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.''

Tuesday, August 4, 2009


For most of my life, August has represented the month when the Cubs are definitively out of the playoff hunt and I start obsessively reading about minute details regarding the Bears' training camp. But not this year. And not because the Cubs are flirting with first place. And not because the Bears' prospects are poor or that they are uninteresting (Cutler is the best quarterback Chicago's ever had and he has yet to play a game).

What is different this year is that visions of La Liga fixtures featuring either Barcelona or Real Madrid are dancing in my head (Alonso too? Really?). I can't wait to see Jozy Altidore play in a match for Hull City. I want to see what Clint Dempsey can do at Craven Cottage and whether Kevin Doyle can keep Wolverhampton in the top tier.

And for the first year ever, I want to watch the Bundesliga; more specifically, I want to see how Borussia Monchengladbach in its second consecutive season back in the German top flight. Now, some would rightfully ask, why would anyone want to see Monchengladbach play, particularly when you have no hope of being able to pronounce it. And the answer is that Monchengladbach is awesome. In addition to featuring Michael Bradley, Monchengladbach won promotion back to the Bundesliga.1 just two seasons ago and narrowly avoided relegation back to Bundesliga.2 the following season. Their top scorer last season was Rob Friend, a Canadian international who played soccer for the University of Western Michigan and the UCSB. Another Canadian international, Paul Stalteri, anchors their defense. The Venezuelan international Juan Arango was recently purchased from Mallorca and is having a great preseason as the squad's principle center attacking mid. Two Israeli internationals -- Gal Alberman and Argentinian born Roberto Colautti -- are also on the team and play alongside the Algerian international Karim Matmour. I don't know anything about this team, but I love them.

My interest in Monchengladbach has already allowed me to reap the tangential benefit of this great piece/confessional on The Phoenix Pub. Because being interested in Monchengladbach means needing to own a Monchengladbach shirt. And needing to own a Monchengladbach shirt means having to find where one can find such a jersey. And that makes me incredibly jealous of the post's author (thefuseproject) as he has a Monchengladbach jersey and I do not and have no immediate prospects of possessing one.

But the bigger point is that this kindred spirit has helped to provide me with a spirited defense of the hundreds of soccer shirts (many of them, because I am an idiot, are "match worn") that clutter my closet. But while others might describe an obsession, I carry abject insanity in this regard. For example, I own three Barcelona shirts... not the current UEFA Cup champions, but Barcelona of Ecuador. I own 20 Grimsby Town shirts. I am writing this pointless drivel while watching the Barcelona-Sounders friendly in a fiftieth anniversary Gozo Football Club (currently of the Maltese Second Division) shirt. When friends visit from out of town, I will generally insist that they leave with a shirt from a football club in Myanmar. When a college friend visited last year from his current home in Dushanbe, I presented him with a shirt from the Tajik national team (this, to me, was so absurd that it simply had to be done). No sane person would waste as much time, money, and space on such a useless hobby.

Nevertheless, I am disturbingly proud of the wardrobe options presented -- who else at a Maryland Renaissance Festival would be wearing a Sheffield Wednesday top featuring Chupa Chups as the sponsor? (The better question, perhaps, is why anyone would go to a Renaissance Festival at all, let alone in a soccer jersey). Which takes me to another stunning realization: I might be excited about the upcoming season as much for the football and the drama as I am for the chance to show off my shirt collection at local bars watching games on television with friends. God help me.

Of Wasps and Stadium Pipe Dreams

Two weeks ago my "use my daughter as an excuse to get autographs from professional soccer players" tour flamed out at the University of Maryland Baltimore County. Crystal Palace's last home game of the season started out fortuitously enough -- we arrived to see an entire section closed down by a security guard with insecticide spray attempting to quell a wasp rebellion triggered by the human invasion of their new home. And despite being strongly encouraged to cluster together in the middle sections by other concerned security guards, I traipsed the family over to the far end, where no one was seated after a quick scouting tour revealed no immediate presence of angry yellow and black winged beasts. A fine plan in theory, but one that crumbled in practice after my wife, dressed in sandals, stepped on a spot momentarily possessed by five wasps and was stung repeatedly. But she's a trooper and we soldiered on through thirty minutes of remarkably droll football until an ill wind blew and we ran like hell to evacuate.

So, an interesting thing happens when you're hauling tail to get back home from a third-division soccer match in the U.S.: you start to ponder what the hell you are doing. When not getting attacked by insect swarms prior to a deluge, you're at a high school football stadium listening to -- because there is no choice but to hear it -- a player that you once respected repeatedly drop the f-bomb in front of a crowd composed mostly of families with children (while, perhaps, watching with more interest the folks running the track behind you than the skirmish on the pitch in front of you), or you're staring up at a cavernous, crumbling, and ghoulishly empty temple of American football whilst ignoring the passionless display that has been presented by your side at another embarrassing CONCACAF Champions League match.

Goff's link to an article regarding a potential new home for Crystal Palace is, then, for me, of some interest. Because although we go see four different soccer teams on a regular basis, the only one that plays in anything even remotely approaching a real soccer field is our local university team at Ludwig Field. Each of the abodes of the other three squads -- DC United, Crystal Palace Baltimore, and Real Maryland -- feels decidedly temporary and do not instill great confidence in the future of professional football in the region.

The lack of permanence surrounding any of the three professional soccer clubs is difficult to understand and impossible to explain. The region has shown both an interest and willingness to support the game with sufficient numbers and full commitment. And, yet, none of the clubs have been able to convince local politicians that public financing and/or underwriting of a local club would be worthwhile. Nevertheless, of all the types of sports fields that franchises clamor to have built, soccer stadiums hold, without question, the greatest opportunities to build community. Before the unfortunate decision of Prince George's County's Board to shove a stake through the heart of a stadium within the county's borders, the plans for how the stadium would be used -- by DC United and the University of Maryland -- held great promise.

But, alas, it was not to be. Instead, we will head out to the gigantic disaster of a football stadium in Landover to catch the Real Madrid match on Sunday from the soulless club section, reminded again that whatever soccer we may be treated to today, may just as easily be gone tomorrow.