Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Dream Sporting Event: Real American Soccer (Part III)

By Rick Morris

As a part of last summer’s “Dream Sporting Event” series, I broached the subject of how soccer could potentially be elevated into an upper-tier sport in America. I even threw out a motive for why the Powers That Be might be interested in such a project:

“The premise is that FIFA would decide to make real penetration of the American soccer market its “Manhattan Project” as a means to expand its reach in a true global sense by tapping into the world’s most dominant consumer market. FIFA does have it within its reach to apply the pressure needed on the world’s soccer circuits and tournaments to be able to make this league happen.”

The league, as I imagined it, would be a short-season, every-other-year league comprised of the world’s best players. I’m not going to recap it in its entirety, so I urge you to click through to read about it.

Part II of the series was posted just prior to this one and it concerns an expansion of the English Premier League that would incorporate four American franchises. But I think Part III contains the best idea of all. (Unsurprisingly, some would say) it wasn’t my idea.

Our Senior Editor Jason Jones hatched a plan that would involve the best of the best club teams in the world coming over to America for a short-season league with playoffs to follow. Given that the best teams are in Europe, I’m limiting this to 16 teams from that continent. Because of the strength of the various leagues, I’m including four teams from England, four from Italy, four from Spain, two from Germany and two from France.

Similar to my Part I plan, it would only involve play in odd-numbered years, given that it would otherwise overlap with the World Cup and the European Championships in even-numbered years.

The only point where my plan differs from Jason’s – for the better, I believe (I can say that since I already admitted that he had the best overall idea!) – is that he envisions a draft every time the league convenes, with cities re-choosing from a list of the top teams in the world every time the league plays. I believe strongly that his idea, while admittedly building interest in a “what are they going to do?” type of way, would undermine the bonds that would exist between these American cities and the teams involved. I believe that if each city “kept” a team for the purposes of this biennial league/tournament, that there would probably even be some interest in what the teams did in their own leagues, inasmuch as there would be at least a partial reflection back on the US “sister city.”

So I assigned the top club teams from each league to American cities, taking regional ethnicities into strong account. Teams from the Spanish league will obviously draw better in certain areas and the same with German and Italian teams, etc. Ethnicity was not a uniform reason for these assignments, but it did factor into many of them.

Here are the teams from each league that would be most likely to make the cut in a given year and the American cities to which I have assigned them:

Germany: Columbus (Bayern Munich), St. Louis (Werder Bremen), Milwaukee (Hamburger SV), Indianapolis (VfL Wolfsburg), Cincinnati (VfB Stuttgart) Minneapolis (Borussia Monchengladbach), Baltimore (Borussia Dortmund)

Italy: Philadelphia (AC Milan), Chicago (Fiorentina), Miami (Internazionale), Pittsburgh (Roma), Detroit (Juventus), Providence (Sampdoria), Oakland (Palermo)

Spain: Los Angeles (Real Madrid), Seattle (Barcelona), Dallas (Sevilla), San Diego (Villareal), Houston (Valencia), Phoenix (Deportivo La Coruna)

England: New York (Manchester United), Atlanta (Chelsea), Denver (Arsenal), Washington D.C. (Liverpool), Cleveland (Aston Villa), Charlotte (Tottenham Hotspur), Nashville (Blackburn), Orlando (Manchester City)

France: New Orleans (Lyon), Boston (Bordeaux), San Francisco (Marseille), Las Vegas (Lille), Tampa (Auxerre)

Remember, not all of these teams can qualify, just 16 each time, so not all of these American cities will be represented each time. Additionally, on the chance that any underdog teams that are not listed above make a strong run in their respective leagues, a “supplemental draft” could take place in the March before the league starts with the following cities (listed in no particular order) being allowed to sift through these additional potential participants:

Kansas City
El Paso
Portland (games played in Corvallis, roughly 90 miles away)
Oklahoma City (games played in Norman, roughly 25 miles away)

