Friday marks the start of the 20th season for Major League Soccer.
Or at least it should.
Currently, there is still no CBA, Collective Bargaining Agreement, between MLS and the players, which, if unresolved by Friday, could result in a player’s strike and games not being played.
But we’re going to go on the assumption that the games will be played as scheduled this weekend.
This season should be an exciting and intriguing year for MLS as soccer is at an all-time high in the U.S. after a tremendous showing in television ratings for the World Cup last year and heightened popularity of the English Premiere League.
Attendance last year for MLS was up across the league, if you take away the stats from now-defunct Chivas U.S.A. The average attendance for the league was just over 19,000, which is roughly near capacity for most of the teams’ stadiums (CenturyLink Field obviously notwithstanding).
There are a number of key storylines going into this year that should keep things intriguing from March to Decemeber. (We’re going to hold off on the CBA issue here.)
First, there are the two new teams coming into this season: New York City F.C., a joint venture between Manchester City and the New York Yankees, and Orlando City F.C. The intrigue here is both on and off the pitch. Both teams ought to do well with their solid rosters and the fact that they’re both in the weaker Eastern Conference. And then there’s the attendance watch for both teams in their first years. Orlando has already announced that their first match on Sunday, coincidently enough against New York City, at the Citrus Bowl is sold out. Whether that keeps up and whether New York City can put up good numbers at Yankee Stadium will be something to keep an eye on.
Then there’s the Western Conference that, much like it’s NBA counterpart, is absolutely stacked with competitors. Last year the conference produced about six or seven teams that would have made the postseason had they been in the Eastern Conference. That goes off both points and the fact they would have had an easier schedule. This year it only gets stronger with the addition of Houston and Sporting Kansas City, though MLS has added an extra playoff slot for each conference which helps. It’s still a long season, but I’d venture a guess that there are four to five teams in the conference with a legitimate shot to win the MLS Cup and another two that could be contenders.
Within that conference are two teams are the biggest contenders to win it all, each with its own big storyline.
First, the Los Angeles Galaxy are going to have to figure out a way to play without Landon Donovan, who retired after last year. The Galaxy are in a good spot, however, with Robbie Keane and Gyasi Zardes up front on the attack. Still, it’s worth watching to see how the defending champs without the league’s best player.
And then there’s the Seattle Sounders who, despite their regular season success, find their trophy cabinet MLS Cup-less. Last year the Sounders were one round away from making it to the MLS Cup final, but fell short to the Galaxy. Seattle returns the same basic squad, minus defender Deandre Yedlin, so expect them to be contenders this season.
These storylines, along with a host of others, will (hopefully) be answered this year in what will likely be the best season in the history of the league.
That season has to start without a strike, but hopefully those differences are settled before the season begins or without a work stoppage. But that’s another story for another day.
· Supporters’ Shield – Seattle
· Western Conference playoff teams – Seattle, Los Angeles, Sporting Kansas City, Real Salt Lake, FC Dallas, Houston
· Eastern Conference playoff teams – D.C. United, Orlando City, New York City F.C., New England, Columbus Crew, New York Red Bulls
· MLS Cup matchup – Seattle vs. Orlando City
· MLS Cup Winner – Seattle
1. Seattle – The Seattle Sounders were the best team in the regular season last year, taking home the Supporter’s Shield and winning the U.S. Open Cup. But the Sounders couldn’t quite catch that elusive MLS Cup title that has dogged them the past few years. This year they’re set up once again to be favorites to take the title with forwards midfielder, and Texan, Clint Dempsey and forward Obafemi Martins, as well as a talented supporting cast. With the experience and passionate fan base, Seattle has to be considered a top team in MLS, if only for the start of the season.
2. Los Angeles – The Galaxy will take a hit in their chance to repeat with U.S. legend Landon Donovan retiring, but there’s more to this team than Donovan. Forwards Robbie Keane and Gyasi Zardes made a significant impact up front for Los Angeles last year and will again team up to be a potent attacking duo. Add in Steven Gerrard at the summer transfer window and the Galaxy are in a great spot to repeat as champs once again.
