First Things First -- Tracee Hamilton on the latest sports news

Sep 01, 2010

Every morning, Post columnist Tracee Hamilton discusses the most amazing and outrageous news from the world of sports.

Today she's joined by soccer reporter/blogger supreme Steven Goff.

We have the technology. We can rebuild him. We have the capability to build the world's first bionic pitcher. Stephen Strasburg will be that man. Better than he was before. Better, stronger, faster.

That was a great performance last night. Shows it can be done.

And with that, I'm going to turn the reins over to Steve Goff for most of the morning to answer the voluminous number of soccer questions just waiting for him. I'll chime in occasionally with non-soccer stuff and we'll see how this goes!

Steve, I understand the need for ties in group stage World Cup soccer so that matches don't go on forever. But in the elimination round, why can't the World Cup play all night like the NHL does in the playoffs? The shootouts are no better than drawing straws.

No one would ever score. Soccer has limitations on substitutions and, even in 30 minutes of extra time, players wear down. The NHL has constant shifts. No one likes the shootouts, but it's truly the only way. And for the record, shootouts are much more exciting than drawing straws.

I'm hoping WPS and the Washington Freedom will be back. Your thoughts? Also... the Rainmakers or The Cult?

I'm no economics expert, but I don't see how WPS teams drawing 3,000 fans will survive. I do think the league will return next season, perhaps with an eighth team in Buffalo/Rochester. I've always said that there is a market for the U.S. women's national team, but not necessarily for individual clubs.

Steve, if the best soccer league in Europe is equivalent to Major League Baseball, what "minor league" equivalent does MLS fit into? In other words, are the D.C. United equivalent to the "AAA" Norfolk Tides, "AA" Bowie Baysox, or the "A" Frederick Keys?

Great question. Spain, England, Italy, Germany and France are the majors. You can also place specifics clubs from other leagues in the top category. Some MLS players have the talent to play in the majors, so to speak, and do go off to more prominent circuits. Look at Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard, Landon Donovan (on loan last spring) and others. As a league, MLS is still growing, still evolving. Class AA is probably the best comparison at the moment.

hi tracee, what's the deal with nyjer? did you happen to watch his play coming into home last night? if he had chosen to slide, he probably would have scored. this is the second time in the past couple of weeks, he's made the choice to go after the catcher, both times unsuccessfully (and with a lot of unnecessary force). your thoughts? is this a new thing for him or does he have a reputation for this style of play? thanks.

He is unrecognizable from last season. He was a sparkplug on the bases  and in the dugout. This year, he's a mess. At this point I'm stumped as to why he's still playing.

Do you have more (reliable) contacts for United rumors and news - or for the USA Men's rumors and news?

Soccer Insider, of course :-) There are numerous outlets for U.S. national team news and analysis. Among the newer contributors, I highly recommend Brian Straus at AOL Fanhouse.

Steve - What's going on with Gooch over at AC Milan? Is he still injured or in the coach's doghouse?

The first challenge for Gooch is that he is with one of the biggest clubs in the world. The second issue is his form; he hasn't played for Milan since last fall. He did start the first two U.S. matches at the World Cup, but then was dropped. Being at Milan is a mixed blessing: It's a dream come true for any player, particularly an American who arrived from the modest Belgian league, and it is earning him a huge paycheck. But healthy or not, playing time is difficult to come by.

I don't see the MIke Wise suspension in the paper, at least promimently. WJFK told me this morning they are "not allowed" to discuss, it, what about the Post? It was covered by Morning Joe and Mike & Mike on television this morning.

Here it is.

Why can't this team get decent players? The latest round of do-nothing duds: Boscovic, Hernandez, Pena, Talley, Emilio, to name a few.

Boskovic is a good player, but is he Designated Player worthy? Hmmm. I'm not a fan of Hernandez and I'd be surprised if he is retained. Pena essentially retired last year. Talley works his tail off but is clearly near the end of a nice career. The return of Emilio wreaked of desperation. Yup, DCU's player personnel decisions have fallen short. To the front office's credit, it did well with Najar and Hamid from the youth system. Now it needs to find high-profile players this winter.

