columns is currently hosting the World Cup, by the way. Not that the US is a whole lot better these days. … Entracht Frankfurt opening an academy in the States. … Livin’ the blog dream.

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Pitch Points like, totally owns Liga MX

As always, don’t forget to follow on Twitter, and you can always drop me links of interest there or in the comments here.

Campeones Cup

Liga MX probably rethinking this one. The top leagues in the United States (and Canada) and Mexico are strengthening their relationship with a champions cup to be played in September. I’m always down for intracontinental club competition, particularly against the only nation whose clubs are consistently better than ours.

The all-star game idea is still fun, but a little less so (it’s a pure exhibition all the way, so whatever). I’d rather see what the NBA did (still does?) with young players v. old or something of that nature (or homegrowns versus other young players, or…) that is exhibition-oriented, but also development-oriented.

Probably bad timing given the level of success MLS sides are having in CCL, though. (I’m being facetious there, of course – I would be pleasantly surprised if one or both of Toronto and New York advanced to the Final over América and Chivas, respectively).

Hurriedly rolls eyes at Save the Fairgrounds guy (and other local activities!). If you’re interested in community events surrounding the future MLS stadium (certainly the disingenuous Save the Fairgrounds and #MMLSSTMC people – who are the same people, and have a agenda well outside the one they’re public portraying – will be there), you can participate this Tuesday.

Early April brings Open Training Week from United Soccer Coaches. Belmont will host a men’s session, MTSU a women’s session (also a couple others outside the Middle Tennessee area). In my “get involved” movement, this is a great opportunity for any coaches to continue learning more about the game.

This town may be Big Enough – for all of us. Dissecting the arrival of two teams in one Southern city. This is presumably something thats going to remain relevant to our interests, and to various cities in our region, as well.

Greenville, we do not have to choose. We should not have to choose. I get it. I truly do. Some of us have built genuine relationships with people associated with one team or the other. There are people involved that I truly consider friends. But this is not about one or the other. We are so lucky.

I don’t try to harp on this too much, but how about another indication that our country isn’t remotely ready for Pro-Rel? If a city can’t support two soccer teams in separate leagues (frankly, I’m surprised ad pleased that a place like Greenville has enough to support one), how are supposed to follow a model that essentially requires multiple teams from – at the very least – the same region to co-exist at separate levels, and even reach the same one?

USMNT downshift. It’s been all-NSC lately with the season approaching (and now here), but how about a little US Soccer talk? Here’s Tab Ramos’s 20-man group for the U-20 side’s trip to Spain.

GOALKEEPERS (3): CJ Dos Santos (S.L. Benfica; Philadelphia, Pa.), Phillip Ejimadu (Nacional Atlético Clube; Minneapolis, Minn.), Brady Scott (FC Köln; Petaluma, Calif.)

DEFENDERS (8): Sergino Dest (AFC Ajax; Almere-Stad, Netherlands), Mark McKenzie (Philadelphia Union; Bear, Del.), Jake Morris (Seattle Sounders FC; Fort Lauderdale, Fla.), Manny Perez (N.C. State University; Garner, N.C.), Matthew Real (Philadelphia Union; Drexel Hill, Pa.), Sam Rogers (Seattle Sounds FC; Seattle, Wash.), Aedan Stanley (St. Louis FC; Columbia, Ill.), Angel Uribe (Club Tijuana; San Diego, Calif.)

MIDFIELDERS (8): Frankie Amaya (Pateadores; Santa Ana, Calif.), Andrew Carleton (Atlanta United FC; Powder Springs, Ga.), Chris Goslin (Atlanta United FC; Atlanta, Ga.), Andres Jimenez (Envigado FC; Miami, Fla.), Richie Ledezma (Real Salt Lake; Casa Grande, Ariz.), Alex Mendez (LA Galaxy; Los Angeles, Calif.), Paxton Pomykal (FC Dallas; Highland Village, Texas), Juan Pablo Torres (K.S.C. Lokeren Oost-Vlaanderen; Lilbirn, Ga.)

