Seattle Sounders: For Love or Money

In a soccer backwater like the United States, few cities embrace the global nature of the sport like Seattle. Our region is a hotbed for international-quality talent (from Keller and Hahnemann to Yedlin and Morris), the Sounders are the class of MLS franchises, and few cities pack a stadium for a match like us. In Seattle, alone maybe in the entire country, soccer is big business. That’s why FIFA President Sepp Blatter’s shocking resignation this week resonates in the Emerald City.

Club soccer is of course a business, as the Sounders love to announce when they break attendance records or start a “Priority List” for season tickets. International soccer is a dirty business. And it is not just the stadiums built for World Cups that lie fallow mere years later, a lingering drain on the former host’s economy, but the smash-and-grab economics of getting those World Cups. Blatter’s four-term reign of terror hearkened back to Chicago circa Prohibition with the kickbacks and racketeering inherent in the governance of the world’s game.

Think of that old cliché “the world’s game.” Soccer is supposed to belong to the world: of, by and for the people. But people never factored much in Blatter’s thinking. He often ignored protests, as recently as those in Brazil last year. And influential stars such as Abby Wambach and Megan Rapinoe called Blatter out on the sexism inherent in allowing turf fields for the Women’s World Cup. If masses of the common and a few of the superlative cannot influence FIFA, who can?

It is troubling when soccer stops listening to the people and just the corporate entities. We had to fight here when MLS tried to copyright “Cascadia Cup.” The people stopped the corporation from winning (though MLS’s desires to co-opt the ECS continue), and we have to ensure that precedent is followed. We, the people of soccer, must stand up for the integrity of the game.

Ironically, in the end, it was business that put Blatter out. According to many, but best stated by The Nation’s Dave Zirin, the reason Blatter resigned was because the sponsors were getting nervous about the FIFA brand:

But the greatest reason is rooted in skittishness by the only entities more powerful than Blatter and his coterie: the sponsors. FIFA already lost second-tier sponsors like Johnson & Johnson and Castrol in January due to scandal fatigue. Now there has been a campaign linking top sponsors like McDonalds, Adidas, and Budweiser to the mass deaths of migrant workers in Qatar. Tragically and also predictably, their word is more powerful than the millions of Brazilians who took to the streets.

Dangers loom, but, if nothing else, Blatter’s leaving in shame is a moment of joy for anyone who has suffered under his rule by graft and shameless love of dictatorship and autocracy. It creates an opening for campaigners to make the ruling body of international soccer worthy of the game. In his press conference, Blatter said, “I only want to do the best for FIFA.” It may not have been by choice, but on this day he certainly did.

On the eve of the Women’s World Cup and after mass arrests by the US State Department and FBI, FIFA finally did the right thing. Unfortunately it was after Blatter was reelected and the threat of pulled funding from sponsors. The Sounders claims to represent democracy in sports, and as Seattle becomes more of a soccer capitol, we must work to keep the game about the game.


Selling DeAndre Yedlin Let Seattle Print Money

Happy Friday Sounders fans! To provide a little break from the good injury news (Ozzie! Air Marshall!) and the bad (Dempsey), I’m posting an excerpt to a solid article written by Joseph Mondello on S2 and MLS. Mondello explores the value and vagaries of MLS’s economic reality, a league with a strict salary cap in a market of rampant salaries.

Mondello makes the interesting point that MLS has finally found a way to print its own money. He discusses Seattle’s own DeAndre Yedlin, signed on the cheap and then sold to Spurs for big money. If other MLS teams can start farming their own talent and getting such returns on investment, we may have found another pillar in the foundation of MLS’s financial sustainability. Here’s what he says:

Some major constraints that MLS clubs must operate within are the financial structure of the league, coupled with a unique salary cap requirements that clubs must work around. As a league with an ambitious long-term vision, the owners have agreed to a financing structure aimed toward steady growth in a variety of markets rather than rapid expansion in key markets. This decision is influenced by the specter of Pele and the New York Cosmos, and the subsequent crash of the North American Soccer League after his departure. The current salary cap is a meager $3.1 million, with a restriction that the team’s highest-earner make no more than $387,500 annually. Within this agreement is the Designated Player Rule, which allows each club to sign three players to higher contracts that are not counted against the salary cap. Additionally there is the inclusion of allocation money in financing. Clubs can sell players, as well as Superdraft, Expansion draft, and allocation draft picks for this allocation money. In MLS, allocation money holds heavy importance in a conservative league built for expansion — it can be used for anything from player contracts, to improving youth academies and reserve teams, or even building state of the art facilities to attract top-notch players.

