Pitch Points is so… close…

Rounding up the latest in Nashville SC, USMNT, and the world of soccer in Middle Tennessee and beyond…

Nashville SC season approacheth

Don’t forget to check out yesterday’s post for quick access to everything I put up after Thursday’s media practice.

The homies over at Golden Goal discuss how Atlanta United’s fast start in MLS should be the blueprint for NSC to follow. “Sell out a 70,000-seat stadium” is not something you can just snap your fingers and do, but certainly some of the mechanisms through which ATL UTD achieved that are replicable.

The USL website rehashes a bit from NSC’s official media output (y’all looking for an actual reporter on the ground? Kik me) for their pre-season runs through the league.

FC Cincinnati New York Red Bulls US Open Cup
Cincinnati’s Open Cup run was a good story in 2017. Let’s do it more. Courtesy FC Cincinnati/Brett Hansbauer

US Open Cup

This is a tournament that I – like many in the soccer world – would like to see become more meaningful in our country. I don’t have any power, but one of eight fellow Americans will at least have some sway in the near future.

TheCup.us polled the USSF Presidential candidates about their goals for the US Open Cup, and what the national federation can do to help achieve them. Allow me to cherry-pick some of the better ideas:

Paul Caligiuri: “I think visibility is a key aspect of it and when we start looking at visibility and maybe we could look at broadcasting at earlier stages.”

Carlos Cordeiro: “If elected—and as streaming costs go down over time and as technology improves—I’ll push for even more matches to be streamed live. We should also work with U.S. Soccer’s broadcast partners to increase the number of matches that are televised.”

This is something I’ve harped on a bit: if you broadcast it, they will come. Especially once MLS teams get involved, every game should be available on television, and at least a mainstream streaming service (i.e. ESPN3) once the professional leagues enter it. USSF has to flex a bit of its muscle with broadcast partners (through the bogeyman of SUM, if necessary) to get exposure for the tournament. It’s an A-1 way the federation can drum up interest in the sport writ large, and potential fans’ local clubs that they might not even know exist until they catch a game on TV.

Kathy Carter: “Modifying the ownership structure of the tournament so it is shared between USASA, US Soccer and the Professional Leagues.”

That’s a horrible idea. Not because of what the Pro-Relots on Twitter say (“omg you are trying to give MLS all teh powerz”), but rather because that’s not the spirit of the Cup. Look at the word “Open” right there in the title and try to figure out what this means.

Carlos Cordeiro: “Finally, we should increase prize money at all levels. As we refine the competition, we should look for more commercial opportunities, which would, in turn, allow us to offer larger prizes.”

I think this is also important. Make the tournament more meaningful for both the little guys and the big clubs by making it worthwhile to win. “$150 million surplus” seems a little at odds with “we need to find ways to fund bigger prizes,” though.

Kyle Martino: “So we need to fund, open up and encourage investment into local communities that have teams that want to grow and want to invest and then we need to market, invest and cover this great tournament.”

His focus on grassroots is the key here, and as I alluded to above, that’s an important part of building the soccer cultre (a bit of a chicken-and-egg argument there). A little disappointed that so much of his response was about how he likes the US Open Cup and it doesn’t get the attention it deserves – though to be fair, that was the entirety of Steve Gans’s response. Like re-stating the question for two paragraphs is not the same as answering it.

Hope Solo: “I want to focus on growing the prize money for the various divisions. This prize money will be equal for the men’s and the women’s tournament creating an opportunity for women’s soccer players to have another avenue to make a living wage. These winnings will serve as motivation to drive interest back to the sport.”

I’m guilty of not even thinking about the women’s tournament (called the USASA National Women’s Cup, though professional teams are now eligible for it I think? Definitely an area in which there can be major growth in our country). As much as Solo’s personal life is potentially disqualifying as a presidential candidate, she is walking the walk when it comes to gender equality as a key to her platform.

Michael Winograd: “And I think one of the other things that would help the amateurs getting exciting about it is making a commitment to scouting, making a commitment to saying ‘hey, listen … if you’re participating in this, you’re going to feel like you’re participating in the … Lamar Hunt US Open Cup.’ For those who are amateurs who are still trying to play competitively, maybe [they want to] get out of the amateur ranks, there are scouts there.”

That’s actually a really good point – though the improvement of the scouting department (of USSF, of MLS most teams, of DA/ODP, etc. – all of it) – is in need of an overhaul before it can commit resources to yet another event.

