Hitting the fairway: Footgolf aims to take over the United States

Leave a comment

What do you have when you take the complexities of golf and match them up with the physical demands of kicking a soccer ball?

It’s called Footgolf.

[ LIVE: Stream every PL game live

The sport dates back to the late 1920s — when it was still a concept and was known as codeball — but is now finally gaining traction on a global scale as one of the hottest up-and-coming sports, and rivaling both soccer and golf.

AFGL
AFGL

The beauty of Footgolf is that it only takes a soccer ball and a player in order to participate. The objective is straightforward. In as few kicks as possible the player must attempt to get the soccer ball into a cup with a 21-inch diameter.

Just as it is when playing golf, the lengths on most traditional Footgolf courses range from par 3 (the shortest length) to par 5 (the longest).

In the U.S., soccer has made great strides over the years at both the club and international levels, while golf has seen its share of peaks as well during the height of the Tiger Woods-Era, but American Footgolf League (AFGL) founder Roberto Balestrini believes that it is footgolf that has the potential to captivate the country moving forward.

Pro Soccer Talk recently caught up with Balestrini following the release of the Federation for International Footgolf (FIFG) international calendar which features a full-year schedule for the 2017 World Tour, similar to that of the PGA Tour.

“Soccer players retire early in life due to injuries or just because it is difficult for many of them to perform at the highest level when they’re in their late 20’s, early 30’s,” Balestrini told PST. “The AFGL has created a structure where former soccer players can get back into the spotlight playing FootGolf. In a few more years, we will see many of them taking up this sport on the professional level to continue to use their athletic skill in a new way.”

Expectations for Footgolf in the U.S. are very high despite the AFGL’s brief existence. The organization was founded in 2011 but has quickly grown to house over 500 courses throughout the U.S. in 49 states as well as Washington D.C., Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

For the time being, North Dakota is the lone state that doesn’t feature a Footgolf course.

While the AFGL’s steady growth is encouraging for Balestrini and those of the Footgolf community, the league president has his sights set on bigger goals in the future.

“The golf industry has welcomed AFGL because we’re introducing a new demographic to the industry,” Balestrini said. “Participation in golf is declining in an average of 1.3 percent per year for the past decade while soccer is increasing by over eight percent. Now golf is doing better and perhaps FootGolf have something to do with it, even in a very small percentage. We’re working on our relationship with the soccer industry now because we had to start on the golf side to initiate relationships with the golf courses to create the necessary structure for the FootGolf to be played around the country.

“There’s a lot of potential for us to work with both sides in order to get where we want to be in the future. We just have to keep working hard and over the next five years I believe we’ll be in the position we want to be at.”

In an effort to help gain more interest from traditional soccer players and supporters, the AFGL recently announced a partnership with the American Outlaws (the U.S. Men’s National Team’s biggest supporter group). The deal includes an American Outlaws-only Footgolf tournament which will be held in March in San Jose, California.

In 2016, the AFGL reported nearly 1,300 members participated in the U.S. Footgolf National Championship., however, that number is expected to double or possibly triple for the coming 12 months.

Images of the American Foot Golf, final day, at the Desert Willow Golf Resort in Palm Desert, Ca., on Sunday, November 6, 2016. Photo by Rodrigo Pena
Images of the American Foot Golf, final day, at the Desert Willow Golf Resort in Palm Desert, Ca., on Sunday, November 6, 2016. (Photo by Rodrigo Pena)

The current format for the AFGL is very similar to that of golf, with tournaments typically played on weekends over the course of one to sometimes three rounds, depending on the difficulty of the competition.

The country is divided into four regions — the Northeast, Midwest, South and West — with regional tournaments sporadically played throughout the calendar year in the lead up to the National Championship at Desert Willow Golf Resort in Palm Desert, California.

While the prize money doesn’t rival that of golf or other major sports in the U.S., several of the sport’s elite expect Footgolf to become just as profitable over the next few years.