The important role of allocation money in MLS success makes sustainable youth development even more paramount. Clubs can sign players to cheap homegrown contracts, and receive massive returns on investments in the form of allocation money from transfer fees. The current financing structure of MLS is based on long-term sustainability, genuinely passionate local and global fans, and a foundation that markets the league as a brand with low risk and exponential returns for investors in the future.


A success story that increased importance of youth development and the Homegrown Contract program is that of Seattle Sounders right-back DeAndre Yedlin, whose impressive performances at this summer’s World Cup led to a transfer to Premier League club Tottenham Hotspur. The reported 4.6 million pounds Seattle received from the transfer fee will likely be invested in the newly formed S2 and their youth academies. In a developing league with high ambitions and a restrictive salary cap, talented and cheaply produced young players are incredibly valuable assets. A club can sign a player from their academy to a contract ranging from 50 to 80 thousand dollars a year, and potentially sell them for millions of dollars.

The whole article is definitely worth the read. But I do take a little umbrage with Mondello when he lists Seattle with Portland, Salt Lake City and Kansas City as “smaller markets.” Seattle/Tacoma is the 15th largest metro area in the US and booming. We’ll be ranked higher soon as Detroit (currently 14th) is shrinking and decadent eastern seaboard cities, such as Boston and Philly, have seen their growth slowed to a crawl. The other “smaller markets” Mondello lumps us with: Portland (24), Kansas City (30), and Salt Lake (48). I realize “smaller” is a relative term, but c’mon man. My city’s filthy.

Darwin Jones Signs With Seattle Sounders

At long last, and as expected, Darwin Jones signed a HGP player contract with the Seattle Sounders. Jones signed an off-the-books HGP contract, the type of contract formerly held by risen star DeAndre Yedlin.

Yedlin made it cool to be an HGP. He brought a real cachet to the status and MLS clubs have since learned that HGPs are the blue chip prospects of MLS. As much as college football players want to be “first round draft picks”, young American soccer players want to become HGPs.

Jones had previously announced his intention to sign as an HGP with Seattle. Jones is a local boy from Des Moines, WA who previously played for the University of Washington. Despite his desire to sign with the Sounders, he was off-limits before the Huskies lost to Michigan State on penalty kicks in the second round of the NCCA Men’s Soccer Tournament on November 30th. Jones had 8 goals and 4 assist in 14 regular season games and added an assist off the bench against MSU. Jones’s signing is another example of the rich getting richer.

Seattle has a tremendous ability to sign and develop players. It is impressive that the Sounders have let the likes of Fredie Montero and DeAndre Yedlin transfer while reloading with Sean Okoli, Aaron Kovar, Darwin Jones and (hopefully) Jordan Morris. The talent-rich Puget Sound and excellent teaching by assistant coaches and the academy should keep Seattle’s farm system fecund and boisterous.

Seattle Sounders: Logistics of a Youth Movement

The third and final installment in my Seattle Sounders ch-ch-changes series will focus on the logistics of Seattle’s roster reshaping.

Yedlin is gone, to begin with. Seattle’s first Home Grown Player and the first HGP to ever play in a World Cup has unofficially officially played his last game in Rave Green.

GM Adrian Hanauer and co. are already buys preparing for the future. Sounders FC extended coach Sigi Schmid yesterday keeping the club under the direction of a solid steward. The front office will now busy itself with the inevitable roster churn: filling out the USL Pro’s S2 roster, weathering the expansion draft and adapting to the new CBA.

The second order of business was to announce a roster shakeup with 8 players passively released from contract: Marcus Hahnemann, Djimi Traore, Cam Weaver, Jalil Anibaba, Tristan Bowen, Eriq Zavaleta, Onyekachi Apam and Sean Okoli. Some of those players were long in the tooth and their release was no surprise. Hahnemann, after more than two decades, retired from professional soccer where he started. Traore, after a long and illustrious career, is also retiring and rumor has him transitioning to a front office or coaching position with Sounders FC. Weaver and Anibaba are journeymen veterans who couldn’t find many minutes with the first team here. Apam was a speculative signing late in the season that didn’t pan out. The surprising names are Bowen, Okoli and Zavaleta. All of these players are now no longer members of the Sounders senior team.

