Monday, May 30, 2011

Mbuta II

Lost -- at least to me -- in the attention paid to Coach Bradley's announcement of a Gold Cup roster was Javier Clemente's list of 23 Cameroonian players called in to face Senegal in an African Cup qualifier group match scheduled for later this week.

The big news coming from Cameroon's camp was the return of Alex Song and Carlos Kameni to a team that already features Samuel Eto'o, Pierre Webo, Sebastien Bassong, Eyong Enoh, Stephane M'Bia, and Benoit Assou-Ekotto.

Around here, the even bigger news is that 25-year old Matthew Mbuta was again called into the squad.

My internet search skills have failed to discern where Mr. Mbuta currently plays at the club level, but he is clearly doing enough to earn one heck of an honor by continued inclusion in a fairly strong footballing side.

As I wrote back in February, we're thrilled for Matthew and wish him the best in all future endeavors. I remain surprised that he does not appear to be on the radar of any MLS or NASL squads. I am also surprised that Mbuta's story -- a rise from playing for a second division U.S. team in dire circumstances to earning a spot amongst the Indomitable Lions -- is not a bigger deal.

Friday, May 27, 2011


The Washington Mystics first preseason home match of the 2011 season was at 11:30 this past Thursday morning at the Verizon Center. 11:30 am on a weekday is a strange start time for a professional athletic event but the unusual scheduling transforms the stadium into a wonderland for little kids.

My daughter chose to skip daycare to join me for the game and we sat behind the Chicago Sky's bench. Outside of one run to grab food during the second quarter, there was enough happening on the court and in the stands to keep a two-year old's attention for the entire game.

The Mystics franchise does a terrific job creating a kid friendly environment for these early weekday games. And while that may not be what many look for in a sporting event, the basketball itself is worth the price of admission.

The Mystics' returning nucleus of Alana Beard and former Terps Crystal Langhorne and Marissa Coleman showed well in the game, although Coleman struggled from the floor.

Based on the little one's favorable response to the game, I'm guessing that we'll be able to add Mystics games to our schedule this summer.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Close Encounters with Footballing Giants

The management of D.C. United should, by rights, be disappointed to have organized a friendly against one of the world's most storied football clubs and have only a paid attendance of 10,728 people take advantage of the event.

The disappointing turnout ignited another long, familiar debate in our section as to whether the sport has really managed to make any significant strides in the country. If a visit by Ajax -- which started the game with four (Kenneth Vermeer; Vurnon Anita; Demy De Zeuw; and Miralem Sulejmani) of the starters that played in the league title clinching match against Twente one week ago -- could not get casual soccer fans in the region to come out in droves, then perhaps it is only the celebrity of Beckham, Henry, Barcelona, Milan, and Chelsea that drives ticket sales and not technical brilliance.

I walked past Will Chang and Charlie Davies on the ramp heading down to our seats. Whether there is sufficient support for soccer among the general population does not really matter to me so long as Mr. Chang continues to have faith that there is a worthwhile market here.

The addition of Charlie Davies, I think, showed a commitment to making the fan experience more enjoyable; adding exhibitions that feature Ajax and Everton demonstrated a commitment to restoring pride in the franchise.

My daughter and I were treated to a fantastic display of football today at RFK. For the first time, I regretted not having seats higher up so as to better appreciate the passing and design of Ajax's offensive forays.

My daughter's not old enough to appreciate what happened on the pitch -- she told me that her favorite part of the game was Blake Brettschneider's goal, but I think that the rainbow dipping dots will be her answer tomorrow -- but it will hopefully be memorable nonetheless. We were about three-quarters of our way up the stairs and out of the stadium when she turned around and looked down at all the Ajax supporters congregating in the corner to salute their club. I asked her if she wanted to get autographs from the players or go home; she chose to head back down the stairs. Ten minutes later, with the help of some very nice young men in Ajax replica kits, we finally made our way to the metro with a shirt signed by Siem De Jong and Andre Ooijer.

I am, as ever, grateful for D.C. United.

Monday, May 16, 2011


Before exposing my two-year old to the elements and Terry Vaughn's comical refereeing at RFK, we took her up to Columbia for the UM Rebounders' second annual minigolf tournament for the University of Maryland Women's basketball team.

The event was fantastic, our daughter had a great time, and our admiration for the program grew in result.

Although I am a passionate sports fan, I am not drawn to sports for social interactions. I will not go to a movie theater or playhouse by myself, but have no problem flying solo to a stadium to watch a game.

