‘Activities | Soccer’ Posts
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fortunately, it didn’t seem to phase her. she cheered when the u.s. took the lead in the 69th minute, and cheered when japan answered ten minutes later. she cheered when the u.s. took the lead again at the mid-point of extra time, and cheered even harder when japan equalized minutes before the end of the match.
(we didn’t let her watch the penalty kicks, for obvious reasons…)
but maybe she is the one who has the right approach here — if you root for everyone, you’ll never be disappointed. that’s sage advice, especially when the Americans are playing.
that was way more exciting than it needed to be.
unlike most years past, the U.S. men’s national team is legitimately good. the team is easily in the top half of the countries participating in the Cup this year, and they have a class of players that (while not the super-elite) they are certainly regularly competing in the top tier of football/soccer.
so, while the U.S. advancing to the round of 16 is great … it’s also the bare minimum of what they should do this competition.
a united states draw against england would normally be a good result, but considering it was (at the time) the worst game england had played in the last two years, a draw just isn’t good enough for the talent that is on the U.S. squad.
they should have won, and won outright.
during the next match (against slovakia) they again fought for a draw against likely the 6th worst team in the competition. commentators can say all they want about the (wrongly) disallowed goal that would have give then U.S. the win, but that misses the point — they should never have been in the position to need that winner in the first place.
the coverage of the final match especially drove me crazy, the now “legendary” 1-0 win over Algeria (the 8th worst team in the competition). commentators referred to it as the U.S. “superbowl” of the Americans’ world cup, and landon donovan’s winner as the “greatest goal in the history of U.S. soccer.”
our “superbowl” at a minimum is the upcoming match with Ghana — even though our opponents’ are ranked worse than Algeria, they should have a strong home continent advantage being the last African team in the Cup.
our “greatest goal in the history of U.S. soccer” will be the goal donovan scores to win a (still hypothetical) next match with Uruguay or South Korea to send the U.S. to the semi-finals.
one of the things that drives me the most batty about U.S. Soccer, is that we always play down to our competition. we fight, we work hard, we run everybody else to the ground. but, in the end, we don’t think we’re good enough, and everybody else is all too happy to help make that come true.
don’t get me wrong — it’s good that the boys advanced through the group stage, and even better that they finished at the top of the group. but “top of the group” should have been with two (or even three) wins, and “advancing” is what we knew we should do way back in early June.
for the U.S., the “real” world cup starts now.
Why is this the ‘beautiful game?’ Two ties. No score in the second. They ran around in circles for 90 minutes. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.
as the dutiful, soccer-educated elite in the relationship, i jumped to the world cup’s defense.
“they only call it the beautiful game if certain teams are playing it,” I said. “And France is decidedly not on that list.”
but, then i watched the rest of the weekend, and you know what? she was right. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.
i watched most or all of seven matches this weekend (missed Ghana’s 1-0 win over Serbia) and while there was some great moments, by and large the matches were all ugly babies that only their mothers would love — with the possible exception of Argentina’s 1-0 win over Nigeria, whose scoreline sounded more boring than it actually was.
the world cup. less than perfect. suddenly, my life was without meaning.
i played soccer for most of two decades (keeper for all but a couple years in central defense) and have clear recollections of watching the last 6 or 7 world cups.
if the world cup isn’t the greatest sporting event ever, how could i have invested so much effort learning the game? what am i going to talk about on monday with the rest of my over-educated urban elite friends? how am i going to demonstrate my complete personal superiority over the great unwashed masses in the fly-over-states?
and so, in a vain attempt to deal with this loss of identity, i’ve come up with a couple theories about (a) why the opening weekend wasn’t the paragon of sport it could/should have been, and (b) why we all will have forgotten this crisis even happened by the time the cup is raised in four weeks time:
hollow excuses? maybe. complete and total bunk? probably.
am i going to bury my head in my pillow and pray for better games this week? most definitely.
teams start by playing each of three teams, with the two best teams from each group advancing into a simple bracket tourney, not unlike the ncaa’s march madness.
all you need is a team to follow, and here is a quick primer:
who to follow
if you are new to the non-american brand of football, you want to pick one that you can watch deep into the world cup. as much fun as it would be to root for some of these tiny up-start countries (new zealand springs to mind), you’ll be pretty bored once they get eliminated in the second week. so, you probably want to pick from the main contenders.
