Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Powder Puff

Georgetown's early non-conference schedule is not exactly daunting. After watching the Hoyas brutalize Lafayette on Saturday, we were back at the Verizon Center tonight to see them walk over Mt. St. Mary's. We'll probably be back on Saturday for the game against American, although American is having a horror-show of a season to date and 4 pm might just mark a massacre.

Other than Shawn Atupem's (#10) awesome hair style, there was not much in the way of entertainment to be had from tonight's game. Although at least two things are promising: first, at some point during the second half, Austin Freeman forewent an open three pointer to step up and shoot a mid-range jumpshot. That he missed is of little consequence. I had thought that the mid-range jumper was taboo in Hoyaland and was pleased to see it make a momentary comeback. Second, free throw shooting, at least amongst the guards, has improved considerably. Although Julian Vaughn's problems at the line will grab the most attention, Jason Clark, Freeman, Chris Wright, and freshman Vee Sanford look pretty comfortable at the line. Long may it continue.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Now a word about our sponsors...

Of the dumb things I have done in furtherance of my fascination with the kick-about, the stupidest, to date, has been the obsession that I have developed with sponsoring players on clubs throughout England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Ireland. It started with our visit to Dalymount in February and being blown away by the impact that a late substitution of Joseph Ndo had on a friendly of little lasting relevance. Several months later, we were sponsoring Ndo's away shirt for the Irish league champions -- a shirt that Ndo presumably wore while scoring an away goal in Champions League qualifications against FC Red Bull Salzburg in Austria.

Since then, we've sponsored players on fourteen other teams and, as a testament to how pointless the enterprise, I am struggling to keep up with their exploits. But, putting stuff up here seems like a good way to remedy that sloth. So a few quick notes about some of the sponsored players.

On top of the table, fourth division-Scottish side Livingston FC, we are sponsoring the young winger Andrew Halliday. Halliday, an 18-year old former Ranger product, has reportedly drawn interest from a number of English sides, including, bizarrely, an actual inquiry from Charlton Athletic. Against Clyde this week, in a match that was ultimately abandoned, Halliday scored yet another goal from the wing (it would have been his sixth so far this season).

Higher up on the Scottish league food chain, Mickael Antoine-Curier, a forward we are sponsoring on Hamilton Academical's squad, scored his fourth goal in the SPL this season and the Dundee-loanee gave the Accies a vital point away against St. Johnstone. Antoine-Curier is currently scheduled only to stay with the Accies until January 1st, but we could not resist sponsoring him after he featured for Guadeloupe in the CONCACAF Gold Cup earlier this year.

In the FA Cup this week, Danny Thomas, a forward we are sponsoring on Conference's Kettering Town, saw over thirty minutes on the pitch as the Poppies forced a replay against Leeds United and a trip to Elland Road.

Peter Murphy, a young fullback we are sponsoring at Accrington Stanley, was called upon as a late substitute to try and preserve a win over Barnet for ten-man Stanley. Accrington ultimately gave up a penalty during the six minutes of injury time added to the end of the second half and will now have to travel to the Underhill Tuesday for the right to take on Gillingham in the third round of the FA Cup.

What Is American Soccer?

No daughter in my arms today for Inter-Fiore or Arsenal-Chelsea as the wife and kid are off being pious while I revel in keeping my own counsel. I am waiting on Maryland to kick off its sweet 16 NCAA tourney match against Harvard at 1 pm and trying to figure out whether I'll be going to campus to watch the Maryland women take on Drexel at 2:00 pm.

In the interim, I slogged through a dismal Inter Milan - Fiorentina Serie A tie by catching up on some online reading about football. Now I am missing portions of an exciting London derby because of some misguided desire to pile more drivel onto a subject few care about. Devoid of context, I was fairly excited about the news last week that Crystal Palace FC USA had left USL2 and was planning on moving up to the second division by joining a group of breakaway owners from USL1. The symmetry of being able to follow teams playing in the first, second, and third division of professional football in the country along with being within walking distance of one of the sport's best college programs is extremely appealing. With Crystal Palace and Real Maryland playing in the same league, Real Maryland began to win out for us because of the closer proximity and, weirdly, the setting at a high school football stadium, as it provided a better venue than UMBC's soccer stadium.

The general reception to the formulation of the new North American Soccer League has been poor. My least favorite American writer on the sport, Kartik Krishnaiyer, has, to no one's surprise, used the development to further decry the state of the country's game. But, to be fair, Kartik (who works his rear off in covering the game) is not alone, and guys like Brian Quarstad of InsideMNSoccer and Rochester's Jeff DiVeronica have similarly raised tough questions about whether the new second division is even viable (although neither have extended their concerns to attacks on U.S. club soccer generally). But even accepting these reasonable doubts (although there are some that I cannot -- DiVeronica's assessment of the market for soccer in Baltimore is absolutely and unequivocally wrong and appears to be the product of a need for a consistent narrative rather than fidelity to substantive analysis), I have drawn precisely the opposite conclusion.

There can be little doubt that soccer in the U.S. faces massive challenges. The team that won the USL2 regular season title last year and was the only third-division team to advance to the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open Cup, the Wilmington Hammerheads, will not be returning to the ranks of any professional soccer league next year. This depressing announcement comes on the heels of one of the team's most successful seasons -- a year where their on-the-field product was so good, I took enough notice to go out and buy a couple of Hammerheads' shirts (I don't even own a Real Maryland shirt). But I am also a fan of the sport in a far broader context and the challenges faced in this country pale when compared to what club soccer leagues confront around the world. The top European leagues -- the EPL, Serie A, La Liga, and the Bundesliga -- have increased their hold on the attention of football fans across the globe and diminished local enthusiasm for club teams in Ireland, Wales, Ghana, Thailand, and countless other countries/regions where I don't have direct experience over the last year. Club teams in Scotland appear to be perennially mired in crisis (although some clubs are doing interesting things in response, like the supporters of Stirling Albion). Even in England, lower division teams seem to live on a constant precipice narrowly avoiding falling into oblivion (a point hammered home by Charlton's FA Cup embarrassment to Northwich Victoria -- a team that only exists because of the Herculean efforts of their supporters to overcome extreme adversity).

No one has the answers to the myriad issues threatening the current state of the game. And, similarly, no one has the answers to the challenges that soccer faces here. But that is what makes the NASL compelling: it is an effort by people committed to the game to try and improve the sport. I am not in a position to judge whether their approach is the right one, but I do know that the owners of the breakaway teams are putting their own money down on this audacious bet.

And it is difficult to formulate an argument for maintaining the USL as is. Charleston, which finished in the top four of the second division last year and, in 2008, advanced to the U.S. Open Cup final against DC United, is dropping to the third division. It is generally assumed that the Cleveland City Stars will also drop down to the third division as well (although I have not seen any formal confirmation of this widely reported story). Over the last two years, I have gone to more USL matches than MLS games. While I enjoy the USL, the marketing of the league is horrible and has detracted from the creative and interesting individual approaches of various clubs to build fan bases. So what, exactly, is the alternative? Plodding along for another decade in relative anonymity? I'll take the bold shakeup, even if it is a colossal failure.

There is a large and increasing market for the sport in this country and that market has not been fully (or even significantly) exploited. Whatever missteps might be taken, either by USL or NASL or, in the context of a new collective bargaining agreement, by MLS, that market will remain; even if only sustained by televised events drawn from the World Cup, the European superleagues, and domestic leagues in Mexico, Brazil, and Argentina. The thoughts of the folks at The Shin Guardian are fully echoed here in College Park. Although perhaps only a minority of the U.S. sports' fans, the growth of the sport these last five years has been remarkable. And the future looks bright, whatever speed bumps are hit along the way.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Giving Thanks

There are a great number of things that I had in mind when contemplating gratitude this Thursday. But first and foremost on my list of things to be thankful for this year is my daughter. Each and every day spent with her brings unexpected joy into my life and I cannot believe my good fortune in having the opportunity to see her grow up.

Because of her, much of what used to fill my days has been dropped or discarded in favor of this wondrous new priority, but I have not been able to fully tear myself away from watching sports. Luckily, for the most part, our daughter has been willing to accommodate me.

Case in point: Last Saturday, with her mother an ocean away in west Africa, my 17-month settled into my arms and slept through the entire Arsenal-Sunderland league tie and, after a trip to the local playground and braving a seven-foot slide all on her lonesome, clambered into those same arms a few hours later to sleep through the entire Fiorentina-Parma match. I can think of no better way to watch either of those matches then with her safe in my arms.

We dropped our Georgetown season tickets this year because going to basketball games at the Verizon Center proved all but impossible with her during the Mystics season. Still, I retain a rooting interest in JTIII's team and with the expectation of a sparse crowd, we trudged off to see Gtown take on the Lafayette Leopards of the Patriot League. And, to our surprise, she was entertained up through 17 minutes of the second half, before the non-competitive game ceased to entertain her and she made her way for the exits, only to be enticed back by a brief interlude with Jack the bulldog. It helped that we had tickets near the floor, as she seemed to be blown away by the size of the Hoyas front court, now featuring Hollis Thompson alongside Greg Monroe, Julian Vaughn, and Henry Sims.

She and I were treated to a very good game from Jason Clark. Clark found his shooting touch in the second half, which complemented the high level of energy he brought to Gtown's defense throughout the rest of the game.

