Friday, June 12, 2009


"Soccer is a ticket to the world." -- Dr. Tommy Clark, as quoted in W.D. Wetherell's Soccer Dad: a father, a son and a magic season

My plans to celebrate our daughter's first birthday at Real Maryland's Open Cup qualifying match with the local amateur club Aegean Hawks was foiled by brilliant thunderstorms rolling through Maryland's suburbs. It would have been, admittedly, a strange way to mark the occasion, but then she's been to more professional soccer matches in one year then I went to my entire childhood (a total of two Chicago Sting games -- one indoor and one at Soldier Field). And she loves the reaction she gets from children and adults alike when she waddles about in the Ecuador kit that her aunt picked up for her when she was living down there. At Real Maryland matches, she fits in perfectly with the other kids that are decked out in the national jerseys of Honduras, El Salvador, and seemingly random countries (France, Germany, Argentina). Having missed the Real Maryland game, we'll see how she does at the DC United -- Chicago Fire match at RFK on Saturday night.

In lieu of getting a chance to watch any World Cup Qualifiers this week (including Ecuador's remarkable upset of Argentina in Quito), I devoured W.D. Wetherell's phenomenal Soccer Dad; a book tracking his son's final season as a high school soccer player at perennial New Hampshire powerhouse Hanover High. It is a quick read but an interesting contemplation of fatherhood in a sports-obsessed culture. Hanover High School also happens to be the alma mater of Dr. Tommy Clark, the founder of Grassroots Soccer -- an organization dedicated to increasing awareness of the HIV epidemic that continues to plague Southern Africa (which is being ably promoted by Ethan Zohn). As such, Dr. Clark's history is presented as an interlude to Wetherell's already compelling narrative. Dr. Clark is the son of a former Aberdeen keeper, an alum of both Dartmouth undergrad and medical school, and someone who lived in Scotland, Zimbabwe, and the United States before reaching 21 years of age. When Dr. Clark talks about a ticket to the world, it is not superficial Thomas Friedman flat-world crap, it is the substance from which we draw hope about the future of the planet.

For every thing else there is that I love about the sport, the quality that stands above all others is that the game makes the world more accessible. It is what I hope to engender in my daughter by introducing her to the pastime. That desire is somewhat ironic given that I am, in general, a fortress America protectionist with an unwavering faith in this country's supremacy. That view, however, is not all-encompassing and soccer is a useful reminder of how much the the rest of the world has to offer (there are plenty of other such reminders, but something as minor as soccer is sufficient for me).

Monday, June 8, 2009

Season Opener

Today marked (1) the home opener for the Washington Mystics; (2) my family's return as season ticket holders; and (3), likely, the end of our attendance of live basketball games. At one year old, our daughter has reached the age where the maximum amount of time she is willing to sit in a seat is about two and a half minutes. And the Verizon Center is not exactly conducive to toddlers wobbling about. Such is life.

The minor tragedy is how entertaining this year's Mystics team is. We showed up late, with about seven minutes gone in the first quarter and Washington had managed one point. By the time we got food and made our way to our seats, the recovery had begun and we were treated to a confident performance by a familiar face. Marissa Coleman is worth the price of all of our season tickets for whatever games we can make it to.

At RFK on Thursday night, DC United's match with the New York Red Bulls featured Rodney Wallace at center-mid and Jeremy Hall at right back. Both played well but, at times, looked overmatched. Although it is early days, Marissa Coleman's transition appears to be speeding along flawlessly.

One other takeaway from the game: I had forgotten how good Alana Beard's offensive game is. Her use of dribble penetration to get a defender on her heels to open up a step back jump shot is a thing of simple (and deadly) beauty.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Hearts of Oak

A few weeks ago, I had the unexpected pleasure of catching a mid-week Glo Premier League match at the Ohene Djan Stadium between Hearts of Oak and Sekondi Eleven Wise. Football at the highest level in Ghana appears to be in a bit of disarray (matches were once again recently suspended) and, for the match I attended, there were only a few hundred people in a gorgeous stadium that sits tens of thousands.

The unexpectedly small number of folks in the stands did little to diminish the atmosphere. The level of football played was far beyond what I expected. The match ended in a 2-2 tie that was a further minor setback to the Hearts of Oak's juggernaut season. Both sides featured players with impressive skill sets. Absent any information regarding the players on the pitch, I had no idea of who was actually doing what, but it is not difficult to believe the premise of many news items on Ghanaian news sites that breathlessly discuss the European trials and opportunities of many of the league's young stars.

The lack of local appreciation for the nation's club league is disheartening and the difficult task faced by league promoters was made clear by the greater attention paid to Wayne Rooney broadcast on the stadium's big screen during halftime, as a live feed from the midweek EPL match was broadcast during the break than the actual game.