Wednesday, January 31, 2007

A Crucial Top-of-the-Table Clash

Drama, drama, drama: my beloved Mighty Unicorns (more formally known as the Albina Going Football Club) sit second in Portland Futsal's Third Division, Conference Argentina. We're in a four-way jam at six points after three played, trailing Dudes FC by a single goal and leading Legion of Doom, likewise, by just one goal.

So tomorrow night's 20.20 fixture—Dudes FC v. Albina Going FC—looms large. Adding to the stakes, Dudes are also part of The Rivals Cup. The winning side will have either a slight advantage (in our case) or a massive advantage (if Dudes win) in the race to hoist the Golded Angel of Victory.

Friends, these are the games which make legends and shatter dreams. Join me in my prayers.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Skull Magnet

How does Marco Materazzi do it?

How's United Getting On?

No, not Man United, Newcastle United, DC United or any other marginally big United. With little shaking on the XIDevils front (aside from the interminable Portland Timbers hot-stove season, which has reached its annual "bitching about the shitty USL schedule" phase), it's time to check in on FC United of Manchester.

You may remember FC United: the DIY micro-club started by Manchester United supporters after American oligarch Malcolm Glazer bought the giants of Old Trafford. The Glazer deal, which saddled Man U with an enormous debt, was merely the last straw for a lot of old-school United supporters, who have watched their beloved side turn into a global commercial empire over the last two decades. Rising ticket prices, weird match times, a notoriously dead atmosphere at the ground—all inspired a group of Mancunians to take radical action. They formed their own team, jumped into the weird world of minor-division, regional football, and haven't looked back.

Last year, FC United flattened their rivals in the North West Counties Football League Division Two—which, if my calculations are correct, is ten levels down the pyramid from the Premiership. Duly promoted, the Red Rebels took off at a gallop in Division One this season. It was starting to look like FCUM (nice, huh?) would plow straight to the Football Conference (the lowest fully national division), or maybe even the League itself.

But you can't be a real club without some adversity, and FC have faced some harsh realities over the last two months. They were knocked out of the FA Vase, the national tournament for lower-division teams. Worse still, they've seen derby rivals Salford City overtake them atop the table. Can they get off the schneid and resume their cruise to glory? This week's fixture against Bacup Bourough (the club names in lower-division English football are fantastic) will go some ways towards providing the answer.

Meanwhile, check out two YouTube samples of what some of the FC United people like to call "punk football". First, a stunner from the center circle:



Then, a taste of the terrace atmosphere FCUM fans generate at the tiny stadiums where the club does its thing:

Monday, January 22, 2007

Now That's Entertainment!

Big, big weekend in the Big, Big Premierhood of Barclaycardistan. Liverpool, the Official Premierhood of Barclaycardistan Club of Eleven Devils, tonked those fractious Chelski blueboys with a couple quick goals. Arsenal provided the late dramatics of the season so far, as Henry zipped in his instantly famous winner at the "death," as they say. The Big Two, Dynamo Chelsea and Manchester Bay Buccanneers, suddenly look wobbly atop the world.

And yet you couldn't get more laughs for your hard-earned British Dinar (or...what's it called?) than Reading FC's zany 3-1 win over the mobile atrocity that is Sheffield United.

I have admitted that I am having an affair with Reading on the side, and this match give me every excuse. You have the first goalscorer brutally tackling his own team's fuzzy mascot in celebration. You have Steve "Headcracker" Hunt provoking two red cards and a goofy melee involving the coaching staffs AND THEN scoring a goal on a farcical imitation bicycle kick AND THEN celebrating by slide tackling the corner flag and nearly killing the linesman. You have at least 11 Sheffield United players who will think back on this game with mixed emotions when, in 20 years, they're drunkenly insisting to the crowd at their local that they did so play in the Premiership for a season.

It's all so jolly, I figured I had better steal some key footage off YouTube. Hands off MY content, though, you pirate scum. Everything here is copyrighted and I have some large, obscurely Slavic friends:

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Fugees v. All Comers

Warren St. John has an an absolutely superb story in today's New York Times: the tale of a club composed of refugee kids in the Atlanta suburb of Clarkston. Some version of this story could probably be found in every major city in America, but its Southern locale gives it special resonance. The Fugees face everything from passive-aggressive harassment from pink-in-the-neck municipal officials to open racial taunting (and where is FIFA?). And yet from the sounds of it, they bring joy and invention to an otherwise mundane league of well-funded soccer-mom outfits.

I'm sure the team will be besieged with offers of help after this. The article's worth reading even if you're not philanthropically inclined.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Conrad Comes Alive

Okay, maybe the United States' national team is not the most formidable side in world football. But I defy you to find any other regular international as purely and totally sweet as Jimmy Conrad.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Monday, January 15, 2007

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Triumph, Documented

Thanks to UrbanHonking's Mike Merrill, complete highlights of the Rivals Cup Inaugural Match are now available online. I particularly commend the opening seconds of the following clip, wherein I attempt to spew managerial cliches, to your attention:



Rivals Cup - Second Half on Vimeo

This Thursday night brings the first match of the Rivals Cup's on-going league format, as my trusty Unicorns face off against UrbanHonking Athletic yet again.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Enter the SuperLiga!