So, this might be the first time I have wanted to join a supporters' group and get to know its members. The first thing conveyed by the Rebounders at the event is that they are an extremely nice group of people. The second thing conveyed is that the Rebounder volunteers genuinely make people feel welcome. We knew no one there, but were treated warmly and left to our own devices to enjoy the event.

But the third thing -- and this is the most important takeaway -- is a sense of the intense pride felt in the great history of women's basketball at the University of Maryland. At the first hole on the minigolf course, the "celebrity" host for that hole introduced herself to us as Dottie McKnight. And we had no idea who she was... A hole earlier I took a bad prat fall on the green trying to stop my daughter's putt from going into a sand trap. Chris Weller came by to make sure that I didn't hurt anything beyond my pride. And we had no idea who she was...

That level of ignorance is embarrassing. But if either Coach McKnight or Coach Weller were put off by our cluelessness, they did not show it. And while we did not know who they were at the time, we've remedied that now.

We weren't unaware of everyone on the course and brief interactions with some of the current players and coaching staff underscored the quality of the program. And my wife and I thoroughly enjoyed hearing about Lori Bjork's time in Transylvania playing professional basketball this past European season.

Our sincerest thanks to the Rebounders for organizing the event and for making it open to the public.

Friday, May 13, 2011


Tomorrow, it begins.

Accrington Stanley's improbable run this season in England's fourth division will culminate with the kickoff of the first leg of their semi-final playoff matchup against Stevenage FC.

Whatever happens with the semifinal, the team that advances presents a remarkable story and has to be the sentimental favorite in the final playoff match at Old Trafford. Stevenage only gained league status this year. Proving that they were punching at their weight, the club also achieved one of the great results of the English football season after upending Newcastle at Broadhall Way 3-1 in the FA Cup third round.

Stevenage's roster is loaded with familiar faces.

There are two Charlton Athletic academy alums on the club's roster: Lawrie Wilson and Stacy Long.

Stacy Long came to Stevenage from Ebbsfleet United and he is joined by two other former Ebbsfleet players, Michael Bostwick and Darius Charles, at the club.

And then there are three players with American ties. The University of Notre Dame's Jose Mousinho has had a great opening season for the club. Taiwo Atieno signed with the club in February, having returned to England after playing for the Puerto Rico Islanders and Rochester Rhinos in the USL. He was added to a roster that already had a USL alum in Dino Maamria, who had a disappointing short run with the Charleston Battery way back in 2003.

Despite all of that, our rooting interest is firmly with the little club from Lancashire. We've now sponsored one of Accrington's young home-grown prospects for two seasons. We've followed the sad financial soap opera that has dominated the club's storyline over those two seasons and hope that resolution of those dire problems will now correspond with success beyond most of the team's supporters' wildest dreams.

Earlier this week, we happily added to our support for the club by sponsoring two additional players. Unfortunately, we were able to sponsor additional players because many squad members were without sponsors. In a magical season, the club should be turning away requests from supporters to assist the team.

In any event, we are not the only Americans with an interest in Accrington Stanley: AFC Cleveland, a club slated to begin playing professionally (somewhere in the U.S.) in 2012, last week announced a most unexpected affiliation with Accrington Stanley.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011


Sometime after Adam Cristman attended an event last year for a charity that a friend was involved in, we checked the MLS Players Union’s list of 2010 salaries and were shocked that the 25-year old area native was only making $40,000. Forty thousand ain’t much to live on for a professional athlete with a family, but it’s a marked improvement over how things used to be just four years ago.

In 2007, Rod Dyachenko was being paid a $17,700 annual salary to play in the midfield for United. Current United defender Daniel Woolard was making $12,900 on the Chicago Fire – Woolard makes $50,000 this season for DCU.

A year later, Greg Janicki (another of my favorite United players that supporters slated unfairly) was earning $12,900 to play center half for D.C. United – he earns $45,000 this year for Vancouver.

The Players Union’s salary reporting is not ideal for cross-season comparisons, as each is a snapshot of rosters at different parts of various seasons – 2007’s reported salaries are from the end of August; 2008, early October; 2009, mid-March; 2010, mid-June; and 2011, the beginning of May.

But I like numbers and a breakdown of these amounts, for D.C. United, tells an interesting story.