Four divisions would be carved out each time the league convenes, since it is unlikely that the same 16 teams would be represented on a regular basis. Each division would contain one team from England, one from Italy, one from Spain and one from either Germany or France. There would be six regular-season games, three against the rest of a team’s division and three against another division. The one team that a team would not play from the other division would be the one from its own country (i.e. an English team would not play another English team from another division in the regular season). The theory behind this is that the teams already play one another in the regular season of their own leagues and that this league is all about delivering fresh matchups. For these purposes, French and German teams would not play one another in the regular season also, but this cannot be avoided under the rest of this setup. Divisions would take geography into some account, but not to a huge degree inasmuch as there are only three home and three road games in the first place. They would be comprised taking into account existing sports rivalries between cities. These are some potential rivalries to guide in the divisional formulation.

New York-Boston
New York-LA
New York-Philadelphia
New York-Miami
LA-San Francisco
Oakland-San Francisco
Boston-Los Angeles
Chicago-St. Louis
Detroit-St. Louis
New Orleans-Dallas
New Orleans-Houston
New Orleans-Atlanta
Dallas-Washington D.C.
Philadelphia-Washington D.C.

Based on current UEFA club rankings, for the sake of argument, I was able to construct what a 2011 season might resemble. These rankings were used to project the top teams from each league and thus, the participants in what would be the inaugural version of this league.

Division A
New York (Manchester United)
Los Angeles (Real Madrid)
Philadelphia (AC Milan)
Boston (Bordeaux)

Division B
Washington D.C. (Liverpool)
Dallas (Sevilla)
Pittsburgh (Roma)
Columbus (Bayern Munich)

Division C
Chicago (Fiorentina)
St. Louis (Werder Bremen)
Denver (Arsenal)
Seattle (Barcelona)

Division D
Atlanta (Chelsea)
New Orleans (Lyon)
Miami (Internazionale)
San Diego (Villareal)

And here is a potential league schedule. The first half of regular-season games would all be in-division. It is almost certain that ESPN/ABC would quickly snarf up at least partial or perhaps full broadcast rights for such a league.

Thursday, June 9
New York at Los Angeles

Friday, June 10
Philadelphia at Boston
Washington at Dallas

Saturday, June 11
Pittsburgh at Columbus
Chicago at St. Louis
Denver at Seattle

Sunday, June 12
Atlanta at New Orleans
Miami at San Diego

Tuesday, June 14
New York at Philadelphia
Los Angeles at Boston

Wednesday, June 15
Washington at Pittsburgh
Dallas at Columbus

Thursday, June 16
Chicago at Denver
St. Louis at Seattle

Friday, June 17
Atlanta at Miami
New Orleans at San Diego

Saturday, June 18
Boston at New York
Philadelphia at Los Angeles

Sunday, June 19
Columbus at Washington
Pittsburgh at Dallas

Tuesday, June 21
Seattle at Chicago
Denver at St. Louis

Wednesday, June 22
San Diego at Atlanta
Miami at New Orleans

Thursday, June 23
Dallas at New York
Los Angeles at Washington

Friday, June 24
Columbus at Philadelphia
Boston at Pittsburgh

Saturday, June 25
New Orleans at Chicago
St. Louis at Atlanta

Sunday, June 26
San Diego at Denver
Seattle at Miami

Tuesday, June 28
New York at Pittsburgh
Los Angeles at Columbus

Wednesday, June 29
Philadelphia at Washington
Boston at Dallas

Thursday, June 30
Chicago at San Diego
St. Louis at Miami

Friday, July 1
Denver at New Orleans
Seattle at Atlanta

Saturday, July 2
Columbus at New York
Pittsburgh at Los Angeles

Sunday, July 3
Washington at Boston
Dallas at Philadelphia

Monday, July 4
Atlanta at Chicago
San Diego at St. Louis
Miami at Denver
New Orleans at Seattle

Saturday, July 9
Seed #3 vs. Seed #6
Seed #4 vs. Seed #5

Wednesday, July 13
Semifinal Match #1
Semifinal Match #2

Sunday, July 17
Championship Match

Honestly, if you couldn’t get a good degree of American interest for a virtual all-star league like this one, you could pronounce the game hopeless on US soil once and for all.

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