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Dynamo president Chris Canetti talks Houston’s low turnout; We talk viability of a mid-week first round

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As the playoffs began last season, I had a brief Twitter exchange with Brendan Hannan (then a communication guy with Chicago) about the poor attendance at Toyota Park for the Fire’s first round match. In addition to the normal challenges facing Chicago’s ticket sales, the opening round match had fallen on Halloween. That combined with a weeknight’s trip to Bridgeview (say, 15 miles outside Chicago) and a short window to promote after their regular season finale meant only 10,923 showed up for the match.

Brendan’s explanations came to mind as I watched last night’s game in Houston, where a  crowd of 10,476 watched the Dynamo eliminate the Montréal Impact. Though the result moves Houston a step closer to their third straight MLS Cup final, the night was disappointing on separate level. Every shot of the crowd forced television viewers to wonder why a good team with a history of success can’t draw more people to their two-year-old facility.

[MORE: Houston Dynamo 3-0 Montreal Impact: Quick start lifts Houston to next round (video)]

“There were some real challenges last night,” Dynamo president Chris Canetti told me this afternoon, his sanguine explanation putting the low turnout in a different content. A practical conspiracy of factors — from the holiday, to short turn-around, to weather and a crowded sports week —  helped produce the team’s season-low crowd.

The biggest issue was the holiday. For the second straight year, Major League Soccer’s Eastern Conference playoffs started on Halloween. For a league and sport that tends to draw a younger audience, it’s a killer coincidence.

“For a huge percentage of our fanbase, that was the issue,” according to Canetti. “Halloween is a time you spend with your kids and you do things. I think that was a very difficult obstacle to overcome.”

It could have been overcome, Canetti feels, had other factors not lined up against the team. Houston was hit by another of their characteristic mini-monsoons mid-week, causing flooding throughout southeast Texas. By early afternoon on Thursday, the showers had been turned off, but the storm still kept people away from BBVA Compass.

The University of Houston also had a football game, forcing some fans to make a choice, but the bigger problem may have been an unexpectedly crammed media landscape. At a time of the year when the Dynamo can usually gain some traction, Dwight Howard was making his debut for the Rockets and the Texans were changing quarterbacks. Add in the unfortunate passing of local legend Bum Phillips, and Houston was squeezed out.

source: AP
Houston averaged over 21,000 fans for their two 2012 playoff games. On Thursday, they drew less than 11,000 for their playoff opener. (Photo: AP Photo.)

“The Dynamo have a great track record for attendance, particularly playoff attendance,” Canetti notes, the team averaging over 21,000 for their two 2012 playoff games. “One of the reasons we were able to drive such a great attendance in years’ past is because we were able to elevate our brand and get huge media exposure in the market. The media market was very cluttered this week in Houston.”

Given four days to get the word out, Houston couldn’t penetrate that market. The people who ended up at the stadium were the diehards.

“Those fans were loud, the ones that were there,” Canetti says. “Those are our most ardent supporters. They brought it last night.”

Like Chicago, Houston’s situation is unique, but as places like Kansas City, Portland, and Seattle show, there’s more to a full house than nice numbers and lined pockets. If you can fill out a stadium, the television product is much better, and if there’s one thing the league needs to be concerned about more than anything else, it’s how it comes off on broadcast. It’s part of the reason why the English and German leagues come off a little better than Spain’s (non-Barça, Real Madrid) or Portugal’s. It’s also the reason why a Philadelphia Union match creates a better broadcast experience than a D.C. United game.

Dynamo fans did seem louder than the 10,000-person crowds we see elsewhere, but with seas of orange seats visible around the stadium, MLS didn’t put their best foot forward. Instead of marveling at how far the league has come, people tuning in last night might wonder how far MLS needs to go.

“We’re a growing league, we’ve got an incredibly bring future,” Canetti confessed. “These are bumps in the road along the way.”

“I don’t think anybody wishes that we have to play mid-week playoff games, especially on a Halloween. That would include the folks at the league office. I certainly understand the scheduling challenges that put us in this position, especially this year as we have to battle a FIFA window coming up.”

