Friday, June 30, 2006

Come Home, Brucie! All is Forgiven!

Well, well, well. Who knew that Day One of the quarterfinals would leave me in such a charitable frame of mind towards Bruce "La Bruce" Arena and the much-maligned US side? After Jose Pekerman comic mismanagement of Argentina, that team's heartwarming display of post-game sportsmanship, and Ukraine's shambolic performance, I have to say that Team America Fighting's record and comportment doesn't look bad at all.

I took in the morning fixture at Red Wing, a spacious Southeast Portland cafe. The place was absolutely packed, with about a 60/40 partisan tilt towards Argentina. (Predictable in right-on Southeast—give Portland a Spanish-inflected anything with a hint of developing-world chic to it and you've got us at hello.) Weirdly, a lot of people seemed psyched at the prospect of penalties, which remain the most ridiculous way to settle a 120-minute deadlock except for just about any other method I can think of.

Despite their caterwauling and bad behavior afterward, Argentina's departure is a major tragedy for the tournament. Though I sorta like these Sexy Jurgenified Germans, they are still...Ze Germans. Great country. Awesome sausage. Wonderful beer. Football that is about as much fun to watch as dogs playing Frisbee. Ah, well—they're surely on track for a beautiful, riveting, free-flowing encounter with Italy. Eh?

But something tells me that today was a mere appetizer for tomorrow. Can either/both England and Portugal overcome their neurotic, self-destructive tendencies? Will Figo, at the very least, drop a skull-bomb on Rooney? And will France/Brasil be as great as it could be, realizing all the latent promise of this World Cup, or will it be yet another slightly over-hyped minor disappointment?

Tune in, kids! Meanwhile, I hope you're all reading the good stuff over at A Pretty Move, Portland's finer soccer blog.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Thuram Smacks Le Pen

I'm officially neutral in the matter of Brasil v. France. (Though if France does win, it will give Portland Timbers fans a good reason to learn La Marseillaise before Romario plays here on Sunday.) If you're looking for an excuse to get off the samba wagon and back the French, here's a good one: Do it to piss off French rightwingers. And because Lilian Thuram is a mensch.

'Late Last Night, While We Were All In Bed / Miss O'Leary Left a Lantern in the Shed'

With the World Cup on hiatus for, oh, about another 16 hours, the time is ripe to review your correspondent's expedition to Chicago last weekend for "research," i.e., what freelance writers tell the IRS they're doing just about all the time. The Chicago Fire of Major League Soccer—which, yes, still exists, albeit in a football dimension not so much parallel as perpendicular to the Big Dance in Germany—opened their brand-new, very-own stadium in quaint suburban Bridgeview. ELEVEN DEVILS, the most intrepid sokka blog based between North Williams Avenue and I-5 (that I know of) was there!

Just getting to Toyota Park, to give the Fire's new home its corporate-sponsored name, tells you something about soccer's historic place and status in this country—or, actually, lack thereof. Cities don't come any more sports-nuts than Chicago. The big local franchises all claim high-visibility chunks of prime real estate; location aside, palaces like Wrigley and Soldier Field communicate history, grandeur, deep-rootedness, importance. Toyota Park's address, not so much.

The Orange Line takes a visitor out to Midway airport, through an urban landscape ranging from merely drab to total Mad Max forsakeness and blight. Scrap yards; freeway underpasses sprouting alien undergrowth; boarded-up strips of gentrification-proof South Side real estate; trucking facilities; rail yards; strip malls; Central Steel and Wire Plant C. As I rode west last Sunday, the glitzy Loop skyline receded into a drizzly haze. At the airport, the piped-in announcement informed all that "This is Midway, as far as this train goes," which struck me as a peculiarly melancholy way to put it.

Then, a long wait at the grim metro bus terminal just outside Midway for an elusive beast called the Toyota Park Express. After a good hour—it was, admittedly, way early—I spotted four guys in Chicago Fire red at a distant platform. I sidled over to introduce myself, in my trademark hyper-dork fashion, as a roving journalist on a hard-to-explain mission to plunge into the heart of Fire fan culture. These four lads, all but one down from Minneapolis for the weekend, nicely took me under wing. We decided to split a cab to the stadium. The cab driver seemed none too clear on the existence of said sporting ground, but managed to find it during a longish drive in which also showed us his straightrazor and recounted several stories of "fucking motherfuckers up."

We passed through a huge patch of non-descript Old Style drinkers' suburbia, ending with an actual blue-and-green water tower rising in the distance. But lo, there it was—Toyota Park, a smart little pocket-sized stadium clad in red brick and steel, glimmering at the far side of an unpaved lot as though deposited there by football-loving extraterrestrials on a fly-by of outer Chicagoland.

Dan, a transplanted Chicagoan, put it like this as the cab rattled away and we started our march across the sand-blasted wastes between us and the grandstand: “Holy shit, it’s a real goddamn stadium. I was at the first game the Fire ever played. I was up in Milwaukie talking to a friend of mine and said, y’know, that MLS thing is starting up, and the first Chicago game is this weekend. Do you wanna…? So we came down and went to Soldier Field, and it was crazy. Like 40,000 people just going crazy—Polish hooligans setting off flares, security guards chasing them all over the place. It was fantastic. But to see it come to this point is pretty amazing.”

Up close, Toyota Park is actually pretty amazing—a cozy jewel box set with a glorious emerald centerpiece, its 20,000-seat scale designed to pack MLS-sized crowds close to both touchlines and beer stands. The corner flags are maybe ten yards from the nearest spectator seats. Flashy electronic signs ring the upper deck. Concessions to Mammon are everywhere—from the McDonalds-sponsored kiddie pavilion on the concourse to the concert stage situated directly behind one goal. But the stadium's blade-like steel roofs overhanging the main stand approximate the look at feel of a classic European ground, and when I walked in an hour before match time, hand-made banners hung by an advance raiding party of fans overwhelmed the corporate advertising.

Just outside the park, I found the tail-gate party organized by the honorable comrades of Section 8, the umbrella group for hardcore Fire fans. Beers cracked, grills sizzled, the trade in commemorative scarves and T-shirts was brisk. Section 8 may be the finest supporters' alliance in MLS—though, of course, the folks in DC, LA and elsewhere would put up a stiff argument there—and today was arguably the biggest day in Fire fandom history since the advent of the club.

While I had a lot of really good conversations with a lot of very cool Section 8 people, on topics ranging from the day's World Cup action to Renzo Piano's forthcoming new building at the Art Institute of Chicago, the spirit of the hour was summed up nicely by a kid named Mike.

“We’ve got our own fucking stadium! I can’t believe it.”

