Thursday, December 21, 2006

A Festivus of Non-Nations

My old comrade Dan (aka "The Hassidic Harrier") chimed in this morning with the disappointing news that the Vatican City isn't likely to field a football team any time soon. So the collective childlike excitement we all felt at the prospect of seeing Ratzinger pacing the sidelines in a cloud of incense was for naught.

However, idle speculation over new and unfeasible national football teams is a fine holiday pastime; in fact, it can be highly educational. Who knew, for example, that there is a global federation of wanna-be national teams, featuring such heavyweights as Lapland, Northern Cyprus, Rijeka and the Romany? (And apparently, um, the Isle of Wight?) Or that notorious buccaneer "micronation" Sealand makes this worthy outfit's "provisional" members list? It seems the Laplanders are the "world champions" of this football demimonde...after beating Monaco 21-1.

Think of the awesome possibilities! Could we one day see a "full international" between Sealand and The United Shires of America? Or, here's a thought: I know some of my fellow Portland footballniks are into the whole bioregional separatist thing. When will we see Mighty Cascadia take to the pitch?

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Barca Shoots Blanks // The God Squad

Watch this, then tell me if the Club World Cup is as meaningless as we are assured by a phalanx of Eurosnobic commentators every time it rolls around. Check out Ronaldhino's face after Internacional goes up 1-0 on a crackling counterattack. Check out Inter's wild celebration at the end. Hell, check out all the good-to-great-to-desperate football Barcelona played before—in classic cup-final fashion—going down to a club most of its supporters literally couldn't find on the map.

This tournament is, admittedly, sort of an orphan of the football calendar, and the successor to a trophy that Latin Americans always took way more seriously than Europeans did. (In one of the most pedantic sections of the otherwise brilliant Soccer in Sun and Shadow, Eduardo Galeano actually toted up the number of times Sudamericano clubs had won the Intercontinenal Cup.) But one of the coolest things about football is its (almost) perfectly logical global structure. Continental championships sit atop national leagues which sit atop lower divisions which sit atop regional and finally local leagues. It's fantastic (and I think that's why fans find closed-door schemes like MLS grating—they remove an integral element of the sport). It would seem to imply the need for a world championship of some sort. This is the one we've got. Well-played to Barcelona, congratulations to SC Internacional. Auckland City will kill 'em all next time.


As I piloted the Subaru home from the mob scene at the airport Post Office at midnight last night, the good old BBC World Service reported on the exciting possibility of a new entrant on the world football stage: Vatican City! For one, I cannot wait. In fact, I would like to see an Ecumenical World Cup. Think of the potential fixture list:

Vatican City v. Dalai Lama Select XI
Orthodox Patriarchate of Constantinople v. Global Islamic Caliphate
Saddleback Church v. The Episcopalians
Hinduism's Many Gods v. The Other Episcopalians...

Et cetera. In any case, in light of gay/Catholic/liberal/conservative/British/American journalist Andrew Sullivan's recent diagnosis of the Vatican's sub rosa cultural predilections, we can expect any XI fielded by the Holy See to sport some seriously fabu kits. Forza Ratzinger!

Sunday, December 17, 2006

O Colorado!

Europeans don't seem to take the World Club Championship (or FIFA Club World Cup (tm), as it has been pretentiously rebranded) very seriously. I wonder why.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Barca? Buh-Bang!

So Liverpool lands Barca in the Champions League knock-outs, and everyone's acting like it's some big tragedy. Wait—isn't that why you want your club to nab a European spot? To duel the best and see the biggest clubs on your home turf? Or is that only okay in the final—until which time you hope for a steady diet of Lille, PSV and Porto?

Calendar's marked—this promises to be a fantastic tie. (Barcelona will win it, naturally.)

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Can Team USA Discover the Americas?

The New York Sun may be one of the strangest newspapers in America, but soccer columnist Paul Gardner is worth reading for his sharp-elbowed, argumentative style. He sounds off today on the need to end the North Euro stranglehold on American soccer, dissing Sexy Jurgen in the process and boosting the (to my mind, weak) case of Jose Pekerman.

While I don't agree with Gardner's Pekermania (aaaaah....), you can't argue with the fact that US Soccer desperately needs to incorporate this country's Hispanic footballing scene(s) into its very essence. Not for the sake of PC ethno-pandering; not for marketing purposes. The Latin game is the future, in this hemisphere and beyond: just look at the proliferation of Latin-flavo(u)red training academies in the UK or the money-enabled annexation of South America's top-tier talent by the European leagues. On the grassroots level, you don't need a particularly vivid imagination to see that the stereotypical suburb-spendy club-high school-college soccer development axis is on the wane, or at least losing its monopoly. Even players from that hackneyed milieu are increasingly looking to early pro moves to Europe, where they're exposed to modern styles, tactics and talents that fuse Latin elements with traditional Euro grit.

So Gardner is right: whoever ends up managing Team USA through the 2010 cycle must be judged BOTH on results and his success in incorporating the various Hispanic futbol nations already very alive and well in this country into our national side. But let's take it further—when are we going to see players of East African and Eastern European extraction in the mix for national team spots? How will we make use of that ever-growing migration of Americans choosing to skip college and MLS for Europe? How will we, in short, leverage the incredible amount and variety of soccer played by Americans of all origins into a cohesive national team?

Judging by surnames alone, we have a demographically intriguing U-20 squad in the works. Let's hope it's the start of something.

But Will He Buy the Timbers?

It's not every day that we Portlanders awake to find Roman Abramovich gazing from the front page of our local paper. Seems he will soon add a substantial chunk of one of Oregon's larger companies to his portfolio. It will look great next to Michael Essien.

Monday, December 11, 2006

ADU OUT: Brilliant? Or Just Weird?

The biggest transfer (or as they say in this country, "trade") in Major League Soccer history just went down: Adu from DC United to Real Salt Lake, bundled with reserve (but seasoned) 'keeper Rimando, in exchange for a "major allocation" and various other parting gifts. ("Future considerations" is one of my favorite terms in sports-biz.)

Is this an ingenious Machiavellian move by United's Petr Nowak, or just another odd chapter in the dysfunctional relationship between sometime-wonderboy Adu and his hometown club? I don't know enough about the inscrutable player-acquisition rules in MLS, which in any case seem to consist of whatever Don Garber says they consist of on a given day, to know. But I would hazard a guess that this might be a more bizarre move on RSL's part than anything.

United will use the allocation slot (and suddenly untrodden vistas of salary-cap room) to snap up some young Latin American talent. The Royal Utahan Mounted Police will get a short-term blast of major-media publicity...which, hmm, just may or may not have been an incentive, given their politically fraught quest for a subsidized stadium on some blasted patch of Salt Lake exurbia. They'll get a bump to their gate, which is already quite respectable. And then—well, Man United may not buy Freddy come June, but someone will. Will RSL get a taste of the transfer fee, or does that all stay in New York? Or do potential EuroMillions fall into that "further considerations" category?

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Sexy Jurgen, We Hardly Knew Ye

Let the speculation begin: did Klinsmann simply decide on a polite thanks-but-no-thanks so he can spend more quality fun'n'sun time at his California dacha; or did the United States Soccer Federation pull one of its characteristic almighty cock-ups? Either way, it seems my decision to buy tons of futures on crisp white button-ups was a poor one.

This is definitely the most disappointing domestic soccer news either since Ghana 2:1 USA or the naming of the Carolina Railhawks. What underqualified homegrown coach (y'know, someone who "knows the American system" or "understands the American player" or some such bullshit) or warmed-over Bora Milutinovich-alike will get the job now?


Did it have to be Sunderland? Is there really a market for this sort of thing?

Sounds like these poor bastards are about to star in an intimate scene of another sort, protagonist Roy Keane. Makes you feel for them. Almost. New rule: only Premiership players are allowed to make decadent sex tapes. We don't want Gillingham getting into the act, do we?

Tuesday, December 05, 2006


This thing is falling apart, though Werder really should have put at least one away. On the upside, Torsten Frings got a yellow. Oooooh, and at 81, the Werder keeper slaughters Ludovic at the top of the area in a vain effort to inject some life into proceedings. Meanwhile, the bartender is handing out little tastes of Stella Artois to skeptical blue-collar's all kicking off...


Fox is reporting that Sexy Jurgen (bowing to the inevitable) has signed to managed the White Buffalo...but Tommy Smyth just energetically "rubbished" the news. Which means it must be true! Let's have another round, and toast the 2010 World Cup!


Well, let's not get carried away with ourselves. But it is true that the Eleven Devils braintrust (me) has repaired to The Thirsty Lion, in the pulsating epicenter (?) of Portland, to watch Barcelona lay waste to a startlingly indifferent Werder Bremen. Thanks to a mid-day pint of Guinness, a hulking bowl of beef stew and the fact that sleazy Torsten Frings is going out of the Champions League, all is merry and bright.

At minute 44, Barcelona leads 2-0 and is waltzing all over the vast Nou Camp, with Werder's players acting in the role of obstacle cones. Barca should have at least four by my count, including a tricky little run by the Icelandic Samba Boy that ended with a knock to the woodwork.

There—the half-time whistle has just gone, as the British would say. If the poky wi-fi and my own sobriety permits, we could have another gripping update. I can say that the two Panamanian lads at the bar look very happy. Hasn't anyone explained the whole Catalan separatist thing?

Saturday, December 02, 2006

And Then There's the West Ham Connection...

Beyond Arsenal's sketchy-but-intriguing possible link to the Litvinenko nuke-assassination case, there's the better-documented West Ham angle. Boris Berezovsky, a member of that fun-loving post-Soviet class generically known as "shady oligarchs," was allegedly/apparently/probably-in-the-eyes-of-all-but-his-libel-lawyers up to his neck in the Hammers' mysterious (and, in footballing terms, subsequently unsuccessful) deadline-day scoop of Mascherano and Tevez.

Berezovsky, exiled to Britain thanks to his falling out with the Putin, um, administration, also seems to have turned up on the list of possible rub-out targets discussed by Litvinenko and his "Italian contact" at the Chelsea [ACTUALLY, PICCADILLY...see the comments] sushi bar...

Paging John Le Carre—football threatens to make you obsolete, old son.

