Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Open Cup Awesomeness

The United States Open Cup First Round pairings came out today, a reminder of just how great this criminally underappreciated knock-out tournament is. The Portland Timbers drew a nasty-sounding outfit called the Bakersfield Brigade—an away fixture that sounds dicey at best. But by far the best match-up is this:

Lynch’s Irish Pub (USASA) @ Charlotte Eagles (USL-2)

That is just brilliant.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Weird (But Awesome)

USA v. Catalunya.

When can Cascadia get on the schedule?

Forza APM

Along with everything else, Yer Correspondent has been lax in keeping up on A Pretty Move, our wonderfully written and zealously impassioned cousin in Portland soccer blogdom. Along with Eleven Devils, APM went half-way dark earlier this spring, but their end-of-season coverage is a must-read.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Serie A: The Best?

Naaaaaaaaaaaaaah. Can't be. It's corrupt. The stadiums are a shambles, the clubs are operated along the same lines as the "neighborhood social clubs" on Mulberry Street and half the big teams got just got nailed for match fixing. Match fixing! The biggest club in the bloody country spent the season in exile. Meanwhile, the fans are killing each other when they're not chanting neo-Fascist slogans.

England's got the money and the global audience. Spain wins on style points and sheer fashionability. Germany has the enthusiasm, the grip of beautiful new parks and clubs run with Teutonic efficiency. France—sorry, I did NOT just type that.

And yet: there have been two major international football competitions in the last 12 months (with apologies to the World Clubs Cup), and Serie A won both of them. The league's all-star team took the World Cup, and now AC Milan owns Europe's Big Gulp. So if it's not the best league, which one is? And on what basis?

Monday, May 21, 2007

Buh-Bye, Boys

It's always a good thing when the team you pull for is playing on the last day of the season. However, not to curse Liverpool before their revenge/revisited triumph EuroCoppa rematch with Milan, but I am getting extremely bad vibes off this game. Why?

—It seems LFC has already told about half the squad that they're gone regardless of Wednesday's result. There's no doubt that the club needs an overhaul—they dropped so many Premiership points they should have banked—but what sort of message is this to send a locker room which has, after all, achieved the ultimate goal of all Champions League sides? Does imminent departure add motivation, or kill it?

[Weird side note: it seems likely I saw Liverpool new boy Leto in the flesh in February—the River Plate/Lanus forgettable. I don't remember him, and can't lay my hands on confirmation he was in the Lanus team. Anyone?]

—There's a white hot rage of need and determination emanating from Milan right now, born of their Istanbul collapse. Hopefully all the pre-game bluster and vengeance-fantasy leaves them tight and rigid.

—Still, on their best day I don't think Liverpool are quite geared to cope with Milan. The rossoneri squad is just monstrous, friggin' Ronaldo counting as a luxury item. I'll see your Cafu and raise you...uh, Steve Finnan?

—Lucky escapes in the Champions League aside, Liverpool haven't exactly roared down the home stretch...and I fear that gets us back to the possible motivation gap again. Milan wants this desperately. No doubt Liverpool taken as a whole cultural phenomenon wants it just as bad, the better to lord over Man United and Chelsea. (Even at its most cosmopolitan, football always comes back to the parochial. Love it.) What lies in the heart of the squad itself? It's been a long season. They have achieved plenty—over-achieved, some might say. Is it a necessity for them? It will need to be.

All the same, I thought the Reds were for it after Barcelona scored first at Nou Camp. They rode the lightning then. Maybe they can once more before the inevitable dissolution.

At Long Last

Two great sports join forces.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Mein (Meister)Schaft!

A few weeks ago, the increasingly annoying Tony Soprano mused (and I paraphrase): "After all the complaining and the crying, is this all there is?" Sometimes, the world of football seems so beset by problems, intrigue, oddity, inequity and pure migrane-inducing negativity, it's hard to remember what makes the sport (or any sport) a joy, in addition to a gripping but endlessly tangled mental puzzle.

So let's look in on Stuttgart's marvelous celebration after their equally awesome capture of the Bundesliga. My exposure to this team was limited this year, but I liked what I saw a lot: they seem like a slightly crazy, always-full-tilt gang of gunslingers. They won their title with fun football, and that's to be applauded no matter who you root for.

Saturday, May 12, 2007


I call it the Curse of the Simpsons Soccer Episode. You know the one: Bart and Lisa show up at the stadium revved up to check out the World's Most Popular Sport (tm)...and get nothing more than "to the center...out to the wing...back to the center..." To wit, every time I talk one of my non-futbol friends into checking out a match, it ends up being pretty dire.

At half-time of last night's Portland Timbers v. Seattle Sounders hate-cup tie at PGE Park, my pal the Norwegian (big Vikings fan...big) and I repaired to the concourses. "Um, well," I said. "At this level of soccer, you kind of have to use your imagination." He said he was cool with it. I don't know that I was.

