Friday, November 07, 2008


To The Esteemed Readers of Eleven Devils—

As of today, this blog moves to a new home on the World Wide Wires. Henceforth, you can find my very occasional, under-researched, thought-free dribblings regarding the Beautiful Game at this address:

Please excuse the new site's embryonic state. The full archives, a new blogroll and free candy for everyone are all coming soon. In the meantime, enjoy the very first post, and thanks, as always, for reading.

—The Proprietor.

The Master of the...Throw In?

Love it. From the Department of Tactical Innovations, the Rory Delap throw-in:

How long before the US national team adopts this as an attacking technique the American public can embrace. You use your hands!

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Mercury United

Crickey—this blog is in worse shape than the Republican Party. Aging. Out of touch. And, of course, white. I promise there will be an almighty shake-up soon, and the kind of renaissance it usually takes Harry Redknapp to pull together.

In the meantime, please observe that the Portland Mercury has prepared an excellent rundown of Portland's current standing in the MLS expansion sweepstakes, complete with the requisite vicious stabs at the Scum up north. Good times.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Sharp as the Razor in Jamie Carragher's Hand!

Zounds. Run of Play has a hot new look.

The Definition of Pain

I think it's fair to say that the Spurs/Liverpool match provided it.

How many times can a side hit the woodwork, rip open the defense only to miss by a fraction, or generally boss the whole pitch only to find that a comedic goalkeeper somehow turns back the tide? Only to see an equalizer off the head of its own iconic defender, followed by a final-minute winner from a Russia guy who was basically just standing there?

Good fucking god.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Golden Memories

If it seems like a sort of strange time for an exhaustive retrospective defense of the 1994 World Cup, well, it is. And yet behold.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Great Advances in Self-Promotional Science

In further gripping news, Eleven Devils now has a sibling blog, wherein deep thoughts on non-football-related matters will bandy themselves about. Any linkage, commentary, etc. greatly appreciated.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Joe Public

We heard a lot about Joe the Plumber in tonight's presidential debate. I was very disappointed that we didn't hear more about the views and concerns of Chastity the Exotic Dancer, Sierra the Graphic Designer and Trev, the Construction Worker Who Sells A Little Weed on the Side. Soccer fans will no doubt agree that America also needs to consider the relative positions of:

Landon, the Neurotic Striker
Jens, the Psychotic and Unpleasant Goalkeeper
Freddie, the Ghanian-Born Man-Child
Frankie, the Guy Who Dances Like a Fuckface Every Time He Scores
Thierry, the Washed-Up Supermodel
Ronny, the Brazilian Who Resembles a Horse, If You Want to be Unkind
Oguchi, the Guy Who Will Fuck You Up
Sepp, the Creepy Overlord
Bruce, the Loud-Mouthed and Strangely Underachieving Manager

Seven Into Two

It seems that Major League Soccer—perhaps taking a cue from the McCain campaign and its strange obsession with beauty queens—will pit seven markets against each other for its next two expansion slots. Will there be a talent portion to the competition? From a strictly parochial perspective, the news comes in twos:

1) Portland, in the form of the Portland Timbers, Merritt Paulson and his father, the powerful Commissar of the People's Industries and the New Central Economic Policy, is on the list, and;

2) Portland would seem not to have a chance in Hades, at least this time around. We've got Steve Nash pressing us from one side, FC Barcelona from the other, with St. Louis' long-delayed bid hammering us right down the middle. Meanwhile, any effort to secure public financing to upgrade PGE Park to MLS standards will face a tough battle, especially if Merritt's dad doesn't succeed in staving off the Second Great Depression. I would say that Barca's heft and MLS' yen for Canada (not to mention the fact that the Canadian economy is not nearly so fucked as ours) will deliver a Vancouver/Miami couplet. Saint Louis and Portland will be told, on the sly, that they're next.

Mirror, Mirror, on the Wall...

Self-promotional tidbits from the dark interior world of Eleven Devils:

The Editorial We recently wrapped up work on a series of short video documentaries, undertaken with the good people at Good. Theme: "weird sports." You can few the first four outta six clips in hi-rez grandeur here, but for your convenience, let's embed!

GOOD: Adult Soap Box Derby -

GOOD: Aussie Rules Football -

GOOD: Urban Golf -

GOOD: Dodgeball -

Yes, that is my nasal voice narrating. Thanks.

Through the excellent efforts of my ex-Albina Going Football Club teammate Nicholhino, there is also now a respectable I love you, 21st Century.

Monday, October 13, 2008

"What's the Difference Between Spurs and a Triangle?"

I have a love/hate relationship with Tottenham Hotspur. Naturally, as a fan of another Premier League team, I'm hono(u)r-bound to loathe them and wish for their eventual relegation to the Arthurian League. (Which is the coolest league, by the way—what do you make of a circuit that includes a club called "Old Haberdashers"?) In the psychotic teleology of the football fan, the desired end state of civilization is one in which the top league consists of one team: yours. However, Spurs exude a certain sympathetic aura of pre-2004-Boston-Red-Sox-esque permanent near-miss haplessness. Plus, I know a grand total of one Spurs fan personally, and he's a great guy. At some point, he will have suffered enough. Right?

Still, there is a sick grandeur to what Spurs are doing this season. Two points from 21. The very sight causes a kind of pleasurable marathoner's masochism—like, it doesn't feel good, exactly, but you're also fascinated in just how bad it could get. As we all ponder the possibility of a "major" club plying its trade in the Championship next season, get over and read this fantastic summation of Spurs' malign accomplishment over at Run of Play. As Andrew Sullivan would say, the money quote:

"Chelsea have made it to the top by spending millions of pounds on talented players and skilled managers. Tottenham have made it to the bottom by doing exactly the same thing, which is, in many ways, the more astounding feat."

Friday, October 10, 2008

Jeff Agoos v. Karl Marx

The Goose, noted political scientist, examines the dialectics of Major League Soccer.

UPDATE: You know, for some reason I've been thinking about Jeff's analysis. (I know, I'm a sad man with nothing going on.) I have heard MLS's "single-entity" structure described as "socialist" before. The thing is, socialism—while it obviously comes in many different flavors and enjoys a, uh, mixed track record in practice—really involves some form of worker ownership and control of an economy or given asset. Or, in its blander social-democratic variants, at least management of the economy for the benefit of a broad spectrum of workers. In other words, MLS isn't socialist at all: it's a cartel of owners who have agreed to share certain risks and rewards and, very specifically, manage their shared product in a way that minimizes the workers' share in the proceeds. I recall when I interviewed MLS deputy commish Ivan Gazidis a few years back, he noted that many European leagues actually looked to MLS for inspiration—at least as far as "getting salary costs under control" was concerned. In that vein, I wonder how many of the MLS developmental players who make less than $20,000 a year think they work in a "socialist" system?

Thursday, October 09, 2008

When I NAFF, I NAFF for the Timbers

A promising new series at A More Splendid Life.

Debtors Prison

Here's an interesting idea from UEFA: ban debt-saddled clubs from the Champions League. Do they really have the guts to do it? Not bloody likely, as a pathetic Anglophile (who? me?) might say. While the CL might be more interesting without Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool, it would also suffer a catastrophic loss of popularity in the more casual parts* of the global football market. Fact is, fans in North America and Asia just aren't going to rally to a European final that pits Bayern Munich against Lyon, at least not the way they rally when ManchVegas and Chelski star. Second fact is, from what I understand about football business practices in general, I believe competitions might get rather sparse if you suddenly kicked out every club with less-than-transparent finances.

Still, Platini and Co. are certainly on the right track. The issue highlights one of many fascinating sidelights in Goldblatt's mammoth history, The Ball is Round: the enduring conflict between UEFA, which is grounded in a very 21st Century, Eurodelic culture of rationality, transparency and reform, and the rest of world football governance, which is grounded in feral capitalism, corruption and self-dealing. Which side do you think will win?

*Channelling David "The Sage of Applebee's" Brooks

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

How About a Spending Freeze?

Looks like the English FA is channelling the juggernaut political idea factory inside John McCain's mind, and has angered the Barclaycard Premierhood with talk of a salary cap. A salary cap would, of course, set the Premiership on the road towards competitiveness, and thus ruin for the over-extended Big Four: they all need to make the Champions League group stages every year and tap those unfairly allocated television revenues, less the whole Ponzi scheme collapse. (And listen, Arsenal can't beat Hull City as it is—what would happen if they had to mind the balance sheet?)

Global financial worries aside, I think it would make more (or at least as much) sense to: A) cap squad sizes; and B) cap the amount a club can spend in a given transfer window. Liverpool has something like 50 guys listed on its current first-squad roster, which is absurd. Why not limit clubs to, say, 25 players plus however many senior players they can bring up through their own developmental teams? Under that formula, if a club really wanted 60 players, they would have to home-grow most of them rather than stockpiling transfer-market players who they'll never use: no more buying Swiss internationals for the occasional League Cup match. Meanwhile, if clubs faced a limit of, say, 25 million pounds total in a single window, it would force the big boys to pick and choose and curb inflation of transfer prices overall.

Now, anything else?

Monday, October 06, 2008

Great Moments in Sport

I see that Russia defeated Solomon Islands 31 : 2 in the Futsal World Cup. I'm not one to advocate going easy on anyone in a world-championship competition, but, y'know, c'mon.

Friendly Fascism

How can we claim to run a free society when, due to the oppressive practices of free Internet video sites, the only highlight reel of Liverpool's dramatic 2:3 win at ManchVegas City that I can find is a fuzzy clip...set to Ricky Martin's "La Vida Loca"?

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Sleaze Update

Preston Burpo, former member of the hated Seattle Sounders and bete noire of the Timbers Army, has not improved in the wake of his move to MLS.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

American Football Explains Nothing About Modern War Except How to Lose It

S. Wells unloads on a terrifying-sounding book.


I have a futsal match tonight, and that often makes me think of this play. It pretty much sums up what I'm capable of at my best:

Sunday, September 28, 2008

How the Mighty, Etc.

