Friday, December 31, 2010

Top Ten South Carolina Soccer Stories of 2010: 3-1

In the last two days, we've reviewed the number 10 through number 4 soccer stories in South Carolina this year. Here are the top three to wrap up the year:
  • 3: USL First and Second Divisions Merge into the USL Pro: In September it was announced that the United Soccer Leagues top division would become the USL Pro and the second would become the Premier Development League second highest division with the USL-2 dissolving. The USL Pro will play with teams from the First and Second Divisions starting in 2011. The new league will have 16 teams including up to 5 teams in the Caribbean, a team in California, and the rest in the eastern half of the United States.
  • 2: Bolton Wanderers F.C. Comes to Charleston: On July 17 the English Premier League side, Bolton Wanderers F.C., came to Blackbaud Stadium to face the Charleston Battery. The final result was a 2-0 defeat of the Battery in front of a sellout crowd of of 5,249 at the 'Baud. Though it ended in a disappointing result for the Battery, it was great for the residents of Charleston to see a top English Premier League club play their hometown team in Blackbaud Stadium.
  • 1: Charleston Battery Wins the USL-2 Title: To top off the countdown, we have the biggest accomplishment for the Charleston Battery this year. On August 28 the Battery faced the Richmond Kickers in the USL Second Division Championship. In the 26th minute a corner kick from Mike Zaher was knocked around in the box until USL-2 MVP, Lamar Neagle, put the ball in the back of the goal. The Battery then became short handed after Colin Falvey was sent off in the 29th minute. Charleston doubled the lead in the 52nd minute when Ian Fuller scorched a volley off a flick from Tom Heinemann. Richmond would cut the lead in half in the 70th minute Edson Elcock headed in a goal off a cross from Sascha Gorres. The Battery would hold on with great play from keeper, Tim Melia. For the first time since 2003, the Charleston Battery had won a league championship.
Well its been a great year for soccer in South Carolina. This blog was started just weeks ago, and expect more in 2011. Happy New Year soccer fans.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Top Ten South Carolina Soccer Stories of 2010: 6-4

Yesterday we reviewed  the 10-7 soccer stories in South Carolina this year. Here is 6-4:
  • 6: Columbia Gets a Women's Team: This year Columbia, South Carolina got a USL W-League franchise in the Central SC Cobras. The Cobras are set to start play in 2011. The official announcement is expected to come in February. The team has already had some tryouts and hopefully this team will be a great addition to the  growth of the game in South Carolina.
  • 5: Lamar Neagle Comes to the Battery and Leads the Team: In 2009 Lamar Neagle played for the MLS side, Seattle Sounders FC, came to Charleston for the 2010 USL Second Division season. He lead the Battery with 14 goals in 24 appearances. Neagle also won the Scoring Champion and Goal Scoring Champion for the USL Second Division. He was named to USL All-League First Team and was the USL-2 MVP. He became an integral part of the Battery's USL Second Divison Championship. But we'll get to that later.
  • 4: Carolina Challenge Cup Returns to Charleston: In 2010 the seventh edition of the annual Carolina Challenge Cup returned to Blackbaud Stadium, bringing in three Major League Soccer Sides. This year the tournament was highlighted by 2009 MLS champions, Real Salt Lake, coming to Charleston. They came along with Charleston's MLS rival, DC United, and Canadian side, Toronto FC. The tournament was a success with the average attendance being 4,326 spectators per match. DC United took home the title.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Top Ten South Carolina Soccer Stories of 2010: 10-7

