Frequent contributor Jon Marthaler has written about virtually every sport in the Twin Cities, and fills in on Saturdays for the RandBall blog on StarTribune.com. He'll cover the professional soccer scene in the Twin Cities, whether at the Metrodome or at the National Sports Center.
Email Jon to talk about soccer.
So, new soccer fan: you've watched, and enjoyed, the World Cup. You're thinking that this soccer thing seems pretty fun, and you don't want to wait until the next World Cup - in June 2018, whole years from now! - to watch more soccer.
But what to watch? The USA men's team doesn't have meaningful matches again until next summer, and the women's CONCACAF championship isn't until October. It's a long time until you can again don your red, white, and blue scarf, and forget the words to "America the Beautiful." You need something now. It's time to dive into the glorious world of club soccer.
Years in the past, this meant pestering the kid who studied abroad one semester and came back with a Manchester United jersey and an annoying habit of saying "cheers" instead of "thanks," but I'm happy to report those days are long gone. You are awash in soccer choices. It's important to pick the right one. That's where SoccerCentric comes in; let us be your faithful Sherpa, guiding you among the mountains and helping you pick the right league for you.
The thing you liked best about the World Cup: Cheering for the Americans! U-S-A! U-S-A!
What you should watch: Minnesota United FC and the NASL
Minnesota's home team plays in Blaine; if you can't make it up there, their home games are broadcast on Channel 45, which you get at your house. The Loons are the home team, the local squad, and while it's true that the NASL is the American second division, it's also true that this doesn't mean Triple-A soccer. United's players aren't property of MLS teams, waiting for a callup to the big leagues; they've got their own championship to win. If you enjoyed being part of cheering for the home team, it’s America and Minnesota for you.
(A word to anyone who complains about the quality of American soccer, or says they won't get invested in Minnesota soccer until MLS comes here, or anything along those lines: oh, sorry this game isn't good enough for you, Bobby Robson. While you're over there pontificating on whether the game is worthy of your attention, the rest of us are going to be over here, actually watching soccer and having fun.)
The thing you liked best about the World Cup: That, unlike baseball or football or basketball, the games are over in two hours
What you should watch: MLS
Love American sports, but hate that an American League baseball game now takes four hours to play? Allow Major League Soccer to step in. You can transfer over all of your usual prejudices: it's still safe to hate New York and Los Angeles (though not the second LA team, which is in terrible shape because of a crazy owner.) If it's local prejudice you want, you can cheer against Chicago and Kansas City, and it's always fun for a Minnesotan to cheer against Dallas. Plus: Hate Boston? Well, New England is terrible and their owner (Robert Kraft, the Patriots' owner) is the worst in the league! Ah, delicious schadenfreude.
The thing you liked best about the World Cup: Drinking in the morning and yet feeling normal
What you should watch: The Premier League
NBC Sports Network shows all the English games, either live or online, which is great for those of us who are looking for something to watch at 9am on Saturdays. It's the most popular and richest league in the world, and no matter what team you choose to follow, you will easily find someone else in the area who will watch games at the bar with you. In some ways, the English league is the easiest league for Americans to follow - especially if you like a beer with your morning sausages.
The thing you liked best about the World Cup: GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOL!
What you should watch: Liga MX
It is hard not to be taken by the irrepressible goofiness that is Univision during the World Cup. Spencer Hall covers it better here, but if you're a fan of zaniness and don't mind a Spanish-language broadcast, go ahead and find Univision or Telemundo on your dial.
Be aware when you do, too, that you'll be watching North America's best league, filled with entertaining, attack-minded players - and be aware that more of your fellow Americans are tuning in to watch along with you than are watching any other league. You may not know it, but the Mexican League is the popular pick among your countrymen.
The thing you liked best about the World Cup: That it doesn't come around that often
What you should watch: The Bundesliga
The German league is the best-attended in the world, and boasts Europe's current best team in Bayern Munich. Unfortunately, it's saddled with a TV contract with GolTV in the USA, a channel that nobody gets. It thus follows that if you're a Bundesliga fan, you don't have to bother with watching games until 2015-16, when FOX picks up the rights and you'll start seeing German matches everywhere.
The thing you liked best about the World Cup: The superstar players – Messi, Neymar, Ronaldo, etc.
What you should watch: La Liga
Real Madrid and Barcelona seem to have endless funds, which is why the world’s biggest stars all seem to end up with one of the two. And last year, neither one managed to win the league, losing out to Atletico Madrid, which had fewer superstars but a better team – just like what happened to Messi, Neymar, Ronaldo, etc. at the World Cup.
The thing you liked best about the World Cup: The allegations of match-fixing.
What you should watch: Serie A
In general, the Italian league is beset by a scandal of some type at least every other year. This being Italy, nothing is ever resolved, and any punishments handed out are overturned on appeal. If you loved the dramatics of the Cameroonian match-fixing probe – or even the story of the Ghana's players potentially going on strike if they weren’t paid – you’ll love Italy.
We here at SoccerCentric hope that this guide has helped you, and may we say in closing: Go [insert name of your new favorite team in whatever league matches your interest]!
