Lots of Q's, a Few A's
Let's go with our Best XI:
1. How do you think Donovan and Beckham will interact? Will playing with someone like Beckham finally challenge Donovan to bring his game up a notch? The announcers during Denmark game, including Arena, certainly thought that Donovan needs to prove himself in big matches. Does having a big name/former EPL player help LD in this improvement or should he still try to play abroad?
SG: Beckham's presence will alleviate pressure from Donovan both on the field and in Landon's mind. He's been the focal point of every team he has played for the last five years. Throw in Beckham, who still has the skills to attract tight marking, and things could open up for Donovan. What he does with it remains to be seen. Donovan has been very open about his lack of intensity during portions of the schedule, essentially saying that MLS's almost all-inclusive playoff format undermines the importance of the regular season. With more attention on the league and his team this year, he's gotta play hard every night. As for Europe? Not going to happen. He's happy and grounded in MLS.
2. Do you have any sense of how the team [DCU] feels about being involved in this SuperLiga competition? More directly, do they consider it to be a distraction from the league? Any word on the location of the SuperLiga match between United and Houston?
SG: United is eager to prove itself on the international stage and has made SuperLiga and Champions' Cup a high priority. The way they see it, international competition is a vehicle for global recognition for both them and the league. (There's a lot of money at stake, too.) Is it more important than winning the league? No, it's just different. As for the United-Dynamo match on Aug. 1, Richmond was the early front-runner since RFK is not available because of a Nats game. But Soccer United Marketing, which is overseeing the tournament, has decided to play the game in Houston, instead of a neutral site, "to preserve the integrity of the event," a DCU official said. No arguments from me (other than the travel involved) -- these games should be played on a home field.
3. What is the status of getting a shirt sponsor for DCU? Any names of possibilities?
SG: Good question. I need to follow up on that topic with Kevin Payne. However, with John Hendricks coming abroad as an investor, "Discovery Channel" wouldn't look bad on the jerseys, eh? Or perhaps "Duke University"?
4. Any idea when the MLS schedule will be announced? I'm specifically interested in knowing when the Galaxy will come to DC, for some strange reason! Will United open up all of RFK if demand for tickets for that game exceeds the current amount available?
SG: As reported in the Post last week and confirmed by more sources this week, MLS has "tentatively" planned Beckham and the Galaxy to play at RFK on Thursday night, August 9. The full league schedule should be finalized and released in early February. I'd imagine United will open up all sections to accommodate 44,000 for Beckham, if necessary.
5. What are some of the strengths and weaknesses of Luciano Emilio's game? Is he a finisher (like Esky) or more of a creative type player (like Moreno)? Also, how much do you sense the new ownership is willing to spend on a Designated Player?
SG: Emilio is a pure goal scorer and will be the recipient of Moreno and Gomez's creative work. In scouting Emilio, the club was also impressed by his ability to set up others for scoring opportunities. How he fares in MLS remains to be seen. DCU has said publicly it does not plan to utilize the Designated Player exemption this year. You have to understand that, not only will it cost a team hundreds of thousands of dollars in salary to the player, it takes a major chunk of their salary cap. This year's cap is a shade under $2.2 million; a Designated Player would count an estimated $400,000 against it. So if you already have several high-priced players on your roster (DC has Gomez, Moreno and Olsen), it is difficult to add a Designated Player, such as Beckham, and stay under the cap.
6. I am a little worried about the huge (and I can't understate this) huge emphasis MLS is putting on building soccer specific stadiums. I understand the desire to build SSS but I am worried that MLS doesn't seem to care at all about where these stadiums are located. One of the main reasons to build SSS in the first place is to provide the fans with a great soccer experience. I think a huge part of that soccer experience is what people do before and after the game, and how they get there. Going to see Arsenal and Chelsea in London would be completely different if people had to drive 30 miles outside of the city and park in a huge suburban parking lot. I would much rather see MLS teams in non-soccer specific stadiums in urban areas with good mass transit (ie: RFK) than teams in soccer stadiums in far-out suburban towns (Galaxy, Dallas, new Fire stadium, potential RSL stadium, etc.) I was in Columbus a few weeks ago and struck by the terrible location of the Crew Stadium. And this was in direct contrast to the Columbus Blue Jackets hockey arena. Think of the difference between the Verizon Center and FedEx Field. If I were MLS I would be requiring new stadiums to get built in locations with access to great public transit and with stuff to do nearby (bars, restaurants, etc) instead of merely parking. Thoughts?