FORWARDS (6): Shaft Brewer (Unattached; Sacramento, Calif.), Zyen Jones (FC Schalke 04; Clarkston, Ga.), Ulysses Llanez Jr. (LA Galaxy; Lynwood, Calif.), Nebiyou Perry (FC Köln; New York, N.Y.), Justin Rennicks (Indiana University; Hamilton, Mass.), Josh Sargent (SV Werder Bremen; O’Fallon, Mo.)

There are big names there (Sargent, Carleton, et al), but also some names that I didn’t previously know a whole lot about. Will be interesting to see the games against France (two of ’em) and Atletico Madrid.

The senior national team for upcoming friendlies will be announced today, and while it should be a young squad, obviously some of the U-20 choices limit those guys’ opportunities to be integrated into the side.

 

Some USSF stuff. Since his election, I’ve gone back and listened to/read/consumed everything I could that Carlos Cordeiro said about his platform for becoming head of USSF, and I’m much less down on him than I was previously. His podcast with Grant Wahl would be a good place to start – mentions the importance of increasing the coaching base (yes!), some governance red tape introduction/removal, and more. I don’t necessarily think many will like him, but the level of dismay that he won the election should decrease.

I also know this plan was in the works before his election, but it was such a transparently stupid scope of the position at the time, and – surprise! – the narrow scope has turned away basically every candidate so far. The USMNT/WNT general managers should be in charge of the MNT/WNT programs, not just teams. A third grader could have told you this. How did US Soccer not realize it?

While we’re on a tangentially-related topic and don’t have any other section to slide this in: Regular readers know my love for the US Open Cup. It’s getting closer, and the stakes are getting higher:

For the first time since 2013, USSF has upped the prize money. The champion will now get $300,000, the runner-up will get $100,000, and the team that advances the furthest from each division will get $25,000 (up from $250k, $60k, and $15k, respectively).

Anything that can be done to make this tournament more important in our soccer culture is cool with me (he said, begrudgingly thanking FC Cincinnati for giving some buzz to last year’s tournament). Both Nashville-based sides in prominent leagues will participate.

Always talkin’ development. For two reasons (it will apply to NSC in due time, and because it impacts the USMNT), this is a pet topic of the blog. I’m glad to see NYRB getting the credit they deserve for an outstanding academy program and integration of their USL side.

I think in the long-term, there’s going to have to be some sort of split between MLS B-teams in USL and other USL teams writ large (i.e. keep the B-teams out of the playoffs, continue preventing them from participating in USOC, have them concentrate on playing each other rather than a wide-ranging USL slate) simply because the purpose is different: they’re supposed to be developing players while non-O&O USL sides are supposed to be winning soccer games.

How have we not figured out that the answer to “should a young guy leave for Europe or leave for MLS?” depends on the situation? That goes not just to media talking about it, but the federation itself, which should have an advisory committee helping young players make the decision.

I’m not against the DA’s rule (that they’re denying in this story even though it’s official policy? Lying never backfires) that kids can’t play for both a development academy side and their high school – but for it to be a just rule, there has to be legitimate opportunity to get scouted by the federation outside of the DA mechanism, and with it slowly choking the life out of the ODP and USSF ignoring other showcase events, the DA has become basically required unless you’re so good that you can develop into a world-class player without it.

This is the area of youth development where Cordeiro needs to focus the federation toward sensible policies. “Pay to play” can’t be ended by policy (USSF can’t tell private programs or clubs what to charge outside the DA system that they have jurisdiction over), but without multiple paths to the next level(s), it’s going to reign supreme. Encouraging and scouting the multiple paths reduces the importance of the pay-to-play model.

Etc.: Think the situation is bad and the rhetoric is toxic in the United States? We got nothing on Australia. … Always down for a little tactical talk. … Phoenix Rising’s new stadium plans sound awesome. Two points: NSC will be designing a stadium soon, and also how does a city of Phoenix’s size/demographics not have an MLS team yet? …

Pitch Points really doesn’t like Bruce Arena

“Pitch Points” is a phrase which here means “Geoff Cameron.”

20180210 US Soccer President Carlos Cordeiro (2)
Yes, it bothers the hell out of me that this isn’t centered, why do you ask? US Soccer Federation.