Does the DCU FO -- e.g. Chang, Payne, and Kaspar -- truly get how much this franchise has fallen in recent years? That we are not only a joke on the field, but that the game viewing experience for fans is rotten? Or are they in a state of denial?

DCU has become a second-class organization: the results, the decision-making, the stadium, the fan experience. New York and Los Angeles, with their deep-pocketed investors, are miles ahead on most fronts.

Hi Tracee - I was curious whether you guys at the Post participate in football or other fantasy leagues as well as weekly pick'em type pools. I know Mr. Tony releases his brackets each year, but wasn't sure how much that sweeps through the office. On as side note, one exec at our company says he really likes them as it gives him a way to interact and have something in common with employees he might not otherwise. So even if people are not typical fantasy or pick'em pool players, they can still participate and have them serve a purpose. Thanks again for taking the time to participate in the daily chats.

I have never played fantasy football. Not sure why. I was in a fantasy baseball league pre-computer. Some folks at the Post certainly participate, Gene Wang being the leader in the clubhouse. We are doing NFL picks this season and I agreed to be one on that panel. In fact, I guess I'd better submit those. I was asked what name to use and I said "Tracee," but everyone else was being clever so I went with Hamiltime. That should confuse the non-chat crowd.

I seriously doubt that I'm the only one out here who thinks that putting Nyjer Morgan in the lineup today is a guarantee that he will get plunked, and that it's for the best. I don't know where the happy-go-lucky Tony Plush of last year has gone, but I miss him. Whatever it takes to get rid of the new, angry Nyjer is fine with me. NYJER SMASH!!! NYJER SMASH CHANCE TO WIN GAME!!!

Nyjer's not winning the hearts and minds these days.

For the love of God why?

Gulati cited his experience and results. And don't discount the fact that Bradley is available at, well, a discount. The USSF is not the English FA. Let's also keep in mind that, even if you change coaches, you're not going to dramatically change the player pool. These are our players. They are good players. They are getting better in general. But it's not like there's a Lionel Messi playing amateur league in Iowa and has gone undiscovered by Bob Bradley. The USA is a round-of-16 level program; with a little luck and perhaps some wiser player selections by Bradley, it could've taken another step forward at the World Cup this year.

Steve -- you point out that soccer's substitution rules limit ability of players to compete in overtimes without suffering exhaustion. Well, why not waive substitution rules during overtimes such that a coach can bring on as many subs as he wants, even players who have previously left the match? That would allow teams with depth to win more matches, a more equitable solution than shootouts.

It's not going to happen. FIFA is reluctant to alter the fundamental rules of the sport. PKs are not perfect, but if a tie match can't be settled over 120 minutes, I have no problem going to the shootout.

Steve, given the poor performance of Christian Castillo and the poor health of anybody who ever played defense for United, wouldn't you agree that Payne and Kasper need to not only be fired, but in fact jailed? (snark)

In defense of the Castillo acquisition, I thought it was a great move at the time. He was superb for El Salvador in World Cup qualifying, a lively, confident, dangerous player. In MLS, he couldn't adapt to the physical nature of the league and also seemed to struggle with cultural adjustments in the States.

Steve, your article this morning explained that DC United is basically playing in 2 competitions at the same time -- MLS regular season and the US Open Cup. Thanks for the explanation -- but why is it set up that way? Seems like it would be difficult for teams to prioritize (at least until they are clearly in/out of contention for one of them). And seems like it would confuse the casual sports fans who we want to attract to soccer.

This is the way it works in club soccer around the world: You play in the league, you play in your domestic cup competition, and for some teams, you play internationally. It's the nature of the sport. The challenge for a coach is to balance the needs of league play with that in outside events. Although it can put a strain on a roster (DCU suffered with three competitions at once in recent years), I think it really adds to the fan experience and boosts MLS's credibility.

