New Jersey

Gonzalo Higuain criticizes state of pitch in New Jersey

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Argentina and Ecuador played out a drab 0-0 draw on Friday night in New Jersey, but Gonzalo Higuaín is more concerned about the pitch at MetLife Stadium. The venue normally plays host to American football games, including the home games of the New York Giants and Jets. But that, according to Higuaín, made it unacceptable for a soccer match that, despite lacking Lionel Messi, included some of the world’s brightest talents.

Higuaín, quoted in Argentina sports outlet Olè, was upset with the conditions in New Jersey, where chunks of turf had been laid over the artificial playing surface. The Napoli forward, who went down with a knee injury but appeared to shake it off, stated that conditions made the players’ feet sink more than normal, creating hazardous playing conditions. The field was, Higuaín said, in no condition to play on.

Ezequiel Lavezzi agreed with his Argentina teammate, saying that the turf was irregular, which caused the ball to slow down. The PSG attacker felt both sides were lucky not to have anyone seriously injured.

It’s now on to St. Louis for Argentina, where they will face Bosnia and Hercegovina on Tuesday. Higuaín, Lavezzi and their teammates will be hoping that the biggest issue there will be faint traces of lines left over from baseball season. The same goes for the fans of their clubs, most of whom are already fed up with what seem to be pointless friendlies. Putting players at risk won’t endear FIFA to anyone.

Sydney Leroux celebration more about the reaction than the act

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“Classless” was the description that came out of the booth of Sportsnet, the network that broadcast Sunday’s game across Canada. Most reading this post were thankfully spared our neighbor’s coverage of today’s Canada-United States match, wherein the celebration of Sydney Leroux’s 93rd minute goal was labeled “way too American” – the type of sly generalization that’s never used in a positive light.

As the ball reached the back of Erin McLeod’s net, Leroux turned to a crowd that had been booing her since her 74th minute introduction. Reaching to the upper-left corner of her kit, Leroux held up U.S.’s centennial crest, displaying it to the crowd as she shuffled twice in front of a section of fans. Then, turning back toward her teammates, she held a finger to her lips, shushing more than those who had berated her over the preceding 20 minutes. The Surrey-born U.S. international was speaking to fans at 2012 Olympic qualifying in Vancouver, the constant stream of people deriding her on social media, and anybody who’d failed to respect the decision she made two years ago, one that led her to represent the U.S. instead of Canada.

“Shh,” she said told them all, a symbol that’s so over-utilized in world soccer as to become cliché. Andrey Arshavin may be most famous for using it, though at the peak of his powers, he was shushing nobody in particular. For the Russian Prince, the action was so obligatory, it became cute. Nobody labeled him classless, but because Leroux’s use was contextually appropriate, it was somehow, paradoxically uncalled for?

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And the lifting of the badge? There aren’t many opportunities for people to do the same in international soccer, but at the club level, we see it often enough to be familiar with the practice. Again, Leroux wasn’t breaking new ground.

(Full celebration can be seen in the animated gifs to the right, which were collected from a search of Tumblr.)

So what does it even mean to call that recycled, easily recognizable celebration “too American?” Can we even remember another American evoking those actions? How can something be “too American” if Leroux might be the first U.S. player to do it?

On the surface, Sportsnet’s remarks lazily play into an insensitive trope – the stereotype of the brash American – but said in the context of a 3-0 loss, as boos rained down on Leroux from a near-capacity BMO crowd, the comment carried none of the levity usually associated with the innocent jibes that often target Americans. It was bitter. It was ugly. It was reactionary and slightly venomous. The missive was a xenophobic response to a source of legitimate frustration, one with which U.S. fans could otherwise empathize.

That’s because the States have their own Sydney Leroux: Giuseppe Rossi, the New Jersey-raised Fiorentina attacker who turned his back on the United States to play for the Italian national team. Despite completely understandable reasons for doing so — a cultural connection from moving to Italy at 12 years old; the relative statures of the U.S. and Italian teams — fans of the U.S. national team have never forgiven the former Clifton resident, often ignorantly described his as traitor. As if soccer allegiances ever provide a reason to use such exaggerated labels.

Sportsnet’s comments are of the same ilk. Ascribing any player’s actions to an entire culture should never be done lightly, especially when done in a context that portrays you as upset a talent that could have played for your home nation didn’t elect to put on your uniform. There’s little Christine Sinclair, Diana Matheson, or Desiree Scott could have been done to be labeled “too Canadian,” and if that label did come out, it probably wouldn’t have been used as a pejorative toward Lauren Sesselmann, a Wisconsin-born defender who started for the Canadians today.

You can understand why the crowd in Toronto would boo a player like Leroux, just as you could see a U.S. crowd directing derision at Rossi. We tolerate far more frivolous reasons for denouncing players, just as we put up with far more crude ways of celebrating touchdowns, home runs, and goals from players who aren’t at conflict with the crowd. If Giuseppe Rossi responded to the barrage of negative feedback he’s received from American fans by lifting the Italian flag after scoring on U.S. soil, would that be classless? And if Sydney Leroux uses the common finger-to-lips pose as a rebuttal to her critiques, that seems neither particularly American nor remarkably crass.