As kick-off loomed, Section 8 streamed into its designated home, a tract of general admission bleachers behind the east goal. The Fire and the New York Red Bulls completed their warm-ups, and so did Section 8—by the time the match began, the non-stop barrage of streamers created a sedimentary layer of crepe paper about a foot deep around everyone's ankles. Everyone stood; everyone sang. An enormous banner unfurlted from the bottom of the section to the top. We were off; the rest of the stands were packed; Section 8, obviously just as crucial to the show as the action on the field, soared to meet the occasion.

Bouncing. Chanting. Smoke bombs. Dudes pouring beer down each other's throats. Songs detailing a landmark moment in Chicago history (and lending me this post's headline). Another refrain, about as elemental as it gets for a Chicago sports fan: "New York sucks! New York sucks!" Two goals for the Fire, zippo for the Bulls, and a serenade of the traditional fave "You fat bastard/You fat bastard/Who ate all the pies" directed at meaty New York goalkeeper Tony Meola. Polish girls in booty jeans. Arab girls in headscarves. Stadium announcements in English and Spanish. Hulking tattooed skinheads and Ph.D candidates, plus huge numbers of 'burb soccer kids standing back in awe and fascination. Suffice it to say that on this night, no remote corner of suburbia in any American metropolis rocked harder than this.

And by the end of the night, it was just about possible to say that even though this stadium's distance from the heart of things testifies to soccer's former internal exile status, the scene inside it suggests a much different future.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

And They Say Irony is Dead

Ghana apparently feels they didn't get a square deal from the referee. Huh.

The Usual Suspects

This World Cup went through its "Rocky I & II" phase, when tales of gritty, hearty, colorful underdogs abounded. C'mon, you Soca Warriors! Allez Sparrowhawks! USA! USA!

Then, thanks to the referees, it entered something of a "Casablanca"-meets-"Dog Day Afternoon" reality, a realm of violence, intrigue and incompetent officials barging around issuing comically ineffectual orders.

Now, though, the final eight resembles nothing so much as a formula heist film in which a bunch of aging, veteran crooks get together to pull One Last Job. The whackings of Ghana and Australia (and Suisse, too, I guess) took out the last real outsider hopes, leaving a bracket that just about any World Cup in the last half-century could have produced. Italia! Portugal! Eng-er-lund! Brasil! Argentina! Ze Germans! Les Bleus! And, of course, the pale, unsettlingly skinny ghost of the Soviet Union in the form of Ukraine, which always provided a huge chunk of the great CCCP squads that regularly made deep runs back in the day.

So much for the underdog, and for every continent besides Europe and South America. When the World Cup gets serious, apparently only one script will do.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Age & Guile 3 : 1 Youth & Beauty

Several posts ago I suggested that the knock-out rounds mark the moment when Romance is Dead at the World Cup. Romance may not be dead—I think Ribery was trying to find a date in the stands after France bounced Spain (or...what was he doing?)—but Youth is definitely on the ropes. The highly carbonated Spanish kids, whose fresh-legged furia has been one of the pure aesthetic delights of this World Cup, go out to the balding, battle-pocked ancient mariners of France.

Suddenly les Bleus, who looked horrible early on, seem possessed of mettle and wisdom that would trouble just about anyone, but maybe callow-looking Brazil especially. Unlike the trio of teams who've made the quarters without doing anything very impressive (England, Brazil, Ukraine—and no, I don't count their 4-0 pasting of the House of Saud as impressive), France is gathering steam and the kind of emotional momentum you can't quantify. Was there a dry eye in the global house as Zidane and Barthez—guys who've just about grown up together in the unforgiving public eye—strolled off arm in arm to contemplate a reunion with the Selecao? Fantastic stuff.

Normal Service Restored!

The crucial news'n'views of Eleven Devils return this morning to find the well-fed Brazilian team leading Ghana's National Diving Squad 2-0, which is good news in my book and bad news for the legion of Black Stars bandwagoneers. Sheesh—some people will fall for anything wrapped in Bob Marley colors.

There is much to report, so watch this space, oh faithful reader(s). In the meantime, let's all hope that France v. Spain can erase the farcical memory of Portugal v. Netherlands and (what sounds like—I mercifully missed most of it) the exercise in torturous futility that put Ukraine into the quarterfinals. My money is on la Furia Roja.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Postpone the Seppuku

On further reflection (and after a series of cooling beverages), I've come to grips with the United States' exit from the World Cup. I can't improve on the massive and well-considered (if, of course, arguable on a case-by-case basis) player ratings here. But a few additional, potentially worthless thoughts do come to mind.

First, getting out of the group phase of the World Cup is actually supposed to be quite hard. You wouldn't know it from the groups England and Mexico ended up in, but it is. Ask Croatia, Poland, Cote d'Ivoire or Japan—all countries that came into the tournament with an eye on the Round of 16 if not beyond. You don't go to the World Cup to have an easy time of it. You go to play against the best. We failed twice and semi-succeeded once against a truly mighty team. So the most dire proclamations, on this blog included, are probably a little extreme.

Second, the real question is why we were in today's position to begin with, vulnerable to a couple shady calls and a wily, poaching team. Why were we such easy marks for the Czech Republic? I think the answer has to do with the character and experience of our players as much as their ability. As Bunco Parade points out in the post linked above, many of our players—and certainly the backbone of our player pool—play the bulk of their football in criminally undervalued MLS games, with no pressure or particular need to get results. The Italy game proved we have steel, but we lack gravitas, the ability to play our way out of tough spots.

Third, I think the Bruce Arena era is over. Shocking conclusion, I know. Arena took over this team when it was in an utter shambles after 1998. He took it a long way, in effect guaranteeing it a future. The USA is the dominant team in North America; a tough team to beat in any circumstances. But we need to leap up a level in tactics, style, player development and results. It's time to thank Arena for a Hall of Fame effort and move on.

Fourth, let's not forget that just 16 years ago, Team USA was a goofball bunch of college kids whose mere presence at Italia 90 was considered a temporary suspension of the laws of physics. We had no real professional league. Soccer itself was more or less the sports equivalent of slivovitz. We've squeezed about four decades of football evolution into one and a half. And despite a ceaseless propaganda war against it, the game is now all over the place: MLS, USL, ethnic leagues, adult leagues, youth leagues, the women's game, Euro games on satellite, etc.

Besides, one of the cool things about the World Cup in the 'States is that fans aren't in constant psychic meltdown over the national team's fortunes. We're going party through 9 July regardless. How boring would it be, anyway, if we were already the best? If soccer was the nation's obsession and Claudio Reyna was king of the world instead of Ronaldhino? That wouldn't be any fun at all.

PROGRAMMING NOTE: Our demographic research here at Eleven Devils ("The Football Blog That Could, But Didn't") indicates that we have about nine readers. Hopefully, a hiatus of a few days won't unduly inconvenience any of you. I'm off on a secret mission—reports to follow.

