Urban Meyer Spouts Off…Columbus Fans Get Upset

Photo is courtesy of the Columbus Blue Jackets/http://www.elevenwarriors.com/  

Written by: Matt Shock (@shockwave_music)

Edited by: Curt Ashcraft (@cashcraft740)

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In case you didn’t already hear about it…the entire sports community of Columbus, OH seems to have its collective panties in a twist because of a comment that Buckeye football coach Urban Meyer made during a recent interview. In the closing statements of the interview, Meyer was asked what should lure Georgia’s high profile recruits to Columbus and he answered like this, “You get a premium education with the opportunity to go compete for a national championship in a large city that really has no professional sports team. There’s a lot to be offered up here.”

You can read the full article here.

Instantly the Columbus Crew, Clippers, and Blue Jackets fans were pissed. How can Urban act like those sports don’t count? How dare he show such blatant disrespect for the other sports in this great city? Well…the answer is this…he didn’t.

You see, Urban Meyer didn’t say anything that isn’t true. The fact of the matter is that Columbus doesn’t host any top tier professional sports. In my mind, Major League Baseball, the NFL, and the NBA comprise the upper echelon of professional sports. I’m sorry hockey fans, but the NHL is not one of those top tier sports. If it was, ESPN would carry it…they don’t…and there’s a reason. At best, the NHL is a second tier sport.

Hockey, despite its recent rise in popularity, especially in Columbus, is still very much a niche sport. Not everyone, including myself, fully appreciates what’s happening on the ice and viewership suffers because of it. Low viewership equals less money for media outlets that carry the sport, and we know how ESPN feels about money. Still don’t believe me? Head down to Nationwide when the Jackets aren’t doing so hot and that place is a ghost town. Ohio State was selling out games the year Luke Fickell was head coach and we almost lost to Indiana!

The same can be said for the Columbus Crew as well. Are they a professional sports team? Absolutely they are. But nobody in their right mind is going to dispute the fact that the worst team in the NFL (the Cleveland Browns) still draws more eyes every Sunday than the Columbus Crew draws in a month. The reasoning for this is the same as hockey, nobody really understands the game.

And then there’s the good old Columbus Clippers…ring your bell everyone! I am a delusional and diehard Cubs fan, and since I can’t afford regular trips to Wrigley, the Clippers are my go to source for live baseball. They have a great stadium with a great atmosphere. But are people ordering the sports package from their cable provider in order to watch Clippers games on TV? No. Maybe a few truly dedicated fans will watch road games on TV, but most people go to the ballpark a few times a year…and typically it’s for 10 cent hotdogs on special nights. I mean come on, the Clippers have won a couple of national titles in the last few years and their park is still mostly empty for a night game on a week day…I’ve been there…I know.

Now, let’s return to Meyer’s statement. Was he really out of line? Absolutely not. Whether we like it or not, the professional sports that are in Columbus don’t hold a candle to Buckeye football. The Buckeyes are the biggest draw in town, both at the stadium and on television. So when it comes to recruiting, that means that Meyer can tell his prospects that when they come to Columbus, they’re automatically the biggest thing in town. Is this feeding their ego? Sure it is. But if you haven’t noticed…that’s what recruiting is all about!

Now I know that many of our readers are fans of these professional teams, I get that. But Urban Meyer has the right to act like the Buckeyes are the biggest thing in town…because THEY ARE. That’s just the way it is.

USA vs. Mexico: My Experience

Photo by Ted S. Warren/AP Photo/http://ftw.usatoday.com/ Written by: JP Lococo (@jp_lococo)

Edited by: Curt Ashcraft (@cashcraft740)

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The NFL is one of the most popular sports leagues in the United States. The Super Bowl is one of the biggest sporting events in the U.S every single year and it crowns the champions of the National Football League in front of millions of viewers. Could you imagine a sport, just as popular, all over the world but only have the "big game" played once every four years? It's almost impossible to imagine a scenario where that would even be possible due to the large demand to watch a game with that much on the line. Well, you can stop thinking about that scenario because, believe it or not, that situation is real.  In the world of soccer, the world's most popular sport, the World Cup comes once every four years. And once every four years in North America, the United States Men's National Team (USMNT) squares off against Mexico at Columbus Crew Staidum.