If xenophobic commentary like Sportsnet’s becomes common, would if be fair of me to label it as “too Canadian”? Regardless of the source? Or if Sportsnet’s broadcasters don’t like this response, can they lump similar critiques in with their “too American” missive? Or perhaps we shouldn’t go there at all. Perhaps we should just learn not to begrudge athletes their responses, just as we should learn to respect the decisions of Leroux, Rossi, Sesselman, Owen Hargreaves, Neven Subotic, and Jonathan de Guzman.

Sydney Leroux’s goal at BMO did little to change the dynamic between her and her country of birth. Nor did her celebration. The only thing that changed was the language surrounding the conflict. And unfortunately, it’s changed for the worse.

Eight-team women’s soccer league set to begin play in Spring 2013

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It doesn’t have a name yet. That detail is still being worked out, as are most of the details of the new eight-team women’s soccer league that will be run by U.S. Soccer. The important thing: The league’s going to happen.

U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati made that clear in Wednesday’s announcement, saying teams in Boston, New Jersey, Western New York, Washington D.C., Chicago, Kansas City, Seattle and Portland — teams selected based on a number of factors (independent assessment of accountants, grass roots considerations, geography) — will begin play in March or April of 2013. The 22-game season will run until September or October. Teams will play each other at least three times.

As of yet, there’s no national television deal. No national sponsors have been announced, but there’s a handshake deal place with one company. Stadiums, team names, salary structures, player allocation – these details will be revealed in the couple of weeks.

But here’s what we do know:

  • U.S. Soccer will fund and run the league office.
  • They will also finance the inclusion of up to 24 U.S. Women’s National Team members. Some players may elect to pass on the league, but U.S. Soccer is committed to supplying up to three players per team.
  • The Canadian and Mexican federations are also subsidizing talent. Canada will pay for up to 16 players (conceivably, two per team) while Mexico will provide a minimum of 12.
  • Player and team preferences will be considered when allocating players.

We also know some of the federations’ key motivations: Sustainability and development.

Costs for the individual teams will be kept low by U.S., Canadian, and Mexican soccer subsidizing the teams’ most expensive talents. Game day facilities will be selected with cost in mind (no more Toyota Park or Home Depot Center). Teams were selected to both create a national footprint and manage travel (coast-to-coast teams, but in clusters). The lower costs will mitigate the amount of private sector investment needed to keep it afloat.

But the federation representatives made no bones about it: Giving their players a place to develop ahead of Canada 2015 was a key motivation. It’s why federations — not a private entity — are backing the latest attempt at a women’s league. The new league will give CONCACAF’s three biggest nations a place to foster talent ahead of the next World Cup.

With so many details yet to be finalized, it’s difficult to make too many assessments about the league. The thing doesn’t even have a name yet. Still, it’s hard to see today’s news as anything but an extremely positive development. Women’s soccer league or no women’s soccer league? It’s a pretty easy choice, one that’s easy to support.

That the league is focused on sustainability at its onset means fan support is more likely to be rewarded. That support was left floundering after three-year windows slammed shut on the Women’s United Soccer Association and Women’s Professional Soccer.

Who knows whether the new league will ever see year four, but at least there is a new league — a league that seems to know what it’s up against.

New stadium, team inching ever-closer in New York

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It’s time for our weekly update on New York 2. That’s shorthand for the hypothetical second Major League Soccer franchise in the New York market, a team that seems to become more likely with each passing day.

Friday was one of those days, both literally and metaphorically. That’s when league commissioner Don Garber briefed local media on the status of a new stadium in the Big Apple. According to the league, a deal could be finalized in the next 30 days, one which would see groundbreaking in 2014 ahead of a 2016 or 2017 opening.

The chosen site is at Flushing Meadows, out near the U.S.T.A. Tennis Center and the New York Mets’ Citi Field. The cost will be about $300 million, with a stadium capacity between 25,000 and 35,000.

From the New York Daily News:

“This is a project we have been dreaming about since the league was founded,” Garber said Friday at a briefing for news media. “Our goal is to bring the world’s game to the world’s park.”

To me, this kind of casual coverage is amazing. New stadiums just get built in MLS now? There are not huge headlines? As if we should be surprised? It’s something we expect? That’s amazing, but when you look at Houston, Kansas City, Philadelphia … Harrison … yeah – I guess this is the state of the modern MLS world. That time not-so-long ago when getting a soccer specific stadium was caused to sound the league’s trumpets? Gone. Now, Don Garber’s having press briefings as if there’s the league’s established a standard operation procedure for the stadium process.

And that’s a good thing. It’s an amazing thing. Most of the time, people forget about what the pre-Garber MLS was like (and as a testament to his guidance, a lot of new fans can’t remember it).

Now the expectation is that MLS franchises will have good stadiums, and there are various people within the league that know how to get it done. Hopefully, some of this experience can be leveraged in D.C. and New England.

But as it concerns New York, the stadium news brings better focus to the end game: a second team in the country’s biggest market. That’s an issue league diehards have kicked around for some time, but with this “world’s park” facility on the verge of happening, it’s worth bringing up again: Can New York 2 coexist with New York 1? Otherwise known as the New York Red Bulls. Will the new team cannibalize the Red Bulls’ casual audience? Why would this duel dual market work when Los Angeles’s has become a have and a have not?

There’s also the assumption that the currently semi-dormant New York Cosmos will eventually occupy the facility. Their brand is still more recognizable than Red Bulls’.

Bigger brand in the shiny new park that’s in the actual city (as opposed to New Jersey)? It doesn’t sound good for the Red Bulls.