Total salaries on United’s roster have fluctuated dramatically over the last five years, from a low of $2.3 million in 2007 to a high of $4.9 million the next year:

2007 = $2,276,390.00
2008 = $4,884,668.85
2009 = $3,233,676.28
2010 = $2,759,648.28
2011 = $3,322,518.57

These substantial fluctuations, however, mask the fact that a couple of high-value contracts drive the differentials. The massive change in salaries from 2007 to 2008 illustrates this point.

In 2007, when cumulative salaries were the lowest, no one on the team made more than $300k. Total team salary more than doubled in 2008, but virtually all of that increase can be attributed to the addition of Marcelo Gallardo (who made $1.9 million that season) and a large increase in Luciano Emilio’s salary. The $2.4 million increase in salary allocated to these two players was more than the entire team of 27 players made in 2007 ($2.3 million).

The decline in team salary from 2008 ($4.9 million) to 2009 ($3.2 million) corresponds to United taking Gallardo’s $1.9 million salary off the books. Similarly, the decline in team salary in 2010 ($2.8 million) can be attributed solely to a $500k decline in Emilio’s annual salary. As in 2007, in 2010, no one on United made more than $300k.

The total roster size has varied from 24 (2009) to 31 players (2008) and the club’s per-player average salaries have fluctuated significantly as well:

2007 = $84,310.74
2008 = $157,569.96
2009 = $134,736.51
2010 = $102,209.20
2011 = $114,569.61

But the small number of high value contracts drives the average – the highest per-player average salaries in 2008 were driven by Gallardo’s large salary. And when Gallardo was making millions, 11 players on United earned less than $20,000. That’s not a professional league.

To get a sense of how far the MLS has come, looking at what the bottom 15 guys on the roster make is instructive. Average salaries over the five years for the 15 guys with the lowest salaries:

2007 = $23,576.00
2008 = $19,635.24
2009 = $50,180.80
2010 = $54,354.16
2011 = $53,159.26

Now, fifty grand is not exactly lifestyles of the rich and famous, but it is a living wage.

And the real story, I think, told by the Union’s release of 2011 player salaries is the further confirmation of how far the league has come since David Beckham decided to move to the United States.

The average salary of D.C. United’s 15 lowest players fell slightly in 2011, but United’s roster size has steadily increased from 24 in 2009 to 27 in 2010 to 29 in 2011.

Limiting the analysis only to the bottom ten on the roster shows how much salaries have come up:

2007 = $18,990.00
2008 = $14,340.00
2009 = $35,395.80
2010 = $43,235.65
2011 = $45,354.51

And maintaining the high average amounts even with roster expansion is remarkable. This season, the league expanded by two teams and expanded rosters from 26 to 30 players – increasing the total number of players potentially under contract in the MLS by thirty percent in one season (from 416 to 540) – and yet none of those players made less than $32,600. That’s almost a three-fold increase from minimum salaries in 2007 despite the significant increase in employees.

United’s salary amounts are fairly representative of the MLS overall. For the Portland Timbers, their bottom 15 make on average $51,897.48 (DCU = $53,159.26) and their bottom 10 make $42,171.23 (DCU = $45,354.51). Vancouver ($44,083.61 and $38,440.01) and Seattle ($46,650.00 and $37,712.90) are lower, but still substantially above where salaries were in 2008, before they joined the league.

The increase in income for marginal players on MLS rosters creates a significant number of additional opportunities for talented American athletes to pursue careers in soccer and this expansion, in turn, creates a deeper talent pool that overseas leagues can tap into.

(As to MLS players going overseas, Josh Wicks – who made $42,000 for D.C. United in 2009 – had a tougher time of it in IFK Mariehamn's second league match, which ended in a 3-3 tie).

Sunday, May 8, 2011


Coach Cirovski's former players are having a bit of an impact on professional soccer this weekend.

To wit:

Maurice Edu started and played 71 minutes for Rangers earlier today as they got another step closer to the SPL title with a 4-0 drubbing of Hearts. Edu's thoughts on the success of this season's squad were highlighted on the club's web-site after the game.

We're back from seeing Stephen King and Ethan White lock down D.C. United's second consecutive clean sheet in four days at RFK. I thought White was fantastic tonight against FC Dallas, with one bad giveaway off a miskick that rebounded harmlessly to Bill Hamid. King had a decent game starting in the midfield, but took two awful shots on goal from two good opportunities from outside of the box. Marc Burch was healthy enough to make the bench for United, but was an unused substitute. Chris Seitz made the bench for FC Dallas as their backup goalie, but did not see action (Kevin Hartman was terrific between the posts for Dallas).