We were also happy to see Henry Sims get extended minutes and earn the (small) crowd's adulation on a tremendous block of one of the Leopards' small, overmatched guards.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Down Goes United

It has been a season of being on the brink of achievement and falling short. Losing the Open Cup to the Sounders at RFK; needing a win in Mexico against Toluca to advance out of the group stage in the In Name Only Champions League and managing a draw; and, last night, needing a win against the Wizards in Kansas City to gain a playoff berth but allowing Zusi and company to pick up a point.

Oh well. After a day of reflection, I can write that I was at least happy with the effort. After a number of games this season where the players did not seem to give two sh*ts about the shirt or the fans, United played committed and with urgency last night. At the end of the first half, I was surprised by the realization that the team's best two players were Julius James and Danny Szetela. Szetela was particularly impressive. Although his touch failed him a few times in the midfield, Danny's pace allowed him to cover back, permitting Burch, James, and Jakovic to be more aggressive in their marking. On one dangerous Wiz attack in the first half, Burch lost his man and Szetela came back and disrupted the play in the box before goal, keeping Kansas City off the scoreboard. More impressive, however, was the precision shown in Szetela's long boots forward. I like that United plays the ball on the ground and works its way up field. At the same time, when the other team's backline is napping and Emilio is running -- as he was yesterday -- it would seem foolish to not try and take advantage of that aspect of the game. Szetela was able to put the ball forward in spaces that allowed Emilio and Pontius to run onto them, something that has been conspicuously missing from previous games.

Some other surprises from last night: I thought Fred played a better game than Wallace on the wings (the first time I've thought Fred was the better wide player all season). I thought the backline was very good overall and that Burch played a solid fullback role. I thought Pontius demonstrated that he is best utilized up top and not in the midfield. I thought Emilio showed that he can play well with the support of another forward and was willing to take the ball to the wide areas of the goal box to set up attacks (he had a couple beautiful flicks). I thought the two worst performances (relative to everyone else's) of the night were turned in by Ben Olsen and Boyzzz Khumalo (one of my favorite players on the team, if not my favorite), the second half subs. Olsen should have received a straight red for the shove of Jewsbury on the sideline and, although there is some poetic justice in the fact that Fred's blatant dive earned a pk and his handball gave up the pk, the reality is that Olsen tackled his man in the box prior to the handball -- he wasn't subtle about it -- and given Fred's cramping, DCU was fortunate that Fred was tossed and not Olsen. Boyzzz did not add much as an energizing force but, to be fair, the circumstances were not appropriate for the substitution.

As usual, Simms was solid and Wallace showed promise, with Cronin making a compelling argument that he should get another crack at the MLS. All in all, a good showing and it would be difficult to hang the result on the players on the pitch.

Taking the year as a whole, although United at least managed to win the Open Cup last year, I am much happier about being a season ticket holder this year than I was this time last year. The folks in the front office were excellent and the decision to include the Champions League matches as part of the season ticket package was emblematic of the sincerity with which the FO addresses problems that are identified by experience. I complained about one thing this season and the good people in administration came up with a solution that resolved any problem. More importantly, the quality of the team put on the pitch was far more talented than what United fans suffered through last year.

Nevertheless, I hope that Tommy Soehn does not return as the head coach of the team next year. Soehn is a nice man. He is a Chicagoan. He is probably a good soccer coach and hopefully he will get a chance somewhere else. Many will point to the bizarre use of substitutions in the single most important match of the year as a fair representation of his failings as a manager... I prefer to focus on the fact that Rodney Wallace was assigned to mark Kei Kamara. This took thought, consideration, and planning. And despite the fact that Wallace looked overmatched on early set pieces, no adjustment was made, ultimately leading to Zusi's free kick and the effective end of United's season. The decision was made all the more bizarre by the fact that a change was made at half to put Pontius on Kamara -- which had to seem like the only logical choice given that Kamara is the Wizards' only real aerial threat.

Many United fans seem intent on seeing an overhaul of the roster with a clear out similar in scale to what happened last year. That seems remarkably short-sighted. Under a new coaching regime, the talent amassed by Mr. Payne should have a chance to shine. At most, I would hope that only a few players are asked to leave: Greg Janicki is probably not an MLS-quality defender and I hope to see him again in the third division. Avery John has seen better days (and James and Vaughn performed more competently in limited chances) and David Habarugira may eventually be a decent player, it won't be anytime in the near future. For everyone else, I am not sure. No one saw much out of Ely Allen and although DiRaimondo looked useful on loan to the Kickers, that's pretty far afield from the MLS.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Black Bear, Black Bear What Do You See?

A month ago the plan was to fly to Cincinnati to see friends across the river in Kentucky and then watch the Bears on Sunday afternoon. But the season started and Ron Turner still called the plays for the offense and I have decided to implement a new rule: if my team's offense is controlled by either (a) John Shoop or (b) Ron Turner, I will not travel to see them play. Turner is by no means the worst offensive coordinator the Bears have employed, nor is he responsible for Chicago being a .500 team that will struggle to make the playoffs, but last week's game against the Falcons in Atlanta sums up well Turner's legacy: Mike Mularkey adjusted the Falcons' offense to exploit the weaknesses that an injury-ravaged Bears defense presented and put the Windy City boys on their heels; Turner did not, declining to put the game into Jay Cutler's hands and run a no-huddle offense that might capitalize on the limited skills of Atlanta's cornerbacks. So, no need to go to Ohio this year and, in fact, no need to even find a bar to watch the game.

Instead, we headed out to Shenandoah National Park for a beautiful day spent on Skyline Drive. Our 16-month old was amazed by caterpillars, salamanders, chipmunks, birds, and deer (although, truth be told, she was most excited by a beetle that she got hold of). For the rest of us, our highlight was a four foot black bear that wandered across the street from us on a trail near Big Meadows. On getting close, the bear turned tail and scampered back into the dense woods. It had no fight in it. So it was almost as if we had gone to the Queen City anyway.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

One v. One

Champions League matches abounded yesterday: a squad from a little Romanian town went to Ibrox and embarrassed the SPL; mighty Barca was humbled by Rubin Kazan; Anfield saw a massive upset in extra time as Ligue Un giants Lyon took the EPL down a notch; and late goals in Group H gave Olympiakos three points and, in the other match, insured a split between Arsenal and Alkmaar. Meanwhile, on another side of the world, in the In Name Only Champions League played in CONCACAF, DC United failed to insure an advance out of the group stages by managing only a draw away at Toluca (I am typing this while watching Metapan-Dynamo, one of the worst soccer matches I have ever witnessed -- all those United fans who rant about Emilio's diminished effectiveness should check out Brian Ching's inept performance turned in tonight). None of that, however, distracted me from Maryland's home game against Seton Hall.

We learned midweek while in Florida that Alex Lee had been hit by a car while walking in Dupont Circle. Considering the extent of Lee's injuries, the games probably are not that important in perspective. Nevertheless, Maryland's response to Lee's individual tragedy was to go out and beat Georgetown and Clemson away. Tuesday night's game against another Big East opponent was their first at home since Lee's injury and Alex was supposed to be in attendance.

Only a little more than 500 people showed up to see Seton Hall break a deadlock in the 22nd minute. Giovanni Zammiello was given a lot of time on the ball to square up a shot. It is a testament to how impressed I have been with Ethan White that, at first, I thought he just wasn't on the field as I was certain that he would never let a player be that open without a tough, physical challenge.

The Terps response was fantastic. Kwame Darko, the fifth year senior who will replace Lee, threw his body dangerously in the air to win a poorly cleared 50/50 ball that set Drew Yates free in the box to slot home the equalizer. Darko risked serious injury on the play, but demonstrated that Maryland wanted a result more than their opponents (the Crew, often confused when not directing puerile insults at opposing teams, chanted Drew Yates' name, in recognition of the beneficiary of Darko's hard work).

Maryland took the lead on something that has been a long time coming: a Terp converting on a one on one opportunity against the opposing team's keeper. Jason Herrick beat Paul McHenry when set free by a ball from Matt Kassel. The opportunity was there and Herrick made the most of it.

Maryland again dominated in shots taken -- 19 to Seton Hall's 9 -- but, last night, managed to put three into the net.

Two huge matches coming up: Wake Forest away on Saturday night and back home a week later against Virginia.

Get well soon Alex.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

There's Nothing Wrong With Nationalism...

"... and if you ask me, I will say it is fine."

On Wednesday morning, my family was enjoying 85 degree weather and basking in sunshine on the beach in Clearwater. On Wednesday evening, I stood amongst the throngs of Sam's Army in a downpour of cold, continuous, unrelenting rain in 40 degree weather at RFK. Wouldn't have it any other way.

We sit on the opposite side of Barra Brava and for the first time that I can remember, no one sat down during the entire game. The atmosphere was fantastic and for a relatively disappointing turnout, the stadium did not feel empty.

I have developed an irrational dislike for Landon Donovan, but the hard rain on Wednesday night washed most of that away. Donovan's skills were fully on display in what were tough, nasty conditions. Down 2-0 after some lackadaisical play from the U.S. centerbacks (Onyewu and Bocanegra), Donovan showed extraordinary effort and heart on the wing. He tracked back when necessary, folded in to keep the Ticos' defense on its heels, and exhibited his great touch in turning past individual Costa Rican players. I certainly did not hop on the metro expecting to fall in love with LD, but 90+ minutes of watching him a few rows from the field and I am ready to admit the error of my ways. He was, far and away, the best player in the U.S.'s midfield.

