Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Kum On You Kitsap Kuddlers!

A Homeric death march of planes, trains, automobiles and one Moldovan cab driver fetched Eleven Devils back to the City of Thorns after a solid week in Redbullistan. I spent most of my time in New York: a) hassling busy professional journalists who had better things to do; b) drinking Brooklyn Brewing products; c) eating Ukrainian pickles on the Brighton Beach boardwalk.

So very little of footballing substance coalesced in the cranium brine, but various Items are on the boil all over the jogo bonito chart. Scattershot observations (sort of a prose version of keepie-uppie):

ITEM: I trekked to Gotham in large part because my gorgeous, intelligent wife worked on a small project involving a pair of reasonably well-known companies. While I swilled and gladhanded my way across two of five boroughs, she put serious hours into the production of a first-division media event. The sheer effort, stamina and dedication invested in this one happening filled me with wonder at the labors that will unfold, behind the scenes and completely unheralded, during next month's Big Show in Germany. It's fashionable (at least here in lefty Portlandia) to ascribe The Corporations the power to unleash their glitzy razzle-dazzle at whim. In fact, the countless sideshows that will surround the World Cup—think of them what you will, o purist footballniks—will absorb the creative energy of thousands of hardworking, skilled human beings. Worth remembering while your Che Guevara T-shirt is on tumble dry.

ITEM: While I didn't watch a minute of Team USA Fighting's singularly unenticing send-off tour (Morocco! Venezuela! Latvia!), the results do not exactly stuff a partisan heart with hope, do they? Reyna pulls up lame. Gibbs, ditto. Enter the awesome force known as Gregg "With Two G's" Berhalter. The Greatest American Team Ever Assembled—with Landon Donovan, Eddie Johnson and the Brians on the front line—manages three goals in 270 minutes. Against that kind of opposition? The blood veritably drains from the face. Will we stack our chips on two dire draws against the Czechs and Italians, praying Ghana is dead money going in? Say it ain't so, Bruce La Bruce!

ITEM: The Mighty Mighty Timbers show signs of life, with two straight wins (and even the one over Toronto counts). This weekend brings double-derby action, with one of the USL's patented Friday-Saturday series against the loathsome Seattle Sounders. With the side seemingly coming together and the usual Timbers Army invasion of Seattle's home ground in the offing, Portland should have its eye on taking four to six points.

Meanwhile, the background noise out of Seattle is grim: looks like the First Division champion* Sounders are likely packing their bags for Kitsap. It seems that after trying to make a go of it at more odd suburban locations than Starbucks, the Blue, White, Teal, Aqua, Seafoam Green and Whatever can no longer stomach crowds of dozens at Qwest Field. Distant and bucolic captive markets beckon. (In a related development, Sounders players will henceforth shuttle to matches in their moms' mini-vans.)

If the move comes off, the club will allegedly rename itself "Kitsap Sounders." As I've already argued on the Timbers Army message board, no club from Kitsap is worth hating. In the future, Portland fans may be forced to greet their erstwhile rivals with warm blankets, orange slices and comforting stuffed animals.

[*On penalty kicks AET. Against a club that immediately self-relegated to the Second Division.]

ITEM: I finally did spot a dude in a New York Red Bulls replica shirt, namely a paisan stuffing a hot-pepper sandwich down his gullet in the sad remains of Little Italy. Suffice it to say he was the only living evidence of Superclub Fever on the streets of New York.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

NuYorkican Dispatch

Two small football-related observations from the streets of New York City:

ITEM: The vaunted New York Red Bulls are, as far as I can tell, a complete specter here. I have seen no replica shirts, promotional material, paid media, guerrilla marketing—nothing. Maybe those crafty devils at Superclub headquarters are implementing some kind of beyond-stealth campaign to win over what should be one of the greatest soccer markets in the world. If stealth is indeed their aim, they're doing an amazing job.

ITEM: In the bathroom of Jimmy's Corner, one of the last blue-collar bars in Times Square, I spotted an anti-Malcolm Glazer graffitto and a pro-FC United of Manchester scrawl, in what appeared to be the hands of different anonymous artists. Now THAT is grassroots marketing.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Angello Comes Alive!

Gotham-bound hiatus notwithstanding—all Portland Timbers fans MUST immediately check out the amazing audio podcast at
The 107 Report. The citizen-journalists from the Timbers Army cornered new coach/GM Chris Agnello for an incredibly frank post-game chat (or maybe it's a rant) that offers the kind of insight into the Rochester loss that most lazy-ass mainstream sports scribes (me, for example) would never get.

If you've ever deplored the moronic, content-free pablum most coaches serve up when a mic's in front of their face ("We need to score some goals if we want to win..."), Agnello will blow your mind. He renders an unsparing verdict on the Timbers' current state:

"Too many naive kids on the squad."

"This team doesn't believe yet."

Chad Bartolme better keep his resume updated. For that matter, Agnello reiterates his promise to hand out pink slips and inject new talent if the side doesn't shape up. Truly, it's a blistering interview.