"Dos A Cero". 2-0. The phrase becomes more popular every four years when the USMNT and Mexican National Team meet up in World Cup qualifying. Mexico still holds a distinct advantage in the rivalry claiming victory in 30 of the 62 matches ever played. But when it comes to playing soccer in Columbus, Ohio they have not been as lucky. To be clear, Mexico has never won in Columbus. More specifically, they have lost the last four World Cup Qualifiers played at Crew Stadium by a score of 2-0. Hence the "Dos A Cero" that everyone has now ringing in their ears after Tuesday night in Columbus.

But Tuesdays game felt a little bit different than the others. Now, I will admit I have not been fortunate enough to attend any of the other USA vs. Mexico games at Crew Stadium in the past but there was a feeling of anticipation before this game that I have never felt before any other sporting event in my life. This is coming from a guy who has been to a lot of Browns games. Pause. Okay, that was a joke. In all seriousness, the only sporting event that I have been to that can compare to this was the 2002 Ohio State vs. Michigan game at The Shoe in front of 105,000 people and I would still give the World Cup qualifier the advantage without a doubt.

Photo by JP Lococo

The scene was historic. 25,000 people all standing and singing in unison (that can be seen in the pictures on this page) was reflective of a Champions League Final game in Europe. You could feel the anticipation growing throughout the day and even in the days leading up the the match. Supporters traveled from 49 different states to watch the USA play and there were massive parties the night before with all the supporters groups & locals. The festivities were endless and the night was prepped for action.

After a competitive but scoreless first half, the game quickly picked up after half-time. Mexican goalkeeper Jesús Corona rushed off of his line to try and intercept the cross from Donovan, but he was too late. As Clarence Goodson created a path for Johnson, the Seattle Sounders star firmly headed the ball past Mexico defender Fernando Arce, who could not react quickly enough to clear the ball away with his right foot.

Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images/http://www.nytimes.com/

It was that scoreline again. 2-0. It still doesn't seem real, even as I put my thoughts down on this paper. Especially since Clint Dempsey of all people "missed" a penalty with less than two minutes remaining in the match. Whoever was a part of the crowd that night witnessed history. The USMNT is going to the World Cup for the sixth consecutive time and this will be another opportunity for our country's soccer team to prove itself on the international stage.

In the future when I reflect on this game, I will remember the unique passion I saw on the faces around me in the crowd. It didn't matter if it was a grown man who most likely never played soccer at all growing up or a passionate Ohio State student, everyone was chanting for the same team. Columbus truly put on a great show and soccer fans in the area should be proud.

There will always be rumors of moving the location of this game and I am okay with that. If the game eventually gets moved, I'd root on the USMNT all the same. But in saying that, you can't ignore history. There is something in the air of Columbus that Mexico can't handle when they are here and the U.S. always plays well. I was fortunate enough to witness this first hand and I hope this game proved that soccer is alive in the United States and, equally important, Columbus.

If you watched the game on tv or were at the match, what are your thoughts? Did you care that the U.S qualified in Columbus? Do you think this game should ever be moved?

MLS On The Rise & Expanding

Photo by Andy Mead/Icon SMI/http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/ Written by: JP Lococo (@jp_lococo)

Edited by: Curt Ashcraft (@cashcraft740)

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Wednesday night marked the 2013 MLS All-Star game that resulted in AS Roma defeating the All-Stars 3-1, but the biggest news that came from the evening may have came off the field.  Commissioner Don Garber announced at halftime during the broadcast of Wednesday night’s All-Star Game at Sporting Park that Major League Soccer plans to add another four teams by the 2020 season. There are now 19 teams in the league and New York City FC will join Major League Soccer as the 20th in 2015.