Friday, December 01, 2006

The Arsenal Stadium Mystery

Murderous, strange, twisted international intrigue doesn't come any hotter than the on-going saga of ex-KGB officer-turned-modern-dissident Alexander Litvinenko. Now, a story that already had it all—radioactive sushi, shadowy Italian terrorism "experts," possible rogue Russian agents, Vladimir Putin—gains the all-important football angle.

Arsenal denies MI-5 (or -6, or Scotland Yard, or whatever romance-laden arm of the British State is handling the affair) is snooping around Emirates looking for what they called "clews" in 19th Century detective novels. Which presumably means it's absolutely true. This is getting totally awesome.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Pure Comedy Gold

If you haven't had your life-giving laugh of the day, get thee to this unintentionally (?) hilarious Guardian Sport Blog post, the latest in an unofficial series of silly pieces about "The MLS" to appear in that otherwise excellent forum. I don't know what's more annoying: the fact that the Grauniad says any comment I leave on their blog comes from "Beaverton"; or the fact that their editors decide to hit the pub before sending through any piece on football in the States.

Of course, this is exactly the cue for Brits to start huffing about how "Yanks can't understand irony." Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

You Must Be Kidding

I know. It's blogospheric cheating. But it's just too good to resist.

Adu—Oh No He Did-uhnt!

It's a beautiful thing when adults come together with a minor child's best interests at heart. The grown-ups who run DC United are reportedly scrambling to warn sometime-wunderkind Freddy Adu off a move to Manchester United. There's ominous talk of six-four "goons" at Watford (presumably not a reference to Adu's future national team comrade Jay DeMerit, who stands only 5'11") and the threatening suggestion that ManUtd occasionally plays games in the rain...Zooks!

The United (our United) brass apparently urge a move to the Dutch league for their young apprentice. As it happens, this more or less accords with the official XIDevils fatwa on the subject—I can't think of a more potent recipe for disaster than an Adu move to one of England's Big Two. At Chelski or Man U, Frederico will sit on the bench; hell, he'll probably sit on the bench for the reserve team. He'll pout; he'll whinge; he'll get in a nightclub brawl with Craig Bellamy or some damn thing. The kid needs to go somewhere where he'll play in the First XI all the time (thus to accustom himself to those towering goons).

At the same time, you can almost hear the wails of anguish in the MLS financial department, where they've probably already built a $10M Old Trafford transfer into next year's budget for halftime entertainment at the MLS All-Star Game. They'll just have to ratchet down their expectations...a bushel of organic potatoes from Rapid Bucharest, anyone?

Monday, November 27, 2006

Eleven Devils...Wake! Arise!

Anyone who thinks blogging is the journaliterary world's softest option has never tried to care for and feed one a regular basis. XIDevils' teens of readers will no doubt fear that the soccer world's least-urgent blog has breathed its last. Never! I say, never!

But's been pretty quiet on the football front in and around our heavily fortified headquarters. I blame Santa Claus. For the most part, my truck with footballing culture has been limited to a couple brave-but-failed efforts by my own Albina Going FC, which has all but reserved a spot in Portland Futsal's Third Division after the New Year. I can heartily recommend the ultra-awesome Jake Arnott's novel "He Kills Coppers," which begins with the 1966 World Cup and takes its title from a bad-old-days hooligan terrace chant.

But what else? I've done a woeful job following Liverpool, a woeful job keeping this tiny little flame on the soccerblogosphere's far frontier burning. Stay tuned, faithful dozens—I will do better.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Dire Does Dallas

It never fails. Everytime I con a non-football-obsessed pal into watching a match, the match turns out to suck. I should have known better than to invite an Outsider over for an MLS Cup Final involving the New England Revolution—that kind of event bears a big, red ACOLYTES ONLY stamp, the sort of grim proclivity to be indulged furtively, on the sly. Endure it; get it over with; get back to braying about "the Beautiful Game" and "the rise of American soccer" and Adu's prospective Man U transfer...

Alas, no. I talked my comrade Taylor into skipping most of his beloved Seattle Seahawks' crucial divisional clash with the Saint Louis Rams in favor of Sunday's New England/Houston Final. He's an open-minded lad—follows the World Cup, that sort of thing—but he is prone to grumbling about "every game ending zero-zero." Well, I said—no guarantees, but this match features some of the hottest offensive firepower in MLS. Goals should be flying in!

Talk about the triumph of blind hope over bitter experience. I respect the Revolution, but Steve Nicol has developed a side whose ability to suck every last ounce of joy out of a match is exceeded only by its propensity to choke in league Finals. Sadly, the Revs didn't disappoint, serving up a virtual historic re-enactment of their two brain-killing 0-1 AET losses to the Galaxy.

Meanwhile, the best things one could say about the Houston Dynamo (or "the Houston Dynamos," as the ever-reliable Grauniad styled them) were: 1) Their support travelled in force; 2) They coped with New England's smothering play; and 3) Their victory shattered a historical barrier. As they cavorted around after winning the shoot-out, Taylor remarked, "At last. For the first time in American sports, a team wearing flourescent orange has won a championship."

The thought of how excellent a tango between Houston and DC United (or "The Bottlers," as they are traditionally known) could have been haunted the whole affair. But, okay—that was that, and the gone-in-60-seconds exchange of goals in extra time was pretty cool. My young apprentice did, at one point, note that "it would sweet if the Timbers were in MLS," which I took to be an overall endorsement of the pursuit.

Thursday, November 09, 2006


Oh, not on the futsal pitch. My beloved Unicorns of Albina Going FC took a good old-fashioned country beatdown at the hands of Juventus on Tuesday night. Apparently life in Portland Futsal's completely revamped Second Division is going to be a wild ride—the match before ours just about devolved into a full-scale handbags-at-ten-paces ruck, and then Juve used us for target practice.

Luckily, the result I cared about even more went the right way.

Eleven Devils don't do much politickin'—except to slag off Chelsea, and even that's mostly just to get Dr. Gogol to leave a comment—nor do we (and by that, I mean "I") try to sculpt a particular demographic niche. And I guess on some level I'm supposed to be journalistically apolitical, though that ethic is looking a bit obsolete. Lacking any other venue to say so, I'm compelled to note that Election '06 was something like my own private World Cup victory. The national results pleased my pinko heart, naturally, and judging by the outright jubiliation I encountered in the streets of Portland yesterday, I was not alone. But more to the point, my people—my tribe, my Sacred Homeland—came through.

The Montana Democrats! At various times in the recent past I've suspected that my immediate blood relations might be the last survivors of the breed. But no. I got significant portions of my *national* electoral news from the websites of the Billings Gazette and my hometown Missoulian on Tuesday night—heady times indeed. And every time I see Senator Jon Tester's goofy mug, I'm at the verge of both laughter and tears. My brother is busily hatching opportunistic schemes to market "Schweitzer/Obama '08" T-shirts. It's morning in America!

Okay, enough of that. Back to bipartisanship: making fun of Manchester United.


After the League Cup loss to a team called—one of those delicious "only in England" thangs—The Shrimpers, Alex Ferguson is understandably eager to strengthen his youth and reserve teams. So it looks like Green Card wunderkind F. Adu is heading for Old Trafford...or maybe not...or maybe so. As nearly as I can read the Google News tea-leaves, the rumor is trending true, though whether United's motives are entirely pure is—and you will be shocked to hear this—in question.

Will he/won't he? Well, young master Frederico both deserves and needs a Euro move at his earliest opp.; what's he going to do with another year in MLS—wait anxiously for DC United to bottle it in the playoffs yet again? Despite skepticism in many quarters, I believe Adu is a legit talent. And of all the clubs he might decamp to, I can think of only one (just guess) that would constitute a dumber move than United. I can see the value of a spell in England, where Adu will be murdered by the press, brutalized by defenders, mocked by supporters, lorded over by some Dickensian manager and forced to up his pace considerably. I can't see any sense in him riding the bench for one of the Superclubs at this stage. The kid needs a full-tilt football education, and that's only going to come with someone's first team.

Hey, speaking of Southend...


From XIDevils' bustling Department of Omissions: Check out the excellent, Portland-based multinational multiblog, The Offside, descendant of the popular WorldCupBlog. Thank me later!

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

A Burnt Offering on the Altar of the Unicorn

After a langourous two-week off-season, Albina Going FC returns to action at Portland Futsal tonight. Our opponent in the much-overhauled Second Division? Mighty Juventus. If they bear any resemblance to the "Juventus" side that we played last season, the Unicorns better sharpen their their horns and placate the football gods with whatever dark sacrifice They demand.

Why is Football the Greatest Sport?

Because of stuff like this.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Rudd Hits Brace for United, Giggs Draws Caution in Tense Red/Blue Derby Clash!

A late winner for the visitors; seven players booked with one sent off for the home side; the Blue half of Manchester left mulling over a lost opportunity to put one over on their Red rivals—sounds like it was a true classic.

The Final Countdown

The MLS Conference Finals are in the books. Some now quaff the sweet, sweet elixir of well-deserved triumph; others are left to sup on bile and bitterness. So much for DC United, and the sassy, stylish football they were playing when I saw them stand Real Madrid to a draw this summer. Nowak's men were a composed, inventive and ruthless side back then, but they came apart like a Soviet satellite in the season's final months. Even though they picked the league into tiny little crumbs for most of this campaign, not even the most diehard single-table, no-playoffs purists could convince me United deserve to be champions.

Houston, on the other hand, seems to be gelling at just the right moment, authoritatively stamping its mark on these playoffs while everyone else is just white-knuckling through. All credit, though, to the New England Revolution—a gritty bunch, strangers even to the extremely limited glamour the more fashionable MLS clubs attain, that just about always manages to will itself into the championship mix.

Deuce Dempsey didn't make the Revs' squad for the Conference Final, but something tells me the Nagadotches ruffneck will use every trick of homeopathy, positive thinking and Ibuprofen at his disposal to get on the field in Dallas. With New England's Dempsey (undoubtedly) and Joseph (possibly) and Houston's Dwayne De Rosario (maybe) playing their last MLS game, the Cup Final ought to be pretty hot stuff.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Paradox Alert

Can't stand Chelsea. Can't get enough John Terry.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Zach's Wide World of Football

"It's a narrow, cloistered existence that I'm not proud of."

