Big time soccer involves big time prices

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There was a lot of talk on social media this morning about this weekend’s English Premier League match between Arsenal and Manchester City. While the pure talent the two sides will bring to the Emirates make the meeting compelling, the issue at hand had nothing to do with the particulars of the matchup. Instead, the point was one-third of Manchester City’s away allocation being returned to Arsenal unused. Many Citizens supporters who would normally make the trip to London elected not to fork over the £62 (just under $100) price.

High ticket prices at Arsenal aren’t news. Seats at the Emirates are notoriously pricey and a constant source of fan frustration. An index created by The Guardian earlier this year showed Arsenal’s season passes to be the most expensive in the Premier League, with Tottenham’s entry-level package (the second-most expensive in the league) over $400 cheaper than Arsenal’s lowest offering ($1,581).

Of course, the reason Arsenal can charge those rates is because people are willing to pay. Through nine home games this league season, Arsenal is averaging 60,094 attendees per match. Their stadium’s capacity is 60,361. If prices are prohibitive, they’re still not high enough to make an impact at the turnstile.

That’s why it makes it difficult to take Arsenal to task for their pricing. You may feel their prices are excessive and I may feel their prices are excessive, but if they’re able to consistently play before near-sellout crowds, we seem to be wrong. The club has tickets to sell. They sell. And that’s the point.

Not that such policies do Arsenal any favors with their fan base. With each price hike, a few more Gooners are pushed away from their team, financially unable to attend games (note: season ticket prices did not go up at the Emirates this season). While in the United States we’ve come to begrudgingly accept franchises as businesses, in England the most-diehard of fans still consider the club as an extension of the community. That may be a bit too naive for modern times, but it’s a view that resonates through clubs’ core support. It is — in terms of community relations — a fact, not a misconception. Arsenal should not only recognize this but also recognize it’s rarely good business to alienate your more ardent supporters.

That Arsenal is in focus on this issue also underscores the concerns fans have with the club’s spending policies. Though Arsenal is one of the biggest clubs in the world, their record transfer fee of £15 million (matched this summer in purchasing Santi Cazorla) is relatively low by elite team standards. The club’s also seen the likes of Robin van Persie, Alex Song, Cesc Fabregas, and Samir Nasri leave over the last two years. Other talents like Gael Clichy and Emmanuel Adebayor left before. If the fans’ money isn’t going to buying or retaining players, then where’s it going?

These are all symptoms of England coming to terms with the Premier League’s unbridled capitalism, symptoms we have come to live with in the States. We’re used to our sports leagues not only raising prices but seeking more exorbitant sponsorships and kickbacks from governments. We don’t like it, we complain about it on Twitter and Facebook, but we aren’t surprised when ticket prices also go up despite most North American sports leagues capping spending on player wages.

Could we have the same discussions that are taking place in England? Yes, but to what end? This is the gambit we’ve bought into, literally. Unless you stop buying tickets, you’re contributing to the problem (to the extent you see it as a problem at all).

It’s easy for me to say these things because my job provides me access to Major League Soccer games (though my game day experience is much different from yours). Still, I can’t remember the last time I went to a professional sports event where I paid the full ticket price. I just don’t think it’s worth it. The last time I paid for a sports ticket was to a Portland Rain WPSL game in late summer (I believe it cost me $5 to see both the Rain and the Timbers’ U-23 team).

Of course, I’m not really a fan, either. I don’t have favorite teams. Even when I paid that $5 price this summer, I was there to work, not cheer. I don’t know what it’s like to feel an attachment to a club that’s so deep I’m compelled to buy season tickets, even if that means taking out a credit card just to do so. I’m not speaking from a point of empathy.

But at some point — if this is a real problem and not just an inconvenience — fans need to bite the bullet and (as they do in Germany and other countries) and stay away.

If Arsenal was only drawing 50,000 per match, their pricing policies would change.

MLS Snapshot: Jozy double downs Dynamo, Toronto wins 2-0

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The game in 100 words (or less): Toronto FC had too much firepower for defensively challenged Houston, and the hosts carved up the Dynamo for a 2-0 win north of the border. Giovinco was creative and flashy if not sharp, and Jozy Altidore was the benefactor as the American bagged both goals. After an early spell of Houston possession off the opening whistle, Toronto dominated from start to finish, with the midfield bossing the game.

Three moments that mattered

16′ – Raheem Edwards on the ball out wide, he burst into the box and – seeing Giovinco draw 2 defenders in an offside position – he cut back for Altidore who finished cooly from the spot. Too easy for the opener.

32′– Jozy doubled his lead as he played an absolutely brilliant one-two with Giovinco. The Italian popped it over the top as Altidore slipped through the line, and the USMNT star had the simplest of finishes.

85′ – Houston looked to get back into things by pouring men forward, but to no avail. The closest they came was off a corner as Alex ripped off a shot that sailed over the bar.

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Man of the match: Victor Vazquez/Marco Delgado

Goalscorers: Jozy Altidore (16′, 32′)

Juventus bumped by Atalanta at the death

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Juventus is still in firm control of the Serie A title race, but they were dealt a slight setback as Atalanta secured a 2-2 draw with a dramatic 89th minute equalizer in Bergamo.

Dani Alves had given Juventus the lead in the 83rd minute on a header after a brilliant far-post cross by Miralem Pjanic, but Remo Freuler answered late as he grabbed a point.

The goal came on a fortunate bounce as Pjanic and substitute Stephen Lichtensteiner got tangled up on the ball and failed to clear, and the ball squirted to Freuler who suddenly found himself free in front of Gianluigi Buffon. The Juventus keeper came off his line to smother the chance, but he failed to completely collect, and the ball again popped free. Freuler followed up the loose ball, and with a trio of Juventus defenders flying in, the 25-year-old Swiss attacker knocked it in.

The draw was deserving for Atalanta, who had controlled the game for much of the first half, and went ahead just seconds before the break on a goal by Andrea Conti. Atalanta outshot Juventus 7-4 in the first half, 3-1 on shots on target. Juventus took over control in the second half, and got back on level terms just five minutes after the break as Juventus loanee Leonardo Spinazzola put one in his own net.

Alves’ goal put Juventus in front, but that lead only lasted six minutes. Juventus goes nine points clear at the top of the Serie A table with the draw, but Roma has the chance to cut that to six if they can beat Lazio at home on Sunday.

MLS Week 8: Litmus tests across the board

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Week 8 in MLS action could teach fans a lot about clubs with plenty to prove.

With questions still abound regarding teams like NYCFC, New England, Seattle, Portland, and New York Red Bulls, all those teams have a chance to make statements regarding their potential strength this season.

[ MORE: Week 8 MLS Power Rankings ]

In addition, struggling teams such as Los Angeles, Minnesota, and Montreal all have opportunities for much-needed points against arguably weaker opposition.

Let’s take a look at the weekend slate chronologically:

Toronto FC vs. Houston Dynamo
7:30 p.m. ET Friday

Toronto got a pair from Giovinco last time out, and sitting near the bottom of the crowded East mid-tier, they need points fast to avoid finding themselves in a hole behind the top of the table. There’s goals in this one, with Houston defensively challenged and Cubo Torres on fire to start the year.

Montreal Impact vs. Vancouver Whitecaps
3:00 p.m. ET Saturday

An all-Canadian clash actually serves as a vitally important match for both clubs. With each side near the bottom of their conference standings, they both need a result badly to jump-start the campaign. A draw does nobody any good here moving forward.

Orlando City vs. Colorado Rapids
4:00 p.m. ET Saturday

The Lions are one of 2017’s surprises, and Cyle Larin is on an absolute tear. Unfortunately, so far, anyone who shuts down Larin shuts down Orlando City. That said, good luck to Colorado shutting down an early MLS Golden Boot challenger.

