Sunday, August 29, 2010

Ya ne znhaio

More proof I know nothing:

Luke Varney scores in his first run out with Blackpool.

Perhaps another of the EPL favorites for relegation ought to spare a thought for the rest of the Charlton striker cast-offs: Izale McLeod's available.

Chris Dickson, alas, now plies his trade in the lower divisions in Cyprus.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Premier League Paradigm

The British tabloids are afire with the vultures circling Aston Villa. Aston Villa is the only American-owned club in the EPL that doesn't seem to be disgracing Americans and Martin O'Neill's squad was fun to watch. Now with O'Neill gone and Randy Lerner trying to make the club more fiscally sound, Villa's hopes for a Champions League run seem to have evaporated.

'Arry has now come to sniff around the brilliantly talented Ashley Young. Should Young leave, Villa will go from battling for continental football to fighting to stave off relegation. And if expectations are lowered from success to survival, well, Bob Bradley's the guy to deliver for you (perhaps explaining how BB has now become the bookies' favorite for the job).

If Ashley Young leaves, Spurs are apparently not able to offer a more lucrative pay packet... just an increase from 65,000 pounds a week to 70 grand a week.

Unbelievably, a mere 5,000 pound a week increase in Mr. Young's wages would constitute half of the highest total salary paid for any player on the EPL's new entrants from Blackpool. A 10,000 pound a week salary ceiling in the EPL seems insane, but if the club is focused on investing in the team for the purposes of long-term success (an important objective as any Pompey supporter can currently attest to) then there is little to criticize. Still, the austerity leads to bizarre results.

Like, for example, Charlton needs an additional striker. Nigel Clough doesn't rate former Charlton flameout Luke Varney. Enough so that he is willing to let Varney go with only one fully fit attacking player on the squad -- the American teenager Conor Doyle. Charlton is reported to be one of the few teams interested in giving Varney another shot, because, who knows, maybe he'd be effective on the wing or up front in League 1.

So, there it is, a deal that makes sense. Charlton have a need, Derby County want to rid themselves of an underpeforming squad player on the books, it is a match made in lower league football. Except, the Tangerines are also on the lookout for someone who can put the ball in the back of the net. And what better candidate then . . . Luke Varney? That can't be right.

With Charlton reported to be close to wrapping up the signature of Dagenham's Paul Benson, most Addicks would appear to be happy with an outcome of Varney going elsewhere and a proven goalscorer (even if only in League 2) on his way in. It is, as they say, a result.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


Cup competitions elicit conflicting emotions in me. For Charlton, I am nonplussed about quick exits from the Carling Cup, the FA Cup and something called the Johnstone Paint Trophy. Getting back to England's second division is all that matters and insofar as any of these competitions distract from that essential goal, better they be gone and forgotten. But the actual losing to lower league and non-league teams is fairly embarrassing and not terribly heartening.

For DC United, on the other hand, the U.S. Open Cup offers the club's only real shot at glory. United has, of late, shined in the competition and the Cup has provided the most entertainment on offer to supporters over the last three seasons.

For the lower division teams in Scotland and England that we are connected to through player and kit sponsorships, the Cup competitions provide the only possible opportunities we have to see a match televised. Last season, Accrington Stanley's improbable FA Cup run gave us the chance to see them on the FSC; a pleasant surprise even if the result was disappointing. Stanley's upset of the Championship side Doncaster netted the club a second round Carling Cup match with the Toon at home today and, although Stanley bowed out of the competition, they did so after putting up a good fight. A late Sean Hessey strike gave Stanley the opportunity to equalize but Chris Turner's shot went awry and Newcastle moved on.

In the league cup in Scotland, two lower division teams took the scalps of SLP squads in the second round of the CIS Insurance Cup. Avoiding the Drop's Fuse's Ross County knocked out St. Mirren on penalty kicks and our own Raith Rovers forced Hamilton Academical -- which lost to Ross County in the second round of the Cup last year -- out on Tuesday.