But at some point, you have to set priorities. In that sense, maybe reducing the regular season schedule does make sense, providing a solution that will give the league more flexibility when scheduling these all-important, marquee matches. Or if a solution can’t be found for the first round game, perhaps eliminating them entirely should be considered. Four playoff teams in each conference seems like enough, even if Houston wouldn’t have made last year’s playoffs with a smaller field.

There’s little point to putting matches on television that aren’t going to show the league in a positive light. Did last night’s game cross that line? Perhaps not, but casual MLS fans tuning in for a playoff atmosphere didn’t get it. And it wasn’t the Dynamo’s fault.

“It’s not that we stink or we don’t know what we’re doing here,” Canetti explains. “We’ve got some real, real challenges that need to be understood.”

For teams like Houston and Chicago, those challenges include fighting for space in crowded sports landscapes. For MLS, the task is putting their franchises in the best position to win those battles.

Does the mid-week, quick turnaround playoff game do that? Not Thursday in Houston. Not last year in Chicago.

Almost 100 arrests after Hertha Berlin, Frankfurt fans clash

BERLIN, GERMANY - SEPTEMBER 24:  Members of Hertha BSC celebrate after winning the Hertha BSC v VfL Wolfsburg - Bundesliga match 1:0 at Olympiastadion on September 24, 2014 in Berlin, Germany.  (Photo by Boris Streubel/Getty Images for Deutsche Bahn)
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BERLIN (AP) Berlin police made almost 100 arrests on Saturday when Hertha Berlin and Eintracht Frankfurt supporters clashed violently before their Bundesliga game.

[ MORE: Lucky Man United, Mourinho begin trophy haul ]

Police say masked fans fought with batons, bottles, beer crates, chairs and flares on a busy street corner in the neighborhood of Moabit. The first officers on the scene faced “a group of around 60 rioters” who turned on the police.

Two police vehicles were damaged with stones and bottles before 96 arrests were made – with 73 of those arrested from the state of Hessen, which has Frankfurt as its largest city.

Six supporters were hospitalized. Police say only one fan is still in the hospital and in a “stable” condition.

Police say they are investigating whether the clash was pre-arranged.

PL Download – Tottenham Hotspur: To Dare Is To Do

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The latest Premier League side to get the PL Download treatment is Tottenham Hotspur, as Men In Blazers’ Roger Bennett details the club’s ethos in “To Dare Is To Do”.

[ MORE: Spurs 4-0 Stoke | Kane, Dele react ]

Bennett is joined by Hugo Lloris, Mauricio Pochettino and others to discuss Spurs, their new stadium project, and much more.

Lucky Man United, Mourinho begin trophy haul

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 26:  Paul Pogba passes the trophy to Jose Mourinho manager of Manchester United in victory after during the EFL Cup Final between Manchester United and Southampton at Wembley Stadium on February 26, 2017 in London, England. Manchester United beat Southampton 3-2.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
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LONDON — Pure and simple, Manchester United got out of jail to win the League Cup on Sunday at Wembley.

Southampton deserved to win. United did not.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]

But they did, as Jose Mourinho found a way to win his first major trophy as a Red Devil and begin what could be another golden era in their history. With the trophy win they’ve know equaled Liverpool’s 41 major titles and the team Mourinho is building suggests there could be many more, maybe even this season, as they’re still alive in the FA Cup and UEFA Europa League.

United beat Southampton 3-2 thanks to Zlatan Ibrahimovic‘s late header, as they threw away an undeserved 2-0 lead as Saints fought back to make it 2-2 thanks to goals from Manolo Gabbiadini and then they hit the post through Oriol Romeu right on the hour mark as United were hanging on for dear life. Saints also had a perfectly good goal chalked off in the first half for offside with the score locked at 0-0.

[ MORE: Zlatan reacts to win ]

However it went in United’s favor and they got it done. There’s an invincibility returning with just one defeat in their last 27 games in all competitions. This win was far from convincing but they found a way.

Mourinho knew his team had got away with one, praising Claude Puel‘s Southampton who deserved more, but his incredible knack of winning trophies continues.

“Honestly, Ibrahimovic won the game for us because he was outstanding. I can see a couple of performances – Pogba similar level – but he was outstanding,” Mourinho told Sky Sports. “In a match where the opponent was better than us for long periods – they deserved to go to extra time – he made the difference and he gave us the cup.