Hi, Tracee. Is DeAngelo Hall seriously THAT insecure that he demands that Kelli Johnson lop off some height so that DeAngelo doesn't look like Danny DeVito. Wow. To secure an interview with him, would you somehow make your hair less "flaxen" so that, by comparison, Mr. Hall's would seem all the more "flaxen"?

I will alter my fabulous self for no one. :)

I now have both the Nyjer Morgan bobblehead handed out this year and the Jose Guillen bobblehead handed out back in 2006. If I choose to display them both in the same room in my house, do you think my homeowner's insurance premium will go up?

Two words: Hurricane Earl.

Steve, does Sunil Gulati know that Klinsman and Bradley aren't the only two people on Earth capable of coaching the national team? Did he even try contacting Martin O'Neill (for example)?

First, there's the money issue. Would O'Neill take the USA job for, say, $1 million when he could probably earn much more in Europe? Then there's the USA set-up. Unless you have an understanding of the American system, which is unique, you are going to have a difficult time. There's MLS's spring-to-fall calendar and a college system that doesn't exist anywhere else. Okay, so not the most air-tight explanations, but bringing in a top-flight foreign coach is not as simple as it seems.

Class AA, Senor Goff? Surely that's only because of the relatively low-profile that most players have in MLS. I wouldn't consider Denmark or Sweden or Belgium to be exceptionally higher quality, but because those leagues are more well-known to the big clubs, the players can move more easily, so they get more exposure and appear better. As a DC United question - has there been any talk of replacing or changing the fitness program for the team? We seem to have a shockingly high number of injured players or persistant injuries, especially compared to other clubs in the leage.

Good point on the USA/MLS players. It's hard to compare leagues. For example, Rangers and Celtic are generally considered world class, but the Scottish league is not. So how do you compare it with MLS? As for DCU's fitness/injuries, I wouldn't say the club has had more injuries than all others in the league. Just ask Steve Nicol in New England. Injuries happen; it's a huge part of the game.

Steve, Are you disappointed that the USSF did not try and pursue Klinsmann more aggressively or are you satisfied with the direction the USSF is going by retaining Bob Bradley?

I don't really have an opinion on the matter. My guess is that Gulati approached Klinsmann, made a general offer, Klinsmann presented a counteroffer that the USSF couldn't/wouldn't agree to, and that was that.

Goff, Thanks for all the great work you do! The Post is a leader in soccer coverage in this country, and it's largely thanks to your hard work. Is there any chance we could see a return of regular chats? Not necessarily every week, but every few weeks would be great!

Thanks for your very kind words. The Post has been very good to me and to soccer coverage, even in these difficult economic times for news organizations. Thanks to Tracee for inviting me to this chat. I hope to do it again soon.

Tracee, a follow up to the flaxen hair question from a reader previously: Has Cheese Boy ever asked you, or any WAPO journalist to shave his/her head so that he seems, somehow "less bald?"

No, but he does tend to gravitate toward Mike Wise when they are at events together. Magnetic pates? Or magnetic plates? Hmmmm.

How about allowing for re-substitution? How about bigger goals? How about anything but 0-0 after 120 minutes?

Ok, now that's just ridiculous. Soccer is the most popular sport in the world. By far. Even in the States, the World Cup drew big TV audiences. FIFA is not going to radically change anything.

Does US soccer basically want a coach they keep under its thumb? I can't imagine why they would want to keep another coach for 8 years when it failed so miserably the last time.

We'll see how this unfolds. As I mentioned in my most recent blog item on the Soccer Insider, just because the USSF signed Bradley to a four-year deal doesn't guaranteed he will remain in place for four years. The money is guaranteed, but the job is not. If the USSF is troubled by the results or the direction of the program in the coming couple years, it will consider a change ahead of the 2014 World Cup.

Tracee, thanks for inviting Steve to join you today. Steve, what's the status of Charlie Davies? Do you think he'll play in the national team match against Colombia in October? Are there certain players you hope to see get some playing time in that game?