 

The comments by the commissioner have stirred up a flurry of conversations about which regions and cities should receive the remaining four bids up for grabs. Garber went on to say, “As MLS enters a period of accelerated growth, the addition of new teams will allow us to expand our geographic coverage, grow our fan base and help us achieve our vision of being among the best leagues in the world by 2022.”

 

It has long been stated that Garber wants the MLS to be considered one of the top leagues by that time. Certainly having 24 teams with established fan bases and soccer-specific stadiums will aid in that process.

 

The process of deciding which cities can support an MLS expansion market will be selected by multiple criteria.  Factors taken into consideration include the following per MLS's release:

 

"Committed and engaged ownership;"

 

"A comprehensive stadium plan;"

 

"Demonstrated fan support for professional soccer in the market;"

 

"Support from sponsors, television partners and other constituents;"

 

"Geographic location;"

 

"A strategic business plan for the launch and successful operation of the club."

 

These are the key factors that MLS will look into over the next couple of years, but which cities are in contention? Here is a quick overview of some top candidates.

 

Orlando

 

Photo by  Joshua C. Cruey/Orlando Sentinel/http://www.orlandosentinel.com/

Orlando City has pushed to reach some of the requirements listed above for a long time and they have made good progress. They have a wealthy owner in Flavio Augusto da Silva who cares about the game, good fan support for playing in the USL Pro (Division III in the US Soccer pyramid) and are already in the early stages of submitting a bid for a soccer specific stadium to be built by 2015. Major League Soccer wants as many regional rivalries as possible. With Miami as another possible site, there is a good chance that if at least one of the Florida locations is chosen, the other will soon follow.

 

Miami

 

Having already failed once with the Miami Fusion in years past, there are some concerns. Developing long lasting fan bases anywhere in Florida is hard enough, let alone Miami. With the constant nice weather, loads of transplant workers who never grew up following a sports team in Florida and having the beach as an entertainment option will prove as obstacles in proving to MLS a fan base can be developed.

 

In saying that, lets not forget that David Beckham has an option to buy an MLS franchise and he seems to be targeting Miami as the site. If the infrastructure and support can be proved to MLS, then Beckham may have the connections to bring in a big name player or two that will really get people excited. Still seems like a lot of if’s to me though.

 

Atlanta

 

They already have an NASL (Division II) team in the Atlanta Silverbacks and an owner who is willing to offer some support to the cause. Also throw in the fact that Atlanta is one of the biggest markets in the United States without an MLS team and you might have a serious reason to look into this city as an expansion destination. Don Garber will continue to expand down to the Southeast markets and if MLS teams don't materialize in both Orlando and Miami, look for Atlanta to make a strong push at a bid.

 

Detroit/Pittsburgh

 

Both of these cities have expressed interest in making a bid for an MLS team in the past ten months. I believe that adding an MLS team to either market will be key to the growth of the game in the Midwest, specifically in Columbus, Ohio. The Columbus Crew's main rivals are the Chicago Fire (over five hours away) and Toronto FC (seven hours away). I believe that if a team was added in Detroit or Pittsburgh then you are really creating that regional battle and tension the Midwest is missing.

 

Concerns are that the city of Detroit just filed for bankruptcy. Yeah, I also was unaware that an entire city could go bankrupt, but they figured out a way to do so. Not sure how much support people will put behind building an 18,000-seat stadium when they seemingly have bigger issues to work out first.

 

Photo by David Kilpatrick/http://goal.blogs.nytimes.com/

Which leads me to think that Pittsburgh might be a more realistic option. They just built Highmark Stadium, a 3,500-seat soccer complex, right on the river with plans on expanding the facility to over 18,000 seats. I dislike all things Pittsburgh but we do have to admit they have good sports fans. If they have the facility and a decent team, you would have to believe the support would follow.