“I’m a bit emotional yes. It’s not easy to win titles and so many times. It’s not easy to cope with the pressure I put myself under. It was a game I was feeling the difficulty. I want to pay homage to Southampton and what they deserve. We have the cup in our hands and probably should be in extra time. Winning is always special. The day I don’t get emotional when I win is the day to go home.”

Throughout the final Mourinho’s side were undone out wide with full backs Antonio Valencia and Marcos Rojo given a torrid time by Southampton’s wingers and especially full backs Cedric Soares and Ryan Bertrand. So many time crosses were whipped in or pulled back and a Southampton player couldn’t get on the end of it.

Mourinho’s United resembled a fighter on the ropes in the second half, clinging on for a points decision with the occasional flurry of hope. Apart from Jesse Lingard‘s volley at the back post and a low shot from Marcus Rashford, there was nothing for United in the second half. They looked like a team who had played four games in 11 days, while Saints had two weeks off.

Then Zlatan arrived.

“This is a team effort. This is what I came for – to win and I am winning. The more I win the more satisfied I get,” Ibrahimovic said. “You appreciate it more the older you get. Wherever I have gone I have won. I think this is trophy number 32 for me. This is what I predicted. To many I could not do it. My friend, I keep doing it. I’m enjoying it in England.”

Zlatan’s character, along with Mourinho’s guidance, explains why United could now go on and win the FA Cup and Europa League and also finish in the top four in the Premier League. Zlatan is a winner. It may not be pretty and sometimes, like Sunday, it may not be deserved, but class and experience counts for so much.

Mourinho’s trophy haul is why he is stil the most coveted manager in the world, despite the debacle at Chelsea last season and his antics. On Sunday he become just the third manager (after Sir Alex Ferguson and Brian Clough) to win four League Cups. At Chelsea he won the trophy three times in the past, gaining momentum from all three of those successes as he builds a ruthless machine. Mourinho will be given the money to buy the best players on the planet this summer and things will improve as his overhaul continues.

It’s not a well-oiled machine yet but it’s getting there. Winning trophies like this will help United get back to the top quicker. Mourinho said he side “had a bit of luck because the 3-2 came for us at a moment when it was difficult for them to react.”

He also reflected on how important this trophy win was for his team.

“I am very happy, as I was saying before it is important for the club, fans, players, I always try to put myself in a secondary position,” Mourinho said. “It is also important for me. I put a lot of pressure on myself. I wanted very much to win a major trophy with every club. By doing that with Manchester United it is quite a sense of relief. It was a big target for me to win a trophy at Manchester United. The reality is that we want more and more. My contract is long. I have two more years plus this win. Hopefully I can win something. This season, I know it is difficult, but the reality is that we have to try to fight for more.”

This may be the start of another special era for Mourinho and Manchester United.

Mourinho lauds Pogba, Zlatan after EFL Cup triumph

United manager Jose Mourinho applauds during the English League Cup final soccer match between Manchester United and Southampton FC at Wembley stadium in London, Sunday, Feb. 26, 2017. (AP Photo/Tim Ireland)
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Jose Mourinho knows his side is fortunate to come away with the EFL Cup, and he’s fairly confident who deserves the credit.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored to help Manchester United build a 2-0 lead over Southampton on Sunday at Wembley Stadium, then added the winner in the 87th minute of the Red Devils’ 3-2 win.

[ MORE: Recap | Zlatan reacts | 3 things ]

Mourinho said his “outstanding” legendary striker won the game for United, adding that big buy Paul Pogba was close to the same level.

And while the manager didn’t appear too impressed with the win, admitting that Southampton did not deserve its fate, Mourinho is happy to win. From Sky Sports:

“I’m a bit emotional. It’s not easy to win titles so many times, it’s not easy to cope with the pressure I put myself under all of my career, It was a game I felt was difficult, so credit goes to Southampton. We have the cup in our hands but we should be playing extra-time. Winning is always special. The day I don’t get emotional when I win is the day I go home.”

United is still alive in the FA Cup and the UEFA Europa League, while Mourinho’s men sit sixth in the Premier League table with 48 points. They’ve played one match less than leaders Chelsea, which has 63 points.