Friday, September 28, 2012

Wagner's Double

Although we have gone to a number of games over the last week, I wanted to get to another Maryland women's soccer game before the season closed. 

I made it to the Towson match and while Towson has really struggled this season, Maryland was impressive.  The thing that stuck with me the most from that game was the play of senior Olivia Wagner, who scored a pair of goals and added an assist.

Maryland was not as impressive tonight against a very talented Virginia side.  The Cavaliers bossed much of the game and the normally solid Domenica Hodak got blitzed by the Wahoos attack.  Virginia outshot Maryland 15 to 9 and won 5 corners versus just one for the Terps (taken by Ms. Wagner after a slight distraction from a precocious four-year old).  Yet, against the run of play, two free kicks from Olivia Wagner delivered victory to a surging Maryland team. 

The Terps are halfway through the conference season and have now run their record to 4 wins -- including victories over North Carolina and Virginia -- and 1 tie.  They've already equaled their conference win total from last season (4-4-2) and it is the first time in the 26 year history of women's soccer at Maryland that a team has started this well.  The team's best conference mark, reached in 2010, of 7-2-1 is conceivably in play, although three of the final five conference games are on the road (at Va. Tech Sunday, at N.C. State the next Sunday, and at Boston College) and Maryland will close the regular season against a terrific Florida State squad.

Thursday, September 27, 2012


A Goff post on DCU attendance offers the opportunity to check out other opinions regarding why numbers have been so far down this season.

The sampling of supporter views reflected in the comments does not lend much credence to my efforts to hang this on the gaffer.  The best I can do is stretch the "boring" complaints as popping out of the game plan.

Instead, the consensus view is the rotting corpse of a football stadium is keeping customers away.

Goff offers a series of other factors:

(1) no international stars;

(2) no need to buy tickets in advance because of large, unused capacity;

(3) high ticket prices;

(4) the deterioration of the season ticket base;

(5) unfavorable scheduling (including four games in August and no visit by the Galaxy); and

(6) budget.


But the decline in attendance in 2012 comes on the heels of an overall 4.5% increase in attendance between 2010 and 2011.  The quality of RFK didn't decline substantially since 2011.

The average attendance for the two New York Red Bulls games was 11,783... 13% below average attendance for the year.  Goff explains the low numbers for Thierry Henry's team on the Sunday and Wednesday dates, but the Wednesday game was below average for the four Wednesday games played during the season (10,581 for the season, 10,303 for the New York game).  The Red Bulls home numbers this year don't bear out the value of an international star ... their attendance in Harrison is down 13% from 2011.  Even the Galaxy's home attendance is down 3% from 2011.

Who has seen a pronounced uptick in attendance this season?  The star-studded Columbus Crew, up 18% from last year.

What team was the biggest draw for United this season?  Montreal, with 18,000+ attending for the game in June (after pulling in 10,000+ for a midweek game back in April).  Second biggest?  Kansas City (16,314 for the season opener).  Then Seattle (15,651), then New England (15,104 and 14,627).

Mid-week games pulled down season numbers.  One-quarter of the league home fixtures were played on Wednesdays -- 21.5% below the season average and 31% below the eight home games played on Saturday (averaging 15,363).  Take these games out and the season average climbs by nearly a thousand fans.  But even if you exclude midweek games, the average this year would still have been down 5% from last year.

How about marketing?  The city happened to be plastered in D.C. United advertisements at the same time as television coverage of the MLS improved tremendously.  The club deployed people to stand at metro stations and hand out flyers heralding the arrival of Paris Saint-Germain and still only drew a little over 13,000 to the friendly.

Tickets are priced high, yes.  Personally, we couldn't find people to take our unused season tickets for free and, more broadly, tickets in the various secondary markets sold well below walk-up prices.

People aren't staying away because of a lack of goals... United's averaging 2.13 goals per game at home and their 1.57 goals per game season average is the best the team's posted since 2007.

Maybe its just that the Nats (and O's) have sucked up the limelight and the spectator enthusiasm this season.  Or maybe it is everything, or nothing, or something.