Eric Wynalda: “I think one of the biggest problems that we’ve seen is that MLS is protecting their product by disallowing any money to come in through the federation to incentivize or give more visability to or create maybe a window of hope for some of the smaller teams that deserve the attention they are certainly not getting.”

I feel like I rip on Wynalda too much (especially for a guy as popular as he apparently is in the election), but this is a classic example of his campaign: say nothing substantive, complain about MLS, rinse and repeat. It’s even better if you click through, so you can see that another box on the Eric Wynalda bingo card (“namedrop for no reason”) gets checked off, as well.

That was like a 10-20% snippet of each person’s response, so I encourage you to click through and read the full context of what each person said.

USMNT-Bosnia

With the fast approach of the Nashville SC season, I haven’t had as much time to break down the lone January friendly for the US Men’s National Team (and share those thoughts here), so now that it’s almost a week in the rearview mirror, I’ll just share some of the reactions I’ve had open in browser tabs since the game:

As he showed last November against Portugal, Adams can offer something getting forward, but he is at his most effective working as a box-to-box midfielder, setting up deeper in midfield where he can see threats developing, as well as opportunities to race forward and join the attack. In the first half against Bosnia, Adams found himself in the final third a few times, but never with teammates around him to combine. In the second half, playing deeper in midfield, Adams was able to cause more problems as a defensive presence while also seeing more of the ball.

I was very impressed with Tyler Adams as well. A box-to-box midfielder who can develop into more of a pure 6 is probably what the US needs right now. The take on Gyasi Zardes is the opposite (which has sort of been the long-term trend with dude’s MNT career), and while I’ve been a big defender of Zardes over the years, it probably is time to let him stay out of the national team picture for a little while, focus on his club career, and if he continues to develop, give him another shot. As it stands, he’s going to be on the older side when the next World Cup cycle rolls around, and the technical ability just isn’t there if the physical gifts start to fade.

MLS has goalkeepin’ talk:

Hamid’s ability to remain calm in tense situations has grown in the past year or so, and he’ll continue working on that with Midtjylland.

“That’s something I’ve preached to him, and I know he’s talked to his goalkeeper coach in Denmark about that, too,” Reis said. “Trying to be calm in those situations. I think he’s got the enough athletic ability and power, it’s just those times where he can be calm and needs to be calm.”

Dude was singularly responsible for one of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s lone scoring chances with a terrible pass out of the back, let’s calm it down on the “calm in tense situations” narrative. He’s a good ball-stopper, but wasn’t really tested outside of his own mistake.

Stadium talk

With no plans (yet) for Nashville’s MLS stadium, I’m keeping a keen eye on other new stadia around the country. DC United’s plans are of interest. The specific plans I’m discussing here, however, are about what the city plans to do with their former site, RFK stadium.

DC United plans to move its base of operations (and a USL reserve team) to Loudon, Va., so they aren’t particularly involved in the project. It’ll be interesting to watch what happens here, though, if for no other reason than keeping a macro view of soccer in our country – and what impact a departing franchise can have on an area, even when they’re only moving three miles. It will not surprise you to know I’m pleased that the plan includes continued soccer use – and for the public.

Nashville SC obviously hasn’t even broken grounds at the Fairgrounds yet, much less outgrown them (and in fact, I’m hopeful that stadium design includes the opportunity for growth if the fanbase takes off). If that happens long down the road – I’m not expecting it, since that’s part of the idea of building soccer-specific stadia – hopefully there will be the opportunity to service the soccer community at the site.

Etc.: Maryland’s top amateur league partnering with the UPSL. Such partnerships could help strengthen the grassroots level, but outside of the pro/rel aspect (that seems to be a minor portion) of the partnership, it doesn’t seem all that ground-breaking to me. … USSF potentially hiring separate men’s and women’s general managers for the national teams. Probably helpful in the long run… while not having one for either side right now is less than ideal. … Some new USL rules. … Nashville moving forward with plans to make itself available for a potential 2026 World Cup. … Support soccer in the area, buy a dope scarf. … NY Cosmos owner Rocco Commisso sort of comes off like a dirtbag 99.9% of the time. This is that 0.1%. … Liga MX and MLS meeting up for a battle of champions? Couldn’t possibly turn out worse than the CONCACAF Champions League always seems to.

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