S2 would appear to be the next destination for these players. Hopefully Djimi and Hahnemann slide over to S2 as coaches. Okoli, Zavaleta, and Bowen are all 23 or younger and, having earned some first-team MLS minutes, would be the senior members of the junior team. If Seattle had S2 last year, Zavaleta would’ve never been a Goat. Bowen, though seasoned, is still very young and very talented. He’s a Merlin-esque player, his career is almost moving backwards, as the league’s first HGP who could finally find himself on a developmental team six years into his career.

Okoli has the most curious situation. Okoli left Wake Forest and signed an off-the-books HGP contract with Seattle. Let me explain. According to the current CBA, teams are allowed to sign as many HGPs as they like. Regular HGPs are paid close to the league minimum but the perks of signing a player to an HGP contract is to prevent the player from being eligible in the MLS Super Draft. Currently there are about 80 current MLS players signed as HGPs. However two of those HGPs, per year, can be signed to more lucrative contracts that don’t count against the salary cap. These off-the-books HGP contracts are powerful bargaining tools when signing a player. Yedlin and Okoli previously occupied Seattle’s two such contracts.

Okoli has just been released from his contract making room, ostensibly, for Darwin Jones and Jordan Morris to sign as the off-the-books HGPs. Smart clubs want to reserve their precious few off-the-books contracts for potential starters. Signing Yedlin to a free contract was a coup for the Sounders. As a two-time All-Star not eating into precious cap space, Yedlin gave Seattle a real competitive advantage. Seattle’s hoping Morris proves the same. Okoli ceding his contract gives the club the bargaining power of the limited contracts, and, presumably, in return he will now sign a more lucrative contract with the USL Pro-affiliated S2. How the new CBA treats transfers and contract reciprocity between the two leagues remains to be seen.

What about Aaron Kovar you ask? He was signed to a regular HGP contract last year and has been retained as such. Victor Mansaray recently signed a HGP contract as well and we can assume it’s the regular type. Mansaray, at only 17, should immediately be shuffled over to S2 to develop.

Seattle is brewing a veritable youth movement as Jimmy Ockford, Aaron Long, Damien Lowe and Kevin Parsemain are still under contract. It’s hard to think of the 2014 Sounders in the past tense. But looking ahead to Morris, Okoli, Kovar and Jones repping the crest for the next decade is some solace.

Mo Money, Mo Winning: MLS Embraces Salary Disparity

Seattle Sounders, Los Angeles Galaxy, New York Red Bulls and the New England Revolution. The last four teams standing in the MLS Cup playoffs are all big spenders from big markets.

Traditionally, clubs that have the deepest pockets stand atop the table. In MLS, the formation of super clubs has been prevented by the salary cap. As the allowed number of DPs has climbed to three and the salary cap has loosened, clubs like Seattle, New York and L.A. have embraced the role of big spender. Of the final four teams, the Revs are the only surprising addition to this elite company. They’ve been stingy in recent years, but ever since they signed Jermaine Jones away from the Chicago Fire, they’ve been acting the art of super club.

The four semifinalist clubs are all in the top 6 in spending this year (and that includes Orlando City and Kaka’s enormous $7.1 mil contract, the largest contract in league history). The only team that actually took the pitch this season and isn’t in the final four? You guessed it, Toronto FC. TFC was the biggest spender in the league and didn’t even make the playoffs, again.

MLS might finally be transitioning to a big-name league. Maybe this is the beginning of a new trend and we’ll never again see a Dallas-Colorado final (unless those clubs loosen the purse strings). If so, I pity the small markets. Unless you have marquee players you’re not doing squat come autumn. All the big boys have their big toys and, except for perpetually cursed TFC, the big players played big in big games. Or maybe this whole phenomenon is a one-off. We are only one season removed from Kansas City vs. Salt Lake in the MLS Cup.