In the wake of Arsenal's 1:2 loss to Hull City (not to mention Barca's loss to Numancia, Roma's Champions League loss to Cluj, the 2:5 hiding Sexy Jurgen's gang took not long ago...), how's that inevitable European SuperLeague sounding?

Friday, September 26, 2008

Tearful Reminiscences of Empire

Sure, I'm kind of a sucker for sports nostalgia and history. But Yankees nostalgia? That's like looking back fondly on the heyday of Standard Oil.

Great Moments in Hudsonia

"Franck cannot believe it...and his daughter needs to be slapped."

—commentator Ray Hudson, as Bayern Munich's off-duty Franck Ribery glumly watches Bayern's 2:5 home loss to Werder...with his toddler daughter applauding at his side.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Everything Is Going According to Plan

American soccer fans keep constant vigil, waiting for signs that their beloved USA is creeping toward the moment when it casts off history's shackles and becomes a Great Footballing Nation. Generally, this watchful stance is expressed in excitement over new club youth-development schemes, national team performances ("we beat Guatemala again!"; "we almost played well in a friendly against a European team!"; "we fucking own Mexico, dude"; "...almost certain to qualify for 2010..."; " team in the hemisphere!"; etc.), excitement over Yanqui players signing contracts with Belgian clubs, that sort of thing. The particularly masochistic monitor MLS attendance figures on a week-to-week basis. Those who prefer the long view bide their time, waiting for various immigrant groups to deliver their demographic payload—there are, one hears, many promising young Bosnian-Americans on the way up.

But let's look at it a different way. In the last eight years, we've had:

—A tainted presidential election;

—A head of state who rests his authority on a weird cult of personality;

—A concerted, and in no way covert, effort to establish a de facto one-party political system;

—A couple of horrendously expensive, mismanaged, inconclusive (on a good day) wars;

—A few natural disasters that left major cities in Third World shambles;

—A full-tilt, debt-driven meltdown of the financial system;

—And I'm sure I'm forgetting something.

Lily-livered good-government types will look on this as a litany of woe. Soccer fans should rejoice. If this keeps up, we'll be the next Argentina in no time, churning under-fed creative midfielders out of our villas miserias by the score. As someone once said, poverty is good for nothing—except for football. And what else do you need? Health care?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Violence Porn

I will admit that, as keen a football fan as I may be, I would not ordinarily seek out the YouTube highlights of Manchester United v. Middlesboro in the Carling Cup. But when I read Sir Alex's strident condemnation of the foul inflicted on his young Brazilian player, I, well, you know. Had to see it. Not proud, etc. And it is, indeed, a pretty fuckin' atrocious play: not suitable for children or other impressionable minds, which makes it highly ironic that it happened at Old Trafford.


So Landon Donovan may go to Bayern Munich, eh? My trusty volume of Wikipedia informs me that Bayern's current squad includes Luca Toni, Lukas Podolski and Miroslav Klose at forward, with attacking midfielders such as Franck Ribery and Ze Roberto.

Where does Landon fit in all this?

Thursday, September 18, 2008


A non-football note: one of the finest writers from my hometown passed away this morning. James Crumley—in addition to propping up the bar at Charlie B's tavern and providing gruff advice to younger people so foolish as to desire careers in the Literary Arts—wrote one of the best first sentences in all of modern American crime fiction. And here, in memoriam, it is:

"When I finally caught up with Abraham Trahearne, he was drinking beer with an alcoholic bulldog named Fireball Roberts in a ramshackle joint just outside of Sonoma, California, drinking the heart right out of a fine spring afternoon."

The Last Good Kiss, 1978

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

I've Got a Terrible Case of Anorthosis!

The great thing about the Cypriot side's 0-0 result yesterday—aside from the fact that it may well have marked the first Champions League point for a club that has existed in a state of exile from its home city for nearly 40 years—is that it came against Werder Bremen. I hate Werder Bremen...and I don't know why. An irrational thing, hate. I have only two working theories as to the roots of my distaste for a club which has, so far as I can tell, nothing to do with anything I care about or even pretend to care about:

1) Its squad includes the loathsome Torsten Frings, who everyone knows is an unindicted war criminal who should be living under an assumed name in rural Uruguay;

2) The club has used the hated Comic Sans font for the player names on the back of its kit.

Of the two offenses against good taste, I would say Number Two is by far the more serious. Players come and players go. The use of Comic Sans stands as an indelible attack on civilization.

This Will Work Perfectly

So, thus far Liverpool are playing not-very-good football, and yet have not suffered a single bad result in seven competitive fixtures. With just eight and a half months to go, I see that formula holding up really well.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Premature Schadenfreude Alert

Not that I'm excited about the prospect of a global financial meltdown and a Second Great Depression, but how awesome is it that Manchester United's shirt sponsor looks like it will be the next to implode? As I just read on the Blogs:

The message is loud and clear: AIG is toast.

The Weevils could well be running around with shirts that say PANIC! next week. On the other hand, Liverpool is sponsored by a company that sells alcohol, and is thus perfectly positioned for a severe worldwide economic crisis.

Forza Famagusta

This fantastic piece on the Champions League's obscurities, aside from its own merits, took me back: to the days when I would burrow into two- and three-week-old British newspapers that somehow washed ashore in the University of Montana's crypt-like Mansfield Library. This was before John McCain invented the Internet (or, as we called them on their advent, "The Wires"), and European football existed on the same approximate American consciousness level as Bhutanese politics. (Not like today, as the game nears French-politics-level, with Cristiano Ronaldo in the Carla Bruni role.) In those sepia-toned days of yore, I would always look out for Amy Lawrence, because I thought her writing some of the freshest, and her columnist photo one of the fittest, if you know what I mean. Eighty-five years later, it's good to see that she's still on her game.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Season of the Witch

Not to make light of the Congo witchcraft stadium tragedy, but an unreconstructed, irresponsible part of my soul harbors the feeling that the American soccer scene would be a lot more interesting if it involved fewer die-cut suburbanoids and more fetish-wielding sorcerers. Just an opinion.

Saturday, September 13, 2008


Two-one, two-one, two-one, two-one....

A pair of ridiculous goals. Man United wearing fey white uniforms, maybe so Berbatov doesn't get confused. Alex Ferguson, reminded by Liverpool fans that when it comes to his florid mug, one need never mock alone. All quite a good time, really.

Good to see the traditional Big Four taking shape. Chelsea. Liverpool. Arsenal. Hull City. There are your Champions League entrants for 2009.

Friday, September 12, 2008


Daniel the Red covers The Stooges:

Inspiring Words

"There are a lot of them that will not be here next year, so they need to perform in order to find a new club."

—Portland Timbers manager Gavin Wilkinson, on his players' final match of the season.

Twenty-nine matches played. Seven wins. Is Wilkinson going to be here next year?

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Croatia Reinvents the Beautiful Game

Eureka! It turns out that if no one plays defense, football becomes a very high-scoring affair.

All credit to Theo Walcott's very cool finishing (and even some credit to Wayne Rooney for his), but Christ on a unicycle, there was just no marking at all. The aftermath will no doubt result in a long national emotional crisis in Croatia, which will only be resolved by the Ninth Balkan War in 2034. The really great thing, however, is that this kind of result cues England-Can-Win-It-All hysteria, which naturally sets up the horrendous (yet inevitable) mental breakdown of 2010 to perfection.

Thursday, September 04, 2008


Hard to know what to make of one of the best clubs in Major League Soccer being beaten—make that thrashed—by mighty mighty Joe Public Football Club. Then again, maybe it's not.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Heavy Weather

Lord. It's exhausting just to read about all Liverpool had to do to survive Standard Liege today. So that makes four outings for the Reds so far, and four pretty dismal performances. Still, four good results. A funny old game, etc.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Back to School

Well, where were we then? The Eleven Devils School for Luckless, Brutal and Unskilled Defenders has been quiet indeed during the dog-days lull. Basically, I haven't been watching any football and thus found very little to say as August smoldered away, authoritarian Olympic glories and all. I don't know why the European leagues insist on starting up in August, when it would clearly behoove them to wait until September when I am ready to focus, see.

Still, it is time to grind the gears and get going for another season—not forgetting, of course, that we Americans are actually coming to the end of our stupid off-calendar championships, with MLS all a-flux (Bruce Arena's back! Columbus is still up top of the table! Excitement!) and the Portland Timbers engaged in a desperate struggle for the bottom-most First Division playoff spot. (Consider: they have won six of 25 matches and could still theoretically win the league. Genius.) Meanwhile, a couple of delightfully willful and mean-spirited goals against 'Boro have Liverpool masquerading as title-contenders, and I've got Deco on my fantasy team. Huzzah and hurrah—it's anorak time again!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Adu's Grace Kelly Moment

So, after beginning his career in a strange little federal district, Freddy Adu continues it in a strange little principality. From DC to Salt Lake to Lisbon to Monaco: one of the more unusual soccer career paths, even today. I'm a little puzzled as to why Adu's Benfica performance gets such bland reviews; 21 appearances, five goals and an established role as a super-sub seem like worthy accomplishments for a 19-year-old playing in Europe for the first time. (Then again, I've always been an Adu apologist...) Did anyone think he was going to Benfica as something more than a squad player? If he makes Monaco's XI on a regular basis, this move makes sense for both Benfica and Adu—they'll build up the value of their investment, he'll get the playing time he craves. But I'm skeptical. Ligue 1 is a step up from Portugal, which would lead me to think that, absent a dramatic elevation in his game, he'll probably be on the substitute bench again, or maybe even the reserve team. And what then?