I know, I know. The Timbers are in Year One (or should that be the more dramatic "Year Zero"?) of a self-professed three-year rebuild. New gaffman Gavin Wilkinson gave us all plenty of warning: we aim to contend for one of the eight playoff spots in the 12-team USL First Division, nothing more. That implies the Verdes will be scrapping for every point, and with a home win, a tight away loss and last night's not-much-deserved 2 :: 2 home draw, that is certainly the case so far. I guess you could say everything's going according to plan.

But that's rationality talking, and rationality is a stranger to the terraces during the 90 minutes between whistles. When your side is up against Evil Made Flesh, you don't want to see incremental progress, you want to see an epochal stand—Gandalf versus the Balrog, Rocky pummelling Dolph Lundgren, some shit out of that new gay porn Greek army snuff flick 300 (not that there's anything wrong with that). Instead, ye olde "announced crowd" of 5,700+ got a solid 75 minutes of "up in the air...over to the side...up in the air..."

Matches on the dreadful PGE Park surface always resemble full-contact volleyball. We know this. But the Sounders—taller, burlier, and most gallingly much smoother than the herky-jerky Timbers—coped with it better than the home side. They slit the central defense like a snitch at Sturgis inside ten minutes, and generally bossed the first half. The early insertion of human timebomb Tom Poltl said a lot about the Timbers' lack of edge in a match that is usually something close to a street fight. Poltl did his usual rabid terrier impression—good stuff as ever, and an inspiration to those of us born with out such intangibles as finesse and grace. Unfortunately, it took another 40 minutes, and another concession, before the Timbers knocked off the disjointed airball shite and started to jab for real.

After going down 2-0 (and after each side had a goal semi-dubiously disallowed), Portland got its flow on. Oregon State grad (and you can't lick them Beavers!) Bryan Jordan looks like the real deal—a sparky, duck-and-weave forward who's a threat every time the ball is at his feet. He lanced in the first fight-back goal, then put Andrew "The Angriest Smurf" Gregor on the spot by taking a mauling at the top of the area. Presto-chango, the Timbers nabbed a point from more or less nothing; the Army (in decent voice all night) had something to sing about; laps of honor were taken, etc.

It doesn't change the fact that this one was three-quarters godawful. There wasn't even much of the venom and spite one depends on these Seattle fixtures to provide. Ah, well. We got through it. One shudders to think what Sunday's match against the ever-powerful Ragin' Rhinos of Rochester will bring.

Meanwhile, we were left to ponder the emotional conundrum of Hugo Alcaraz-Cuellar. Long the Timbers' most elegant player, OOO-go left for Seattle over the off-season. Just business, understand—nothing personal. So while the Army extolled Gregor—any self-respecting Timbers fan would have described him as a combination war criminal/loan shark/bicycle thief last year—we booed Hugo. Booed the man we used to drink with at the Bull Pen. And even so, he was still the only player on the pitch with a touch of art about him.

Painful. But in the immortal words of Flavor Flav, that's the way the ball bounces, G.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

It's All Happening

The reading public is understandably upset about the lack of Eleven Devils updates of late. Yr Correspondent has been abroad, and by "abroad," I mean Minneapolis (where some stone-cold good times were had with Commander Bruce of the infinite Du Nord blog) and Iowa (where some insane cycling shit went down). It's all in a day's "work," but it leaves this blog bereft.

However, football, like rust, never sleeps. Liverpool's epic season is set for an epoch-making conclusion in Athens, where the scrappy Reds—who squeezed past Barcelona and Chelsea by the barest of m., lucked out on drawing PSV and somehow are playing for the Kahuna despite lacking a striker, really—must ride the lightning against AC Milan. (YouTube the highlights of Berlusconi's men dismantling Manchester Bay Buccaneers, and you'll see that the Liverpeople will have their hands full.) Meanwhile, Reading's mascot was sent off, the Timbers opened with a win (!), MLS limped into its pre-Beckham non-mania and FC United of Manchester clinched both its second championship and second promotion in two years of existence.

Frankly, it all pales in comparison to a gripping Spring session down at Portland Futsal, where my own Albina Going FC ("The Unicorns") faces what could be the biggest night in its history tonight. After six wins on the trot keyed by an impressive defensive CV (goal differential = +29, and that's after having a couple matches capped at +7), the Unicorns can wrap up the Third Division Conference Argentina title, top seed in the one-day divisionals AND the unofficial (but hotly contested) Rivals Cup with a win tonight. Problem? We're up against arch-nemesis UrbanHonking Athletic Club. The Honking always gives us problems, and word on the Series of Tubes is that Svengali owner Mikey Merrill may have bagged a few late-season transfers. While it's hard to see a scenario where the three-team Cup will slip from our deathgrip, Athletic sits just three points behind us on the table, and thus is positioned to run us down in the last two rounds of the eight-week season if we bottle it tonight.

So, like the man says, It's All Happening.