So sayeth Bill Parcells, itinerant NFL genius, in the latest of Michael Lewis' excellent articles on gridiron for the New York Times magazines. The Tuna was talking about his own (as Lewis makes plain, dreary, obsessional and unpleasant) life as a 24-hour pointy-ball nutcase. But he could just as well have been talking about XIDevils' weekend, sardine-packed with that other form of football. Who needs reality—which is becoming more and more overrated all the time—when you have soccer?


Saturday morning, desperately hungover after a night mis-spent in the company of a couple hundred drunken Russians (another story; nay, another blog entirely), I crawled over to my futsal teammate Liverpool Mike's lair to watch the Reds' tilt with Aston Villa. Okay—now *this* was the side I signed on to with every ounce of fairweather, dilettantish enthusiasm in my corpuscles at season's dawn. Liverpool zipped the ball through midfield with lusty confidence, and a couple of the three tallies conjured by Li'l Stevie's gang in a bury-the-needle first half glowed with that world-class lustre.

Peter Crouch, the Elongated Man, continues to conjure tricks both amazing and improbable with his biologically unfortunate body; Alonso and Hyppia and the whole bunch bore little resemblance to the side that's stumbled through about half its games so far this season. Not a moment too soon, either, as it will already take a minor collapse on the part of the Big Two for Liverpool to punch its way into the championship tussle. Still, if they can play football this fluid and lovely and committed—the tackles were flying around in ways that had the old-school Brit commentators reminiscing fondly and stereotypically about when they themselves used to break legs at Nottingham Forest ("Twice Champions of Europe"[tm]) back in the early '70s—against one of the Premiership's tougher sides-on-the-rise, it can only portend good things.


Shortly after the final whistle blew on the DVR'ed Liverpool match, we passed on Watford (call us crazy) and dialled up the Milan derby. Zooks! I've already waxed on this nervy, plot-laden haymaker exchange and the strange, definition-eluding magnetism of Serie A in a comment here. Suffice it to say that my Life Goals list now prominently features "get wasted at a strip club with Marco Materazzi." No worries—I know a good lawyer.


Sunday morning proved a lot less stirring, because the XIDevils editorial staff itself was in action at Beaverton's Soccerplex. I put in a pretty disheveled, out-of-it and ineffective performance for The Muckrakers, the all-journalists indoor team I've played with off-and-on for the last few months. It was one of those games one plays with a head wrapped in invisible gauze and a stomach increasingly determined to issue a refund on one's eggs and toast. Hey, man—that's why they call it The Beautiful Game! Ugh. I hold myself individually responsible for only a few of the flurry of goals our opponents knocked in.


I would have liked to see DC United's decisive second-leg playoff against the New York Red Bulls, if only because anytime 20,000-plus show up at RFK, it actually looks, sounds and feels like a proper football match. But, alas, there's more to life than soccer. Or at least I am obligated to pretend that's the case.


Only football could make me drive to Beaverton not once but twice in one day. The frigid hour of 8 pm last night found me on the austere Soviet-style concrete terraces at the Tualatin Hills Recreation Center (ah—a legendary ground!), soaking in the Oregon Premier Soccer League match between Westside Metros and FC Portland. As the faux-Eastern European goon in those new credit-card commercials bellows, it was VERY, VERY, VERY REWARDING. The local leagues are tough for even the most insane inmate of the Portland Soccer Asylum to follow—their websites are crap, the schedules are odd and the games are stashed in the most remote corners of the metro area. If you can make it out for an OPSL match, though, do. This night saw stalwart Portland Timbers defender Scot Thompson—a player linked to both Premiership and Championship clubs in recent seasons—in action for Westside. What other sport can you see top-notch pros play for free against local bhoys on a Sunday night? And freeze yourself to death in the bargain?

Friday, October 27, 2006

From the Propaganda Ministry

My benevolent sometimes-bosses at the Associated Press indulged my on-going agit-prop efforts on behalf of the game: a quick/dirty Cliff's Notes to the MLS playoffs. I see only a couple of glaringly obvious mistakes. A caption identifies the great DwaDeRo as a "San Jose" player (not my bad). And the longish passage on the New York/DC United rivalry calls the match-up the "closest thing MLS has to a Euro-style 'derby'." Uh huh—Galaxy and Chivas USA fans would be surprised to learn that. (Definitely my bad.)

Still, check it out if you want.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

C'mon Hare on the Hill! C'mon Luccombe Garage! C'mon Cotham Old Boys!

Amazing, the footballing riches one discovers with a few idle Wikipedia clicks. This week's League Cup action in England—in which a few minnows managed upsets, and mighty Crewe Alexandra pushed Manchester United into extra time—led me to seek out an exhaustive inventory of England's football Pyramid. Naturally, I scrolled to the very bottom, there to find...

The Bristol Downs League. The absolute lowest echelons of competitive football in England, with its lower divisions having the bottom-most tiers of the Pyramid all to themselves. The Downs League apparently plays all its matches at a local recrational ground, and is home to a collection of incredibly suh-weet sounding clubs. Sneyd Park! Retainers FC! Bristol Dynamos! Cliftons St Vincents! Sporting Greyhound, which may just possibly be the greatest football club name ever...

The best thing about this obviously totally awesome league is that the Bristol BBC site (click that link up there) devotes extensive coverage to its weekend fixtures. Colo(u)r pictures, full team profiles, hilarious and touching player blogs—in short, the kind of respect and bandwidth that we mere gentlemen-sportsmen rarely receive but so, oh so richly deserve. Were the Moscow stock market to crash; were Interpol to arrest half the chairmen in the Premiership; were the Italians to discover that every single Serie A match in the last 50 years was fixed—football would be in good hands with this bunch. They know what the game is really all about.

Now, wait 'til my teammates on Albina Going FC hear the details of my exciting Bristol relocation plan. I always did like Portishead.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Down the Valley

In the course of some semi-random, work-related (I swear to Almighty God, aka Pele, or Diego Maradona if you're trying to wind up an Englishman) research, I stumbled on this opinionated blog on soccer in Corvallis, Oregon. Some fairly interesting tidbits can be gleaned amongst all the bitching about Oregon State's soccer program, particularly the entry about the 30-year-old Willamette Valley Soccer League. Who knew?

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Siberian Oil v Unicef All-Boys // It's a Unicorns Universe! // Who Will Fix MLS? (Hint: Me)

Yes, there was "work" to be done. And yes, Liverpool played a very good bottle of French wine in the Champions League. But Chelsea v. Barcelona? That's a cultural event of global significance (sort of like if the 1965 Beatles and 1967 Rolling Stones could play a show together—scientists, can I get a wot-wot?). So no doubt as to where the entire XIDevils editorial staff was bound at 11.30 PST today: bar-side!

I met two-thirds of A Pretty Move along the rail at the Thirsty Lion in the heart of Portland's historic Skidmore Fountain district, conveniently located near a couple puking tramps. It felt good to be back in the glare of huge, flat-screen TVs and in the company of mid-day drinkers again, so long after the World Cup.

Our hearts were with Barcelona—well, duh—and we were joined by a polite lone Chelsea fan, a suited-up young stockbroker-type with a shiny tie who could probably buy and sell me and my soccer-blog empire. (I swear I am not making that up. Apt, eh?) Sadly, the Londoners decoded the Catalans with ease. From the first minutes, when Barca was forced to play chase like a pack of toy dogs, to the last, ditto, Chelsea was better as a side and man-for-man. Ronaldhino has officially been solved—he was the definition of useless today: bobbing, weaving, shucking and jiving to zero avail against The Cannibal's dead-simple but ruthlessly effective jabs. Messi seemed a little out of his depth on the other side, though he did provide the rare glimmer of a chance.

Deprived of wings, Barca had to try to pummel through the center, where they invariably met a wall of pricey Russian-grain-fed beef. Chelsea didn't have much nuance; the Special One devised a clever plan consisting of A) tackle the ball away and B) run like hell at the goal. After Drogba incinerated the Barca net at 47', they didn't need any fancy tricks. The Blues contentedly watched Barca bollix up one increasingly misbegotten attempt at beautiful-game silkiness after another, though just for sport they occasionally gave Shevchenko a run forward so he could fall down, stand up and make that face at the referee.

1-0. A deflating experience all 'round, like a four-game Yankees sweep in the series. The group-stage format gives Barca a chance to right the ship, but they just didn't have much today at all.


Albina Going FC, on the other hand, transformed into the very picture of free-flowing, gun-slinging Total Futsal last night, putting 16—this is not a typographical error—past some pretty quality opposition in our Second Division match. Weirdly enough, the bulk of our scoring came after I stopped playing the field and went in goal. (?) I did okay back there, though I did suffer the indignity of deflecting a corner kick into my own net.

But that's all the proverbial sub-pontine water. After an extremely rocky start, the Unicorns have now won two "on the trot" (as they say, hee hee). If we win our last game of the season (and, basically, if every other team figures out a way to lose) we could go as high as third in the nine-team league. Forza Albina! Allez les Unicorns!


The Major League Soccer play-offs are upon us. And if you don't exactly feel the earthquake of excitement (sorry for the Proustian pang of regret there, San Jose fans), you are not alone. The American top tier's championship format—eight teams, home-and-away first legs and then knock-out play—manages the neat trick of making both the regular season and post season seem irrelevant. As this perceptive and fair-minded article points out, no one really likes it. And yet the notion of settling the title with some kind of tournament seems here to stay.

And in all fairness, the play-offs have produced the only truly memorable moments in MLS, ever. DC United's golden-goal victory in the first-ever Final, played in an apocalyptic downpour outside Boston, remains my favorite league game. San Jose's fluid demolition of Chicago in a six-goal clash a few years back was pretty sweet, too. (Last year's Final, a dire 1-0 AET win by the LA Galaxy, provides a counter-example of what you risk when you stake a whole season on a single game.) So what to do?

As usual, Eleven Devils has the solution. Eight teams make the playoffs—whether through regional conferences or a single table, doesn't matter. Those eight teams are seeded into two groups based on their regular season performance. This year, using two conferences, the groups would be:

#1 DC
#2 New England
#3 Chicago
#4 New York

#1 FC Dallas
#2 Houston
#3 Chivas USA
#4 Colorado

Every team plays every other team in its group in a three-round series. Three points for a win, a point for a draw, just like always. The top-seeded team in each group plays *every* game at home; #2 plays two home games and away vs. #1; #3 hosts only its game against #4; the poor bottom seed must play every game away. Then, you can either have a one-game semi between the top two, or send the top-of-group sides directly to a Final. Either way, you put a huge premium on regular-season performance, yet maintain the excitement of the play-offs.

