Opinion Column

THE BEAUTIFUL GAME: Soccer's home-field advantage

By Phil Cottrell, Daily Observer

Portland Timbers mascot 'Timber Joey' uses a chainsaw to cut a timber slab after the Portland Timbers scored a goal against the FC Dallas during the fiurst half of the game at Providence Park on April 4, 2015 in Portland, Oregon.

Portland Timbers mascot 'Timber Joey' uses a chainsaw to cut a timber slab after the Portland Timbers scored a goal against the FC Dallas during the fiurst half of the game at Providence Park on April 4, 2015 in Portland, Oregon.

My holiday reading included Steven Levitt and  Stephen Dubner's book, "When To Rob a Bank." It seems that Thursday is the most popular day of the week for that particular activity, if you're curious.

In this book the authors ask a wide variety of off centre, sometimes zany, and sometimes quite serious questions including amongst many others, how advantageous home-field advantage is in the major North American sports leagues.

In Major League Baseball, 'home games won' account for 53.9 per cent of all games, in the National Hockey League it is 55.7 per cent, the National Football League 57.3 per cent, National Basketball Association 60.5 per cent and Major League Soccer 69.1 per cent. In the original research it was found that home teams essentially get slightly preferential treatment from officials. They do note that a soccer referee has more latitude to influence a game's outcome than officials in most other sports. However they also state the official bias is quite likely totally involuntary. It is thought that refs could assimilate the emotion of the home crowd, and you know how emotional home crowds can be in soccer, and once in a while, make a call that makes a whole lot of close-by and noisy people very happy.

Now all professional soccer refs have to appear unbiased in every way. They have ongoing regular accreditation and reappointments to be concerned about for a start.

The authors also include fascinating research from Germany that found that home-field advantage was less of factor in stadiums that had a running track surrounding the soccer pitch, and larger in stadiums without a running track where the crowd sits closer to the field. 

Those of us who have sat in smaller, packed stadiums where the start of the actual field  is close to the last row of seats can confirm this. For me personally, smaller is beautiful - no running track, no cheerleaders, just the game. That's all, with all its inherent atmosphere - fans chanting, spontaneously singing, no giant TVs, no getting up to stretch. But then I can remember standing for a whole match (and when it was raining) in a small, totally packed, incredibly noisy stadium, eating my own food that my mother had prepared for me. Can't do that anymore. Hey, enough nostalgia - pick up this book. I can really recommend it as a great read.

Major League Soccer, its challenges and its future

Major League Soccer (MLS) offers a tougher challenge than the English Premier League and will soon be one of the best domestic competitions in world football, according to Chelsea great Didier Drogba.

The former Ivory Coast striker has just completed a successful first season with the Montreal Impact after leaving Chelsea in May. (There is some talk that he may be leaving the Impact and going back to Chelsea in a management role.)

"It's a different challenge in North America," Drogba told Reuters in an interview. "People think it's easy to play there. Believe me, it's more difficult than playing in the Premier League because of the travel."

"There are not a lot of away wins because when the teams arrive they are tired. There are also some very good players in the league," Drogba said.

"It's a growing league and I think it's going to be one of the most important and decisive leagues in the world in a few years."

The competition will go on

The European Football Federation (UEFA ) has thrown its support behind France as the host of Euro 2016, (The World Cup for European countries) despite the recent tragic violence that occurred in the capital of Paris.

European football's governing body stated that the "potential terrorist threat has always been taken into account" when choosing the tournament's host.

Following the dramatic events that occurred recently in Paris, UEFA and EURO 2016 stated that they wish to reaffirm their commitment in placing safety and security at the centre of their organizational plans.

MLS comes to Miami

Ex-MLS manager Ray Hudson has told David Beckham to make a "monster first signing" such as  Swedish international Zlatan Ibrahimovic as he attempts to realize his dream of creating a MLS Miami-based franchise.

A player like Ibrahimovic would be a monster first signing. Those types of players are going to be available to the Beckham lure. They are going to be coming to him.