Lessons Learned

ITEM: Ghana: a cynical bunch of time-wasting, diving cheats. Still, pretty capable, eh? When we're fully mature as a team, this is the kind of game we'll win comfortably. Until then, this is the kind of team that will forever be our undoing—cheap, chippy, opportunistic but touched with just enough class. Here's hoping Brazil puts nine past them.

ITEM: Merk. Who gave him a whistle? I wish the Australians had lynched him instead of merely F-bombing him.

ITEM: Deuce. Even in defeat, that guy is the MAN. Do not mess with Texas.

ITEM: Disappointment aside, it's great to see the likes of Jimmy Conrad and Ben Olsen—men who slave for relative pennies in MLS—get a moment on the premier stage. Both played well.

ITEM: Landon Donovan's shrink is in the money. That kid needs some sort of intervention. How do you—if you happen to be a professional goalscorer in, say, a crucial World Cup match—not crack it at the net when you're free in the box?

ITEM: Screwed by the ref. Denied by the post. You still must find a way to win, and we are lacking the X-factor that makes that possible.

ITEM: Even though we're out, I think this World Cup will, in retrospect, be looked at as a turning point for the game in this country. The cafe I went to this morning was packed beyond SRO. Friends of mine who've never taken notice of the sport were hanging on this match. We owned the terraces against both Italy and Ghana. Our team is a long way from becoming one of the elite, but the support is getting there. I don't necessarily want or need America to become a nation of soccer fanatics—hey, I used to be able to get a seat on these occasions—but it seems like people are both enjoying and caring about this tournament, and that's fantastic.

Alright. Now I can—aaaaaaaah—relax and enjoy this thing from here out. C'mon Brazil! You'll have to handle hemispheric payback for us.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006


Sorry. Just had to be the 1,503th blogger to deploy that lame historical/cinematic reference.

In all seriousness, prepare for 90 minutes of sheer hell. Sure, Ghana could blow us out. Or we could blow them out. But somehow I feel like this one will be fought on the knife's edge. Ghana is formidable, but seems like the sort of side we match up well against—if we can contain their speed and interrupt their flow, we can look to counter fast out of midfield. And pray. We should do lots of prayin'.

Win or lose (or draw, which will come to the same thing as losing), I just want a game USA can be proud of. Fun! Goals! More blood from Brian McBride (if he plays, which I'm still against).

We'll see you on the dawn patrol.

Mexico: Path to Glory!

If only the US had been drawn in a group where beating Iran, stumbling to a draw against Angola and then losing to Portugal in semi-comical fashion equalled qualification, eh? Argentina must have the mendoza on ice already—er, you know what I mean.

This Post Sponsored by the United Colors of Benetton

Two items from Monday's print-edition New York Times belatedly caught my eye last night, both illuminating some of the far-flung, small-p political ramifications of the World Cup: how this tournament intersects with life and culture in some of the globe's less jolly quadrants.

First, from a summary of the Times' excellent World Cup blog:

"...[A]n Iran fan writes to The Times blog: 'World Cup would have been a great opportunity for us ordinary Iranians to remind the world of our humanity. We are a lonely people: oppressed by our own regime at home and dehumanized by the media abroad. How fitting would it be if we could use this chance to overcome this loneliness, even if for a short time. Alas that it is not going to happen...'"

If that doesn't shake you up just a little bit, you've been dehumanized yourself. "A lonely people"? I don't think I've ever read a more heartbreaking phrase.

Then, from the serious—grimly, grimly serious—A Section, reporter Marc Lacey files under a Mogadishu dateline regarding Shariah-slinging Islamic courts' take-over of the Somali capital. At the top:

"Flush from a military victory earlier this month that caught Washington and the world by surprise, Islamic militiamen have begun waging smaller battles—cultural, not military ones—in and around Somalia's shellshocked capital.

"A week ago, when Mexico and Iran were still playing the first half of their World Cup soccer match, gunmen allied with the Islamic courts burst into a tiny theater in the Hiliwaa neighborhood, condemned the place as ungodly and angrily switched off the television set."

It's all very well for us pampered Westerners to spend the Cup taking the piss out of each other and agonizing over Rooney's match fitness. These two unrelated pieces reminded me why football matters in the first place, beyond the fun and aesthetic qualities of the game itself. It's a lingua franca—a chance for utterly unlike people to share, albeit briefly and imperfectly, some communication.

For the Iranians, it's a chance to act like a normal nation and have a good time (and to the regime, no doubt, it's an unwelcome reminder that normal nations exist). For the Somalis, it's respite from mindbogglingly awful history—a chance, in a way, to indulge in cosmopolitan, worldly pleasures of the flesh.

No wonder fundamentalists and absolutists—when they're not exploiting football to gain more power—distrust or hate the game. It can provide, at its best, a vision of a freewheeling, unfettered humanity that competes fiercely, but only over something that doesn't really matter. It's a deliriously impure melting pot of styles, languages, body types, racial backgrounds, cultures, haircuts. And no wonder the self-parodying righteousness of those Somali Islamists finds a faint echo in the gaseous xenophobia and self-satisfaction of American soccer-bashers. They may not have anything else in common, but they share a fear of (or disinterest in) The World Out There. And football is nothing if not The World Out There.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006


Well, England certainly did manage to make a drama out of winning their completely, relentlessly average group, didn't they? Paraguayan and Trinibogian sides that would be lucky to finish atop the USL First Division in a full league season made them look average, while Sweden made them look...hilarious!

I don't know why I'm taking unaccustomed joy in rooting against this England team. Maybe the endless anti-Yank jibes in the Brit press, which I follow with masochistic and time-wasting faithfulness, finally got to me. Or maybe it's because of the fans—and I'm not talking about the actual Englishmen who follow the team, bellowing and attempting to rid the world of lager. They have an excuse: they're English. With all due respect to my new friends at A Pretty Move, who seem to be pulling for the Lions, England's many American supporters are beginning to drive me cross-eyed crazy.

Example: I caught the second half of today's match at a Portland Parks community center. Though I'd heard reports of weak crowds at this particular venue, the room was just about packed, with say 50-60 people, almost all supporting England. Fine, fine. I too went in hoping they would stick a few goals down heretofore uninteresting Sweden's gullet, opening the way for a Trinidad miracle. However, Sweden's hell-bent resolve to try to win the group, combined with Wayne Rooney's demented-infant face and bench tantrum (lord, I hate that—you got to play in a World Cup match, son) quickly won me over to Team Sverige. The final straw: when, after Gerrard's excellent goal, an obvious American started yelling "Scous-ah! Scous-ah!"

Man. It's the football equivalent of pronouncing "Nicaragua" with a phlegmy faux-Spanish accent.

ANYWAY, to conclude this rambling post (who needs editors?), I've always liked and cheered for England in the past. Something has come between us. I expect that if they pull off a miracle defeat of feisty Ecuador, I'll slowly come around to wishing them well—maybe even cheering them on if they come up against Ze Germans or anyone else I find less sympathetic. For now, though, we are...estranged.