3. Orlando City – Of the two expansion teams joining the league this season, Orlando City is the most likely to make some noise and potentially find itself in a position to make it to the MLS Cup. Of course, everyone knows about Brazilian forward Kaka, but City features more than that. Orlando should set in goal with Jamaican national team goalie Donovan Rickets. And if midfielder Brek Shea can find the same success he had a few years ago with FC Dallas, City might have a solid attack.
4. New York City F.C. – Of course, the biggest name team coming into this year is New York City F.C. under the combined ownership of Manchester City and the New York Yankees. While some uncertainty still looms over whether or not midfielder Frank Lampard will make the transfer from Manchester, City have a solid team in place anyway with forward David Villa, midfielder Mix Diskerud and defender George John. With a relatively weak Eastern Conference, NYC F.C. will certainly be contenders to make it to the MLS Cup.
5. Sporting Kansas City – Last year was a disappointment for Sporting K.C., dropping out of the postseason in the wild card round a year after making it to the MLS Cup. And things won’t get much easier for them this season either as Kansas City, along with Houston, make the jump to the stacked Western Conference. Still, SKC boasts of U.S. national team players midfielder Graham Zusi and defender Matt Besler, and forward Dom Dwyer became a force to be reckoned with last year. It won’t be easy in the Western Conference, but Sporting will not be an easier out for anybody this season.
The Bench – 6. Real Salt Lake, 7. New York Red Bulls, 8. D.C. United, 9. Houston, 10. FC Dallas
Games to Watch
· New York City F.C. at Orlando City, 4 p.m. Sunday, ESPN2
Great scheduling from the MLS scheduling crew resulted in the two expansion teams facing off against each other to start off the season. But while it seems like a gimmick, this should still be a great match. Both teams come is as contenders right off the bat to top the Eastern Conference. Both teams also feature big names such as Kaka and Villa. This game should be the best game of the weekend.
· New England at Seattle, 8:30 p.m. Sunday, Fox Sports 1
Of the teams we know about and are returning, this should be the best match of the weekend. New England was oh so close to coming away with the MLS Cup last year, falling in the final minutes to Los Angeles. The Revolution have a bright star in midfielder Lee Nguyen and also feature U.S. national team defender Jermaine Jones. Seattle, as mentioned earlier, have been close to getting to the MLS Cup, but have yet to fulfill that goal. With the great Seattle fans providing the backdrop, this should be a fun one.
Rest of the Schedule
· Chicago at Los Angeles – 9 p.m., Friday, MLS Live, UniMas
· Montreal at D.C. United – 2 p.m., Saturday, MLS Live
· Colorado at Philadelphia – 3 p.m., Saturday, MLS Live
· Toronto F.C. at Vancouver – 5 p.m., Satuday, MLS Live
· San Jose at FC Dallas – 7:30 p.m., Saturday, MLS Live
· Columbus at Houston – 7:30 p.m., Saturday, MLS Live
· Real Salt Lake at Portland – 9:30 p.m., Saturday, MLS Live
· New York Red Bulls at Sporting Kansas City – 6:00 p.m., Fox Sports 1
Major League Baseball’s GM meetings take place next week in Orlando, Florida. On Dec. 9, the annual Winter Meetings will kick off in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. These next few weeks are some of the craziest in the baseball year. There is expected to be a flurry of free agent signings almost immediately. The landscape of the league figures to look quite different by Opening Day 2014. Here are three former Texas Longhorn players who are currently free agents.
