Q: Did you see the inaugural NBC Sports Network MLS broadcast on Sunday? Do you think they will be able to hold their own vis-a-vis ESPN and Fox, or even improve on their competitors in some respects?
A: I wasn’t able to watch the match, but with NBC’s experience and expertise in carrying sporting events (Olympics, NHL, etc.), I have no doubt the network will present MLS and national team games to everyone’s satisfaction. I’m particularly interested to see how NBC offers the U.S. matches. After all, nationalism is its forte (i.e. Olympics) and the national team appeals to a broader audience than MLS.
Q: Regarding naming rights to RFK Stadium’s field, this will involve spray-painting the field or placards? Also, do these upgrades reflect plans to stay at RFK beyond 2013 (presumably while a new stadium is being built somewhere)?
A: It’s not unusual for college and pro organizations to sell the naming rights to the stadium and playing surface. For example, the University of Maryland football team plays at Capital One Field at Byrd Stadium. When the Washington Nationals played at RFK, the Defense Dept. agreed to pay $6 million for naming rights: Armed Forces Field at RFK Stadium. It would’ve allowed the military to set up kiosks and signage. The plan was scrapped. As for the planned upgrades to lighting and restrooms, these are badly needed improvements that have little to do with United’s long-term plans. That said, I don’t foresee DCU playing anywhere else until a new stadium opens — or until the club has to move.
Q: Speaking of sponsorships, when does the VW deal run out? Is a renewal possible, particularly in light of the lease extension?
A: The Volkswagen sponsorship runs through the 2013 season – unless I am unaware of a recent extension. Sponsors come and go in all lines of entertainment. I’m not sure what VW has planned, but considering the U.S. headquarters are in the D.C. suburbs, and the automaker is also an MLS sponsor, I wouldn’t be surprised if they stayed on.
Q: How much rope is Will Chang giving Kasper and Payne? With DCU having been pretty stinky the past couple of years, how much longer do both have before Chang cuts bait and brings in new FO personnel?
A: United has no excuses this year. The club signed a high-priced proven goal scorer, shored up the backline and added depth. Failure to make the playoffs this year is unacceptable. Would such a shortcoming prompt a front-office shake-up? Hard to say. But certainly the most intense pressure is on Kasper and Olsen, who assembled the roster.
Q: Is there a reason for the timing of the United stadium tidbits recently? (i.e. plans come out just as State of the Council resolution passes.) Does it have anything to do with DC's budget situation (and the way it improved last year)?
A: Tidbits come out when there are tidbits to share. Our business staff uncovered the Buzzard Point details, which were formulated two years ago. The lease agreement was inevitable. The fact that the club has been open to any ideas in the region -- Baltimore included -- might’ve accelerated the process. There are still many issues to resolve before this fully plays out.
Q: Did De Rosario seem really slow and out of shape to you in the season opener?
A: Yes. He’s not in top fitness after being slowed by a groin issue in preseason. He also dealt with off-field distractions: contract negotiations and the birth of his fourth child. Ben Olsen commented after last weekend’s match: “Dwayne has to get a little fitter.”
Q: If Dempsey moves this summer, where do you think he could end up?
A: A major Premier League club. It’s time.
Q: Why was the CONCACAF Champions League group stage restructured for next season to remove the preliminary round and keep Mexican and MLS teams in separate groups? Shouldn't CONCACAF be promoting the Mexican-American rivalry instead of reducing it? The MLS vs FMF games in the group stage were by far the most entertaining and meaningful in that stage.
A: In the words of a CONCACAF executive, "It will alleviate schedule congestion on both domestic and international calendars." So there you have it. MLS and Mexican clubs will stay face one another down the road.
Q: Any word on the Baltimore NASL relaunch?
A: Thankfully, no. Let’s try to forget the Crystal Palace fiasco.
Q: My question is in regards to United's Youth Academy. We've already seen two contributing players come through the program in Hamid and Najar. Who's on the horizon right now? And how would you rank the academies through MLS?