Crouch: Cheating Slime

We all know it happened. See the nefarious evidence in fuzzy, out-of-synch YouTube glory here.

Of course, if a US player did the same thing, I'd probably be saying, "Well, that's soccer...can't be too dainty about it."

Deflation Index

I know I'm not alone in thinking that the World Cup—every World Cup—loses a little of its fizz right about now. We've seen everyone. There are few real surprises left—no one will be shocked if Ghana beats the US, for example, in the way they were shocked by Ghana beating the Czechs. (Nor will anyone be surprised if we beat them.) I suppose Japan v. Brazil might have the makings of a major upset, but Japan hasn't made much of an impression so far. The Argentina/Nederlander game would be circled in red on everyone's calendar, but both have already advanced. Toothsome Ivory Coast is soon to say au revoir.

Of course, if this afternoon's double feature looks to unfold in a way that would put Trinidad Team Fighting into the knock-outs, that will be gripping. Mostly, though, Romance Is Dead and it's time to get serious.

Now we're in the chippy miniature era that falls like proverbial clockwork between the best group games and the knock-outs. Everyone's complaining about the refs; that Brazil hasn't met expectations (have they ever?); that the USA just don't play right but still might go through; that France is too old, etc. It's enough to make me want to fast-forward the next few days and go straight into the Round of 16, when the tournament becomes less a Russian novel—after getting half its characters and plotlines sheered away—and more of a pacy techno-thriller blasting with geometric inevitablity towards The End.

I always miss the group stage when it's done,'s's like...sniff...when we were young.

Monday, June 19, 2006

A Scene From a Foreign Newsroom

"Morning, Geoff."

"Morning, Phil."

"What do we have today, then?"

"Er, to be honest, I dunno, Geoff. I was out getting rat-arsed until all hours last night. 'Cor, me head!"

"I'm right there with you, son. Every time my mind wanders to Wayne Rooney's metatarsal, I suddenly need a drink."

"Gawd, don't remind me. So what should we do, then?"

" there an African team playing today? We could get another patronizing backgrounder on their nation's fraught transition to democracy and how the people's joyous love of football helps it along."

"Have you seen the scoreline from the Ghana match? Best not patronize those boys—they're looking like they could shred England."

"Really? Oh, my word. Well...Are USA playing today?"


"Wonderful! Our work here is done, my friend. We'll send Marina out to find some fat Yanks who she can mock. And then we'll have that bloke in Philly, Steven, do a blog post about the colourful ethnic stew, divided loyalties, et cetera. Chuck in a couple dodgy political referenes, and that will fire up the septics-haters nicely."

"Fantastic! Where do you fancy for lunch, then?"

"Preferably a licensed premise."

"Of course!"

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Timbers Do the Double!

Well, not really—that's just fun to say. Our beloved USL First Division squad did manage, however, to grind out two road draws on two consecutive nights against two of the league's toughest franchises. My, that's lots of 2s to accompany our two points. One of which was earned via a 2-2 scoreline!

(Can you tell how desperately hung over I am? People shouldn't get married, or at least shouldn't invite me. I become a danger to myself and others.)

The true-grit "results" (as we starchy football realists like to say) give the Timbers five points from three straight road games. Taking road points off Rochester and L'Impact de Montreal (quoi?) also bodes extremely well for the Timbers' future play-off durability and coach/GM Chris Agnello's work on a reportedly near-nonexistent budget. The boys must be brimming with self-belief; if we can blow the universe's mind by actually winning away against Vancouver, they could become a true force to be reckoned with.

The Fairness Department...

...compels me to report that The Oregonian, Portland's daily, did in fact generate its own Kaiserslautern dateline for USA v. Italy, with a pretty good match report written by a stringer. In a second dose of unaccustomed "balance" here on Eleven Devils, I also note that The O reporter thought highly of Brian McBride's performance in the siege effort. I still think he should be swapped out for the more dynamic EJ—he is, after all, a striker who has not yet managed to strike—but she was there.

Bring Me the Head of Daniele De Rossi

Upon further consideration of yesterday's weirdness, I reckon Mastroeni did deserve a red for trying to amputate that Italian gent's leg. De Rossi's elbow, though, could be a prosecutable offense. The Italians talked all week about how unfamiliar the Americans were to them, which must of have been true if they didn't know that Brian McBride sheds blood at the slightest provocation, let alone full-scale assault and battery.

Everyone's talking up the brave American effort (even the hard-to-impress Amy Lawrence), and it was a thing of steely beauty. With Ghana playing the sexy football they showed against the Czechs, Thursday should be awesome. Two outsider teams with everything to play for? Tasty. (Meanwhile, those manic-depressive Euro teams need to sort their shit out as well, making for a riveting double feature.)

While brushing past issues psychoanalytical, my current theory on Team USA is that we (yeah, I said "we") only play well when we have something to prove. See v. Portugal and v. Germany in 2002, or any game against the Mexicans. The '02 quarterfinal finish and subsequent FIFA rankings inflation left us over-impressed with our own credentials heading into the Czech game, but once we were properly drubbed, collective manhood questioned, etc., it triggered something in the squad's shared reptile brain. Full credit to Bruce Arena—just as he obviously screwed up prep for Game One, he managed to uncage the beast this time around.

Mastroeni's suspension hurts us, but not mortally. Based on his defending yesterday, I'd say Pope's absence is a blessing. I'm for sticking Jimmy Conrad in the first eleven—mostly because he's just a rad dude. Shelve McBride—how many Fs in "ineffectual," again?—in favor of the Hip-Hop Connection of Deuce and Eddie Johnson, with Donovan running behind them. It's time to go all in, as the poker addicts say.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Kids, Acid is Not Your Friend!

Confession: I took a massive dose of a nameless hallucinogen this morning. (I'm not sure what it was; I copped it off my buddy Trev; it had Spongebob Squarepants printed on it...) So my perception of today's match is all skewed. I thought I saw Mastroeni sent off for a touch-tackle, McBride's head split open, Pope sent off for a touch-tackle, an Italian own-goal, a Beasley goal disallowed, Donovan playing with resolve, Bocanegra and Cherundolo playing well, the USA gritting out an improbable result and a pair of highlight reel saves from Keller to give us an outside chance of survival.

What really happened?

Friday, June 16, 2006

Oregonian Feeling the Heat?

FROM THE RANK SPECULATION DEPARTMENT: For much of this week, The Oregonian, Portland's daily paper, relegated World Cup news to below the sports section's fold. On at least one occasion, coverage of the World's Biggest Sporting Event fell all the way to page C5 or something.