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Surreal Season

Ah, late July. The Euros are over. The Olympics haven't started. Europe is embroiled in goofy transfer crises. Liverpool is busy stacking its reserve team with Swiss defenders and French teenagers. All the big clubs are off playing Guangzhou or someone. West Ham is playing the MLS All-Stars while the Inter-City Firm takes the measure of the Columbus casuals. The New England Revolution subdued a naked lunatic on an airplane. Giorgio Chinaglia is wanted by the law in connection with some bizarre Italian-football-criminal-scandal situation, which is to say a totally commonplace Italian football situation. DC United and Houston played a game with more weather delays than goals, which apparently finished with about 140 people in the stands. The Superliga is happening, maybe. The sound of the buzzing flies in my house is the sound of infinity.

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Singularity Is Near

Prepare thyselves: West Ham fans engaged in aggro with...Columbus Crew fans? The Columbus Crew? Man, some weird shit is going on in the pulsating heart of Ohio's football nation: first the club's cosmic-order-defying run at the top of the table earlier this season, then the "racist chanting" scandal (you're not a real club until you've had one), now this.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Spirit of the Moment Dictates That I Call This One "Buzzkill"

This has nothing to do with football, but anyway. Buzz. Buzz Bissinger. Those who frequent the intellectual red light district known as the Blogosphere will know Buzz, the Certified Author who went bananas on Bob Costa's HBO chat show, getting all up in the grill of Deadspin's Will Leitch, accusing Leitch and his fellow bloggers of dragging the English language into the dirt, destroying the elevated tone of American sporting discourse (?) and, most of all, of displaying insufficient dedication to the Craft of Writing. The Craft of Writing, of course, must be learned using an Olivetti manual typewriter in the course of filing deadline-driven 400-word reports on American Legion games for slave-driving, micro-minded alcoholic newsroom lifers at theSmileyville Herald. The ill-disciplined youth of today have the temerity of skipping straight to those gimcrack Computational Machines, sounding off about the Majors without paying their dues, and writing without editors. Bad Things, man.

But I come not to rehash the Bissinger Diatribe, amply rehashed elsewhere. Nor, really, to prosecute any beef with Buzz, who does actually have some grade-A books to his credit. I just want to say that Bissinger doesn't really do his argument any favors with this sort of thing, a weird op-ed column for the Times. The Craft of Writing notwithstanding, this column contains the following phrases, which technical experts and even some gifted amateurs may recognize as "cliches":

"Pick your poison."
"I couldn't help but pinch myself."
" naked eye..."

Okay, whatever: I use them too. Not trying to be mean. Just saying. The larger problems, two-fold:

1) In a short space Bissinger manages a complete evocation of the Serious Writer going off in the usual fashion about the National Pastime. I love baseball, but Sweet Jesus, can we declare a five-year moratorium on odes to the bucolic majesty of the greensward? All the usual ingredients of Serious Baseball Writing are here: nostalgia; conservatism; passing attacks on free agency and modern equipment; the gee-whiz sense that the whole thing just oozes American goodness. Which I'm sure the College World Series does—but do your journalistic duty, man, and tell me something I don't know.

2) And then there's the strange twist the thing takes in the last few paragraphs, when it becomes clear that Bissinger wrote the thing, in no small part, because he got into a mini-brawl with stadium security. He wanted to take his camera into the park. They said no. Some sort of physical fracas ensued. The writer got roughed up, had to leave his camera behind, et cetera. I don't know what to make of it, really. Odd little story, which Bissinger tries to make fit into his overall thesis that the NCAA is evil—a thesis I can well believe, by the way, but which he does not prove dead-to-rights in this instance at all.

But they roughed me up! Buzz, I hate to break it to you this way, but that's what often goes down when you tangle with stadium security, a breed even less well-known for its professional comportment than sportswriters. I further hate to break it to you, but there is a forum tailor-made for one man's account of his fight with security guards—better suited to such tales, in fact, than the columns of the nation's leading newspaper. That forum, my friend, is called a "blog."

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

A Fan's Club? Alternative Freedom Club? Ask For Chips?

First came AFC Wimbledon. Then, FC United of Manchester. Now, not to be left behind, Liverpool supporters are launching their own grassroots "alternative" club into England's netherworldly non-league pyramid. Judging by the preliminary reports, AFC Liverpool will, fittingly enough, be sort of like the Beatles to FC United's Stones: roughly similar historical circumstances, less angry response. Both Manchester United and Liverpool FC have been subjected to messy takeovers by American interests; both fanbases include a lot of people who can no longer practically afford to go to Premier League games. But while FCUM comes across all punk-football-snotty and antiestablishment, so far AFC Liverpool just wants to get along with the Big Club, quietly plying its trade in the North West Counties League and hoping a player makes it to Anfield some day. (AFC does, however, boast a fairly amazing club crest, which combines the traditional Liverpool bird with a couple of bold Victory of Socialism red stars and a stylized wheat garland worthy of a propaganda poster celebrating the History Achievements of Soviet Agriculture.)

It's all fairly intriguing: could we be seeing the evolution of a new model, wherein every standard, Champions League-playing, international-talent-stacked MegaClub owned by deracinated oligarchs comes with a scrappy little Doppelganger, owned and controlled by local fans who will divide (or multiply) their allegiance? Will we see an AFC Chelsea, an FC Aston Villa of Birmingham? And how transportable is this strategy? Here in the States, with our next-to-nonexistent pyramid, franchise system and lack of promotion and relegation, any fan-owned alternative would probably have to start at an even more modest level, like a local or regional amateur league. But given the persistent (if thus far guerrilla-level) crackle of discontent about the rampant commercialization of the sport around the world, I would bet this sort of thing starts many wheels turning in many minds, and not just in England.

A National Disgrace

Somehow, I missed the fact that the United States failed to qualify for the Beach Soccer World Cup. I didn't even get a chance to join the howling mob that undoubtedly stoned the team at the airport on its return from the unsuccessful campaign. Still, it's never too late for a moment of national reflection. Solomon Islands will be there. So will El Salvador, with a team composed of "amateurs and fishermen," according to the FIFA website. And yet we will not be there. Where does the madness end?

Monday, July 14, 2008

20 Pints a Night V. Luther Blissett

Not that I feel very sympathetic to a multimillionaire who can't "adjust" to working in a foreign country without the help of a specialized minder, but this Simon Kuper column on the struggles of relocating footballers contains a couple gems. First, his description of the core of English football culture ("drinking 20 pints of beer in a night") is one for the ages. Second, the lede (that's journalism talk!) reminds me of the days when English anarchists used to attribute many of their polemics and other writings to one Luther Blissett. When asked about this, Blissett sensibly said something on the order of, "Well, it seems they like using my name."

Kurdistan Wanderers

I'm preparing (oh so slowly) a massive post on a massive book: David Goldblatt's The Ball is Round, a tome that Ray Hudson would describe as "MAGISTERIAL!" In the meantime, have a look at this interesting look at Kurdistan's halting efforts to pull together a national side, a story that would fit right in with Goldblatt's enormous reckoning of the intersection of the global game and global politics. It's, like, educational.

UPDATE: In further news from the strange (but sort of awesome) parallel universe of the VIVA World Cup (which awards a bauble with the excellent Soviet-ish name Trophy for the Freedom of Peoples), Pitch Invasion reports that Umberto Bossi, head of Italy's separatist Northern League, showed up to cheer on the Cup-winning side "Padania." The fact that Bossi is a minister in the current Italian government notwithstanding, etc.

Friday, July 11, 2008

That's the Spirit

"Everyone is replaceable in this game. Everyone's a commodity."

—inspiring words from Portland Timbers manager Gavin Wilkinson.

Thursday, July 10, 2008


Sweet news from the nether reaches of the North American game (motto: "Taking What We Can Get Since Approximately Forever"): after the US Open Cup quarterfinals ended in a flurry of penalty kicks and red cards, two First Division teams landed in the semis. With Charleston and Seattle paired off in the next round, the scrappy little league that subsists in MLS' slender shadow is guaranteed a spot in the Final, and thus a possible berth in next year's continental Champions League.* True Fans will, of course, pull for Charleston, and not only because the Seattle Sounders collectively worship a nameless demon entity. Thanks to the franchise system, the Sounders are "going up" to the Major League regardless of their results this year, so only a Battery victory will yield a true Cinderella tale. Follow?

Meanwhile, north of the Border, a faintly similar story unfolds. The First Division's Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps are holding their own against MLS' Toronto FC in the weird three-team mini-league ("The Nutrilite Canadian Championship") that determines the Dominion's entrant in the Champions League. (Yes, I know it's not called "Dominion" any more. I'm a nostalgic.) While the 'Caps finished with four points and thus exited with a moral victory, Montreal can win the thing with a draw against the Football Club** on the final matchday.

* Which, being a CONCACAF affair, will probably be a joke, but still. It's called the CHAMPIONS LEAGUE, so it must be awesome.

** Which reminds me: does anyone remember when CONCACAF tried to rebrand itself as "The Football Confederation"? Good times. I think we should call it The Special Confederation.

Rocky Mountain High

Looks like the Colorado Rapids have overhauled their squad in a fairly dramatic fashion.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

The Invisible Hand

I know economics is supposed to be all rational and whatnot, but the just-compiled league table of top-earning footballers calls the dismal science into question. Or, at least, points to a paradox: a striking number of the top boys are totally past their prime as players. I'm not saying D. Becks or old Henry don't still offer some value on the field, because they obviously do. Ronaldhino—I would say the jury is out. Kaka and Ronaldo and Rooney still seem to be in their pomp, as it were, but what exactly is Shevchenko trading on these days? Does this list hint at the existence of a de facto system in which superstars truly cash in after they've already exhausted their peak playing days? Or are these guys being paid to sell shirts?