Charlie is training full-time with his French club and with the reserves. He is making progress. But a USA call-up is still a long way down the road. I am curious to see the roster selection for the two friendlies: Oct. 9 vs. Poland in Chicago and three days later vs. Colombia in Philly/Chester. The most intriguing call-up would be Jermaine Jones, the German-American who has recovered from a leg injury and starting again for Schalke in the Bundesliga.

DC United is clearly feeling the downward pressure and offering a steep discount for season ticket purchases for 2011 today. I think a lot of people are scared that the move to Baltimore is so imminent that they're not even going to play in RFK in 2011. At this point is there any chance that next season won't be played at RFK?

I'm confident D.C. United will be playing at RFK Stadium next year. (It's RFK's 50th anniversary!) Beyond that, who knows. I would not be shocked if the club moves to Baltimore; nothing seems to be happening on the stadium front in the immediate D.C. area. One thought: While a soccer stadium is being constructed near Camden Yards, United plays two seasons at M&T Bank Stadium in an effort to establish a local fan base.

among US sports reporters with soccer? That is among those who don't cover soccer? It's as though they resent the fact that it's the world's most popular sport, and have to mock it. They react like a New Yorker who's never left the island when told that there might be a greater city out there. And can you tell the idiots at ESPN to stop calling baseball "the beautiful game" and come up with something not already taken. That's tantamount to calling Old Glory the Union Jack - offensive to everyone.

There's been a generational shift in the media, and soccer has benefitted from it. U.S. media, in general, respects the sport much more than in the past. Just look at the coverage in newspapers, online and on TV during the World Cup. Sure, some will mock it at times, but all sports are mocked to some extent.

 

... good thing? bad thing? personally, I like the guy. Classy. And, despite losing in a regrettable way in S.Afr., seems to have a pretty good command of the ship. That said, perceptions are often 9/10 of the truth. Lots of baggage to carry for another 4 years.

Well said. Bob is a good guy who works very hard and has the respect of the players. Has he made mistakes? Absolutely. Is stagnation under a coach's second term an issue? Yes.

One question (White House Briefing Style): Are web hit totals for Goff articles discussed/kept track of by Post management and do you get to have coffee or liquid lunches with Ben Olsen and can I come to one of these lunches with you and Ben?

Ha! Who am I, Robert Gibbs? (who happens to be a former North Carolina State goalkeeper) Yes, we keep a close eye on web traffic for stories and blogs. As far as I know, I am doing just fine. (Right, boss?) I've known Ben for a long time; he's a cultured, worldly, interesting guy. Our interaction, however, is primarily limited to postgame news conferences and official chats after training sessions.

Steve, thanx for answering, but I meant, does The Soccer Insider (you) have better personal contacts with the US or with United to provide us with rumors and news - I know to only get my reliable news from you :-)

Not sure I understand the follow-up either. I share everything with the readers, whether it's DCU or USA. I'm always trying to uncover more news.

 

As a UVA alum I found out that Damien Silvera, a key member of the UVA soccer team that won four straight NCAA titles in the early 90s died this summer. Do you know anything about this? There's no mention of how he died so young. It's tragic.

Very sad story. Damian had a lot of problems. I don't think his family has ever discussed them publicly. We sometimes overstate a person's contributions after he/she has left us, but in Silvera's case, I will say unequivocally that he was one of the greatest college players that I ever had the pleasure of watching.

 

Isn't there some credibility to the argument that the expanded use of Twitter (including unnamed WaPo writers) hurts the integrity of sports media that uses the social platform as a means to deliver breaking news? Just look at Bryon Westbrook. Everyone and their mother has read on Twitter that he's been cut, but the man himself isn't even aware yet. His stuff is still at the park! I'm not excusing Wise's antics, and I don't necessarily buy into his whole defense, but the fact that everyone is willing to run with 140-character tweets (even if it is essentially water cooler talk) as a legit source is a little worrisome.

Absolutely. There is so much pressure to be first in this business these days, it's ridiculous. Being first is important but being right is mandatory. It's easy to throw stuff at the wall and see what sticks. The need to predict the outcome of everything, to outdiagnose the doctors and outlegal the lawyers and outguess the managers ... why not see what happens occasionally? Whatever happened to anticipation? Instant gratification is just not that gratifying to me, I guess. Grumble grumble. You damn kids get off my lawn!