I wonder if The O faced a barrage of angry soccer fans, and is now trying to make good. Yesterday, I noticed a bright yellow promo card inserted in a vending box promising "WORLD CUP HIGHLIGHTS INSIDE". And today, the paper's late edition carried a huge front-page box on the Argentina rout. Hmm. Whatever the case, they should keep it up. Maybe next time, they'll even send a reporter!

Rooting for Laundry

Who has the best uniforms? My vote is split between the racy (and sorta retro) orange-crush kit Nike did for the Netherlands and Angola's festive national-colors number. The USA's look—like everything else about them so far—is booooooo-ring. Ditto England. Triple-ditto Germany. I have a soft spot for Croatia's checkerboard. And, of course, it's hard to argue with established classics like Argentina and Brazil.

I'd like to see the Portland Timbers (who knocked another three points out the hapless Thunder last night and take on the evil Rochester Raging Rhinos at historic Paetec Park tonight) invest their $12 equipment budget in an all-green knock-off of those Dutch outfits. Very fetching, with their cool collars.

Thoughts among my dozen(s?) of faithful readers?

Today was a day of two halves for yers truly, specifically the second half of both the Dutch-Ivories game and the Mexico-Angola match. The former I caught at Bakery Bar, the latter at Por Que No. Very good crowds, given the coziness of both, er, venues. Extrapolate that across all of Portland and through every other American city that cares (and I'm thinking every major metro must be seeing decent action) and our collective viewership is likely pretty healthy. And the demographics, to look at it with a cold, hard and soulless eye, must be to die for. Whatever Nielsen says, I think Uncle Walt is getting his post-mortem money's worth.

Six & Violins

Cue the funereal music for Serbia & Montenegro. After a thrashing like that, maybe the country should just dissolve. This result brings to mind, again, the cosmic injustice that Europe doesn't have more teams in the tournament. Why, it's political correctness run amok! Why should spots be cleared for the likes of Trinidad, Australia and Ecuador when Europe undoubtedly has at least six more teams just as good as S & M that don't make the field? What the World Cup really needs is more Polands, Serbias and Ukraines!

Seriously, though—what is wrong with Eastern European football? So far, the Czechs are looking great and the jury remains out on Croatia. But everything else from beyond the Tattered Curtain is in abysmal shape, to say nothing of the absence of Russia and Romania. Do we need a soccer Marshall Plan? (That last bit was for you, Scruffins.)

Thursday, June 15, 2006

The Raven Flies at Midnight

All sorts of opportunity for skullduggery in the England/Trini/Svenska group now. Could Trinidad and out-of-it Paraguay devise a dastardly Monroe Doctrine of sorts, with Paraguay allowing the Soca Warriors to pour in goals in hopes that England will stuff Sweden? Will Sven sneak over to his countrymen's camp in the dead of night bearing an offer they can't refuse: both sides play an ineffectual, attack-free game (there's a stretch for both them) to ensure Sweden goes through and that England wins the group?

Or will they all just play it straight, each of the four teams going all out for Hono(u)r and Country? This seems like the first good opportunity for World Cup conspiracy theorists since South Korea's win over Italy in '02. Knock yerself out.

The Crucial Questions Right Now

Are Dwight Yorke's most important "components" okay?

Who will slice England to tiny, bite-size pieces? Someone's going to do it based on their performance so far.

Will it be Ecuador? Apparently all that high-altitude training compensates for the crushing, crushing heat that so discomfits certain sides.

How awesome is it that an Ecuador SUBSTITUTE thought ahead and packed his yellow Spiderman mask just, y'know, in case?

Will a possible Germany-England tilt feature the two most over-rated teams in the World Cup?

Are Sweden really this bad, or is it a clever hustle designed for Sven's benefit?

And in far more world-rocking areas, will the Portland Timbers get it done for their third straight win over the Minnesota Thunder tonight? With 124-year-old former New Zealand international (three words that make the whole soccer world quiver with terror!) Gavin Wilkinson exchanging his assistant coach duties for playing time, possibly?

Still Only One Sancho

What the Brit writers would call a "brave effort" by the Trinibagonians leaves me as exhausted as Brent Sancho himself must feel. I watched the game at Costello's Travel Caffe, in what might be the heart of Portland's World Cup action: the Rose & Thistle, Costello's and Hugo's, more or less right in a row on Northeast Broadway. The curb was lined with SUVs sporting England flags; the crowd was full of England supporters of all ages who, thank Jupiter, were not drinking. The Lions kept 'em on the edge, provoking numerous near-miss gasps and a general jollity when Rooney came on.

Which led me to wonder: just how hard-boiled do you have to be to actually support a team like England in a game like this? I understand you want your country to move on through, but it seems sort of inhuman to cheer actively AGAINST battling Trinidad.

[Whatever, Dundas, you hypocrite—who do you root for when USA plays 'em in the qualifiers? Fair point.]

Anyway, ex-Timber Brent Sancho once again did himself reasonably proud, and the Soca Warriors can hold their heads high after that. Paraguay? Bring 'em on.

Sancho vs. Beckham?

There's a clash I'd love to see this morning. You know who my money is on.

So, Ecuador put an end to the "Poland can still go through!" magic bullet theory this morning, and look like they'll pose an evil challenge to whoever draws them in the knock-outs. The next Euro who complains that not enough teams from the Continent make the Finals and that the Americas benefit from some kind of affirmative action program gets referred to Poland, Ukraine and Sweden-so-far.

Alright, then—come on, Soca Warriors. Rum is at stake here, men!

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Can the US Hire This Guy?

At least as a motivational speaker?

"We didn't roll over for Sweden and we won't for England."

—Carlos Edwards, Trinidad & Tobago.

So I Was Wrong!

Um, okay...A four-goal scorcher from Spain, featuring at least one world-class beauty...a four-goal draw between Tunisia and the House of Saud, featuring a last-gasp equalizer...and ultra-late heroics for Germany to snatch victory from the jaws of lazy historical parable against Poland.

Maybe this wasn't the most boring day of the Cup, after all.

After swearing off the Mundial in favor of the Protestant Work Ethic today, I saw that Sexy Jurgen's men were level at half-time, figured a man's gotta eat, and strolled over to Porque No, an upscale taco joint on Mississippi Ave. Most of the second half was the kind of soccer that appears designed to give aid and comfort to this country's Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy against the sport. The Poles appeared stricken with DaMarcus Beasley Disease, being the mysterious inability to hold possession or make an incisive pass into the box. The Germans just looked generally frustrated and put out. (Michael Ballack could have burst out crying at any sec.)

Once Polonia was down to 10 men, though, it seemed the Panzer tanks of cliche'd World War II analogy would soon roll. Unfortunately for English soccer writers everywhere, the brilliantly constructed hammer of gawd came courtesy David Odonkor, whose dad hails from Ghana, and Oliver Neuville, a French-speaking Swiss. Downright cosmo, these Germans.

