Lionel Messi and the ascent of Barca soccer

The following script is from "Barca" which aired on Jan. 6, 2013. Bob Simon is the correspondent. Michael Gavshon, producer. Soccer is the most popular sport in the world and Barcelona's team, known as Barca, is arguably the best team in the world. Over the last four years, it has won 14 out of a possible 19 trophies. That's never been done before. The secret? Many point to its youth academy which recruits boys often no more than seven years old, gives them a rigorous education and teaches them Barca's unique way of playing the game. In some matches this season all 11 players on the field were graduates of the football academy. And that's what the sport is called in every country except the United States: football, not soccer. In the most contested football rivalry in the world, Barca playing its arch rival Real Madrid, some 400 million people are tuning in on six continents, and there's even more hot-blood flowing than when the Yankees play the Red Sox. It's the biggest day of the year at Camp Nou, Barcelona's iconic stadium. The match, Barca versus Real Madrid, called El Clasico. John Carlin, who writes a weekly football column for a leading Spanish newspaper, says this is as good as the sport gets. Bob Simon: I've heard Barca referred to as the best team in the world. Do you believe that? John Carlin: Oh yes. I mean, right at this particular moment in historical time, Barcelona Football Club is, without a shadow of a doubt, the best football team in the world. And what is more, there are a lot of people, a lot of serious people in the game, who believe that this is the greatest football team that has ever been seen since the rules of the game were drawn up in a London pub in 1862 or three. Bob Simon: And this is avoiding superlatives. Walking into Camp Nou on a night like this is entering the cathedral of football. Moments before the teams come on to the pitch, the crowd rises like a tidal wave. Some 99,000 fans sing the Barca anthem. "Som i serem." We are and Continue Reading

United Soccer League expansion team coming to North Side site proposed for Amazon’s HQ2

A new professional soccer team plans to begin playing on Chicago’s North Side within three years, at one of the sites proposed for Amazon’s second headquarters.Developer Sterling Bay has bought a United Soccer League expansion team to play in its planned sports and entertainment stadium along the Chicago River, with the goal of beginning play in the 2020 season, Sterling Bay Managing Principal Andy Gloor said.Sterling Bay and other investors will own and operate the USL team, Gloor said.It remains to be seen how the USL, a professional league one level below Major League Soccer, will fare in Chicago. But there is a passionate soccer fan base within the city, and many supporters of the sport have lamented the MLS Chicago Fire’s location in southwest suburban Bridgeview, as well as the team’s struggle to stay relevant in a market that includes teams in each of the major sports.“There are a lot of cities that have two soccer teams,” Gloor said. “New York and Los Angeles have two MLS teams. They can co-exist in a city the size of Chicago.”Specific details of the Skidmore, Owings & Merrill-designed stadium are still being fine-tuned, but the venue is expected to have a retractable roof and about 20,000 seats. Gloor said. A retractable roof will allow the stadium to be used for events year-round, potentially including international soccer matches, college football and basketball games, concerts and other events, Gloor said.The Tribune reported in October that a stadium is part of Sterling Bay’s larger vision for a more than 70-acre, mixed-use development called Lincoln Yards on the edge of the Lincoln Park and Bucktown neighborhoods. The riverfront land includes the former A. Finkl & Sons steel plant site and other formerly industrial land Sterling Bay has bought.Prospective office tenants have expressed interest in having entertainment on the campus, Gloor said. “The live-work-play aspect has to be Continue Reading

Chapecoense air disaster: 20,000 mourners pack Brazil stadium to say goodbye to those lost in plane crash

CHAPECO, Brazil (AP) — On a rainy Saturday that only accentuated the grief, 20,000 people filled a tiny stadium under umbrellas and plastic ponchos to say goodbye to members of the Chapecoense soccer club who died in a plane crash. The accident Monday in the Colombian Andes claimed most of the team’s players and staff as it headed to the finals of one of Latin America’s most important club tournaments. Seventy-one of the 77 people on board died, including 19 players on the team. Rain-soaked mourners jammed the modest stadium with four or five times that outside — about half the population of the southern Brazilian city of 200,000 — to pay homage to a modest club that nearly reached the pinnacle of Latin American soccer. Others lined the roads as the coffins were driven in a procession from the airport to the stadium memorial. “I’ve been here since early morning,” said Chaiane Lorenzetti, a 19-year-old who said she worked at a local supermarket frequented by club players and officials. “I’ll never see some of my clients again. It’s a devastating day that will last forever.” Ahead of the memorial, the bodies of many of the dead, all in coffins, arrived Saturday morning in Chapeco in deep southern Brazil. Several cargo planes flew overnight from Colombia. The coffins were received by soldiers waiting in formation on the tarmac. Under heavy rain, they removed one at a time, wheeling them through standing puddles to vehicles to transport them to the stadium. Brazilian President Michel Temer was among dignitaries at the airport, applauding as each coffin passed by. The stadium memorial comes after a heart-wrenching week for residents and family members stunned by the crash. Hundreds of banners, flags and hand-written messages hung around the stadium — in Portuguese, Spanish and English. Continue Reading

