The Pan Pacific Champions came and went last weekend, with Gamba Osaka claiming the new crown and MLS champions Houston came away with a little Egg Soup on their face.
The tournament was more than just an excuse for MLS, LA and Houston officials to go to Hawaii. It was a chance for MLS fans to travel to Hawaii and for Hawaiians to experience MLS action.
SBI correspondent Dominghosa was lucky enough to take the trip to Hawaii and he has returned from paradise to give us his take on the experience.
Beaches. Island girls. Great island food. Scenic drives. Beaches. Island girls. Beaches. And island girls.
It may be the “NFL-Failed-in-Los Angeles Syndrome” because with everything else the area has to offer, who needs to watch professional soccer teams — even one including David Beckham and another including Hawaii’s own Brian Ching?
Still the so-called “100 years of soccer history” on the islands showed for something during last Saturday’s Pan-Pacific Championship doubleheader.
Like Eddie Johnson’s flashes of potential (or the breasts of my first ever girlfriend), it wasn’t much but it was there.
There were more tailgaters than expected at the Aloha Stadium parking lot an hour before the Los Angeles Galaxy’s revenge match against the A-League’s Sydney FC.
And everywhere you looked there was someone wearing a soccer jersey — almost every single one of them was different from the other.
Besides Dynamo jerseys (mostly worn by the Ching clan) and Beckham’s Galaxy kit (mostly worn by Japanese tourists), teams represented from fans included the USMNT, Brazil, Chivas de Guadalajara, Club America, Cruz Azul, Arsenal, Liverpool, AC Milan, Inter Milan, Rangers, Celtic, and Barcelona.
Also making the trip was a Gamba Osaka supporters’ group, the only ones who created any kind of atmosphere at the match. You half-expected the casual fan to wonder why those folks clad in Gamba Blue were always chanting and waving its flag.
But as impressive as those supporters were, they filled only a paltry segment of the section saved for Gamba Osaka fans. One look at the crowd and it was obvious the attendance was a disappointment. With the lure of Beckham and Ching, event organizers expected a sold-out crowd and a bigger Japanese-tourist showing for Saturday.
It didn’t help that promotion started late. Besides maybe one TV commercial and 350-word story in the paper every other day, you couldn’t even tell there was a professional soccer tournament in town. No billboards. No banners. No B.S. propaganda was to be found if you drove around Oahu or even past the stadium.
The pride for the country’s top-level soccer league was also missing. MLS has yet to hit markets out of the areas that actually have teams. Several locals in attendance were heard rooting for Gamba Osaka and Sydney FC. And you get the feeling they do it just because. There was no attachment to either of the teams that actually play in the country they live in. But MLS is more at fault for that than a casual fans’ apathy toward American teams.
If this tournament is to survive, it won’t be held in Hawaii any time soon. Japan is likely the next locale and should be a great success if the event organizers figure out a way to get Beckham on the field again.
But maybe even after 100 years of soccer, Hawaii needs more growing up to do.
— David Beckham started at right midfield but that’s not where he will be caged. It is clear Ruud Gullit wants Beckham to see the ball as much as possible and is giving the Englishman free range of the field. He was all over the field throughout the match, getting touches while on the left, center and right on the field. He even dropped deep enough to collect short passes from the backs. It is also clear the old guy is fully fit and pretty good. He showed off with long on-the-mark passes and back-heel volleys.
–Steve Cronin made one mistake but played pretty well. Josh Wicks looks to be a good enough backup.
— As for Houston, Dwayne De Rosario was obviously missed. But so was a strike partner to work with Brian Ching. Maybe newly-signed 21-year-old Argentine Franco Caraccio will be that player. But against Gamba Osaka, Ching was left alone on an island (no pun intended) with no help. No one to work an offensive attack with as Houston resorted to passing down the wings and crossing balls in, albeit horribly.
— Houston has no pace. No one out on the field for Houston could keep up with Osaka’s attackers and it didn’t seem like they would even if both teams were fully fit. Again, Caraccio may developed into that player through the MLS season.