Okay, I guess they had to call it something. Major League Soccer and the Mexican First Division unveiled their long-awaited Champions League-style (or that's what they're calling it) joint competition today. In theory, at least, this eight-team tournament is intended to deterimine "the best club in North America." (I'm sure Costa Rican teams like Alajuelense and Saprissa are watching the mail for their 2008 invitations. And why isn't Joe Public included? WHY?)

Besides imposing a two-countries-plus-Toronto definition on "North America," the SuperLiga seems a few return legs short of a full tournament. To wit, the four teams in each of two preliminary groups will play each other only once, with no matches at all taking place in Mexico. (Even the all-Mexican fixtures will be played in US stadiums.) That's an implicit admission that fans in Mexico probably wouldn't exactly flatten the ticket booth to see, say, the Houston Dynamo. And it just doesn't strike me as particularly "Super." If you're going to launch a competition, launch it. So far, this venture has "exhibition season" written all over it.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Bang!

David Beckham signs for LA Galaxy, and for the first time in its history, Major League Soccer is genuine, top-of-the-fold (as we increasingly archaic journalists say) news. While the media pops its gourd over what Bexx brings to the table as a celebrity and glitz magnet, expect extreme teeth-gnashing in the American soccersphere: is splashing out $250M to an over-the-hill free-kick specialist worth it for a league built on the cheap? is Beckham more or less ridiculous and pitiable than Landon Donovan, his putative clubmate; what-oh-what does this say about The Game in America...?

The American soccer community (Anglophone division) is woefully dependent on English football culture as its model. (This blog is no exception). The British press loves nothing more than to excoriate Beckham (or anyone else who has tasted success but occasionally has an off week), so it's hardly surprising that a lot of fans over here don't really rate the man any more. His struggles at Real Madrid (which is, perceptive fans will note, Real Fucking Madrid) caused him to drop in just about everyone's estimation. So is this a coup or a fuck-up on a continental scale?

A few bottom-line truths from the Eleven Devils Expert Department:

—If you step back from the blather, hype and anti-hype, all D. Beckham has done in his career is: score (and create) tanker-loads of goals and win a bunch of trophies with the two biggest clubs in the world; play in three World Cups (the only Englishman to do so); and establish himself as one of the most famous practicioners of his art in the world. Only in England could someone with that CV end up a tabloid whipping-boy.

—If you don't think he's still capable of tearing MLS apart, you haven't watched the league.

—Provided he doesn't blow his ACL in his first season, he will be worth every penny to everyone involved. Adidas, MLS and the Galaxy will sell merchandise as fast as they can uncrate it. Venues across the league will sell out for his first few visits. If only one lookie-loo in 20 becomes an MLS season ticket holder, MLS will consider the investment wise.

—What do you bet that MLS Commissioner Don Garber received at least one call from a prospective expansion-club investor today?

—What do you bet MLS will schedule one of Beckham's first away games with the Galaxy in either Kansas City or Salt Lake, where the league is fighting uphill battles for publicly funded stadiums? (Sorry: stadia.)

Does hype have a lot to do with this signing? Yes. Does that make it a bad idea? Not necessarily.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

La Victoria!

theCup02

My futsal team begins its quest for Third Division (and Rivals Cup) glory on Thursday. And yes, we'll be keeping this beauty!

Good God

I mean, good God.

Monday, January 08, 2007

"When You Run Out on the Pitch, The Voices Stop"

Or so an Italian chap claims in this fascinating story about a competitive team composed of mentally ill people. The use of football as a treatment for depression and schizophreia seems quite promising. Though I must say it has never worked for me.

Case in point: Last night's Inaugural Match in the new Rivals Cup, a fierce contest between my own Albina Going FC and the robust UrbanHonking Athletic Club. As relayed below, the Albina Going fixtures office has been in protracted negotiations to arrange a friendly between the two sides for a long time. Now that both teams will feature in Portland Futsal's Third Division, it seemed natural to get this non-league match on the books. Leave it to the crafty geniuses at UrbanHonking to up the proverbial ante: team chairman Mike Merrill devised a new, unofficial cup competition to include our two sides and a third team. Last night's match, then, would determine the first cup-holders (a term that always gives me an obscure shiver, don't know about you).

After some multimedia trash-talk, both clubs were "well up for it," and turned out huge squads. We had a full five-man bench, while Athletic fielded nine and brought along a uniformed medic (!) and at least a half-dozen vocal supporters, most of whom toted signs calling for the destruction of The Mighty Unicorns. (They were nice enough, however, to make one nominally pro-Unicorns sign, which ended up in the hands of a very enthusiastic little girl. Whoever she is, she's now commander of the Unicorn Army.) With Portland Futsal owner Paul Lomanto manning the whistle, the match kicked off at about 7:25 and opened at breakneck pace.

