The Sweeper: The Sports Guy Does Soccer

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Big Story

He might not be the best mainstream American sportswriter, but he’s pretty much the bellwether of mid-America’s attitude to sports, as much as we can have one in these fragmented Twittering and blogging times: Bill Simmons, aka ESPN’s Sports Guy, went down to Mexico City for the U.S. match at the Azteca and came back “one of us”, as many American soccer enthusiasts have commented.

Simmons himself seems bemused by his sudden passion for the game. A few years ago, he attempted to get into the sport by picking a Premier League to follow (Spurs), but it took a visit to support his national team in Mexico’s cauldron to fully convert him, perhaps for good. “What the hell was happening to me? Why was I starting to get hooked by soccer — a sport I have never totally liked and even actively hated at times? Was this an extremely early midlife crisis? And if so, why soccer of all things? Couldn’t it have been a Porsche or an 18-year-old Starbucks barista?”

I would not be surprised to find Simmons spending next summer in South Africa, with ESPN already committed to unprecedented coverage of the World Cup. The question is how many of his millions of readers take the plunge with him, and the answer could have a significant effect on just how ‘mainstream’ soccer becomes in the United States.

Worldwide

  • No replay for Crystal Palace, after their ‘ghost’ goal not given at the weekend. The Football League ruled that the referee’s decision “must be final, even when there has been an error of judgment”. Surely this is correct, however egregious the call, as to decide otherwise would set a very difficult precedent. Both the referee Rob Shoebridge and assistant referee Chris Knowles have been suspended for two weeks.
  • Silvio Berlusconi calls for a salary cap. It seems a bit rich for the Milan owner to start complaining now about clubs spending too much money.
  • Arsene Wenger again raised the prospect of a European Super League, something we opined on last month. Wenger was hardly favourable to the idea, and it’s hard to find anyone actually arguing for it: but it’s concerning that everyone simply insists that as it’s just bound to happen, all we can do is tut our lips and watch it happen.
  • Adidas turns 60 today, and Fifa.com remembers their involvement with the World Cup, stretching back to the first screw-in studs for Germany’s 1954 winning team.
  • Dirty Tackle points out that Flamengo are claiming to be outselling Real Madrid with a shirt-sale every 13.5 seconds (compared to Madrid’s 16 seconds) — no indication of the relative shirt prices, but a reminder that if only the mega-support of Brazil’s clubs could be properly managed, we might not have such a Eurocentric world club game.
  • Speaking of which, When Saturday Comes reports a majority of Brazilian clubs favour a significant change in the schedule to move in-line with Western Europe’s: a move that would further undermine the traditional State-based championships.
  • Reuters reports that “Chilean first division club Palestino aim to appeal to their Arab heritage by floating on the stock exchange at home and in the Palestinian territories.”

North America

  • U.S. Soccer Players has an interesting piece on the role of the Technical Director at MLS clubs. They interviewed four men in these newfangled roles, Mike Bliss of Columbus Crew, Paul Bravo of the Colorado Rapids, Peter Vermes, now interim head coach at Kansas City Wizards, and Mike Burns, former Vice-President of Player Personnel at New England. Interesting insights in a long feature.
  • Ben Knight at Canadian blog Onward Soccer has started an excellent and much-needed series looking at the state of the much-criticised Canadian Soccer Association. The first part of the series looks at the coaching situation, the second at the need for reform of the bureaucracy and upcoming pieces will examine youth development and the national fan group.
  • Adam Spangler of This Is American Soccer also went to Mexico, and has a very impressive photo essay on the trip. Though I kind of want to see the photos he also says are “not fit to print.”  Isn’t going to the Azteca as an American soccer’s version of war journalism?
  • The St. Louis Dispatch looks back at the first WPS regular season. Though it has a particular focus on Athletica, it’s also notable for comments by the Commissioner who also does a Q&A with them. She stresses the league is stable, despite losses at many clubs being double original estimates: expect some belt-tightening this off-season. Meanwhile, The Equalizer reports that an expansion to ten teams by 2010 looks unlikely.
  • American youngster Luis Gil is headed to Arsenal. The 15 year-old has been capped at the U.S. U-17 level. Goal.com says “In what is becoming a bit of a trend lately, the big clubs in Europe are noticing the young talent that the United States has to offer and are eagerly signing them up.”  But is this true? Are many more American teenagers really moving to Europe than five years ago?
  • EPL Talk makes the point that watching soccer in the States has become a chore. While pointing out we should hardly be ungrateful for the amazing plethora of games available every week, the sheer number of channels the games are on is now remarkable: “Consider the fact that to watch the majority of games from the top European leagues and the Champions League qualifying rounds, you need a “tool belt” consisting of ESPN2, Fox Soccer Channel, Setanta Sports, FSN, Fox Sports en Espanol, Setanta Xtra, GolTV, DirecTV (for extra matches) as well as Setanta-i, UEFA.com, ESPN360 and FoxSoccer.tv.” Of course it’s nothing but churlish to complain, but my head sure hurts from figuring it all out.

The Sweeper appears daily. For more rambling and links throughout the day every day, follow your editor Tom Dunmore @pitchinvasion on Twitter.

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