Don Garber, you fucking owe me, son.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

It's a Man's Life

In what sounds like one of the more bizarre games in history—well, scratch that, considering the competition, but a very, very odd game nonetheless—Chelsea saw not one, but two goalkeepers taken to the casaulty ward with nasty head injuries during its away date with mighty Reading. Ultra-stud defender John Terry finished the match between the sticks.

This being the fabulous 21st Century, YouTube already has all the grisly footage: this clip shows Terry taking over the gloves and the improvised MASH unit treating the Blues' fallen second-choice portero. Aiyiyi.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Bring Us The Outlaw Giorgio Chinaglia—Dead or Alive!

Can one person both score a championship-winning goal at Portland's Civic Stadium AND be an international fugitive, all in the same lifetime? Apparently, the answer is yes.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

The Unicorns Ride High & Proud Across the Golden Plain

Big week in football. England lost. Scotland won, then lost. Wales and Ireland are just about to dissolve into nameless atoms. In fact, Northern Ireland—yes, we are all experiencing the same strange reality—is by far the healthiest of the five British Isles teams in Euro 2008 qualifying. (Why doesn't the Isle of Man have a team? I saw that the Channel Islands might be stepping up soon, and Gibraltar just got provisional UEFA status, so where is the Isle of Man? Some think it's unfair for the United Kingdom to be represented by four—or five or six or however many—national sides. But on present evidence, I'd say they need all the help they can get.)

But we all know that the really big news—THE REALLY, REALLY, REALLY BIG NEWS—is this: Albina Going FC won a game. For the first time ever. In a gripping Second Division encounter at Portland Futsal, my Mighty Unicorns held on for a white-knuckle victory over Real Sur. In a game "rich with incident," as they say, highlights included yet another half-court missle from Jan (The Croydon German) and my concession of four (4) goals in a single half as 'keeper. By my calculations, that's a goal every six minutes or so; you can't accuse me of failing to do my part to make football more attractive to American fans.

My chief fear right now is that the four Going players who could technically play for England might all be called up. (Of course, I'd be willing to consider the manager's post...) At the moment, however, we're content to bask in victory's tawny glow.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Soccer Bowl '77!


Lost on Earth

Eleven Devils would probably cease to exist if it weren't for Du Nord (see the blogroll), a fanatically all-encompassing, near-daily aggregator of American soccer news. I don't know how (or when) he does it, but The Wolf's compendium of all the football news that fits is an invaluable resource.

Today, for example, Du Nord tabs two pieces that between them say a lot about both the potential of American soccer and the baffling oversights and shortcomings that seem to hold it back. In a recent interview, former US National Team coach/newly minted New York Red Bulls capo Bruce Arena scoffed at the notion that there are any significant veins of hidden talent out in the vast, tangled, often-unexplored universe of the American game. Specifically, he belittled a reporter's suggestion that there might be unscouted pro-calibre talent lurking in urban ethnic leagues, for example. (Arena has also been heard to say that he thinks MLS was actually *better* back in the '90s, when he managed DC United; is he on something?) Apparently, the all-seeing eye of Major League Soccer's scouting apparatus and the US national team development program are sufficient to identify all the quality players in the United States.

Meanwhile, US Soccer insists it is determined to win over Latinos and tap those communities' talent resources. Well, okay. By my count, our World Cup squad included a total of *one* Mexican-American player, Carlos Bocanegra. The remainder of the side's extremely limited "Latin flavor" came courtesy of Reyna and Mastroeni, both of Argentinian extraction.

Today, via Du Nord, two very interesting articles. First, always-excellent Sports Illustrated soccer specialist Grant Wahl raids the journalistic gold mine that is Watford FC defender Jay DeMerit. Here's a guy who graduates from college and gets completely dissed by MLS and the United Soccer Leagues. He's never been called up for the national team at any level. He ends up playing for free for the Chicago Fire reserve team, then literally tending bar. He goes over to Europe on his own dime, paints houses for spare change and plays in London pub leagues.

Now where is he? The friggin' Premiership. He's already scored one legendary goal and is acquitting himself nicely in Watford's long-shot bid to survive in the top flight; it would seem that if the Hornets get relegated, DeMerit will swiftly move to a bigger club. He's *still* never been capped by the USA—in fact, it's starting to seem like we better get on that, before Denmark beats us to it.

So, wait a minute. We're supposed to believe that, even though MLS proved utterly oblivious to a white middle-class dude playing NCAA Division I soccer IN A CITY WITH A MAJOR LEAGUE SOCCER FRANCHISE, it has every ethnic league in the country wired? DeMerit may be the most high-profile Yank to back-pack his way into a European contract, but there are many other guys trying the same thing. It beats waiting around for an obviously anemic system to catch up to you.

Meanwhile, Soccer America weighs in with a brief look at a few Mexican-American players currently with MFL first-division clubs. None of these guys is exactly ripping it up south of the border, and it does seem like a couple have been involved with US Soccer developmental programs. But if they're good enough to play down there, why aren't any of them in our national team picture? Any time a 17-year-old scores in MLS, he's immediately hailed as a World Cup prospect. These kids—all of whom are Americans—seem like they're slipping through the net.

Okay, end of rant. Hey—what else are blogs for? Time to limber up for Albina Going's crucial futsal clash with Real Sur, 9 pm tonight. SEE YOU THERE, SOCCER FANS!

Monday, October 09, 2006

The Feast of the Goats

Say what you will about the millimeter-deep tradition, crazy competitive format and overall lack of identity in Major League Soccer—at least it's not predictable. I'm reasonably certain I could name the next 10 Premiership winners, in order, plus runners-up, with at least 50 percent accuracy (pending future transactions on the Moscow stock exchange, professional assassinations, etc.). Meanwhile, nobody has any idea who will boss the show in MLS next year, or even next week.

The "defending champion" Los Angeles Galaxy? Out—done before the league's brutally short play-off tournament even begins. Cross-corridor rival Chivas USA? Just over a year ago, Los Goats Yanquis looked like a bad marketing ploy in search of a team (and a hairdresser), but they're in the playoffs this time 'round. Formerly untouchable DC United? They are, shall we say, now decidedly touchable. Cup-winning Chicago? Just got nuked 4-1 by wretched Columbus. At home.

So who will wear American soccer's tin'n'plastic crown? We just can't wait, can we, to find out!?!

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Fixture Congestion

Well, I ask you—could YOUR team hold Juventus to just nine goals, meanwhile knocking in a nice little collection of your own? For that was indeed the challenge faced by Albina Going FC in a Tuesday-night match at Portland Futsal. Strangely, I didn't recognize any of the Juve players; the squad that turned up consisted of six Hispanic guys. No Buffon among them. But in any case, they pasted us properly. Among the few consolations: I actually scored a goal! For the first time in like years! Despite my consistent habit of running forward when I'd be of more use in the back or, truth be told, on the bench!

Just 24 hours after going up against Juventus, the Mighty Unicorns faced yet another match, this time against a team with the delightful name Gardeners. We couldn't really tell if they were really gardeners, but I'm guessing not. The lads were up against it—as striker Jimmy "The Stag" so aptly put it, it was just like the old days, when we had to play in the League, in Europe and in the FA Cup, all in one week! We managed to add another defeat to the trophy case, but one of our new boys, the Croydon German, scored a wicked Xabi Alonso-style bomb from deep inside our own half.



Is it true? Will the United States Soccer Federation actually hire Jose "Truth in Naming" Pekerman to guide our national side, as rumors suggest with increasing persistence? The man comprehensively out-coached by chain-smoking playboy Ricardo La Volpe in the World Cup Round of 16? The man who singlehandedly steered a fine Argentina to elimination with his basalt-headed substitutions against Sexy Jurgen's men?

Say it ain't so! However, this being the USSF, it probably is so. We'll hire Pekerman; Mexico will hire Sexy Jurgen; two weeks after Pekerman's unveiling, word will leak that he only got the job after Sven turned us down. Don't book that South African vacation just yet, eh?

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Galeano! Liverpool Sucks! Trophies! My Alma Mater! And Futsal!

That's right! Your humble correspondent can come up with no fixed theme for a post, so it's time for....AN ELEVEN DEVILS RANDOM ROUND-UP! (tm)

ITEM: A writerly acquaintance in New York City, one Dan Kaufmann, belatedly forked over a piece sure to delight my sokkahblagging pals at A Pretty Move: an interview with Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano. Galeano is a sort of Chomskyian figure in Latin American verbiage, but for my money, his limpid and passionate prose is at its best when he turns it to The Beautiful Game. If you don't own his slim but inexhaustable 'Soccer in Sun and Shadow,' consider it a mandatory purchase and a long-term bargain. Nearly a decade after I acquired my copy, I still pick it up a few times a year.

ITEM: "Utterly gash." That's how the Guardian's minute-by-minute summarizer described Galatasaray as the Turkish side surrendered a couple early goals to Liverpool during last week's Champions League encounter. And what a horrid, disgusting and splendid description it is—for Liverpool's own form. A 2-0 loss to Bolton Wanderers confirmed what I've feared since watching the Reds meander around on opening day against dreadful Sheffield United: I cursed Liverpool by choosing them as my Premier League club. Well, too bad for them, and too bad for me, because we all know you can't undo that sort of thing. I let myself pull for multiple teams in the Italian and Spanish leagues, but that's just "not on" where the Premiership's concerned. So LFC and I are stuck with each other, and now that Community Shield they bagged back in August may be their last trophy. Ever.

ITEM: But, on the other hand, how 'bout them Reading Royals? The club once known as the Biscuitmen nailed down three crucial away points, beating West Ham 1-0 on a second-minute goal. The assist came courtesy America's own Bobby Convey, while yanqui netminder Marcus Hahnemann helped preserve the win. Meanwhile, West Ham deployed USA defender Johnathan Spector. Imagine that—three Americans play in a Premiership match and hardly anyone even notices. Once, that sort of thing would have been the ultimate Man Bites Dog, Pigs Fly story.