Beyond that, the Report tracks down Scot "With One T" Thompson and ex-Timber Aaran Lines, who played in the Rochester XI last night. And both those guys also offer refreshingly honest comments. Huzzah to the Report!

J'ai vu New York—New York, Ooo-Ess-Ah!

With last night's gruesome PTFC performance still lingering like a snake-vodka hangover, the Eleventh Devil (okay, I'll never do that again) is almost glad at the prospect of an early hiatus. Your Correspondent wings to New York—aka "Superclub" City—this evening via JetBlue's direct red-eye.

I expect that I will somehow resist overwhelming temptation to trek to the Meadowlands for Wednesday night's ultra-enticing NEW YORK RED BULLS V. FC DALLAS encounter, even though any time Energy Drink FC steps on the field, the phrase "beautiful game" is redefined.

So in the meantime, thanks to all you dozens of readers. Portland bhoys (and ghirls), keep the home fires burning—preferably with a pile of Toronto players at the center, eh?

Friday, May 19, 2006

And When We Say 'Nil,' We Really Mean 'Nil'


The Portland Timbers certainly managed to put together an unappetizing evening against Endangered Species FC tonight. The nil:one loss to the league-leading Rochester Raging Rhinos wasn't a rout, obviously, but neither was it the sorta plucky, richly-studded-with-moral-victories-and-glimmers-of-promise loss that leaves the fanboy afire for the next fixture.

On my first viewing of the retrofitted '06 Timbers, in fact, I believe I recognized the Timbers of old—oft caught in possession, frequently missing a non-concrete first touch on the ball, less than brimming with ideas in the midfield. Our strikers made next to no impression, but in their defense, incisive crosses were not exactly strafing the Rochester homeland. And have we ever—EVER—in modern Timbers history scored from a corner kick?

There is only one solution. We need fresh bodies. And by that, I mean the Toronto Lynx. Bring forth the sacrifice!

Will Rhinos Rampage? Or Woodsmen Run Riot?

Tonight, circa H1900, Portland's Mighty Mighty Timbers collide with the Ragin' Rhinos of Rochester, the USL First Division's most storied club—which unfortunately puts them at the top of a not-very-crowded category. The Men of the Deep Green have not had an easy time of it so far this season, as they adjust to a new coaching regime and a dramatically overhauled roster. Some guy named Romario aced the Timbers last week, followed by a loss to Occupied Colony FC in Port au Prince—I MEAN, Puerto Rico—making for an unfun annual tropical vacation.

Last year, the Rhinos used the Timbers for target practice at what I will call Civic Stadium. (Our home ground, as the Portlanders in cyberland know all too well, bears the name of a now-publicly-traded former Enron playing chip that kills salmon and steals our tax money.) Portland is espousing a "defense first" philosophy this season—in contrast to last year's "kick it hard, lads!" philosophy—which manifested itself with six goals conceded last weekend. So we shall see. The draw that some optimists are predicting on the Timbers Army boards would do nicely.

Thursday, May 18, 2006


A quick thank you to the mad obsessive responsible for the ne plus ultra soccer blog Du Nord for link support. Aside from having the bad taste to support the Minnesota Thunder, this guy is for reals, yo.

A Possibly Necessary Disclaimer

BTW, FWIW, WTF: The name of this blog owes nothing to the Manchester United Football Club, or any other football-related entity, interest group or lobby that uses the word "devil" in its self-identifying materials. It's named in honor of a 1920s German soccer film which I have never seen, but which had an amazing Russian-language poster for its Soviet release. I'm trying to find a digital version of same.

A Few Home Truths

Before this schmozzle proceeds, how's about a miniature biography of yer Honest Proprietor, filtered for football relevance, i.e., you won't have to read about any terrible, permanently scarring experiences endured when I were a youth.

I grew up in the not-so-wild wildlands of Montana—specifically, Missoula, a pacified college hamlet where conscientious parents began slicing orange wedges for their spawns' half-time refreshment sometime in the mid '70s. I made an inauspicious debut at half-back (that's what they called it then) for a U-7 team called The Mountaineers smack in the middle of Ron Reagan's first term. However, a tense international political situation forced me to abandon my nascent career on the pitch until the Cold War was safely won. The collapse of the NASL probably had something to do with that, as well.

Though dim memories of watching Mexico 86 somehow survive on my cerebral hard drive, it wasn't until Italia 90 that I again took serious notice of this strange game called "football" and actually played with the lower extremities. We all know that particular World Cup lives in infamy as a dire aesthetic low point, but all I remember is Cameroon, Gazza and the sweet mullets then in vogue. USA 94 provided a timely fresh infusion of the toxin; I even survived watching the entire final.

