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MLS announces a major rebrand: Should the league have considered changing its name?

MLS_Next_126Major League Soccer has a new logo. Refreshingly, it does not have a soccer boot crashing into a ball, as the outgoing one did.

(For two decades, it was nice to be reminded by a soccer league that has “Soccer” in its name that, indeed, its teams do play soccer.)

The new logo is remarkably simple, with “MLS” in a simple wordmark on a stylized shield split into two halves. One half bears three stars — and the other is left blank. The shield’s colour scheme can be altered to match any of the league’s teams — and the cynic will say that’s a reminder of the fact that, even though you may have a club to call your own, in the end it’s the league office that controls contracts and calls the shots.

It’s also incredibly bold for a league to announce a change in the way it markets itself, going into a year where a new Collective Bargaining Agreement needs to be negotiated. The current CBA expires after this season.

“Our new brand and crest are the result of an iterative process that has helped us better understand the world in which we operate in. The outcome is not an evolution, but a revolution,” Howard Handler, the league’s chief marketing domo, said at a news conference held Thursday in New York.

But there’s something I hope came up at the marketing meetings. If MLS has decided to go ahead with a major rebranding of itself, it should tackle what is maybe its own worst enemy. And that’s its name.

Major League Soccer.
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Eddies expect season-best crowd for this weekend’s Tampa Bay tilt

Eddie Edward is seen in action from a game against the Fort Lauderdale Strikers. PHOTO: FC EDMONTON/TONY LEWIS

Eddie Edward is seen in action from a game against the Fort Lauderdale Strikers. PHOTO: FC EDMONTON/TONY LEWIS

Tickets are 97 per cent sold for Sunday’s match. FC Edmonton’s front office reports that there are just “100 to 150” tickets left for sale. And, for the first time this season, ESPN3 will simulcast a broadcast from FC Edmonton’s crew.

FC Edmonton will be on its biggest stage of the season (at least when it comes to a home game) this Sunday when it hosts the Tampa Bay Rowdies. And, coming into the weekend, it is just four points out of fourth place in the NASL overall table. Securing a fourth-place spot would mean a berth in The Championship — the league’s official brand for something most of us refer to as “playoffs.”

The Eddies have seven games left to make up that four-point gap. Four of those games — including three of the next four — are at Clarke Stadium. And, one major advantage the Eddies have over the field is that they are done with the league’s top two teams — Minnesota United and the San Antonio Scorpions — on the schedule.

But, not so fast. Coach Colin Miller said the one thing that the NASL has proven this year is that it has been wildly unpredictable. For example, last week, Tampa Bay hosted Ottawa, and lost. It was just Ottawa’s second win of the fall season. In the fall season standings, third through ninth is separated by, ahem, a whopping five points.

“The league has been just tremendous this season,” said Miller. “You can’t look at any game and say that is a sure three pointer.”
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USL-PRO silent on status of Canadian MLS teams’ bids for affiliates

uslThe deadline to apply for a new USL-PRO franchise fell on Sept. 15.

A day later, the USL brass won’t say much about which MLS teams will have new affiliate teams in place for the 2015 season. That includes the three Canadian MLS sides.

In 2013, USL forged an to become the developmental league for MLS. In 2014, the Vancouver Whitecaps and Montreal Impact confirmed their wishes to have USL affiliates for the 2015 season. Toronto FC has been rumoured to also be looking at having a direct affiliate in 2015, after failing in an earlier bid to secure an affiliate team in Hamilton.

But, when asked about who could be in and who could be out, USL President Tim Holt said Tuesday that the process of adding teams is still ongoing.

“USL PRO remains in the process of determining the roster of teams for the 2015 season, including any additional expansion teams. This includes several MLS clubs evaluating the opportunity to launch a USL PRO franchise. Any such official announcements will occur once agreements have been finalized.”
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Breaking down Michael Bradley’s comments, by the numbers: Do Canadian refs really favour American teams?

Dave Gantar: Even though he got the call wrong, is he owed an apology?

Dave Gantar: Even though he got the call wrong, is he owed an apology?

Toronto FC midfielder Michael Bradley crossed a line on Saturday night.

After Saturday’s 1-1 draw against Chicago, which saw Edmonton-based referee Dave Gantar rule out what would have been Gilberto’s winning goal for a phantom push on a Chicago defender, Bradley vented his frustration. And it was captured on the TFC’s official video feed (CLICK HERE).

“They continue to assign Canadian referees whenever an American team is playing against an Canadian team… they are going to go make a conscious effort to show that they are not being biased one way or another. It’s not the first time we’ve had this guy this year. What can I say? He’s just not good enough?”

A player moaning about officials is nothing new. But it wasn’t that Bradley was simply calling out Gantar for missing a call. He was suggesting that there was a motive behind the call. He suggested that Canadian referees are making “conscious efforts” to call their games a certain way.

