Monday, February 23, 2009

A Look At the Limey Opposition

The Crew have four more away pre-season exhibition matches starting this Sunday, March 1, when they take on the reserve squad of new Coach Robert Warzycha’s old club, Everton Blues at Halton Stadium in suburban Liverpool, England.

El Luchador takes a look at these final games in the home stretch of the preseason campaign. Today, we look at the English leg. Later, we will look at Austin Aztex FC.

Everton March 1. Everton’s senior squad currently sits 6th in the highly competitive English Premier League, just 10 points below the coveted 4th spot and the UEFA Champions League. One of the most storied clubs in English football, Everton have played more seasons in the top flight than any other English club. Of course, the Crew’s skipper, Warzycha figures prominently in that history, and his return to Merseyside will be an interesting opportunity for the Polish Rifle to showcase his new charges at his old stomping ground.

After a good start to the season, the Everton reserves squad has had a poor run of form lately in the FA Premier Reserve League, having not won a game since Nov. 18, when they beat the Newcastle Reserves 1-0 at Newcastle. They are 4-5-5 overall and sit in 5th place. They have scored just 14 goals in 14 games, conceding 17. Look for the Crew to win this one, but it will be hard fought, as the boys will still be fighting jet lag.

Guiseley AFC March 3. (EDITOR'S NOTE: THIS GAME WAS RAINED OUT.) Guiseley is a small town outside Leeds in the county of West Yorkshire, England. At 2:45 p.m. ET, March 3, the Crew take on Guiseley AFC at their home ground of Nethermoor Park, a tiny grandstand with a capacity of just 3,000. Guiseley are currently in 7th place in the Unibond Premier League, a semi-pro division of English football. They have earned 45 points in 28 games with 12 wins, 9 draws and 7 losses. They lead the league in offense with 61 goals, but also have given up 46 goals placing them in the bottom half of the league in defense. Look for this to be a high-scoring affair with the Crew eking out the win.

Unibond is part of the system of teams that play one level below the Football Conference, itself the fifth level of English football. In other words, Guiseley are six divisions below the English Premier League. In Case you were wondering, yes the league is named after tile grout.

Since 1990, Guiseley have reached the 4th Qualifying round of the FA Cup six times, reaching the 1st round of the knockout tournament just once in 2002-03, when they lost 0-4 at Luton Town. Every man on their roster is English, except goalkeeper Peter Skiba of Poland.

Crewture has a good recent video of the Lions in action.

Liverpool March 5. Liverpool Reserves play in the Barclays Premiership Reserve League, where they won the division championship in 2000. The Crew take them on at their Halliwell Jones Stadium, the home ground of Warrington Wolves RFC.

Coincidentally, the most recent match for both Everton and Liverpool reserves was against each other where they tied 1-1 on a freak goal.

Legendary Liverpool manager Bill Shankly, famously once trash-talked local rivals Everton by declaring, “There's only two teams in Liverpool: Liverpool and Liverpool Reserves.”

Liverpool reserves currently sit 9th in their 13-team division. They have only 13 points in 13 games played with 3 wins, 4 draws and 6 losses. They have scored only 11 goals on the season while giving up 13. The Crew win this one handily.

What do you think? Am I too optimistic calling this Limey series 3-0 for the Black & Gold? Columbus Till I Die Brothers and Sisters.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Weathering the Storm: Crew Financial Situation a Mixed Bag

As the Dow Jones Industrial average hit a 6-year low, and Chrysler and GM asked for billions more in bailout money this week, it became clear that this is the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. So, one question nags El Luchador at night. No, not what does all this means for our grandkids, something much more important: What affect will all of this have on the Columbus Crew?

Of course the MLS finances are as tightly held as Col. Sanders’ secret spices, but there are a number of factors we can look at that give us some indication of where things stand. Overall there is good news and bad news:

Good News: As the reigning MLS champions, the Crew should see a bump in attendance this year, and concessions and gate receipts are the No. 1 revenue source for MLS franchises. In 2008, the Houston Dynamo experienced a nearly 7 percent increase in attendance after winning their second consecutive MLS Cup in 2007. In fact, the Columbus Dispatch reported that Crew GM Mark "Fuck-Sigi-Schmid" McCullers said that as of Feb. 19, season-ticket renewals are ahead of last year's pace, and new business is about double where it was in 2008. "Overall, it's tracking about 15 to 20 ahead" of last year, he said. "New sales are strong," McCullers said, "and in this economy, we're very happy with that."

