Wednesday, October 24, 2012

From The Scoring Third Inbox

Never did I imagine when I started this blog a few years ago that it would grow to the level it is at today, clearly established as the "premier soccer blog in Orlando" and getting a fair amount of coverage on the national scene as well.

While our numbers have grown month after month, one thing I have always tried to do is respond to every single email, tweet, and wall post I receive as if they were a letter from a family member. Even if the question is one I have answered several times before it doesn't matter, I love talking soccer, especially Orlando City, and I will do whatever I can to further the progression of the sport in Central Florida and beyond.

However, with all the communications I have had with you over the years it never crossed my mind of doing a "mail bag" article where I would take your questions and post responses to them right on our site for everyone to enjoy. 

So I put a call out on Twitter and Facebook over the last few days asking for you to submit your questions regarding any soccer topic. You responded in volumes, so I had to select just a couple of the more popular questions to respond to this time. Don't worry, if this is well received (with a show of comments below) then we can turn this into a monthly or bi-monthly piece. I proudly present the first installment of "From The Scoring Third Inbox".

"I was wondering if you are going to give any insight into the possibility of Coach Heath leaving Orlando City to take an assistant coach position at Toronto FC?" - April Bixler Carns

April thanks so much for your frequent emails through Facebook, this question took on a little more importance yesterday afternoon before we broke the story that Coach Heath had signed a new 3-year deal with Orlando City. 

Several of you had asked for some background on Heath's decision over the last few days, many of you were concerned that if the coach left the team would suffer significantly. Here's what I know, Coach Heath did meet with Toronto FC officials to discuss an assistant coaching position with the MLS club. If you don't follow Toronto closely, they have been in the middle of a big shake-up recently with the coach and GM being cut loose and the club recently announcing they would REDUCE their ticket prices back to their inaugural year because of their poor performance. 

While rumors circulated that other MLS teams were also interested I could not confirm those teams or if any talks actually took place. Toronto did submit an offer to Heath and Orlando City believed to be a 3-year deal but the exact salary is not known. Rawlins and team officials met with Heath and his agent on Thursday and were able to convince the coach to stay with the team for another 3-year contract length. Although it would seem like Heath was close to leaving my opinion is that he was only trying to test the waters to determine his value to Orlando City. Heath has a unique style of play and coaching, one which requires him to be the top dog and not an assistant.

The new contract is also further confirmation that Orlando City is very serious about starting play in MLS by 2015 as they stated that Coach Heath would be their leader into the league (hopefully). When you look at Heath's record since taking over for Orlando, the numbers are staggering 17-6-2 in USLPRO this season and back-to-back regular season championships; those are numbers befitting of a head coaching position in MLS. But as Twitter follower Jack Cavanaugh put it yesterday regarding Heath staying with Orlando, "because it is likely that Orlando City will make the MLS playoffs before Toronto FC". He might have a point there.

"I'm curious how the folks at Orlando City feel about the possibility of pushing to get into the NASL, a more competitive league with the potential for two great intrastate derby matches against Tampa Bay and Fort Lauderdale. Is the focus MLS or bust?" - James Nunez

James thanks for your regular posts and comments on the blog, this is a question I get asked almost every week. The simple answer? No, Orlando City is not interested in moving to NASL, they are solely focused on MLS at this time. This has been confirmed again as recently as last month by team president Phil Rawlins and other officials. The extended answer is something that could be it's own article, but here are just a few of the reasons.

Perhaps the biggest reason is the lack of return on the investment of having a D2 versus a D3 team. Since the US Soccer Federation established the operating guidelines for D2 the NASL has been struggling to meet the requirements and has had to ask for exceptions every year. As things stand right now in the USL PRO, Orlando City should be at least a break even venture or turn a slight profit in 2013 if projections hold. If they were in NASL they would most likely be in the red for several more years. 