Accounts from Stark's Park indicate that The Living Legend Gregory Tade may have missed a sitter and later failed to convert a penalty, but in a knockout Cup competition it does not matter how many goals you win by, only that you advance.

Ross County and Raith join three other second division sides (Falkirk, Dunfermline Athletic, and Queen of the South) and one third division side (Brechin City) in the final 16 of the competition.

Raith has got off to a roaring start in their league campaign, taking all nine points from the first three fixtures with a combined scoreline of 9 to 1 (with new recruit John Baird accounting for four of those league goals). Promotion back to the SPL for the second time in the club's history is undoubtedly more important than progress in the CIS Insurance Cup, but I am certain that all the club's supporters don't care to differentiate. Good times are good times. Let them roll on.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Let it rain

Fatherhood continues to offer unexpected surprises. We are just back from Nationals Park after watching Carlos Zambrano put in a serviceable performance. Tyler Colvin and Starlin Castro also showed why hope will spring yet again in 2011. Watching the Cubs actually play decently was not the surprise -- the fact that our two-year old enjoyed herself at the game and danced around every time it drizzled down was awesome. We were able to enjoy eight innings of baseball before I headed off mom's complaints of keeping the little one out too late by leaving (before our little girl asked to leave; her parting words: "Bye Bye Chicago Cubs, See You Later!"). We were also spared Carlos Marmol's nervy ninth inning.

Walking from the metro station to the stadium, our daughter was skipping to the game. She must genuinely enjoy the prospect of getting into ballparks, because she was similarly pumped when going to RFK. After pulling off the East Capitol exit onto the straightaway to the stadium, she started clapping and singing to herself "we're going to a soccer game, a soccer game."

Most DC United supporters who post their thoughts on the internets have pulled no punches opining how awful the team has played, how poorly the front office has performed, and how dire the team's stadium situation is. There is no question that it has been a bad season. The reputation of a number of the players formerly held in high esteem by the club's supporters has taken a hit and management is openly mocked, but, truth be told, I have enjoyed going to games this year much more than last season. It is not just the revelatory play of Andy Najar and the quick development of Bill Hamid. Just as importantly, it is all the things the club has done to make the experience more enjoyable for fans.

There is simply no question that I will renew our season tickets for next year. The only real question is how many more tickets I will have to budget for. We use every ticket we can. In response to a undeniable problem, the food has improved at the stadium (Ledo Pizza is a particular favorite for the little one, as are all the ice cream choices). ATM service is better. We are extremely grateful for the continued focus by the team on insuring that we can take our daughter to the stadium to a safe and friendly environment. When a drunk fan got too aggressive during the Milan exhibition match, security quickly defused the situation while reasonably providing the fan an opportunity to compose himself and enjoy the rest of the game.

The club has also done quite a bit to make sure that the players and staff are seen in the community. The opening welcome for Coach Onalfo at Black Finn's was great. As was this year's Meet the Team Day. The team publicizes well public appearances by the players and, for their part, the players seem to meet this responsibility with some enthusiasm. Team officials also make sure that at least some players make themselves available after every game for autographs; something that is immensely important to every family of casual fans who have sat around us during this season (it was a bit surprising to see Bill Hamid initially decline to take a sharpie from a DC United staffperson on Sunday after his clean sheet, but I was heartened to see the young man think better of it, grab the marker, and wade in towards all the kids awaiting signatures on Family Day).

As season ticket holders, Sunday's game represented our allocation of Field Passes and this was also a nice and wholly unnecessary touch. The team has not asked us to pay for the Milan or Pompey friendlies, nor have they asked us to pitch in more for U.S. Open Cup matches at RFK and they went even further by giving season ticket holders the field pass opportunity without additional charge. Being on the field to watch practice is a neat, albeit fairly boring experience. Just getting to see the players up close running through drills -- watching, for example, Hamid come out for crosses hit by Troy Perkins -- was fascinating (to me). For our daughter, she got to meet Freedom, Screech, Slapshot and other DC area mascots up close.