A: Actually, United has four homegrown players: Hamid, Najar, White and Shanosky. Hard to say who will emerge next. We should know more as this academy season unfolds. United established its academy early, and has seen the dividends. Other clubs have been slower to build, but over time, we’ll see more players matriculate through the academies.
Q: Hercules Gomez -- why isn't he getting a look from Juergen Klinsmann? He is at least as talented and in form as Buddle, if not more so.
A: Gomez has got to be in the player pool for possible national team selection in the coming months. His recent form has certainly enhanced his chances for a call-up ahead of the Scotland, Brazil and Canada friendlies, as well as the opening World Cup qualifiers. If he remains on this pace, I imagine we’ll see him in camp. As for Buddle, he just returned to MLS. Let’s see how he performs.
Q: How do you see Ben Olsen developing as a tactician? He tends to talk about "bite," high work rates, and attitude. Is that all he ever focuses on with the team, or does he also talk X's and O's?
A: Yes, of course the coaching staff talks tactics. Every opponent offers fresh challenges, and coaches must adapt. He remains a young coach, but through his experiences as an assistant (briefly) and the boss for the past 19 months, he is growing. To start the season, he understands that playing Kansas City (high pressure, three forwards) is different than playing Los Angeles (possession, build-up). Whether the implementation of those adjustments yields victory – and in the long run, a winning season – remains to be seen.
Q: Landon Donovan has won everything there is to win in MLS. He tried, and failed, to take his team on a run to the Club World Cup. Does he finally move back to Europe to chase new silverware?
A: At this point in his career (30 years old, 13th pro season), “chasing silverware” around the world is not his priority. He seems happy playing in Los Angeles, playing in MLS, contributing to the national team, and winning championships for the Galaxy. I doubt missing out on the Club World Cup will change his approach. Would he like to return to Europe full-time? If another opportunity arises in the next year, maybe so.
Q: How does LA Galaxy stay under the salary cap? And has anyone done a salary analysis not associated with the league?
A: Conspiracy theories abound about the Galaxy and Red Bulls, but I’ve never seen any concrete evidence of nefarious activity. Many of the numbers are not made public, and the quirks of the MLS system make it impossible to accurately analyze it all.
Q: Is there anything that can be done about bad referees? I've heard MLS is reviewing referee performance; will this actually change anything? Will they remove refs who consistently blow calls?
A: The USSF oversees officiating in this country, not MLS. Referees have been filtered out over the years. Officiating is a topic of discussion in all sports at all levels. (Did you watch the Syracuse vs. UNC Asheville NCAA tournament game?) The USSF is devoting greater resources to improve the quality and recently unveiled a plan.
Q: In your opinion, is Fabian Johnson a better left back prospect, or is he too important to the attack? (Chandler of course factored in)
A: I like Johnson a lot, and the backline is thinner than most other positions. Chandler is also a good option. Bocanegra is experienced on the left but probably more effective in the middle. What about Bornstein? (Kidding)
Q: What are the chances of picking up a decent midfielder via an MLS trade soon or will DCU wait till the summer transfer window?
A: They’ve played all of one match. On paper, the midfield looks good: Pontius, Najar, Kitchen, Boskovic, Cruz, DeLeon, Saragosa, King. But if Boskovic doesn’t perform in the playmaker role, he could be gone in July, when his contract expires. Dropping De Rosario into midfield is also an option.
Q: What are the chances that Bill Hamid transfers to Europe after the Olympics? Is the club worried about losing him?
A: If Hamid performs well in Olympic qualifying and on the big stage in London this summer, he’ll attract European interest. He trained with West Brom over the winter and has made enough appearances in U.S. national team camp to raise his profile. Would United sell him? If the price is right, sure. Back-up Joe Willis showed promise last year and is likely to start the next three matches. Strong performances by Willis would certainly provide comfort for United, should Hamid offers begin to arrive this summer.
Q: What has been your favorite venue ever to watch a soccer game?