Bad News: The Crew’s attendance in 2007 actually dropped nearly 4 percent in 2008 to 14,622 and was 10th out of the 14 teams in the league.

Good News: The Crew in 2008 had the cheapest payroll in American soccer, and with the Hunt family’s famously tight-fisted ways, that will likely continue, giving the Crew an advantage in staving off the recession by keeping overall costs under control. With an average salary of $79,949, the Columbus Crew ranked dead last in the amount it paid its players in 2008. The second cheapest team, Chivas USA ($74,723.37), paid its players nearly 4 percent more on average than Columbus. The team with the most generous average payroll, the Galaxy, paid its players an average of $278,181, nearly four times as much as the Crew. Of course, this figure is somewhat skewed by the ridiculous salary paid to David Beckham.

Bad News: The Crew in 2008 had the cheapest payroll in American soccer. That’s right comrades, this is a double-edged sword. Sigi Schmid had an uncanny ability to find the diamond’s in the rough and get results from players getting poverty wages. (Adam Moffat was paid $17,700 last year). It remains to be seen whether Robert Warzycha has the same ability. In the long term, you cannot expect to stay on top of the league paying your players less than everyone else you hope to compete with on the field.

Good News: The group of robber barons from out of state who were attempting a hostile takeover of the team has been fended off by the Hunts, at least for now. The Columbus Dispatch reported on Feb. 6 that John Wagner, president of Crew investor-operator Hunt Sports Group, announced that they had broken off discussions with the group headed by California businessman Mark Noorzai. This is extremely good news on two fronts: 1) It is a strong indicator that the Crew’s finances must be in reasonable shape. 2) It means the team will be staying in C-Bus. Noorzai and his minions had indicated repeatedly they had no intention of moving the team. Of course, this was a lie. And owner-operator Clark Hunt recently told the Dispatch’s Michael Arace: "I'm confident the Columbus Crew will be playing in Columbus, Ohio, for at least the next 50 years. Beyond that, I'm not making any predictions."

Bad News: A Frobes Magazine study of overall financial strength last fall ranked the Crew 12th out of the 14 MLS franchises, with an estimated total value of $23 million, annual revenue of $6 million and a net operating income deficit of -$4.5 million. That last figure makes Columbus the team with the worst annual loss in the MLS. The magazine wrote: “The league’s second-smallest market with a dearth of sponsors and non-soccer events held at their stadium, nowadays the Crew set the standard in just one category: operating loss.”

Good News: The addition of the stage in the north end has shown initial success in allowing the Hunts to schedule concerts and other non-soccer events to generate revenue.

The bottom line is this, my brothers and sisters of Crew Soccer Nation: The Black and Gold needs our support in these trying economic times more than ever. Buy season tickets. Come to every home game. Buy lots beer at the stadium. Support the Polish Rifle as he takes us into this new era. Columbus till I die.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Crew Notch Two Shut-Out Wins in Final Florida Exhibition

The Crew will head home from Florida Thursday with a 3-2 preseason record after defeating the University of Tampa and the University of Central Florida in a double header of 60-minute exhibition matches at the IMG Academies in Bradenton on Wednesday.

Tampa went down 2-0 in the first game on goals by midfielders Emmanuel Ekpo and Brian Carroll. Kenny Schoeni recorded the clean sheet in goal.

The second match was a lopsided 6-0 affair with Central Florida looking like school boys matched up against the Black & Gold, even with Coach Robert Warzycha mixing up the line up considerably.

Trialists Ty Shipalane and Jordan Seabrook both scored. Hebrew Hammer Andy Gruenebaum got the shutout.

The Crew head to Liverpool, England on Wednesday, Feb. 25, to train at the facility of Warzycha’s old Club, Everton and play exhibition games against the Everton and Liverpoll development teams.