 

 

Other cities that will be in the running are San Antonio, Sacramento, Minnesota, St. Louis, Indianapolis, Jacksonville and Las Vegas.

 

This is an extremely exciting time in Major League Soccer. If you consider yourself a "soccer fan" but for whatever reason don't follow MLS, then now is the perfect time to start paying attention. Whether we want to believe or not, soccer is growing in this country and Don Garber has the league on the right track.

 

Will Major League Soccer be a top league within the next ten years? I don't know, only time will tell. But with the recent announcement of more teams joining Major League Soccer within the next couple of years, I think it is safe to say that soccer is continuing to grow.

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The Race for the Supporters' Shield

Photo by Robert Mora/LA Galaxy/http://www.lagalaxy.com Written by: JP Lococo (@jp_lococo)

Edited by: Curt Ashcraft (@cashcraft740)

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As the Major League Soccer season finishes up the month of July, the race for the Supporters' Shield is beginning to heat up. For those who are unfamiliar with the Supporters' Shield, it is an annual award given to the Major League Soccer team with the best regular season record, as determined by the MLS points system. In addition to being a major trophy in MLS, the winner receives an automatic bid to the CONCACAF Champions League.

Tied with the most Supporters' Shields are the Los Angeles Galaxy and DC United. The Columbus Crew are in third with three awards won. With close to 14 matches remaining for each team in the 2013 campaign, lets take a look at whose now in position for a run at the Supporters' Shield, and most importantly, what each team will need to do to take home the award.

Real Salt Lake: If the season ended today, Real Salt Lake would win the award according to the current point standings. After 21 matches played, they are the only team with 11 wins and a league best 37 points.

A mediocre start to the year left Real a bit under the radar. The sluggish play did not last long after the return of Argentinean, Javier Morales. The MVP candidate is back healthy after ankle surgery in the off-season and is finding form again. In the last seven matches, Morales has contributed three goals and five assist.

How will Real Salt Lake win the Supporters' Shield? They will if they continue to stay the course. Manager Jason Kris has them well coached and ready for the final stretch. Like I mentioned, when Morales is healthy, he is one of the top play-makers in MLS and that shouldn't change. Lets not forget Kyle Beckerman has also been away with the US Men's National Team on Gold Cup duty. Beckerman returning  after the weekend should only help create more space for youngster Joao Plata to create when attacking and speedster Robbie Findley on the wing. My only concern for RSL moving forward is they have a brutal schedule down the stretch that could trip them up a bit.

Sporting Kansas City: KC sit only one point behind Real Salt Lake in the Supporters' Shield race after stealing three points in a hard-fought game at Rio Tinto Stadium against RSL this past weekend. There is no love lost between these two clubs, which is surprising for how little they have played against one another. Only seconds into the match, RSL defender Chris Wingert plowed into Kei Kamara, who spent some time with Norwich last season, as a ball floated toward both players. Wingert would be cautioned for the second time in the second half and would be tossed out. Due to all the stoppages during regulation play, the head referee let both teams play into the 97th minute, which became a controversial decision. Sporting KC defender Ike Opara took advantage of the added time and found the back of the net through a clogged up box to take three points back to Kansas City.

With the win last weekend at Salt Lake, Sporting have now won three matches in a row and have extended their unbeaten streak to six. This is a scary thought considering top players Graham Zusi and Matt Besler have both been absent recently due to international call-ups. With the US Men’s National Team close to clinching a spot to Brazil next year, Jurgan Klinsmann will be calling up one, if not both players again to help them gain more experience internationally as qualifying finishes up which could be a concern for Sporting fans.

If RSL slips up at all in the last couple weeks of the season, then I believe Kansas City will win the Supporters' Shield. If you look at the standings I provided you earlier, four of the top five teams in the race for the award now are in the Western Conference. Sporting still has match-ups against struggling teams in the East such as Chicago, Columbus, Toronto and DC. Of the four teams I just listed, only Chicago and Columbus are still even fighting for a playoff spot.

