Arthur Blank

Atlanta, MLS don’t need to quiet doubts to be successful in the Southeast

10 Comments

Major League Soccer’s worst kept secret was its interest in Atlanta. As Don Garber’s reflex response goes, the league has been interested in the city for over a decade. Not only does it give MLS a coveted spot in the abandoned Southeast, but it represents a location that hasn’t failed before. Going into Florida? There’s a history there. In Atlanta, MLS can write its own.

Miami may be the capital of Latin America, but Atlanta is the center of the South. If MLS is going to go challenge the notion that professional soccer can’t gain a foothold in the region, it has to succeed in ‘The ATL’ – a focal point that can promote the sector’s link to the rest of the country. Without it, the two Florida franchises (Orlando and David Beckham’s eventual team in Miami) are left on an island, one that could sink once more.

It’s an endeavor that stares skeptics’ two main assumptions in the face – notions that also apply to the potential Miami franchise: First, that the cities are not a “good sports towns”; and second, MLS’s history says it can not succeed in the Southeast.

The funny part about the first it that there’s no clear standard for evaluating what is and is not a good sports town. And whatever standards you do hear? They’re probably completely inapplicable to Major League Soccer.

Critics will point out there’s a lack of excitement for the Dolphins and Marlins in Miami, the Hawks and Braves in Atlanta, but it’s not as if those teams are going out of business. Even the Marlins, at this point, are a well-established part of their city’s landscape. By Major League Soccer standards, those franchises are outrageous successes. If Miami and Atlanta are bad sports towns, it’s only relative to a lofty, irrelevant standard that shouldn’t apply to MLS.

Plus, as Blank alluded to in today’s press conference, the extent to which you can look at a football, basketball, or baseball franchise and see MLS’s future is a dubious one. According to the new MLS owner (citing information relayed to him by Seattle’s ownership), only three percent of Sounders season ticket holders do the same with the Seahawks. If you’re looking to NFL-ledd MLS teams as a means of evaluating Atlanta’s potential, here’s actually very little overlap between NFL customers and potential soccer supporters. As we’ve known for some time, soccer fans are a distinct type of customer, one that’s more likely to be reached with a distinct approach.

Perhaps paradoxically, that’s where Blank’s NFL organization can help. As those around Seattle recently noted as the Sounders severed business ties with the Seahawks, being linked to a huge, established organization likely helped the Sounders’ unprecedented growth. It gave the franchise a large machine capable of leveraging its experience in a way that took advantage of any opportunity for growth. Given the Falcons’ presence in Atlanta, Blank may be able to do the same.

Does that make Atlanta a good sport market? No, but it’s also unclear what a good sports market is. If having franchises like the Braves and Dolphins mean a city doest care about sports, maybe we’re too idealistic about what represents success in this realm. And if the doubters’ argument is that places like Salt Lake, Columbus, Santa Clara, Portland — small cities where MLS is already successful — represent better opportunities than the city with the 15th largest economy in the world, the standard is broken. MLS doesn’t need to win over the whole town. A small slice of the pie will work.

Critics, however, are also skeptical of MLS’s ability to penetrate the market, usually citing the region’s sports culture and MLS’s previous failures as reason to believe another Southeast excursion will fail. But if there’s one thing we know about Major League Soccer, it’s that the league is nothing like it was in 2001. Pointing to anything the league did at age six as an example of what it’s capable of at age 19 ignores the league’s trajectory.

source:
The Miami Fusion ceased operations in 2001, but a group led by David Beckham are hoping to secure a stadium that will allow a new team to play by 2017, the same year Atlanta will come into Major League Soccer.

By now, MLS is a totally different organism. It’s bigger and far more stable that it was in 2001, when a small group of owners were faced with the task to keeping the two Florida franchises afloat. MLS, struggling for its mere survival, didn’t have the resources back then. Overly reliant on Phil Anschutz and Lamar Hunt, the league couldn’t wait out teams’ slow starts.

But now, with the resources people like Blank, Beckham, and Manchester City’s ownership can throw behind new franchises, there’s no reason to expect those slow starts. Instead, these teams will try to hit the ground running, if not on the field than off. If they hit speed bumps, a large group of diverse owners can leverage to decades of lessons to promote the teams’ survival.

That’s not to say Atlanta, Miami, Orlando … New York or franchise no. 24 will succeed. Instead, it’s important to realize the league’s 1996-2001 track record is irrelevant. Different owners with different goals had different tools, none of which will be used in the MLS’s latest attempt to tackle the Southeast. Instead, a sport that’s made significant gains in national relevance over the last 13 years will take another shot, with new minds and new capabilities leading the charge.