ITEM: While the Euro leagues are still just unpacking their medicine shows for the year, we're handing out trophies and getting ready to shut down for winter here in North America. Chicago Fire claimed the US Open Cup. DC United, a truly fantastic team that's been in a relative slump lately after an unbeatable first two-thirds of the campaign, clinched the MLS Supporters' Shield, awarded for the league's best regular season record, last night. (Why isn't it called the Supporters' Cup? Oh.) And the Vancouver Whitecaps won the United Soccer Leagues First Division, the 12-team circuit that includes our beloved (but, yes, utterly gash) Portland Timbers. The 'Caps—which, though they are the Timbers' second-most-hated rival, are one of the best-run clubs in the oft-dodgy First Division—grabbed the hardware with an emphatic 3-0 away win over Rochester.

ITEM: In that *other* form of football we all know and love—the one where you get to use your hands all the time—my Mighty Montana Grizzlies invaded PGE Park and beat Portland State last night. Huzzah! Now I don't have to pay attention to that sport again until December.

ITEM: The USL just announced a new affiliation with something called the Super-F League, which seems to be trying to become the primary national futsal competition. While the SFL looks more like a sanctioning body than an actual league right now, I guess this deal could portend some kind of off-season existence for the Timbers. With First Division franchises in Vancouver, Seattle and, thanks to expansion, San Francisco all sitting idle through the winter, wouldn't it make sense for those clubs to field futsal squads for some kind of short-format league? Each city could host one two-day round-robin tournament for all four clubs in, say, December and January, with a point system determining the overall champ at the end. Gavin Wilkinson, can ya holla back?

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Fire Make History! Well, Not Quite.

The Chicago Fire Football Club has a weird affinity for the US Open Cup, the 93-year-old knock-out tournament open to all Fed-affiliated teams in the country. In nine years, the Windy City side has snaked the Lamar Hunt Cup four times. One *might* think that would make Chicago the winningest team in the tournament's history. In fact, they must win one more just to tie an august troika of five-time champions: Maccabi Los Angeles, Fall River F.C. of Massachusetts, and Bethlehem Steel F.C. of Pennsylvania.

Maccabi Los Angeles! Bethlehem Steel! The romance-laden history of the Cup just underscores how sad its current afterthought status is. Something—something!—should be done to enhance this championship's profile and status.

Another note: the LA Galaxy's (no Maccabi, this lot) lone goal in the 3-1 Chicago victory came courtesy former Portland Timber Alan Gordon. Between Gordon and the short-lived (but glorious) World Cup heroism of Trinidad's Brent Sancho, it's been a big year for Timbers alumni. Now—if only we could get a decent team together NOW.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Please Rebuild Peter Crouch to Human Specifications!

Ah, but the oddly constructed Liverpool striker hit a good 'un yesterday, pushing the generally indifferent Reds past schizoid Galatasaray. The Turkish club may have lost, but still has one of the greatest names in football.

Football—that's right. It's out there. It's been a big week in the game personally, locally, nationally and internationally, but Yrs Trly has been up to his pretentious-third-person eyeballs in other matters. So let's make do with a quick kick-about, eh?

—After three indoor games in the space of eight days, my 31-year-old body feels like it's on the verge of self-vaporization. The Muckrakers, the all-journalists team I play for in what must be the 29th division at Beaverton's relatively plush SoccerPlex, haven't quite, er, found their form yet. To wit, we finally scored our first goal in a looooooooong time last weekend, and then got positively greedy by forcing an own-goal. Of course, we let in—I don't know—seven or something. Almost needless to say, I played keeper during the second half.

Across town at brand-new Portland Futsal, Albina Going FC managed its first-ever "result" in a bombastic 10-10 draw with ADP II. Yeah, yeah—we had a couple players in "on one-day loan" from Real Sur, but it was an unprecedented performance for three reasons. 1) No one puked. 2) No one was sent off. 3) We didn't lose. In fact, we almost won, surrendering the equalizer with just seconds remaining. Almost needless to say, I was playing keeper. The Mighty Unicorns will revel in that newly minted self-confidence next week, when our Tuesday night fixture pits us against some team callled "Juventus." Ouch. Surely that's a bit draconian even for repeated match-fixing?

—Chris Agnello, instantly unpopular coach/GM of the Portland Timbers, went buh-bye this week. His replacement, former New Zealand international (oh! words that strike fear into the heart of footballers everywhere!) Gavin Wilkinson, has been with our beloved local side since its refoundation in 2001, first as a player, now as a coach (except when we're short numbers, in which case he becomes a player again). I'm tentatively calling this a fantastic move: Agnello endeared himself to no one, presided over an awful season and offered no visible plan for improvement. Wilkinson, on the other hand, is a fiery field warrior and winning personality who might both grow into his role and push the club into a better future.

—The Chicago Fire, one of three MLS sides I've personally laid eyes on this season (charitably including New York Red Bulls), won the US Open Cup last night. Portland boy Nate Jaqua tallied for the victors. Three cheers for Miss O'Leary United and Section 8, the Timbers Army's unofficial sister supporters association. Too bad one of the coolest, most historic and most distinctive events in American sports can muster a crowd of just 8,000.

—Across the lake, the Brit press is in a patronizing twitter over rumo(u)rs that Freddie Adu will join fellow yanquis Bobby Convey and Marcus Hahnemann at Reading FC. I don't quite believe it, but it did prompt me to look up Reading's history on Wikipedia—perhaps the most jaw-droppingly relentless chronicle of mediocrity in world sport. Founded: 1871. Played in the top flight: Never, until this year. All the same, the Royals are the most charming story of the Premiership this year, and young Convey is afire. It *might* be good for Adu to start his Euro career at a small, over-achieving club where he could make an immediate impression; frankly, I'd rather see him in Spain than in England, but that doesn't seem to be in the cards. Premiership! Premiership! Premiership! Yeah, yeah....

Friday, September 22, 2006

Red Roses For That Vase?

While only native-born Mancunians and confirmed front-running bandwagoneers have any excuse for backing Manchester United, you'd have to be an inhuman monster not to give some love to FC United of Manchester. The Red Rebels, launched last year by disgruntled Man Utd supporters turned off (and priced out) by the Premiership's loadsamoney culture, are one of the coolest stories in world football.

After dominating their tenth-division league in their first year, FC United are rolling over the next tier up, with 11 wins on the trot. As reported in the Guardian's on-going coverage of the club, the Rebels are taking their first stab at a national competition. The FA Vase is a knock-out tournament reserved for smaller clubs on England's football pyramid; its history is an extravaganza of awesome gentleman-amateur eccentricity, dotted with gorgeously goofball-sounding clubs like Tiptree United, Forest Green Rovers and Berkhamsted Town.

Meanwhile, how fantastic is it that the *two* teams atop the North West Counties League are supporter-owned? FC United's "blue" counterpart, Maine Road FC—founded decades ago by Manchester City fans—stands second on the table. Viva grassroots if only we had summathat over here.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The Vortex

ITEM: Last week's New Yorker profile of Bill Clinton, written by genius reporter/editor David Remnick, opens at the World Cup Final. Zidane's headbutt. Bill Clinton. David Remnick. IT ALL COMES BACK TO FOOTBALL!

ITEM: Which team earned probably the first red card in the short history of Portland Futsal? That would be my side, Albina Going FC, which concluded an inglorious 8-2 drubbing with just four men on the court after a certain...unpleasantness. The only consolation in this embarrassing situation: we knocked in a short-handed goal! And no less than six of our rivals' tallies came from a single player, a hot-footed teenager who—annoyingly—made a point of counting off his total haul after every goal. Kid was undeniably good, though. We we were undeniably...something. Despite the set-backs, this is a fun place to play, though adapting to futsal may be an evolutionary challenge just beyond Homo sapiens dundasi's capabilities.

ITEM: Great news, Timbers fans! The team may suck, but its financials are in good shape! So claimed the hybrid baseball/soccer franchise's front office in an Oregonian piece today. Let's just say the club's true health is a matter of some dispute among those who follow it most closely.

ITEM: Can someone explain to me how the New York Red Bulls are going to spend $200 million on a 25,000-seat stadium? Oh, sorry—I forgot. It's in New Jersey. Bribes to pay, y'know.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Those Were the Days

As Portland Timbers fans contemplate the ruins of the 2006 season—as well as the shattered remains of the relationship between the club's Front Office and most avid fans and new coach Chris Agnello's reputation as a team-builder—they can cast their minds back to better days. Like the time Alan Gordon ripped a goal about 25 seconds into his pro career. Axemen aficionados will recall that Gordon, an Oregon State phenom, briefly reappeared in Timberland this year, only to be snatched back to MLS by new Galaxy boss Frank Yallop before he could alter Portland's beeline to the shoals.

The league's website weighs in with a friendly little story about the good things that have happened for this promising young player since. The piece doesn't address *why* Gordon's Portland loan lasted about 10 minutes. But I know there are those in the local soccer conspiracy who have their theories.

The End is Nigh

You've got to be fucking kidding me.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

The West Ham Job

"Money has a wonderful habit of flowing where it feels comfortable."
—Patarkatsishvili, modern sage

I love an intrigue-laden cosmopolitan thriller as much as anyone and more than most, and I must say this beats the most feverish imaginings of John le Carre or Alan Furst. A pair of young Argentine superstars; a certain ambitious East End "firm"; enough shadowy Russian "entrepreneurs" to field a five-a-side squad or, alternatively, loot the natural-resources base of a mid-sized Central Asian state; one of whom has a UK passport in a false name derived from a film loosely based on his life (!); a delightfully cynical Georgian operative; an Iranian political exile with two distinctly different birthdays (!!) is enough to make one's head spin.

The question that lingers over the murky dealings at West Ham—which seem designed either to deliver the entire club into the hands of some opaque transnational cartel or flip Tevez and Mascherano like they were Soho condomiums, or (preferably, I'm sure) both—goes like this: Are we seeing the zenith of Syriana-style neo-film noir dealings at the top level of international club football, or merely the end of the beginning? Football has always been populated my mountebanks and chancers, but the mounting involvement of characters like Roman Abramovich over the last few years built to this exceedingly baroque moment. Will the game's authorities, who are not exactly known for compunction in such matters, be forced to intervene? Or will we, the almost-innocent and largely powerless supporters of the game, simply have to watch in awe as a hyper-feral form of globalization sweeps all semblance of sense away?

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Regurgitation United!

A busy and exciting day in international football—so what better focus for a blog post than the debut of my new futsal team, Albina Going FC?