USMNTalk. New US Soccer president Carlos Cordeiro penned an open letter to the soccer community in our country:

With the election behind us, I want to help unite us as one soccer family.  The individual passions that fueled each candidacy can help us fulfill the vast potential for our beloved game in the United States. I believe that, playing as a team, we can be unstoppable.

In my remarks on Saturday, I made a pledge to all of you.  I will be your partner. I will listen.  I will be inclusive.  I will work with you to deliver the change we need, together, as one united soccer community.

Certainly, those are some of the things important to ask. There’s obviously a need to re-establish some unity in the United States, and that ranges from the lowest levels all the way up to the men’s national team.

What’s that you say? The USMNT doesn’t have a unity problem? (Side note: yes, I’m aware nobody said or thinks this). Geoff Cameron, for the second time in about a month, did some rantin’:

[M]aybe I’m not the guy you’d expect to be saying this, but it needs to be shouted from the mountaintops: The powers that be in U.S. Soccer have created a poisonous divide between the MLS players and the so-called “European” players, and until that culture is torn down, the USMNT will continue to slide backwards.

I wouldn’t say there’s been much mystery around that – and based on Cordeiro’s coming from within the US Soccer organization, I would assume that Cameron’s not a huge fan of how the election turned out.

I will say, however, that I’ve seen some “well, Cordeiro really was a reform candidate” takes in the past several days and dismissed them. Catching up on some old podcasts today though (I was focused on things like Speedway Soccer to make sure I didn’t fall behind on my Nashville SC media consumption as the season approached), I realized that there was more talk of that before the election than I’d realized. Certainly some of that was campaign strategy from the Cordeiro camp, but it certainly sounds like he didn’t see eye-to-eye with the man he’s replacing (his good friend Sunil Gulati) on a lot of things, including Soccer United Marketing’s relationship with USSF.

It’ll be interesting to follow and see how much is show and how much is legit policy planning. (For the record, everyone complaining about grassroots should know that even the established soccer countries have grassroots issues (not that England is the national team you want to try to match)).

MLS wyd bro? The MLS schedule only has the briefest of hiatuses during the World Cup: all of nine days (June 14-22). This, obviously, is stupid. I hadn’t previously realized that even the more extended breaks in the past still didn’t encompass the entire group stage, but what is the purpose behind that?

Give players a bit of an extended break, let American soccer fans watch the group stages (when they won’t be watching MLS games, whether or not MLS games are on television), have something like an East v. West All-Star game with only players under 24 (maybe only American/Canadian-eligible players under 24 – appeal to the USMNT fans who are dismayed about not making the World Cup and who are looking forward to the future) halfway through the break, and get back in action during the big gap between the end of group play (June 28) and the beginning of the knockout rounds (July 6).

Given that there’s at least one World Cup game every day for two weeks, play a fairly heavy schedule July 1, 3, 4, and 5 (a Sunday after two days with no World Cup, and then the three-day stretch spanning a major holiday), and you make up for some of the lost time that would otherwise see the season extend.

Added benefit? Those internationals who will make their nations’ World Cup squads miss less time – especially if they crash out after the group stage, though they’ll almost certainly take a few additional days to recover anyway – so the amount of diluted product you’re giving to fans is reduced.

Since I have this MLS section, here’s an MLS-related tweet I very much agree with:

Giving the casual fan the ability to watch games (or even stumble upon them) more than a couple times a week is an extremely important step for the league. That wasn’t a possibility with the proprietary platform – which also happened to be a lot more expensive for a lot less content. I’m extremely interested to see what other soccer leagues end up on ESPN Plus.

Gary in Nashville. Nashville SC coach Gary Smith and USA Today Network Tennessee‘s Joe Rexrode tour the city. It’s not particularly good #content, but you get to know coach a little more. The resulting column is a lot more enlightening.

Etc.: When hosting World Cups is primarily about being the best at bribing, well, you end up playing in places that are human rights nightmares. Good on you, FIFA. Nailed it. … I’ve talked MLS academies before and I’ll do it again, but for now, just read up on Atlanta United’s vision. … “Four guys who could be the next Jonathan Gonzalez” seems like a pretty depressing sales pitch for a story. … Never accuse DeAndre Yedlin of setting the bar too low. … Who’s trying to donate to a GoFundMe to send your humble writer to Ireland? Or, uh, North Carolina? … Same.