Until the end of the year we're going to review the top soccer stories in South Carolina over the last year, and ranking them 1-10. Here's numbers 10-7:
  • 10: Clemson Tops #18 Duke- On October 21st, the Clemson Men's Soccer team, which has been dwelling at the bottom of the ACC for the past couple of years, defeated the 18th ranked Duke Blue Devils in overtime. Clemson junior, Riley Sumpter scored a goal with 3:46 in the first overtime to lift the Tigers to a win. This was the biggest highlight of the year for the struggling tigers whose final record was 5 wins, 9 losses, and 4 draws.
  • 9: CESA Sweeps South Carolina Challenge Cup- The Carolina Elite Soccer Academy won the South Carolina Challenge Cup, essentially the State Championship for youth soccer in South Carolina, in every age group. Bruce Murray, former United States Men's National Team player, led the U17 and U18 teams to victory.
  • 8: College of Charleston Gains an At Large Bid to the NCAA Tournament- Though the College of Charleston Men's Soccer Team did not win the Southern Conference tournament, the Cougars did advance to the NCAA Tournament with an at large bid. They defeated East Tennessee State 3-2 in the first round and then lost to eventual championship runners-up, Louisville 3-1 in the second round of the tournament.
  • 7:South Carolina Wins the Conference USA- The University of South Carolina's Men's Soccer Team won the Conference USA tournament this year and advanced to the third round of the NCAA tournament, and were knocked out Michigan. The Gamecocks gained a bye for the first round of the tournament and defeated Duke 1-0 in the second round. South Carolina was defeated by the Wolverines 3-1. Michigan would go on to advance to the Final Four of the tournament.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Kansas City Wizards to Sporting Kansas City?

As many of those who follow the MLS may already know the Kansas City Wizards changed their club's name to Sporting Kansas City. The inspiration of this is said to have come from the organization adding a rugby and lacrosse team to their umbrella of sports. Now, while this may end up working out for the team, I don't support the name change.

Sporting Kansas City have gone through multiple name changes in their history. They were one of the original ten Major League Soccer franchises that started play in 1996. The started as the Kansas City Wiz. We all know that would never last long. So they changed it to the Wizards in the following season. The Wizards used the same logo until 2007 when they revamped the franchise and changed the logo and home field. So they apparently felt the need to change it again? The new Sporting Kansas City are to play in the brand new KC Soccer Stadium in the 2011 season.

With the many of the MLS clubs going with a "European Style" name, I think it is hurting the Americanizing (if that's a word) of soccer. DC United was originally the only one with a "European Style" name and it gave them their own style which I think was a good move. But then you get the rest; FC Dallas, Real Salt Lake, and Toronto FC. Now while you might be able to say, "Toronto is in Canada they can do whatever they please," I'll count them because Major League Soccer is a predominantly American league. We really don't need this. In American sports we are teams with the city/location, followed by a mascot of some sort. With the addition of Sporting Kansas City to the naming fiasco, we are getting further and further away from making this sport American.

The best move of any United States club, naming wise, was the Chicago Fire adding "Soccer Club" to the end of their name. What a great low blow to the Europeans who hate on Americans for calling it soccer. If the MLS ever gets big, I beg the Fire to keep the SC at the end of their name. (By the way, for those that don't know South Africa and Australia also call the game soccer).

Alright, so bottom line. Americanizing soccer is the key to gaining support. If we just follow what we think will make us seem more like the European leagues we will lose the American side of the game that makes the MLS, USL, and all American soccer leagues so great. It may not be La Liga, but it is our own slice of soccer, set in the great U.S.A.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Swedish International Zlatan Ibrahimovic Wants to Finish Career in The United States

Swedish International and Milan Striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic has expressed interest in finishing his career in the MLS. He would be added to a group of soccer veterans that have come from their homes in Europe to play in the United States. Thierry Henry, David Beckham, and Freddie Ljungberg have all come to the United States to play the beautiful game, after playing in Europe for many years.

"I want to play one or two years in a nice place," said Ibrahimovic, "As I see it now, this is my last contract with a European club. When I'm done in Milan I will play a year or two in the United States."

This brings the question; Who will pay him? I'm sure there will be quite a price tag on Ibrahimovic like their was on Henry and Beckham. New York had money, they got Henry, Los Angeles had money, they got Beckham. I could see Ibra going to the Chicago Fire or even Seattle if they can put forth the money.

