Friday, March 16, 2007

Emilio: Instant Legend?

I'll admit it: the MLS club I've followed most closely over the league's existence is DC United. For us neutrals in the middle of nowhere (or Montana, as the case may be), the early United sides were by far the most interesting MLS had to offer. And though I would not call myself a "supporter" of the Black and White and Red, I do look out for their results.

Seems like a promising season is in the offing for DC. For one thing, newfound Brazilian striker Emilio seems well on his way to becoming a club legend:

Thursday, March 15, 2007

The REAL Champions League

The so-called Mainstream Media seems determined to ignore this major story...but that's what us radical, cutting-edge bloggers are for! Tonight, Portland Futsal's action-packed Third Division comes down to an insane four-team, one-night knock-out jamboree! Early-evening semifinals will produce two championship contenders, who then do battle on the plastic pitch at 9 pm. My Albina Going FC Unicorns, the second seed outta Conference Argentina, take on Conference Brazil pennant-winners Deep Cheese (???) at 7:25. Could we possibly survive to the Final? Could we possibly survive playing two matches in one night? SEE YOU THERE, SAAAAAAAAAH-KER FANS!

The Plague Reborn

Please, someone get Lord Mawhinney of the Football League on the horn and beg him not to release the shoot-out virus from the lab. It took the heroic efforts of thousands of MLS fans to contain the virus during the '90s. It's okay to study the thing under controlled conditions, but you don't want it loose in the wild.

RADICAL ELEVEN DEVILS PROPOSAL: If the League really wants to make its games zestier, encourage scoring and generally amp things up, try this: instead of monkeying with how games are decided on the field, change the way the league tables are calculated. Instead of using points and goal difference as the most important factors, use 1) Matches won; 2) Goals scored; 3) Draws; 4) Goal difference.

This system would weight victories and tallies even more heavily than the traditional matrix, and make the dreaded 0-0 draw look pretty unattractive even to away teams. Thoughts?

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The Operational Deficit That Ate New York

Last spring, I found myself in New York City shortly after Red Bull's much-hyped takeover of the erstwhile (New York/New Jersey) MetroStars. New York, of course, is secretly one of the greatest soccer markets in the entire world—a city where you see Man United replica shirts sharing subway car space with strips from Dynamo Moscow, Inter Milan and the Colombian national team, a place where one passonate fan faction or another is rarely more than a street corner away. From the storied Cosmos to the 84-year-old Cosmopolitan Soccer League to the massive crowds that throng international matches at Giants Stadium, the Big Apple is rich with football lore.

So it was distressing, to say the least, to see a grand total of one (1) dude wearing the colors of the supposed hometown franchise, Red Bull New York. (Or New York Red Bulls?) After over a decade, three or four name changes, numerous attempts to wheel out foreign stars and more managerial regimes than the average banana republic, Major League Soccer's visible fanbase in the Capital of the World consisted of one fat guy in Little Italy.

Now, courtesy the excellent Ives Galarcep of the North Jersey Herald, comes news that RBNY frittered away $14 million last year alone, and appears to be sailing into the '07 campaign without a commercial rudder.

$14 million. That probably equals the seasonal budget of the entire United Soccer Leagues First Division, and could definitely fund the combined salaries of the Portland Timbers 20 times over or more. It may look like crumbs from some angles—if you're, say, Posh Beckham's personal wardrobe acquisitions director—but $14 million gone is a pretty damning indictment of a league that will never be able to claim a real mainstream breakthrough until it establishes a serious New York beach head.

Now let's take a theoretical (and idealistic) trip in the Time-Reverser to 1996, the first year of Major League Soccer. Let's imagine that instead of the closed, centrally controlled American-style set-up the league insisted on (otherwise it would never survive, remember?), it had adopted a more fluid franchising system. One based on promotion and relegation between several competitive tiers—one designed to encourage a little speculative investment, even direct competition for particular markets. By this time, we may well have seen a half-dozen New York-based clubs come and go. We almost certainly would have seen attempts to harness the raw vitality of the Outer Boroughs. The cursed ghost ship of the MetroStars/Red Bulls might have died an unlamented death, replaced by International NYC or Brooklyn Spartak or Empire FC of Queens—or all of the above. MLS might have succeeded in creating its own version of baseball's Gotham glory days, when three teams duelled for local affections.

Formula for disaster? Maybe. But can anyone convince me that the league would have done worse than it has?

Friday, March 09, 2007

Cooking with Gaz!

Here's a shocking development: Zenit St Petersburg is favored to lead the way in the Russian championship this season. Highly coincidentally, Zenit is run by Gazprom, which in turn is run by the Russian government. The government is run by Vladimir Putin, who is from the old imperial capital and, odds are, is a Zenit supporter if he supports anyone.

And to think American soccer fans complain about how MLS operates.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Red Destiny! (????) // Who Is In Thuram's Brain?

Okay, boyos, today is the day. A lead of, effectively, a goal and a half. Big-occasion home crowd. Barca in, if not a freefall, then something of a slough. If Liverpool can't produce celebration at Anfield today, it might be time to give the first XI (what am I saying? this is Rafa's team: call it the first XX) a few months off and let the reserves finish the season.

Eleven Devils will be reporting for duty at Kell's come 11.30. And though I love to watch Barcelona, I'll be pulling hard for the Merseysiders. We're just dating, you understand, Liverpool and I, but I've reached the point where I wouldn't mind if they made a move. Y'know?