If soccer in the Southeast fails, it won’t be for the same reasons Tampa Bay and Miami. And it probably won’t be because Atlanta and the Magic City aren’t Good Sports Towns. Major League Soccer doesn’t necessarily need GSTs to succeed.

It needs good owners. It needs people who have ideas that can help franchises identify that sliver of local support that will sustain the team. It needs a growing game and a vibrant league to give the teams a bigger, more relevant context. Right now, it just needs 20,000-or-so people to want to come to games.

It doesn’t need to make people forget the Mutiny and Fusion, and it doesn’t need to prove Atlanta and Miami are GSTs. All MLS needs to capture each city’s underserved soccer market. Even if that doesn’t push the Heat or Falcons on the back burner, it will be enough to allow address those doubts.

CCV, Zelalem, Klinsmann on U-20 roster as U.S. plays Germany, Netherlands, England

COMMERCE CITY, CO - OCTOBER 06:  Gedion Zelalem #16 of the United States controls the ball against Pedro Jeanine #5 of Panama during 2015 CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying at Dick's Sporting Goods Park on October 6, 2015 in Commerce City, Colorado. The United States defeated Panama 4-0.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
Leave a comment

In some ways, this tournament could be more interesting than the USMNT’s friendlies against Cuba and New Zealand.

The United States U-20 team is preparing for World Cup qualification by facing a fearsome threesome in the Four Nations Tournament in England.

[ MORE: PST talks with Michael Bradley ]

The Yanks will play Germany on Wednesday in Leigh, the Netherlands on Friday in Manchester, and England on Monday in Rochdale.

Among the names to watch, of course, are Spurs’ Cameron Carter-Vickers and Arsenal youngster Gedion Zelalem. Also, Jonathan Klinsmann, son of USMNT boss Jurgen, is one of two goalkeepers in the bunch.

A pair of Fulham players make the cut, as does new UD Las Palmas signing Emmanuel Sabbi. Seattle Sounders forward Victor Mansaray and Orlando defender Tommy Redding rep MLS on the roster.

[ MORE: Carter-Vickers signs extension with Spurs ]

It’ll be a must-follow tournament, considering the opposition. The Yanks will be tested by an English roster which includes Premier League players Reece Oxford (West Ham), Joshua Onomah (Spurs), and Lewis Cook (Bournemouth). England’s full roster is here.

U.S. U-20 roster

GOALKEEPERS: Jonathan Klinsmann (University of California), Justin Vom Steeg (Fortuna Dusseldorf)

DEFENDERS (8): Hugo Arellano (LA Galaxy), Marcello Borges (Michigan), Cameron Carter-Vickers (Tottenham Hotspur), Marlon Fossey (Fulham), Tommy Redding (Orlando City SC), Miles Robinson (Syracuse), Toni Suddoth (VfB Stuttgart), Auston Trusty (Bethlehem Steel FC)

MIDFIELDERS (7): Danny Acosta (Real Salt Lake), Luca De La Torre (Fulham), Derrick Jones (Bethlehem Steel FC), Brooks Lennon (Liverpool), Weston McKinnie (Schalke 04), Jonathan Suarez (Queretaro), Gedion Zelalem (Arsenal)

FORWARDS (5): Jeremy Ebobisse (Charleston Battery), Victor Mansaray (Seattle Sounders FC), Emmanuel Sabbi (UD Las Palmas), Sebastian Saucedo (Veracruz), Isaiah Young (PDA)

Jurgen Klopp angry despite Liverpool’s fourth-straight win

SWANSEA, WALES - OCTOBER 01:  Jurgen Klopp, Manager of Liverpool reacts  during the Premier League match between Swansea City and Liverpool at Liberty Stadium on October 1, 2016 in Swansea, Wales.  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Jurgen Klopp‘s Liverpool ground out a 2-1 win at Swansea City on Saturday as the Reds have now won four-straight games in the Premier League.

Still, Klopp isn’t that happy.

[ MORE: Latest transfer news ]

That’s because Liverpool were second best in the first half as they failed to cope with Swansea’s high-pressing and were behind 1-0 at half time.

Klopp had some strong words for his players in the dressing room and it worked as Roberto Firmino equalizes and James Milner‘s late spot kick won it.

Despite plenty of optimism over Liverpool’s strong start to the season — they have won five of their opening seven games and have 16 points on the board — the German coach wasn’t best pleased when speaking to Sky Sports afterwards.