Tonight's marquee league match pitted Los Angeles' Galaxy against New York's Red Bulls. A.J. Delagarza and Omar Gonzalez were responsible for keeping Thierry Henry, Luke Rodgers (later replaced by Juan Agudelo), and Dwayne De Rosario in check. Both played the full ninety in a game that ended 1-1. Matt Kassel made the 18 but did not see the pitch for the Red Bulls.

Robbie Rogers also started and played the full ninety in a 1-1 game, with Columbus handing the Sounders a second disappointing result this week after losing to DC on Wednesday.

Last night, Portland ran their record to a perfect four for four at home in the league with a 1-0 win over the Union. It was the Timbers' second consecutive clean sheet -- with both shutouts featuring Jeremy Hall and Rodney Wallace starting at the two fullback positions and playing the full ninety. With Troy Perkins minding the net, Hall and Wallace made a number of quick-witted clean clearances that relieved the pressure brought to bear by a marauding Danny Mwanga and Sebastien Le Toux. Danny Califf stayed back in Philadelphia with illness. Zac MacMath dressed and backed up Mondragon for Philly, but did not see playing time.

Graham Zusi's Sporting Kansas City was off this weekend after Zusi started for the team last week in their loss to the Red Bulls.

Friday, May 6, 2011

A win

A run of bad performances meant that it was tough sledding trying to find company for a cold Wednesday night matchup with Seattle. Too bad for them.

I have no dislike for the Sounders franchise; in fact, I'm jealous of the support the city of Seattle gives for the club. They are a fun team to watch.

But I have no love for Fredy Montero. Montero's goading and cheap shots in the U.S. Open Cup Final two seasons ago triggered a moment of madness from Josh Wicks that effectively ended his MLS career and turned many of United's supporters against him (Josh seems to be doing just fine in the Finnish top flight, recording his first clean sheet in the opening league fixture and making at least one good save during the match as shown in this highlight package).

A few years ago, Montero's schtick was tolerable because of the skill he displayed on the pitch (when not throwing himself to the ground). Now his game has clearly regressed and he is unable to singularly influence matches. I don't mind watching Montero get frustrated (and Seattle lose) when he's in the lineup.

Fredy's remarkable skill at going down easily in the box earned Seattle its only goal Wednesday (and really, running in front of a center half and slowing down to draw contact only works with MLS-quality referees -- you would be better served to just try and play the ball and score), but the anti-Montero, Andy Najar, created two for D.C. United and nailed the post to threaten a third.

Najar was ridiculous. Sitting in the stands means watching a lot of passing -- some good, some bad -- with mild interest and then sitting up a bit straighter when the ball finds its way to Najar's foot. Najar commands the attention of both the audience and opposing players and this year, unlike last season, when the other team collapses down on him, Najar's outlets (Charlie Davies and Josh Wolff) have shown that they can capitalize off of Andy's hard work.

The sequence for the second goal was set up by a clever ball played by Najar to Santino, Quaranta's heads up ball back to Najar, Najar's great ball control and a deflection that put the ball directly in the path of Wolff to tee up Davies. Najar is far and away the most dangerous player in the squad and when he's creating for his teammates, United has a chance to hang with anybody if there is a competent defense behind him.

At the same time as Najar returned to DCU's starting lineup, Ethan White was back in the middle of the defense as well. Olsen adjusted the backline to move Perry Kitchen out to right back and paired White with Jakovic. The shakeup worked well against Seattle. White kept possession when the ball fell to him and was a solid, physical force in front of Hamid. He was good enough to have earned another call into the starting XI for tomorrow night's game against FC Dallas.

Yet another highlight was seeing Stephen King get in some action at the end of the match. King spelled Simms for the last ten minutes and, as far as I could tell, didn't dress down a teammate in his time on the field. The logjam of central midfielders has buried King on the depth chart, but his appearance would seem to signal that he has continued to work hard even with the odds stacked against him.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Crumbling Walls

We moved to College Park eight years ago in large part because of a fish pond at the back of a house that was on the market. That the fish pond (and the house) was near a huge public university in the ACC was also a big plus.

Then we moved here, took a short walk around the east side of US1 and worried that we had made a terrible mistake. We saw (and heard) then what David Morton later described in a blistering 2006 article in the City Paper.

We've constantly chosen to live near college campuses and had never previously experienced anything like it; the rampant culture of nihilistic stupidity made no sense at what was, by all accounts, an elite public university.