And although Donovan was great and Robbie Rogers was a revelation as a substitute on the right wing and the late equalizer from Bornstein was euphoric, Jozy Altidore alone was worth the price of admission. Jozy is far more comfortable up top than I've ever seen him before and the confidence he plays with is now matched by transcendent skill. On one play in the first half, he picked up a pass, turned, beat the man marking him, slid from right to left, beat two more Costa Rican defenders and served the ball perfectly to Conor Casey (who clearly regressed to the mean after a breakout match in Honduras on Saturday). Altidore himself missed a couple of half chances, but when he starts to convert those opportunities, he will be one of the world's elite strikers. The most impressive thing about Altidore's performance was how he earned the multiple free kicks awarded during the match by refusing to go down easily when he was hacked at by Ticos' defenders in the early going. By keeping his balance and forcing his way into openings, Altidore -- by his actions -- demonstrated to the referee that he was not going to be looking for whistles. For the rest of the game, Jozy got the benefit of the doubt when he hit the turf. He is so big, so fast, and so skilled that he simply has to play. His short time in the EPL seems to have already borne fruit and, if Phil Brown has the courage to stick with Altidore, Hull City may stave off relegation this season.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


There are some things I generally do not do (check that, there are a lot of things I don't do), and near the top of that list is flying solo. I have, maybe, gone to one or two movies by my lonesome and, while I used to go to games at Jack Murphy when the Cubs came to town on my own, I have rarely gone to sporting events without accompaniment. So I take it as a testament to how much I love watching Maryland play (rather than declining popularity) that I went to the Terps match last night after being shot down by those who would normally join me.

And, as usual, a great time was had by all. This team may not be one of the best teams in the country, but they are fun to watch. The only goal scored in the game was off a beautiful cross from Kwame Darko from the right hand side put home by Kaoru Forbess. But what made the trip worthwhile was watching Alex Lee and Widner Saint Cyr in the second half. I have been so smitten with Ethan White's play that I have not paid sufficient attention to how good Alex Lee is at right back. The sophomore was a menace marauding forward and Loyola had no answer for his quick stepover. For his part, Saint Cyr is fun to watch. A little Widner backheel drew gasps from an otherwise unengaged crowd.

By all rights, Maryland should have buried Loyola. They outshot Loyola 20 to 7 but converted only once. For the season, Maryland has outshot its opponents 188 to 81 but have scored only 15 goals and almost half of those came in the match against Duquesne. They are averaging 19 shots for game and have only been outshot once in ten matches this season (against the Tar Heels -- 10 shots for UNC, 7 for Maryland). 77 of the 188 shots have been on goal and should they figure out how to get balls into the net, this will be one hell of a team.

Monday, October 5, 2009

What Are You Doing?

Rather than try and mend fences and keep the momentum that the USL has built up over the last few years, the league's new owners decided instead to douse a conflict with gasoline and strike a match. On Friday, USL's new management sent an e-mail to players on the Carolina Railhawks, the Minnesota Thunder, and Miami FC informing them that they were no longer under contract with their clubs per the strict terms of the USL standard player contract. That includes U.S. U-20 National Team center back Gale Agbossumonde; former DC United alums Rod Dyachenko and Quavas Kirk; and the captain of the National Champion Maryland Terps, Rich Costanzo.

This would seem to be an out and out disaster for the league as Carolina was one of the better franchises in the USL1. It would also seem to be the beginning of a string of bad news that may overshadow the enjoyable theater of the USL1 playoffs, captured perfectly by the second leg of one of the semifinals broadcast tonight on the Fox Soccer Channel, with Portland falling just short at home against the Whitecaps. As Portland and Vancouver matriculate to the MLS in 2011 (and Montreal hopefully not far behind), what the league looks like today will certainly not be what it looks like (if it exists at all) three years from now. This is not good news for fans of the sport in the U.S. and Canada, as the USL has done a remarkable job of stoking interest in soccer in places that the MLS cannot reach.

But, setting aside the survival of the USL, DC United is desperate to improve its backline. Although this declaration of war probably clears the way for Agbossumonde to head Europe, once the FO fires Soehn it ought to try everything within its power (and within the rules, since I have never tried to understand the MLS's convoluted acquisition guidelines) to sign him. And, while they are at it, bring Costanzo in for a look.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

New Beginning

I've made three trips to RFK in seven days and, leaving aside what has taken place on the pitch with DC United, it has been an eventful week. On Sunday afternoon my wife and daughter had a chance to meet United's players at an autograph session. Both were charmed by Fred, one of the nicest professional athletes that anyone will ever run across. The frustration that Fred must feel this season is evident and yet despite all the hostility he has felt from (moronic) supporters for subpar performances, it has not impacted how he interacts with fans. On Wednesday, after United's In-Name-Only Champions League rout, my sister and I had our first experience with being escorted out of the stadium by security after taking exception to an incredibly offensive slur screamed by the supervisor (?) of security at another United supporter. Last night, I took my daughter to the match all by my lonesome before she mercifully demanded that we head home after the 70th minute mark.

It would be great if that was all that I recalled about this last week. Unfortunately, this is also the week where I have fully paid up my membership on the "Fire Soehn" bandwagon. It is always dangerous (and somewhat messy) to try and apportion blame when a pro team disappoints. The Cubs this year are a good example. Jim Hendry should not shoulder sole responsibility for this year's disaster of a season, but he is probably more responsible than anyone else because he had the biggest hand in assembling a mixture of players that were noxious both to themselves and the fans. It is hard to argue that Pinella could have done much more with the team he was given than what he achieved.

Similarly, Soehn is not solely responsible for how bad this season has been, but he is, nevertheless, principally responsible. A vocal minority of United supporters have tried to lay the blame on a number of players: the aforementioned Fred; the formerly idolized Luciano Emilio; Christian Gomez; Josh Wicks; Marc Burch; Greg Janicki; etc., etc. In truth, this season's version of DC United is far more talented and has far greater depth than last year's version and, yet, the results have been roughly equivalent. When a team plays with no drive, no passion, no initiative, limited effort, and general disinterest, that is on the coach. When players have little to no idea where they will be playing and what their responsibilities will be, that is on the coach. Christian Gomez got pulled in the 43rd minute in a pointless, insulting substitution because everytime he got the ball up front, he had no options to play the ball to. No tactical change on the field with his surrounding players, just Gomez pulled so that Moreno could stand up by himself and achieve just as much as Gomez.

I am getting more and more used to heading to RFK with the expectation that United will be outcoached and outclassed in every match. Too much talent has been wasted and two seasons of embarrassment is two seasons too many.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Big Z

Back at home after the awesome Terps-Tar Heels showdown at Ludwig Field, I decided to decompress by watching a meaningless Cubs-Giants matchup in San Francisco. One of the things that has precipitated my transformation into a bore on the Trib's coverage of the Northsiders was the exasperated whining about Carlos Zambrano. From what I gather, Caballo's failure to show up to training camp in shape, despite being in the middle of a 5-year, $91.5 million deal; his inability to take reporters' questions seriously; his lack of consistent focus; his inconsistency; his temper; and his unique sense of humor have resulted in constant condescension and derision from certain beat writers. Enough so that the idiotic non-stories of "Will Carlos waive his no-trade clause to be dealt to x?" have become a staple of lazy column-inch filling over the last few months.

Well, long may Z be a target for the Trib. The dipsh*ts that write constantly critical pieces will harp on how Zambrano's performance last night justifies the average fan's frustration (the logic apparently being that because Zambrano is not masterful in the majority of his starts, he is not worth keeping), but I think that even they understand that the average Cubs fan loves Big Z and will always love Big Z because of the mere promise of performances last night. And it is not even what he did on the mound; its breaking up the double play that led to a run scored; its the discipline at the plate that led to another run batted in later in the game; and its the goofy bow to Fukudome at the end of the game.

Carlos Zambrano is one of the best pitchers to don a Cubs uniform. And he has more fun in that job than nearly all that preceded him.

Thursday, September 24, 2009


A few months ago, I expressed my supreme disappointment in this season's assemblage of Cubs players -- the first time I can remember not liking a Cubs team -- in polite company and declared that I would not be attending any Cubs games this year. My mother-in-law pointedly responded: "Do you think they'll notice?"

Fair enough. But I tilt at windmills (as evidenced by continuing to post aimless ruminations on this blog) and, so, with equal futility have undertaken a boycott of the Chicago Tribune. The Trib doesn't care. The moronic baseball sportswriters for that publication don't care. But I do. And, my enjoyment of Chicago sports has improved by leaps and bounds since ignoring that daily.

In the interim, I have reacquainted myself with the formerly loathsome Chicago Sun-Times and have come to truly appreciate the great work done by Arlington's Daily Herald -- a paper with writers worthy of the teams they cover.

In a blogpost today, Bruce Miles takes Jim Hendry to task for his attitude towards beat writers over the last week. Miles doesn't seem to have any agenda other than to report his disappointment in Hendry's behavior and doesn't express himself in terms of hyperbolic outrage; the stock in trade of Sully and Rogers (who don't seem to understand that they live in glass houses). Miles is also suitably subtle about his digs at the hysteria that has gripped the Tribune, stating only:

It probably hasn't helped that the Trib is running a referendum on whether Hendry should be given one more year.

That seems a fair and restrained observation. It is a much more polite way of saying that it probably hasn't helped that the Trib has assigned corrosive, self-lauding clowns to cover the city's best franchise or that the Tribune hasn't helped anyone this season, except, perhaps, Cardinals fans.

Personally, I think Jim Hendry should lose his job -- new ownership should have an immediate opportunity to put their stamp on the wayward franchise and Mr. Hendry has, unfortunately, not performed well enough to merit a second chance under this regime. But even if I agree with the ultimate conclusion of the paper's current campaign to slam someone else related to the franchise, I am more troubled by the unmoored negativity and condescension of the Tribune. It is not just that the attacks are so aggresive, it is that they are so parsimonious as to be indefensibly idiotic.