Another big reason for staying in USL PRO is that even though some teams offer better competition that is not true of all the teams and there's not enough of a difference to make the jump to NASL worth it. MLS is looking at Orlando for expansion based on three factors: 1) Ownership Group, 2) Attendance, 3) Stadium. None of these factors include membership in NASL, frankly, the overall soccer pyramid that Orlando City has constructed from the USL PRO team to the OCSC Youth Teams is in line with MLS, most NASL can't claim this.

"If MLS is working so hard for a NYC Stadium what have they (MLS) done to help Orlando City?" - Brendan Doherty

Great question Brendan! It might seem like MLS' stadium support is very one-sided, and to some extent it is, but the situations in Orlando and NYC are very different animals.

The second NYC-area team is a pet project of MLS and Don Garber, it is necessary for the league to expand their footprint in the largest soccer market in North America. The league has been trying to do this for over 6 years with the bulk of that time using the traditional model of having the city or private group fund and build a stadium and then earning a franchise. It was clear after 4 years of struggles with various ownership groups that MLS was getting no where fast so Garber suggested using the leagues connections to push the stadium effort forward without an owner. With Mayor Bloomberg having just over a year left in office the league realized they needed to get a deal done in the next 12 months. I believe that even with the typical NYC construction hurdles that a deal will be in place by next summer for a stadium in Queens that would open in 2016.

MLS has been very involved with Orlando's efforts to build a soccer-specific stadium. The team has weekly/bi-weekly teleconferences with the league to discuss the stadium effort and they have met in person several times since March at various locations. While I can't say that lobbyists are involved, you can rest assured that the "influence" of the league is being used on Mayor Dyer and Mayor Jacobs to help push Orlando's stadium deal through. In addition, the operations management arm of MLS is offering design input as part of the site evaluation process and will likely provide input on the selection of the architect/contractor for the stadium.

While the efforts for stadiums in NYC and Orlando will always be viewed differently I can tell you that MLS is highly involved in both efforts, their just different ways of approaching the same issue.

"Has the USMNT always been shaky in the back, or is this a recent thing? Whether it's in our team's history or simply something new, is there any real explanation for it?" - James Arrington

James thanks for chiming in with a non-Orlando City question and a very good one at that. This question stems from the US Men's National Team's (USMNT) recent matches as part of the groups stages of CONCACAF qualifying for the 2014 World Cup. The USMNT beat Guatamala in Kansas City just over a week ago to win their group and secure the No. 2 seed in the "hexagonal round" which will start in February.

We could go back decades covering this issue, but instead lets look at the last several years and see if I can explain the problem. As you probably know, Carlos Bocanegra and Steve Cherundolo are the only constants in the backline for the national team, with 109 and 87 caps respectively. The other regular for a long time was Oguchi Onyewu who was the big center back who could clean-up and clean-out just about anyone. Since "Guch" was injured back a few years ago he really hasn't regained his form and has kind of fallen out of favor with current coach Jurgen Klinsmann. Even so several other players such as Geoff Cameron, Clarence Goodson, and Tim Ream have stepped into the second centerback position and have shown promise. 

While you could argue a variety of different reasons for why the backline looks weak for the USMNT, I will take the point of the leftback position has been the real problem. Former coach Bob Bradley seemed to ignore all other potential candidates for the position and went with Jonathan Bornstein for the majority of the matches during his tenure. Bornstein was awful to say the least, he lacked the speed to play outside, he would get beat on countless occasions leaving the centerbacks and keeper to clean up the mess if they could. The years and years of having Bornstein in that position meant no one else got the international exposure they needed. Since the Klinsmann era has began we have seen Fabian Johnson get several starts at leftback, but in the last year it seems the player and coach are at odds which is why we haven't seen him recently. Edgar Castillo has shown some promise in his few starts at leftback as well, but he lack experience. 

In the end the teams the USMNT faces know that the weak side is the left and there isn't much we can do about it. They can shift their wingers and crossing-defenders to that side of the field to got balls into the box for their strikers. Until the leftback problem is solved I think the entire backline will suffer.

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