RSL’s schedule on the other hand worries me. They have to play a much improved Portland Timbers team four times in the last three months. Yes, four times. One of the games will be a U.S. Open Cup match which doesn't count toward the MLS regular season. For those who don't know, the U.S. Open Cup is equivalent of the FA Cup in England. If Sporting can stay healthy and take care of lighter matches in the East, I see them as being one of the last two teams, if not the winners, contending for the Shield in late October.

Portland Timbers/LA Galaxy: I have joined these last two clubs into the final grouping for a couple of reasons. The first being a drop-off of contenders for the award after these two teams in the standings. After Portland and LA is Vancouver sitting in an impressive fifth. I say impressive because Vancouver is one of those teams coming into this year that no one thought would be in contention for the best regular season record in Major League Soccer and I think they will slide. Yes, they have a young, talented squad and they even have MLS’s goals leader this season in Camilo Sanvezzo. But the Whitecaps have also given up the third most amount of goals in the West, and that won’t get it done.

The second reason I have Portland and LA grouped together is because I think both teams have enough to either make a push for the number one seed in the West, or if not, at least hold their place. With the support the Timbers get from their home crowd, they should continue to play well enough at home to stay in this race. First year head coach Caleb Porter has done extremely well managing this team and won’t let them slide.

The reason’s the Galaxy will contend for this year’s Supporters' Shield is simple. They have Irish International Robby Keane, a growing star in US International defender Omar Gonzales and an US Men’s National Team legend in Landon Donovan. It seems that Donovan has rediscovered his love for the game as he has torched the Gold Cup field and his form should carry over into MLS play. My one concern here, like with SKC, is that Donovan will most likely be called up with Gonzales to help the USA qualify for the World Cup in September. Will Keane and company have enough to stay in the race until the other return? Only time will tell.

We are now entering crunch time in the MLS schedule. Who do you think will come away with the Supporters' Shield this year? Leave your thoughts below!

Welcome to Our Sports Report

Well ladies and gentlemen, it has finally happened.  Been out of the sports broadcasting/communications game for a week and I am having withdrawals.  So, I figured what better way to get back into it than to create my own sports blog.  This is my first blog, so bare with me.  For those of you out there that don't know me (and you probably don't), my name is Curtis Ashcraft and I graduated last Spring from Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio with a major in Broadcasting Communications (focus on sports) and a minor in Public Relations.  I was involved in a number of things at Otterbein, and since being out of school, life has taken an interesting swing.  I have a full-time job in Fredericktown, Ohio at TD Landscape & Maintenance as a Sales/Operations Assistant, but also hold part-time jobs as a sports reporter at WMFD Channel 68 out of Mansfield, Ohio, as well as a free-lance sports broadcaster at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio.  I am truly blessed to be where I am at, but this blog isn't about me or my jobs.  I am creating this blog for you sports fans.  I want to know what you want to know.  I will obviously right stories and posts about my favorite teams, such as the Cleveland Indians, Ohio State Buckeyes, Columbus Crew and etc., but like I said earlier, this isn't all about me.  Frankly, not only do I want ideas for the blog, I am more than welcome to bring in as many contributors as possible.  I want this blog to be for the sports fan out there that doesn't have a voice.  The sports fan that knows his stuff (AND can back it up with facts) and wants to be heard.  I want to list a new story or post 3 times a week, but I would love to get to the point where we are posting multiple stories a day.  Right now, this is starting out as a free blog on Word Press, but with a little hard work and some real sports fans helping out along the way, who knows what Our Sports Report can become.  If you have any ideas, questions or advice, feel free to let me know by email (curt740@gmail.com), or find me on Twitter at @cashcraft740.  I really hope that this takes off, because it won't be just mine, it'll be OUR Sports Report.

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