Jordan Godfrey, one of the faces of the AFGL, believes its only a matter of time until the sport really hits its strides because of the different avenues that attract players.

“I don’t think we know how far down the line that is but with the right connections between the players and the leadership of the sport I know that we can get it there,” Godfrey told PST. “There’s huge potential that you can take from both sides, with the PGA and MLS and all of European soccer as well.

_uvd8692
AFGL

“You can use formats that soccer players understand as well as formats that fans of golf understand and combine the two in order to capture two large audiences. I think spectators could really enjoy watching the sport too and obviously we’d love to be living the life of the PGA Tour guys.”

Godfrey is one of many footgolfers to join the AFGL after having had a background in soccer earlier in life.

Julian Nash, a former MLS forward for the San Jose Earthquakes and Houston Dynamo, has also made the leap to Footgolf and seen early success during his time on the course. On the international scene, Roberto Fabian Ayala has also completed a similar route to Footgolf after having previous played for top European clubs like AC Milan and Valencia while also representing the Argentina national team.

In 2016, Sharif Khatib finished the year as the number one-ranked player on the AFGL Tour. It was his previously experience around the beautiful game that made him seek a competitive alternative once his playing days were over.

Like many others that have tried out Footgolf, Khatib became enamored with the sport immediately and has surrounded himself with it ever since.

“I grew up playing soccer my whole life and played Division I soccer in college at Loyola Marymount University,” Khatib told PST. “After I got out of college I wasn’t really playing competitive soccer anymore so I was looking for another sport to give me that adrenaline rush and something to compete in. My buddy told me about Footgolf and I was kind of intrigued by it when I first heard about it because of my soccer background and I figured it was a sport I could do well in.

“I went and played and ever since day one I’ve been in love with the sport. I felt like I had the skills to compete at the highest level so I’ve just been pursuing it over the years and been hoping to continue to get better each time I go out on the course.”

Sports are one of many channels that connect people throughout the world, and Footgolf is no different. With 35 official Footgolf federations spread across the globe, the opportunity for travel and to build relationships with players is what makes the sport’s future so attractive.

Angel Reyes — the 2016 U.S. National Championship winner — says that while his experiences domestically with Footgolf have been amazing that the sport’s opportunities to take him abroad have been not only eye-opening but a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

“It’s definitely a great experience with playing club back in the day,” Reyes said. “Now I play with my Footgolf club [Canyon City] and we have five or six guys that usually travel together and carpool for tournaments. Sharing hotels as well.

“It’s not just the brotherhood of the club either because you get to meet other people from Europe, South America, Asia, Oceania, Africa and many other places. You keep in touch with all these people from everywhere around the world and experience these places that I never imagined I’d have the opportunity to go to. I’m very thankful for that”

Report: Danny Rose to Chelsea for $64.3 million

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Just a week after Danny Rose gave an explosive newspaper interview, for which he later apologized, suggesting he will get paid what he’s worth be it at Tottenham Hotspur or elsewhere, it appears interest is rife in the England left back.

Who would have thought that would happen…

[ MORE: Wenger gives update on Sanchez ]

The Sun newspaper claim Rose will be the subject of a $64.3 million from Chelsea on Sunday following heir clash with Tottenham at Wembley (Watch live, 11 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) in a massive London derby.

Rose, 27, is still recovering from a knee injury and won’t be available until after the next international break in early September, but the man who has been named as the best left back in the Premier League over the past two seasons will have obviously upset the hierarchy at Spurs with his comments, even if many believe he was only airing the thoughts of most of Tottenham’s players.

He certainly opened up a can of worms with his comments (more on that here) as Spurs’ star names continue to be paid less than stars at Manchester City, Manchester United, Chelsea and even Arsenal, and with Kyle Walker moving on to Man City earlier this summer and instantly doubling his salary, many can see where Rose is coming from. However, nobody told this Spurs players to sign new long-term deals. They all agreed to them.

