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.