Spain — currently the best team in europe, spain balances a beautiful brand of football with some physicality that is missing from other “pretty” teams. this team has a fanatical fan base, and some of the best attacking players in the game. they are also the bookie’s best bet to win the whole enchilada, so (hopefully) you’ll have a team to follow in weeks three and four.
Argentina — has the best player on the planet (lionel messi), plan on starting three attacking forwards (most teams use two, some only one) and a coach who is desperately trying to translate his own brilliance as a player (see his goal of the century) into brilliance as a coach (and failing pretty miserably). but who knows … they could just as easily flame out in the group stages (they barely qualified) as they could win the whole thing, but either way the fireworks should be pretty spectacular.
Brazil — normally, you’d never catch me pushing brazil (it’s the equivalent a new immigrant to the U.S. announcing they’re going to root for either the yankees or the patriots) but this team isn’t the same purvayors of “the beautiful game” that’s won the world cup five times. this brazil is much more blue collar, physical, jump-in-the-trenches then their predecessors, while still keeping the incredible individual skill for which they’re known. should be fun to watch.
honorable mentions — everybody wants an african team to do well this world cup, but all six of them are facing a pretty steep up-hill battle. while hosts south africa will have ridiculously fun, pro-bafana bafana (their team’s nickname) crowds, they are the lowest ranked team ever to host the world cup and aren’t figured to make it out of the first round. côte d’ivoire had a great shot, but lost their star goal-scorer to injury. i have no idea which, if any, of the african nations will advance, but many people (myself included) will be rooting for the whole lot of them.
teams you may think you want to follow, but really probably don’t
United States — sure, there are dozens of reason to root for them. civic pride. names that you (might) have heard of. dozens of blogs saying “this is their year.” it’s not. i’m not sure it ever will be. expect one good game out of them, one mediocre game (where the result is closer than it should have been), and one shameful game (where they vomit on themselves). they’ll likely get to the sweet sixteen, but it almost certainly won’t be pretty, and they’ll break your heart eventually … they always do.
England — see above, “united states”.
Italy — while a fun, attacking team when they have to be, italy regularly lapses into putting all 11 men behind the ball when they are ahead (“parking a bus in front of goal” as it’s called) which makes them prone to stunningly dull results. that, coupled with the fact that the current coach seems to be infatuated with coupling “old” with “slow” and calling it a day, means italy isn’t a great team for newbies.
Germany — about as fun to watch as a team of german accountants competing in the actuarial olympics. see also, “holland”.
France — where to begin. they (a) cheated their way into the world cup with a dirty, dirty goal from a blatant hand ball, without which they would be back home underachieving, (b) the team they cheated out of the tournament was Ireland — who are much more fun to drink with — and (c) because of the way the group stage works out, rooting for france means rooting against south africa. oh, and if that’s not enough, remember that they’re french.
kickoff on friday
it all starts tomorrow morning at 9:30 am EST on ESPN. if you want to do some light reading before then, steven goff’s soccer insider blog is surprisingly readable for the lay people, and ESPN is desperately trying to hook the generic american sport fan on the Cup with their coverage at ESPN.com.
as for me? i’ve followed the england national team for the last couple of decades, and am not going to stop just because that the united states is finally fielding teams that might actually win a game or two. it also doesn’t hurt that my club team (tottenham hotspur) has five players in the england squad, and it’s more fun to root for people you know.
appalling, i know, but i’m okay with it … i have a feeling my ancestors were on the wrong side of the revolutionary way, anyway.
she also got a toddler-sized D.C. United jersey a couple days ago (for my birthday) and we’ve got a trip to RFK on the books for the first weekend in may … i’m not sure when the next trip to north london will be, sadly.
anyway, if today is any indication, she’ll be a good keeper — so long as she’s allowed to lick the ball after each save.
actually, i’m gunning for a solid central defender. she’s 90th percentile on height, so is already built to make opposing strikers ask permission before approaching the goal.
in other news, we had out latest pediatrician’s appointment on Friday. sparklet clocked in a a whopping 9 pounds, 1 1/2 ounces, which brings her up to about the 25th percentile for weight. if you couple that with 22 inches long (75th percentile) and 14 inches around (25th) she’s either going to be a bean pole, or a supermodel, or both.