My comrades at A Pretty Move already nailed this one, but it's superb: Lilian Thuram musing on Miles Davis and blasting Nicholas Sarkozy, the rat-faced tough-talker who hopes a steady diet of immigrant-bashing can hoist him into Elysee Palace. (Message to France from The Rest Of The World: You have a choice. You can make us look at Sarko for seven years, or you can give us Segolene, the Hot Socialist Mom. French people are supposed to be sexy. Make it fucking happen! Watching Jacques Chirac melt for 14 years was bad enough.)

Thuram's interview prompted me to review The Archives and check out his moment of zoned-out heroism against Croatia in the 1998 World Cup. Thuram says that he basically didn't know who he was or where he was when he knocked in the two goals that put France in the Final. Around here, we call that "The Jaguar Realm." Check it out:

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Miracle in Brooklyn

Not the mighty New York borough, but the unassuming Southeast Portland neighborhood home to Portland Futsal, the Rose City's newborn industrial-chic indoor football venue—where the rattle of a chainlink fence, frigid meat-storage temperatures and the wheeze of passing TriMet buses let you know you're keeping it really real.

As those four readers who managed to slog through the tiresome account of PF's Third Division below will dimly recall, my Albina Going FC Unicorns faced a do-or-die match last Thursday night. Three points against the lowly Cheetahs, the winless anchor of our six-team group, would put us in a strong position to make the four-team Finals. Given our opponents' lousy record, we also dreamed of piling up an unassailable goal-difference advantage over the two other sides locked in a virtual deadheat for the second and last playoff berth.

Well. Turned out that Cheetahs were a bit more up for the occasion than we were—or maybe we'd successfully psyched ourselves out with a full week of email back-and-forth about league tie-break scenarios and just how many goals we should win by. We looked frightful—utterly gash, as they say—in the first half, staking Cheetahs to a huge lead. The half-time chatter was a little tense, let's say. The second half didn't look much better. But then...slowly...inexorably...the Unicorns began to climb. Wings sprouted from the mythical beasts' frothy shanks...and they began to soar. I mean, score.

6-6. Fifteen seconds to play. A draw does us very little good. Doug Hurley, the Bracknall Bomber, collects the futsal spheroid on the wing. Finds Peter Noordijk, the Flying Dutchman, in the area. First shot thwacks off Cheetahs' keeper into a thicket of flailing limbs...and an achingly slow speed...the ball rolls into the net.

My first thought was that the referee would surely disallow this ugly mess for—something. It did not look good. But he pointed at the center spot, and Cheetahs barely had time to kick off before the buzzer. Our overcrowded six-man bench erupted at this most dramatic of all finishes to a Winter season in which we: A) Won three games by a single goal; B) lost two games by a single goal; C) won one match by two goals; D) lost one match by two goals; and E) recorded an anomalous 6-0 victory over the team that completely dominated the group.

So now we are bound for the one-day, four-team divisional Big Dance in two weeks. We will play the top team from "Conference Brazil," while "Conference Argentina" winners Sofa Kings (we were the only team to beat them, BTW) face C-Brazil's second-place squad. Could our under-fit, over-aged gang of (mostly) Anglo-American doughboys possibly survive not one but two matches in one night? Against opposition that might include a team with the prepossessing name "Samba Boys"? Let's not get ahead of ourselves. If we gathered anything from our near-death experience against Cheetahs, it's that you should take futsal one baby-step at a time.

Thursday, March 01, 2007


Tonight brings Winter Season's final matchday in Portland Futsal's Division Three. Four teams are fighting over the second and final playoff berth in Conference Argentina—a ticket to a madcap one-day tournament against the top teams in Conference Brazil, with bragging rights and promotion to the promised land of the Second Division at stake.

It's hard to imagine a more dramatic conclusion to an excellent, hard-fought season. Let's take a look at the table and tonight's key fixtures.

After seven of eight rounds:

1. SOFA KINGS :: 18 points // +23 goals
2. DUDES FC :: 12 points // +7 goals
3. ALBINA GOING FC :: 12 points // +6 goals
4. LEGION OF DOOM :: 12 points // +3 goals
5. URBANHONKING AC :: 9 points // +1 goal
6. CHEETAHS :: 0 points // -40 goals

As you see, Sports Fans, Sofa Kings are well clear of the pack and have booked their top seed in the Finals. Then comes a Mexican standoff at 12 points featuring my own Albina Going. UrbanHonking is outside looking in, but hasn't been mathematically eliminated. Cheetahs have their name on the Wooden Spoon, and are the only team completely out of contention.

That brings us to tonight's climactic fixture list:

19.25: ALBINA GOING V. CHEETAHS. My beloved Albina Going won two of three while I was "scouting" in Argentina, putting us in prime position to claim a playoff berth. Cheetahs haven't been able to make much of an impression this season, obviously, but they have given some of our closest rivals decent games. This is important because of goal differential—the league caps GD at a maximum +7 per match. Ideally we'd like to come out of tonight with 15 points and a +13 differential, but we're taking nothing for granted.

20.20: SOFA KINGS V. DUDES FC. Arguably the night's glamour match-up, a top-of-the-table reunion of the Round 7 pairing that saw the rampant Sofa Kings win 9-4. The big question comes down to motivation: the Kings have nothing to play for, while the Dudes, a feisty and competitive bunch, have their season on the line. Obviously, I'm hoping the Kings decide to forget the table and conduct an imperious demonstration of their power.

21.15: URBANHONKING AC V. LEGION OF DOOM. A weird one, and possibly irrelevant to the play-off scenario. UrbanHonking may well be eliminated before the match (if we win and/or Dudes win, UHAC is out). Legion needs to win and win big—how big, and whether they still remain in contention at all given the +7 GD maximum, depends on the outcome of the first two games.

So there it is. Drama, my friends. Tickets are free!