Carlos Cordeiro is the president of US Soccer

There was an event of some note in Nashville this weekend, so I haven’t yet had time to discuss this, so here we go. First reaction: at least it wasn’t one of the two candidates who are utterly horrible.

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“Is friend of Chuck Blazer:” not a good start. Courtesy Chuck Blazer.

Kathy Carter was not an option in my mind first and foremost because she was going to do nothing to unentangle the MLS/SUM/USSF web. In fact, she would have been extremely likely (as the outgoing CEO of Soccer United Marketing) to not only emphasize that relationship, but probably also make it a little more opaque to the outside observer. She also lost any and all feminist cred she may have had – and this was a fairly important issue to me in this particular election – by not condemning The Reprehensible Sal Rapaglia for calling her “the girl” or “Gulati’s girl” exclusively in an extensive interview. “Welcome to my life” is not a remotely adequate response to that, and she should be embarrassed not only as a US Soccer presidential candidate, but on a personal level for that to have been the entire strength of her response.

Eric Wynalda was an absolute non-starter for me for a lot of reasons, but first and foremost the one he championed. That is coming from the opposite pole as Kathy Carter. His ideas to revolutionize US Soccer were bad, from forcing MLS to change seasons or agree to a pro-rel structure. His campaign strategy (at least until we got pretty close to the end) was also repulsive and indicative of a major cancer in our society. Instead of having an actual platform early on, his entire pitch was “I have personal animosity toward Sunil Gulati, Go Go Eric Wynalda 2018” and that type of discourse needs to leave our country ASAP – wherever it exists right now. He was also the most clearly in it for his own personal brand advancement over the good of the federation (“I won’t help our soccer nation if I’m not elected president” and “I won’t reveal my platform until everybody else reveals theirs first so they don’t steal my terrible ideas”), which is not the sort of person who should be picked for any voted-upon office, full stop (and for the second justification in a row, I swear I’m referring only to Eric Wynalda, not any obvious analogues you want to draw). Declaring personal bankruptcy multiple times – and being very open about it with the New York Times – is a bit of a humanizing deal for Wynalda, but again indicates a lack of expertise in something (general finance) very important to the federation and its president (I swear I’m not doing this on purpose, by the way).

Hope Solo is also in the “do not want” category for two reasons: alcohol/violence issues, and a similar “I have personal animosity to Sunil Gulati” campaign strategy. It’s unfortunate, because a better strategy for her might have really helped – she has some important ideas for women’s and youth soccer (I would have been more willing to overlook personal

So, who did I want? I’ve been pretty open throughout that Kyle Martino was my choice, though he lost me a bit when he tried to grab onto the populist support of Wynalda’s campaign (among the very vocal, very stupid minority) by insisting on promotion/relegation as a key part of his platform, when he had previously been very committed to the “we’ll evaluate when I’m elected after I can hear all sides” stance. Frankly, I think that shift could have cost him the election. He was very strong on youth and grassroots, had an absolute commitment to spending some of the US Soccer surplus but doing it wisely, and wanted to stress transparency from the federation going forward. Dear Kyle, bad things happen when you let yourself get too close to Eric Wynalda.

So how about the dude who actually won?

Now-outgoing USSF vice president Carlos Cordeiro was the far less dangerous-seeming of the two entrenched establishment candidates, and based on the voting, it’s clear one of them was always going to win, so at the very least we got the best case scenario out of those two options.

There have also been rumblings (and I’ll certainly admit they seem a little revisionist to soften the blow of an establishment candidate winning) that he and Sunil Gulati didn’t see eye-to-eye in a lot of ways. That’s not necessarily a positive in the specific – as Gulati also did good things for the federation, the actual issues would be important – but in the general sense of “he’s not simply going to be a puppet of the previous president,” it’s important. Given that some of the issues he apparently didn’t care for were a president overreaching with power and a lack of transparency in his boss’s administration, the specifics are indeed a little more refreshing.