and lastly … i’ve got to find a new time to blog. way back when, i used to blog on my two hour round-trip, public-transit commute, but with the baby i have started driving (i know, i know) which not only takes less time (18 minutes each way) but isn’t a very good environment for multitasking.
more recently, i’ve been blogging during the downtime between the 6:00 pm feeding and the 10:00 pm feeding. the lady sparkler is asleep, and sparklet *used* to be either (a) asleep or (b) blessedly docile. however, since the onset of the six hour rolling dinner feedings last week, there has been precious little time (or free hands) to write anything down.
maybe they make thought-to-screen, telepathy-based dictation software for the mac …
before 2005, it doesn’t matter how much of a soccer fan you were, because it was pretty hard to follow the English Premier League from the States. media coverage was absolutely non-existent, and the matches themselves relegated to premium channel (Fox Sports World) that practically zero cable systems carried.
but by 2005, i had moved to a more benevolent cable monopoly, was able to start following the Premier League, and set about finding a team to follow.
there were ground-rules in my search:
… and said ground-rules led to Tottenham.
at the time, they were good (finish in the top 10 more often than not), but not too good (no major championships since 1991). they have great players (at the time, more members of the England national squad than any other), a storied history (first team to win two championships in one year, and first Brit team to win Europe), great fans (loyal through decades of mediocrity), etc.
fortunately they are still good (won a league championship in 2008 while we were in Australia) but not too good (were in deep, deep danger of relegation as late as February this year) and my healthy interest in Spurs has grown into an obsession.
and, of course, at the center of this obsession is Tottenham Hotspur’s 109 year-old stadium: White Hart Lane.
… and we got tickets.
ever since we found out we were going to Scotland (or more importantly, London) the one place at the top of my list has been White Hart Lane. unfortunately, it’s a bit out of the way … and seats a ridiculously small 36,000 fans each match day.
the weekend we are in London (may 2nd) there is a home match against West Bromich Albion, but it sold out even before tickets made it to general sale. turns out West Brom sucks, and everybody wants to see Tottenham beat up on the sucky team.
as for me, i’d love to see them play a sucky team, but i really needed to see them play in the next year, because they are getting ready to rip beautiful, historic white hart lane and replace it with a new, oval monstrosity that we can only hope will have more character than Fed Ex Field.
so, it took about two weeks and more than a dozen visits to Spurs ticket site, but a couple seats finally came open on their ticket exchange (from people selling tickets they bought but can’t use).
of course, the two seat aren’t together, so i gave the lady sparkler the option to drop out — and spend the day at the spa — but she’s become sufficiently fascinated by Spurs (including steamy Robbie Keane and young/virile Gareth Bale) that she wanted to see what all the fuss was about in person.
such a good wife.
she did mention that she didn’t want to be seated with a bunch of drunk hooligan Brits, so I am giving her the fancy pants ticket, in the new (west) stand with completely unobstructed views, and its cucumber sandwich crowd.
i, however, will be in the east stand … with it’s obstructed views (two large posts hold up the roof over the stand) and it’s (hopefully) drunk, merry and singing Tottenham fans. apparently, it’s the east and south stands that have all the “character” and my wife is married to enough of a character to not seek out more in the English capital.
so, if you happen to subscribe to a channel that carries it, look for us. we will be in section 30, row 1, seat 189 and section 10, row 9, seat 37. i have no idea where they are, but sure am (incredibly) excited to be there.
UPDATE: and here’s what happened.
you’d think in washington, d.c. the hotest ticket in town would be some kind of political event, or maybe that tiger woods golf tourney happening out in bethesda next weekend.
but with approval ratings in the toilet (congress is at 19%, the president at 29%) and tiger on his back with a bum knee … the hottest ticket in the district this summer (hands down) is the visit of super-fantastic-megariffic-star david “bend it like” beckham to our small corner of the footballing world.
his trip to d.c. last year was a circus … and one which the lady sparkler and i opted to watch on the telly instead of braving the soccer-mom driven mania. this year was sure to be no different and — through a couple of tickets t.l.s. scored from work — we got to see it up close and personal.