The mascots alone were enough to get her through the game. When it began to pour down, she simply curled up under a poncho and went to sleep until the second half.

For the adults, we were treated to a solid DC United performance. Allsopp slotted home his opportunities -- something that United strikers haven't done very much this season. Boskovic and Hernandez directed the game well through the center of the field and were complemented nicely by Najar's forays forward. The team looked committed. The introduction of Stephen King for Boskovic with over half an hour to go in the game made the match closer than it needed to be, but the game was still comfortable for United with Hamid having little to do.

Perhaps I am just wired differently, but Sunday afternoon at RFK provided a nice outing for my family. We enjoyed the game, we enjoyed cheering for United, we enjoyed the result, and we enjoyed the atmosphere. Not much more could be asked of the club.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Back to School

Part 2 of the soccer weekend was the University of Maryland's exhibition opener against St. John's at Ludwig Field. A quick check with the two-year old (are you sure you want to watch more soccer?) and we were off.

Again, Towson is a long way from College Park, and we did not get to campus until the second of the three 35 minute periods played. The Red Storm begin the season with a number 17 preseason ranking; the Terps began at number 6. The game itself was not close.

At first blush, Maryland seems like it is going to be a very, very good team. We missed Greg Young's goal off of a London Woodberry cross and we missed the link up between Jason Herrick and Karou Forbess that resulted in a Casey Townsend goal.

But what we did see was Ethan White impose himself and dominate in the center of the backline. We watched a right side featuring an aggressive London Woodberry at fullback and Sunny Jane flying down the wing (at one point in the third period, Jane attacked the Red Storm defense with five or six stepovers into the goal box). We saw a very strong change of pace option up front with Jordan Cyrus and Matt Oduaran.

In short, we saw a lot of good things, all of which bode well for the upcoming season. The team appears to be even better than we would have anticipated.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Home Sweet Home

I left the house yesterday morning and all was right with the world. Scott Wagstaff had put Charlton ahead of Oldham allowing (some of) my fellow Addicks to take note of Lloyd Sam's dream start with Leeds without regret.

While I would have enjoyed listening to the game and following the reaction on CharltonLife (and watching Arsenal demolish the Tangerines), I had to see a man about a pony. Our daughter had enthusiastically agreed to a soccer weekend with three games over two days, as well as watching a practice session before United's game against the Union. To show my immense gratitude, we hit the Montgomery County Fair to hang out with rescued horses (and donkeys) and pony rides. And, well, it took longer than expected.

Toddlers need naps. Parents who deny this reality pay in spades. By the time we got to Paul Angelo Russo Stadium in Towson, most of the first half was completed and we sat down in time to see Ali Gerba complete a first half hat trick for the Montreal Impact. Better late than never, because we were treated to the best performance by a team that we've seen in lower division soccer. Gerba was tremendous and the attacking play was precise and devastating. Through balls were played at perfect weight, with great timing, and relentless repetition. CP Baltimore's defense was scrambling to keep the score at less than five and heroically parried a number of goal scoring opportunities.

CP Baltimore got destroyed. It was an embarrassing performance. But the upshot for us was that Baltimore may have finally gotten it right. For the club, it may be too late. But if they are going to go down, they will at least do so in a comfortable setting.

There were more fans at the game than we have seen in quite some time. And they were families and kids. And happy. Paul Angelo Russo is a nice site -- it is over an hour away from our home (an additional thirty minutes from UMBC's stadium), so a major personal inconvenience -- and it is conducive to the type of support base that the club has right now. Which is the same as their support last season; the support of a third division football team with a decent youth program.

Players, like Val Teixeira, mingled easily with the fans in the stands. As did our daughter. She had chosen to wear a pink Montreal Impact shirt we picked up at the Stade Saputo in July, but no one seemed to care. At the end of the game, she joined the throng of kids seeking autographs from the players in uniform, who also mingled easily with the crowd. Andy Marshall gave her some stick for the shirt and made her smile, and, in turn, each of the players who stuck around seemed to enjoy interacting with the children.