THEIR MOMENT! Athletes revel in chance to represent New Jersey as state hosts Special Olympics USA

Stephanie Pratico sits in a plush red seat in the sixth row at Kendall Hall, a small two-level theater on the campus of the College of New Jersey, as her 20-year-old son, John Rosati, stands out of sight on the side of the stage, waiting for his name to be called over the PA system. Rosati is a 20-year-old powerlifter whose personal best in the bench press is 145 pounds, or 26 pounds more than his body weight. Such a feat would be an accomplishment for any athlete of his physical stature but it’s especially impressive for Rosati since he was born with Down syndrome. Pratico focuses on an interview she’s giving but warns the reporter that once she hears John’s name called, she’s bolting for the front of the stage. From there, she’ll cheer her son on, as will dozens of others in the room, including the friends and families of his opponents in the 44th annual Special Olympics New Jersey Summer Games, held last weekend in Ewing Township, about 90 minutes from Manhattan. When Rosati finally walks onto the stage, he pounds his chest a few times and flexes, much like a WWE wrestler would after climbing through the ropes. Rosati seems well- aware of the drama of the moment — and appears to be taking pleasure in creating it, aiming a quick smirk toward one of the many officials standing nearby as photographers snap photos. After lying back on the bench, Rosati successfully raises the bar, just like he did many times last summer, when he won a gold medal in the same competition to put himself in contention for a spot on Team New Jersey, which is set to compete in the Special Olympics USA Games in Mercer County from June 14-21. When she returns to her seat, Pratico explains what it was like in her Hamilton, N.J., home when her son opened a letter last fall notifying him that he’d made Team New Jersey for the USA Games. “What I liken that to now is what most people go through at Continue Reading

USA soccer striker Chris Wondolowski scores first half hat trick to power 6-1 win over Belize

PORTLAND, Ore. - Maybe next time they'll spell Chris Wondolowski's name right. The striker scored a first-half hat trick in a 6-1 victory for the U.S. men's national team over Belize in the opening round of the CONCACAF Gold Cup on Tuesday night. Wondolowski, who plays for Major League Soccer's San Jose Earthquakes, sported an extra "W" on the back of his red and white jersey for the first international meeting between the two teams. Landon Donovan added a goal and two assists, becoming the first player with at least 50 career goals and 50 assists for the U.S. national team. Costa Rica defeated Cuba 3-0 in an earlier match Tuesday at Jeld-Wen Field. The 12-team Gold Cup, which includes national teams from North and Central America and the Caribbean, is played every two years. Wondolowski is the third American to score three goals in a Gold Cup match, joining Donovan and Brian McBride. The United States has won four Gold Cups since the tournament's inception in 1991. Mexico has won the past two. "It's just great to get the start, especially in front of some great fans, and they provide such an atmosphere that makes it exciting and it makes you want to go out there and play," Wondolowski said. And as for his jersey? "I heard there was a lot of W's in there," he laughed. The U.S. men were coming off a 6-0 rout of Guatemala in San Diego on Friday, an international friendly to warm up for the Gold Cup. Donovan scored twice, extending his American record to 51 international goals. That was Donovan's first match after a five-month break from the national team. He was not included on rosters for the U.S. team's June World Cup qualifying matches. Wondolowski scored his first international goal against Guatemala. "I think Wondo realizes, 'Every time I'm on the field I have an opportunity, and I need to take advantage of it,'" U.S. coach Juergen Klinsmann said. Belize was making its first Gold Cup appearance. The Jaguars, as they are Continue Reading