Bang the drum all you want about signing Milton Bradley or how much the clubhouse misses Mark DeRosa, but the Cubs pen only converted 39 out of 60 save (65%) opportunities this year which is slightly worse than the pen's performance last year (converted 44 of 67 save opportunities; 66%). In 2007, the Cubs' bullpen converted 39 of 53 save opportunities (74%). The Cardinals pen converted 42 of 56 save opportunities this year (75%). If the Cubs pen had converted 3/4 of their save chances this year, the team would have won an additional 6 games: this would put them just a couple of games behind the Rockies for the wild card spot and firmly within the playoff hunt. 13 of the 23 blown saves came from Hendry acquisitions Kevin Gregg and Aaron Heilmann. But, of course, the storyline of poor decisions regarding who to put in the bullpen is not nearly as fun or controversial as soap opera tales of a locker room gone mad (you know what cures dissension in a clubhouse? Winning. Winning makes even Jeff Kent tolerable). So what we get is more of the same horsesh*t drivel driven by faux outrage at the personal inadequacies and shortcomings of players. And everyone pretends that the results of the baseball game are predetermined by the morality play concocted and narrated by unimaginative voyeurs. Whateve.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


We missed Maryland's hammering of Duquesne last week and I was eager to check out how the Terps' legions would fare against Jersey City's finest. The match did not go according to plan and the team is likely very disappointed with the result: one goal against an inferior squad that was down a man for most of the game. St. Peter's freshman Bolivian goalie Carlos Suarez played a good game and made some great saves, but the inability to win by a more comfortable manner was more the result of some really poor finishing. Maryland managed 29 shots on goal and, while throttling St. Peter, only required Will Swaim to make one save. The lowlight of the game came when sophomore Matt Oduaran had a clean one on one against Suarez, went way too far wide to the right, and blew a gorgeous chance that should have been converted.

None of that, however, detracts from the enjoyment derived from being at Ludwig last night. With only 750 people in the stands, our lot moved to the seats next to the touch line. Through the first half, we were treated to some expert play from Drew Yates on the left side of the goal box. Yates routinely got himself into space and whipped in crosses that no one met. When finally Drew moved towards the top of the box -- an area where he has routinely drawn fouls and won free kicks -- his movement set up the only goal of the game.

In the second half, the entertainment was Ethan White and London Woodberry, with a sprinkling of Widner Saint Cyr. Ethan White is excellent. He's confident and devastating and was so untroubled during the match that he took the time to chastise a visiting St. Peter's fan for shouting insulting inanities at the referee. Separately, what Jeremy Hall and Rodney Wallace offered on the left side last year, Woodberry and Saint Cyr can do on the right this year. When Widner and London were on together attacks up the right flank demanded the attention of the handful of fans. The freshmen on this team are just very impressive.

Next up is the match of the regular season: UNC versus Maryland, Friday night.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

True Dat

I cannot express this strongly enough: Thank You Bruce Miles!

Chicago Tribune: Please release Phil Rogers (you know, one-trick pony, no-talent hack, "has ESPN called yet about giving me a show?," Phil Rogers -- that guy). Cut him now.

Sadly Gerould Kern is just the Editor, not a magician. He cannot turn douche into wine.

How is it possible that the Trib fired everyone yet still retained the likes of Rogers?

Saturday, September 12, 2009


The folks at Avoiding the Drop prodigiously churn out blog posts covering a massive variety of topics related to soccer. I have thoroughly enjoyed the depth and breadth of the coverage on the site, but would draw particular attention to two great recent posts:

The Geography of Fandom addresses something that has fascinated me during our various trips to England. How can such a small country support so many football clubs? Rather than just idle curiosity, Avoiding the Drop looks at the numbers, noting that 762(!) teams entered the FA Cup or, broken out by geographic area, one club team for every 66 miles of land in England (a technical point: six of the 762 teams entered in the FA Cup -- Colwyn Bay, Merthyr Tydfil, Newport County, Wrexham, Cardiff City, and Swansea City -- are from Wales, not England, so the calculation should be 50,346 miles divided by 756 teams or one team for every 67 miles). If the U.S. had the same football club density in their professional pyramid, this country would have 56,972 teams.

The second post, The Distribution of Money in the Champions League and Europa League, is similarly fascinating because of the willingness to look at the actual numbers. UEFA's July 2009 report makes clear how important it is for teams to make the Champions League group stage. In 2008-2009, only two teams that began in the UEFA Cup made serious money from the tournament: Manchester City (5.4 million euros) and Hamburger SV (3.7 million euros). In order to earn those amounts, both teams had to reach the quarterfinals of the UEFA Cup. In comparison, each of the 32 teams that reached the group stage of the Champions League received 5.4 million euros just for qualifying. The lowest amount earned by any team qualifying for the group stage was the 6.3 million euros earned by the Belarussian-side FC Bate Borisov. PSV Eindhoven, which, like Bate Borisov, did not make it out of their group, walked away with a 25.6 million euro door prize. In comparison, fellow Dutch sides FC Twente and N.E.C. earned 365,000 euros each for reaching the round of 32 in the UEFA Cup. Ajax made just 455,000 euros by reaching the round of 16 of the UEFA Cup.

While the numbers underscore the massive gulf that separates the Champions League and the Europa League, a closer look at the payouts highlights some irrational absurdity. The team that earned the most money from the UEFA Cup -- Werder Bremen (7.1 million euros) -- had already banked 22.3 million euros from the Champions League before it bowed out of the group stages. In this way, Werder Bremen did better financially by dropping to the UEFA Cup than the teams that made it out of Bremen's group -- Inter and Panathinaikos -- which earned only an additional 2.2 million euros each by moving on. Indeed, Werder Bremen made out better than Liverpool, Villareal, Bayern Munich, and FC Porto, which earned only an additional 4.7 million euros each before falling out of the Champions League in the quarterfinals.

Better and Better

I can't be bothered to show up to any game on time. Twenty-five minutes late to tonight's Maryland's ACC opener and I didn't get to watch much of the match while chasing my daughter around Ludwig.

Charlie Davies'
alma mater might be facing a tough season. Before tonight, BC has dropped two of three games, losing to Harvard and Rhode Island.

From what little I saw of the game, however, the Eagles are not as bad as their record would suggest. BC's freshman keeper, Justin Luthy, is not bad; nor were fellow freshmen Kevin Mejia; Sacir Hot; Isaac Taylor; Kyle Bekker; Colin Murphy; Stefan Carter; and Charlie Rugg. For those keeping track, seven of BC's starting XI are freshmen.

Having BC early on the schedule may have been good luck for Maryland. But, it might just as easily be argued that getting Maryland scheduled early is good luck, because Maryland is also getting better every game. There seems to be an inverse relationship between attendance and performance on the pitch -- numbers dropped 45% between the first and second game and 31% between the second and third game and the team's confidence seems to have grown by an equal amount.

Starting winger Karou Forbess was in the stands at RFK to check out former teammates Rodney Wallace and Graham Zusi on Wednesday night and I don't think one is going too far out on limb by predicting that several current Terps will build professional careers as well. The second goal tonight was something that has been building and will likely be repeated several times this year: a corner kick of the foot of Matt Kassel with the ball put in goal off the head of center back Kevin Tangney.

At the moment, Maryland's defense is doing double duty: shutting down the opposing team's offense (Maryland had 23 shots on goal, BC managed 9), threatening to score on set pieces in the final third, and Taylor Kemp marauding at left back. A word about Kemp: he is fun to watch and has proved, to open the season, to be an able replacement for Rodney Wallace. And another word about Ethan White: he is exceptionally strong in the middle. Forwards slide off of him and he plays with incredible confidence in the goal box.

Outside of the defense, I enjoyed getting a chance to see Kwame Darko and London Woodberry in the midfield. Both made the most of limited opportunities and perhaps they will have a chance to build on that performance against Duquesne on Tuesday night.

Thursday, September 10, 2009


Nine of the last fifteen books I have read have been about soccer. I am tearing through a tenth -- David Winner's self-indulgent (but wondrously short) Around the World in 90 Minutes -- and have an additional stack of books on the sport that I am eager to start. At my current ridiculous (obsessive) pace, I will have read more books on soccer in the last three years than I have read about all other sports combined in 33 years.

I feel a certain urgency to reading everything I can, as every page seems to enhance my enjoyment and appreciation of the pastime. And because I was raised without any acculturation to the sport other than AYSO soccer, the exercise is also an artificial attempt to download, en masse, a historical context for the contemporary game. To that end, Winner's book has been opened at the perfect time. Yesterday, a significant portion of the world was glued to results (from the Faroe Islands' insanely impressive win over Lithuania to Uruguay's huge win in La Paz -- which potentially sets up a breathtaking matchup in Montevideo on October 13th -- to another embarrassing performance by the El Tri at the Azteca). I was one of them and delayed my arrival at RFK by half an hour just to see the first 15 minutes of Paraguay-Argentina. Winner's tales of Gdansk and Seoul reveling in their respective teams' 2006 German tour provide a beautiful backdrop to the current mania of qualifying for a 2010 South African tour.

