Saturday, August 2, 2008

Must See CPFC

This is troubling. I am a Charlton supporter, but the roots are not terribly deep. After decades of being an ardent sports fan whilst ignoring the beautiful game, my conversion was sudden and intense. I became an acolyte and after a pair of trips to the Valley, I found a home. Fast forward a few years and I am not only happy with the English team that I have come to love, but I am an ardent supporter of my local MLS side and am so impatient to watch the sport that I follow the college game at the University of Maryland and became a season ticket holder of the nearest lower level U.S. team. And therein lies the problem. As this summer has worn on, the sporting event I enjoy the most, ahead of DC United, ahead even of watching the Cubs prolific run this season (22 over .500; 134 more runs scored than given up?), is heading to ridiculous venues to watch a third division side called Crystal Palace USA. And what started as mildly disinterested conversations at the local watering hole flowered into unexpected affection after a win over the Red Bulls at an Annapolis High School and has now exploded into a demeaning but exhilirating affair consumated over the play of one Mathew Mbuta. I have fallen. Before we were just the ridiculous family that showed up to games in Charlton shirts; now we are the ridiculous family that shows up in a mixture of Charlton shirts, hats, and * gasp * Crystal Palace gear.

Tonight, at a high school in Baltimore, in the midst of the city's International Festival, with local acts performing on a stage just 500 yards from the field marked for American football, we were privileged to have yet another opportunity to watch Mathew Mbuta play ninety minutes of football. I know far too little about the sport to try to make any comment authoritatively, but when the ball is in Mbuta's vicinity, he is electric. Playing up front again while Gary Brooks serves the remainder of a suspension for a prior red card, Mbuta was both worth the trip and the price of admission. Mbuta's angling, receipt of balls, beautiful crosses, and effortless beguilement of overmatched Bermuda defenders made for a stunning display of soccer. None of this, however, should be taken in any way as diminishing the performances of Mbuta's teammates, particularly Larry Mark (who scored twice), Val Teixeira (who scored the goal between Mark's two), and Shintaro Harada, but Mbuta is a cut above anyone else we have seen in this league.

I cannot imagine that Mbuta will be in the United States for another season and, as such, I am eager to see Mbuta on the pitch this Wednesday in CP's final home fixture and, with luck, the team's first playoff match the Wednesday following. As much as I enjoy the small (perhaps better described as tiny) turnout for games, I hope that somehow soccer fanatics in the DC-Baltimore area will take the time to watch this 22-year old play in at least one of these last two games (or in Richmond in the final fixture of the season this Saturday against the Kickers). While the chances of Mbuta ever realizing his dream by playing for Man United are probably low to non-existent, he should get a shot to play in Europe, and the chance to watch him in a far more humble environment is simply too good to pass up.

But again, Mbuta is not the only reason to check out CP Baltimore. They are a fun team to watch play. They have a number of highly competent, honest ballplayers that seem to take pride in both effort and craft. It's just, did it have to be Crystal Palace? Of all the teams in the world, Crystal Palace located a U.S. affiliate a thirty minute drive from my home? Not quite Capulets and Montagues, but disquieting nonetheless.

Note: Useful background on CP's US outfit was provided in an article Goff wrote for the Washington post last year.

Also, good description of the strange events at the last home fixture at UMBC against Real Maryland provided by a blogger-fan. Fully agree with the following sentiment: "Palace has a frustrating habit of playing down to the level of its opposition" However, this was at least not true tonight and hopefully CP will have a similarly easy time of it this Wednesday against the same opponents.

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