Some fiscal imbalance is good for the league. MLS needs marketable stars, big names with big talent. No offense to SKC or RSL but when Graham Zusi and Kyle Beckerman are the faces of the two respective MLS Cup tilters, the league ain’t exactly capturing a large TV audience. This season, MLS has celebrities to sell. Dempsey, Donovan, Henry and even Jones, considering his tremendous efforts in Brazil, are household names. ESPN can slap Deuce’s face on a promo and non-soccer fans are like, “oh yeah, that guy.” It’s the economy stupid: the more people tune in, the more commercials are sold, the more the league profits, the more salaries can rise, the better the league gets.

Compare this season’s playoff bracket to the spending list:

spending and the playoffs

The team that spent more consistently beat the team that didn’t, regardless of seeding. The play-in games gave us one exception: #10 Dallas beat #9 Vancouver. Spending between those two clubs was close, $5.1 to $4.5 mil, making the difference in total payroll negligible. As a Sounders fan, I hope this “more spending trumps less spending, unless the differences aren’t too large” theory holds. L.A. outspent us by $1.3 million.

But I think we can all agree that DeAndre Yedlin and Marco Pappa are vastly underpaid, so maybe the spending difference is none too large between the robber barons of the West.

How To Tame a Mad Dog: FIFA and Its Fangs

I apologize for not posting yesterday, as it was a busy weekend. I gave my tickets to a cousin and missed Sunday’s schneid-offing 2-0 win over the Houston Dynamo because I was back home in Alaska, attending the wedding of my best friend. It was a big ol’ Alaskan throwdown with live music, a bonfire, lots of homebrew and fireworks!

I am back in Seattle now and I’ll be chiming in on the big Sounders news this week: DeAndre Yedlin, Wednesday’s US Open Cup Semifinal against the Chicago Fire, and the state of CenturyLink’s FieldTurf and how much these aesthetics matter as the Sounders grow to a truly global brand.

But first I want to direct you to a great article written by Jules Boykoff. Boykoff, a professor and soccer fan, recently published an essay in the Guardian. It is a great read, as Boykoff explores options to denature the parasitic fangs of FIFA:

At the opening match of this year’s World Cup, three Brazilian children walked to the center of the pitch and released three doves flapping frantically toward the São Paulo sky. Choreographed as a reminder that soccer can create peace and goodwill, the spectacle immediately backfired with inadvertent symbolism: apparently two of the birds never made it out of the stadium alive.

Anyone who’s watched the World Cup over the last month has been met with a visual cavalcade of advertisements from partners of Fifa, football’s beyond-corrupt governing body. But not unlike that avian display gone wrong, behind the shimmering scrim of spectacular billboards remain inconvenient truths. Here’s one: Fifa enjoys tax-exempt status at the World Cup, as do its corporate partners, and Brazil’s Internal Revenue Service has claimed – in a cautious estimate – that such exemptions rob the host country of nearly $250m.

Brazil just lost out on $22m in Saturday’s consolation match, and Fifa stands to amass more than $4.5bn in revenues from this World Cup alone. All for orchestrating an upbeat shakedown that stoked the hopes of another host, only to leave the public bearing the costs.

After sucking one too many countries dry, the para-state parasite that is Fifa should surrender its tax breaks in Brazil before it packs up and leaves. Indeed, this should be the last tax-exempt World Cup.

By design, Fifa’s financial landscape is a vast expanse of grey. It actually claims to make no demands for “a general tax exemption for sponsors and suppliers, or for any commercial activity in the host country.” It “only requires an easing of customs procedures” for importing materials necessary for the staging of the event. This is no different, Fifa contends, than any other major sporting event – like, say, the Super Bowl or the Olympics – but to deny tax exemption, potential host countries contend, is to torpedo a bid.

Fifa has long built a massive chasm between word and deed, and corporate giants – not struggling host nations – reap the benefits. Fifa partners like Budweiser have free rein in the exclusion zones that bubble-wrap stadiums where market competitors – let alone local vendors – are not allowed. Fifa even helped overturn a law banning beer in Brazilian soccer stadiums. How convenient.

We all love soccer. It is humanity’s game but its governing body, FIFA, is disgustingly corrupt and, frankly, evil. Like any powerful addiction, international soccer has its deleterious effects. Boykoff mentioned FIFA’s effect on Brazil’s entrenched legislature forbidding the sale of alcoholic beverages in any of the nation’s soccer stadiums. These laws were enacted for practical reasons after painful episodes of violence. Budweiser is a major sponsor of FIFA and thus Brazil had to suspend its self-determination law to host the World Cup. In short, FIFA strong-armed a sovereign nation’s constitution.