By all accounts, he sounds like he’ll be a little more hands-off, without making unilateral manager or technical director hires for the men’s and women’s national teams, etc. Letting soccer people do soccer jobs (and I know there’s been a debate over what constitutes a “soccer person,” especially for somebody who’s been involved with the federation, but he doesn’t present himself as an industry expert so he shouldn’t be considered one) is a nice step forward.

There are still red flags. “Goldman Sachs executive” doesn’t exactly conjure an image of the highest level of integrity – whether that’s fair to present and former Goldman Sachs employees or not, there are certainly reasons behind it. He’ll have to work quickly to prove that the stink of that position doesn’t follow him to his new (unpaid) gig. That should be something he can do fairly easily if he is who the electors believed him to be. The stink of “close personal friend of notoriously corrupt Chuck Blazer” is disheartening in a similar way. We’ll see if that reputation can be shed.

He was also famously media-shy during the election process, which (believe it or not) is almost as big an issue for me as anything else. He wouldn’t do interviews if he didn’t have the questions in advance – even in a low-leverage situation like the US Soccer Coaches’ Convention in Philadelphia – and somehow managed to be elected to a job that 1) has long been a very glorified spokesman, and 2) he intends to strip away some of the specific non-spokesman duties from. That is bad. He opened up a little bit late in the process, but there’s a long way to go to change his reputation there, and it’s a far more important part of the gig than he evidently realized (and that he didn’t realize it is a part of that red flag).

What’s the hope?

First and foremost, Cordeiro is going to be judged primarily on the basis of general manager hires for the men’s and women’s national teams, and the resulting manager hire for the USMNT. Even though the job is much more than that, it’s what the layperson will see and judge. And it is indeed important.

There are other things that should have near-equal importance for the federation. Quick, who’s the head coach of the USA Basketball team? Or even Hockey? With health through the core functionalities of a federation, the other aspects get put into a bit of perspective. I know it’s not a great comparison because of (relative, at least) American dominance in those sports and the visibility of global soccer, but the business of USA Hockey is getting kids playing, improving safety at youth levels, etc. At a certain point, that’s what sporting federations are for, more than simply being a conduit for people to view national teams.

So: how will Cordeiro deal with pay-to-play, academies, other development issues, incorporation of NCAA into our culture, multiple lawsuits brought by Eric Wynalda’s moneyman (and Hope Solo herself in separate suits) against the federation, building grassroots, dealing with issues between leagues at different levels in the pyramid? And doing all this while wisely spending federation reserves? We shall find out what his plans are, because more than any other candidate, the potential disconnect between what he said on the campaign trail and what he actually intends to do can be huge.

Pitch Points is so… close…

Rounding up the latest in Nashville SC, USMNT, and the world of soccer in Middle Tennessee and beyond…

Nashville SC season approacheth

Don’t forget to check out yesterday’s post for quick access to everything I put up after Thursday’s media practice.

The homies over at Golden Goal discuss how Atlanta United’s fast start in MLS should be the blueprint for NSC to follow. “Sell out a 70,000-seat stadium” is not something you can just snap your fingers and do, but certainly some of the mechanisms through which ATL UTD achieved that are replicable.

The USL website rehashes a bit from NSC’s official media output (y’all looking for an actual reporter on the ground? Kik me) for their pre-season runs through the league.

FC Cincinnati New York Red Bulls US Open Cup
Cincinnati’s Open Cup run was a good story in 2017. Let’s do it more. Courtesy FC Cincinnati/Brett Hansbauer

US Open Cup

This is a tournament that I – like many in the soccer world – would like to see become more meaningful in our country. I don’t have any power, but one of eight fellow Americans will at least have some sway in the near future.

TheCup.us polled the USSF Presidential candidates about their goals for the US Open Cup, and what the national federation can do to help achieve them. Allow me to cherry-pick some of the better ideas:

Paul Caligiuri: “I think visibility is a key aspect of it and when we start looking at visibility and maybe we could look at broadcasting at earlier stages.”

Carlos Cordeiro: “If elected—and as streaming costs go down over time and as technology improves—I’ll push for even more matches to be streamed live. We should also work with U.S. Soccer’s broadcast partners to increase the number of matches that are televised.”