This is going to be a really interesting and, hey! It's David Beckham and his stadium, it's the MLS -- let it rock and roll!

Ibrahimovic's contract at Paris Saint-Germain is set to expire next summer, leading to speculation over whether he'll extend his stay or move on to pastures new.

It has been reported that ex-England international Beckham recently and finally received the green light to build his stadium in a "rundown area" of Miami. This has been an ongoing issue between Beckham and the City of Miami, so we shall wait and see if indeed it has all been ironed out, and if it will really rock and roll. 

What happens when Portland scores

It is quite the show when the Portland Timbers of MLS score a goal at Providence Park, the team's home field in Portland, Oregon. The Timbers' mascot is a true outdoorsman. Claimed to be America's best mascot, with his chainsaw in tow, "Timber Joey" helps create a one-of-kind atmosphere at Providence Park.

When Portland scores Timber Joey revs up this huge chainsaw and proceeds to cut a slice off a massive log with sawdust and chips flying everywhere. It is quite the sight and quite the sound. The slab is then passed around the stadium for fans to touch before it is presented to the goalscorer at the end of the match.

Timber Joey has evolved into a cult hero in and around the Portland area.

Highest payrolls of sports teams around the world

The number one sports club in terms of payroll in the world is soccer club Paris St. Germain. The highest payroll in American sports is the Los Angeles Dodgers of MLB at #5. The highest NBA team is the Brooklyn Nets at #11 in the world. The highest hockey team payroll is that of the New York Rangers at #74, and the top American gridiron football team is the Miami Dolphins at #124. It should be noted though that some leagues do have salary caps. Source: The ESPN/SportingIntelligence Global Salary Survey (2015).

Correction

Tommy Heinemann, the top scorer last year with the Ottawa Fury,  signed with the Tampa Bay Rowdies, not the Fort Lauderdale Strikers, as I had incorrectly stated.

The next FIFA president

Candidates to be the next president of FIFA have been invited by ESPN to take part in a televised debate. The network released a statement expressing a desire to ensure accountability during the voting process. "Our goal is to provide a forum for open, transparent discussion about the future governance of the sport in advance of the election that will determine who occupies the most powerful position in global football."

The five candidates for president are Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein, Sheikh Salman Bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, Jerome Champagne, Gianni Infantino and Tokyo Sexwale. The election is set for Feb. 26.  Should be very interesting. 

A billion you say

FIFA has announced that more than 1 billion people watched the 2014 World Cup final. Television audiences at home and people watching in public spaces are counted, but not online viewers and mobile phone users.

The average in-home audience across each live match was 186.7 million, FIFA said. In total, 57 of the 64 matches topped 100 million viewers.

FIFA reported record viewing figures in the United States.

US player of the year

Toronto FC midfielder and Captain Michael Bradley has won the U.S. player of the year award for the first time.

As captain also of the American team, Bradley  had three goals and six assists in 18 appearances in 2015, the most assists on the team in a calendar year since Landon Donovan's eight in 2013.

Three-time winner Clint Dempsey was second followed by 2013 winner Jozy Altidore , who is also with Toronto FC.

UEFA Champions League

The UEFA Champions League, known simply as the Champions League, is an annual club soccer competition organized by the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) and contested by top-division European clubs.  It is one of the most prestigious soccer tournaments in the world and the most prestigious club competition in all of European football, played by the national league champion (and, for some nations, one or more runners-up) of each national soccer association. There are eight groups of four clubs  in each group. Group leaders are currently Real Madrid (Spain), VfL Wolfsburg (Germany), Athletico Madrid (Spain), Manchester City (England), Barcelona (Spain), Bayern Munich (Germany), Chelsea (England) and Zenit St. Petersburg (Russia). 

Remember, whatever your sport, to win the game is great, to play the game is greater, but to love the game is the greatest of all. And the greatest game is played by over 250 million players in 200 countries. So, be part of the soccer fan base world wide, 3.5 billion and counting! Also, support local soccer! If you have any comments on the beautiful game please contact me at cottrell@nrtco.net, or call 613-587-4856.