JP Howell—Relief Pitcher
2013 team: Los Angeles Dodgers
Previous contract: One year $2.85 million guaranteed, with $1.75 million in potential incentives
Howell is coming off an excellent 2013 season in Los Angeles. The 30-year-old southpaw posted a 2.03 earned run average in 62 innings. In those innings, he surrendered just 42 hits and featured a solid 2.35 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He’s a lefty specialist, and there isn’t a team in the majors that couldn’t use one. He doesn’t have plus velocity—he generally hits about 87 to 90 mph on his fastball—but this can really sneak up on hitters because he does have a dazzling off-speed repertoire. He is looking for a multi-year deal, and I think he gets it for around 4 to 6 million dollars per year. It’s likely the Dodgers, with their limitless cash, will re-sign Howell.
2013 team: Cleveland Indians
Previous contract: One year $2.825 million, with $50,000 in potential incentives
Stubbs can be a decent asset to a contending team off the bench, but he won’t get paid much this offseason. In 2013, he hit .233 with 10 home runs and 45 runs batted in. So he’s got some pop and also has an ability to spray the ball to all fields to drive in runs. The glaring problem is his atrocious strikeout rate. In 430 at bats, he fanned 141 times—that’s a whopping 32.7 percent. He does take walks at a respectable rate of 10.2 percent.
If he wants a chance to start in center field, Cleveland is about as good a team as he can be on. Otherwise, he’ll be in the dugout most of the time. His career .310 on base percentage is just far too low to merit consistent time with any contender.
Brandon Belt—First Baseman
2013 team: San Francisco Giants
Previous contract: One year, $531,500
Belt is far and away the best former Longhorn player in the majors right now. For just over $500,000, the Giants got a tremendous bargain for Belt’s production last season. Last season, he finished with a .289 batting average in 509 at bats. He hit 17 home runs and drove in 67 RBI. His OBP was a solid .360, so he takes his fair share of walks as well. He was also effective defensively at first base.
He is a left-handed power bat, and many teams envy a hitter who brings that to the table. Now, if the Giants want him to stick around, it’s time for them to pay up—Belt more than deserves it. But he’s been given one-year deals for the last three seasons and may want to get out of San Francisco for a bit to test his interest on the market. With his 2013 numbers, he’s earned a more secure and lucrative contract, maybe in the neighborhood of two to three years, 5 to 7 million dollars per year. The Giants likely have the room to re-sign him if they choose to.
Austin Aztexs manager Paul Dalgish (left) shakes the hand of owner David Markley (right) after they announced the team was coming to Austin. (Photo courtesy of Austin Aztex)
Soccer will return to Texas' Capitol this summer after a previous partial owner of the Austin Aztex founded a new Aztex soccer club for Austinites.
The original Austin team, circa 2008-2010, left to play in Orlando, leaving a gaping hole for soccer fans in the city. David Markley, who was the previous minority owner, is now the majority owner and is planning to make sure soccer in Austin is here to stay.
Like the previous Aztex team, the new squad will compete initially in the Premier Development League (PDL), meaning the club will be comprised primarily of players who are from the local area or play collegiate level soccer. The team will compete at an amateur level and players will not be paid in accordance to NCAA rules, which do not allow student-athletes to hold onto their scholarship and receive payment for playing their sport.
With the club starting off as an amateur squad, it is possible for UT students who are interested in playing soccer to make the team. Tryouts will be held in March under the watchful eye of manager Paul Dalglish.
If the name Dalglish rings a bell for soccer fans, it is probably because of his father Kenny Dalglish, who manages the famous club, Liverpool FC. Kenny Dalglish ended his legendary playing career with Liverpool in 1990. Fans may also recall Paul from his playing days with the Houston Dynamo, where he helped that club win consecutive MLS Cups in 2006 and 2007.
While fans of soccer in Austin might understandably be wary of a new team because of what happened with the first Aztex club, Markley has said this is ‘Austin's team’ and is focused on creating a team for talented local players.
“For starters, I am just a fan and I live in Austin, so my interest in bringing a team to Austin was partly so my friends and I could have a place to watch high quality soccer,” Markley said. “As I really got to know players locally, I realized there was a lot of talent here. Realizing the number of local players we have that are talented, I wanted to create an opportunity for those players to be able to play their way up to the professional ranks.”