Weird team.  Weird season.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012


Last season, the Colonial Athletic Association's Georgia State posted a 7 and 1 record at home, beat North Carolina State and George Mason away, and got knocked out of the NCAA tournament in the first round with a one-nil loss to Duke.  The breakout season was good enough to land the Panthers a spot in the RPI's top fifty nationally amongst men's college soccer programs.

Things haven't gone that well for Georgia State this year -- Duke beat them 3-0 in Durham and losses to Evansville, Mercer, and Towson preceded tonight's visit to Ludwig.

In the box score, it was a thrashing.  22 shots for Maryland versus one solitary shot for the Panthers (in the loss to Duke, Georgia State managed nine shots to Duke's ten; in the first half, the Panthers outshot the Blue Devils six to one).  From the seats, the game looked like a training exercise.  After Tsubasa Endoh scored a gorgeous opener from distance in the twelfth minute, Maryland continued to dominate possession but eschewed good shots for extravagant combination play to try and put the game away early.  The half finished a lackluster one-nil, with the match closed out early in the second half by a brace from Patrick Mullins... the first created largely by Sunny Jane's decision to stepover an angled grass cutter from the left side of the goal box that found the far corner of goal, while the second was simply bundled by Georgia State's German keeper.

Based on the individual talent displayed by some of Georgia State's players at various moments during the match, the game should not have been as one-sided.  Seventeen of the players on the roster list a hometown in Georgia.  The seven without Georgia addresses all hail from foreign countries (Canada, Zimbabwe, Ireland (2), Chile, Germany, and the United Kingdom) -- including a player that represented Chile's U-17 side, a kid from Waterford United's youth setup, and another from Walsall's.  They looked disorganized, but not incompetent, and yet Maryland blew them off the pitch without urgency or particular passion.

Without Taylor Kemp, without Helge Leikvang, without Dan Metzger, without John Stertzer, Maryland waltzed.



Sunday, September 23, 2012



Even with a Living Social deal in full swing, average attendance for the last six home games -- where D.C. United has won four games and tied two -- is down to 12,403, now an 18.5% drop from average attendance last season (15,211).

Results aren't keeping people away.  With four games left in the season, United hit the fifty point mark this evening -- the most the club has had in a season since 2007.

And it certainly is not the weather, as it was another beautiful night in D.C.

Nor do I think that the club's promotional efforts can be blamed.  We contributed three to the total this evening and spent the first half in the VW garage.  Tonight's match is the first game we've attended where both my girls unequivocally enjoyed the night out.  Both found children of equivalent age to cavort with and when they weren't playing, we got close up views of Maryland alums Danny Califf and Casey Townsend as well as phenomenal combination play between Andy Najar and Nick DeLeon on the right flank.  The garage is a terrific setup for young kids and a godsend for parents that want to see a live sporting event.

We only were able to check out the garage tonight because the four other people we have season tickets with found other things to do and could not find anyone that had an interest in going to a soccer match gratis.

This is a weird team in a weird situation. 

The talent is the best we've seen as season ticket holders.  The home grown and drafted players -- Chris Pontius, Bill Hamid, Andy Najar, Nick DeLeon, Chris Korb, and Perry Kitchen -- are charismatic and each has improved as the year has worn on.  The foundation for a quality team is there.  In DeRosario, Boskovic, and Salihi, there is some real veteran class and skill in the roster. 

None of this is resonating with the fan base, who are largely staying away.  The lack of enthusiasm also likely has little to do with the continuing decline of RFK -- friends and family that we've previously enticed to games in past seasons showed no interest this year, but will head well out of their way to the spartan setting of Ludwig Field to catch Maryland.

When Curt Onalfo was first introduced to the fanbase, he made a point trying to connect with fans.  He did so through the false promise of attacking, attractive soccer (he did not come close to delivering).  Olsen replaced Onalfo with the underlying promise that a connection with the fans is already there based on his tenure as a player.  Olsen's record this season and the considerable development of his younger wards are testaments to his natural abilities as a coach.  But my four year old has never felt comfortable walking over and saying hello to Bennie when she's seen him at Ludwig or at the stadium.  That, in and of itself, means nothing but is a small and insignificant reflection of what happens when the "bite" you advocate from your side is turned on supporters.


Ethan White and Stephen King were on hand Friday night at Ludwig.  They signed autographs for fans in attendance (and briefly entertained my four-year old).  White & King also walked out at halftime while the p.a. promoted Sunday's D.C. United match against Chivas.  Not even polite applause from the stands.