In response, for our first few years here we steered clear of the school. Occasional trips to the Comcast Center and Byrd Stadium confirmed our negative first impressions; as did my sister's reports of her experiences as a graduate student.

Over time, our distaste softened with increased interactions with the school and alums. Maryland Day, held each year on the last Saturday of April, provides a great introduction to the incredible academic resources of the school to anyone who wants to see them. The women's basketball team fundamentally changed our view of the Comcast Center. Maryland's soccer program -- both the men's and women's teams -- helped to further augment my love for the game. Once we started going to athletic events on campus regularly, we began to appreciate the amazing breadth of excellence in the school's athletic program: men's and women's lacrosse; women's field hockey; women's gymnastics; track & field -- heck, at my daughter's request, we've spent an afternoon taking in a softball game on campus.

We have still, with few exceptions, steered clear of football and men's basketball games. I thoroughly enjoyed the last time I was at Comcast for a men's game (in 2007), but it was for all the wrong reasons as American University upset Maryland for the first time since 1926-27 and Terps fans streamed out of the stadium in droves with three minutes left on the clock. No similar good memories of my last time at Byrd -- hosting Cal back in September of 2008, we ran gauntlets of drunk teenage morons with a three month old. We bailed early with my wife swearing that she would never go back again.

I'll test that resolve this year.

The sea change started with the hiring of Gary Crowton as offensive coordinator. I love Crowton. The Bears were absolutely awful in the two seasons (1999-2000) he was the OC, but his offenses were fun to watch. The lasting testament to Crowton's tenure is the receiving record held by Marcus Robinson. Robinson caught 84 passes for 1,400 yards (and Bobby Engram pitched in 88 receptions for 947 yards) in 1999 with Shane Matthews and Cade McNown getting the majority of the snaps at quarterback. Very few Bears fans (and even fewer NFL fans) would guess that the Bears all-time leading receiving yards record was set with McNown and Matthews behind center. But that's what Crowton can do. And now he has Danny O'Brien? That's entertainment.

The conversion continued with the school's masterful promotion of the Red - White spring game, scheduled to correspond with Maryland Day and Ag Day on campus.

The fact that the team's spring prospectus emphasized the academic accomplishments of Coach Edsall's UConn football teams helped even further.

But what sealed the deal was going to the spring game. The people at the university responsible for organizing the event are to be heralded. My daughter (and I) had a blast. Virtually every player we interacted with at the autograph session was fantastic and made the most of interacting with fans. In a short amount of time, we got to know enough about a few players to significantly ratchet up our interest in rooting for them.

Based on my daughter's experience and watching kids around us, every Terps football fan with children should make a point of attending.

I can't say enough about how grateful we are to the school for setting up the event and making it available to the general public.

Actions speak louder than words anyway, so I bought our season tickets earlier today.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Odds and Ends

Several things that I may be the only person in the world to care about simultaneously:

After skipping the tournament in 2008 and 2009, IFK Mariehamn thrashed second-division Joensuun Iloiset Peli-Pojat (JIPPO) 4-0 to reach the semifinals of the Finnish Cup for the second year in a row. Another clean sheet for Josh Wicks and Mason Trafford.

In addition to excellent results on the field, Mr. Wicks appears to be adjusting well to life in the Aland Islands -- he and Joe Funicello even have their own radio show. They are both, unquestionably, a long way from a football field at Richard Montgomery High School.

IFK has another North American in their squad, former Vancouver Whitecap and USPDL player Luca Bellisomo, who recently explained that he'd take his Brazilian teammate along to a desert island because he looks like a woman from behind. (The Brazilian in question, Fernando de Abreu Ferreira answers the same question with Josh Wicks, as Wicks would scare away any dangerous animals that might offend them).

IFK opens up its league season today with a match against Myllykosken Pallo -47 (MyPa), who were knocked out of the Finnish Cup Thursday by last year's runner up, HJK. MyPa has also added a Canadian: Kentucky Wildcat alum Riley O'Neill. O'Neill joined MyPa after four years in lower division German football.

In Scotland, our Raith Rovers' surprising bid for a spot in the Scottish Premier League was dealt a mortal below last weekend after a Fife derby loss to Dunfermline. The coup de grĂ¢ce to the promotion push was administered by Queen of the South on Saturday. Although it is a disappointing end to a brilliantly entertaining season and although the gaffer painted a dire picture of the immediate future of Raith football after the match, falling just short does not wipe away everything the club achieved this year, as confirmed by John McGlynn being named Manager of the Year by the PFA Scotland and John Baird being named Scottish first division player of the year.