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Regular Service Resumed

Now that the Euros are over and we have a spare 15 minutes before the Big Leagues start up again, it's time for American soccer fans to do what they do best: obsess over competitions that no one else in the world (and the country? forget about it) has ever heard of. To wit, the US Open Cup, our national knock-out tournament, which continues a perpetually beleaguered and occasionally glorious history that dates back to 1914. (We all remember Brooklyn Field Club's edgy 2-1 victory over Brooklyn Celtic in the first final...and who could forget Greek American AA's dominance in the late '60s?)

Last night's Open Cup action—televised just about nowhere, as far as I can tell—saw three classic giant-killings. The Amalgamated Forces of Satan Everlasting, also known as the Seattle Sounders, wiped out Chivas USA; Charleston Battery beat defending MLS champions Houston on penalties before 3,000 (no, no decimals missing) at Blackbaud; and something called Crystal Palace Baltimore zapped the ever-hapless New York Red Bulls. Unfortunately, our hometown Portland Timbers are "concentrating on the league" after the unpleasant Hollywood United business...but this is still a great tournament.

(ADDENDUM: "Concentrating on the league," that is, except for the two mid-season friendlies against Mexican clubs coming right up, which I believe would qualify as "concentrating on the balance sheet.")

Only a Liverpool Man Could Do It

And they said Pepe Reina played no role.


All hail a great new football onomatopoeia: "tiki-taka," apparently a Spanish nonsense phrase to describe how Spain plays, with lots of fast, crackling short passes. To me, that was the most impressive aspect of the new Euro champions, and I hope it's an inspiration to club and youth coaches and third-rate Portland-based futsal teams everywhere.

Viva Cascadia!

News of the VIVA World Cup, a competition for wanna-be nations, micronations, notional states and parallel-reality empires, leads me to wonder: Where is the Republic of Cascadia? My word, if Sealand can get a team together, why can't we?

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

The Accent Debate

I'm not one to leap to the defense of ESPN on too many occasions, but Jack Bell's excoriation of the network, occasioned by its use of British announcers during its Euro '08 telecasts, seems a little off-base too me, if I may use a baseball metaphor. This position strikes me as a logical outgrowth of Bell's larger objections to Anglophilia in the American game—the veneration of British coaches, teams and playing styles at the expense of other (specifically, Latin) influences. I actually agree with Bell about most of that: I don't think the tendency to turn Soccer America into the sixth Home Nation really does the game here many favors; among other things, it exacerbates the divide between Latino and Anglophone football/futbol cultures, which really holds the sport back. Half of American football goes "down the pub" to see English Premier League games and enrolls its progeny in pricey suburban-ish youth soccer programs, while the other half maintains rabid interest in the Mexican league and plays its football in ethnic leagues. Our national team contenders go off to race around the bottom half of the Premiership, which turns out to be excellent preparation for getting bossed off the pitch by the Czechs and Ghanaians. A house divided against itself, etc.

But in this particular instance, I think Bell argues from general principles rather than the specifics of the case. First of all, Andy Gray and Adrian Healey did a very good job. I thought, anyway.

Second, are those dudes better than the JP Dellacameras and John Harkeses of the world? Um, yeah. No disrespect to the latter, who I'm inclined to give their due and a "Most Improved" citation, but the level of tactical analysis was markedly higher during this tournament. Maybe it's a subconscious thing: British announcers operate on the assumption that they're talking to knowledgeable (or, y'know, close) fans, where American announcers feel a nagging obligation to explain things to the "average sports fan." The American soccer fan, Anglophone or not, knows when he or she is being condescended to, which is why previous major tournaments have seen English-speakers turning to Univision in droves.

Third, Bell seems to think ESPN's decision represents an attempt to appeal to expatriates rather than home-grown fans. This ignores the fact that a sizable portion of serious Anglophone soccer fans in this country, native born or not (and does that really matter) are English Premier League fans, and thus are accustomed to the dulcet tones of the Mother Country.

I do hope ESPN mixes up its World Cup teams. Why not retain Andy Gray and team him with Harkes? Stick Dellacamera with Healey to see what happens? Make Tommy Smyth and Julie Foudy work as a man-on-the-street reporting team in Soweto? It would be fun.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Insert "Reign of Spain" Pun Here

I remember him well. An old Italian dude, crusty as a ciabatta, in the little Chicago cafe I ducked into for Italy v. Australia. We talked a little World Cup between the Aussie fouls and the frustrated Italian grimaces. In spite of his rabid partisanship (he gave a hearty vaffunculo! when Italy converted its decisive penalty), he fancied Spain, which at that time was still ripping along nicely.

"The Spanish, they are young," he said. "They are fast. And they play like Champagne bubbles—pop, pop, pop."

And so it was. But as we all know now, that Champagne Spain went flat against the sturdier old wine of France in that tournament. Last night, however, the unfulfilled promise of that team—and a hell of a lot of other Spanish teams—was redeemed. The problem with champagne football is that its effervescence often masks a lack of the requisite steel backbone. After six unbeaten performances against very, very formidable opposition (let's see: a certified Team of the Future in Russia; defending European champions; defending world champions; and, of course, the Mannschaft) and goals conceded only every 200 minutes or so, it's safe to say Spain 2008 solved that problem. In a tournament that offered many, many flavors of the minute—didn't Holland have a team in there at one point?—Spain confirmed its overall supremacy with a performance that had both coltish flair and grown-up intelligence. When you can make Germany flail around like that, you have mastered both sides of football, the happy-talk "beautiful game" stuff and the essential dark arts. Torres' goal summed it all up: wily and physical as he out-duelled Lahm; brilliant and delicate in the finish.

One of the beguiling things about this sport is that you're never quite sure what you're seeing. Last night found me thinking that while Aragones is certainly a racist prick and looks like the host of Tales from the Crypt, he just may have assembled a team for the ages. Then again, last week I was talking about the break-through genius of Arshavin, and I was not alone. Spain certainly has the raw material for an all-time great team, but we'll just have to see. In the meantime, this tournament was a masterwork on their part, no doubt about that.

Ze Germans, on the other hand, have an admirable team that still needs a certain something. They can start by getting rid of Lehmann, who I see whining about the referees in today's papers. Call the whaaaaaaaaaa-bulance. Old Jens could have been sent off for handling outside the area. He has nothing to complain about. For all the talent in the team, and despite creating a real pressure-cooker in the second half, Germany never really looked like they were going to win. And that, itself, was a disconcerting thing...almost like a new era dawneth. But ask me again in two years.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

"They Are Not Giant Raspberries"

This closing ceremony is just absolutely amazing. Amazing. That is all for now.

Friday, June 27, 2008

It Is An Entertainment Show

Yesterday, Matthew Yglesia's political blog took a brief and (as usual) dubious detour into the Americans-don't-like-soccer-why-is-that-oh-yes-they-do-oh-no-they-don't-it's-because-of-the-low-scoring-well-actually-are-other-sports-really-so-different-I-hate-the-diving-I-don't-like-nil-nil-draws-but-actually-nil-nil-draws-can be-quite-compelling-et-cetera-ad-nauseum debate. Eleven Devils made its customary ill-advised and instantly regretted foray into the comment stream, which at this point in World History is like watching people argue about whether the Earth circles the Sun...or, is that just what They want you to think? Still, the blog comments did include this incredible explanation of football's enduring appeal:

Why soccer becomes so popular that even Presidents and Kings come and support their teams play? You will certainly see them at major tournaments. these are my comments...As a show, soccer has a lot of handsome and well balanced body and very-rich players-celebs (thats why a lot of girls watch soccer ). The soccer players are like our common neighbors, tall or short, but with strong, energetic, cute or handsome appearances.

TV coverage has a strong effect. We can see acrobatic and dramatic slow motions, we can see their fine faces closely. It is an entertainment show.

That's all that give soccer the number one sport around the world excepting Americans who call their no-foot ball as football and basketball full of giants .. ops sorry.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Memo to Spain: I Appreciate You.

So, I've been feeling a little churlish all day, like may be the ramble below did not give Spain due credit. To be honest, I was so disappointed in Russia—who were worse today than the counterfeit Stolichnaya I drank in Moscow in 1996—that I was not sufficiently impressed by Spain. I just watched the highlights, and feel the need to make amends: la Furia was, at least a moments, great. I would say Xavi got a little lucky, ghosting in straight through the heart of the defense without a soul around, but who thrives without luck in this game? He created the play to begin with, and killed it off crisply. Guiza's goal was a very nifty finish, a deft and delicate flick when he could easily have smashed it straight into the goalkeeper. And then, that third—the hexagon of sparky short passes in midfield, and then Iniesta's beautiful little lob to slit the defense: awesome. So, Spain, it's not I'm not into you or anything...

Dead-Blogging Russia v. Spain

Well, that's that, then. After we all convinced ourselves that the opening group game no longer mattered (why? because!), Spain proves that it was, in fact, a pretty good gauge of the two sides' relative quality. Arshavin—Arsh-who? Maybe the poor lad started reading this blog, that blog and the other blog, all of which got into a tizzy over his two-game wonder. Now it's time for him to call one of those shady big-wheel PR firms that specialize in rehabilitating the images of infamous political regimes and stars gone wrong.

By the powers vested in me, I give this game 5/10. Neither side could get to grips with the thing in the first half, which had an entertainingly discombobulated schoolyard air. As soon as Spain put together some half-decent (and no more) football, they had Russia by the throat; Russia seems to have lost the old Guus nous over the last few days, because they had not a fucking clue what to do with themselves. After the first goal—and, all due respect to Xavi, the defense was marking about as well as my futsal team does—Russia tried to play like Hiddink's Australia, and take a pound of flesh if nothing else. Dispiriting—and, good for Spain, la Furia responded by coming alive, pinging it around with some semblance of verve and constructing a pair of neat little goals.