In the end, it was Germany. It was always Germany, at this World Cup, ever since they smashed Portugal to pieces 4-0 in their first group game. There were stutters - a surprising draw against Ghana, extra time needed to get past Algeria - but the enduring memory of this World Cup will be the ten-minute blitzkrieg that the Germans loosed on Brazil in the semifinal.
It ended up taking them 113 minutes to break through against Argentina, surprising given the flow of the game. The Argentines were again content to rely on their defense and the occasional counterattacking parrying thrust, not a bad ploy when your weapon is Lionel Messi. Germany hit the post and goofed up several other good chances, a sign of nerves that hadn't been there all tournament for the country most known by the phrase "ruthlessly efficient," but Mario Gotze's goal - astonishingly good - was always on its way. Argentina had the ball in the net from an offside Gonzalo Higuain in the first half, but otherwise did not manage to place a single shot on goal in the entire game. Germany had two-thirds of the possession, and completed 716 passes to Argentina's 436; it's safe to say that the better team won this game.
Here are the things we will remember most about the World Cup that was - besides that astonishing 7-1 Germany win over Brazil in the semifinals, which four years from now will be the only thing that most of us remember:
Of course, for us American fans, that's a list that's missing more than a few moments. We'll remember Clint Dempsey's dream start against Ghana. We'll remember John Brooks's holy-crap-what-did-I-just-do goal celebration after scoring the game-winner in the same game. We'll remember Jermaine Jones being a wrecking ball for the entire tournament, and scoring an astonishing goal against Portugal; we'll remember the knife in the heart as Portugal scored in the final seconds. We'll remember the absurdity of cheering for a 1-0 loss to Germany, and the wonder of everything Tim Howard did against Belgium, hauling the USA into a game they didn't belong in.
And now, we wait four more years.
We're headed to Russia, next time around, and the Russians have five or six stadiums to build, so you can expect a repeat of the coverage that led up the Sochi Olympics. Expect terrible cost overruns and delayed construction schedules, and funny pictures of missing seats or dual toilets, all of which will be completely forgotten once soccer starts.
Depending on the host city, the games will be between eight hours and eleven hours ahead of Central time, so you can also prepare yourself for plenty of morning starts, as fans. A 7pm game in Moscow would start at 10am, here; a noon game in Yekaterinburg would begin at 1am our time. I suggest just planning ahead and taking all of June 2018 off of work.
Goodbye, World Cup. Come back, World Cup. Until we meet again, you will be missed.
One final World Cup aside: Below are the picks that Star Tribune columnist Michael Rand, Minnesota United head coach Manny Lagos, and I made before the World Cup began. This is from the June 12 edition of the Star Tribune. I post it, of course, because I nailed everything but the number of goals that Germany scored in the final. Feeling pretty good about this, of course.
It would probably wrong to say that, once the Argentina-Netherlands semifinal went to extra time, it was always heading for penalty kicks. It would be more correct to say that, from the moment the game kicked off, it was heading for penalty kicks.
Argentina seemed cautious, like a football coach that runs the ball on third down and is determined to win the game through excellent punting. The Netherlands, meanwhile, seemed determined mostly to go backwards to the goalkeeper, apparently reasoning that if they kept all of their players in their own half, the Argentines were unlikely to score.
Gonzalo Higuain had a couple of good chances for Argentina, but missed. The Dutch, meanwhile, ended the game with one shot on goal in two hours, and that from Arjen Robben, 25 yards out and straight at the keeper.
The fireworks of Germany beating Brazil 7-1 aside, this is what semifinals and finals are often like - cautious, reserved, with each team determined to avoid the mistake that might send them out of the tournament. I suppose that there are defenders who enjoyed the game from the first minute to the 121st, pointing out excellent defending from Pablo Zabaleta on one side and Ron Vlaar on the other. The rest of us, though, spent much of the game checking our watches and stifling yawns, like parents trapped at a eleventh-grade production of "Waiting for Godot." It had to end on penalties. Vlaar missed his, as did Wesley Sneijder, and all four Argentines scored, ended by Maxi Rodridguez, who seems like he's been around forever but is just 33.
For all of the Netherlands' attacking flair in the group stage, they finished the tournament with four consecutive hours of soccer without scoring; for all of the Lionel Messi-led power of Argentina, they have now managed just two goals in their three knockout-round games.
It is better to look forward to the final, I suppose - Germany and Argentina meeting for the third time in a World Cup championship, after an Argentine victory in 1986 and West Germany returning the favor four years later. At the moment, Germany appear to be the favorites - especially given that Argentina has now played two overtime games in nine days, and has to have very little left in the tank, while Germany basically played a half-hour on Tuesday against Brazil.
Can Messi, or Higuain, or Sergio Aguero, turn things around on Sunday (2pm on ABC)? Or is Germany simply unstoppable? If nothing else, let us hope and pray not to have another game like this one.
We are always interested in the doings of former Minnesota soccer executive Djorn Buchholz, and he is on the move again. Louisville City FC, which will start play in USL Pro next year as an affiliate of new MLS side Orlando City, will announce today that Buchholz is the team's new president.