FIFA unfettered continues corrupting and wrecking the social organism of whatever country that seeks to do business with it. Soccer could be enjoyed without FIFA, we just need to stop relying on the pusher man.

There is a Spectre Haunting American Soccer


This is what corporate tifos look like.

Last Saturday’s draw between the Seattle Sounders and Tottenham Hotspur didn’t mean anything. Goals were scored, penalties awarded, flamethrowers threw, but it was just a big meaningless exhibition. Hell, the ECS didn’t even make a tifo. But EA Sports did. The video game giant produced and displayed a corporate tifo that was, in effect, a big commercial for the upcoming release of FIFA ‘15.

Soccer is slowly being Americanized. I guess it make senses, as we embrace all the ritual of the beautiful game: singing, scarves and tifos, a little ‘Murica was going to rub in. The global tradition of soccer already subjects fans to brand names on jerseys and along the end boards. Now in the States we have gigantic commercials in the stands. Every Sounders jersey says XBOX, so the game is already both an athletic display and a marketing opportunity. But I can accept the branding on jerseys as a trade for no commercials. I love how soccer puts the game first. Hell, they could slap “TastyKakes” on the Philadelphia Eagles or “Starbucks” on the Seahawks if they cut the all TV timeouts from NFL broadcasts. This seems a fair trade for brand names on jerseys, but we get nothing for ads in stands.

As ads go, it was stellar. If you want your ad seen by 55,000 members of a key demographic (and by even more on ESPN), this is pretty effective. Unfortunately our high attendance figures and cultural clout must be attracting the moneymen. But using unassuming fans up in the Hawk’s nest for a display of marketing also plays into the “Seattle fans as corporate whores” trope. Seattle is the vanguard of soccer’s assimilation into the pop culture of a major American city, and the rise of the tifo-as-commercial is an inevitable consequence.

I guess we should get used to the seeping of consumerism and corporate culture into soccer. At least it was an ad for a soccer video game and not McDonalds. I get that video games are the key to getting the kiddies into soccer. I heard Keith Olbermann’s rant. He wanted soccer to get the red, white and blue makeover, but I am sure he wasn’t expecting this. Video games may be the gateway drug for the rise of our domestic league, but at what cost?

I realize I am a hypocrite as I dream of shoveling money into the registers at the Sounders’ pro shop for third jerseys and other cool swag, but corporate tifos? So disingenuous. We’re here for soccer. We’re here for sport, spectacle and supporter culture. Supporter culture is grass roots. It isn’t piped in music or cheers led by a jumbotron. People make soccer and there should be no co-opting this for some company’s bottom line.

It seems I’m answering my own question from my last post. When more money enters the league we get corporate tifos.

DeAndre Yedlin and the Great American Paper Chase

DeAndre Yedlin is selling Xboxes, Golazo and American soccer. This must be fattening his wallet, but the real payday will come if Yedlin signs that oft-rumored big, juicy European contract. Aside from prestige or developmental reasons, should Yedlin sign overseas just to follow the money?

Currently Yedlin makes $92,000, up from $52k as a rookie. That’s a mighty healthy raise but not market value for an international soccer star of his caliber, especially after the World Cup he had. Yedlin makes more than most of us, but it is small beans in the world of professional athletes.

I’m always impressed to see how little some MLS players make. Dylan Remick makes exactly what I do as an adjunct community college instructor: $36,000 a year. He’s on TV, playing a professional sport and getting paid a wage I often complain about. That’s mindblowing. We are conditioned to see pro athletes make bills. Remick making $36k seems as surreal as a janitor taking home six figures. And yet why are janitors paid less and athletes more? Of course money is only a metaphor: the janitor is not less useful than the fullback. But this shows one of the narratives we take for granted in this country, that professional athletes should make more than most normal professions.