Solid for Spain. Awful for Russia. And Germany must be feeling pretty swell about Sunday.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Doener Kebab Cup

I rate that one a solid 8/10. Rattling crossbars. Bloody heads. A meaty geopolitical backstory. Sweaty coaches: Joachim "Es ist nicht ein Fashionmullet!" Loew, guiding the Mannschaft home, if you know what I mean; and that Turkish fella. That Turkish fella! Can we get him in MLS like yesterday, please? A blown penalty call, which I forgave the referee for immediately because the victim was Phillip Lahm (and because I would totally "switch" for that referee). Another one of Turkey's October surprises, undone by same.

Yes, this game pretty much had it all, or at least that's what I was able to discern amid the frequent interruptions in service, caused by lightning strikes attracted to the titanium android carapace concealed beneath Michael Ballack's "human skin." I started out a mildly pro-German neutral (you could call it the "Hungary 1939" model), but whore that I am I soon switched to backing the Turks. For one thing, they played by far the better football. For another, so many of my fellow Americans down at Kells were backing Germany that I got annoyed. How boring and Europhile. It was also a joy to see Jens Lehmann, a rude and ungentlemanly character who is (he said in a self-righteous tone of voice) just not a good team player, so comprehensively befuddled. In the first half, Turkey were composed when they needed to be and brassy when they wanted to be.

But they forgot one iron rule of international football: to beat Germany, it's not enough to outplay them. You have to jam a wooden stake into the Thing's heart and cut off the head—otherwise, the Thing keeps lumbering at you, jumping up at sky-balls like a dog playing Frisbee. And indeed, even after Turkey stung back with the late equalizer, Lahm—who bugged me throughout but ended up playing an intriguing anti-heroic role that I must respect—converted his chance with the lethal, coldblooded mindlessness of a warrior insect. Spain and Russia, you're on notice: plan to score 20.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Use World Cup As Bludgeon to Force SA's Hand in Zimbabwe?

Hmm. I honestly can't say if this makes sense or not.

Margaritaville United

Here's what a day of baby-sitting will do to a man: I just spent 17 good minutes of my life watching highlights (?) of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying matches, including Jamaica's 7-0 win over Bahamas and Guatemala's 6-0 win over Saint Lucia. I'm all for the minnows having their God-given World Cup chance, but doesn't it seem sort of cruel and unusual? Is this football, or target practice? (Strangely enough, the 2-2 draw between Honduras and, of all places, Puerto Rico, looked like it might have actually contained some decent play.)

ITEM: Guatemala did a kind of cool goal celebration, in which half the team ran to the touchline, sat down and imitated a rowing crew. Significance unknown. But how gauche is it to whip out elaborate post-goal festivities when you're beating Saint Lucia?

ITEM: I now know where I'm going if my whole life ever collapses: Saint Lucia, to either coach or play for the national team.

ITEM: CONCACAF sucks. I think the USA and Mexico should pull a "double Australia", secede and join up with the LatAms. Let Canada and Carlos Ruiz (who scored four against S. Lucia) have their fun.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Arshavin's Cross

That was just a brilliant game. As many have noted, Holland had the air of a successful, confident young man who suddenly runs into his more successful, more confident Doppelganger on the street: they didn't quite know what to do. And in retrospect, maybe the Dutch had it too easy in the so-called Group of Death, feasting on an Italy that obviously sent out the wrong XI, a France in steep decline and an all-too-Romanian Romania. But let's not take anything away from Russia, a team transformed in the last two games by the reappearance of this...this...this...this Arshavin kid. He looks like a 12-year-old who decided to go as the Fifth Beatle for Halloween, but the way he plays makes it seem like the last five or ten years of ball-flicking Brazilian mononyms and Portugese step-over artists never happened. Could the best player in the world be a wicked fast, clever, attack-specialist Slav? Not saying, just asking.

Anyway, hyperbole aside, that second Russian goal keeps playing in my head. You've seen it a million times: a player rushes down to the endline like he has something Important in mind...and then the ball spins out of bounds, or dribbles to the keeper, or flies off into row Z on the other side of the park. But when was the last time you saw a player pull the rock back, loop a parabola all the way over the goal, and hit the exact six-square-inch spot at the far post occupied by the lashing ankle of a teammate who started his run 30 yards out? Good night, Irene. Man.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

The Third Rome

I admit it: I wrote Russia off after Spain poleaxed them in the first group game. I forgot who Guus Hiddink is, and I'm afraid I just didn't know much about Arshavin. I stand corrected.

Clash of Civilizations

A Dutch-American friend writes:

What was once an ideological empire tempering the market fundamentalist tendencies of the West has itself become the very caricature of capitalist excess. It is a national morality tale, like 1920s America. Today's Russia is the Great Gatsby writ large.

And that only highlights what a great duel could await us in today's Holland v. Russia, um, fixture. It's not quite Good Against Evil, Cold War-style, but the political science of the thing intrigues. Everyone's favorite sexy, 420-friendly, progressive little social democracy—a country that enjoys an entire export industry in groovy architects—against the sinister Bear, the ever-murky petro-imperialist kleptocratic appointive monarchy skulking on the edge of Europe in a knock-off Adidas track suit. These aren't just two football teams, they're two bloody sides of the Janus-faced Western World! Should be good times.

I would love to come off all right-thinking and say that 100 percent of my being is behind Holland—easily the most cohesive and attractive national team in years, bar a few moments of brilliance from Argentina here and there—but my Russophile tendencies mean that I, like Raskolnikov on one of his more perplexing days, suffer from a divided consciousness. Certainly, the Netherlands should be rewarded for its rockin'-good football and for not having creepazoid ex-KGB men in charge. On the other hand, to see the Orangje undone by the Empire, under the crafty tutelage of a mercenary Dutch coach, would make for one hell of a plot twist. Davai, Rossiya! Hup Holland!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Departed

Usually, a bittersweet feeling sets in at the end of the group phase of a major tournament. Friends old and new must take their leave, and all of a sudden half the storylines in the soap opera disappear. In the World Cup, there's always some spunky underdog—a Trinibagonian or two—to mourn. Teams that may have played some tasty football—yer Cote d'Ivoires and so on—fail to survive. There's almost always a big part of me that feels like the really fun part of the affair ends when the multiculti two-games-a-day fete gives way to the zero-sum knockouts.

This time, not so much. Portugal, eliminated today by Michael Ballack's noggin (have I mentioned how impressive that thing is?), is the first side I've been at all sorry to see go. France? What a non-entity they turned out to be. I guess, based on WC2002 and this go-round, that The Feeling skips a tournament for them. Who else was there again? The Czechs? Eh. Romania? The thinking man's Austria. Switzerland? I actually spent one night there once, and barely remember it; I feel the same about the team. Somehow, even though this tight 16-nation format probably ensures a stronger field overall than the bloated, continental-affirmative-action-diluted World Cup, Euro 2008's also-rans are a pretty tepid lot.

On the other hand, who would have expected a match-up between Turkey and Croatia, a pair of outsider teams that looked in serious decline a couple years ago, to look so promising? Or that Russia, of all intercontinental empires, would suddenly look like the crew to give Holland a challenge? Or that the Dutch, kind of a cynical and brutal outfit two years back, would get all soulful and total-football-nostalgic? It's been a great championship so far—just a very unbalanced one.

Beer Hall Putsch

Made a brief stop at the Thirsty Lion, just in time to see Ballack pop his header past Ricardo, with just enough time before I fled back to work (it will make you free, you know) to engage the guy sitting next to me in a vigorous debate over whether the bludgeon-skulled German striker fouled his defender. He seemed to think Ballack's two-handed launch constituted a definite foul. I held that while that may, in fact, have been true, it was the sort of tactical contact that happens all the time, and if you're looking for that call in a major championship, you are probably beaten anyway. Certainly, defenders get away with much worse all the time.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Idol Speculation

If, as Spangly Princess suggests and his form with both Barcelona and France seems to confirm, Thierry Henry is as past it as a reality show about talentless (but slut-riffic) starlets living among the commoners...does that mean we can crank the Thierry-Henry-to-MLS rumor mill as high as she'll go? We already saw an Henry boomlet when Seattle got the MLS nod (as a result of a malign cosmic conspiracy) and let drop some press-bait re: a plan to stuff the Frenchman's pockets with Cascadian-American dollars. I would say New York, shorn of its most promising star by the Altidore transfer and looking pretty creaky in the Designated Player department, would make the most commercially logical destination. Then again, maybe Superclub LA will find a way to bend the rules (imagine) to turn their lockerroom into a real Premiership 2000 reunion. It would be awesome—just like an Oasis tour.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Diving, Schmiving

I long ago stopped caring about soccer-bashing American sportswriters—or, anyway, I decided to try to stop caring, in preference to my former habit of allowing the 17,492nd version of the "soccer: sport of pederastic Trotskyites" opinion piece drive me into insane, fist-gnawing rage. Now I just shake my head with rueful amusement and put the writer in question on my long list of people never to read again. ('Round our place, we call this the Hitchens List.)

But here's a phenom I see more and more: the former-skeptic-turned-reluctant-half-convert, trying to make sense of matters futbol, in ways that may irritate those of us well-versed in Trotskyite pederasty but can also be of interest. Case in point for the day comes from Salon's King Kaufmann. I was sad to write King off a few years ago, because he's got one of the great by-lines in modern sports journalism and because Salon's readership, composed entirely of latte-sipping Volvo-driving Barack-loving bobo nerds like myself, enjoys 1:1 overlap with the Anglophone-Yank (Yanglo?) soccer demographic. I'm glad to see the King get with the programme (please note Trotskyite spelling; le program is also acceptable), even if he hasn't quite swallowed that delicious final gram of Drogba-flavored Kool-Aid yet.

One thing that continues to puzzle me, though, is why My Fellow Americans have such a fixation about diving. Yes, it's a disgrace to the game and all that, but aren't the big-time American sports full of cheaters and whiners, too? It seems like every NFL player breaks some rule on every play, and baseball is now a well-known chemistry experiment. As far as I can tell, the NBA consists almost entirely of Kobe and Shaq trying to game the refs, while the refs nervously check their Blackberries at every time out for their latest instructions from various Sicilian fraternal organizations. So what's the big deal with some skinny Italian boys rolling around like little bunnies in the meadow? I think it's kind of cute—but then again, a soccer fan would, right?