The previous Austin club had a history of helping talented young soccer players find their way to the next level, including 21 of the players who played on the under-23 squad from 2008-2009 moving on to professional rosters, including the top level of soccer. Former Aztex players, Austin da Luz (DC United) and Matt Gold (Toronto FC) play for Major League Soccer clubs, and ex-Aztex player Euan Holden (Stockport County) competes abroad in Europe.
Obviously, the new Aztex team will want to emulate what the previous side was able to do as far as generating player talent. Paul Dalglish, the Aztex manager, who previously had a stint coaching professionally in Tampa Bay, plans on using his familiarity of playing soccer at the highest level in England, Scotland and America to help his players turn into professionals.
“My experience as a player does not necessarily make me a good coach, but it means you understand what it takes to get to the top,” Paul Dalglish said. “That is something that hopefully we will be trying to pass on to our players: that knowledge of what is required and hopefully some of the players in the future will get to where I got to, and hopefully higher.”
In Paul Dalglish, the Aztex have a manager who wants to create a Barcelona-esque possession style of attack that is enjoyable for anyone observing from the stands. Born in Glasgow, Scotland, he will be part of the melting pot of Austin and soccer the Aztex want to be considered as a staple of their organization.
That diversity is something Arch Bell, a local freelance soccer writer working for ESPN.com and host of a local bilingual soccer show called Futbol En Vivo on 91.7 FM, has suggested that the previous Aztex team failed to do.
“I think first and foremost what is imperative is that they reach out to the Hispanic community in town,” Bell said. “That is something the previous Aztex failed to do, and really engaging with Jorge Iturralde, who does the sports on Telemundo. He also has a show on Club Deportes on 92.5 FM, which is ESPN Deportes, and he has a very good following and a lot of listeners and a good base there.”
Bell continued on saying if the Aztex work with Iturralde they could have his followers show up to the games. He also suggests having more Hispanic players on the team than the previous Aztex team would also attract more fans. The previous Aztex only Hispanic player was the keeper.
The new Aztex club is already making an effort to reach out to the Hispanic community in Austin. Their website is in English and Spanish, and the possession style of play Paul Dalglish wants to engage in is Latin-based. The only thing left is identifying local Hispanic players to play for the club.
Markley is also looking to create diversity within the soccer organization as well by including multiple ethnicities in key, decision-making positions on the team's staff.
“One thing we are tying to do very intentionally is make it very accessible to a broad demographic,” Markley said. “We really do not want to have all players form one club or all one style of player. Austin is a melting pot and I want it to be reflected on the field. It is going to be reflected that way both in our coaching staff and in our players.”
The PDL team is heading in the right direction to echo a multiplicity of races. A local supporters group, Eberly's Army, is part of the variety of soccer fans and they are happy to have soccer back in Austin.
“It means a lot. It is something that after the previous Aztex left for Orlando, we did not think we would get a team to support back in Austin this quickly,” said Matthew Gray, ‘the Gaffer’ of Eberly's Army. “In fact, many of us felt like it would be many years before anybody was willing to invest not only the time but the money to put a team here so soon.”
Markley quickly changed that and he will make the dreams of Eberly's Army and other soccer fans come true a lot sooner than they thought when the Aztex play their first game home game in mid-May.
Printed on Wednesday, January 25, 2012 as: Aztex's return brings soccer back to Austin
Men's Golf Preview
Texas travels to Orlando this weekend looking to win its third consecutive event.
The Longhorns, who rose to No. 1 in the Golfstat Head-to-Head standings last week, will compete in the Isleworth Collegiate Invitational on Sunday, Oct. 23 through Tuesday, Oct. 25. Texas will be one of 15 teams taking part in the three-day event.
Texas’ biggest competition in the Isleworth Collegiate Invitational will likely come from Stanford, who is ranked third in the Golfstat standings. Stanford finished in first place at the Olympia Fields Invitational last month, with the Longhorns placing fifth.