Monday, February 16, 2009

McBride to Stay, Friedel Drops One, Palermo Returns

El Luchador’s highlights from the Weekend:
  • Crew all-time goal co-leader Brian McBride will not be going out on loan to his old EPL club Fulham. We learned this weekend from several sources that McBride’s Chicago Fire would not agree to allow the 36-year-old striker to miss the beginning of the MLS season for the loan.
  • Former Crew keeper Brad Friedel gave up three goals as Aston Villa suffered a rare away loss going down 3-1 to Everton at Goodison Park in the 5th round of the FA Cup.

  • Crew prospect Martin Palermo made his return from injury Saturday for Boca Juniors in a 2-0 loss to Newell's Old Boys. He came in midway through the second half, looked healthy and had a few good touches.

  • The Crew beat the U.S. U20 team 3-1 on Saturday (Feb. 14) in Bradenton, Fla, with goals by Guillermo Barros Schelotto (penalty kick 37th Min.), trialist Anthony Peters (74th Min.) and clutch big man Steven Lenhart (89th Min.)

  • Former Crew and Fulham midfielder Simon Elliott has been at San Jose's training camp since camp opened.

  • Former Crew skipper Sigi Schmid made’s quote of the week: After Sounders FC dealt Khano Smith to New York for allocation money on Thursday, Schmid had this to say to the Seattle Times: “I didn't draft him, so you'd have to ask Adrian [Hanauer, Seattle general manager].” “But he thought other teams would be interested in him, and I thought he'd be too inconsistent for us, so as it turns out, we were both right.”

AC Milan v LA Galaxy

Eurosnobbery 201: Beckham, Schelotto and American Ignorance
As the world watches breathlessly to see whether David Beckham will be kept in LA like an Arabian bride in a forced marriage, some observers on both sides of the Atlantic express surprise and even revulsion at those who criticize the Galaxy and MLS and who support AC Milan’s bid to win him back to Europe.

The esteemed gentleman scholar and soccer pundit Kartik Krishnaiyer wrote in MLS talk that “Eurosnobbery” motivates the critics who have been ripping LA and MLS for holding Becks back.

“During the ongoing soap opera created by David Beckham and his handlers, Major League Soccer and the Los Angeles Galaxy have been ridiculed in the European press and most unsettling is the attitude of many a football fan stateside who seem to take their cue from the European press be it Italian, Spanish or English with regards to this matter,” Krishnaiyer writes. “Instead of supporting their domestic league and one of its most prominent club sides, these American football fans have engaged in hyperbole about Beckham and AC Milan while simply parroting the unreasonable and often times hypocritical arguments that have found their way into the European press.”

He makes a compelling argument that most U.S. fans get most of their world soccer through a European and English filter, and that this creates a “Eurosnobbery,” a preference for stars and teams from Europe and an inferiority complex for followers of the U.S. game.

Fair enough. Certainly, there is truth in that. Here’s the thing though:

The entire David Beckham phenomenon has been based on Eurosnobbery, a mirage perpetuated by Anglophiles with a fetish for European soccer combined with the worst of American commercialism.

David Beckham came to America with much fanfare in 2007. He was sent to save soccer. He was promptly injured and missed most of the season. In 2008, he stayed mostly healthy but posted mediocre results for a man whose annual income (more than $6 million) exceeds the payrolls of most entire MLS franchises.

When Beckham came to MLS stadiums, the home teams sold special three-game package deals to hordes of mindless bourgeoisie from the suburbs who normally couldn't care less about “soccer” but showed up wearing LA Galaxy gear, packing the stands like Catholics who show up to church only for Easter.

Meanwhile, another 30-something foreign soccer legend came to the U.S. at around the same time, making about one twelfth the salary, with no celebrity endorsements, no Posh Spice wife, no entourage and no breathless commentators analyzing his every move.Anyone heard of Guillermo Barros Schelotto?

Eurosnobbery? Yes indeed. Not just among those criticizing MLS and Beckham today. Even more so among those who fed into the entire Beckham ridiculousness to begin with.

The likelihood is that Beckham will still leave because he is now hugely damaged goods. If MLS does succeed in forcing him to stay against his will, his heart will not be in it, his play will suffer even more, and he will be booed at every venue, including the Home Depot Center.