You could see The Going's cup-tie jitters from the outset, as we repeatedly gave the ball away and conceded the first goal. However, we soon settled and managed to knock four past Athletic's portero. Unfortunately, we also gave away four, creating a Gordian knot of dramatic tension and a tied halftime scoreline.

In the second half, the Unicorns finally managed to shake off the bad voodoo of eight straight league losses: we scored five, conceded just once (despite some phenomenal pressure from UrbanHonking) and claimed the winged-angel trophy, which now sits securely on my own literal mantlepiece. Things got a bit heated at one point—but what can you expect when two proud clubs meet with hardware on the line?

During the post-match revels at the cozy (superheated, in fact) Brooklyn Park Pub, Lomanto mentioned the possibility of a Rivals Cup shrine on the walls of Portland Futsal itself. Stayed tuned for that one, football fans. In the meantime, it's likely that video highlights will appear on UrbanHonking very soon, so check 'em out. Well-played, Athletic.

* * *

NEWS UPDATE: You will all be shocked to learn that, in addition to installing a "democratic" government that can't even organize a proper hanging (even Montanans mastered that one early on), our canny plan to reinvent the Middle East starting in Baghdad has also screwed up Iraqi soccer. Not only will George Bush not have any city plazas in Baghdad named in his honor any time soon, but he'll also miss out on handing the Iraqi Cup to the winning club's captain. What's the point of an empire, then?

Saturday, January 06, 2007

THE RIVALS CUP

Thoroughout the brief and stormy existence of my futsal side, Albina Going FC (aka "The Unicorns"), we've been shadowed by a dark presence: an outfit called UrbanHonking Athletic Club (apparently also known as "Pegasus"). In two seasons of futsal, the two sides have never mixed it up. Because, frankly, we've been playing in a higher division than them. But many were the challenges exchanged, the gauntlets chucked, etc. Now, after a Second Division existence well-stocked with moral victories, Albina Going joins UHAC in Portland Futsal's Third Division...but even more importantly, we join them in the Rivals Cup.

What is the Rivals Cup? What will be the tenor of this sinister-sounding competition? Check out this fine promotional video or the yo-mamas delivered here.

This Sunday night at 7 pm, these two already-storied sides meet at Portland Futsal in a much-anticipated non-league fixture: the Rivals Cup Inaugural Match. The winner of this one-off game will be first to hold the coveted trophy. Thereafter, league points in matches between The Going, Athletic and an unknown club called Dudes FC will determine who takes possession of this unprepossessing but prestigious piece of hardware.

This format promises to provide many a thrill for football fans as it parallels the official table of the Third Division's new "Conference Argentina." But should the Rivals Cup be contested for 100 years, no match will equal the drama, intensity and special-occasion zing of this first encounter. Sunday's match will even feature a celebrity referee, in the person of Portland Futsal owner Paul Lomanto. There are also rumors that a uniformed medic will be present...JUST IN CASE.

Can the Unicorns dust off their winning magic after eight consecutive league losses and relegation? Can Team Pegasus rise to the occasion against an opponent accustomed to facing the big boys? Will this be the most exciting Portland soccer event since Pele and the Cosmos won the Soccer Bowl at Civic Stadium? Or just since the last time the Minnesota Thunder played here? Would you like to join the Unicorn Army? FIND OUT SUNDAY!

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

'007: License to Thrill!

The tumultuous first calendar year of Eleven Devils' existence reached a quiet conclusion, as my nearest and dearest celebrated the traditional Hanging of the Dark Foreign Overlord. It's these kind of olde-time rituals that bind civilization together. I say it every year: it's going to be a Nicolae Ceau┼čescu Christmas!

The two Premiership teams who enjoy the coveted XID stamp of approval, Liverpool and Reading, marked the New Year with a combined nine unanswered goals. That is surely an omen: we will see a reinvigorated US national team; a surprise Liverpool domestic double; a gripping Liverpool/Barcelona Champions League tie that will go down in history; an unbeaten run for my Albina Going Unicorns in Portland Futsal Division Three; a US Open Cup for the Portland Timbers; a Scudetto for Palermo; peace on earth; goodwill towards men.

Meanwhile, all is more or less silent in Portland soccerland. Timbers signings are beginning to dribble in as our beloved local club begins its annual process of cobbling together a squad. Somehow they haven't announced any blockbusters, but I'm sure they just didn't want the news to get lost in the Hanging of the Dark Foreign Overlord shuffle. The Unicorns, fresh from a winless relegation from the Second Division, are geared up to win Portland Futsal's third tier. Yes! A pre-season friendly against Urban Honking Athletic is in the works, which makes us feel very professional.

Finally, a Guardian writer had the good sense to celebrate the Maxi Rodriguez wondergol, which was indeed one of the finest footballing moments of 2006. Dig: