Monday, November 16, 2009

Cuauhtemoc Blanco Plays Last MLS Match

For the third season running, Chicago Fire flamed out in flight over the last hurdle of the race to an MLS Cup Final appearance.

Blanco made it known some time ago he would not re-new his contract with the Fire. Two weeks ago – the timing of which would seem a procedural irregularity – he signed a two year agreement with Mexican 2nd Division club Veracruz. It makes sense because this would be an ideal way to keep match fitness through winter and get the neccessary schedule breaks to participate with el Tri in the Mundial.

November 14 is not one of Blanco’s favorite dates. Ironically, when Chicago's playoff season died one match too soon Saturday night, it came on the third anniversary of the star’s own “death” in an auto accident south of Mexico City.

Evidently a mal-intent hacker or perhaps a malcontent Televisa website employee put up the news of a police reported car accident in the area of Cuernavaca which resulted in the death of the national hero. Of course, all the papers and other news outlets picked up on it in an instant and the press wasted no time getting to his mother’s home for an interview. All she could tell them is her son was not answering his cell phone which she and other family members had been calling from the instant they had heard the new.

The pain and anxiety his family went through broadened an already deep crevice between Blanco and the media. Run-ins with interviewers and photographers had long been regular complaints among Mexican media, but if Temo was angry before, he became an injured bulldog after his “death”.

I had observed his snarly reaction to press people on several occasions at the Club America Coapa training facility, how he pushed past everyone to race off, sometimes even showering at home. A short comment or even hearing the question was never going to happen. 

The first time I interviewed the man it was post game in the Fire dressing room at Toronto’s BMO Field. Out of pure respect, I asked if he could appreciate we the press in Canada do not operate like the Mexican press, that we are not interested in creating stories, but rather, are dependant upon an exchange of mutual respect in order to get our stories right.

We had a very warm conversation.

If the 37 year old makes it to South Africa with El Tri and his presence generate unsavory comment, it will be my preference remembering the MLS Blanco I happened to meet.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Talking About Stadiums

It was a night for saints and crowns last night in Torreon northern Mexico as old Corona Stadium stepped aside to make way for Territorio Santos Modelo, the football complex housing the new home ground of Santos Laguna.

Unofficial King of Futbol, Pele was there. Official King of Football, FIFA President Joseph Blatter cut one ribbon then legally elected King of the Republic, President Felipe Calderon cut another. As if to make it all very official, the king with the slowly tarnishing crown, unofficial King of Latin Pop, Ricky Martin played a concert and then, then in the grand finale of the evening, the saints played futbol.

In a hotly contested match – played at a pace and enthusiasm that surprised for an international friendly – home side Santos Laguna scored late to secure victory over invited namesake Santos of Brasil, 2 – 1.

The 30,000 fans in attendance showed all the right stuff this night, getting into it for the concert, reigning down whistles and jeers for their President, and making the switch to cheers as Pele strolled on to the pitch to re-stoke the fiesta. Which the footballer did as he and the crowd enthusiastically welcomed both Santos teams.

It's confirmed. The new Corona Stadium is in futbol territory after all.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

World Cup 2014 Stadium Construction Already Underway.

Brazil will have waited 64 years to celebrate and party as only Brazil can.

The first ever World Cup to be staged in Africa is still 214 days off but work is already well under way in Brazil to make ready for that soccer power’s second hosting of the world’s premiere sport event. By game time in June or July 2014, it will have been 64 years since the tournament paid its first visit.

Rio’s Maracana stadium hosted the 1950 final match and it is being modernized – for the third time – to make ready for the return engagement. It will be a totally different venue than the over packed Maracana that allowed a crowd of 200,000 to witness Uruguay’s shocking 1 – 2 defeat of the home side.

Only one stadium has hosted two World Cup Final matches and in the annals of history, both are giants. The honor belongs to the timelessly beautiful Azteca shrine in Mexico City.

Azteca’s majesty also harbors another unheralded yet totally amazing record.

In a 2003 interview for 90 Minutes Magazine I talked with the man who was stadium announcer for those finals and for every other match ever played in the Collosus of Saint Ursula since the 1966 inaugural. Melquiades Sanchez Orosco, possessor of one of the most amazing feats in football, is a wonderful personality.

Click on the magazine page to enlarge for reading.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Stadium Woes Grow For Jorge Vergara

Bureaucratic heavy handedness has the wealthy Mexican businessman wishing for a little respect.

Just as hyperactive billionaire, multi team owner Jorge Vergara appeared settled enough to put long construction delays setting back the opening of his new Guadalajara Chiva stadium, a new crop of difficulties have popped up.

Difficulties of an origin – bureaucracy and government authority – most unsavoury for free-spirited entrepreneurs to swallow.

Officials of the municipality of Zapopan, Jalisco have informed the Chivas owner he will not be allowed to inaugurate his new 55,000 seat stadium on the programmed date because collateral roadways and transportation infrastructure servicing the area is not sufficient to allow safe and orderly egress.

Despite studies conducted by Vergara’s companies show no major hazard to exist, authorities will not allow the long awaited facility to open. Salt to the wound is these necessary improvements are the responsibility of the same municipal government that won't allow the opening and no one has a firm idea when deficencies will be remedied. 

As negotiations were continuing on that front last week, just hours before an important CF Saprissa league match, government treasury department authorities in San Jose, Costa Rica swopped down on Ricardo Saprissa Stadium to post announcements and chain entry doors closed.

Like Chivas are to Mexico, Saprissa is Costa Rica’s most popular team. Vergara owns them as well.

The apparent claim there is the owner owes the treasury for tax deduction funds not remitted on player income.

Vergara claims all payroll taxes deducted from player salaries has been remitted on a regular basis. He says authorities want him to pay taxes owing on about 5 or 6 years worth of player’s endorsement incomes and that is something they should be asking players for.
Vergara and a group of his management and legal people were in San Jose Thursday and today to launch a legal claim against the government.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Can a Star Be Re-Born?

"Kikin" Fonseca

Struggling through three years of few ups and many downs has not been easy for Mexican fan favorite Francisco “Kikin” Fonseca.

With two goals coming in the dying moments in as many weeks to earn valuable points for Tigres playoff hopes, Fonseca is enjoying a taste of the glory once his.

For three years following a great championship season with Pumas in 2004 until a year after the World Cup with “el Tri” in Germany 2006, no one in all Mexico came close to the kind of hero status afforded the likeable player. A misguided transfer to Benfica cost him his confidence and being dropped by the seleccion immediately following the Gold Cup in 2007 brought the humbled star down to earth.

I wrote the following feature story for 90 Minutes Magazine while on assignment in Mexico with the popular British television production, FIFA Futbol Mundial. Fonseca was with Cruz Azul and at the height of his career.

Click on the magazine page to enlarge for reading.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Inside Soccer Magazine Current Newstand Feature

Futbol Mejenga

This story was first featured in Inside Soccer Magazine, Canada's largest, oldest and most respected football publication.
The article questions and gives reason why Costa Rica, with limited resources, consistently outperform Canada in international football competitions. 

Click on magazine page to enlarge for reading.