There are times, however, when knowledge is gained too late. The last book I finished was an English translation of Filippo Maria Ricci's wonderful Elephants, Lions & Eagles: A Journey through African Football. The book -- really a collection of short essays -- describes an amazing variety of topics in a limited number of pages. One of the topics is the Liberian national team; Ricci sets out a 2003 article he wrote for Gazzetta dello Sport regarding a Africa Cup of Nations-qualifying match (Tunisia, 2004) between Liberia and Guinea. Ostensibly, the story is about Liberia's struggles to compete amidst a renewed civil war. Though a home game for Liberia, the team was forced to play in Accra and, worse, the Liberian FA was without funds to pay for the team's travel to the match. So the team fielded for the country was drawn largely from a refugee camp in Buduburam, 25 miles outside of Ghana's capital. In describing the intensity of passion describing football played in the camp by the refugee inhabitants, Ricci writes: "Inevitably enough the local hero, Francis Doe, was christened the new Weah." Say what? Francis Doe? Our Francis Doe. Yes, indeed.

Now, if I had paid attention and read Paul Tenorio's article describing how and where Louis met Francis, I would not have been as surprised. But I didn't and it took randomly reading an Italian journalist's reprint of a newspaper article to realize (five months after his departure) how amazing Doe's personal story is.

Doe has moved on to the Egyptian Premier League, to current top-of-the-table Al Ahly where he scored in the squad's opening fixture this season. And while his former teammates enjoyed a runout against Real Madrid at FedEx Field, Doe had the privilege of being part of a side destroyed by Celtic and Barcelona at Wembley in the Wembley Cup.

I hope that Doe finds success at Al Ahly. I am confident that had he came into a DC United side that had any interest in entertaining its (dwindling) fan base, he would have become a local legend. But that was not to be, to the detriment, I believe, of both the franchise and its supporters.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Soggy Night

Two things were guaranteed following Maryland's loss to UCLA on Friday night: (1) attendance was going to drop dramatically (from 6,718 to 3,710); and (2) Sasho Cirovski would get a more urgent performance from his players.

I paid a great deal more attention to individual players last night and I really, really like the Terps' new backline. Outside of Kevin Tangney, the 6' 2" red-shirt senior, Maryland's back four is not particularly physically imposing. The other starting center back, freshman Ethan White is 5' 11", and the two fullbacks, sophomore Alex Lee and freshman Taylor Kemp are 5' 10" and 5' 11", respectively. But they are very disciplined and very good. While sophomore defensive midfielder Matt Kassel may have started the season as the best pro prospect on the roster, former DC United Academy member Ethan White has been impressive.

The defense was supposed to be Maryland's biggest weakness going into this season, but the question posed by the first two games is how Maryland will score. Our impeccable timing meant that we walked into the stadium just in time to see sophomore Karou Forbess make a good run on the left and cross to an unseen player (Jason Herrick) for the Terps' first official goal of the season and we walked out of the stadium at the end of regular time -- thoroughly waterlogged -- prior to Herrick completing his brace and winning Maryland's first game of the season.

For the portions in between, when we were comfortably seated in the stands, although Maryland dominated offensively, it never looked like the Terps seriously threatened to score. The dominance is reflected in the statistics (Maryland forced David Bingham to make eight saves on 19 shots; MacMath, in comparison, recorded two saves on seven shots), just as it was on Friday against UCLA (Brian Perk made 10 saves on 19 shots, while MacMath only made one save on UCLA's seven shots). Of those 38 attempts on goal, few seemed to pose any real questions for the opposing keeper. Maryland also hasn't been that impressive on set pieces. Senior Drew Yates is particularly adept at drawing fouls just north of the goal box, but the Terps have not been able to do much with the ensuing free kicks in a dangerous area.

Cal equalized on a hard low shot that slipped through MacMath's hands in the middle of a downpour. Maryland, for its part, did not respond with long shots that would similarly challenge Bingham. Instead, Maryland again became unnerved in the second half and, despite dominating in the midfield, started rashly booting hopeful balls up in the hopes that Herrick, Casey Townsend, or sub Billy Cortes (who played well) could bring the ball down and convert. Abandoning the possession game seemed to be a reaction to frustration with an inability to capitalize on the good play after Herrick's goal in the fourth minute. That said, Maryland was better last night than Friday and, with considerable room for improvement, the best is yet to come.

Two other notes: first, for a massive roster, Cirovski uses remarkably few subs. In the game against UCLA on Friday, Sasho introduced four subs: freshman Widner Saint Cyr; junior Billy Cortes; freshman London Woodberry; and freshman John Stertzer. UCLA used five. Last night, none of the three freshman played and Maryland only used two subs: Billy Cortes and sophomore Matt Oduaran. Cal, in contrast, used seven (and got their goal from freshman sub Anthony Salciccia). Don't know what this means, but one conclusion that can be drawn is that the coaching staff has also been reasonably pleased by what they've seen from the back four.

Second, I was not paying a whole lot of attention to Cal's players, but it was hard to miss the senior (?) transfer Jeff Cosgriff in the middle of Cal's team. Cosgriff was the biggest player on the field (6'4") and commanded attention throughout the game. Cosgriff was also noticeable due to a rough foul that led to the issuance of a yellow card in the first half. Red-shirt junior Hector Jimenez has assisted on all three goals of Cal's season thus far and is clearly the heart of the team, but it will be interesting to see how Cosgriff fares as he gets more time playing with the rest of the squad.


For the most part, I blew an opportunity to watch Charlton play on tv Saturday morning by, first, failing to wake up until 8 am and, second, taking over a half hour to find a service that actually would allow me to see the broadcast of the match against Brentford. But when I finally got the game on my laptop, it was just in time to see Izale McLeod come on as a substitute and do what I thought no longer possible: contribute positively in a Charlton shirt. Izale's time at The Valley has been no picnic and having been at the center of controversy last season while on loan at Millwall, he seemed to have been one of the many young strikers to have been frozen out of the squad. When Izale was first signed up -- fresh off a 24 goal effort for fake Wimbledon in 2006-2007 -- the YouTube highlights were enough to get me in his corner. But YouTube highlights are, well, YouTube highlights and he, apparently, was unable to build on those performances in practice.

Setting aside the remarkable six-game winning streak that Phil Parkinson has begun the season with -- for a dispirited team, in tough financial straits, that most feared would face another relegation battle -- what has rendered me ashamed of my lack of faith in PP is the turnaround performances of guys like Izale and Lloyd Sam. Sam had another magnificent hour on Saturday and, catching the highlights later on cafctv, he looked like a worldbeater. And I think it is fair to say that the current management has the squad pointed in the right direction.

But what had my tongue wagging on Sunday was not Charlton's continued good run or the U.S.'s win over El Salvador or DC United's pathetic performance against FC Dallas . . . it was what we witnessed when we flipped on Mexico-Costa Rica. Both Izale and Lloyd have been described as "confidence" players, which I understand to mean athletes with tremendous physical gifts that, if their self-belief is shaken, are unable to harness those natural talents. I think the label might also be applied to Gio Dos Santos.

I have an inexplicable and indefensible dislike for Gio Dos Santos. Prior to Saturday night, I thought of Gio as a football primadonna unwilling to play with enough heart to bring his considerable skills to bear for the benefit of teammates in any meaningful way. The consistent theatrical diving seemed like a cheap and cowardly way to avoid having to do the hard work required to compete at the highest level. That is, until last night. I was wrong.

Through most of the first half, Costa Rica seemed intent on breaking Mexico. In San Jose, Costa Rica seemed unimpressed by Mexico and not even remotely intimidated by Mexico's stronger footballing tradition. One of the lasting impressions was a Costa Rican player standing over Blanco with venom in his eyes... CONCACAF has changed and Mexico is no longer the class of the region. And in this setting, under intense pressure (if Mexico did not manage a result, World Cup qualification was in doubt, although still quite possible), Gio alone turned the game around. On a ball that switched the field from left to right toward the end of the first 45, Dos Santos was given acres of space and drilled home a goal of sublime beauty. Two more goals put the game firmly on Mexico's side of the ledger in the second half, both created by gorgeous taps from the left foot of Dos Santos. The second, cleanly converted by Franco, was faithfully replicated by the third, this time sent home by Franco's sub, the very impressive Jose Andres Guardado Hernandez. On all three goals, Dos Santos showed incredible skill; world-class skill that would seem to indicate that he might yet be one of the sport's greats.

Saturday did not play to script. Mexico may not be in the steep decline it seemed to be. With Dos Santos, Guardado and Vela (who did not feature in Mexico's 18), the green and white should scare every team in the region. No other country in the CONCACAF has young talent performing at such high levels. After several embarrassing misfires, Mexico may have its swagger back.

Friday, September 4, 2009

The Place to Be

There were 6,718 people in the stands and on the grass at Ludwig Field tonight to watch a promising Terps team fall short against UCLA for the season opener. So Maryland lost 2-0. Sasho Cirovski has put together a new team that plays attractive soccer and, although attendance will likely drop now that Maryland has shown that they are a young side and that they are vulnerable, they are, once again, well worth the price of admission.

Perhaps Maryland will not enjoy the same dominance they displayed last year, but the promise of pulling together a team that could make a deep run in the NCAA tournament. They just have to qualify. And, to do that, it may only mean finding a few players that can put the ball in goal.

For two-thirds of the game, Maryland was the far more impressive side. After giving away a goal against the run of play, the Terps fell apart. If ever Rich Costanzo has doubts about what he meant to the team, tonight proved Costanzo's value by his absence. Without Rich anchoring the team as captain, the team lost confidence and started to give up possession under little duress. UCLA's second goal was inevitable; Maryland had lost its discipline and form and UCLA is good enough to take advantage.