Man United are also said to be interested in Rose who revealed in his self-proclaimed “ill-advised” comments that one day he would like a move back to the north of England to be closer to family.

Moving back to Chelsea’s pursuit of Rose, does it make sense?

Strengthening on the right-hand side of defense should probably take priority for the reigning champs with Marcos Alonso having a fine first season at Stamford Bridge and also adding an attacking threat down the left in the 3-4-3 system. Adding Rose could see Alonso pushed further forward but having two players for each position is crucial for Antonio Conte especially with UEFA Champions League action coming up, so looking for another left-wing back make sense. Rose’s pace and power make him the perfect fit for that position.

With Tottenham said to closing in a move for Ajax’s 21-year-old Colombian center back Davinson Sanchez, it appears Spurs are pushing ahead with exactly what Rose asked for last week: more big-name signings he didn’t have to Google to find out who they were.

It would be extremely tough to see Spurs willing to sell on another full back after letting Walker leave for Man City for $64.3 million earlier this summer, but if Chelsea wanted to pay that for Rose and with Ben Davies stepping in and developing into a solid, dependable left back over the past 12 months, should they take the cash and invest in other talented youngsters from across Europe?

Wenger gives update on Sanchez, Chamberlain, Wilshere

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Arsene Wenger has a lot to sort out in the coming months. And that’s just off the pitch.

Wenger, 67, has nine first-team players who are in the final years of their contracts at Arsenal and although Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez have had much of the spotlight when it comes to their respective futures, there is plenty more to sort out.

But, for the sake of order, let’s start with Wenger’s comments on Sanchez’s future as the 28-year-old remains sideline with an abdominal injury and is in the final 12 months of his deal.

Wenger revealed that Sanchez won’t make the game at Stoke this weekend, but that he’ll likely return against Liverpool on Aug. 27.

Speaking to the media ahead of Arsenal’s trip to Stoke on Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via NBCSports.com) the Frenchman revealed there has been no progress in talks over Sanchez staying at the Emirates Stadium.

“He is a player who goes into the final year of his contract. We have not progressed on that front,” Wenger said. “Let’s not be wrong, it’s not an ideal situation on the financial side and it demands some sacrifice. But first of all, it doesn’t mean the players who are in the final year of their contract will not extend their contract. You have still that possibility and we work on that as well.

“That (possibly allowing Sanchez to leave for free) is a consequence of what I say, yes, unfortunately. But we have to make a choice between efficiency on the field and financial interest and most of the time if you can find a good compromise, it’s better. But in this case, I think I prioritize the fact that he will be useful on the sporting side.”

So, that’s Sanchez. It appears Wenger is still willing to let Sanchez leave for nothing at the end of this season with the Chilean superstar, who scored 24 goals and added 10 assists in the Premier League for Arsenal last season, free to negotiate a free transfer with clubs outside of England from January onwards.

As for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Jack Wilshere, Wenger seems eager to keep both players but interest around the England internationals continue to swirl with both Chelsea and Manchester City said to be interested in the Ox and clubs such as West Ham, Newcastle and Sampdoria trying to sign Wilshere.

“We always wanted to keep Sanchez and we always hope, even now, that we can extend the contracts of Sanchez, Chamberlain, Ozil,” Wenger told beIN Sports. 

He expanded on those thoughts with the press on Wednesday, stating his appreciation for Chamberlain in particular.

“I rate him  highly,” Wenger said. “I want him to stay here for a long time and I’m convinced he will be the English player in the next two or three years that everybody will look at.”

Wenger’s comments earlier in the summer about Arsenal being in a strong position with several first-team stars in the final year of their respective contracts seemed like a bizarre one. With these situations rumbling on and no end in sight to the speculation and uncertainty, his comments now seems even more peculiar.

The legend of Wright-Phillips grows with latest Red Bulls triumph

Twitter/@MLSfutbol_com
Leave a comment

For the better part of five years, Bradley Wright-Phillips has been the engine that never ceases to churn for the New York Red Bulls attack.