We've proudly sponsored Raith Rovers players the last two seasons and look forward to continuing our support next season, whatever the composition of the squad. By all rights, however, we should not be able to sponsor any players on the club next season if McGlynn gets the measure of support he has earned from local fans. What he has done at Raith is nothing short of incredible and as only a passive supporter of the club, I am in awe of how much he has achieved.

As amazing as the Raith story has been, mighty Accrington Stanley's year has surpassed it. For a little club always on the brink of extinction, Stanley's clinching of a League 2 playoff spot after adding to Barnet's misery Saturday is almost unbelievable. As with Raith Rovers, we've proudly sponsored an Accrington Stanley man for the last two seasons and have followed the sordid soap opera of the team's front office operations. Less than a month ago, John Coleman announced that Stanley's players were not receiving salaries after yet more financial difficulties for the club. Nevertheless, Stanley have not lost a league fixture since falling 3-1 to Gillingham on March 12th.

Beyond all reasonable expectations, if Stanley can handle Torquay or Stevenage or Gillingham (depending on results from the last league weekend), they will likely face Shrewsbury at Old Trafford with a chance to host Charlton Athletic in League 1 next season. That's insane.

If last season's FA Cup run, culminating in a fourth round home match against Fulham televised on Fox Soccer Channel, seemed like a dream, diehard supporters in Lancashire must be pinching themselves continuously and questioning their sanity.

I hope they don't wake up anytime soon.

Sunday, May 1, 2011


Another tattered season for DC United got worse Friday night with the announcement that Branko Boskovic has a torn ACL shortly before a sloppy, embarrassing 4-1 thrashing at the hands of Bobby Boswell's Dynamo.

As depressing as it has been to see United roughed up for 10 goals over the last three games, this terrible run of play (and luck) was not unexpected.

Oddly, the losses and lapses aren't preventing me from enjoying watching United's matches.

Earlier this week, Brian Quarstad posted an argument emphasizing the importance of supporting the NSC Minnesota Stars. It is a great piece. It also reminded me of how fortunate we are to have an MLS team in DC; whenever I walk into RFK, I get a chance to witness something that soccer fans in dozens of cities here and in Canada wish they had.

If there has been one lesson hammered home over the last year with the loss of local second and third division professional men's teams and the Washington Freedom it is that professional football in the DC area is in a precarious state. Still, without the threat of relegation, the consequences of poor play are largely financial and reputational, not existential. With expectations properly set, it becomes much easier to sit back and enjoy what the MLS has to offer this year: impressive new, young blood that is reshaping the league.

Two weeks ago, Agudelo's stunning goals showed a glimpse of the young striker's vast reservoir of ability. Friday night, Will Bruin's hat trick against DC -- while nowhere near as aesthetically pleasing -- confirmed the Hoosier's competence as an MLS striker.

And on Tuesday evening, our long trek to Boyds was rewarded with a coming attractions preview of the Revolution's two teenage phenoms, Michael Augustine and Diego Facundez.

It is not as if D.C. United offers nothing to enjoy this season. Ben Olsen will hopefully improve as a coach. Andy Najar will, at some point, get an opportunity to build on last year. Chris Pontius is developing into a solid MLS attacker at the same time as Charlie Davies continues to work himself back into playing shape. Perry Kitchen, Ethan White, and Bill Hamid should gel into an effective defensive unit. But, at least for me, I am far more interested in the MLS as a whole than I have been in prior years.

One example: A late night out (for us) last Saturday meant that we got home just in time to see the second half of the L.A. Galaxy - Portland Timbers match on television. Entertaining game in its own right, but for supporters of Maryland's soccer program, there are all kinds of happy feelings associated with seeing AJ Delagarza, Omar Gonzalez, Rodney Wallace, and Jeremy Hall on the field together in a professional soccer game. Gonzalez again showed how much of a threat he is becoming off of set pieces with a nice header straight to the keeper off a Beckham corner. For his part, Delagarza's good play earned him plaudits from multiple sources (including a favorable comparison to Cannavaro).

The Maryland angle may have led me to turn on the game, but the quality of the match itself kept me watching. It may just be because I appreciate the game more now, but I routinely find myself tuning into random MLS games and enjoying what unfolds.

Even if my team is struggling, I'm still privileged to be regularly treated to live football at the highest level in this country. Whether we will continue to have such opportunities will undoubtedly hinge upon the continued support of United's fans through the duration of these trying times.