Very little time to think about any disappointment: Cal visits on Sunday night after beating Gtown 2-0 this afternoon. UCLA, in turn, will play Georgetown Sunday afternoon.


One more comment on Wicks: the hand-wringing from soccer correspondents and some quarters of United's supporters regarding Josh's "disgraceful" behavior is maudlin and grossly overblown.

Having watched the fourth quarter of tonight's Boise State vs. Oregon match, let us contemplate what disgraceful behavior is: Byron Hout, a defensive lineman, embarrasses his Boise State teammates -- which beat a decent opponent on their home turf -- by seeking out and insulting LeGarrette Blount, the starting tailback for the Ducks. Blount responds by punching Hout in the face, quickly ending the trash talk. Hout got hit while a Boise State coach was trying to pull him away and chastising him for his lack of class. After the punch? When Hout regains his footing, he is blistered by the coach for insulting Blount. Blount, in the meantime, has to be restrained from going after Boise State students and starts shoving police officers trying to restrain him.

Blount's collegiate career is probably over. And maybe Blount is a hothead who was bound to detonate at sometime during his senior season. But for Hout's idiocy, it doesn't happen tonight.

Whatever might be said against Wicks' rash and stupid act, it does not change the fact that Montero is a wind-up merchant.

Thursday, September 3, 2009


For 88 minutes last night, I resigned myself to what has become the established script at RFK -- a six man midfield clogging the pitch, keeping possession for long periods of time, and doing absolutely nothing of interest. An unwise decision to bring a backpack to the stadium (which requires entrance through Gate A) delayed my arrival at my seat until two minutes after kick-off and, having missed the banner display from Barra Brava, I looked at the players on the field and flagged down the first beer vendor wandering by. How many do I want? Well, if that is Emilio up top, with Moreno, Gomez, Simms, Olsen, Fred, and Pontius in the middle, I will take as many as you'll sell us. And don't be a stranger. One member of our group decided that her time would be better spent in search of the mythical two dollar 16-ounce domestic beer (and, later, two dollar hot dog). On reflection, it was a close call.

For 88 minutes, the game was what it was and what United has devolved to for the second straight season -- only with far, far more talent on its roster this year -- a chance to get out of the office, hang with friends on a beautiful night whilst consuming expensive beer. There were moments when we stirred -- Steve Zakuani put in a better performance than I had expected based on past viewings of the Sounders. And there was something about a goalkeepers' hop over a cheater that caused about five minutes of excitement (and my inability to stop screaming f-bombs despite being surrounded by a youth soccer team). But any outcome other than a Seattle win would only have come by the worst luck of the new MLS franchise.

But in the 89th minute, when United pulled one back from (what else could it have been?) a set piece, I was reminded of what drew me back to RFK in the first place three years ago. Fans in full throat, inciting, nay demanding, that United awake from torpor and act like they appreciated the fact that 17,000 people had paid to watch them play. Unconstrained enthusiasm from both the left and right side of the pitch is not regularly on display behind Soehn's teams (and, to be frank, this took place in reaction to, rather than in support of, the unimaginative performance of his squad), but experiencing one of the rare exceptions was an absolute treat. Although the result was unfortunate, the last seven minutes of the game voided the disappointment of the previous 88.

Unfortunately, Wicks' rash reaction to Montero overshadowed the game. There have been some ridiculous things said about the incident. Charles Boehm's contention that Wicks "stomped on Montero's ribcage" is pure fantasy. For the first 67 minutes of the game, those at RFK were treated to a shameful display from a churlish Fredy Montero, who established, in no uncertain terms, that he is a dirty player. This played against type for me, as I had previously been impressed with Montero's skills -- indeed, when in London after the Sounders' friendly with Chelsea, I found myself singing his praises to friends telling them that they would soon see Fredy in the EPL. I retract those statements. Schmid had recently been on a campaign to decry the targeting of Montero, but methinks it has little to do with his goal scoring record but instead with how he approaches the game. Setting to one side the intentional fouls, Montero's pride in diving and feigning injury should give Sounders' supporters pause. I believe, perhaps incorrectly, that if Zakuani or Ljungberg had poached the first goal, Wicks would not have had the same reaction -- and, if Josh did repeat the action, United fans would uniformly be calling for his head. But the goal was scored by Montero. The same Montero who, four minutes earlier, pointedly kneed Wicks in the head while he was laying prone on the ground after fumbling the ball momentarily. The same Montero who, now, came in hard off another rebound not held cleanly by Wicks, that found Fredy's right foot while his left foot found the middle of Wicks' chest. Likely furious at both Montero's recklessness with respect to his head and the fact that his bobble had put the ball in a dream spot for the twit, Wicks got up with menace made a beeline towards Montero while he was on the ground and left both feet with a disregard for whether he hurt Montero or not. It was incredibly stupid. Wicks tried to menace a dishonest player who, seeing the opportunity, made a meal of it. The replay shows Montero pull his right hand to his chest -- indicating that Wicks' certainly hit it with his foot. But what happened afterwards disgraced the game further, with Montero grabbing every part of his body (including the leg he had lodged in Wicks' chest), while the refs got together to discuss. Ultimately they made the right call, Wicks deserved a red, but it burns that it happened because of Montero's absurd simulation.

The main problem was that the Wicks incident distracted from a far more important issue: how poorly DC United is performing. On this point, Santino Quaranta's comments to Paul Tenorio of the Washington Post gave voice to the frustration to a lot of United supporters. Quaranta: "We run out of ideas up there." Spot on. Sort it out Payne!

Sunday, August 30, 2009


After the long screed last night, I was curious as to how the Sun Times has treated Bradley's comments. Color me impressed and, in no small measure, surprised. Ricky O'Donnell's blog post mocks (another) strange statement from the lips of Milton Bradley, but adds the following:

What's a bit sad about this situation is that Milton Bradley's larger point is (probably) spot-on. I have no doubt that Bradley has heard racist taunts from his own fans, especially considering he plays just below that always drunk rowdy bleacher section. I'm sure LaTroy Hawkins went through something similar during his time here.

Gordon Wittenmyer takes the larger point seriously and takes the time to ask Cubs fans to confirm or rebut Bradley's claim. And Wittenmyer's take includes the following stunner:

even the unimpeachable Derrek Lee said Thursday he's heard racially charged taunts from the Wrigley stands, albeit directed at others.

When Mr. Lee says he has heard racist taunts from the gallery at Wrigley, the story is not whether Milton Bradley is an incompetent malcontent or whether Jim Hendry ought to be hung by his thumbs for signing Bradley long-term. The story is what the Cubs' brass intends to do to insure that this behavior stops immediately.

The belief that this incidents reflect simple drunken boorish immaturity that does not reflect on the vast majority of Cubs' fans is bullsh*t. The unwillingness of other Cubs fans to confront those making such comments allows players to attribute that sentiment to everyone around the offender. More than simple cowardice, the lack of confrontation reflects a fundamental mistrust by the fans that they will be backed by security at Wrigley in making sure that those responsible will be thrown out of the stadium.

Further, forwarding the belief that this merely reflects Cubs' fans unhappiness with the current team (such that the problem would be resolved by a winning side) is pathetic. As fans, I firmly believe we are now getting what we deserve and that we cannot complain until our own house is put in order.

Thanks to O'Donnell and Wittenmyer for taking the point seriously enough to report on it in a reasonable manner. Perhaps it is time to revisit my stance on the Sun Times as well.


A little (ok a lot) of stress relief today with a 7:30 am wakeup from our eldest dog, Burnley-Chelsea on tv, followed by Tottenham-Birmingham -- which I paid little attention to because I could not pull my jaw off the floor while listening to Charlton wallop Tranmere Rovers in Merseyside, followed by Man U versus Arsenal, followed by Real Madrid-Deportiva La Coruna, followed by AC Milan-Inter, followed by a replay of Sunderland-Stoke, followed by some time dedicated to entertaining my daughter, followed by DC United-Chicago Fire, and, finally, my wife taking the remote out of my hand during the replay of the USL2 final between Richmond and Charlotte and informing me that we would be watching a Saturday Night Live rerun. She is currently asleep, so back to DC United's DiRaimondo trying to get the Kickers level with the Eagles.

I should take this time to record thoughts on why I have turned 180 degrees on Phil Parkinson (but how many words can be used to describe yourself as an idiot willing to abandon reservations in the face of a five game winning streak off the trot; plus NYA, as always, is a far more interesting read), or how unpleasant it was to watch United's uncomfortable win in Chicago, or how wonderful it was to see the University of Maryland's soccer team back in action against Villanova on Thursday night. Instead, because of how bad the United match was tonight, I've spent considerable time thinking about why I had no interest in catching any of the Cubs game against the Mets this afternoon.

There are few people who would argue that this is the franchise's most charismatic team. But at the same time, it would be hard to support a claim that this is the most heinous team the Cubs have fielded over the last thirty years. While there are any number of problems associated with this disappointing, overpaid, underperforming, and largely heartless team, the conclusion that I have reached tonight -- with FSC playing continuously in the background -- is that I need to stop reading the Chicago Tribune. When I was five years old, the Tribune Company's purchase of the club from the Wrigley family built the team that would shortly capture my obsessive allegiance. Always aware of the role played by the corporation in the building of a semi-respectable franchise, I became illogically predisposed to a newspaper with politics I find abhorrent. The same year that the Trib bought the Cubs, the Chicago Tribune enticed Jerome Holtzman to leave the Chicago Sun Times. Based on the writing of Holtzman and the beat writers that populated the daily's pages, as a boy, the Tribune became my paper of record for all things related to Chicago sports. I have copies of the Chicago Tribune stored away corresponding to all six of the Bulls' titles. Whenever anything of significance happens relating to sports in Chicago (Bulls-Celtics first round series this year; Bears making the Super Bowl; Cubs acquiring Nomar), family sends the Trib out to the east coast.