Make Mine Orangje Crush

As I survey the shattered particles of the so-called Group of Death, scattered like so many discarded Legos at the feet of Marco Van Basten, I have to wonder. Like everyone else, I have developed an enormous man-crush on this Holland team, which so casually dispatched its group opponents and, into the bargain, seems intent on playing football about as lovely as can be played under the modern conditions of production. This Dutch team has so much to recommend it—their goals are better, they zing one in every half an hour so no one gets bored, their passing is prettier, their shirts are tighter, even their names are longer—it's churlish to raise any objections at this point.

Still...isn't it always the way? You look at a four-team group and think, gor'blimey, guv'nor! This will be insane! Then three of the four sides turn out to play like MLS teams that stumbled on a cache of your better performance-enhancing drugs. The dubious send-off of Abidal aside, this French team was completely gormless: these Frenchies appear to have confused their repertoire of amusing Gallic facial expressions for a strategy. I do admire the kamikaze spirit of the Italian team, and I can practically hear Gianluigi Buffon describing his recipe for human liver with fava beans and a nice Chianti, but if these guys manage to win a trophy again, it's time for a full-scale Calciopoli investigation. The Romanians did the near-impossible by stumbling into the last day with a chance of advancing on a measly two points, and now we see how they got that way.

So the question is, when does someone step up and make Holland work for it? Is there a team in this tournament that can force the Dutch out of exhibition-season mode, test their not-entirely-convincing defense, make Dirk Kuyt's face even redder?

Sunday, June 15, 2008


Why, when pretty much everyone reviles penalty shootouts as a means of deciding knockout games, would anyone want to install the bloody things in group games? Has the world gone INSANE?

Friday, June 13, 2008

Choose Your Own Adventure

If you're Marco van Basten, with first place in the group locked down and a bench full of players who haven't seen the field yet, do you:

—let the reserves have a highly alliterative run-out against Romania?
—stick with the same basic XI to make sure no rust sets in before the knock-outs?
—shave your head again?

Group of WHAT'S UP NOW, B____?

So, after two demolition jobs performed on the effective co-world champions, is it safe to say that Marco van Basten is cooking up genius in the Dutch ranks? That was a fantastic performance, abetted by France's inability to finish, Ribery's penchant for trying to dribble through good tackles and a goalkeeper who will be in the male modeling trade by this time next week. This is how you handle all that Group of Death hype: destroy all you survey with swagger and confidence.

The Way-Back Machine

Ah. Courtesy the Guardian, a clip from one of the first real football matches I ever watched:

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Five Stars Above the American Crest

I must say, as fanatically executed conceits go, it's hard to top a full-scale recreation of Euro 2008 from an alternate reality in which England made the tournament. It's a dangerous concept: it very nearly tempted me to compose a detailed Wikipedia entry from the universe in which the United States, rather than Brazil, develops a singularly gorgeous national style of football to match its obsession with the game, and goes on to win five World Cups. Fortunately, I caught myself, and will content myself with an elaborate private fantasy about the Portland Timbers' ascent from obscurity, up the intricate and legendary American football pyramid, into the Global Champions League.

Panic at the Disco

I'm not watching Poland/Austria, either, but I did take the time to make a happy discovery: Brazilian-born pseudo-Pole (BTW, if half of Eastern Europe can hand out passports to Brazilian mercenaries, why can't Team USA?) Roger has one of the most amazing photos in the history of Wikipedia. Please regard.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Costs of Triage

During every major tournament, I find myself deciding to skip a few days, deciding in advance that they're expendable because the match-ups don't look all too enthralling. Thus, no football-watching for me today—a decision I'm coming to regret as I read various MBM recaps of the action. Sounds like the Swiss and the Turks are engaged in a heroic battle with the elements as we metaphorically speak.

Comedy is Dead

I believe I went on record with the idea that last night's US Open Cup fixture between the Portland Timbers and Hollywood United, an amateur team owned by a bunch of LA celebs which has featured Ziggy Marley and Vinnie Jones in its line-ups in the past (at the same time?), would be "funny" or something like that. I retract this sentiment at this time. H-United pulled a classic Cup giant-killing last night, winning 3-2 and allowing the Timbers to concentrate on the league for the remainder of the season.

The horrifying details are here. Let's see: the Timbers manage to score two goals for just the fourth time this season, but their World Cup veteran forward misses a penalty. A former Timber scores two pens for Dancing With the Stars United, and then they win it in stoppage time. It's a funny old game, etc. etc.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

You-Ros for Heroes

I know it's sort of the done thing these days to come off all jaded about international football—surely, the club scene is where it's at these days, man! Where you can have an owner who's a wealthy fugitive arms dealer of vague post-Soviet origin, an egomaniac French coach who considers himself a genius and doesn't care who knows it, three indentured Ivoirian teenagers at every position, six Brazilian sex fiends as attacking substitutions on the bench and that huge-headed German striker everyone bid for last summer, all for the entertainment of your fat-bastard fans who have Latin phrases they don't understand tattooed to their forearms but either can no longer afford to go to the stadium or are under police ban from doing so...obviously, these are the conditions under which state-of-the-art football is played these days. By comparison, the international game is quaint.

Still, after the last couple of days, Euro 2008 looks pretty good, doesn't it? We've got crumbling champions (Greece, Italy), fading dynasties (France), a bunch of goals, those bright orange Holland shirts, David Villa and Cesc Fabregas' identical hair, and even a classic strike produced in the Sweden v. Greece game, of all occasions. Of course, it will probably all go to hell in the knock-out rounds, but there should be a few more days of decent entertainment in the thing.

The Cup

Courtesy Du Nord, the grid for tonight's first round in the US Open Cup. I think the quirky majesty of this out-of-the-way, neglected competition speaks for itself. The Pancyprian Freedoms? Bradenton Academics? Clearwater Galactics? Beautiful.

Carolina Railhawks v Brooklyn Knights
Real Maryland Monarchs v NY Pancyprian Freedoms
Richmond Kickers v Fredricksburg Gunners
Western Mass Pioneers v Boston Olympiakos
Minnesota Thunder v St Louis Lions
Michigan Bucks v Cleveland City Stars
AAC Eagles v Pittsburgh Riverhounds
Rochester Rhinos v RWB Adria
Austin Aztex v Atlanta Silverbacks
Miami FC Blues v Bradenton Academics
Charlottle Eagles v Clearwater Galactics
Charleston Battery v ASC New Stars
Crystal Palace Baltimore v Los Angeles Legends
Harrisburg City Islanders v Yakima Reds
Arizona Sahuaros v Seattle Sounders
Portland Timbers v Hollywood United

Spanish Bombz

Bazzzzzzoooooomba! Much as I figured Spain would treat us to at least one bubbly game of champagne wishes and caviar dreams, I did not anticipate that Russia would be the patsy. (I had Greece fingered for the drop—and, well, they should enjoy Sweden while they can.) The Russians were more enterprising than the 4:1 scoreline suggested, and Spain shakier on defense, but there's no real arguing with the way Villa and accomplices played. They're like a host of flying artificially intelligent knives around the penalty area. Or something similar.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Let's Go: Uruguay

While some big tournament goes on in Europe, there is football elsewhere in the world. I sat down this afternoon to check the offerings of GolTV's funny little On Demand highlights service, which during the Big Time season packages goals from Spain and the Bundesliga with some incongruous odds'n'ends, by which I mean the Colombian league. Right now, the editors find themselves obliged to cobble together 18-minute reels with only the Uruguayan and Ecuadorian leagues to draw from, it seems. Must be the life.

Not to say those competitions don't have their points of interest. I have an official Strange Fascination with the Uruguayan league, based in part on a brief visit to that lovely country (and a look at one of the tiny, tiny stadiums used by average provincial teams) and in part because it seems, well, kinda weird. To start with, there's a club called Liverpool which is not actually Liverpool (they wear blue[!]), and a club called River Plate that is not actually River Plate but which has a pretty interesting history of its own. The UruLiga doesn't amount to much in this all-singing-all-dancing era of football globalization—Europe steals all the players worth stealing, and then Argentina takes the rest. That is, if you evaluate it on the standard of a national league. In reality, I bet this is the best city league in the world: by my count, 14 of the 16 current teams are from Montevideo. That means, according to my sophisticated demographic analysis, that there is one first-division football club for every 95,000 or so Montevideans—that's got to be some kind of major-metro record, right? Greater Londoners will have to make do with just one Premier League side per 1.5 million residents next season, while 2.5 million Romans have to share one major team, plus Lazio. In Montevideo, the loyalties must shift block by block.

Football, Like Rust, Never Sleeps

One day, two games, two bankrupt performances by the most recent World Cup finalists. Time marcheth on, I guesseth. Accounts of France's outing against Romania suggest a team that, for all its creative players, seemed bereft of ideas. Certainly, in the action I saw just now, the poor Italians didn't have the beginnings of a clue; the Dutch, meanwhile, looked like they were trying to think of new, fun ways to smack the ball into the net. Two years ago, France thrived on quality and on the carved-icon powers of a few of its eminences, both grises and otherwise, while Italy prospered by being just a little more clever than anyone else. Based on today, both approaches may have expired.

Le Dejeuner des Chiens

Zut alors! Zounds like zey Francais haff dez-grazed zemzelvz.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Fancy Dans Redeemed?

I considered Portugal something of a disgrace in the '06 World Cup, with their diving and whining and repeated ugly wins. (In fairness, they did have to play England, which always guarantees an agonizing time will be had by all.) But based on today's evidence, the Portugese look like they're here (by which I mean, there) to play some real football. Stay tuned.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Yes, Dad

MLS fans face the prospect of having the car keys taken away the night of Prom.