D.C. United's formal presence at Maryland games is appreciated, although I am not sure how much it adds beyond the regular informal attendance of players and management.  Choosing White and King as the teams representatives was also a bit strange.  On the surface, two Maryland alums on the club's roster are the only rational choice -- but both White and King have been hard done under Olsen's regime.  After starting 21 games last year (and playing in three more), Ethan White has not played a minute of first team football for D.C. United this season.  Stephen King started 11 games (and played in 20) in 2011.  Numbers in 2012? 1 and 7.  King's hurt, but even if he was healthy, there is little chance he would play under Olsen.  So why send these two out as the face of the team?

Probably the same reason why Branko Boskovic got substituted out of the game in the 58th minute of Thursday's match against the Union.  All the better that his removal came shortly after a gorgeous cross clubbed fifty yards over the crossbar by Lionard Pajoy.

Want to watch entertaining football?  Screw you.  Chew on this "bite."

Think you know something about the game?  Screw you.  My skin is gossamer thin.

Believe that you bear witness to the rebirth of United?  Screw you.  I can cut off my nose with the best of them.


Over the last five home MLS fixtures, an average of 12,530 fans have come out to RFK.  That is 11.3% below the average for the prior ten home matches (14,132) and, compared to the season averages for every other MLS team, is the lowest in the league. The Revolution have managed to draw an average of 12,542 fans this season -- meaning that we are now packing in even fewer fans than New England.  A playoff team in a city stadium drawing less than 13,000 in the MLS is ridiculous.

There will be all kinds of vapid opinions bandied about as to why attendance has been awful; e.g., a terrible stadium, years of past performance finally catching up, and a captivating Washington Nationals run.  Maybe.  But the debate we are having about whether to head down to RFK and use our season tickets on Sunday has nothing to do with these variables.  Instead, that 58th minute substitution looms large (as does the ridiculous take that the substitution was somehow seminal in the win -- yes, Maicon Santos played a terrifically weighted through ball up to Pontius, but isn't applauding Santos for the goal more random than not crediting Boskovic for his pitch perfect cross simply because Pajoy's screwed up one and not the other?).

Sure, fans are superficial and lack true knowledge about football strategy and tactics.  And, sure, we don't get to see what the gaffer views on the training ground.  So, by all means, treat us as idiots while you stamp your authority on our foreheads.  We'll take it.


Project 11,000 is now in full effect.


Monday, September 3, 2012

Icelandic (and Aland Islandic) Football News

On Saturday, Thor Akureyri secured its return to the Icelandic top flight in 2013 with a 3-1 victory over Viking.  Three Americans were in the starting eleven for Thor:  Real Maryland alum Giuseppe (Joe) Funicello, D.C. United alum Josh Wicks, and former Connecticut Huskie and Wilmington Hammerhead, Chukwudi Chijindu.

There are several Americans plying their trade in the Icelandic second division this season, including the remarkable N.C. State alum Kris Byrd, who plays for Hottur.  Oddly, there is a relative dearth of Americans in the Landsbankadeild, the Icelandic top flight, but perhaps Joe, Josh, and Chukwudi will stick around to change that next season.

Joe and Josh's former team, Finland's IFK Mariehamn, and their former teammate, Real Maryland alum Mason Trafford, are enjoying a great season in the Veikkausliiga.  Mariehamn is currently fourth in the league table after 24 matches -- the highest position the club has ever finished in Finland's top flight -- and is mounting a serious challenge for a place in the European tournaments with nine games to go.

Let's Goooooooo Maryland

Three days, three trips to campus, four games.  Three Terrapin wins, one tie.

Most of the ink will be spilled bemoaning low attendance at Byrd and a poor performance by the football team against an FCS team.  There is certainly justification for a negative takeaway from the weekend (it was shocking to watch) but Maryland's other football teams put in performances that were just as jaw-dropping for positive reasons.