It’s one thing to challenge a referee’s eyes or even a referee’s judgement. But the second you challenge the official’s character, you need to back that up.

Did Gantar make the wrong call on Glberto? Yes. Even the opposing coach, Frank Yallop, allowed that his Fire side was fortunate.

“It didn’t look like it was a foul, or whatever the ref called. We got lucky on that one,” Yallop said after the game.

But, let’s make this clear. There’s a big difference between a blown call and a blown call because of bias. And Bradley suggested the latter.
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FCE coach Miller looks at Indy draw as point gained, not two points dropped

FCE's Milton Blanco, left, battles for the ball with Indy's Mike Ambersley.

FCE’s Milton Blanco, left, battles for the ball with Indy’s Mike Ambersley.

Thanks to injuries and suspensions, Neil Hlavaty regained his spot in FC Edmonton’s starting 11.

And, his spectacular free-kick goal allowed the Eddies to draw the Indy Eleven 1-1 Saturday night in Indianapolis. Hlavaty also came oh so close to scoring what would have been a match winner in the second half with another free kick. But, Indy keeper Kristian Nicht dove to make a fingertip save.

“It’s not just the free kicks, I thought Neil played his best game of the season for us tonight,” FCE coach Colin Miller said after the match. “And it’s not a fluke, he practices those free kicks every day.”

Hlavaty’s free kicks weren’t the only bright spots for the Eddies; so was the play of the makeshift back four. With right back Eddie Edward suspended, youngster Mallan Roberts got his first start at centre back since the spring season, while centre back Beto Navarro moved to Edward’s spot on the right. Kareem Moses (left back) and Albert Watson (centre back) held their regular spots.
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FCE’s Blanco hoping injuries are behind him, looks for strong performance in Indy

New York's Marcos Senna watches as FCE's Milton Blanco gets a foot to the ball in action from earlier in 2014. PHOTO FC EDMONTON/TONY LEWIS

New York’s Marcos Senna watches as FCE’s Milton Blanco gets a foot to the ball in action from earlier in 2014. PHOTO FC EDMONTON/TONY LEWIS

Milton Blanco feels guilty. He came to FC Edmonton with high expectations for the team and for himself. He knew that FCE owner Tom Fath has a reputation for treating the players well, and Blanco wanted to repay that faith with a standout season.

But, after being a cornerstone of the Atlanta Silverbacks lineup last season, injuries have prevented Blanco from becoming an everyday Eddie. A broken hand robbed Blanco of the majority of the spring season. Then, after a bright start to the fall season, Blanco hurt his knee in an early August game against the New York Cosmos. And, for another month, Blanco was on the shelf, wearing the red shirt in training.

“I feel bad,” says Blanco. “I feel like I have not contributed as much as I wanted to. I feel bad because of all the faith Tom Fath and the coaching staff here put in me when they brought me here. Unfortunately, I broke my hand and, then after I got the chance to play again, then it was my knee.”

But Blanco will be back in the lineup this weekend, as he’s been cleared to travel to Indianapolis with the Eddies for this Saturday night’s match against the Eleven. He’ll be needed; because of red cards issued in last week’s 3-0 loss to the San Antonio Scorpions, holding midfielder Cristian Raudales and right back Edson Edward are suspended. And coach Colin Miller is waiting on the status of two players who might not make the trip — but he wouldn’t publicly say which players are questionable for the game.
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Floro gets his first Canadian win as the home team scores three, count’ em, three!

Benito Floro

Benito Floro

It was a glass half-full kind of night, wasn’t it?

Canada beat Jamaica 3-1 on Tuesday at BMO Field. It marked the first time our national men’s team scored more than a single goal in game for the first time since Oct. 12 2012; that was a 3-0 win over Cuba in World Cup qualifying, which came directly ahead of that 8-1 loss in Honduras which wiped out all hope of Canada qualifying for the World Cup.

Yup, I did it; I managed to immediately contrast Canada scoring three goals at home with giving up eight goals. That’s the cynicism that needs to be beaten out of the average Canadian soccer follower. It’ll take more than one win in a friendly at home to beat it out of me. Gah.

So, back to the glass-half-full bit. Yes, Canada’s first two goals came on set pieces, and the third goal was the result of a howler from Jamaican keeper Andre Blake — who certainly did nothing to convince his Philadelphia Union bosses that he deserves a shot between the sticks in MLS action anytime soon. But, still, three goals! And, for coach Benito Floro, his first win as Canada’s boss! For a Canadian team that can’t afford to slide any further down the CONCACAF rankings, it’s something that will go some way to build belief that, maybe, just maybe, this country can score some goals at the next Gold Cup and maybe, maybe, maybe, qualify for the Copa America.
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Seeing red in San Antonio: FCE coach Miller says lack of oversight on NASL referees is “laughable”

Sorin Stoica: Has now handed out 10 red cards in nine pro games officiated this season.