Fistful of Euros

Five things I'm looking forward to in Euro 2008:

SAMIR NASRI: The kid bobs and weaves and Zizous all over YouTube. I want to see him and Ribery make some musique together. If nothing else, they can feed Henry a bunch of chances that he'll convert in inverse proportion to the importance of the match in which they occur.

THE ITALIANS: Two summers ago, they snuck out of Berlin with the trophy concealed in the boot of their car, using fake passports. If that was Ocean's 11, will this be Ocean's 12—many of the same perpetrators on hand, all the same jokes, all the ham acting, same outcome? Also, I really like it when Luca Toni runs around like an eight-year-old on crystal meth.

THE GREEKS: Not really. Oh, okay—it was sort of charming to see such a rank underdog bag a major trophy, even if they won it f'ugly. The Greek victory in '04, and all the grudging complaints about it, pointed to international football's Legitimacy Paradox: any time a nation outside the usual-suspects club finds some success, it seems to undermine rather than validate the integrity of international competition. When SoKo and Turkey made the World Cup semis in '02, many commentators, rather than hailing the upstarts, used their rise as evidence of the dubiousness of the whole tournament. Then Brazil and Germany restored the proper order of the universe to palpable relief. Likewise, I sense a widespread, if not completely explicit, feeling that Euro 2004 didn't really count, because the Greeks won it. This leaves me sort of wanting to see them pull a repeat—but I'm sure I'll get over that the first time I watch them play.

THE RUSSIANS: What, exactly, did Zenit Sankt Peter's win in the UEFA Cup portend for this long-fallen power? A lot of Zenit men figure in the Russian squad, which, not unlike Italy, draws heavily on the domestic league. The group looks moderate-to-difficult, so we'll learn pretty fast what this somewhat mysterious gang is made of.


The Italian Job

Glad to see that the Special One hasn't dialed back his ambition.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

A Small Miracle, As Delicate and Unique as a Snowflake, Has Occurred

Time teaches us all some pretty stern lessons—our bodies decline, our children start using slang we don't know, the New York Yankees continue to exist—but reserves one of its stoutest batches of whoop-ass to serve when American soccer fans come by for tea. After about a century in the global and domestic sporting wilderness, Yanqui futbol lovers tend to exhibit forms of post-traumatic stress syndrome: we're touchy, paranoid and tend to willfully take the losing side of every argument. We stick up for our half-bad domestic leagues and keep insisting that the national side could win it all someday. We bore our "normal" friends with lectures about stuff they don't care about; meanwhile, fans in "real" football countries consider us a pretty good laugh. So when something good actually happens, we tend to retreat to our darkened private altars and sacrifice a couple perfectly good chickens, no matter how small the event. (Hell, we still get sorta psyched when one of Our Boys signs for Derby County.)

Look out, poultry: a minor but real miracle just went down in Chicagoland. A new American soccer franchise picked a name, and it doesn't suck. The city's new women's team, under the able direction of demi-legend Peter Wilt, will be called the Chicago Red Stars, a name that both honors Chicago's awesome municipal flag and makes light allusion to football tradition in the form of Red Star Belgrade, et al. Again, it doesn't suck.

Understand that team-namin' time traditionally provides an opportunity for fans to gnash our teeth and eye the nearest high window. The corporate-marketing geniuses who get North American soccer in their clutches have given the world the likes of Real Salt Lake, the Kansas City Wiz, the Montreal Manic, the Jacksonville Tea Men, the Caribous of Colorado (!)...and as for the tawdry wilds of the indoor game, let's not even go there, except to say that "Arizona Sandsharks" marks a highlight of the art.

In their own still-formative league, the Red Stars' name easily outdistances the "Washington Freedom" (the notional mass-noun name: so '90s) and the "Boston Breakers" (also the name of a USFL franchise, which is either really cool or a really, really bad idea). What scares me, and should scare us all, is that five WPS teams haven't even picked names yet. Look out for the Los Angeles Sizzle, the New York/New Jersey Greater Metropolitan Areas and the Philadelphia Liberty Belles.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

"Hello, My Name Is ________"

Looks like Jozy Altidore is off to Villareal. This is an excellent move for all concerned—MLS bags a record transfer fee, Altidore goes to a club interested in his development in a league suited to his skills.

And most importantly, on his first day, Altidore can punch Giuseppe Rossi on behalf of America. GO AMERICA! GO JOZY!

The Spangly Princess Interview, Director's Cut

Over at Du Nord, the Eleven Devils guest slot features an interview with Rome-based football blogger Vanda Wilcox, whose Spangly Princess, with its unique mix of Italian football coverage, historical insight and, whaddyacallit, personal whimsy, is one of the more fascinating football sites on this Internet of ours. I snipped a few Qs out of the DN interview—we journalists need to feel like we're using our "special skills"—so here, for you complete-freaks, is the whole thing:

—How and why did you start Spangly Princess, and how has it evolved?

I started my blog back in 2005 when I was still a doctoral student and living in the UK. It started off pretty randomly as something to occupy my mind during my part-time job which involved long late-night shifts in a university library, and I was trying to avoid studying... you know how it goes. I didn't even really choose a name, I just stuck with what I'd been using online since about 2000 on various message boards. I think this might be kind of offputting to people, especially now that I mostly blog about football, but it's too late to change it now.

—I have not done a comprehensive study, so I can't say for certain, but I would wager that Spangly Princess is the only football-ish blog that also contains long posts about World War I battles, philosophy and various retail obsessions. How would you define the thing? What makes you think, Aha! I should write about this on SP?

Is this a polite way of saying, why is your site so random? In general I try not to define it too much, because I don't really know how. I write about what's on my mind, which sounds terrifically banal, but basically if there's something which has got me excited, confused, depressed, infuriated, giggling or thoughtful, then it means I'll enjoy writing about it. And hopefully if I enjoy writing it, someone will enjoy reading it. Since I built up a readership – or rather, since a couple of people beyond my own family and friends started dropping by – I have developed a fairly good idea of what people would like to see on my site. That means that when there's any major news in Italian football, and especially in the world of fandom and the ultras, people (well, a few of them) expect me to have a comment on the situation. The same applies to the general trends in Italian politics, and especially Roman politics. And sometimes I buy a great new pair of shoes, and I just have to share. In the past I have more than once considered separating off the football stuff from the other bits, but people always tell me not to.

—When did you move to Rome? Can you tell us a little about how your love for AS Roma developed?

My family is part Italian and I grew up coming here every summer for a month or two, and speaking Italian at home part of the time. But I never made it to Rome specifically until 2002 when I came over here for a research trip. By profession I'm an historian and my main interest is Italian military history (y'all can insert as many jokes as you like right here) and specifically World War I. So I came to Rome to use the army archives here. I'm all alone in the city, not knowing anyone, and there's only so many hours in a day you can sit turning through dusty lists of military orders and piles of old newspaper. So I bought myself a ticket to go and see AS Roma. I've loved football since I was about 16, and my English side are Arsenal. Roma was meant to be a fling, a holiday romance, a bit on the side that my red-and-white boyfriend back home was never going to hear about. What goes on on holiday stays on holiday, right? Only, it didn't work that way. I fell in love, and badly. Don't ask me why, the heart has its own reasons. And I'd be lying if I said that the team weren't a factor in wanting to live here. I started coming over for months at a time (always during the football season, natch) and when I finished my doctorate, I got myself a research fellowship and moved straight over. That was February 2006; I can't see myself heading back to the UK any time soon.

—The Curva Sud. Discuss.

Ha. Seeing as in three years of blogging about it I feel like I've only touched elliptically on its manifold appeal and unpleasant undercurrents, I'm not sure what to say here. The Sud is one of the major reasons I fell for Roma in the first place: that first game, I had a seat in the Nord at the opposite end. I sat down, looked up, and saw in front of me something which I had never seen, or dreamed of, in any English ground I'd gone to (Highbury, obviously, but also Goodison Park, Stamford Bridge, or others besides). It's amazing and slightly scary and makes you feel alive like nothing else.

—So, at the risk of inviting a book-length answer, just what IS it about Italian football? Why is it so...uh, weird? And if that's not clear, maybe that is because I can never quite articulate the particular and essential strangeness that seems to make the Italian game so different from football in, say, Germany or France. Can you help?

Ah yes, this I can do. The answer is very simple, which is to say profoundly complicated. The answer is: Italy. Italian politics, society, culture and daily life are all that bit more…. weird than France, Germany, England, Scotland, Spain. Perhaps weird is the wrong word, but the difference you rightly identify in football is present in most areas. Passion, chaos, cynicism, love, despair, corruption, gambling, beauty, sophistication, violence, avarice, power, elegance, cruelty, delight. Just, y'know, everyday run of the mill things.

—Here's a question strictly from the perspective of American fans. We, who have long lived in a form of distant football exile, like some lost Old Testament tribe, often think we know a lot about the history of big clubs abroad, or perhaps I should say, we often form our random allegiances based on a few shreds of information. Like, no one really likes Real Madrid, because they're the "fascist" team, but everyone loves FC Barcelona, because they're...uh, cool, or something. Ditto Lazio/Roma, to an extent. So, how much of that is for real, how much is a simplification, how much is just irrelevant to the daily understanding of actual fans of these clubs?