As fans, the recurring theme of the weekend was the incredible support garnered by the various teams from within the athletics program.  Among the 6,562 people in Ludwig Friday night was Nick Faust and Pe'shon Howard, as the men's basketball team was well-represented.  My daughter and I ran into Faust again Saturday at the football game.  Tonight at the men's soccer game against Cal, I was bracketed in the stands by Coach Brenda Frese and her family on one side and Domenica Hodak and Hayley Brock on the other.  (Much respect to Coach Frese's boys, who responded to one of the Crew's many "sucks" chants by trying to start positive chants of their own.  I remain unimpressed by the Crew who cracked up the stadium with a rousing rendition of Katy Perry's "California Gurls," but wiped out that witticism in a late game chant with the inclusion of the homophobic slur of choice for the student body's biggest tools.  You can't put an umbrella up in the stands, but no worries about a group of students calling an opposing player a f&**%t).  At the women's soccer game against Towson a few hours earlier, President Loh sat behind Jonathan Morgan for his first official home game as head coach.

Little bit different story for the student body.  ESPN3 likely showed the backs of lots of Maryland students leaving Ludwig in the second half of the match against UCLA Saturday night and leaving Byrd on Sunday for the dire game against William & Mary.

It was worth staying for both.

It isn't exactly easy to be optimistic about the football team but after one game it is already clear that, yes, Stefon Diggs is that good.  And, yes, the offense is really, really bad... but from a purely selfish standpoint, the inability of the offense to move the ball or avoid turnovers meant that the game stayed close and tense until the last minute, resulting in my eldest being around for the final whistle of a football game for the first time.  Still, it is going to be a painful season.

Not so for the soccer teams.  Although Maryland's record got its first blemish after failing to defeat a very good UCLA squad, the second half of that match was thrilling.  With Keith Cardona in goal, Taylor Kemp and Mikey Ambrose at fullback, London Woodberry and Dakota Edwards at center half, Helge Leikvang and Dan Metzger cleaning up the midfield, John Stertzer directing the offense, and Patrick Mullins as the target man up top, this is a familiar, traditional Maryland powerhouse men's soccer squad.  The type of squad that once featured three of the twenty-five called into the USMNT for the World Cup Qualifiers against Jamaica (Maurice Edu, Clarence Goodson, and Graham Zusi), one of Costa Rica's internationals (Rodney Wallace), three of the professional soccer players on hand at the game against Cal tonight (Zac MacMath, Matt Kassel, and Jeremy Hall), and two of the starters for Chivas USA who got blistered tonight by San Jose (Danny Califf and Casey Townsend). 

But this year's version of Cirovski's Brigade is decidedly different because of what is on offer from Sunny Jane, Schillo Tshuma, Mikias Eticha, Widner Saint Cyr, Alex Shinsky, and Christiano Francois.  These six players are remarkable on the ball and can, with varying degrees of reliability, launch breathtaking runs with only a sliver of space.

UCLA did very well bottling up release valves for these runs, but Maryland still managed 22 shots to UCLA's 8.  Cal-Berkeley, picked by Pac-12's coaches to finish second behind UCLA in the conference this season, did not do well in that regard.  While the 22 shots against UCLA resulted in 2 goals, 20 shots against Cal tonight resulted in 6 goals.

No Taylor Kemp, no Helge Leikvang tonight (replaced in the starting lineup by Widner Saint Cyr and Mikias Eticha, respectively), no problem.  In driving, pouring rain and terrible conditions, kids all around the stadium begged their parents to stay a little longer.  Mostly to watch Maryland's number 10.

In three games -- against pretty good opposition in Louisville, UCLA, and Cal -- Maryland has scored eleven goals.  They are electrifying.  The attacks in the second half of tonight's game (when five of the eleven team goals were scored), Maryland's offense was relentless as they toyed with a defense that was brutally overrun.

Maryland's first road game of the season is against another powerhouse, the #13 (NCSAA)/ #10 (Soccer America) Boston College Eagles, who need to rebound after a disappointing showing against Boston University Monday.  With another good showing Friday night, the foundations for a special season will be laid.

Separately, congratulations to Jonathan Morgan on the women's emphatic 5-0 win this afternoon against Towson.  Hayley Brock is terrific, but the story of the match was Olivia Wagner's brace.  Both were long-range blasts; the first one was stunning.  With several freshmen playing a major role on the squad this season, the women are likely to be inconsistent.  Today's match gave supporters a little taste of how good they can be.