No longer. Even when the Tribune made the decision to add the detestable Skip Bayless to its roster in 1996, the Sun Times -- the only viable alternative -- featured douche bag inveterate Jay Mariotti. On reflection, I should have thought more about what the infestation of Bayless/Mariotti-style hack writing would have on the sports media in my hometown. Rick Morrissey and Steve Rosenbloom are simply cheap imitations of the crappy original. No problem, easy enough, I just stop reading columnists desperate to cash in on the moron-talking heads movement stoked by ESPN. I've avoided reading that drivel for a decade. And that left Fred Mitchell and Bob Verdi covering general issues related to sports, Dan Pompei covering the Bears, and K.C. Johnson covering the Bulls. Each a fine writer in his own right.

Paul Sullivan and Dave van Dyck have, however, this year put the final stake in the coffin of the mighty sports section of a paper in serious decline. This isn't the first year that Sully's grating, holier-than-thou, swarmy writing has polluted coverage of the Cubs, but this year he has been in rare form. You know what Sully, we get it. You are simply too intelligent to spend your time on something as cosmically irrelevant as the daily diversion of overpaid men playing out contrived competition on a baseball diamond. And we also get that some of the players that put on the Cubs' uniform each day are not going to be winning any awards named after Walter Payton anytime soon. And we get that fans' opinions may frequently not be well informed. (But if it is that painful for you son, how about you hang 'em up and try and do something useful for the world?).

Two recent stories epitomize the worst of Sully's and van Dyck's tendencies: (1) Bradley's racism accusations and (2) the club's placement of Rich Harden on waivers.

Any person associated with the team that does not immediately recognize the Cubs' equivocal history on the issue of race and the far more recent resuscitation of the vile and blasé racism of drunken yuppies is not being honest. When LaTroy Hawkins signed for the Cubs in 2003, we went to spring training thrilled. Hawkins, from Gary, Indiana, had built himself a great career and he promised to shore up our bullpen for the next three years. Didn't happen. LaTroy fell apart -- we were in the stadium for two horrible blown saves in Pittsburgh and New York -- and many Cubs' fans were gutted. Some, however, chose to express their frustration in ugly, distressing tones that brought unnecessary focus not to the fact that Hawkins was not earning his considerable salary, but that he was African-American. In a telling story that appeared in the USA Today, Hawkins noted:

"I thought that stuff was over 30 years ago," says Hawkins, who grew up in nearby Gary, Ind. "I had never been exposed to it. ... I couldn't believe people were dropping the 'n-word' on me. People calling your mother a raccoon or you a porch monkey. You can only take so much abuse until you fight back.

"The same thing happening to me is happening to Jacque. To have people threatening to harm us over baseball games just doesn't make sense."

As the article states, Dusty Baker, Corey Patterson, Jacque Jones, and LaTroy Hawkins all experienced similar treatment. And anyone who sat in the stands in Wrigley for any length of time witnessed this firsthand. I witnessed this first hand and nearly got into my first fight in my home stadium berating someone who casually dropped the "n" word while shouting obscenities at Hawkins. I have heard racial epithets thrown around at stadiums -- my last trip to RFK was marred by the sheer number and venom of the racist remarks coming from a group of drunken morons -- but I never expected to confront such terms at Wrigley. Now I am incredibly sensitive to even the hint of racial animus coming from those supporting the blue and white. And I have resigned myself to the fact that a minority of my fellow of fans are congenital degenerates. They exist. They pollute the atmosphere at the most beautiful place to watch a game in the MLB.

Denying this reality seems stupid and, at best, disingenuous. Yet, when Milton Bradley hits that theme in what has been a miserable year for him on the field, Paul Sullivan and Steve Rosenbloom are there to mock the claim. Sully focuses on the fact that Bradley does not disclose specific incidents (watching a bit of Law & Order?) while choosing not to put Bradley's comments (that this unpleasant history of treatment of African-American players is well known around the league) in context. Paulie prefers to attack the player, extending his false sympathies by characterizing Bradley's comments as an attack on Cubs' fans generally and not just the clowns that make racist remarks, and stoking anger by reminding us of the lucrative contract that Bradley signed to come to the North Side. Rosenbloom, as is his want, drums up the attack on fans angle and broadens this to encompass generic derision of Bradley for undermining the efforts of those who are "really" trying to tackle racism. Whatever. If I wanted to know what idiots thought about Bradley's comments, I'd ask the drunken 25-year old sitting in the bleachers with the upturned collars who listens to rap music and sees no problem with using the "n" word while insulting a member of the team he paid to see -- I don't need to pay for the Trib.

The Harden story? Well, that point is probably easiest made by the Daily Herald's Bruce Miles. As Miles points out, a whole lot of Cubs were put on waivers and a whole lot of Cubs (the team, despite being over .500, is clearly underperforming) were made available to other teams for the right deal. van Dyck's stories on the subject lack any of that context. Instead, typical of the new reporting style, the potential for controversy is overplayed, with comments sought from Harden ("what does it feel like to not be wanted") which imply that he and Heilman are somehow being singled out for the failure of the team.

What to do? Also simple: I'll stop reading the Tribune. The paper of record for Chicago sports: the Daily Herald.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Lesson Learned

I am often annoyed by poor refereeing but was taught a lesson today about what that really means after watching Botafogo play Corinthians. At the same time, the match stands as a textbook example of why the referee plays an essential role in a game. A series of bad calls, culminating in (1) a ball punched into goal by an extended left fist; and (2) as perhaps compensation for Corinthians, a penalty awarded for one of the most ridiculous dives executed. Following the phantom penalty, the game degenerated and every contact resulted in acting too garish for even the most maudlin telenovela. Every feigned mortal strike could potentially result in a foul (and amonestar), so why play when the better move is to throw oneself violently to the ground? The effect is behavior that denigrated the game far worse than ten yard markers on the pitch in the Red Bulls - FC Dallas match in the Meadowlands today. If this is how league football is played in Brazil, why would anyone watch it and, more importantly, how would anyone know if the game was crooked?

Saturday, August 22, 2009


Just back from RFK after witnessing United's record-breaking 11th draw of the season. Lots of skill on display in the match and, once again, DC lacked an ability to finish good opportunities (with the exception of Luciano's score early in the game, which was waved off for an offside infraction that only the linesman perceived). Most of the crowd was there to see Beckham, but we braved the rain and elements to watch Rodney Wallace take on former teammates A.J. Delagarza and Omar Gonzalez. Each impressed, but, even without Soehn there, questionable tactical adjustments saw Wallace pulled off the left wing and forced to team with Clyde Simms at center defensive mid in the second half until Jacobson came on for Fred late in the game. The three -- Wallace, Delagarza, and Gonzalez -- have continued to play well for their respective sides and I hope that they are catching the eyes of folks at the USMNT and talent scouts overseas.

In the meantime, the glut of DC United matches, Charlton's great start in league play, and the level of television coverage of the sport have made my proverbial sports' cup overflow. I've neglected to renew my Georgetown tickets, would rather watch a replay of the first leg of the Sporting Lisbon - Fiorentina Champions League match than watch the Cubs sink deeper in the standing in Los Angeles, and forgot all about the Bears' second preseason tuneup until I saw someone in a Jay Cutler jersey at RFK. The manifestation of my obsession is a little different than with other sports. There are no real cards to collect (although I own some Charlton Athletic team sets from their recent years in the premiership). Instead, I collect shirts, read books about football (currently finishing Winner's awesome "Brilliant Orange"), buy shares of teams, join supporters' trusts, participate in MyFC, and, now, have begun sponsoring players on teams in the UK and Ireland.

Last season, we sponsored an Ebbsfleet United player (a former Charlton academy product) and contributed to CharltonLife's sponsorship of two of the club's players. This year my obsession has reached ridiculous levels. After going to Dalymount and getting the privilege of seeing Bohemians, we sponsored our favorite player's away kit. The sponsorship helped me keep tabs on the team (which is 8 points clear of Shamrock with 11 matches to go) and, although they crashed out to Salzburg in the Champions League, we were happy to see that our sponsored player performed well.

Since then, the wheels have come off. Using the excuse that it would help with their understanding of the world, we sponsored a Raith Rovers player and a Newry City player in the name of the children of a close family friend. Now we've also sponsored a player at Accrington Stanley and my notional goal, at the moment, is to sponsor XI from leagues throughout the isles.

I remain an idiot; although now in a new and uninteresting way.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Giving FedEx a Second Chance

The Real Madrid massacre of DC United earlier today was a blast. The environment, on its own, was sufficient to exorcise the memories of my last trip to the club section of FedEx -- where drunken morons dropped racial epithets while screaming vile curses at fellow fans. Nothing like that today... only happy feelings everywhere and people celebrating the opportunity to watch the best in the world ply their trade in a backwater of the sport.

Fans of all races, nationalities, and allegiances (even women in hijabs and Real Madrid shirts?) sitting together and smiling at one another. 72,368 of them. While this is probably not unusual in individual sports like tennis, I never imagined that I would one day be at a major sports stadium in the country where Americans shelled out substantial cash to watch the best their country had to offer get ripped apart by the best the rest of the world can muster.