Steve-Other front offices have been removed by the owners based on their woeful results. What is it that keeps Payne et al so firmly entrenched?

In Kevin's defense, it's not like he is a newcomer who has not enjoyed any success. He oversaw the club's early glory and has been one of the most important executives in American soccer for 20 years. That said, the empire is crumbling. Will Chang, the owner, has put his faith in Kevin and Dave Kasper to turn things around. Chang is a good guy who cares deeply around the organization, but he's also relatively new to the sport and usually 3,000 miles away at his home/base in San Francisco. If the stadium issue isn't resolved, attendance continues to drop and the team's performance doesn't improve, perhaps Chang will have to consider major organizational changes.

 

Steven Goff writes: "It's not going to happen. FIFA is reluctant to alter the fundamental rules of the sport. PKs are not perfect, but if a tie match can't be settled over 120 minutes, I have no problem going to the shootout." The problem is YOU have no problem with going to the shootout but is that what the fans want? I understand the substitution rules limit players to compete in overtime, but maybe, in order to create fan interest, because we know that many potential fans aren't fans because it's such a low scoring game over a long period of time - and it's difficult to attract a large crowd watching finesse, something drastic needs to be tried. As a parent who's children have played in boys and girls leagues here in the U.S. and overseas, both of whom have moved away from the sport, I would be open to having relatively unlimited substitution for overtime. At least try it and see what the public - the ticket paying fans - think. dungarees@gmail.com

Thanks for your thoughts.

So we should poll all 1 billion soccer fans around the world?

 

How can the American professional soccer leagues ever compete with the rest of the world if they have their seasons at a different time of the year than the rest of the world?

At some point, MLS is going to have to seriously consider following the international calendar. Many issues need to be addressed, however: no games in snowy climates in Dec-Feb, scheduling conflicts with other sports, TV availability, etc.

Soccer is far and away the most successful and most popular team sport on the face of the globe. Given this reality, why is it that so many American casual fans of the game think the laws need to be fundamentally altered?

Good point.

Okay, I've run out of time. Sorry I could only address a fraction of the questions. I appreciate your interest. Hopefully we will do it again soon.

Cheers!

What are your thoughts on the Mike Wise stunt? Obviously he violated the central code of integrity in journalism to make a point that was seemingly obvious. Then, as you are running this Q&A, news outlets spread Adam Schefter's false report about Byron Westbrook. Is that validation in some way for Mike Wise?

I don't think anyone would argue the point he was trying to make. But if he'd waited two days, he could have made the same point today without sending out false information, using the Westbrook incident as an example. Adam Schefter is a highly respected source of NFL news. Other outlets picked up his tweet, including the Post. He was wrong. (To be clear, Redskins Insider reported Schefter's twitter but is reporting that Byron was not cut.)  Do this incident prove his point? Yes, in a much more profound way than he did. Does it validate what he did? No.

Thanks, everyone, for joining us today, and thanks especially to Goff for being my first guest. Tons of questions! Liz Clarke will join us tomorrow to talk U.S. Open and whatever else you want to ask (Bruce Springsteen, Rusty the wonder dog). Hope you'll be here too!

In This Chat
Tracee Hamilton
Tracee Hamilton has worked at the Post since 1993, toiling in office obscurity as an editor before someone said, "Hey, you've got a lot of opinions and can write a little. Why don't you become a columnist?"

Her interests range from genealogy to Nordic combined to Kansas basketball. If ever there was a Jayhawk who once flew off a ski jump, she'd know where he was buried.

Her list of pet peeves is considerably longer, but includes Missouri basketball and poor subway etiquette. She welcomes dissenting opinions -- in the way Great Whites welcome open-water swimmers.

First Things First Archive
Tracee Hamilton Column Archive
Steven Goff
Steven Goff is a D.C. United and soccer writer for The Washington Post. You can follow him on the Soccer Insider blog and @SoccerInsider on Twitter.
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