SG: Purchasing acres of property in a nice metropolitan setting is going to cost mucho $$$. MLS simply does not generate enough revenue to allow for such real estate purchases, nor does it have the political influence to persuade gov't support. You build where affordable land is available and, in most big cities, that is on the outskirts of town or in the suburbs. (DCU, though, has a great opportunity to buck that trend with the Poplar Point proposal.) Columbus got a nice deal to build at the fairgrounds. The Dallas, LA and Denver stadiums are part of vast multi-field projects that allow thousands of kids to play on quality surfaces. (No room downtown for such facilities.) In a perfect world, MLS stadiums would be like their English counterparts -- integrated into neighborhoods, with pubs a block away and the subway around the corner. That's just not going to happen in this country. The public's hunger for soccer stadiums as urban centerpieces does not exist.
7. Since the 2006 talent pool for MLS defender and goalie of the year came from undrafted free agents, are there any similar trialists identified who will be attending DCU's preseason camp?
SG: The preseason roster probably won't include any surprises: vets, a foreign addition, draft picks and a couple of longshot invitees. We should know specific names today.
8. With all the discussion over what's hindering MLS's progress, I feel one critical and often-overlooked issue is OFFICIATING. Performance of soccer refs will always be a subjective, controversial topic. And the turmoil around officiating at WC06 proves it's difficult to get it right even at the highest levels. But what's the real deal with MLS refs these days? Aren't there still way too many games in which the officiating is embarrassingly amateurish? Why don't players/coaches/journalists comment more? How experienced are our refs? What are they paid? Are they struggling to grasp the unique style of MLS play? And what can be done to improve their performance?
SG: The USSF is in charge of training referees/linesmen and assigning them to MLS games. Why don't players/coaches/journalist comment more??? Apparently, you haven't noticed all the fines that MLS has doled out over the years! As for the beat reporters, it's not our role to editorialize about officiating; we do, however, write about controversial decisions that affect the outcome of a game. Will officiating get better? I would certainly hope so.
9. I know you're not the Post film critic, but I'm curious about other ways to get through the offseason other than using this blog. So, what are must-see soccer movies? Have you seen Green Street Hooligans? Thoughts about Goal? Other movies?
SG: Green Street Hooligans is worth watching. Very violent and highly clichÃ©d, but you get a good sense of the hooligan culture and what draws fans to it (not for kids). I actually enjoyed Goal. Yes, quite predictable, but great cameos, riveting soccer action and breathtaking shots inside, outside and above St. James Park in Newcastle. Once in a Lifetime, the story of the Cosmos, is a must-see for every fan. Bend It Like Beckham is more about culture than soccer, but well done.
Others (if you can find them): The Game of Their Lives, the story of the 1966 North Korean World Cup team and its warm relationship with the people of Middlesbrough; The Cup, filmed in Bhutan; The Other Final, a documentary about the worst teams in the world, Bhutan and Montserrat, playing each other on the eve of the 02 World Cup final; Fever Pitch, the British version with Colin Firth, not the Jimmy Fallon/Red Sox abomination; and Goal Dreams, a documentary about the challenge of forming a Palestine national team. You can probably skip Kicking and Screaming. Did I miss anything noteworthy?
10. DCU is supposedly taking Champions' Cup seriously this time around, so to ensure peak performance they dealt away playmaker Freddy Adu to bring in the even more spectacular....zzzzzz?
SG: Huh? Freddy Adu, a playmaker? You must be thinking of Gomez and Moreno. Some pro athletes require a change of scenery to invigorate their careers. Freddy was one of them. As for DCU's new players, time will tell. If Emilio doesn't score goals and the alleged other newcomers don't produce, the DC front office will have a lot of explaining to do about their offseason decisions.
11. When is the Goff/Steinberg "Crossbar" Death Match?
SG: Any day now. Serious blog/bog smackdown.
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