Puerto Rico raised the curtain on a new domestic soccer league last night when Ponce River Plate played Atlético San Juan. The Puerto Rico Soccer League (PRSL) has eight teams of which half are affiliated with foreign clubs, and will be competed over 14 rounds with a playoff phase for the top four teams. The top three teams will enter a playoff with the Puerto Rico Islanders to select PR's representative to the 2009-2010 CONCACAF Champions League (I'm guessing the preliminary round). So we've already seen one positive effect of the new continental competition in that a professional soccer league has been formed in a country that did not have one previously.
The league appears to be similar to the International Soccer League that formed in the early 1960s in the USA. What I find interesting is that there's also going to be a Second Division composed of 18 clubs in three regionalized groups. Will there be a promotion/relegation scheme between the two divisions, or will the Second Division serve as a farm team for the PRSL sides? If it's the former, then it would be an unprecedented event for a professional sports league in the United States (yes in the eyes of FIFA it's a separate 'country', but it is a commonwealth).
Two years ago I wrote a post on the Jamaica Football Federation's efforts to build a national football academy in St. Elizabeth parish in the western part of the country. It was supposed to take seven months, yet it hasn't been completed. And if you read this article from the Jamaica Gleaner, you'll find that the academy has been in the works since 2003! Well, the same article now reports that the JFF will move that academy to the campus of the University of West Indies in Mona, a wealthy suburb of Kingston. It's the result of an agreement between the the federation and the university to rebuild some athletic facilities on the campus and house the academy of approximately 6.5 acres of land. The deal is in line with Horace Burrell's desire to relocate the academy when he returned to the helm of the JFF.
The decision perhaps makes the most sense, since the federation would be pooling its resources with the top educational institution in the country and would locate its academy in a spot with much better infrastructure. After so many detours, however, I'll believe that the academy will happen when construction is actually completed.
Alexandre Guimaraes' dismissal wasn't the only coaching change around the region. Several managers saw their contracts end as their national team's qualifying campaigns came to an end. Barbados' FA released Eyre Sealy and Keith Griffith from their head coach and technical advisor positions, respectively. (Actually, their contracts came to an end and the federation decided not to renew them.) There was also an issue related to belated payments to the players that served as a sideshow to the campaign.
It looks like there might be changes to the head of Trinidad & Tobago's technical staff very soon, judging from the deterioration of the relationship between Francisco Maturana and the domestic hierarchy. One has to wonder why Maturana would want to deal with this kind of infighting for much longer. And the elephant in the room remains Jack Warner.
In contrast, Guyana looks like they will retain the services of national team manager Jamaal Shabazz. Their focus will be on a long-term development of the national team and more systematic planning and preparation for the international tournaments, starting with the Digicel Caribbean Cup. It's something that a lot of Caribbean countries talk about but few actually deliver, so good luck to Guyana.
UPDATE: I missed this one - Hernán Medford has been sacked as the Costa Rica coach this afternoon. To hear Medford tell it, he's relieved to be out of the door. And given the rebuilding effort ahead of the Costa Rican national team, who can blame him?
Barbados-USA was a dead rubber, and the less said about the match the better. It made for a good treatment for insomniacs, although once again the match demonstrated that Freddy Adu is one of the few dynamic American players. Barbados will take a smidgen of consolation from Emmerson Boyce cracking a shot against the crossbar, and might even view a 0-1 defeat as a bit of a victory, but in the end the Bajans will wait another four years for a shot at the world stage.
The Mexico-Belize match concluded last Saturday, but the Belize Guardian has a report on the team's "world class" performance in the first leg. The second leg went more to plan, and served as a showcase for Mexico's young players. Consider it Carlos Vela's graduation to the senior team. Now the focus has shifted to Mexico's opponents in the semifinal round, starting with Canada. Eriksson will have as brief an introduction to the Mexican team as you can imagine: two days of training and no friendly matches scheduled before the next qualifier against Honduras in Azteca. Given that Mexico's players will be a little unfamiliar with what Eriksson is asking them to do, it might do Honduras some good to go on the attack in that game.
Costa Rica have the luck of being in the weakest of the three groups, but they have very little time to prepare for that first match. Because August 20 is not an "official" match day on the FIFA calendar, clubs do not have to release players until 48 hours before the match. (Mexico's in the same situation.) The president of the domestic league has offered to allow teams that have national team players to play their matches one day early, but a final decision hasn't been made.