Investors plan soccer stadium for Haiti shantytown

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — A local sports hero, a New York real estate developer and a well-known architect are teaming up to build a soccer stadium in Haiti’s notorious Cite Soleil, hoping to revive the seaside shantytown known throughout the hemisphere for its extreme poverty and gang battles. Foreign investors in Haiti have largely directed their efforts at rebuilding from a devastating 2010 earthquake, focusing their funds on Port-au-Prince and the overlapping cities that make up the capital and the country’s sleepy coastlines. Dieu Nalio Chery/AP But ex-Haiti soccer star Robert “Boby” Duval, the mastermind of the $5 million project, developer Delos LLC and architect Carlos Zapata are looking elsewhere — at a city of tin shacks and open sewage canals shunned by investors, avoided by diplomats and at one point so dangerous that U.N. peacekeepers would only enter it in armored vehicles. The sponsors say they hope the stadium project will tackle problems that predate the 2010 disaster. “Cite Soleil was destroyed way before the earthquake,” said Duval. “This stadium is going to clean up Cite Soleil. It’s going to bring conscience, and I’m betting on it.” Dieu Nalio Chery/AP The 12,000-seat stadium will be called the “Phoenix Stadium,” a reference to their hope to help the shantytown rise up. The organizers also hope the stadium, scheduled to break ground within six months and due to be built by the end of 2013, will bring an initial 500 jobs and inject commerce into Cite Soleil, where politicians to pay residents to fight their battles as proxy forces. The arena will also host concerts and serve as a cultural center to foster a sense of community. Duval said it will also serve as the home to a new soccer league for some 350 players, independent of the Haitian Federation of Soccer. Dieu Nalio Chery/AP For the past 18 years, Duval has run the Continue Reading

On these shores, soccer is offside: Not even the 1977 New York Cosmos could make us love the sport

With the elimination of the U.S. from World Cup soccer competition this past Saturday, I felt a sense of enormous relief. I finally got my country back. My sports pages back. I had been held hostage for over a month by all the prehype and the day-to-day sounds of the dreaded vuvuzelas. It was driving me out of my mind. Everywhere I'd go, "workplace soccer displacement" was in full effect. Salespeople, retailers and office workers were gathered around workplace TV screens in the middle of the day. Their focus wasn't on doing their job but on rooting for the U.S.A., Mexico, England, Italy or countries that I could neither pronounce nor find on a map. Soccer was infecting our workplace with a European-style social democracy work ethic. What do you expect when you embrace a European sport that's promoted in countries that riot over anything less than six weeks of paid vacation? Then, if you ducked into a bar seeking relief from the heat, you had to run a gauntlet of wanna-be Euro slackers asking you who you were rooting for in the football match that morning. "Are you disappointed in Landon?" Or, "What do you think the problem with our sweeper is?" Enough. Give me good old American smash-mouth football or give me death. All I wanted to do in the bar was just get a Yankees score update. But every TV was tuned to soccer. Even SportsCenter was giving updates on Slovenia and Slovakia. The height of the frenzy occurred when Team USA beat Algeria 1-0 and headed into the second round; some said at that moment, soccer became America's sport. Oh, please. In 1977, the New York Cosmos had Pele, Franz Beckenbauer, Giorgio Chinaglia and an all-star cast playing before packed crowds at the Meadowlands. Stars and starlets, trendoids and jet-setters became their groupies. But they couldn't wean us away from baseball, football and basketball. It was proved to be a diversion and a part of the Andy Warhol generation. It had its 15 minutes of fame. In 1994, soccer surged Continue Reading

U.S. soccer defeat would qualify as a world class crisis

CHICAGO - Nobody is quaking in their cleats quite yet. But if the U.S. national team doesn't win tonight's World Cup qualifier against Honduras at Soldier Field, expect the sort of self-examination not experienced among American soccer officials for two decades. A misshapen and woebegone loss in Costa Rica on Wednesday has led to this mini-crisis of faith, which will be magnified considerably if the U.S. doesn't walk away with the full three points in the swing match. It wasn't the 3-1 score at San Jose that rattled nerves. It was instead the sheer cluelessness of the ailing, inexperienced back line, which yielded a goal in the second minute and never recovered its composure. Right before that match, Bob Bradley lectured his players about cautiously managing the game in the first 10 minutes, explaining again they merely needed to find their rhythm. Then Alvaro Saborio scored 79 seconds into the match, and all advice was useless. "The game got stretched out, and as a result we chased the ball," Bradley said yesterday at a press conference. "We didn't fight back for a point. I got the sense we were all shell-shocked." Since Bradley's reign officially began in January of 2007, his team has rebounded well from important defeats. Right now, the Americans are 2-1-1 with six qualifiers left - good for second place in CONCACAF's hexagonal tournament. The top three nations will earn automatic bids to South Africa in 2010, while the fourth-place team will play off against the fifth-place South American side for a final berth. There are deep potholes ahead, however, including a near-certain qualifying defeat in Mexico City set for August. Before that match, the U.S. will travel to South Africa for a Confederations Cup tournament where they will meet Italy, Brazil and Egypt. If tonight's match against third-place Honduras doesn't go well, a serious losing streak is a possibility. In short order, here are the very real problems facing the U.S. tonight: The Continue Reading