The Going (named in honor of North Portland, the former freestanding City of Albina, and a cool little street therein; attempted homage: Accrington Stanley FC) stepped out on the new, cushy plastic pitch at the fantastic, just-opened indoor venue Portland Futsal last night for its first-ever match against Open Division opponents Real Sur. Suffice it to say we lacked a full squad—we started the match with the minimum five players, none of whom had ever played a minute of futsal. Real, on the other hand, called upon a four-man bench and some big, husky, fast dudes who sort of looked like they knew what they were doing. However, futsal seems to be an even funnier old game than the full-sided version, its teeny-tiny pitch, lightning speed and frequent quick reversals of fortune lending an air of entertaining uncertainty to just about every second.

As a measure of our roster desperation, I started in goal, and managed to surrender four. However, AGFC's four fielders seemed to adapt quickly to this unfamiliar, internationally recognized indoor variant, and we got three back. And then Big Nick, one of our goalscorers, decorously stepped out into the alley behind Portland Futsal's warehouse digs to vomit. We were off to the proverbial flyer.

Reinforced by the half-time arrival of Young Adrian, our token sub-thirtysomething, and the gracious volunteer service of Portland Futsal owner Paul Lomanto in goal, the Going seemed poised to make a real match of it in the second half. Unfortunately, I was now in the field. One Real goal glanced into the net off my arse; I was solely responsible for another resulting from a bumbling give-away in our defensive half. Between the triad I gave up as 'keeper and those two defensive beauts, I was individually responsible for the difference in the 7-3 final score. Ad astra! A pretty move, indeed.

Next week's match against Casa Futsal II (what—a reserve team? we'll moider 'em!) should see the Albina boys approaching our full fearsome strength. So watch yerself, futsallers—we may spray half-digested food at you at any time.


Meanwhile, in other news: The NYT weighs in with a typically opinionated and dyspeptic interview with erstwhile US Nats coach Bruce Arena. Now installed at New York Red Bulls, aka the crappiest franchise in Major League Soccer, Arena repeatedly unloads on former boss (and "longtime friend") Sunil Gulati, Prez of the US Soccer Federation. Interesting that Arena, who led the White Buffalo to its entirely underwhelming performance in Germany, believes the real problems with soccer in America reside above his pay grade. Who knows—maybe he's right!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Barca Scores Crunchy Brownie Points

It's so damn cliche for lefty, right-on American soccer fans to clasp Barcelona to their breasts...but, honestly, when they pull shit like this, can you help it?

Thursday, September 07, 2006

The Beautiful Century

From the Solipsism & Laziness Department: This is Eleven Devils' 100th post. My four faithful readers will have noted that the blog has slowed to a crawl in recent weeks, and I'd have to say that its future is a bit uncertain at this point. So I thought I'd post a few inward-gazing thoughts for now, and let things take whatever new shape they may going forward.

The blog started at the beginning of America's strange summer-time soccer high season. (The first real post, as archive enthusiasts will see, concerned the Barca-Arsenal European Championship match.) As a huge soccer nerd and supposed professional writer, I knew that I would A) Spend a disgraceful amount of time watching football during working hours and B) Completely fail to persuade anyone to pay me to write about it. So, a blog, intended primarily to track ("cover" would be too lofty a word) the World Cup and the Portland Timbers' concurrent USL First Division campaign. If I managed the odd musing on the global, national and local state of football culture—which, apart from the weird majesty of the game itself, is what I'm really interested in—so much the better.

I flatter myself that it's gone fairly well. The blog has a few readers and a few commenters, which is about what I expected and hoped for. But the World Cup is long gone, and the Timbers' season has reached a bitter and unsatisfying end. (Venture over to the Timbers Army website for a portrait of a small club locked in what seems to be a permanent existential crisis.) So, while there is certainly much to write about in the world of football—from the forthcoming MLS championship to the glamourous Premiership to the twisted opera of Serie A—Eleven Devils' primary raisons d'etre have expired. I expect to continue to post here, because I love writing about football and only intermittently find other venues for doing so. Maybe I'll get back on the near-daily (or even multi-daily) posting schedule achieved during the World Cup. Maybe not.

For now, I find it useful to think about the Portland Timbers' home match against the Montreal Impact last Thursday—a 0-1 loss as it happened, but a great reminder of what football is really good for. Oh, the play on the pitch (and the disgraceful plastic pitch itself) was mostly a disaster. But the scenes in the stands and concourses were a delight. The Timbers Army, though perhaps a little thin with exhaustion after a frustrating and fruitless season, was in huge voice. A pair of bag-pipers and a fantastic horn player provided a haphazard but stirring soundtrack. Our team may have been a shambles for most of the season, but the Timbers fans united for two hours of free-spirited, creative, untamed, unprogrammed, non-marketing-oriented fun and life. If you've been to many sporting events in the USA recently, you know how rare that is. If you've been to a Portland Timbers match—or hung out with Chicago's Section 8 or DC's Barra Brava or any of the other little nests of dissenters who make up the vast, complex and growing American Football Nation, a force that could yet redefine this country's culture for the better—you know how valuable it can be.

Again, this ain't no sign off—just a reflection. Thanks to all who read.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Soccer Gods Spare Timbers International Humiliation

It is rare for any media outlet to take note of the United Soccer Leagues' First Division—the 12-team, three-country (if you count Puerto Rico, which FIFA does) loop of anonymous-to-the-wider-world clubs in which the Portland Timbers ply their humble (especially this season) trade. It is unheard of for the august international sport media to pay any attention to the competition. But, lo—The Guardian's new Sportblog suddenly swoops in today with a story dealing with Miami FC, Atlanta Silverbacks and Minnesota Thunder, a full quarter of the Division!

The hook for the story is, of course, Romario, the aged, fertile-in-more-ways-than-one Brazilian superstar who is slumming in Miami in his quest to pile up an alleged 1,000 career goals. Romario skipped his slated appearance in Portland earlier this year—and how fortunate for the Timbers that they're not on Miami's remaining fixture list as their horrible season winds down. Otherwise, writer Paul Doyle would likely have slapped Portland's beloved Men of Green with one of the uncomplimentary adjectives he applies to Miami, Atlanta and Minnesota: "rubbish," "even more rubbish," "pungently awful."

Speaking of the Timbers, their match against Impact de Montreal tomorrow night will likely be a festive occasion, despite Portland's ever-more-statistically-remote hopes of making the play-offs. The Timbers Army nurtures a rich hatred for the Quebecois club, which styles itself (with some justification) as the Class of the League. When you get that many former liberal-arts majors harboring a partisan grudge and throw in the French language, hilarity ensues.

And speaking of nice-round-number milestones, I notice that the very next XIDevils missive will be the blog's 100th post! How shall we celebrate, kids?

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Continental Op

The Champions League draw: international intrigue abounds.

Group A: Barcelona (Spain), Chelsea (England), Werder Bremen (Germany), Levski Sofia (Bulgaria).
—No free pass for either Chelsea or Barca: Bremen is 100-percent for reals.

Group B: Inter (Italy), Bayern Munich (Germany), Sporting Lisbon (Portugal), Spartak Moscow (Russia)
—What a sweet group! This batch wins the Old School award. How rad will it be if Spartak and Sporting dominate?

Group C: Liverpool (England), PSV Eindhoven (Netherlands), Girondins Bordeaux (France), Galatasaray (Turkey)
—A chance for DaMarcus Beasley to polish his resume a bit after a weak World Cup.

Group D: Valencia (Spain), AS Roma (Italy), Olympiakos Piraeus (Greece), Shakhtar Donetsk (Ukraine)
—C'mon Roma and Shakhtar! The Ukrainian club has been on the rise for a decade and is due a breakthrough.

Group E: Real Madrid (Spain), Olympique Lyon (France), Steaua Bucharest (Romania), Dynamo Kiev (Ukraine)
—If Dynamo can humble the over-rated Galacticos, the vodka's on me. Olympique Lyon seems to think it's a world-class club. Well, mes amis, now's your chance.

Group F Manchester United (England), Celtic (Scotland), Benfica (Portugal), FC Copenhagen (Denmark)

Group G Arsenal (England), Porto (Portugal), CSKA Moscow (Russia), Hamburg SV (Germany)
—Smooth sailing for The Arse. Who will be the second survivor? As with Dynamo, Spartak and Shakhtar, the Slavophile in me always wants to see ex-Soviet clubs do well.

Group H AC Milan (Italy), Lille (France), AEK Athens (Greece), Anderlecht (Belgium)
—Huh. Silvio Berlusconi's club ended up with a dead-easy draw. Weird.

Kup Krazy!

Now, I know that a lot of y'all soccer fans prefer to concentrate on the Vegas show that is the Premiership—you prefer your matches lightning-fast, your clubs steeped in tradition and cash, your championships for sale to shadowy Russian oligarchs. Understandable. Who doesn't love a shadowy Russian oligarch determined to ruin any semblance of competitive integrity? Huge fun.

But the United States does have, lest we forget, what you might call a "domestic game," and not only because many of the players are paid wages that illegal-immigrant maids would scoff at. (Recent reports suggest that some MLS developmental players earn less than $7 an hour.) And even as the European championships spin into gear, our homegrown competitions are reaching their climax. Last night, the US Open Cup—our simulation of the FA Cup, which just happens to be one of the most historic such tournaments on Earth—cut its field to four.

The semifinals, slated for 6 September (the USSF finally managed to carve out fixture dates for its supposed showcase tournament—one small step for man, one giant leap for Soccer House bureaucracy) look pretty tasty. Sadly, there are no lower-division giant-killers in the pack, but the four surviving MLS sides represent the best the league has to offer.

The Chicago Fire will take on DC United, a match between the two best-supported clubs in the league. (I'm not talking about raw numbers, here, but rather the crazed & creative passion of Section 8 in Chicago and DC's La Barra Brava and Screaming Eagles.) These two teams have come the closest, in the 11 years of MLS, to establishing bona fide club traditions worthy of comparison to European and Latin American football culture. If the league were judged on authenticity alone, these two sides would play for the championship every year. They also happen to be the only Cup teams I've seen play live. DC is in electrifying form—and seeing them draw Real Madrid only confirmed my admiration for Petr Nowak's boys in black. Chicago is having an up-and-down season, but is very, very dangerous, especially when Portland lad Nate Jaqua fires on all cyls.