As I strolled home, I thought to myself in a thick-skulled way, well, there's the first team eliminated. But no! See, if Costa Rica beats Ecuador, then Poland rains goals in against the Ticos and the Germans, y'know, somehow manage to beat Ecuador, Poland can still go through! That's the magic of the World Cup, eh?

The Most Boring Day of the World Cup So Far (tm)

Aaaaaaaaaaah...does anyone have some Vicodin or something? This needs livening up.

Well, full marks to Ukraine for manfully elbowing the USA out of its coveted spot at the very back of the 32-team peloton, though they may not get a chance to settle in if Saudi Arabia has anything to say about it.

I'm likely to be out of action for most of today—doing "work," see?—but as my old comrade Mr. Scruffins helpfully pointed out in the Comments to the post below, there's a far superior going concern here.

Forza Poland! Someone has to stand up for the Slavs now that Ukraine and Serbia+Separatists have done their worst.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Live from the Pearl District

I trekked to the Pearl District—which is what passes for a snooty neighborhood here in the egalitarian Northwest—for the Brasil/Hrvatska (I think I have that right) match, the better to rendez vous with my pal Tom. Luckily, today's action provided timely reminders—timely after yesterday's unpleasantness, that is—that the World Cup can make one happy as well as atom-splittingly furious.

ITEM: I show up at On Deck, a crisply corporate sports bar with approx. one billion televisions. One of them is tuned, I kid not, to WEST VIRGINIA UNIVERSITY'S SPRING GRIDIRON SCRIMMAGE. For reals? Anyway, I approach the bar, and ask the fella behind the stick if they're showing the Brazil game. He looks at me like I'm crazy—a look all American soccer fans are used to, right? But then he says, "Of course."

ITEM: The place is dead right up to kick off, when this Latino guy I've never seen before in my life comes bounding in. This dude is wearing a Madrid jacket WITH a Barcelona patch OVER a Jaguares T-shirt—now that is what I call fucking enthusiasm. He and I give each other a look, and we both just grin. He's practically dancing in place, he's so excited.

ITEM: Togo's goal.

ITEM: Togo's nickname. Allez Sparrowhawks!

ITEM: Both South Korea goals.

ITEM: Croatian fans.

ITEM: Brasilian fans—especially those two honeys in the Indian headresses. Jogo bonito, indeed.

ITEM: Kaka's goal.

ITEM: Croatia's second-half performance.

ITEM: As we walk down the street afterwards, Tom runs into some co-workers from his reasonably fancy firm. "Is anyone at work?" he asks. "Nah," they say. "Brasil is playing." Hmm. Maybe the game's future in this country isn't entirely dependent on Bobby Convey, after all.

In all, not quite the eruption of glory (ew) some expected, but I'd say Brasil is getting the gears oiled, and that Croatia is likely to paste the Aussies and Japanese to go through. (For a dramatic Round of 16 collision with the United States! HA HA HA!) But a good time was had by all—especially since that France/Suisse game never really happened. Did it?

International Herald-Tribune! International Herald-Tribune!

On my last visit to Europe (I was marooned on a remote Croatian island) I found the International Herald-Tribune in somewhat sorry shape—small, strange, poorly designed. But I still love getting the thing, because it makes me feel so...cosmopolitan. The paper's corporate masters at the New York Times may be injecting some life into IHT; for one thing, the paper's World Cup blogger, Roger Cohen, is doing a pretty good job. His blog is also attracting intelligent commentary, with few of the usual Soccer is Gay or You Dumb Yanks cretins turning up.

Speaking of remote Croatian islands, the jewel of the Adriatic plays in the most enticing game of the tournament so far. I'm planning to watch with me mate Tom, who has the distinction of being a "double foreigner"—a Canadian with Croatian parents. This, by rights, should be an epic match-up—a chance for Ronaldhino to fall flat or electrify the world, a chance for the Croats to pull a shock. Can't think of a better antidote to yesterday's Ugliness, can ya?

Monday, June 12, 2006

Feel Free to Start Any Time, Pal

"We played OK in the first half and we are still alive if we get a result in our next game. All is not lost and we will keep on fighting."

—Landon Donovan

What's All This Then?

As I try to recover from the PTSD induced by the Czechs' manhandling—and banish fantasies of a vengeful, blood-crazed mob meeting the US team at the airport—I found the ultimate rarity: a Euro-journalist offering half-decent insight on American soccer. Of course, the lengthy debate in the comments section only reinforces my arrogant-out-of-touch-media bias to the effect that most people should be allowed nowhere near a keyboard.

In other news: While the festivities turned grim very early, Portland's Bakery Bar is a pretty decent place to watch a match. A full house of knowledgeable (if understandably subdued) fans had to resort to gallows humor early on ("Keller's calling for it! See Keller! See Keller!"). The staff could work out a more efficient system for coping with rushes at the counter. But the jammer I polished off just before the first Czech goal ruined my appetite was quite good.

Day of the Long Knives

It's time for a few of our boys to consider ritual suicide—it would be the only honorable thing to do.

Jeez-us. I am not the biggest football expert even in my ZIP code, but I feel confident in pronouncing THAT THING the worst—and certainly most embarassing—American performance at the World Cup level. And yes, I include everything our Cub Scout all-star team did in 1990, and everything Steve Sampson wrought in 1998. Today, the United States was simply abominable. We should send an NCAA Best XI if that's the kind of work we're going to see.

It's not just losing, of course; it's how we lost. You could see the bed-wetting fear in Oguchi Oneywu's eyes during the national anthem, and just like '98, we played like we were scared of those big, imposing men with funny accents. We played with very little pride and certainly no precision—who could count the number of stray passes or I-dunno-whadda-you-wanna-do? balls back to Keller? Did Donovan even register a dozen touches? Is DaMarcus Beasley already updating his resume or thinking about going back to school? Those two set the gold standard for utter uselessness. I'd give decent marks to Eddie Johnson for showing some verve—and landssakes if he wasn't the only one—but everyone else rates no higher than 4/10.

What now? This is the true test of Bruce La Bruce. A '98-style collapse, or some freakin' fighting spirit? We're on our way out of the tournament, it would seem, but can we at least go out in style?

Gimme Gimme Tranquilizers

Okay, heart-in-throat time.

I believe I'll opt for Bakery Bar this morning, a dessertish place in Portland's Southeast Industrial neighborhood, so I can mix some sugar and caffeine into my adrenalin-saturated bloodstream.


Sunday, June 11, 2006

Does Togo Know...

...that Steve Sampson is available?

Just a thought.

Enter the Darkened Crypt

On one of the most glorious spring days Portland's seen so far, my better half and I enjoyed a sunsplashed cruise to the quaint village of St. Johns. (Or San Juan, if you want to stay up with the area's current demographics.) The city parks bureau is throwing modest shindigs at a couple of community centers, and St. Johns is the designated Spanish-language venue. We arrived to find a welcome supply of donuts, courtesy our comrades Dan and Margaret, and a strangely subdued darkened auditorium.