"I just can't stay in one spot," he said, jokingly. "You've got to go where the opportunities are, you know?"
Last year, Buchholz left Minnesota to take a job as Director of Fan Experience with Sporting Kansas City, which gave us an opportunity to look back at his Minnesota career. In summary: Buchholz was the Minnesota Thunder's general manager until the team folded, left for a year to run the Austin Aztex, then returned to take over the Minnesota Stars, when they were owned by the NASL and unable to find an owner. It is due in no small part to his effort that Minnesota has a pro soccer team today.
Now, he's headed back to the lower divisions of American soccer - and he's back in charge of an organization, perhaps where he's most comfortable. "It seems like the right move," he said. "I think this club has got aspirations to go to MLS. Building a team from scratch is something I've never done before; I’ve helped resurrect a team, and taken over a team, but this seems like a challenging opportunity for me. Long term, I want to be potentially running an MLS team. I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Kansas City, and I’ve learned a ton, and what an amazing organization to work for - but there’s a lot of things I’ve missed that I’ve been able to do in my previous career."
The move takes him back to the organization that hired him in 2010, when he was the Austin CEO. The Aztex moved to Florida to become Orlando City in 2011, and with the start of the new MLS franchise next year, will move again to Louisville, with Orlando minority owner Wayne Estopinal owning the team.
The club will play in Louisville Slugger Field, the home of the AAA Louisville Bats, and while playing in another team's baseball stadium presents a set of challenges, Buchholz is looking on the positive side. "The stadium is right downtown, which is something we always wanted in Minnesota," he said. "I think you’ve got advantages like that. You’re walking into a market where there isn’t an expectation for what pro soccer is. There’s no preconceived expectations, so being able to create an experience for people that they didn’t expect and that goes above and beyond what they were expecting to experience, that’s one of the most exciting things about Louisville."
As much as anything, it's that opportunity to create a culture - like in Minnesota - that Buchholz couldn't pass up. "When I came back [to Minnesota] the second time in 2011, we created a soccer culture in and around that venue," he said. "There was a buzz, and that was done without a lot of resources. Well, there’s some resources in Louisville. I’m excited to walk in and have the resources that we need to create a club that’s going to be top-notch."
Buchholz helped save Minnesota soccer on a shoestring. It'll be very interesting to see what he can build - with actual resources, this time - in Louisville.
I had a meeting at 3:00, like a regular working stiff. I made jokes about watching the World Cup in the meeting room, but ultimately we decided we had better do work stuff.
After a half-hour, he could stand the buzzing of his phone no longer. He checked. His eyes widened.
"It's 5-0," he said.
"No it's not," I said.
"People keep texting me."
"It is not 5-0. It just isn't."
This was not supposed to happen. Not to Brazil. Not in Brazil.
Brazil is, in the estimation of most, the greatest soccer country on earth. Even when they are not good, when their defending is suspect and they don't seem interested in playing as a team, they are still Brazil, and at any moment they may produce some bamboozling piece of soccer that will put their opponents to the sword. This is how they have won five World Cups and the last three Confederations Cups and four of the last six Copas America: they are Brazil. They always win.
And even if you don't believe that, they are Brazil, at home, and at home Brazil always wins. They had a winning streak in competitive home matches that dates back to 1975. They don't lose at home, Brazil. They just don't.
This, though, is what Germany does: they ruin things.
Germany is always the team that nobody likes at the World Cup. Not because they aren't good - they always are, having not finished outside the top eight since 1938 - and not even because they don't play good soccer, as you can see from this edition, which produced some glorious attacking against Brazil. It's just that they wear black, and always are good. If you were being nice, you'd say they are the Yankees. If you were not being nice, you would call them Darth Vader, and in fact you cannot write that without thinking of stormtroopers and all of the German military connotations of that word, which probably also go a long way towards explaining why Germany is always the team that nobody likes.
And so on one side you have Brazil, all samba and Neymar and dancing and futbol! and fun. And then there is Germany. You can imagine Thomas Muller as the bad guy in a kids' movie; he would be the one who stabs the Brazilians' soccer ball with a knife in the first act, and then laughs a German laugh, oh ho ho ho ho!, complete with mirthless, haunting eyes.
Which is, sort of, what he did on the field. His goal from a corner gave Germany the lead, and it was followed by four more in six minutes - the ageless Miroslav Klose, Toni Kroos, Kroos again, Sami Khedira, and suddenly all of us who had 3:00 meetings were having the same conversation and rushing back to our desks to find the highlights: What happened? Where is Brazil's defense? Geez, where are Brazil's players?
There will not be the epic Brazil-Argentina final that we all identified as a possibility on the day that the draw came out. Brazil will not exorcise the ghosts of 1950, when they lost the World Cup on home soil to Uruguay, except that those ghosts are now replaced with the modern figures of Muller and Klose and Kroos. And the protest-torn country will not come together for one triumphant sporting moment; we'll be left with the hundreds of tearful Brazilians in the stands, sobbing for the end of something they, and we, took for granted: Brazil, at home.
This is what Germany does: they ruin things.
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