I know much less about the Los Angeles Galaxy and the Houston Dynamo (formerly Houston 1836, the San Jose Earthquakes and the San Jose Clash). The Galaxy are thoroughly mediocre defending MLS and Cup champions, but this is probably the best chance for Landon Donovan et al to win a trophy this season, so they'll bring it. Dynamo seems streaky, but has also been the most consistently excellent team over the last few years of league history, despite loads of organizational instability. Dwayne De Rosario, all by himself, lends a singular menace to the Big Orange Thing.

(Isn't it awesome how you can freely interchange singular and plural usage when discussing football teams?)

The US Open Cup is a very cool tournament, but also a sad case of US Soccer failing to take full advantage of its assets. The blazers need to figure out how to put this competition in the spotlight a bit. Until they do, it's up to us nerds to pay attention—to love this little trophy with all our dorky hearts. C'mon! It's worth it!

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Who Likes Money? We Like Money! Who Likes Money? EVERYONE LIKES MONEY!

Liverpool's multimillionaires have saved their future paychecks by fending off a hellfire challenge from Maccabi Haifa, clinging to a 1-1 draw in Kiev that yields a 3-2 series win. That means the Big Payoff that the Merseysiders cleverly wrote into their season budget—a Champions League windfall estimated at 16 million pounds—is secure.

However, the Reds have ample reason to worry on the jet flight home: Sissoko, the brassy midfielder from Mali (!) who's provided the best moments of Liverpool's shaky early going, got a stretcher ride to the locker room. That's a cool 5M of the best right there...

Thoroughly Glazered

XIDevils is decidedly lazy in its reliance on the Guardian football site to spark the barely detectable synaptic crackles that pass for inspiration around here. But as I sit anxiously trying to "work" while awaiting the minute-by-minute commentary on the Liverpool v. Maccabi grudge match (it's like the World Cup is on again!), I find myself very amused by two contrasting items:

First, it seems like the brothers Glazer provoked a bit of trouble in Londontown. Everyone knows that all sensible Man United supporters (oh the poor lambs!) went Rebel last year under the scarlet non-league banner of FC United of Manchester. But a "vocal minority," shall we say, appears determined to continue resistance. The Manchester Education Committee? Sounds positively Maoist.

Meanwhile, in Birmingham, it seems Cleveland Browns owner Randy Lerner is being "greeted as a liberator," so to speak, by Aston Villa fans:

"The Villa supporters may be less than a month away from their own big change. 'USA, USA,' they chanted in support of the imminently expected new owner, Randy Lerner. 'It's not quite an Abramovich-type takeover,' said Villan Tom Downie, 'but getting rid of Doug Ellis is monumental in my lifetime of supporting the club. And I think the biggest surprise to Villa fans was that someone of Martin O'Neill's calibre - the best available manager on the market - would want to take on the job.'"

Could the two very different receptions serve as a how-to guide for future American investors in the Premiership?

Monday, August 21, 2006

Rendezvous in Kiev

A lovely swirl of shady cosmopolitan intrigue surrounds tomorrow's crucial Champions League qualifier pitting Liverpool against Maccabi Haifa. Haifa nicked an away goal at Anfield, meaning a crafty 1-0 win would send them through to the cash-crazy group stage. That would be bad, bad, bad for Liverpool, who are apparently "skint," as the Englandistanis like to say, and prudently budgeted their off-season expenditures assuming they'd bag a League berth. Brill! Absolutely brill!

But those are merely the atmospheric shadows. The real plot centers on the decision to play the match in Kiev (of all places) on the home ground of mega-historic Ukrainian club Dinamo. The Israelis claim Tel Aviv would have made a perfectly jolly host for this fixture, despite their country's continuing involvement in expeditionary military action in Lebanon. The Maccabi manager further claims that the Reds are dirty—reliant on their political muscle with UEFA and physical tactics on the pitch. (I know nothing about the Israeli league, but I'm *sure* it's the acme of graceful, free-flowing football, with nary a cynical tackle to be seen, and upright business dealings.)

Then you have Gerrard out with a stomach complaint...the club's luggage lost for a solid hour in what must have been, if my brief but vivid experience with Soviet airport construction and management are any guide, decidely grim circs...a pretty bad outing against Sheffield United on Saturday...Peter Crouch's strange body...

This thing is looking like an Alan Furst thriller. How many Ukrainian fans will take advantage of this strange drama? Would that the Royal We could be there...

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Mediocrity Erupts!

Ah, sometimes indifference makes all the difference. I watched Liverpool, to whom I've sworn provisional Premier League allegiance, play a thoroughly forgettable opening day draw against newly promoted (and, really, on a man-for-man basis, shockingly ugly, and I mean physically) Sheffield United. I saw my two fantasy league teams launch what promise to be drab simul-seasons. I'm set for another poor performance with my so-far-not-so-victory-rich indoor team tomorrow, and also contemplating starting a futsal side with a bunch of dudes who have never played that reputedly very difficult game.

And meanwhile, lurking in the deep background of my football existence, the Portland Timbers—who I have done a terrible job of supporting this year. If you remember the last scene of cinema classic 'Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,' you're familiar with the Timbers' general situation heading into their final games of the season. It is, essentially, mathematically impossible for the Timbers to make the First Division play-offs, except not quite: every other team in the league could collapse, suddenly fold (it is the USL) or be wiped out in a mysterious lightning strike. Yes, Chris Agnello's men have put together just that kind of awe-inspiring campaign.

But you know what? I'm thoroughly enjoying all of it. How upliftingly pure and old-school! Eh?

Friday, August 18, 2006

Enter the Dragons!

Not much to report after holing up in a former brothel in a dull Northwestern timber town for five days for the purposes of work and seclusion. For some reason, the citizens of Centralia didn't seem as excited about the English Premier League kick-off as many of my comrades in the football underbelly.

To me, the forthcoming Premiership season is not merely an impersonal entertainment; it's very, very personal. See, I'm debuting not one, but two fantasy sides tomorrow. CITADEL OF BLOOD FC has a very strong Liverpool flavo(u)r, and given that the Reds are *certain* to have a blinder all season on their way to offing Siberian Oil FC, the Citadel is likely to entomb its rivals in its Yahoo! sponsored league beneath a ziggurat of severed heads and well-earned points. Meanwhile, over on the official Premier League site, CANNIBAL ISLAND FC tangos to a distinct New World beat.

I've never engaged in this faaaaaan-tas-eeee tomfoolery before. Since I suck at almost all competitive endeavo(u)rs, I'm sure I'll suck at this, too. But at least I have the greatest team names of all friggin' time.

Monday, August 14, 2006

The Big Slow Down

Not that you'll be able to tell given how infrequently posts have been, er, dribbling out of late, but Eleven Devils will be on hiatus for the week.

And I'm sore as hell following a 6-2 shellacking on the indoor pitch. Yeeee-ach.

Alright, everyone, in your fake British accents, all together now: LATERS!

Thursday, August 10, 2006

It's...The XIDevils Real Madrid v. DC United Match Report!

While it may pale in significance compared to, say, major terror plots against a fleet of trans-Atlantic planes, the friendly (mostly) encounter between Major League Soccer pace-setters DC United and international club of glamour Real Madrid was quite an occasion. A crowd of over 66,000 filled Seattle's Qwest Field to worship at the hair-gel-smeared altar of Los Galacticos—with the unexpected-by-most added treat of a spirited stand by our own national capital's team.

The XIDevils National Desk, comprised of Yer Correspondent and his immensely patient wife, occupied two seats in the lower tier, with a lovely view of David Beckham's taut legs and male sport manicure as he patrolled Real's right wing through the opening stanza. But while Spice Boy Mania seemed to rule the passions of most, I was just excited to finally clap eyes on United, which has quietly spent 11 years becoming the Best American Soccer Club Of All Time. (A category that is, admittedly, not crowded.) Ruud Van Nistelrooy—meet Jaime Moreno and Alecko Eskanderian! Mr Beckham, may we present Young Master Adu! Everyone, please welcome Ben Olsen—he'll be the guy pummelling the bejesus out of your shins for the next hour and a half.

By now, everyone in the Calcio Conspiracy knows the result and has probably read some of the usual crop of "Shazam! Soccer IS Popular Here After All" coverage that always blooms after these occasions. So I'll make do with a few shots of observation in (more or less) no particular order:

ITEM: Ben Olsen rocks. The terrier-like, weird-bearded DC midfielder signalled his intentions early, when he tried a sneaky run through the heart of Real's defense. It came to nothing, but it was one of those little, subtle moments that tell you a player plans to get it on the right way. Olsen spent the entire evening stuck in Real's craw, relentlessly chasing balls, thwacking millionaires, launching attacks and otherwise acting as United's engine. He got up in Cassano's face; he got up in Robinho's face. After years of blue-collar labor for light MLS paychecks, the one-time wunderkind is now a wily, hardened soldier, one of the best we've got. If he were a little younger and a little more consistently included in the national team picture, I'd rate him the obvious choice to replace Reyna as Captain America.

ITEM: It's time to give Freddy Adu a break. It sometimes feels like everyone is dying for the Ghanian golden boy to fail. At the ripe young age of 17(ish), he's already had the New Yorker condescend to him in a lengthy feature that more or less implied that he's both washed-up and kind of dumb. He's been the subject of who-knows-how-many hit pieces on various on-line boards. But you know what? He's good. He made all kinds of useful, smart runs. He squared off against Roberto Carlos—which naturally involved a few embarassing moments—and took it like a man. He created DC's splendid equalizer with an enterprising thrust down the right flank an a highly counter-intuitive cross all the way to the other side of the box, where he found Gros (I believe) thundering along. Gros-Moreno-Eskanderian———GOOOOOOOL! But it was Adu's baby at the start.

ITEM: Fabio Cannavaro. The Italian captain received a huge ovation from the Seattle crowd when he entered at half-time. And while he only occasionally displayed the evil cunning with which he guided the Azzurri defense (frankly, the second half was a ragged mess, thanks to battalions of subs), he showed his steel a few times. Of all the Galacticos, I was most excited to see him and Robinho.

ITEM: Troy Perkins' save from a Roberto Carlos free kick. A man who works part-time at a bank to make ends meet vs. perhaps the most famous direct-kick taker in the world. A ballistic shot. A death-defying save, leading to a heroic goal-line scramble to preserve the draw. C'est magique!