Sorin Stoica: Has now handed out 10 red cards in nine pro games officiated this season.

The San Antonio Scorpions finished Saturday night’s match against FC Edmonton with three more goals on the scoreboard and two more men on the field.

San Antonio led 1-0 on a first-half strike from Rafa Castillo that kissed the post and went in. And then the rain of cards came. Sorin Stoica sent off FCE fullback Eddie Edward in the 65th minute. Eddies’ midfielder Cristian Raudales got his marching orders in the 69th minute. Losing two players made it impossible for the Eddies to fight back and equalize — and eventually an exhausted, shorthanded side gave up two more goals, one of them a very controversial one.

Final score, 3-0. But, really, for the Eddies, this is one that you just throw away and not try to analyze too much, outside of the fact that Raudales and Edward are facing suspensions.

Edward was sent off after Stoica ruled that he pulled back forward Billy Forbes and denied a clear goal-scoring opportunity. But Scorpions striker Tomasz Zahorski had the ensuing penalty attempt denied by keeper Lance Parker.

But, before the Eddies could build any momentum off of their keeper’s outstanding diving penalty stop, another red card was flashed. After Raudales knocked over Cesar Elizondo, Stoica took his time to think about it as both players were on the grass. He then decided to show the red to Raudales.

According to stats from PRO, the organization that assigns refs to professional matches in the United States, Stoica has handed out eight red cards in eight matches officiated this season (going into the San Antonio/FCE match). He leads PRO in red cards handed out this season. After Saturday, it’s now 10 reds in nine games, an average of over one per match.

Only one other ref in PRO averages more than 0.5 reds per game, Edvin Jurisevic, at 0.6 per game. So Stoica leads the red-card derby by a country mile.
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Canadian quotas are price USL must pay for not having Canada at the table when MLS deal was hatched

Victor Montagliani

Victor Montagliani

Back in 2013, Major League Soccer announced its partnership plan with (officially regarded as) third division USL-PRO.

But there was a problem. It was an American agreement made with the oversight of American authorities. For MLS, which is a North American league, shutting Canada out of the process was a major problem.

So, now, both MLS and USL-Pro have to reap what they have sown. As the Montreal Impact (Montreal FC), Vancouver Whitecaps (New Westminster) and Toronto FC (maybe a team north of the city) move ahead with plans for affiliate USL-Pro teams for 2015, we have learned they will be subject to pretty tough quotas.

As reported by Duane Rollins in Canadian Soccer News (link here), any USL-PRO team affiliated with a Canadian MLS team will have to follow some strict roster rules. Half of the players on the squad must be Canadian-eligible, and six of the 11 starters must be Canadian-eligible.

By “eligible” we mean that, if Canadian national-team coach Benito Floro made the call, that player would be available to go.

The move will likely prevent teams from stashing foreign talent on their USL-PRO rosters, or treat their affiliates like true minor-league clubs. That’s fine. The Whitecaps have sent established non-Canadian pros to NASL’s FC Edmonton on loan in the past, and the two teams still have a strong relationship. Toronto FC sent Ryan Richter to the Ottawa Fury. No reason that the Fury can’t continue to build relationships with TFC and the Impact.
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FC Edmonton says they won’t use San Antonio’s punishing heat as an excuse

Earlier this fall season, FCE beat San Antonio by a 3-1 count. PHOTO: TONY LEWIS/FC EDMONTON

Earlier this fall season, FCE beat San Antonio by a 3-1 count. PHOTO: TONY LEWIS/FC EDMONTON

On Thursday, FC Edmonton trained at Clarke Stadium, where the temperature was at 17 C, only about two degrees Celsius below the average for this time of year.

When the Eddies arrive to San Antonio’s Toyota Field for Saturday’s clash with the Scorpions, it will be a little bit warmer. OK, a lot warmer. The daytime temperatures are expected to be in the mid-30s. The game will kick off at 7:30 p.m. Central Time, so it may be a bit cooler than the daytime high. Still, it will be a heck of a lot more uncomfortable than an average September day in Alberta.

But FCE coach Colin Miller said his team can’t use the heat as an excuse as it looks for its fourth consecutive win.

“Our mindset is that it’s not an excuse for anybody,” Miller said. “This is one of the fittest groups in the league; they know the shifts that they have to put in during training.”

Miller said going from one climate to another is the life of a pro footballer. He said that, in his playing career, he was called up to play for Canada right after a Scottish League match. It would be near the freezing mark in Glasgow, and then he would join his Canadian teammates for a game in the punishing Central American heat.
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