Women's World Cup; MLS Cup; and other mailbag topics
U.S. team likely to snag Women's World Cup bid; may have star in Alex Morgan
Moving MLS Cup to higher seed's stadium could boost ratings, fan experience
MLS unlikely to adhere to FIFA schedule unless U.S. wins 2022 World Cup
Time for our Thanksgiving week mailbag. I'm cooking the big meal at Casa de Planet Fútbol for the first time in years, but instead of turkey we're having live lobsters shipped in from Maine to give me more time in front of the laptop today. The things I do for you guys ...
From what you have seen do you believe that the U.S. women's team can stay competitive for the title in next year's Women's World Cup (assuming they qualify)?
--James, Los Angeles, Calif.
With the U.S. carrying a 1-0 advantage (and an away goal) into this Saturday's return-leg playoff against Italy in Chicago (2 p.m. EST, ESPN3.com), the Americans are in pretty good shape to snag the last berth for next year's World Cup in Germany. And let's be honest: getting the ticket is all that matters right now, aesthetics be damned. Will the U.S. have to play better if it wants to win the WWC next year in Germany -- which has won the last two World Cups? Of course. In last Saturday's opening leg the U.S. dominated possession, but struggled to create many scoring chances in the final third until substitute Alex Morgan's huge strike late in stoppage time.
But remember, this is the same U.S. team that beat Germany 4-0 and 3-2 earlier this year. The talent is there for the U.S., the reigning Olympic gold medalist, to win its first World Cup since 1999.
My question right now is this: At what point does Morgan deserve a spot in the starting lineup up top next to Abby Wambach? An exciting 21-year-old forward and the only college player on this U.S. roster, Morgan has already scored some big goals: the game-winner against Italy, a late equalizer against China last month (to preserve the U.S.'s six-year home unbeaten streak) and the decisive strike to beat North Korea in the 2008 Under-20 World Cup final in Chile.
U.S. coach Pia Sundhage has said that Morgan's late sub stints allow her to keep things simple and go straight for the goal, implying that she doesn't think Morgan's tactically ready for a 90-minute game. Maybe so, but it's not as though Amy Rodriguez and Lauren Cheney have been lighting it up in Wambach's sidekick spot. If the U.S. can seal the deal on Saturday, it'll be interesting to see if Morgan gets more playing time between now and Germany 2011. There's definite star potential there, and though I'm told she has yet to sign a shoe contract (her college career ended this month, so she's eligible to do so), it wouldn't surprise me if there was a battle for her signature after her breakout year.
Keep in mind, if the U.S. can finish off Italy, the Americans will find out their World Cup group-stage opponents on Monday at the draw in Frankfurt, Germany.
Don't you think people get too hung up on the (low) MLS television rating, notably the Cup final? On a Sunday night, going up against the Giants/Eagles, it's NEVER going to get a good number, especially with two totally anonymous clubs in the final. And throw in the fact there is so much saturation of soccer on the tube, why is someone randomly going to tune in for that game? Shouldn't the league focus on its in-game stadium experience, rather than chasing television viewers, which is going to take years, if not decades to realize?
The overnight ratings for Sunday's MLS Cup final were down 44 percent from last year's Los Angeles-Salt Lake final and were the lowest overnights of any final in the past decade. That's not surprising, considering there weren't any big names like David Beckham, Landon Donovan or Thierry Henry on the field, but it's still sobering news for MLS. (The problem this year wasn't the Sunday-night time slot, which was the same in 2009.) The actual number of viewers are less important right now than showing growth, but TV ratings are still important. For one, no sports league will make the leap until it gets real TV money. Also, I don't see why making the stadium experience enjoyable for fans and going after TV ratings have to be mutually exclusive.
I do think it's time to switch from holding the MLS Cup final at a neutral site to staging it at the home of the higher-seeded finalist. I understand the complications of that: namely, short turnaround travel scheduling for league sponsors and media. But the positives more than make up for it. A home-team finalist would make for a great fan experience, would look good on TV and would reward a team for playing well in the regular season. What's more, MLS ticket staffs are capable of selling a lot of tickets in a week's time to meet the demand for a home-team finalist. Let's make this happen, MLS owners.
While I'm a fan of MLS and seem to understand most of the obscure procedures, such as designated players and even the re-entry draft, I'm in the fog on "allocation money." What exactly is allocation money? How does it work and why are teams so willing to trade players for it?
Good question. Here's the link to MLS's description of allocation money and other roster regulations. An MLS exec told me this week that they are working to finally start publicizing how much allocation money each team has on the league website. Let's hope it happens sooner rather than later.
Do you have any idea why FIFA president Sepp Blatter is so obsessed with MLS adhering to the FIFA international calendar? Last I checked, there were other leagues around the world that follow a similar spring-to-fall season that seem to do just fine. Perhaps Don Garber could treat him to a playoff game at Lambeau Field this year to show him what he's actually suggesting?
--Bob Hunt, Seattle, Wash.
Having MLS join the international calendar is a huge priority for Blatter: It was the first thing he mentioned when I asked him about American soccer in 2009, and he brought up the topic in an Oval Office meeting with President Obama last year. I have no idea why MLS's spring-to-fall schedule would be so much more important to Blatter than, say, Argentina's or Russia's, but then again, maybe it's not: Russia and Argentina have already announced plans to make the switch as well. If the U.S. doesn't win the World Cup '22 bid on Dec. 2, I don't think MLS will make the move. But U.S. Soccer and MLS clearly felt it was important to signal publicly to Blatter that they're considering the switch. We'll see if it pays off on voting day.
Ducks fend off Blackhawks for shootout victory
Hurricanes stage surprising rally against Sharks