U.S.-Mexico clash a Golden prospect

If everything goes according to plan, soccer fans will get a dream matchup in Sunday's CONCACAF Gold Cup final at 3 p.m. in Chicago - the United States vs. Mexico.That would pit the best two teams in the region against each other in what has become one of the world's hottest soccer rivalries.The U.S., which blanked its archrivals, 2-0, in an international friendly on Feb. 4 in Phoenix, hasn't lost or surrendered a goal to Mexico on American soil since a 2-1 defeat in San Diego on March 13, 1999. The U.S. is 7-0-1 at home against Mexico since then.In order for the rivals to meet in the final, the Americans and Mexicans must get through tonight's semifinal matches. Playing in the friendly confines of Soldier Field, the U.S. is expected to defeat Canada (Fox Soccer Channel, Telefutura, 7 p.m.). Likewise for Mexico - which should have plenty of fans on hand from among Chicago's sizable Mexican population - against Guadeloupe (Telefutura, 10 p.m.).LADIES AT THE SWAMP: The U.S. women take on Brazil at Giants Stadium at 5 p.m. Saturday (ESPN2) in the second game of their Send-Off series in preparation for the Women's World Cup in China in September. The Americans have an amazing 41-game unbeaten streak under coach Greg Ryan. The Brazilians have a mind-boggling streak of their own: They haven't played a full international game in almost three years - since the U.S. defeated them for Olympic gold in Athens."It's an unknown team for us," Ryan said. "We don't know what system or style they're playing, other than their players and how they like to play."FAN FAVE: Red Bulls striker Juan Pablo Angel leads forwards in the fan All-Star balloting with 15.13% of the vote (Landon Donovan was second at 14.91%).FIRE-D: Dave Sarachan was canned as coach of the Chicago Fire with the club in the midst of a 1-6-1 skid. Assistant Denis Hamlett was named interim coach while the team searches for a permanent replacement. Join the Conversation: Continue Reading

Veteran soccer star David Villa strikes out on new adventure with NYCFC

David Villa is so comfortable, in so many ways. He enjoys the energy of New York, loves his Upper West Side apartment. He surely appreciates his salary, which should come to around $6 million over the next three seasons. He is grateful that his former teammates from Valencia, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid don’t ask him what on earth he is doing in MLS. “Quite the opposite,” Villa said. “Players in Spain are calling me to find out how I can get them here.” So the quintessential Spanish striker is quite content with his decision to abandon European football at age 33, to give this new continent and this new franchise, NYCFC, a go. There is only the one matter left, and it is an important one: How will he fit into the very different game that is MLS soccer? It is a style of play that is passionate, swift and unrefined. Nobody is afforded respectful space, and through passes do not always arrive in stride. The first match in Orlando was only that − a first match. It didn’t go so well for Villa, who never really received the ball in space and couldn’t do much at all. He has another chance to figure this out on Sunday, in the home opener against the Revolution. RELATED: DAVID VILLA ASSUMES LEADERSHIP ROLE ORIGINALLY INTENDED FOR FRANK LAMPARD “MLS in most aspects is similar to other leagues,” Villa said. “Some players are more or less technical. It’s not necessarily faster, but I was pleased with what I saw − not only in our first game, but watching others.” Imported designated players have had varying experiences in MLS, although most scorers fare well after an adjustment period. Finishers are finishers. They merely require decent service in and around the box. That may take some time with NYCFC, with its brand new roster. The arrival of Frank Lampard in midseason should make Villa’s life considerably more productive. There is, however, the thorny Continue Reading