What a U.S. Open Cup final! … Too bad a few more people could not see it

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Who doesn’t love a huge upset in tournament play? (Well, who outside of Utah this morning, in this case.)

D.C. United holding out heroically against heavily favored Real Salt Lake on Tuesday at Rio Tinto was brilliant theater, a real memory maker and a fitting end for the 100th edition of a storied tournament built on the possibility of these very upsets.

The question on the day after Tuesday’s soccer version of a D.C. Shutdown is this: If such a thing happens again next year, will more people be able to see it? Because for all the brilliance of last night’s underdog triumph, the storybook finish was diminished by a lack of viewers and the attached lack of a big, national event feel.

(HT to the Salt Lake Tribune; I stole the “D.C. Shutdown” line from the paper’s headline this morning.)

Worse, Tuesday’s big moment was turned into a punch line, with the clevers of Twitter cracking on about how they were planning to watch:

source:

I know it’s easy to blame U.S. Soccer here, but that’s an overly simplified explanation.

The game was broadcast on GolTV, which is in the second year of its three-year agreement with U.S. Soccer to televise the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup final. Two things to know:

All the other potential TV partners (larger ones, that is) said “pass” on the opportunity to show the final. Hardcore soccer supporters here love the U.S. Open Cup, and rightly so.  (I certainly do, by the way; it’s an absolute gem.) But supporter regard and actual brand value are not attached in any meaningful way. In other words, the dollar value of the tournament is, let’s just say, something less than staggering.

This ain’t no NCAA Basketball Tournament.

Second, when U.S. Soccer signed the agreement with GolTV, no one in the industry knew that BeIN Sport, backed with stacks of cash through its attachment to Al Jazeera Media Networks, was going to absolutely cut the legs from beneath GolTV. When BeIN gobbled up GolTV’s most valuable properties (U.S. television rights for La Liga, Serie A, Ligue 1, Copa del Rey and South American World Cup qualifiers, for instance), GolTV’s market share and its very relevancy fell off the table.

Long story short, BeIN Sport has practically killed off GolTV, and the U.S. Open Cup final became collateral damage.

GolTV had no pre- or post-game show Tuesday – thanks, by the way, to MLSSoccer.com for providing one – and did not even have its broadcasters on site. Nothing says “mailing it in” like calling a final from a studio.

So … will it get better next year?

Short answer: possibly, but nothing is likely.

source: Getty Images
Precious few TV viewers watched D.C. United lift its third Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup trophy Tuesday night in Sandy, Utah.

“We are always looking for ways to get  as many people as possible watching our matches,” U.S. Soccer spokesman Neil Buethe told me this morning, “whether that is U.S. men’s or women’s national team matches or the Open Cup final or other matches in the national team program.”

When I asked about streaming and why last night’s match was not available via internet, Buethe could only say that it was discussed but was ultimately GolTV’s choice.

Marketing U.S. Soccer’s Open Cup is always tricky business. MLS clubs and U.S. Soccer could potentially enhance the brand by adding big marketing dollars, but there are no guarantees for a tournament that simply does not have a substantial, national footprint. In all honesty, it’s a tournament where continued organic growth probably remains the best course; throwing money willy-nilly seems unwise, especially considering MLS and its clubs mostly remain awash in red ink.

The one possible escape hatch would be U.S. Soccer and Soccer United Marketing (Major League Soccer’s marketing arm) bundling the tournament final along with other properties. That’s how MLS has enhanced the value of its TV contracts, by bundling national team rights with MLS rights.

Until then, hope for better days for GolTV, I suppose.

(MORE: D.C. United revels in victory; celebration video)

(MORE: D.C. United stuns Real Salt Lake in U.S. Open Cup final)

Lamela needs hip surgery, out for rest of Spurs season

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Tottenham Hotspur won’t be getting an Erik Lamela boost any time soon.

The 25-year-old winger will undergo surgery on his ailing hip this Saturday, costing him availability for Spurs’ stretch run and Argentina duty.

[ MORE: RSL hires Petke ]

Lamela has been missing since Oct. 29, and left Spurs lineup with the team unbeaten in the Premier League (5W-4D).

He registered a goal and an assist in PL play, adding a goal and four helpers in the side’s first two rounds of the EFL Cup and two assists in three Champions League matches.

Real Salt Lake introduces Mike Petke as new head coach

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Mike Petke is getting a deserved next kick as an MLS coach.

The New York Red Bulls icon, 41, is taking over at Real Salt Lake, where he had been leading USL side Real Monarchs since December.

“They’re an animal waiting to be released from a cage,” Petke called RSL’s roster.

[ MORE: Zlatan to stay at United?

Petke won better than 41 percent of his matches as RBNY boss, leading the club to the 2013 Supporters’ Shield. This came after 351 matches between Colorado, the Red Bulls/MetroStars, and DC United.

He leaves Real Monarchs with a perfect 1-0 record. Unbeaten!

“The vision that he laid out, along with Craig and Rob, was music to my ears,” Petek said. “They really showed me what was ahead for the RSL organization, and it was an easy thing to be a part of.”

Petke thanked the Monarchs for restoring some of his love for managing, something he said was “kicked out of me”. The Red Bulls shockingly parted ways with Petke in January 2015, moving onto Jesse Marsch.

This is a low risk hire for Real, who gains a respected coach and soccer mind. The optics aren’t great coming so early into the season and so soon after his hiring at Monarchs raised eyebrows.

The hiring comes four days after RSL drew the Red Bulls 0-0 at Red Bull Arena, which is the only disappointment of this whole ordeal: Not getting to see the response at his old home.

Referee leaders want on-field official to see video replays

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LONDON (AP) Antoine Griezmann headed the ball into the net and was in full celebration mode with his France teammates when referee Felix Swayer pinned a finger into his left ear to block out the stadium noise.

[ VIDEO: VAR system used correctly

An assistant in front of a bank of monitors was assessing replays and had some bad news for Griezmann. Swayer was told through his earpiece that a player was offside in the buildup.

The goal was then ruled out, without Swayer seeing a replay. But that won’t necessarily be the case by the time video replays are fully approved to be rolled out across soccer.

For now, the experimental phase is still in full flow but if refereeing leaders get their way officials should always have access to the footage themselves around the field.

“The subjective decisions should be made by the on-field referee because they have got the feel for the game,” Mike Riley, general manager of English refereeing organization, told The Associated Press. “They can put it in the context of everything else. So as part of the process we have got to work out how we can do that as effectively as possible … without interrupting the flow of the game.”

The International Football Association Board, the game’s lawmaking body, is in its second year of trials with various versions of video assistant referees (VAR). Some games, like the France-Spain friendly, do not allow the referee to evaluate incidents and instead by rely on the VAR.

But VAR could end up only ruling on what Riley describes as “decisions of fact,” such as whether a ball was inside or outside the penalty area.

Ultimately, if you are appointing one of the top referees to preside over a major game, that person is seen as ideal for making the big calls, according to IFAB.

“Fundamentally we are told very much by players and coaches they want the referee to be making the most important decisions,” IFAB technical director David Elleray said, referencing England’s top referee. “They don’t know who is in a van out in the car park or 300 miles away in a match center.”

Soccer’s lawmakers only envisage video replays being used to correct game-changing decisions involving four situations: penalties being awarded, red cards, cases of mistaken identity and goals being scored.

That situation arose twice in the Stade de France on Tuesday as France lost 2-0 to Spain. After Griezmann’s goal was disallowed, video replays worked against France again but in Spain’s favor when an incorrect offside call against Gerard Deulofeu was overturned and his goal stood.

Swayer again relied on the information from a colleague benefiting from replays.

“Nicola Rizzoli was appointed to referee the last World Cup final because he is the best referee,” Elleray said. “But if actually the two most important decisions in the match are made by somebody watching a TV screen … the most important person is the man you put behind the TV screen not the man on the field.”

The challenges are how referees are able to view replays without lengthening the delay. For now the technology isn’t satisfactory for officials to use wearable devices and receive footage in real time. That means going to the side of the field to watch incidents with the eyes of thousands of fans in the stands on them. The screens are likely to be on the opposite side to the technical area to avoid coaches being able to surround and harangue the referee.

“Some of our stadiums don’t lend themselves to monitors by the side of the pitch because they are really tight,” said Riley, a former Premier League referee who is now in charge of appointments for games in the world’s richest soccer competition. “Is it right for referees to have to run 30 yards to go and look? Can you get the footage to the referee on the field somehow? All these things have to be explored through the experiment and come out with a solution that works for football.”

Live experiments are taking place in about 20 competitions this year, including the Confederations Cup in Russia in June and July that will serves as a World Cup test event.

Once IFAB adds video replays to the laws of the game, any competition meeting the requirements will be able to use them.

For Riley, permitting replays is “the most significant change in refereeing in the game for generations,” far more significant than the 2012 decision to allow technology that simply determines whether the ball crossed the goal line.

“If you are making such a significant change,” Riley said, “you need to really explore and understand all the potential implications.”

Rob Harris can be followed at http://www.twitter.com/RobHarris and http://www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports

Amid fanfare, Bastian Schweinsteiger arrives in Chicago

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Arriving at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, it is clear Bastian Schweinsteiger is kind of a big deal…

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Posing for photos with fans as he stepped off the flight with his wife, former Serbian tennis star Ana Ivanovic, the former Bayern Munich midfielder was mobbed by Chicago Fire fans who are delighted he has arrived in Major League Soccer as the newest Designated Player.

The German legend has completed his move from Manchester United to the Fire and will be officially unveiled to the media on Wednesday after signing a one-year deal.

[ MORE: Latest MLS news ]

Schweinsteiger, 32, has already had a training session in the books and the World Cup winner is expected to make his debut in Chicago’s home clash with the Montreal Impact on Saturday at Toyota Park.

Below is a video of Schweinsteiger’s arrival in Chicago, his first training session and a collection of photos he took with ecstatic Fire fans.