To the surprise of no one, Alexandre Guimaraes has been relieved of the technical director position with Panama's national team. Here is the official press release from FEPAFUT, the Panamanian football federation, with the full text of the termination letter included. There are reports in Panama's La Prensa and Mexico's Medio Tiempo that say about the same thing, but Medio Tiempo is reporting that FEPAFUT is preparing a protest of the referee's actions during the game and the crowd behavior. An overturning of the result is not going to happen, so I don't know what the federation thinks it's going to accomplish by doing this.
So now that Guimaraes is gone, the next issue is whether Alvarado will join him out the door.
UPDATE (6/27, 8:36am): So Guimaraes is saying that he really wasn't fired; the contract expired when Panama was eliminatred. I know there really is a distinction, but in the end the outcome is the same.
I'm going to have to split the news roundup into two parts. Today was a really long day at work and I don't have time to do much blogging before bedtime. The other news will come tomorrow.
The biggest news from the weekend's matches has to be Panama's shock elimination at the hands of El Salvador. After I completed the scoreboard updates of the second round, I stared for about 15 minutes at the El Salvador-Panama result, unable to believe what I had just witnessed. The word 'shock' appeared a lot in the news websites of both countries. While shock was combined with jubilation in El Salvador, it was mixed with sadness and recriminations in Panama.
Let's start with El Salvador. El Gráfico's main story about the comeback was titled "Hombrada!", which my Spanish dictionary tells me is an action corresponding to a valiant or manly effort. There are interviews with the heroes on the field and a longer chat with Carlos de los Cobos who never lost faith in his team even after Panama's early goal. Those themes of heart and faith appear again and again in the news reports. Prensa Gráfica called the result "Miraculous". El Mundo calls it "Historic". The support in the stands of the Cuscatlán was intense. And the Salvadoran president comes forward with cash prizes for the goal scorers.
The mood was very different in Panama, made even worse by that away goal that forced the Salvadorans to score a seemingly unlikely three times to advance. La Prensa described the match as the curse of Cuscatlán, as Panama was eliminated for the fifth time by El Salvador and the third time in the closing minutes. The Mexican official Marco Antonio Rodríguez was heavily criticized for the penalty that levelled the aggregate score, and when I watched the play on TV I felt that it wasn't a penalty. I felt the ejection of Adolfo Machado was an even worse decision; the sole replay was from a distant camera, but I couldn't see where the Salvadoran player was touched in the face (which drew the ejection). But would it have mattered had Blas Pérez scored the 0-2 at close range right in front of goal?
At any rate, the supporters suffered a deep disappointment which they took out on the players and coach when they returned to Panama this afternoon. And now the recriminations are beginning against Alexandre Guimaraes (here and here) for his questionable mid-game adjustments and the lack of quality preparation, and the federation president Ariel Alvarado for having this debacle occur under his watch (here's one from a columnist at El Siglo and another from La Estrella). Interesting to note that Julio Dely Valdes, who was the interim manager of the national team before Guimaraes, is currently an assistant coach at Málaga (recently promoted to the top flight in Spain). He said that he would never coach the Panamanian national team again, but it's possible that a change at the top of the federation could induce him to change his mind.
Today has been a record-breaking day on HexagonalBlog. Not only has today seen the highest number of unique visits to this site, but this week and this month have seen the most traffic since I started keeping track of statistics. Now the figures pale in comparison to the traffic that Ives, Goff, and some of the BigSoccer.com sites see, but I'm excited just the same. I'm also excited to see the visits that come from all parts of the world, and from some important places in the sports world.
With qualifying in CONCACAF about to enter the group phase, it's time to cast an eye on the CONMEBOL qualifiers for the World Cup. The fifth-placed team in that region will play a two-match series against the fourth-placed team in the Hexagonal for a spot in South Africa. After six of eighteen matches complete, fifth place is occupied by...Brazil?! Yes, the one point gained from their recent qualifiers against Paraguay and Argentina, combined with Chile taking full points from their pair of matches, has moved the five-time world champions into the playoff slot on nine points. It's very possible -- okay, very likely -- that Brazil will be back in the automatic qualification places by the end of next year, but in the meantime their current standing will cause some discomfort among the players, coaches, and supporters.
There are a number of sides that are tightly bunched around the fifth position -- Venezuela and Uruguay are within a couple of points, and Chile and Colombia must not feel too comfortable on ten points each. There is still a very long way to go.
This is a collated schedule of the second-round matches for CONCACAF
World Cup qualifying. When the match dates are confirmed, I will update the post. I'll also bump it to the top on matchdays until the second round is complete. Home-and-away series, decided by aggregate goals, then away goals, and then a 30-minute extra period with penalties if necessary. First-leg home team score is given first for both legs.
If I can, I'll update the scorelines as they change, but I give no guarantees.