It felt a little daft to sit in a cavernous, lightless barn while the Sun God beat down outside. Ah well. A crowd of about 40 were on hand, almost all supporting Mexico, with a few flags and sporty green paraphenalia in evidence. We arrived just in time to see Mexico slot home its first goooooooool—to much Univision-patented hysteria—and had barely settled in when the Ayatollah's boys equalized on a cornerkick melee. Despite the goal and flashes of spirit, Iran were pretty bad through the second stanza. In fact, both these sides best tidy up their play before Portugal get ahold of them. Mexico do some nice work going forward—despite all the nasty things I have and will say about them in the future—and deservedly ran riot near the end. I tried to get up a chant of CUATRO! CUATRO! CUATRO! after they knocked in their third (and best) tally, but found no takers.

In all, the community center thing is nice and civic and all, but I likely won't be back.

In other news, the Timbers nil'ed their way to a point last night v. Vancouver. Woulda been nice to scoop all the points at home. Woulda been nice to open up the noose-tight Cascadia Cup table. But the 'Caps are always tough, and from the limited accounts I've read so far, this sounds like just the kind of match last year's Timbers would have devised a way to lose 1-0. So well done, then.

Now, the important question: Portland readers (all three of yaz)—where are you watching Our Boys tomorrow?


Never thought I'd say that, but faced with a choice between the nation that gave us Pacifico beer and the nation that gave us the Salman Rushdie fatwa, there ain't really much of a choice. Now, I gotta throw a bucket of ice water over my wife to wake her up for the ride to St. Johns.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Lump in Throat

"I have never wept in a bar, cried because I was so proud I thought my heart would burst. I have never been so proud to be a Trinidadian. Oh my Warriors. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you."

—Stacey-Marie at Portland's own World Cup Blog.

You Are...There!

A cool piece of bloggery from the New York Times: they're accompanying their minute-by-minute game recaps with crowd-action photos from New York pubs and restaurants.

That's the Spirit!

"I know the bookmakers have us down as 1000-1 outsiders, but we've not come all the way to Germany to meekly take our punishment from the big boys."

—Carlos Edwards, Trinidad & Tobago.


And in other news, the doctors tell me that I, scientifically speaking, only have one liver, which probably explains why I sit here with a massive headache and an all-around feeling of ill health after a hard—oh so hard—first 24 hours.

But the good news is: we have a World Cup on our hands here, people! Yer Correspondent trecked to Kells for Game One, had the pleasure of meeting the wonderful Portland soccabloggahs from A Pretty Move, and the added pleasure of vocally cheering on Costa Rica right behind a table full of German fans. (They looked amused.) The Ticos played a stand-up match—and I do believe they exposed the usually-joylessly-perfect Germans for the benefit of whoever plays them in the knock-out rounds—but clearly the morning belonged to Sexy Jurgen's men. (For the record, I would "switch" for Klinsmann.) The intercontinental ballistic missile unleashed by unindicted war criminal Frings is Goal of the Cup So Far, and will be hard to dislodge from that spot.

Skipped Ecuador and Poland. Life is short. Ditto England's typically uninspired first game—nothing interesting happens to England until penalty kicks are possible.

But this morning! Trinidad! In spite of the fact (or maybe because) they've been relentlessly patronized by faux-worldly football know-it-alls the Soca Warriors played like Men. Ex-Portland Timber Brent Sancho received deserved commendation from the ABC talking heads for his stalwart effort in the Siege of Shaka Hislop. T&T played hard, fouled hard, stood their ground and did all that blue-collar stuff a team like that needs to do to get a result on this stage, but also managed to play some football, getting forward a bit and rattling the crossbar with a near-goal that would have blown those little islands off the map. They have to like their chances against Paraguay, and shouldn't fear England based on today's performance. Could Trinidad go through? Today, if nothing else, they proved that at the World Cup, anything can happen.

I biked through the madness of Rose Festival—which should be outlawed—to meet me mates Liverpool Mike, Sam S. and Taylor for the Argies and Ivories. An encouraging game from both sides, with Ivory Coast pretty unlucky not to get a point. But, see—says the faux-worldly football know-it-all—this is what happens when African teams run into more defensively disciplined sides. What is more awesome than seeing Diego Maradona flip out in full-tilt fanboy mode in the stands? Not much.

I must rest my bloodstream for the evening, but Timbers Army, my thoughts are with thee. Maybe the example of Sancho, their ex-comrade, will inspire the Timbers to rip the 'Couv to shreds and blow the Cascadia Cup wide open. 'Til tomorrow morning, when I plan to hit the Spanish-language showing of Mexico v. Theocracy at the St. Johns Community Center, I remain—


Thursday, June 08, 2006

Strange Mojo

It may just be the kid-before-Christmas feel in the air, but I'm picking up a weird vibration about tomorrow's opening match. Apparently, I'm not alone. I emailed my buddy Liverpool Mike, a comrade from the now-defunct Juggernaut FC (scourge of Portland's lower-division co-ed indoor leagues). I asked if he fancied a 1-0 Costa Rica win. His pick: a 2-2 draw.

On the Other Hand...

...We should be very grateful for excellent reporters like Steven Goff of the Washington Post, who knows a good story when he sees one.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

A Game of Two Half-Wits

Ah, World Cup time: as always, a festival of lazy journalism on both sides of the pond.

As both a journalist (why couldn't I have been born with investment-banker genes?) and a soccer fan, I long ago resolved to ignore, as best able, the quadrennial conga line of "Americuhns don't like your so-called 'soccer' game, and they never will because of communism and how it's for girls!" articles that emanate from the buffet-fattened ranks of our sporting press. It just isn't worth it. I've never allowed the opinions of overweight former high school equipment managers ("Fresh jock strap, cap'n?") to influence my tastes in music, literature or food, so why should I take their cues when it comes to sports? As a fan, my view is that if you don't like il calcio, there's probably something wrong with you. (And if you can't enjoy the World Cup, you suffer a social deficiency, but that's your problem.)

As a journalist, I gently suggest that it's a bad idea for editors to allow writers to bloviate on topics about which they know nothing and can't be bothered to learn. Professional malpractice, you might say.

And so this time 'round, I find myself equally annoyed with the profusion of low-hanging-fruit, those-dumb-Yanks-don't-even-ken-the-football! pieces in the British press. It appears not to matter what side of the fish bowl you file your copy on. The likes of The Guardian's Simon Tisdall may know more about football, strictly speaking, than Portland's own Dwight Jaynes. But he appears no more willing than the average American column jockey to do the hard work of delving into the fiendishly complicated world of American soccer.