I think no matter who he goes to, it will be great for the MLS and US Soccer.We need to have big names in the MLS to get some attention, and Ibrahimovic is a huge name. When the veteran comes over to the United States, he will be 33, and even though he says he only wants to play one year in the US, I could see him playing for three or four years in the US depending on how much he likes the city and club. This all depends on how he is feeling at 37.

Ibrahimovic's contract expires in 2014, and could be one of the greatest additions to any Major League Soccer club ever. He is a solid player, and I think that even at an old age he could bring a lot to any soccer club.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

USL Pro: 15 Teams So Far, What Will Be the 16th?

Fifteen teams have been announced for the future sixteen team league, the USL Pro. The league consists of four teams in the Caribbean, three in the Carolinas, five teams in the Northeast, and one team in Florida, Ohio, and California. The United Socer Leagues have said that they want to bring the league to 16 teams. So which team will it be?  In my opinion, there are three major competitors for the last team; Mayagüez FC, Fort Lauderdale, and San Antonio. I'll cover all three.

Mayagüez FC is a club that is located in the city of Mayagüez, Puerto Rico. It was founded in 2004 an seems like an experienced club with many youth teams. It is currently part of Puerto Rico Soccer League and formerly the Liga Nacional de Futbol de Puerto Rico. They would most likely be in a "Caribbean Division" along with Barracuda FC, Puerto Rico United, River Plate Puerto Rico, and Sevilla FC Puerto Rico. This would be a good fit geographically as it is close to all of the other four Caribbean clubs. This is a club with some history and would be helping the USL spread its wings farther out in the Caribbean.

The second possible expansion is a club in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Fort Lauderdale has quite a history with soccer. It had a successful North American Soccer League club, the Fort Lauderdale Strikers, that lasted from 1977 until the league suspended its operations in 1984. The city also had a revival of the Strikers in 1988 in the American Soccer League and won a championship in 1989, until it folded in 1994. Then the third version of the Fort Lauderdale Strikers was brought back a year later in the United States International Soccer League (the predecessor to the USL). The teams all had successful campaigns, but the inconsistencies with the leagues can be a little misleading. I think a team in Fort Lauderdale would work well. With a potential rivalry with Orlando City S.C. and a strong population of people from soccer loving nations, a fourth revival of the Strikers could be the most successful yet.

The third potential candidate is San Antonio. San Antonio has a huge hispanic population which would give them a good chance. A battle will go on for the first franchise in San Antonio which has huge potential for a successful soccer franchise. Which begs the question; Will the MLS come calling? It would seem a solid candidate for at least a USL team, but I think that San Antonio could have a successful MLS franchise with natural rivalries with Houston Dynamo and FC Dallas. But as for a USL franchise, it would be a great hand into the west for the USL Pro which currently only has one team west of Ohio.

The United Soccer Leagues have made many smart decisions since the founding of the organization in 1986 as the SWISL, and the expansion to the USL Pro is a great move. I like the idea of having one big league instead of multiple smaller leagues, and it will be more interesting for the fans. Though it may be far off, a merge with the MLS to make a relegation system would be nice. But that would require the advancement of the USL into a league with teams that can compete on a consistent basis with MLS franchises; on the basis of teams and fan support. But even a journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step, and expansion is that first step.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