Then, Euro 96—Moscow—Guinness pints in the shadow of the Kremlin's glowing red stars—drunken Irish extra-nationals and tarted-up Russian mob molls—chanting Englishmen in Tverskaya Ulitsa—a true plunge into the frothy, salty bilge of the global game. You could say the boy was hooked. I've since made feeble efforts to get a chant going with six other dudes at a University of Montana women's game; been the only white guy in a pub full of Koreans watching Man U in Brisbane, Australia (?); stood on a 100-percent genuine English terrace, surrounded by Blackpool away supporters as pre-Premiership Fulham knocked 'Pool around mercilessly in the old Second Division; and spent far, far too much time pondering the prospects of our own Portland Timbers FC, pride and joy of the United Soccer Leagues First Division and the only half-decent football club between Los Angeles and Vancouver, BC.

I also developed a weakness for compound adjectives, m-dashes and run-on sentences. Sorry in advance.

In my so-called professional life as a journalist, I've wormed football into print at every half-chance. Witness the frail "local angle" on which I draped Or last summer's Or the arguably disproportionate amount of ink spilled over Or any number of other bits of hackery foisted on the reading public over the years.

So there you have it. Some of it. It's going to be a great summer, despite this blog's best efforts.

SuperGeek United

Good Jehosophat, what have I done? A few half-sozzled dribblings, a couple blantantly self-promotional emails, and suddenly a certain Public gets a mind to look in...

Thanks, first, to the new-but-already-brilliant Portland sokkah blog for a link and a highly premature prediction of quality. Besides their love for the superlative Eduardo Galeano, the APM troika writes well on fetching columns of navy blue and seafoam green. Soon they'll see just how little I know about the blog form, design & functionality, and I'll be exposed for the prattling fraud I am.

Via their link, it's come to my bleary attention that another Portland scribe, the estimable Shawn Levy, is tracking England's heroic progress towards an inevitable exit on penalty kicks in his The whole operation, in fact, is based here in Portland—home of the Mighty Mighty Timbers and secret capital of world football. Obviously, a vibrant and bristling batch of football blogs is taking shape here in Thorn City, and I am more than honored to be a part of it.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006


Ah, the woozy, heavy-skulled feeling induced by two Guinness pints at lunch...the prospect of a mostly wasted work day as H1500 looms...a film of beer-sweat brought on by glaring mid-day heat...

Truly, the season has begun.

Only an ever-so-slightly out-of-touch American football fan such as your Humble Correspondent could view the UEFA Champions League final as something of a campaign kick-off. But given that I live in a home unencumbered by ESPN or any fancy satellite package, and was rendered unable to perform by weekend over-indulgence for the recent FA Cup Final, today's clash between FC Barcelona and Arsenal marked my first opportunity to find my form for the imminent World Cup.

So come 11.15, I fast-pedaled it from my North Portland estate to the cheery (if a little cheesy) confines of Costello's Travel Caffe. The Northeast Broadway boite comes complete with kitschy Euro-decor (Paris Metro maps in the men's convenience, etc.) and a couple hi-def flat screens. A small bipartisan crowd gathered around the two portals, surrounded by wi-fi'ing cafe-goers who really couldn't have cared less. A decent pint or two and a vaguely Neapolitan sanna-wich saw me through.

Unlike some—ahem—I pretend no particularly strong allegiance to any European club, including the two august names who stepped out at the Stade de France ce soir. Maybe some day I'll live in London or Barcelona for awhile and develop a legitimate full-time interest in one of these clubs (or maybe it'll be Lokomotiv Moskva—who can tell?). Meanwhile, I came in rooting for good-to-spectacular football, just like the rest of Planet Calcio. I respect Arsenal's tradition and their slick globalist flair of recent years; you can't help but love Barcelona's fans-first ethic and the amazing, often ravishing squad they field. For my part, though, I just wanted these two titans of the post-modern game to put on a beautiful show.

Well, not quite. It was a gripping encounter, with Arsenal imposing itself early and Barca looking a little lost as it flung long balls down the field. The red-card to Lehmann, Arsenal's keeper, in the 17th minute skewed the game-play considerably, as Arsenal reverted to its primordial identity as a blue-collar defensive team. Cole turned in a fiery performance, reversing innumerable Barcelona thrusts, and the Londoners' reserve goalkeeper managed to look like a man of destiny for awhile. (That mustache, though? There's a man who didn't expect to be on international television today.) Age and guile trumped youth and beauty when Sol Campbell rose to convert a free-kick, a nice moment for a player who's figured prominently in the world game for several Presidential administrations.

Inevitably, though, Barca's endless attacking play snapped the 10-man English club. Larsson, an inmate of Barcelona's bench who always seems to end up on the score sheet when he plays, assisted on two lickety-split goals. Soon it was time to drain the glass and head back out into the sun.

Matches hyped to the sky, as this one was, almost always disappoint. Billed as a balletic freestyle battle between Ronaldhino and Henry, this game turned into a gritty, touch-and-go test of wills between a battering offense and a desperate defense. It wasn't art—but it was damned entertaining. And, for yours truly, it made a fine summer debut.