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.