This is something I’ve harped on a bit: if you broadcast it, they will come. Especially once MLS teams get involved, every game should be available on television, and at least a mainstream streaming service (i.e. ESPN3) once the professional leagues enter it. USSF has to flex a bit of its muscle with broadcast partners (through the bogeyman of SUM, if necessary) to get exposure for the tournament. It’s an A-1 way the federation can drum up interest in the sport writ large, and potential fans’ local clubs that they might not even know exist until they catch a game on TV.

Kathy Carter: “Modifying the ownership structure of the tournament so it is shared between USASA, US Soccer and the Professional Leagues.”

That’s a horrible idea. Not because of what the Pro-Relots on Twitter say (“omg you are trying to give MLS all teh powerz”), but rather because that’s not the spirit of the Cup. Look at the word “Open” right there in the title and try to figure out what this means.

Carlos Cordeiro: “Finally, we should increase prize money at all levels. As we refine the competition, we should look for more commercial opportunities, which would, in turn, allow us to offer larger prizes.”

I think this is also important. Make the tournament more meaningful for both the little guys and the big clubs by making it worthwhile to win. “$150 million surplus” seems a little at odds with “we need to find ways to fund bigger prizes,” though.

Kyle Martino: “So we need to fund, open up and encourage investment into local communities that have teams that want to grow and want to invest and then we need to market, invest and cover this great tournament.”

His focus on grassroots is the key here, and as I alluded to above, that’s an important part of building the soccer cultre (a bit of a chicken-and-egg argument there). A little disappointed that so much of his response was about how he likes the US Open Cup and it doesn’t get the attention it deserves – though to be fair, that was the entirety of Steve Gans’s response. Like re-stating the question for two paragraphs is not the same as answering it.

Hope Solo: “I want to focus on growing the prize money for the various divisions. This prize money will be equal for the men’s and the women’s tournament creating an opportunity for women’s soccer players to have another avenue to make a living wage. These winnings will serve as motivation to drive interest back to the sport.”

I’m guilty of not even thinking about the women’s tournament (called the USASA National Women’s Cup, though professional teams are now eligible for it I think? Definitely an area in which there can be major growth in our country). As much as Solo’s personal life is potentially disqualifying as a presidential candidate, she is walking the walk when it comes to gender equality as a key to her platform.

Michael Winograd: “And I think one of the other things that would help the amateurs getting exciting about it is making a commitment to scouting, making a commitment to saying ‘hey, listen … if you’re participating in this, you’re going to feel like you’re participating in the … Lamar Hunt US Open Cup.’ For those who are amateurs who are still trying to play competitively, maybe [they want to] get out of the amateur ranks, there are scouts there.”

That’s actually a really good point – though the improvement of the scouting department (of USSF, of MLS most teams, of DA/ODP, etc. – all of it) – is in need of an overhaul before it can commit resources to yet another event.

Eric Wynalda: “I think one of the biggest problems that we’ve seen is that MLS is protecting their product by disallowing any money to come in through the federation to incentivize or give more visability to or create maybe a window of hope for some of the smaller teams that deserve the attention they are certainly not getting.”

I feel like I rip on Wynalda too much (especially for a guy as popular as he apparently is in the election), but this is a classic example of his campaign: say nothing substantive, complain about MLS, rinse and repeat. It’s even better if you click through, so you can see that another box on the Eric Wynalda bingo card (“namedrop for no reason”) gets checked off, as well.

That was like a 10-20% snippet of each person’s response, so I encourage you to click through and read the full context of what each person said.

USMNT-Bosnia

With the fast approach of the Nashville SC season, I haven’t had as much time to break down the lone January friendly for the US Men’s National Team (and share those thoughts here), so now that it’s almost a week in the rearview mirror, I’ll just share some of the reactions I’ve had open in browser tabs since the game:

As he showed last November against Portugal, Adams can offer something getting forward, but he is at his most effective working as a box-to-box midfielder, setting up deeper in midfield where he can see threats developing, as well as opportunities to race forward and join the attack. In the first half against Bosnia, Adams found himself in the final third a few times, but never with teammates around him to combine. In the second half, playing deeper in midfield, Adams was able to cause more problems as a defensive presence while also seeing more of the ball.