Until the U.S. fan base gets as excited or more so about Latin American legends like Martin Palermo or Cuauhtemoc Blanco as they do about David Beckham, we deserve the derision and ridicule we get from across the Atlantic.

Eurosnobbery is what created the whole Beckham circus in the first place.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Who is the Next Steven Lenhart?

Newbie Score Card: New Columbus Crew Comrades to Follow in 2009.
The record of draftees and trialists in MLS is not all that good. For every Steven Lenhart there are 10 guys you never heard of who tried and failed. Our friends at Crewture cite several sources reporting that the Crew have added another trialist in Jordan Seabrook, as they head to a pre-season double header in Bradenton this Thursday.

Let’s take a look at the main new guys to watch this year. Tell me comrades, who among these men below will rise to the challenge?

Alex Grendi: A promising playmaker, Grendi is a 21-year-old U of Pennsylvania midfielder from Cold Spring Harbor, NY. He was drafted by the Crew in the third round (45th overall) of the 2009 Major League Soccer SuperDraft. His 20 career assists put him in a tie for third all-time for the Quakers. Led Penn in assists three of his four seasons and was twice named Offensive MVP.

Chris Clements: A 6’2”, 187 lb defender from Allen, Texas, snatched by the Crew in the SuperDraft from Tulsa, where Clements started in 56 of 60 career games. He posted three goals and one assist for seven points in his senior year.

Paul Gerstenberger: A scrappy, smaller defender whose energy and deep runs make him a scoring threat, this Schenectady, N.Y., native is 6-0, 160 lbs, and earned All-Tournament Team honors at the ACC Tournament for Boston College.

Ty Shipalane: Played in 19 matches scoring 3 goals and 1 assist for the Michigan Bucks at midfield. Scored the game winner in the 2006 PDL Championship Game vs. Laredo. A native of Tzaneen, South Africa, Shipalane stands 5’11” at 165 lbs. and is 23 years old.

Anthony Peters: 25-year-old University of Kentucky standout from Baton Rouge, LA. Has labored in small semi-pro clubs since 2005. At 6’4”, 200 lbs, brings a strength and size to the offense as an attacking midfielder/forward.

Jordan Seabrook: A forward from Indianapolis with the University of South Florida. Was let go after being selected in the 2009 MLS SuperDraft by the Colorado Rapids.

El Luchador wishes good luck to all the Newbies.

Friday, February 13, 2009

No Bull: Palermo Deal Drawing Close

  • The Crew is close to making a serious offer to Martin Palermo of Boca Juniors. The uncertainty surrounding his injury (right knee) and his age (35) have dropped the price into the Crew’s range. Some sources are telling El Luchador that the Argentine striker will be making a visit to C-Bus as early as next week.
  • El Luchador’s Crew news and analysis is now on Twitter:
  • After his humiliating smack-down in Columbus this week, Sven-Göran Eriksson will be leaving Mexico for the English Premier League within the next month, probably to return to the EPL as Portsmouth's manager.
  • The U.S. v Mexico match reached more than 10 million homes on Wednesday night, a record audience. No non World Cup final in the United States has even drawn more.
  • U.S. Soccer has released a great highlights video of Team America’s (Fuck Yeah) defeat of Mexico.
  • Frankie Hejduk deserves the credit for getting things rolling on that first goal, earning the corner kick that led to the first goal. In honor of his Massiveness, El Luchador offers three classic videos: Frankie tailgating, Frankie’s Starbucks obsession and Frankie chugging on the field.

Columbus till I die mother fuckers.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Message From 'Bradley' to El Tri: Don't Bother

There have been rumors and reports left and right about where the Mexicans are staying in Columbus this week. El Luchador has the real scoop.

It appears that "El Tri" are staying at the Westin Columbus on South High Street. Rumors that they have moved to the Double Tree Guest Suites on Front Street were part of a rouse the Mexicans have attempted to pull in order to thwart any attempts to fuck with them.

Here’s how the agents at Nordecke Central came to this conclusion:

Several of our operatives called the Doubletree using both American and Mexican accents and asking to speak with several players off the Mexican roster. The answer was always the same: a polite, “We have no guest here by that name.”