A: RFK Stadium, of course! I love the atmosphere at Saprissa in Costa Rica. Old Wembley was memorable. I visited Nou Camp in 1992. In MLS, Portland’s intimate setting and atmosphere is unmatched. I’ll never forget the energy at Lansdowne Road in Dublin or the ghosts at Berlin’s Olympic Stadium. Can’t argue with the assignments in Barbados and Cuba. Hard to choose just one.
Q: What is the soonest we can be rid of do-nothing dud Boskovic?
A: Ouch. Contract expires in mid-July. He makes a lot of money, and as such, needs to influence the game to a greater level. Again, it’s been just one game and Branko hasn’t played many competitive matches since last spring when he tore an ACL. Patience. Come July, the club will have to decide whether to re-sign him or cut him loose and pursue someone else on the international market.
Q: On a scale of pretty doomed to really doomed, how doomed are DC United's stadium prospects?
A: None of the above. I truly believe there’s a sliver of hope at Buzzard Point. The economy is turning and the government seems to appreciate United’s place in the city’s fabric. Don’t expect groundbreaking tomorrow, but I’m more optimistic now than any time in recent years.
Q: What does DCU need to do to catch up with MLS's leading clubs in acquiring talent? Is the problem structural or do you think change is possible with the current front office?
A: DCU believes that, with this season’s moves, they have caught up and will make the playoffs. Time will tell. They signed key components. They spent money. They ushered out veterans. Now they need to earn results. If it doesn’t happen this year, well, I don’t know what the next step is.
Q: What's the conventional wisdom about how the EPL bottom feeders (Wolverhampton, QPR) would perform in MLS? Or maybe better would be how well would the Galaxy perform in EPL (beyond the big 4 or 5)?
A: Impossible to answer that since the teams never play one another in their peak points of the campaign. There’s such an enormous gulf in the payrolls (and presumably a gap in the quality and depth of rosters), it’s probably safe to say lower EPL clubs would be among the best MLS sides. A team like the Galaxy could certainly compete with many English clubs. I just don’t know, over a long season, how well it would fare.
Q: Where would you like to see the NY Cosmos stadium located?
A: No to another club in New York, no to the Cosmos organization.
Q: Do you have any insight on why it's so difficult for Chang to find additional investors? Is Chang particular (e.g. only taking those interested in the sport) or is it all due to the (lack of a) stadium path?
A: Chang’s in a tough spot. It’s difficult to attract investors without a clear pathway to a new stadium (which would bolster revenue streams), and it’s difficult to clear a pathway to a new stadium without new investors. He says he has spoken to many groups. Presumably, most of them are local.
Q: United looks better this year, but even early on, there are a ton of teams that were already well ahead of United and/or seemed to make bigger increases. I know it’s only one game, but how much better do you think MLS is overall this year?
A: As budgets, payrolls and salaries increase, the quality will follow. You usually get what you pay for.
Q: Do you have any insight as to why Dudar didn't start Saturday?
A: I asked Olsen afterward why he went with McDonald and Jakovic and left out Dudar. His response: “Coach’s decision.” My guess is fitness as Dudar hasn’t played first-team football since, I believe, May 2011. If we don’t see him again this weekend, perhaps there’s more to it. Something to keep an eye on.
Q: How many seats is the Buzzard Point pipe dream (stadium) projected to have? Can you ask DCU to release the plans, even if they are old and out-of-date?
A: No specifics, but the club has generally talked about at least 20,000. “Release the plans?” Ha. Funny.
Q: Do you think the MLS minimum salary is still to low? Prior to the last CBA agreement, it was even lower (32K maybe).
A: The players negotiated the new numbers: $33,750 is the minimum for players under age 25 (and commonly those at the end of the roster). The next minimum is $44,000. Keep in mind, it wasn’t so long ago that some rookies were making in the teens. So the league and union have made progress. The full salary list from late last season is here.
Q: Do you think Springsteen has taken it a step too far on his latest album?
A: Too far? The Boss? Nooooo. To know what it’s like to see Bruce at the historic Apollo Theater, read Wife of Insider’s blog.
Thanks for the questions. Cheers!