English Premier League: Boxing Day Preview

This Sunday is one of the biggest of the year for soccer fans around the world. Boxing Day features 9 fixtures in the English Premier League, with three games televised on Fox Soccer Channel for those in the United States viewing pleasure. Here's what to look for:
  • Fulham-West Ham: The first game and also probably the least anticipated fixture of the day is Fulham facing West Ham. This game sees the Cottagers as the 17th team face West Ham as the 20th. Fulham has only 2 wins this season, and looks to get their 3rd. They're led by former Furman player Clint Dempsey who has 5 goals in Premier League play. Dempsey seems like the only spark of hope this year for Fulham as they try to stay in the top flight of English soccer. West Ham should get a huge boost from their returning keeper Robert Green who missed their last game against Blackburn. As relegation seems almost a certainty for West Ham, the manager, Avram Grant, is fighting for his job. West Ham have not gained a point on the road this season, and I'm not seeing them getting any here, Fulham wins.
  • Blackburn-Stoke: With departure of manager Sam Allardyce, and appointing of new interim manager Steve Kean, Blackburn definitely has had a busy couple of weeks. The team has suffered some crippling injuries; centre-back Phil Jones will be missing from the team until May with a knee-ligament injury, and club captain, Chris Samba, is out with an ankle injury. Stoke City, unlike Blackburn, have kept most of their  team fit, only missing striker Mamade Sidibe. With such a healthy team, Tony Pulis is looking to have at worst a point from this fixture. It will probably be a sloppy game, and I see it ending in a draw.
  • Blackpool-Liverpool: Blackpool is plagued with injuries, but nothing new. Starting goalkeeper Matt Gilks is still missing with a knee injury, and leading goal scorer Marlon Harewood is out with hamstring injury. Blackpool is looking to pull a league double on Liverpool for the first time since 1947. Liverpool is getting key players, Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard back from injuries. This is Liverpool's first visit to Blackpool in 30 years, but I'm still seeing them pulling out a win with comeback performances from Torres and Gerrard.
  • Bolton-West Brom: With former Clemson player Stuart Holden likely in the starting eleven, Bolton is trying to continue their impressive home form. Bolton is second in the league in home points, behind only Manchester United. Their line-up should be unchanged from their last match, with Joey O'Brien, Sean Davis, Ricardo Gardner, and Jlloyd Samuel are still out with injuries. West Brom on the other hand, has won only 2 of their last 25 away matches in the EPL. They have a key injury to Jonas Olsson with an achilles injury. I see Bolton cruising to victory and keeping their outstanding home form.
  • Everton-Birmingham: Everton is coming off a big 2-1 win against Manchester City and hopes to continue winning after seven straight matches ending in a loss or draw before the Manchester City game. U.S. International Tim Howard is in great form and played an amazing game against City. Striker Victor Anichebe is serving a one game suspension after a red card against Manchester City. Birmingham's main injury is James Mcfadden, who is out with a knee injury. Birmingham couldn't muster a shot on target in their last game against Everton, so the advantage has to go to Everton.
  • Manchester United-Sunderland: The Red Devils are in first in the EPL, but an interesting note; In the last 18 Premier League seasons, the team leading on Christmas day has only gone on to win the title seven times. Sunderland always give Man U a fight, and United needed a last minute equalizer last year to bring it to a 2-2 draw at home. Michael Owen is fit to return for Manchester United at striker and though I don't see him in the starting eleven, an appearance is likely. Danny Welbeck, on loan to Sunderland from Manchester United, is ineligible to play which would give the starting slot to Asamoah Gyan who has scored 5 goals in 13 appearances for Sunderland. I think for Sunderland could suprise some people, but Manchester will win out of pure talent level.
  • Newcastle-Manchester City: Newcastle has not played a game since their 3-1 win over Liverpool. Striker Shola Ameobi is set to miss out with a hamstring injury, but defender Sol Campbell has shaken off a bit of illness over the last couple of days. Manchester City is coming off a loss against Everton, which was a missed chance, considering that a win would have given them the lead in the Premier League table. Kolo Toure is out do to a late sending off against Everton. I'm expecting Micah Richards or Jerome Boateng to replace him in the center of the defense. Two evenly matched teams will end up level in this match.
  • Wolverhampton-Wigan: This is the match up of the 18th and the 19th teams in the English Premier League. Injury plagued Wolverhampton, are still without Karl Henry, Joey Craddock, and Adlene Guedioura until late January. They have won their last two home games and gave West Brom all they wanted in an away fixture for Wolverhampton. Wigan is ahead of Wolverhampton in the table, but behind in having a good amount of players to choose from. They are missing Maynor Figueroa and Hendry Thomas with suspensions, and James McCarthy, Victor Moses, and Franco di Santo due to injury. A draw is the most likely outcome.
  • Aston Villa-Tottenham: Aston Villa has had good news with the return of midfielders Stiliyan Petrov and Fabian Delph to first team training, but they will most likely not appear in this game. Villa has a lack of injuries, but they have been plagued by losing on Boxing Day. They have won only once in their last nine fixtures on the same date. Tottenham will welcome back star Rafael van der Vaart, as well as Jermain Jenas, and Younes Kaboul.Tottenham is on a good run with a draw with Chelsea and a win against Arsenal. With Aston Villa having a tradition of losing on Boxing Day, I'll have to pick Tottenham.