Senior Dylan Frittelli has been perhaps the biggest reason for the Longhorns’ success this year, as the Big 12 Conference Golfer of the Month for September has finished as one of the Texas’ top two scorers in each event.
The Longhorns, who have won consecutive tournaments for the first time since 2006, have a chance to make it three victories in four tries in 2011 this week with another strong outing.
Casey Anthony, center, is overcome with emotion following her acquittal of murder charges at the Orange County Courthouse in Orlando, Fla., Tuesday, July 5, 2011. Anthony had been charged with killing her daughter, Caylee.
ORLANDO, Fla. — What could the future hold for Casey Anthony when she gets out of jail, perhaps as early as Thursday?
A day after she was acquitted of killing her 2-year-old daughter, Caylee, in a case that was a coast-to-coast TV sensation, many of those who followed the riveting drama
“Anthony will always be dogged by the belief that she killed her child,” said Lewis Katz, a law professor at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. “She will never lead
a normal life.”
In a country known for second acts, never is a strong word. But should she be released at her sentencing Thursday, after nearly three years behind bars, Anthony could be hard-pressed to piece together some semblance of a normal life.
She may have to get out of town. Threats have been made against her, and online she is being vilified. Nearly 15,000 people “liked” the “I hate Casey Anthony” page on Facebook, which included comments wishing her the same fate that befell little Caylee. Ti McCleod, who lives a few doors from Anthony’s parents, said: “Society is a danger to Casey; she’s not a danger to society.”
Her family has been fractured by her attorneys’ insistence that Anthony’s father and brother molested her and that her father participated in a cover-up of Caylee’s death. On Tuesday, Anthony’s parents rose from their seats without emotion upon hearing the verdict and left the courtroom ahead of everyone else. Their attorney, Mark Lippman, said they haven’t spoken with their daughter since the verdict, and he wouldn’t say whether they believed she was guilty.
Anthony is a high school dropout who, before her arrest at 22, had limited work experience. Her last job was in 2006 as a vendor at Universal Studios theme park. While she once professed an interest in photography, and even found some work in the field, it’s not known whether she has skills that could translate into a career.
In a 2010 jailhouse letter to a friend, Anthony said she would like to adopt a child from Ireland “accent and all.”
Judge Belvin Perry will sentence Anthony on four misdemeanor counts of lying to investigators while they were looking into their daughter’s disappearance. Each count carries up to a year behind bars. At worst, she will serve only a little additional time.
Prosecutors contended that Anthony suffocated Caylee with duct tape because she wanted to be free to party and be with her boyfriends. Defense attorneys argued that the little girl accidentally drowned in the family swimming pool and that Anthony panicked and hid the body because of the effects of being sexually abused by her father.
The prosecutor in the case, Jeff Ashton, told NBC’s “Today” show Wednesday that the verdict left him and other prosecutors in shock. “I think I mouthed the word ‘wow’ about five times,” said Ashton, who is retiring Friday. A spokesman said the retirement had been planned for some time.
Ashton said that he believes the jurors applied the law as they understood it. “Beyond a reasonable doubt is a high standard,” he said.
Anthony’s attorneys did not return calls for comment.
Geneva Shiles of Orlando said she had trouble sleeping Tuesday night after witnessing the verdict from a seat in the courtroom.
“I’m angry and anxious to see what Casey will do with her life now that she’s free,” Shile said. “My question is: If she didn’t do it, who did?”
The Austin Aztex announced that the team will move to Orlando, Fla. beginning next season. Team president Phil Rawlins confirmed today that an agreement with a UK led consortium was reached to relocate the team.
After three seasons in Austin, including a run in the playoffs this season, the relocation is expected to be the first step in moving the team from the USL Division into Major League Soccer.
“We have been actively seeking to broaden the investment base for the Aztex for the past 12 months. It has proven extremely difficult given the economic climate,” Aztex President Phil Rawlins said. “Our first and overriding preference was always to keep the Aztex in Austin. But after we exhausted all our options this has not proven possible.”
All coaches and players will make the move with the team.