I was very impressed with Tyler Adams as well. A box-to-box midfielder who can develop into more of a pure 6 is probably what the US needs right now. The take on Gyasi Zardes is the opposite (which has sort of been the long-term trend with dude’s MNT career), and while I’ve been a big defender of Zardes over the years, it probably is time to let him stay out of the national team picture for a little while, focus on his club career, and if he continues to develop, give him another shot. As it stands, he’s going to be on the older side when the next World Cup cycle rolls around, and the technical ability just isn’t there if the physical gifts start to fade.

MLS has goalkeepin’ talk:

Hamid’s ability to remain calm in tense situations has grown in the past year or so, and he’ll continue working on that with Midtjylland.

“That’s something I’ve preached to him, and I know he’s talked to his goalkeeper coach in Denmark about that, too,” Reis said. “Trying to be calm in those situations. I think he’s got the enough athletic ability and power, it’s just those times where he can be calm and needs to be calm.”

Dude was singularly responsible for one of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s lone scoring chances with a terrible pass out of the back, let’s calm it down on the “calm in tense situations” narrative. He’s a good ball-stopper, but wasn’t really tested outside of his own mistake.

Stadium talk

With no plans (yet) for Nashville’s MLS stadium, I’m keeping a keen eye on other new stadia around the country. DC United’s plans are of interest. The specific plans I’m discussing here, however, are about what the city plans to do with their former site, RFK stadium.

DC United plans to move its base of operations (and a USL reserve team) to Loudon, Va., so they aren’t particularly involved in the project. It’ll be interesting to watch what happens here, though, if for no other reason than keeping a macro view of soccer in our country – and what impact a departing franchise can have on an area, even when they’re only moving three miles. It will not surprise you to know I’m pleased that the plan includes continued soccer use – and for the public.

Nashville SC obviously hasn’t even broken grounds at the Fairgrounds yet, much less outgrown them (and in fact, I’m hopeful that stadium design includes the opportunity for growth if the fanbase takes off). If that happens long down the road – I’m not expecting it, since that’s part of the idea of building soccer-specific stadia – hopefully there will be the opportunity to service the soccer community at the site.

Etc.: Maryland’s top amateur league partnering with the UPSL. Such partnerships could help strengthen the grassroots level, but outside of the pro/rel aspect (that seems to be a minor portion) of the partnership, it doesn’t seem all that ground-breaking to me. … USSF potentially hiring separate men’s and women’s general managers for the national teams. Probably helpful in the long run… while not having one for either side right now is less than ideal. … Some new USL rules. … Nashville moving forward with plans to make itself available for a potential 2026 World Cup. … Support soccer in the area, buy a dope scarf. … NY Cosmos owner Rocco Commisso sort of comes off like a dirtbag 99.9% of the time. This is that 0.1%. … Liga MX and MLS meeting up for a battle of champions? Couldn’t possibly turn out worse than the CONCACAF Champions League always seems to.

US Soccer officially announces presidential candidates

So, there may be some big local news today, but there’s big national news, as well:

2018 U.S. Soccer Presidential Candidates (listed alphabetically)

Paul Caligiuri, Kathy Carter, Carlos Cordeiro, Steve Gans, Kyle Martino, Hope Solo, Michael Winograd, Eric Wynalda

To be placed on the ballot, candidates were required to:

  • Complete a background check

  • Submit at least three (3) letters of nomination on official letterhead from Organization Members (as defined in Bylaw 302) and/or one of three Athlete Members of the Board of Directors

In the non-shocker of the century, the pool is “everybody who publicly announced a candidacy except for the one person who might be insane in a very literal sense.” Maybe it’s a little surprising that Hope Solo’s legal issues made it through the background check unscathed, I guess.

Now that the pool has been defined, a deep dive into the proposed policies, programs, etc. of each of them is in order. I think just about everyone outside of MLS/SUM/Sunil Gulati’s house probably dismisses Kathy Carter and Carlos Cordeiro off the bat (though that doesn’t mean they don’t have serious voting bloc support – nor necessarily that they deserve to get that low level of consideration).

I’ve made no secret that I’m in favor of Kyle Martino’s platform to date, but could see myself supporting any of the other candidates, too.