Cyle Larin has 6 goals in 6 games this season (Photo by Alex Menendez/Getty Images).

NY Red Bulls vs. Chicago Fire
7:30 p.m. ET Saturday

New York has seen bumps on the early-season road, but overall remains a strong Supporter’s Shield contender. They face a big test against another strong Eastern Conference side, and a win here would make it three straight, all over good competition. Chicago is reeling after its defeat to Toronto, out-shot 9-1, but has another chance to pick up a road win before heading back home.

Columbus Crew vs. NYCFC
7:30 p.m. ET Saturday

Columbus has been poor on the road, but they return home to Mapfre Stadium to take on a strong NYCFC side. This game could potentially teach us a lot about whoever comes out on top, as both look to build separation from the rest of the pack in the East. Both have lost two of three, but both still appear strong up front, and three points in this game could prove to be a marquee win to point to later in the season.

Minnesota United vs. San Jose Earthquakes
8:00 p.m. ET Saturday

Minnesota United, owners of one of the worst starts to the season, has shown signs of life. Can they keep it going against another team struggling for points?

FC Dallas vs. Portland Timbers
8:00 p.m. ET Saturday

This is a marquee matchup, and with FC Dallas unbeaten so far, represents a huge test but also a huge opportunity for Portland to announce itself as a true top contender in the West. They’re top of the table, but have played at least one more game than most teams just below them. Can the Timbers find a way through the strong Dallas D?

Sporting KC vs. Real Salt Lake
8:30 p.m. ET Saturday

A big rivalry game with big table implications, Sporting KC has the unfortunate luck of catching RSL after hiring Mike Petke and not before. This should be a fun one.

Seattle Sounders vs. New England Revolution
10:00 p.m. ET Saturday

We still don’t know exactly what New England is. For every step forward they’ve taken one back, and for every setback they’ve had they’ve found a way through. This is a fantastic test. There are plenty of excuses for a potential loss with the team going cross-country to face one of the league’s best attacks, but a result could be a true statement.

LA Galaxy vs. Philadelphia Union
10:30 p.m. ET Saturday

With Philadelphia struggling and now traveling a long way, this should be a chance for the Galaxy to turn things around. Should be.

Atlanta United vs. D.C. United
3:00 p.m. ET Sunday

Atlanta is back home for the first time in over a month. They have slipped a bit since the torrid start, but still appear a dangerous club. D.C. will have its work cut out.

Asian FIFA executive pleads guilty to bribery charges

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A guilty plea was entered early Friday by senior Asian Federation (AFC) official Richard Lai to bribery charges, leading FIFA to suspend the 55-year-old indefinitely.

Lai has served as the head of the Guam FA since 2001, and is a member of the FIFA audit and compliance committee. He was also formerly a member of the AFC executive committee, and currently sits on the AFC marketing committee. Lai is a United States citizen.

The guilty plea confirms more than $1 million in bribes accepted by Lai, including those from Kuwaiti officials looking to increase their influence over FIFA voters in the confederation. Two unnamed AFC executives, including one Kuwaiti, were also named as co-conspirators.

“One of the functions the defendant Richard Lai performed for Co-Conspirator #2 and Co-Conspirator #3 in exchange for the funds they sent him was to advise them on who was supporting which candidates in AFC and FIFA matters, including elections, and who Co-Conspirator #2 and Co-Conspirator #3 should recruit to support their chosen candidates,” a Department of Justice document published on Friday said.

That wording seems to indirectly implicate Qatari executive Mohamed bin Hammam, who was banned for life by FIFA in 2011 for bribery.

“I would like to thank the American authorities for their continued efforts to stamp out corruption from football,” FIFA president Gianni Infantino said in a statement following the plea. “I am happy to confirm once again, that FIFA will provide whatever assistance is needed by the U.S. and any other authorities around the world.”

Lai has also been provisionally suspended by the AFC.