[ MORE: Red Bulls storm back to knock off Cincinnati in Open Cup semis ]

The Englishman that wears kit number 99 continued to cement his legacy with the MLS side on Tuesday night as Wright-Phillips added another two goals to his growing tally, which now stands at 94 in all competitions.

BWP — as Red Bulls faithful know him — recorded a brace after the 75th minute to help the Red Bulls reach the U.S. Open Cup final in Cincinnati, including once in extra time.

While Wright-Phillips certainly played a key role in the comeback, the striker emphasized his side’s “character” after they went down 1-0.

“It felt massive,” said Wright-Phillips. “When we went two goals down it was going take something special but if there’s one team that can do it. It’s not me being biased, it’s us. We have a lot of character, we’re a fit team and situations like that seem to suit us. As soon as we go a goal down, I don’t like it but sometimes we just turn into a different animal. Today, it was no different.”

Manager Jesse Marsch and the Red Bulls have come under scrutiny in the past for not showing up in big matches, particularly when the MLS Cup playoffs roll around.

The Red Bulls have finished atop the Eastern Conference in back-to-back seasons leading into 2017 under Marsch, however, the club has come up empty in the postseason.

Tuesday night’s comeback win over Cincinnati is a positive step for the club in terms of how the Red Bulls handle adversity in the biggest of matches.

“I think it’s been a very long time and I read things all the time about New York Red Bulls don’t win trophies or even some of their fans were saying we were going to choke into the semifinals,” Wright-Phillips said. “So it’s just good to get over this hurdle here and prove to people that we are a team that we’re learning and we’re getting better.”

Marsch and Co. trailed 2-0 with under half an hour remaining at Nippert Stadium, but a gutsy performance from Wright-Phillips and the rest of the Red Bulls crew ensured the team that they’d play in the their second Open Cup final in club history (first occurred in 2003 when Red Bulls were previously the MetroStars).

[ MORE: Fourth MLS firing in ’17 — Mastroeni sacked by Rapids ]

The Red Bulls will move on to the tournament’s finale next month when they take on Sporting KC at Children’s Mercy Park.

Red Bulls storm back against FC Cincinnati to reach Open Cup final

Twitter/@NewYorkRedBulls
Leave a comment

FC Cincinnati looked to be on the verge of another historic victory at Nippert Stadium, but that was before Bradley Wright-Phillips had his say in the matter.

[ MORE: Rapids fire Pablo Mastroeni in fourth MLS coach dismissal in 2017 ]

The New York Red Bulls notched an impressive comeback on Tuesday night to knock off Cincinnati, 3-2, in the U.S. Open Cup semifinals.

The Red Bulls will now move on to face Sporting KC in the Open Cup final on September 20 at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City.

The 33,250 supporters in the crowd on Tuesday marked the second-highest attended match in the Open Cup’s history, according to TheCup.us.

Wright-Phillips grew his legend with the Red Bulls after recording a brace for the MLS club (his 93rd and 94th goals). Alan Koch’s side managed to stifle the veteran Englishman for most of the night, but Wright-Phillips kept on doing what he does best when it matters most.

The 32-year-old goalscorer tallied his second goal of the night in the 101st minute to help the Red Bulls complete their comeback, after having previously trailed by two goals inside the final 20 minutes.

Cincinnati was certainly on the back foot in terms of chances created throughout the night, but Austen Berry made no mistake with his opportunity in the 62nd minute, which gave the home side a 2-0 advantage.

The 28-year-old defender broke free on a corner kick from Kenney Walker, and Berry’s aerial effort left Red Bulls goalkeeper Ryan Meara with absolutely no chance.

This came after Corben Bone had sent Cincy out in front near the half-hour mark.

Just as the team looked dead in the water, goals from Gonzalo Veron and Wright-Phillips broke the hearts of Cincinnati inside the final 15 minutes of regulation.

For Cincinnati, Veron’s finish marked the first time the club has conceded in this year’s competition.