i’m not exactly a stranger to the beguiling charm of the english flavour of football (or “footy” as the lady sparkler has taken to calling it…) but the national obsession with the chiseled greatness that is mr. beckham has me more than a little puzzled.
sure, i can understand 12 year-old girls screaming … and MAYBE we can extend that to their 40 year-old moms. but, the place was packed with 25-35 year old men with mint-edition beckham branded l.a. galaxy unis … shouting out adulation, and snapping pics. and remember, this is d.c. — it’s not exactly a home game for a team from los angeles.
i’m a 25-35 year old male and, while i am not so ego-tastic to speak for a whole decade of humans, i must say that i remember far more lows in “the david’s” career (thrown out of 1998 World Cup, lackluster showing in 2002 and 2006 Cups, flipping off fans at Euro 2000, benchings by two of the greatest coaches of this age) than i remember his highs.
so while i respect david for his 100+ appearances for the national team, and for his collection of early club championships — that’s enough for me to hope he does well in the States, but not enough to drop $70 on an spanking new beckham jersey and scream at him like a little girl.
speaking of which, the funniest moment of the day was shortly after we arrived with some of the lady sparkler’s co-workers … we were poking fun of the whole scene, when someone from two rows back, right behind out heads, shouted “DAVID, I LOVE YOU!”
unfortunately, we just *lost* it.
oh, right. the game. d.c. crushed them. beckham looked miserable (as a proper brit should, playing footy .. during the summer .. in 98-degree weather .. in an american swamp).
now, the great thing about sports is the (near) universal appreciation of the stories behind the competition … so long as you know where to look.
for every $15-million slugger that dopes his way to the home run record, there is a $600,000 baller for the Celtics who overcomes homelessness on the way to win a NBA championship. for every perfectly-formed sprinter turned out by the u.s. track and field machine, there is a 41 year-old South African dissident who overcomes two shattered knees to break a world record at the World Pacific Games.
never has this been more apparent, that this morning when we went to the u.s.a. trials for the homeless world cup (which is exactly what it sounds like: a (soccer) world cup where all the competitors are homeless).
the tournament was started in 2001 by some activists for the homeless as a way to inspire the homeless to make positive life changes, and some 70% of past participants have gotten off the streets for good.
the u.s. team is being selected this weekend, with a tournament down by the old convention center. city teams from across the u.s. are participating (atlanta, charlotte, minneapolis, new york, the district, austin, etc) with the the best players from each squad being selected for the trip to Melbourne.
there weren’t many people in the crowd for the games we watched, but it was still an incredible experience. the talent and skill were way beyond what we were expecting, and it was pretty easy to see that the competitors were having the time of their life.
if any of this is sounding interesting, the story of 6 participants in the 2006 Homeless World Cup has been turned into a documentary called kicking it (in theatres now). we’ll be there later this week …
instead, we watched the lady sparkler’s hometown team (the houston dynamo) hand the new england revolution (employer of the twit mentioned above) their fourth cup defeat in the last six years. you can guess our allegiances (have i mentioned he’s a twit?) and i can safely say that we were in a small, small minority of people cheering for houston as they sent the revolution to the bad side of the record books.
now, not everybody cares about fútbol/soccer, but focus for a moment on the futility factor here: 4 championship appearances, no wins. only two professional teams share this dubious honor (the buffalo bills and the minnesota vikings, both of the NFL, both 0-4 in the superbowl). hockey has only one team that comes close (st. louis blues, 0-3) and basketball/baseball can only muster a few 0-2 teams (utah jazz, phoenix suns, new jersey nets, san diego padres).
the amazing thing is that major league soccer is just a decade old. imagine what their futility mark could be like with another 30 years of championships to lose. how would you like to be part of a franchise like that? i meant to ask some of the 30,000+ Revolution fans as they were leaving the stadium grounds, but …
back to the twit. i’m normally not one to shower the hate on people, but it’s even worse that i can’t figure out why i loathe him so. part of it could his gawd awful kick medic commercials i have to watch every weekend on fox soccer channel. part of it could be that no matter how good he is for his club (83 goals in 145 appearances, or 57%) he is equally bad for his country (6 goals in 28 appearances, or 21%). or it could just be because he wears his shirts two sizes too small.
regardless, houston won their second straight (the only team other than D.C. to do that) and twinkle-toed twellman and the revs lost … all is right with the world.