Then, we called the Westin, and it went like this (actual transcript):

Operator: “Hello, the Westin Columbus, how may I help you?”
El Luchador Agent: “Hi, I have a client who I think is staying there this evening, and I would like to get in touch with him.”
Operator: “OK, what is the name sir?”
El Luchador Agent: “Omar Bravo.”
Operator: “Let me check that for you. PAUSE. OK, sir, I am unable to connect you to that guest, but I would be happy to relay a message to him. Is there a message you would like for me to give to Mr. Bravo?”
El Luchador Agent: “Yes, please tell him that he doesn’t need to show up to the event on Wednesday.”
Operator: “And you are?”
El Luchador Agent: “Bob Bradley.”
Operator: “OK, I have the message for guest Omar Bravo as, ‘Bob Bradley says you do not need to show up to the event on Wednesday.’ Is that correct, sir?”
El Luchador Agent: “Yes that’s correct, no need to bother showing up.”
Operator: “We will make sure that Mr. Bravo gets that message.”
El Luchador Agent: “Thanks so much, and have a nice evening.”
Operator: “You too sir.”

Try it yourself:
Westin Columbus 310 S. High StreetColumbus, OH 43215(614) 228-3800

Or better yet, go down there and make some noise.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Bookies Favor USA, Team Stays at Hyatt Cap Square, Hejduk to Start

If the men in the smoke-filled backrooms off shore at are right, the United States will defeat Mexico on Wednesday or at worst walk away with a tie.

After weeks of laying back, apparently now enough people are interested in wagering on Wednesday’s smack down at Crew Stadium that the bookies have set a line, and it goes like this:

USA to Win: -125
Mexico to Win: +280
Tie: +220

For the novices, what this means is $100 on U.S.A. pays out $125 for a $25 profit. $100 on Mexico pays $280 for a $180 profit. And $100 for a tie nets $120 in profit.

El Luchador does not endorse illegal activity (other than sedition). However, if you are reading this from one of the many places on the planet where sports betting is legal (not Columbus, Ohio), then here is my advice: Do not bet on this game. The way these odds have been set tells you that all the money is being placed on the United States, and this is probably being influenced by rabid fans blindly supporting USA rather than honest, rational assessments about what is going to actually happen on the field.

That being said, El Luchador has already made his prediction, and he is sticking with it: USA 2, Mexico 1, with goals by Robbie Rogers and Sacha Kljestan.

Anyways, here is a round up on Wednesday’s game:
  • The team has now landed in C-Bus and are staying Downtown at the Hyatt on Capitol Square.

  • Frankie Hejduk will start at right back.

  • I hate to always pick on the Dispatch, and they clearly have been trying on their soccer coverage lately. But, I couldn’t let this one go: Bob Hunter actually wrote the following phrase in Sunday’s paper, and it actually made it past his editors and into the paper: “Soccer fans here understand that the rivalry between the two nations is as hot as a jalapeno and as salty as a margarita.” Seriously?

  • If Sven Goren Eriksson faces a humiliating defeat in Columbus on Wednesday against the U.S., he will be fired. There already rumors in the Mexican media that Javier Aguirre of Atletico Madrid will be the next coach for Mexico if Eriksson fails against the Americans. "It will be difficult, we know it will be a tough game, as history suggests, but we are going to work with optimism," Erickson told Rueters.

  • The same Sweden squad that lost to the U.S. last week, just four days later dismantled the Mexicans in a 1-0 victory at the Oakland Coliseum before 46,000 mostly Mexican fans, who repeatedly booed their feeble fellow countrymen.

  • A few basic facts about Mexico: The Mexican national football team is currently ranked 26th in the FIFA World Rankings. The United States is 22nd. Mexico has not failed to qualify for the World Cup since 1990, and that was not because of elimination in competition, but for rule violations in the 1988 Seoul Olympics, where they fielded players above the FIFA age limit (cheaters). The last time they failed to qualify in actual competition was 1974. Their best performances came in 1970 and 1986, when they reached the quarterfinals. Not coincidentally, both of these performances came when the tournament was played in Mexico.