“We are really happy in this moment, second half was like the whole game should have been. We were really angry with ourselves with the first half because the body language was not good and too late in mind and all that stuff. It was far away from our best performance but we showed a reaction in the second half and that’s important,” Klopp said. “You can lose football games and we will lose football games in the future but you have to show minimum part of your usual face. That’s what we showed second half and that was Liverpool and that’s what we think we should be. We were the deserved win in the end.”

Liverpool deserved to just edge the game but they could’ve been 2-0 or even 3-0 down at half time had Swansea been more clinical. Defending set pieces continues to be a problem for Klopp and his side have now conceded the most from those situations in the Premier League since he arrived last October. There was no surprise Leroy Fer‘s goal came from a set piece as zonal marking was again an issue for the Reds, while goalkeeper Lorus Karius looked a little nervy at times when coming for crosses as Mike Van der Hoorn should’ve equalized in the dying stages for Swansea.

With plenty of euphoria around Liverpool’s stellar start to this season, question marks over their defensive play still linger. Liverpool has now failed to keep a clean sheet in any of its last 10 Premier League away games dating back to last season, which is closing in on the club record of 12. Yes, we know they are the top-scoring team in the Premier League in 2016 but shoring up these defensive issues will be the priority for Klopp.

Klopp also confirmed that both Adam Lallana and Dejan Lovren are struggling with groin injuries. Lallana hobbled off in the first half and Klopp believes the England midfielder will not be available for Gareth Southgate over the international break.

“One or two problems today. Adam with a groin problem and Dejan Lovren too. I’m pretty sure they both cannot go now to national team,” Klopp confirmed. “We need further assessment and then we will see. Hopefully they can use the time to recover and be back in the race for the next game.”

Liverpool remain in the race for the PL title with yet another win but Klopp knows his side will come up against better opponents than a struggling Swansea and they got out of jail a little bit on Saturday.

STREAM: Watch Hull-Chelsea, West Ham-Boro, every 10am ET game

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 24: Diego Costa of Chelsea shows his frustration during the Premier League match between Arsenal and Chelsea at the Emirates Stadium on September 24, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
Leave a comment

Four games take center stage at 10 a.m. ET in the Premier League on Saturday.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live here ]

Hull City host Chelsea at the KCOM Stadium, while struggling West Ham host Middlesbrough at the London Stadium.

Elsewhere Bournemouth head to Watford and Sunderland is hoping to get their first win as West Brom head to the Stadium of Light.

You can stream each game live by clicking on the links below or above.


10 a.m. ET: Hull City vs. Chelsea – NBCSN [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Sunderland vs. West Brom – Premier League Extratime [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: West Ham vs. Middlesbrough – Premier League Extratime [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Watford vs. Bournemouth – Premier League Extratime [STREAM]

Pardew, Palace wish luck to FC Cincinnati; USL Playoffs underway (video)

CINCINNATI, OH - JULY 16: Tyler Polak #3 of FC Cincinnati steals the ball from Bakary Sako #26 of Crystal Palace FC as Paul Nicholson #8 of FC Cincinnati falls back on defense during the first half at Nippert Stadium on July 16, 2016 in Cincinnati, Ohio.(Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)
Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Before Crystal Palace drew Everton 1-1 at Goodison Park on Friday, they turned their attention Stateside.

The club released a video message in support of United States third tier side FC Cincinnati on Friday, as the third-seeded USL club prepares to take on No. 6 Charleston Battery at Nippert Stadium on Sunday.

[ MORE: PST talks with Michael Bradley ]

Palace visited FC Cincinnati this summer, with 35,000-plus showing up as the Premier League side beat its USL opposition in a wonderful showcase for American soccer supporters.

Well, Pards and the boys were impressed, and issued a vote of good luck:

The playoffs are underway, with 16 of the 29 clubs making the march forward. Reigning champion Rochester Rhinos open up against Charlotte at Rhinos Stadium on Saturday, while the No. 1 seeds are New York Red Bulls II (Eastern Conference) and Sacramento Republic FC (Western Conference).

Full first round

Western Conference

Sacramento Republic (1) vs. Orange County Blues (8) — Saturday
Swope Park Rangers (4) 3-0 LA Galaxy II (5)
Colorado Springs Switchbacks (3) 1-2 Vancouver Whitecaps 2 (6)
Rio Grande Valley FC Toros (2) vs. Oklahoma City Energy FC (7)

Eastern Conference

New York Red Bulls (1) vs. Orlando City B (8) — Sunday
Rochester Rhinos (4) vs. Charlotte Independence (5) — Saturday
FC Cincinnati (3) vs. Charleston Battery (6) — Sunday
Louisville City FC (2) vs. Richmond Kickers (7) — Sunday