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.