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The Pan Pacific Championship: A look back

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.


Ah, Hawaii.

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.

Game observations

— 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.


  1. The latest from Galaxy beat reporter…

    “The latest setbacks involve Landon Donovan and Edson Buddle being sent back to California because of injuries, Kelly Gray, Kevin Harmse and Israel Sesay also returning to Los Angeles, possibly to be traded…”

    “…With midfielder Kyle Martino not being taken on the trip and with midfielders Gray and Harmse being sent home, it suggests that Coach Ruud Gullit has made some decisions… The Galaxy has until Monday to become salary cap compliant…”

  2. ben, from what I saw and remember, Wicks did OK, he only played the second half. I don’t think the Galaxy have many options. So I expect him to stick.
    As for Jordan, the best thing going for him is he has the right first name to go with that last name. Kidding.
    His work rate was impressive but for a guy trying to make the club, you would expect nothing less.
    He did see a few touches but not sure it’s enough to impress. But he has a few more matches to go in the preseason to show the Galaxy brass he’s worthy.
    He’s pretty small though, eh? He has a nice first touch. Looks to have some speed. But his skill wasn’t prevalent, at least on Saturday.

  3. I think Gullit handled that tournament exactly as he should have. He played the guys battling for spots on the substitutes bench.

    I’m hopeful he does the same thing in Asia, because (lack of) depth killed LA last year.

    Beckham was an exception, because he needed to show Capello he can go 90. The others were Klein and Tudela.

    However, there was no Ruiz, Donovan, Babayaro, Xavier, or Randolph. Other starters only played limited time over the 180: Vanney, Franklin and Cronin.

    Of the potential subs…
    (ST) Allen and (HM) Alvaro looked interesting. If Alvaro pans out, Vagenas and Grey could very well get cut since they eat up a lot of cap space.

    (GK) Wicks may prove to be a solid #2. Defenders Gavin, Roberts and Valentin all need to improve in Asia if they want to be the defender on the sub list.

    Buddle needs to score in Asia to stay on the team – a goal-less ST isn’t worth $140K in MLS economics.

    As far as the tourney goes, they should have played it at the 23,000 grass stadium in Maui. As a tourist, if you’re going to Hawaii, you want to go to Maui.

  4. D,

    I didn’t catch the “third place game,” but thought both Wicks and his Portland teammate Jordan were very impressive. And while I was a big fan of his last season, I thought Cronin looked completely out of sorts — he was wholly unwilling to challenge for the ball and control his defense. So: 1) I take it Cronin got better; and 2) Do you have any more detailed feedback on the Timbers duo?

  5. Thanks guys, appreciate the kind words. And thanks to Ives for giving me an outlet to write about soccer. Though I do cover the sport for my paper, the city I live in doesn’t have an MLS team. So being able to write about top-level soccer when I do go out of my to watch it is a blessing.
    I just hope I wasn’t too harsh on Hawaii in the above write-up. I love the islands, it reminds me of the island I was born and raised in.
    Thanks again fellas and again to Ives. I plan to write more for the site in the future if I’m allowed to.

  6. Dominghosa, good stuff.

    I actually think this tournament could turn out to be pretty cool. The reigning champs of the three leagues plus one team of the organizers’ choice (LA, for as long as Becks is around). They should give it one more shot in Hawaii with proper promotion. If people still don’t come out, rotate it between the three countries.

  7. Folks, it should be noted that while he is a member of the SBI Mafia, Dominghosa is also a full-time sports writer at a major daily newspaper.

    That being said, I do plan to have readers take on a bigger role on SBI, particularly when the MLS season rolls around. I’ll provide more details in the coming weeks.

  8. Nice report Dominghosa!

    I personally think the tournament still has potential, but agree that Hawaii didn’t really work out as a venue. I hope they don’t scrap the PPC altogether, because I’m a big J-League and MLS fan, and it was interesting to watch two of my favorite leagues match up. Maybe they can rotate between the West Coast, Japan, and Australia in future tournaments.

  9. Dominghosa, this was an excellent article.

    Ives, I would love to see more first-person accounts of soccer events from a US fan perspective. By the way, how do you get an assignment to cover a tournament in the land of island girls? I want to sign up for the next one!

  10. it was fun to see MLS teams before the season starts but i really hope this is the last time they do this. its pretty clear that it was a failure.

  11. Ives, I was happy to see nothing was being posted on the PPC, ’till. Darn you! I wanted to leave that in the past, staying up untill 2:30 am CT to see my favorite get trashed like that was dissapointing in all levels.

    I was not impressed by the tournament at all!

  12. Nice write-up Domi – Senior SBI Central-Pacific Correspondent – thanks…SBI is branchin out, love it! Been to Hawaii a couple times, never to a sporting event there, and it is like a different country. The time diff is enough to make MLS games inconvenient to watch I think, and the residents, if not born & raised, are from all over the pacific, lack of sellout sorta makes sense…

  13. I’m with you, Matt, and thanks for the report Dominghosa.

    Driving home from the final on Saturday night, I told my wife I could get used to this. I just wish more people had tried to come out on Saturday to get the flavor of the event. It was as lively and fun a crowd as I’ve seen at Aloha Stadium. Beckham did not disappoint, on the field or off (when he went out to the bus to go back to the hotel he stayed for 45 minutes signing autographs and getting pictures taken).

    Ching played well, but w/o Derosario, had no support.

    Bare, the Osaka forward, was en fuego in the final. Hard to believe that there are probably a dozen or more strikers from Brazil who are better than him.

    I couldn’t find any Dynamo stuff, not even at the adidas outlet at Waikele.
    Beckham jerseys everywhere, though.

    Finally, anyone visiting Aloha stadium should try the gyros at the Leo’s Taverna stall. Good stuff.

  14. I hope the tournament stays. Certainly attendance was low the first day. But it was in the middle of rush hour on a weekday. It is to be expected.

    They really need to work on their advertising approach next year. They didn’t do enough to get the word out. Not knowing the fourth team hurt some. Hopefully next year they can have that all set up in advance.

    I’m not so sure I saw many Japanese tourists wearing Beckham jerseys. I saw plenty of little kids though and locals who bought the jersey because they saw everyone else wearing it. A bunch of people in front of me bought Houston jerseys before the Houston-Gamba match. I felt bad for them afterwards.

    I do not dispute that the atmosphere was lacking. But as you say the MLS has yet to reach out to areas without teams. And a place like Hawaii, where I doubt many other people ever bothered waking up early Saturday mornings to watch MLS Saturday or cared to take a Thursday afternoon off work to watch this past year, has left people with no connection to the teams.

    Overall I don’t want to loose my only chance to see live soccer every year. So forgive if I seem defensive at all.

  15. I want to clarify I’m not crapping on Beckham. He nearly single handedly got me into European footy.

    However he is the one who chose L.A. And he is the one who failed to realize how effing stupid Lalas is.

    So I will feel free to rip Beckham as much as I want, he sentenced himself to this purgatory.

  16. What I’ll always love about this for the rest of my life: the constant press of Beckham “lifting” the Galaxy to a third place finish in the Pan Pacific Championship?

    Not mentioned once in any of those articles? The fact that there were only 4 teams. The fact that Roche Soccer Club (ah, my club) could dominate the two non-MLS teams, etc. I’m glad the Galaxy are making tons of money, and I do truly love the exposure they’re getting.

    But guess what moron, you screwed Beckham! How the hell are you going to win with a bunch of scrubs and 3 guys taking up half the salary cap? Alexis Lalas…lied DIRECTLY to me on the phone, took his genius to the left coast. What a superclub Alexi!


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