So again here are my picks. (Winners in bold)
Fulham vs. West Ham
Blackburn vs. Stoke (Draw)
Blackpool vs. Liverpool
Bolton vs. West Brom
Everton vs. Birmingham
Manchester United vs. Sunderland
Newcastle vs. Manchester City (Draw)
Wolverhampton vs. Wigan (Draw)
Aston Villa vs. Tottenham

Friday, December 24, 2010

The Status of College Soccer in South Carolina

With soccer on the rise in the whole of the United States, South Carolina can be quickly left in the dust. With the lack of an MLS side within a 500 mile radius, soccer is not seeming like a priority to most sports fans in South Carolina. But then again, we should take a closer look. Where is the goldmine for soccer in the Palmetto State?

Colleges. The state has had some of the most prominent programs in the South. Many of the colleges have had players that went on to play at a professional level, not only in the U.S., but in Europe. The University of South Carolina has had former U.S. national team players Clint Mathis, Josh Wolff, and the backup keeper to Tim Howard, Brad Guzan. Clemson University, has current U.S. national team players, defender Oguchi Onyewu and midfielder, Stuart Holden. Furman University had two players that were on the United States World Cup Roster in Clint Dempsey and Ricardo Clark. 

Though many of the college sides in SC have had a down time in the late 2000's, this year was a solid one for college soccer in the state. South Carolina won the Conference USA championship for the first time since 2005 and advanced to the third round of the NCAA tournament. Furman lost to UNC Greensboro in the Southern Conference Championship. The College of Charleston attained an at large bid to the NCAA tournament and lost to eventual runners up, Louisville, in the second round. Clemson had a mediocre season, with the highlight being a win over 18th ranked Duke.

As soccer grows in South Carolina, an integral part is college soccer. Most European nations do not have intercollegiate soccer and it could be special part of American soccer that the Palmetto State has the ability to dominate.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Former Furman Star Clint Dempsey Tearing Up the EPL

Former Furman University standout Clint Dempsey is becoming a strong force for his English Premier League side, Fulham. Dempsey is quickly turning into a fan favorite and star for the English club, and is on the way to setting his own personal record of goals in a season for Fulham (9).
Dempsey played three seasons for the Furman Paladins and started in 61 of 62 games. He scored 17 goals in all of his appearances. He played alongside his United States National team teammate, Ricardo Clark in the 2001 and 2002 seasons. This could be considered one of the greatest college soccer teams in the history of the state of South Carolina, taking into account it had two future national team players. The two have combined for 21 goals for the USMNT.

Fulham is on the brink of relegation, and Dempsey is trying to lead them through their eighth season in the top level of English football and on to their ninth. Fulham is currently 17th in the Premier league, and therefore safe from relegation for now. The club has held this streak of eight consecutive seasons in the Premier League since the 2001-2002 season, and hopes to carry this out for many years to come. Fulham gained top flight status for the first time since 1968 in 2001. Dempsey has scored 6 goals in 17 appearances for Fulham this season, which is first on the team. Not only is he leading in goals, but he is third on the team in assists with 2.

It would be not only devastating for the club to be dropped Football League Championship, but for U.S. soccer itself. Clint Dempsey is one of the top players in U.S. soccer, and to keep form we need to have our top players playing against the best players in the entire world, in one of the top leagues in the world. Let's face it, playing against Liverpool, Chelsea, and Manchester United is better than playing Leeds United, Queens Park Rangers, and Cardiff City.