In this case, the press of Europe and America speak as one; what they have in common is that they don't know what they're talking about. You don't hear from the Salvadoran janitor who picks up extra cash playing in a semi-pro league in DC. Euro-reporters don't seek out the fanatics in Section 8 in Chicago. No Guardian writer has yet flown in to check out the Timbers Army, or spend a weekend on the suburban fields of Tualatin, or the vacant lot near my place where Hispanics and Ethiopians play. No, that would involve actual labor, messing up a tried and true angle that can be deployed for service every four years. And that might make them all late for lunch.

Monday, June 05, 2006


Friday morning, IT begins.

As the excitement builds to a (may Jehovah smite with his silver-and-onyx axe for saying it) fever pitch, I'm desperately torn as to where to take in the opening match. I mean, man's gotsta watch it, but Germany v. Costa Rica just isn't very appetizing. There's no obvious go-to destination for this particular match in Portland, but I'm taking suggestions if anyone wants to offer 'em.

Meanwhile, I'm dead-set on watching Sunday's Mexico-Iran clash at North Portland's St. Johns Community Center, where they're showing the Spanish-language broadcast. This may be the one and only time I'll ever cheer for El Tri, as they take on Ayatollah FC.

El Mundial aside, the crucial question of the week in Portland: can this weekend's home fixture against the Vancouver Whitecaps (who we hate, but not with the pure, unrequited, white-molten-hot hate we reserve for You Know Who) can equal the celestial catharsis achieved last Saturday night? The prospect would seem to defy the laws of physics. If it comes anywhere close, space-time may come unstuck right at midfield.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Euthanize an Orca for Jesus

Were these the real Portland Timbers? Earning a gritty away "result," as hardnosed football realists call it, then transforming into an eloquent, zesty passing team the very next night? Dismantling the Hated Seattle Sounders in a 3-1 thumping that came within the proverbial hair's breadth of exploding into a goal fest? Lacing pretty triangles through a step-slow defense, lashing forward with zippy counter attacks, defending with manly resolve?

For one weekend in June, at least, the answer was a resounding: HELLFIRE YES, SON.

If you've read the hosannahs over on the Timbers Army board (see the blogroll conveniently located to your right), you know that last night ascended instantly into PTFC lore. A crisp early goal from Guti, a lightning strike from Mamba that de-equalized their equalizer, and extreme studliness in defense from Scot "With One T" Thompson all built to a lethal, beautiful coup de grace—Alvarez to Alcaraz-Cuellar, the Timbers' patented Rio Grande Connection—that I think just about peeled the skin off everyone in the stadium. A raucous post-game celebration ensued, highlighted by Timbers coach/capo Chris Agnello wielding Timber Jim's chainsaw and whacking hisself a massive hunk of Victory Log. Now that's Timberball!

At the behest of my lovely wife, who has a weird penchant for actually wanting to see the entire field, I didn't join the Timbers Army in the north end. All the better, for from my perch in the west stand, I enjoyed an eagle-eye view of both the frothing insanity in Section 107 and the sad little cluster of Dungeons & Dragons veterans who make up "The Pod," the Kitsap Sounders' self-proclaimed superfans. As to the latter, I didn't know whether to laugh or cry.

This is a group of (about 10) people who've never seen a cheap shot they couldn't defend. When Roger Levesque, surely one of the biggest cretins playing football anywhere, laid Thompson out with an unpunished elbow, these subnormals cheered. When El Hugo—who is, by the way, pure fucking class—scored the final goal, the Pod couldn't help itself; it had to start tossing garbage on our pristine FieldTurf. It was a display a six-year-old would shy away from in embarrassment. Rumor has it the Pod will dissolve if the Sounders complete their threatened self-exile to bucolic Kitsap. Consider it Darwinism in action.

On the other hand, last night pretty much summed up everything that's great about the Timbers. Results aside—and I'm quite sure plenty of frustrating scorelines await us this season—this is a club with soul. Hugo Alcaraz-Cuellar and Scot Thompson, to cite just two examples, are players who leave their bloody hearts on the pitch every time out. (I do wish Hugo wouldn't get caught in possession so much.) The players go out for a pint with the fans afterwards, and the fans do their damnedest to act as the club's de facto marketing department. With Guti and Mamba Chisoni injecting some Southern Hemisphere flair, the Timbers threaten to become a very fun team to watch this year. They're always a fun team to follow, win or lose. And that's something the Thorn City Futbol Conspiracy can be very proud of.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Serve the Scum Well-Done

The Portland Timbers Football Club did the business last night in Seattle, picking up a point against the hated Sounders in a nil-nil draw. I'm sure gi'normous Qwest Field veritably trembled with the sheer karmic force of SoundersMania, as the rabid Seattle fans cheered on their USL First Division Champions. Or perhaps there were simply many heartfelt moments set to emotion-stirring song.

Tonight, we have the Scum where we want them: in the Green Hell of Civic Stadium/PGE Park. While Timbers attendance is down so far this year, and Portland's annual Rose Festival ("The City-Wide Celebration No One But No One in the City Gives a Damn About") will work its usual traffic-snarling magick west of the Willamette, Portland Soccer Nation always steps it up when Seattle comes calling. Loathsome gaol (I MEAN! goal) keeper Preston Burpo moved on to the glamour, riches and tradition of Chivas USA this year (stop yer snickering); I will sorely miss the all-too-short-lived chant of "Hey, Burpo—Leave Those Kids Alone." But undoubtedly the footballing geniuses at Sounder Central have recruited the same assortment of hacks, buffoons, low-rent cheats and third-class dive-artists that has made the club an absolute by-word among coinoisseurs of the Beautiful Game.

Going into this weekend's double-ender, I wanted between four and six points. So far, so good. Agnello's men have not thus far shown a particular knack for putting the biscuit in the basket, but maybe the full-throated roar of the Timbers Army will induce some scoring. In any case, I'll see y'all at "the ground," as we like to call it in our fake British accents.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Crashing the Gates

A quick pause from my frantic pre-World Cup fitness routine—i.e., slamming lager pints at 7 am to prepare my liver for the forthcoming toxic shock—to take note of two local blogospherian developments.

First, with local coverage of the Portland Timbers seemingly on the wane, the invaluable Allison Andrews has gone vigilante on the situation, Web-posting an in-depth preview of the Verdiblancos' crucial weekend double-header against the Kitsap Junior Sounders. Any rookie fans looking to download the Full Story behind this heated, bone-deep, Montague v. Capulet-style rivalry should start here. Who knows? Maybe various local newsrooms will "get the message."

Second, popular local blogger Jack Bogdanski took a break from his dyspeptic musings on local politics to note the imminent approach of the Big Dance. His post, in which he good-naturedly confesses to know nothing about the game, has sparked a small but kinda fun thread. Go! Participate! We will conquer this thing they call the SuperNet, one small outpost at a time. Just like Stalingrad!