What if all professional sports leagues lowered their salaries across the board and found a standardized and modest pay scale? We would reject that because it is part of our culture to complain about overpaid athletic divas. Eddie Johnson played the part of an American athlete perfectly. In Mark Bowden’s book Bringing the Heat about the 1992 Philadelphia Eagles, he discovers the MEAT principle being discussed amongst the Eagles. MEAT stands for “Maximize Earnings at All Times.” Eddie Johnson was adrift after fruitless stints in Europe and Mexico, his career in tatters. Seattle made him a humble offer ($150,000+, not chump change) and he soon outperformed that contract. He made a stink and potentially ruined a locker room, but Eddie was just looking to MEAT.

Yedlin seems a great guy and is saying all the right things, for now. When it comes to paydays, MLS’s byzantine salary rules are muddying his situation. Currently Yedlin is on a Homegrown Player contract, this allows him to make more than the league minimum and his salary doesn’t count against the cap. But to command the money he could in Europe, MLS would need to break their own rules (which they love to do), or get him those mysterious “retention funds” or a DP contract. But “retention funds” are fishy and Seattle already has three deserving DPs. So shouldn’t Yedlin bolt overseas to MEAT?

MLS is a downright different league. The low salaries keep a hint of amateurism, and the sense that players are playing outta pure love, in MLS. But the salary elasticity is incredible. For example, Clint Dempsey banks $6.7 million and Remick only that $36k. No other American professional sports league has such a wide earnings gap.  Even the grand daddy of them all, the NFL, has salaries much closer. Percy Harvin, after inking his blockbuster contract to come to Seattle, will make a whooping $11 million (almost twice Dempsey’s salary) this year for the Seahawks, but the NFL league minimum is $420,000 (almost 12 times Remicks’s). MLS has created a cartel-like infrastructure, where the league owns all contracts and franchises etc., to ensure financial sustainability. But this elasticity is contributing to players looking overseas and that affects the league’s long-term goals of being a league of choice.

Disparate salaries are affecting league financial sustainability and also roster stability. Last year we lost Mauro Rosales because the cap was too tight. I am sure Seattle would’ve loved to find a way to keep Mauro, but just couldn’t under the current paradigm. Now Obafemi Martins has started to posture at press conferences for a new contract. He makes $1.6 million and was the big man on Seattle’s campus until Deuce came to town. Now he is vastly out-earned. This must affect the camaraderie in the locker room (see: Johnson, Eddie). However, it is expected that MLS will ratify a new CBA in the offseason. We expect a major increase in the salary cap. This should help smooth egos, but how will MLS and soccer in this country change as salaries begin to creep up and natural cynicism enters the sport?

CONCACAF, GDP and the World Cup

Though CONCACAF is traditionally an international soccer backwater, the American, Mexican and Costa Rican National Teams are representing in Brazil.

CONCACAF is doing well for itself despite adverse socioeconomic conditions and poor World Cup history. Mexico looks the strongest after yesterday’s nil-nil draw with host Brazil tied with them atop Group A. Their victory over an uninspired Cameroon proved little, but going toe-to-toe with the Selecao for the full 90 showed quality. Costa Rica looked solid in surprising Uruguay 3-1, and are leading Group D. The Stars and Stripes exorcised some ghosts of World Cups Past by beating Ghana and now sit tied with Germany in the Group of Death. Only Honduras is showing poorly, having been routed by France.

World Cup 2014 seems to be holding pattern so far with CONCACAF World Cup history. Mexico is performing the best with America right behind. These two countries dominate the region, followed by Costa Rica and Honduras. Of the 35 appearances by a CONCACAF nation at the World Cup, 65% of those showings were from either Mexico or the USA. Costa Rica is third in total qualifications with four (almost five after a hotly contested qualification-losing playoff loss to Uruguay in 2010), and Honduras now has its third qualification. After Honduras, only El Salvador has qualified more than once and only five other countries have represented our region over the last 80 years.

Mexico has traditionally banged through CONCACAF, but whimpers on the international stage. They have competed in nearly every World Cup (failing to qualify for only three and suffering embarrassing sanctions that banned them from Italy 1990) and haven’t failed to advance from the Group Stage since 1978. El Tri’s consistency in qualifying and advancing from Group Stage play is stellar. And yet they always lose shortly thereafter. Mexico has won a knockout round game only twice, both times with the advantage of being hosts in 1970 and 1986. Mexico has never advanced past the quarterfinals, and their best finish was 6th. America, however, makes the most of its chances. We have only advanced passed the Group Stage four times, but have won two twice thereafter. Our highest finish was third, way back in the inaugural World Cup of 1930. Both Honduras and Costa Rica have skimpy World Cup history. Costa Rica edges Los Catrachos with one more qualification and one advancement from its Group. The dynamics within North American soccer remain stable, but the region is maturing.