DC United put up a respectable fight in the first half, but perhaps only because Real Madrid was on cruise control for the first forty-five minutes. In the second half, Real Madrid just tore apart United. And the change in the game seemed linked to two second half subs: Ronaldo was pulled in favor of Raul; and Wesley Sneijder left for Arjen Robben (Those are your reserves: Raul and Robben? We are watching a lot of La Liga matches this season). Robben torched United. Robben laid kindling down, saturated them with lighter fluid, and flicked his Bic. What Arjen did to United was ruthless and violently placed the world back in order, with Real Madrid firmly on top and DC United an afterthought.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Hogge Wild

I am reading through my collection of football books this summer -- Wetherell's "Soccer Dad"; Richard Williams' "Perfect 10"; McGinnss' "Miracle of Castel di Sangro"; Chuck Culpepper's "Bloody Confused"; and, now, the phenomenal "Outcasts United." Culpepper's "Bloody Confused," about Pompey's 2006-2007 EPL campaign, was much better than I expected. The book's coverage coincides with our first year of going to EPL matches ... and Charlton Athletic's relegation. Culpepper's book touches on an event that, in retrospect, clearly portended doom for CAFC: Charlton's dismissal from the Carling Cup on November 11, 2006 (from the quarterfinals no less) at the hands of the Wycombe Wanderers at The Valley.

Having traveled to The Valley for the Coca-Cola Championship opening match against Scunthorpe two years ago and having sat on the edge of my seat listening to the radio commentary of the league opener against Swansea last year, this morning we packed up a bag and headed down to the zoo right when the Charlton-Wycombe fixture kicked off. I checked in on the score through Charlton Life at half-time and then fifteen minutes from time and, in light of the tension that roiled the conclusion of today's win, I am thrilled that we were checking out paiche and roseate spoonbills rather than me sitting miserably at home hoping that Charlton could hold on.

Perhaps I'll be able to use CAFCTV next week, but for the time being I appreciate the distance.

We followed up the zoo trip with another visit to Richard Montgomery High School to watch Real Maryland's final home match of the USL2 season. Due to traffic on the beltway, we arrived late and by the time we sat down the Bermuda Hogges were down 2-0 and hell had broken loose. Bermuda traveled with the most obnoxious USL2 fans/members of the club that we've yet witnessed at a league match. This group of late 30s/early 40s pie-eating aficionados hollered continuously at any perceived prejudice against their Hogges -- not, in itself, unusual or improper. What amazed, however, was that the Hogges' players themselves responded back to the fans and used the incitement to ridicule the referee. At one point, Bermuda's Blenn Bean approached either the fourth official or the line judge and pointedly asked him if he would referee the game. The harassment and, honestly, unprecedented whining from the players of the worst team in the USL2 continued until Bermuda's coach (I think it was Jack Castle) got tossed from the game and, after further pointless arguments, was escorted off of a high school football field by a police officer (while Bermuda's fans/owners/frat boys shouted helpful aphorisms like "Shoot Him!"). After Coach Castle's (?) departure, it looked as if co-owner Paul Scope ("the Hogges are not folding") left his roost amongst the Bermuda fans to sit on the bench and further augment the ruinous interactions between the small group and the team. (It may not have been Scope -- I have a hard time distinguishing between middle-aged obnoxious white men).

Just when it seemed as if Bermuda was fully intent on self-implosion, Ryan Cordeiro struck again. This time getting in an altercation on a dead ball with a Hogges player that resulted in what appeared to be a head butt from the Hogges player and Cordeiro doing an impression of Dida touched by a Scottish fan for five minutes. Cordeiro got tossed, the Hogges player got tossed, and the Hogges scored two quick goals in succession -- the second on a penalty kick in extra time -- to go into the half tied.

The absurdity of the events was, in part, fascinating but, unfortunately, was more of an embarrassment than anything else. The numbers of Hogges supporters relative to Real Maryland supporters was impressive and, again, the small group of boisterous supporters did nothing terribly out of bounds. But egging the players on and constantly seeking to throw matches on the tinderbox down on the field reflected horrific judgment. The tension broke a bit when the most obnoxious member of the group volunteered to go down into goal during the half to provide ... to provide ... I would guess either (1) comic relief or (2) an impersonation of a garden gnome statute for two of the Hogges' reserve players. Not as good as the dancing trombonist from last night's Mystics match, but almost as funny (even if not intentionally).

The second half calmed down considerably, to the point of near boredom. But after a brilliant header that put the Hogges up a goal, Kevin King -- a player who put in what I thought was a terrible performance for Crystal Palace last year in their end of the season match against Bermuda -- took over. An insane strike from outside the box that curled past Bermuda's helpless goalkeeper into the left corner of the net helped explain why the former Harbour View player took (and missed terribly) so many speculative shots for Crystal Palace last season. King consistently frustrated the Hogges' backline, dancing by their center halves and floating out on the left wing to set up Real Maryland's attack. King's work and the renewed vigor of an almost unrecognizable Real Maryland squad soon led to a fourth and winning goal that should put the team into the playoffs. The last thing heard from the small group of vocal Hogges' supporters: "Will someone please mark number 11?"

Strange game.


I took a brief break from my soccer obsession tonight to stop by Verizon and watch the Mystics beat the Detroit Shock to move to 11 and 9 for the season. Despite the fact that there seems to be an unwritten iron law of pop culture that the WNBA cannot be mentioned without simultaneously denigrating the league and its players, I can't help myself: I love going to games. From the moment we sat down in the first quarter to the moment we walked out as Kristen Mann thanked the fans and encouraged attendance Tuesday night, I had a smile plastered on my face (with brief exceptions resulting from witnessing some truly awful play at the point... which was subsequently wiped away by a phenomenal pass disruption after Lindsey Harding lost her footing at a crucial Shock possession in the final minute).

Mystics games are nothing if not a low-intensity party. While fans laugh and dance at other sports venues (causing purists to grumble), almost every fan in the seats at a Mystics game laughs and dances. The atmosphere is infectious. And wholly unexpected. We sat in a section tonight surrounded by (1) young, obviously gay, African-American males; (2) older, but just as obviously gay, white females; and (3) families of all races with young kids. Throughout the game, regardless of background, people chatted amicably with each other about the players' performances, the dancing trombonist, and the superb Mystics Mayhem. One young man listened intently as I obnoxiously pointed out to my companion that Marissa Coleman's defense and focus improved dramatically in the fourth quarter as she became the "help" defender -- Coleman was always aware of where her player was and, at the same time, quickly closed in to double any Detroit player that made a move into the paint (in two straight possessions, Marissa quick movement disrupted the Shock's offense and helped win possession back for Washington). That led to a short conversation which was the most genial one I can remember having with a stranger in a stadium in quite some time. The organization seems to be fully aware that its fans are what energizes the stadium and do quite a bit to integrate those fans into the game. The result is magical -- bliss attached to a competitive sport that would normally engender stress and tension.

But talking/writing about the environment can feed directly into criticisms regarding the quality of the sport played. I certainly don't agree with such criticisms and find, as a general matter, that the quality of women's basketball has vastly improved since the advent of the WNBA. And regardless of what might be taking place in the stands, Alana Beard on her own is worth the price of admission. Ms. Beard is a leader on the floor whose intensity is clearly and unquestionably unmatched. She is a gifted scorer as well as very good on the ball, but, even with those obvious observations noted, what stood out most from tonight's game was Alana's defense.

All in all, a great time had by me. Not sure that I'll be ready to adjust to Rick Mahorn, women's basketball coach by Tuesday and it may be a bit before I am back again. But when I do go, it will be happily and willingly, because, every once and a while, its nice to have something that can make you smile from ear to ear for two hours.

Thursday, August 6, 2009


On Tuesday night, in an otherwise listless match in El Salvador, Rodney Wallace played the best game that I've seen him play in a D.C. United shirt. Against Luis Angel Firpo, Wallace was asked to take on a central role behind Christian Gomez and next to Ben Olsen with Fred and Santino Quaranta taking the wings. Other than a bad loss of possession in the defensive third, Wallace played a solid game hustling from goal line to goal line. Although United's play has regressed as the season has drawn on, Rodney's confidence appears to be increasing with each game. His versatility (competence at fullback, winger, midfielder) makes him an even more vital member of a squad that faces a packed schedule over the next two months.

Wallace isn't the only alum of the NCAA Champions who is developing well at the professional level. Last Saturday, A.J. DeLaGarza and Omar Gonzalez, both of whom have become instrumental in a massively improved Galaxy side, suited up to face Barcelona (a couple of weeks after facing AC Milan). Gonzalez was solid as always, but what I took away from watching the game on television was DeLaGarza playing right back and repelling Thierry Henry's ridiculous attacks from the left flank. Henry routinely tried to test A.J. one-on-one and every time DeLaGarza was able to frustrate one of the world's greatest strikers, he got appreciably better. There is something surreal about seeing kids that we watched at Ludwig play against athletes from small North Carolina colleges line up against the Greatest Show on Earth and hold their own.

Unfortunately, this season has not been great for everyone: pity Jeremy Hall who has been condemned to Juan Carlos Osorio's horror show. Hall's season hit a new low last night when the Red Bulls were bounced from the CONCACAF Champions League by Trinidad's W Connection at home. Hall seemed, ummmm, peeved:

"It's every game. It's frustrating. I've never been on a team like this. Every game it's the same thing. I don't even know what to say anymore. You go home and you don't even want to talk to anybody. It's just frustrating,'' said rookie Jeremy Hall, afraid the loss could spell Osorio's departure. "Yeah (I am). And it hurts hearing the fans chant that. He's a guy.''