Ghetto League

The Onion has taken on the professional pathos that is Major League Soccer, which is like (to use a metaphor from soccer) Thierry Henry taking a penalty kick with Stephen Hawking in goal or like (to use a metaphor from parodic news) The Onion taking on President Bush:

DALLAS—Carlos Ruiz, a veteran forward who has played the last three years with Major League Soccer’s FC Dallas, has announced that he will hold out on any contract offer that does not include some mention of monetary compensation… FC Dallas has asked the league to intervene, saying that actually paying Ruiz with money would put them over the $1.2 thousand MLS salary cap.

As Homer Simpson would put it (and as Eric did put it), it’s funny because it’s true. Carlos Ruiz has consistently been one of the league’s leading scorers, yet apparently he only earned a base salary of $30,000 this past season (with his total compensation including bonuses reaching $50,000). That’s not how we usually treat our professional athletes in this country.

In other MLS news, Dwayne De Rosario won Goal of the Year, and what a goal it was. Despite MLS’s ghetto status, this actually made national news yesterday, and deservedly so.

Somebody Beat Chelsea… Please

Though it has already been a season marked by surprising results in the English Premier League (with Everton, who two seasons ago barely avoided relegation and last season finished fourth, sitting at the bottom of the table; with two of the teams promoted this season in the top ten, West Ham United in fourth and Wigan Athletic in eighth; with Manchester United and Arsenal off to uncharacteristically bad starts and sitting, at fifth and seventh, respectively, between those two promoted teams; and with Charlton Athletic solidly in second), this season’s champion is increasingly unlikely to be a surprise. About a half dozen games into the thirty-eight game season, Chelsea looks to have run away with the Premiership. Though their current six-point lead may not look large (especially since Charlton Athletic has a game in hand), it’s probably pretty close to insurmountable, the more so because the closest team with the personnel to catch Chelsea over the course of a full season is Manchester United, and they’re ten points back.

Watching the Premiership with the champion already a foregone conclusion is that little bit less exciting. But this is made worse by the fact that, despite their captain’s protestations to the contrary, Chelsea plays terminally boring soccer. Nearly every game I’ve seen them play over the past year or so has offered the same plot: The challenger works very hard to keep Chelsea from scoring for the first hour or so without ever threatening to score themselves, and then Chelsea effortlessly scores a goal or two in the last half hour. The games are usually close, but they’re rarely interesting and never exciting. This may or may not be negative soccer, and they’re certainly an extraordinarily good team, but the continuing success of Chelsea’s approach doesn’t bode well for entertaining soccer in England.

FIFA Rankings

FIFA has released their world ranking for September, and I’m puzzled. These rankings look even stranger than the BCS college football rankings. The United States is consistently ranked in the top 10, yet I don’t think anyone actually sees them as a lock for the quarterfinal of next year’s World Cup, which is how I’d interpret being ranked 7th. Certainly no one would expect the United States to beat England (who are ranked 11th) just now. And as you look closer, the results get stranger.

According to FIFA’s article, the ranking “is heavily shaped by the 89 FIFA World Cup qualifiers and nearly 40 friendly matches played last month.” Interesting then that Mexico, who was beaten soundly by the United States in one of those matches, maintained its 5th ranking, while the United States slid from 6th to 7th. And in beating Mexico, the United States qualified first from the CONCACAF region for the World Cup, ahead of Mexico, who, by the way, haven’t beaten the United States outside of Mexico City in close to a decade. Why then is Mexico consistently ranked ahead of the United States?

Alexi Lalas’s Challenge

Gothamist has an interview today with Alexi Lalas, the President and General Manager of the New York MetroStars (to whom Eric and I hold season tickets). He certainly seems to understand the challenge he faces:

It’s hard enough to get people to come out and watch soccer, we don’t want the additional burden of having a mediocre team.

My question is, in a league with nearly absolute parity as both an intention and a result, how does he expect the MetroStars to stand out? And how will that affect soccer in other markets at whose teams’ expense the MetroStars will be constantly winning?

Gooch

Prior to this year, I hadn’t heard the name Oguchi Onyewu, and prior to last month, I couldn’t pronounce (or even remember) it–I had to look it up somewhere every time I wanted to refer to him. This may be the first time you’re seeing the name yourself, but if you follow soccer (especially in the United States or Europe), it’s unlikely to be the last. Onyewu currently plays his club soccer for Royal Standard de Liege in Belgium, and he plays for the United States Men’s National Team. He’s a central defender, which is a position in which players rarely attract significant notice, but at 6 feet 4 inches tall and a solid 210 pounds on a generally small United States team, he’s noticeable, though not just for his size. He’s also fast, smart, and strong.

In the semi-finals and finals of this summer’s Gold Cup, Onyewu was instrumental in holding the United States’ opponents to one goal over two games, and he scored the winning goal in the semi-final game against Honduras. In this weekend’s World Cup qualifying match (in which the United States captured one of the first berths for next year’s World Cup in Germany), he helped to hold Mexico scoreless and headed an incoming free kick off the post that Ralston then headed in for the United States’ first goal.

I haven’t seen a player be so consistently dominant as Onyewu’s been over the last four United States Men’s National Team games (three of which I’ve been lucky enough to see in person). He can play tight man defense as far forward as the midfield stripe without letting his man or the ball behind him, and he can go forward when appropriate (though given his strength at the back, it’s rarely appropriate). He reminds me of Manchester United’s and England’s Rio Ferdinand, and not just because of the cornrows. Onyewu isn’t nearly as accomplished as Ferdinand, but with his size and skill, just give him a few injury-free years and the comparison won’t seem far off.