CONCACAF teams are no longer World Cup afterthoughts. Mexico has always had population, wealth and ambition invested in their National Team, but has never been good enough to advance very far. Since international soccer is still a study in socioeconomics, CONCACAF has suffered. Most of the Central American and Caribbean countries have severe limitations to growing a dominant soccer program. Costa Rica, the third best country in the region, competes well despite having a nominal GDP akin to Sierra Leone’s, and a population equal to Kentucky’s. The after effects of racism and colonialism are still apparent in the record of CONCACAF qualifying.

America is the region’s outlier, a wildly wealthy nation in an impoverish corner of the world. Only a lack of ambition has held the US back from making a ruckus on the world’s stage. America is now flexing its muscle on the pitch with better athletes, facilities and dedication. As the popularity of the game rises, the moneymen finally see profit in soccer. This influx of cash into all corners of the soccer world: MLS expansion, the rebirth of the NASL, ESPN broadcasting the domestic league and NBC winning the EPL broadcast rights, indirectly feeds the growth of the USMNT. Over the next weeks, well see how these investments pay off.



Qualification: 16

Advancement from Group: 7

Knockout Round Wins: 2

Best finish: 6th (‘70 and ‘86)

GDP (nominal): 14

GDP (per capita): 69


Qualification: 10

Advancement from Group: 4

Knockout Round Wins: 2

Best finish: 3rd (‘30)

GDP (nominal): 1

GDP (per capita): 14

Costa Rica:

Qualification: 4

Advancement from Group: 1

Knockout Round Wins: 0

Best finish: 13th (1990)

GDP (nominal): 81

GDP (per capita): 71


Qualification: 3

Advancement from Group: 0

Knockout Round Wins: 0

Best finish: last (Honduras has never won a world cup game)

GDP (nominal): 109

GDP (per capita): 135

The Seattle Sounders Manifest Destiny

The Seattle Sounders were mentioned in a fascinating article today in the Sports Business Daily/Journal regarding the rise of soccer’s popularity in the United States. This is one of my many bailiwicks, the growing interest of the world’s favorite sport in our country.

I don’t know why I am so fascinated by the star-crossed love story between America and soccer. Maybe it’s because I just love soccer and am egotistical enough to want to see the world in my own image. Maybe it’s because I’m a pinko socialist and I see us embracing soccer as a harbinger of the end of American exceptionalism and hegemony. If Americans fall in love with soccer, are we admitting that we are just another citizen of the international community and must respect our peers and play nice? I don’t know, but it is pretty exciting, for all American soccer fans, that MLS is elbowing in at the NFL and MLB’s table. I am not a huge American chauvinist, but I am for Seattle. And the Sounders were one of the few MLS franchise mentioned directly:

[Sports Management professor Galen] Trail saw the impact of that stadium experience when studying season-ticket holders of the Seattle Sounders.

Buyers in that first year most often bought because they felt an attachment to their city, and also because they wanted to support MLS. They typically were not avid fans of soccer in general. Those people — the aficionados who were watching matches from around the globe and reading about tactics and transfers — wanted no part of Sounders season tickets.

But in the second season, Trail saw a significant shift among Sounders buyers.

“Watching the Sounders the first year caused a bunch to buy the second year,” Trail said. “And these people were totally different in their behaviors. They followed the game internationally. But they didn’t see the product of the Sounders being of sufficient quality to follow the first year. After seeing it a little bit, and seeing the crowd, they became interested sufficiently to buy season tickets. They’re the ones who follow the EPL and are in the soccer bars. Now they follow the Sounders as well.”

I mentioned earlier in this blog that Seattle has a unique soccer destiny. As soccer’s popularity grows, so do the Sounders’ fortunes. This franchise will be a Big Four, or whatever, team in American sports for a long time. It is odd to think the Sounders will nestle in among the other international sporting giants: Lakers, Yankees, Cowboys, Barcelona and Arsenal. We are lucky to live and breathe Sounders at the advent of their coronation.

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