With other United States players, like Stuart Holden, Tim Howard, Jonathan Spector, and Dempsey's teammate Eddie Johnson playing in the English Premier League, the U.S. can only improve. You know what they say, to be the best, you have to beat the best.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

USL W-League Coming to Columbia

The 2010 W-League season consisted of 29 teams, and now they're adding a 30th in Columbia,  South Carolina. The team, named Central SC Cobras, will start play in the 2011 W-League season in the Eastern Conference. The team's home field has not been announced, but open tryouts have been held. With a successful USL-Pro franchise in the Charleston Battery, will the Central SC Cobras be able to be a long-lasting staple in Columbia?

With Columbia being one of the largest metropolitan areas in the state, attendance should be steady if the team can be successful and play their cards right. Stadium selection is the key. If the Cobras can find a stadium on either the Charleston side or the Greenville side of Columbia, the attendance will be maximized as many people would not be as willing to drive into the heart of Columbia. USL has created many opportunities for soccer growth and the women's side of this is just as important. The youth leagues in South Carolina are bursting at the seams with new teams every year, and the chance to see professional soccer will help the development of soccer in South Carolina.

Hopefully the support will be there for this new women's team, and they can be as successful as the other women's franchises in the southeast. Soccer is still in its infancy in SC, but signs of hope have been here since 1993. The Battery have proved that soccer can work in South Carolina, and the Cobras could drive the point home.

You can find out more about the Central SC Cobras at their website.

CONCACAF Gold Cup Venues in the Southeast: Possible Reason for MLS Expansion?

The venues for the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup we're announced on December 17th. The tournament will be hosted by the United States and will bring in teams from all over North America and the Carribean. The winner will get an automatic bid to the Confederations Cup in Brazil in 2013. How does this affect the growth of soccer in South Carolina?

Simply put, the venues are close to home as opposed to the 2009 tournament that was also hosted in the U.S. The closest venue for the last edition of the Gold Cup was in Washington D.C. for the soccer fans here in South Carolina. This time around one of the venues of the tourny is Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte. The stadium, home of the professional American football team the Carolina Panthers, holds 73,778 spectators and is one of the larger stadiums hosting the tournament. The game that will be played is on June 9th in the summer of 2011.

This is a chance for the soccer fans not only in South Carolina, but the whole of the southeast United States to show that we deserve an MLS expansion. Though it seems the future is dim for an expansion team in the south. The MLS has a goal to reach twenty teams by 2012. With the 19th team in Montreal being added in the 2012 season only one potential spot is left. With Detroit and a revival of the former NASL team the New York Cosmos making strong bids for the 20th franchise, will a grassroots effort be enough to get a team in the southeast?

Don Garber, the Major League Soccer Commisioner, was quoted as saying, "You can’t be a national league unless you have teams in the South." Being a valid point and coming from the head man himself you would hope we could get the whole of the powers at be in on the idea of a southeastern team. And it raises the question: With teams in all corners of the United States, why does the southeast not have a team?

Well, originally there were teams in the southeast. When the MLS was created in 1996 it had ten teams with one in the south; the Tampa Bay Mutiny. The Miami Fusion was added in 1998 along with Chicago Fire S.C. This seemed like a hopeful effort to grow soccer in the south, but it was shortlived. Both teams folded in 2002 and left the south without an MLS franchise. So it seems that the MLS would have problems granting a franchise to any city in Florida. So what is the number one choice?

I think if we did get a team in the southeastern U.S. the number one choice would be Atlanta, Georgia. Owner of the Atlanta Falcons, Arthur Blank, has shown interest in bringing an MLS franchise to Atlanta. Sadly, it seems his number one priority right now is getting a new stadium for the Falcons. If he doesn't show serious interest in bringing the beautiful game to Atlanta in the next year, we'll have to wait for an MLS franchise for a couple more years.