ITEM: Robinho. Didn't show a ton, and when he did it was mostly to argue with Ben Olsen, who was clobbering him. But a few classy, hydraulic, futsal-inspired touches were enough.

ITEM: Van Nistelrooy. An annoyingly good, persistent striker, but DC shut him down, snaring him in the offside trap numerous times.

ITEM: Petr Nowak. The salty Polish manager should, on the strength of DC's performance this year, be in the picture for the US national team slot. Adu aside, United is hardly studded with international blue-chippers, but Nowak has molded DC into a stylish, confident, crafty unit. He could do the same with roughly the same calibre talent for the White Buffalo.

ITEM: The crowd. Though I've read some complaints about a lack of atmosphere, I thought it was fine. No, it was not a Saturday afternoon at Millwall by any stretch of the bean, but the knowledge, enthusiasm and diversity of this mob was very heartening. The turnout—on short notice, at premium prices—underscored how insane it is for MLS not to be in the Northwest. The league could have not one—not two—but three strong franchises in the Far Corner. Instead, 11 years on, it's still trying to make sense of Kansas City, moving heaven and earth to find a patch of parched Salt Lake exurbia to call home, et cetera. Oh, yeah—ownership, blah blah blah, stadiums, blah blah blah. What bullshit. Put teams in Seattle, Portland and Vancouver and let rip, I say! Get me Commissioner Garber on the Red Phone!

ITEM: Best memorabilia sightings:
—Zenit St Petersburg and Spartak Moskva scarves
—Multiple Portland Timbers scarves
—A Chico Rooks t-shirt.

ITEM: Worst moments:
—Half-time highlights montage of the Seattle Sounders' First Division championship last year. Even in victory, the Pod is pathetic to behold.
—Pre-game presentation of two typically hideous Dale Chihuly glass blobs to the two sides' captains. I'm sure Real Madrid's trophy case has some outre shit in it after all these decades, but what are they going to do with this thing? Is there a Spanish equivalent of Secretary's Day, so they can decently rid themselves of it?

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Premiership, Schmiership...

...What's going on at FC United of Manchester? Plenty, it would seem: the Red Rebels have signed Ryan Giggs' brother; recruited a soap opera star to play for their Reserves; and seen their erstwhile star striker depart for Portland Timbers sister club Halifax Town. Knowing nothing about the quality of the North West Counties League's top flight, I can't predict whether FCUM will steamroll their way to a second straight promotion with quite the unstoppable fury they displayed last year. It does seem, however, that the likes of St Helens Town will probably find themselves out of their, er, league.

Okay, enough rebellious populism—I'm off to see Real Madrid!

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Conrad's Heart of Darkness

Courtesy Du Nord (see the blogroll), another reason to love KC Wizards/USA defender Jimmy Conrad in the form of this quote re: his yellow-card offense against reluctant Chelski-ite Didier Drogba:

"So once the sideline play came I actually won the ball and I'm like, 'You know what? I'm going to hammer him anyway.' My friends back home will appreciate it. He was all high-fives after he kicks me, but when I kick him he doesn't want to give me a high-five."

This guy is so choice!

Sir Scarface Goes Great Guns

Exciting news for Arsenal fans, who've already enjoyed a *vigorous* close-season transfer frenzy: Ribery is coming. One of the most exciting players in the World Cup will undoubtedly thrive in Arsene Wenger's tres artistique set-up at the club's luxe new stadium. Note, though, if you click to the Graniad's story, that their correspondent reflexively refers to Wenger as "the Highbury manager." I guess "Emirates Stadium manager" will never have quite the same ring, eh?

Meanwhile, it looks like at least a couple other blue-chip moves are imminent before the big leagues kick off. I'm much more excited about following the Euro majors this season after the gripping soap operas of the World Cup, Zidane's skull, the Italian Job, etc. Should offer intrigue aplenty!

Friday, August 04, 2006

For God, Country and The Chicks in the Bikinis

I am to understand correctly that one of the four new Portland Timbers signings plays for the USA's national sand soccer team? I wasn't aware such an entity existed, but now that I am, I demand an immediate world championship! And where do I try out?

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Timbers Do the Shake

Say what you will about Portland Timbers manager Chris Agnello—and people have said plenty about the former Utah Blitzz/Real Salt Lake import—but he's not content to surrender as the team's season threatens to implode. Portland has added four new players in recent days, and cashiered a pair as well. The most significant pick-up is once-and-future Timber Alan Gordon, a sweet dude and lethal target forward who moved from Portland to a fitful stint with the LA Galaxy two years ago.

Gordon scored what must be one of the quickest debutante goals in pro soccer world history, knocking one in about 20 seconds into his first match. That was in the season when we shoulda won it all—if you consider a First Division championship "winning it all"—after posting the league's best regular season record, so maybe the guy retains a fragment of lost Timberball mojo. The former Oregon State striker has been reasonably productive as a reserve and sub in Los Angeles, too, considering he's faced injury problems and never cracked the regular first XI. Gordon must be wondering where his pro career is going as he wanders into the mess that is the Timbers; on the bright side, we need a forward who both knows he needs to score to keep putting food on the table and then actually acts like it.

Monday, July 31, 2006

The Surreal Life

In what surely must be some sort of performance-art project rather than a genuine match result, it seems Real Salt Lake, the worst team in MLS, defeated DC United, the best by far, on two stoppage-time penalty kicks. (The second officially occurred in the *96th* minute.) Sounds like the referee took his inspiration from Adidas' popular Merk+11 campaign during the World Cup. DC manager Nowak is shocked, but probably no more so than the 20,000-plus Real fans who dragged themselves to the game only to see their woeful side somehow smuggle its fifth win of the campaign. See, Timbers—there's hope!

IN OTHER NEWS 1: The ever-estimable Guardian/Observer media empire provides a fascinating post-mortem on the Serie A match-fixing scandal. The saga reads like a lost chapter from Peter Robb's incomparably weird and great Mafia book, Midnight in Sicily. Just another reason to pay more attention to Serie A this year—sometimes, you don't find out the actual result of a match (or league season) for months! The suspense!

IN OTHER NEWS 2: Yer Humble Correspondent made his debut with Muckrakers FC, an indoor team composed just about entirely of local journalists, at Beaverton's palatial SoccerPlex. We lost our Co-Rec III game by a 3-1 score, but our lone goal was a beautifully lofted shot from well outside the area from Lee Van der Voo (Lake Oswego Review). Ryan Frank (Oregonian) was absent, depriving the team of its first look at an all-redhead attack as YHC (Freelance, XIDevils) spent most of the game at forward. And we only scored once, you say? That's strange. Remember Newton Heath! We have a HUGE future in front of us.

IN OTHER NEWS 3: While on the subject of the indoor game, I'm psyched to check this place out. Never played futsal, but if it's how Ronaldhino got so good, I can't wait!

Sunday, July 30, 2006

The Losing Streak is In Its Last Throes, If You Will.

The Portland Timbers, to adopt au courant Pentagon/White House lingo, "turned the corner" last night, posting a majestic 0-0 draw against the Toronto Lynx. Portland's resolve was not sapped! The defense stood up to the fearsome Toronto attack, which has scored several goals this year, and preserved what manager Chris Agnello called "a decent result."

Hmm, a decent result. Yes. I suppose NOT LOSING to what is probably the worst professional football team north of Honduras is the decent thing to do. The momentum going into our six-game home can taste it!

Timbers fans, in addition to savoring one precious point from the team's two-game eastern swing, are pondering The Mystery of the Rio Grande Connection. The club's two signature offensive players, Hugo Alcaraz-Cuellar and Byron Alvarez, didn't even make the substitute list last night. Alcaraz-Cuellar came off in the 55th minute against Yes Virginia, There Is A Pro Soccer Team in Town FC, while Alvarez—who has struggled badly this year—didn't play or make the squad for that match either. What's going on? Have these two players, who've been a large part of the team's heart and soul for years, reached the end of their run in green and white? (On top of that, Alvarez's usual strike partner, McAthy, was dropped, too.)

Hey, I get it—our team sucks, we've been losing game after game, and the squad needs a shake-up. And of course, it's possible that unknown injuries, family emergencies or a diabolical strategy is responsible for Hugo and Bryon's disappearance. Whatever the case, if they're nearing the end of their time with the team, I hope Agnello does the decent (there's that word again) thing and gives them a proper send-off. Both have made big sacrifices to be part of this penny-wise, pound-foolish club, spent lots of time with fans, played their proverbial hearts out. They deserve a bow.

Next Friday, the woeful Minnesota Thunder come to the Park Formerly Known As Civic Stadium—pretty much the definition of a must-win match. Who will we see on the rock-hard artificial pitch?

Friday, July 28, 2006

Timbers Approach Terminal State

This is sad. Sad, sad, sad. A proud, beloved club, the Mighty Mighty Timbers, goes down in flames to something called the Virginia Beach Mariners. The 3-1 loss, rich with indignity (the Verdebianci stuck ancient assistant coach Gavin Wilkinson into the XI; managed just three shots; removed dynamic Hugo Alcaraz-Cuellar in the 55th minute; gave up an assist to the opposing *goalkeeper*), pushed the Timbers' winless streak to approximately 157.

After an encouraging midseason run, first-year manager/GM Chris Agnello's putative "new direction" looks just about set to blow apart at the rivets. He signed two fresh MLS cast-offs this week, which is either an encouraging sign of undying fight or a desperate may-day, take your pick. Does he know what he's doing? No one can tell, but the only empirical evidence is not encouraging. Agnello promised both to "build from the back" and produce a faster, more fluid and exciting futbol than the stolid English-Second-Division-Circa-1978 style that characterized the Bobbyball era. These days, we ain't gettin' either.

Over on the Timbers Army board, depression is approaching mid-winter levels. The only consolation—the only hope in sight—is that of the season's last seven games, six are at home. The last away match comes Saturday against the 3-10-3 (and likely marked for extinction after this season) Toronto Lynx. So a Great Escape to the playoffs may theoretically be possible. Unfortunately, Portland has played more games already than any team in the league, making their spawning run against the mathematical tide that much harder. One of those final games is against the fantastique Montreal Impact, which has lost just twice and is four points clear of the second-place Charleston Battery...with two games in hand.

Grim times, brothers and sisters, grim times.