This is a really great question and one that's hard to answer. But I can 'fess up slightly that when I first wanted to go to a game here, I chose Roma not Lazio because "everyone knows Lazio are fascists". So it operates here in Europe too, to some extent, it's not only a US phenomenon. I guess that many of these stereotypes have a basis in truth, but they are still just stereotypes at heart. The Barca/Real story can be read as a PR war which Barca have won in a pretty major way. But I've read that they took money from the Franco regime as well. The experiences of living under fascism for a long time are complex, and they don't generally reduce down to a simple good/bad dichotomy I'm afraid. Given that in mainland Europe, many if not most clubs' fans have an overall political alignment, at some level you can make a choice based on this stuff, sure. But it's never as neat as the simplified versions make out, and while not precisely irrelevant to the daily understanding of actual fans, as you put it, is kind of marginal for the majority. Because at least in the mythology of how these things work, you don't choose your team, it chooses you. It's your local side, your dad's team (or increasingly nowadays your mum's team) or because you wanted to be Marco Van Basten when you were 6, or because your best mate in the playground supported them. If the team of your city happens to have a strong element which is neo-fascist (as Roma sadly does) or perhaps supports Stalin (see Livorno) you just have to grin and bear it. I occasionally read a US site about my team and I find it very weird seeing what is important for these Roma fans, and how they perceive the club and their own support, compared to how it looks from inside the Curva Sud. But I wouldn't presume to judge other people's support for their side, however it is based or expressed. These guys who get up to watch games at 4 in the morning on TV… I'm not going to say "you're not a real fan, you've never even been to Italy." You can judge the level of knowledge someone has, but not how they feel. At heart being a fan is an emotional bond, and we can never know how someone feels on the inside.

—How do you think your various other interests—philosophy, politics, war, etc.—inform your understanding of and writing about football?

Oh, completely and utterly. At least in Italy, you can't follow football without following politics too. I find that there's nothing that can't be explained by an analogy to the First World War. This is one of those great universal truths, no?

—How do readers react to the different subjects you blog about? Do people seem to get the same joy out of a post about philosophy as they do from one about Totti?

Judging by the comments I get, most readers enjoy the fact there's a variety of stuff. I am blessed with some very intelligent and perceptive readers, many of whom will come up with far better ideas in the comments than I do in my posts. Sometimes I put up a match report and no-one has anything to say, then I'll ask people to help choose me a dress and they're all falling over themselves. When I post something historical, that tends to derive directly from my archival research. That means it's brand new material which has never been written about anywhere else, online or in print, and people seem to enjoy that.

—How has the football blogosphere affected your life as a football fan? I mean to say, has the fact that there are now innumerable people writing about football from innumerable perspectives changed the way you look at the game?

Yes, for sure. Good writing should challenge and inform as well as entertain, and I have both learned a lot and been challenged in my assumptions by many good football blogs. I write for Pitch Invasion [] which has an excellent selection of writing from around the world, including material from writers in Poland, Argentina, India and Egypt: this is amazing and something that was never possible before blogging. Then to name two very different but excellent blogs off the top of my head, sites like 200percent [] or The Run of Play [] offer inspiration and insight into whole new realms of fandom, and new ways of thinking about the game.

—Let's say there is no Internet. Would you be writing about football anyway?

Tricky. I guess not in any regular and systematic fashion, I'd be writing a it at home for my own purposes, because I love writing, but that's all. In the last year, at the insistence of my boyfriend who's a journalist, I have actually submitted some pieces for publication in real life actual solid paper magazines! Which I would never have dreamt of doing myself, and which was only possible thanks to the Internet. Weird, huh. I still find it pretty mental that someone on the far side of the globe might actually be interested in what I have to say about anything, never mind regularly want to read me drivelling on about Francesco Totti and the boys.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008


Your Humble Correspondent takes this (very) modest show on the road tomorrow, with a one-day "guest blogger" stint at the great DU NORD. Lord Bruce, master of Du Nord, is slumming in England, and I am extremely flattered to join the cast of distinguished soccer writers, thinkers and drinkers invited to run the place in his absence. Today's star, Andrea Canales, aptly dubs Du Nord "hallowed ground." I shall try not to profane it.

Among other attractions, Eleven Devils' trip across the blogosphere will feature:




That, however, gives only the sketchiest idea of what this dread visitation will be like. For a better idea:

Monday, June 02, 2008

Mourinho Italia

So everyone's favorite manager/performance artist goes to Inter Milan, a club that's successful as could be on the domestic level. This move therefore invokes the Avram Grant Principle, in which a manager at a major club is considered a failure if that club fails to win the Champions League. The question, though, is not whether Jose can handle the pressure—it's whether the pressure can handle Jose. More importantly, will Mourinho's signature bizarre media statements scan as bizarre in Italian, or will the Romance-Language-to-Romance-Language transition go more smoothly?

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Love For Sale

Well, well—what is there, really, to be said about England's little jaunt to Trinidad? We are deep in FIFA kabuki here, and I especially like the part about the FA's anxiety that its World Cup bid not be seen as "for sale." They're delighted to participate in the 100th anniversary of Trinidadian football—man, who wouldn't be? A chance to chum around over rum cocktails with the estimable Jack Warner is not to be missed. My question is, can someone dig up a plausible commemoration in the Pacific Northwest, so we can con England into playing here? Sadly, we missed the 30th anniversary of Soccer Bowl '77, but there must be something else. Chugger Adair's birthday?

UPDATE: Looks like everything is going very well.

Friday, May 30, 2008

A Cheap Holiday In Other People's Misery

The attentive Eleven Devils reader (and I know you're out there, lurking amid the Interporn) will note a dearth of comment on the Portland Timbers Football Club of late. That's because I, uh, haven't actually been to a match yet this year. This makes my second consecutive year of atrocious attendance, but, uh...well, I was there at the beginning! For real! Back in the day when the Timbers Army consisted of a couple guys with buckets and a few local ska enthusiasts! There are photos that prove it! Seriously! Rose City 'til I die, if I had the wings of an eagle, etc., etc.....

In my absence, it seems the Timbers have an intriguing, if typically muddled, campaign going in the exalted United Soccer Leagues First Division. (A real league: look it up!) They won a bunch of matches to start, made an earnest run at the world record for consecutive draws, and now can't seem to buy a goal. The big away match against ever-hated Equipe L'Impact de Montreal takes place tonight before Stade Saputo's crowd of rabid Quebecois nationalists and the vast continental television audience of Fox Soccer Channel. We have a way of winning at Montreal—or, at least, it has happened—and three points would put us in a very peachy slot in the table. So, on balance, things are looking up, especially compared to a couple of the trainwreck seasons we've endured in living memory.

But that is emphatically not what I'm excited about. No. The most exciting thing to happen to the Club, probably ever, comes in the form of the US Open Cup, the venerable (one of the oldest Cup comps in the world, in fact) knock-out tournament that is, like the name says, open to clubs from all levels of competitive soccer. A star-crossed tournament at best for the Timbers in past years, this time the Cup yields a fantastic, totally hilarious first-round fixture. On 10 June, the Timbers will host—yes, that's right!—HOLLYWOOD UNITED, the world's most glamourous pub team. They say football makes people happy, and it must be true: ever since I heard about this pairing, I've been on the edge of uncontrolled mirth.

Hollywood United, see, was founded by a dude from the Sex Pistols, a couple guys from The Cult and one of the guys from Def Leppard who had all his limbs. Ziggy Marley—Ziggy Marley—has played for one of its several sides, as have a revolving cast of Commonwealth-inflected showbiz also-rans (I guess "B-List United" didn't have quite the right ring...) and retired pros. Unfortunately, it doesn't look like Ziggy, Robbie Williams or Vinnie Jones (!) are in the current first-team squad. Still, the prospect of taking on a club run by a bunch of puffy ex-rock stars is delicious. You just can't make this stuff up.

Now, all we have to do is beat them. No problem. Right?

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Dead-Blogging England v. USA

Gaaaaah. I took my leave from this sad occasion at half-time, after making precious few observations, due in part to the fact that precious little occurred, and in part to the fact that I know sweet FA about football and am only pretending. But, anyway:

—We have a silly team. DaMarcus Beasley is a silly player. Steve Cherundolo—silly player. And note how both also have silly names. Eddie Johnson may be a "grown-ass man," but he still gets caught in possession just about every time he touches the ball. Silly. In their inability to do a thing with the ball when it comes to their feet, in their fecklessness in the last 40 yards of the field, in their woeful inability to defend a set-piece against a second-rate European opponent, the Americans personified silliness. We will still beat Mexico four times out of five, however.

—Those new USA kits actually look kind of cool.

—I like friendlies, because they only ask 45 minutes of your time. Unlike the three-hour Sturm und Drang of your average Big Final, with its inevitable extra time and penalty hoo-hah, a friendly little friendly offers less than an hour of actual entertainment before the mass substitutions turn the match into an episode of Whose Line Is It, Anyway? "John Smith (who?) receives his first international cap (and his last) here in the 81st minute..." Et cetera. Instead of ruining your whole day with alcohol, adrenalin and disappointment, the friendly gives you the perfect excuse to linger over one (1) pint for a bit, curse the day Carlos Bocanegra (see? silly name) was born, then head back to work. Perfect!

—The atmosphere (or restful lack thereof) at my downtown Portland soccer bar filled me with nostalgia, in fact. About two dozen people held dozy court over mid-day beers and lunch, muttering peaceably at the rare outbreak of action on the big screens. This was vintage Soccerball USA, a refreshing change from the rampacked scene at the same joint during the Champions League Final: the coupla hundred Johnny-Come-Lately fans in their brand-new Manchester United PLC and Chelsea Football Club garb, whooping, hollering and groaning with histrionic abandon. I mean, I love to see that stuff, since it plays right in to the dearest long-held fantasy of the American soccer fan, i.e., that History Is Turning Our Way. But frankly, it can be a bit much, and can engender a predictable longing for the old days, when finding a soccer match on television in this country was sort of like tracking down a covert gay sex club. (Or so I imagine, y'know. Poetic license.) Used to be, every match drew this kind of polite and tiny crowd. And PS, I was totally hip to Bleach before Nevermind came out.

—I see, from the Guardian's jaded MBM coverage, that England now lead 2-0. Good for them—excellent warm-up for Euro....HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA! Sorry, couldn't resist. We'll be lucky to get past Bermuda. Later.