Going to the game was fun. Never mind results. And that is a sea change for Crystal Palace Baltimore this season.

There are three home games left in the season. We probably won't make them. But I feel some regret and loss at that, because there is certainly something redeemable about the team and it will be a damn shame if they don't make it to another season.

Thursday, August 19, 2010


Much of my continually expanding appreciation for soccer is attributable not only to direct experiences as a passive observer of the game but also to what has been written about the sport. There is not a lot of soccer reporting in the United States, but in some ways this ends up being a virtue, as people who write about the subject have a remarkable passion for the game.

Brent Latham's recent contribution to the great site This Is American Soccer underscores just how much commitment is required to play in the field. Latham's essay is beautiful and required reading for anyone interested in the game in this country.

Passion for the game continues to be evident in Brian Quarstad's work regarding the second division of soccer in the country. Few people interested in sports seem to be able to bother with the league, but Quarstad continues to bust his rear pulling together essential information for those of us who do care. A little over a week ago, Mr. Quarstad obtained and posted USSF's new standards for Division II soccer and, most recently, took the time to knock down some uninformed and reckless reports spread regarding the future of certain clubs.

The focus of Mr. Quarstad's work is incredibly important. Locally, a complete lack of information from Crystal Palace Baltimore regarding what the heck is going on with the club -- where now game locations and times are announced the day before they are scheduled to occur -- has managed to kill whatever marginal support the club had built up over the last few years. Provided Saturday's game remains in Towson and kicks off at 5 pm, we plan on going to the game, but I can't imagine who else would be bothering to go this year. Although they are certainly not the worst team in the league, the move up has been disastrous for a team that is in a good market; enough so where continued operation in a manner consistent with the characterizations revealed by Mr. Quarstad's work threatens to do grievous harm to the prospects for professional soccer in Baltimore for some time.

If CP Baltimore folds, I will be saddened, but not crushed (silver lining: I will be free to burn the Palace shirts I own). On the other hand, if the Puerto Rico Islanders are cut out of the second division, it will be a disaster. The Islanders are one of the most compelling story lines of second division football here. Puerto Rico plays at a level that makes sense for their market and the Islanders' front office has run the team well enough that they have become a force to reckon with in CONCACAF club play. Over the last few years, I have become a fan of the club, its players, and its supporters. The Islanders have earned a spot in the second division of U.S. soccer and any decision by USSF that would preclude them from keeping a place in the league should be met with heavy opposition from all fans of the game.

Sunday, August 15, 2010


By the time the fourth official held up the board noting five minutes of stoppage time, my daughter had seen enough. "Daddy, I'm going home" and with that shot backwards, she was up the stairs and heading to the 200 section. 10 pm is late for her, but I think that the desire to depart came from something more. The mood of supporters at the game wasn't great -- people were looking for something to cheer for and despite a beautiful cross from Q bundled into the net by a Dallas defender denying Andy Najar a goal but putting United on the board, there was not much to get behind.

I lingered before reaching the concourse long enough to see Dallas' third goal and then, along with most others in attendance, we headed for the exit. The sights on the way out of the stadium were more depressing than what we had seen on the field. Numerous fans walked by just shaking their heads in resignation and disbelief. How could things have gotten this bad? Who took the joy from Whoville?

This season has seen the culmination of the utter destruction of the glorious history of the club. Luciano Emilio went from being one of the most frightening strikers in the MLS to a guy who writers like Goff can address in mocking terms. Cristian Gomez walked away from the club a second time in disgrace. Fred was banished to Philadelphia to bring back another part of former United glory -- Troy Perkins, a keeper whose reputation has been all but wiped away by this awful season. A former United player was brought back to clean up after Soehn's tenure and was afforded none of the patience shown to his predecessor. Ben Olsen was handed the helm without any prospect of success. And now Jaime Moreno, one of the greatest players to don a United shirt in the club's (admittedly short) history, has been unceremoniously kicked to the curb.

What transpired at RFK tonight was truly a travesty. United fans have been asked to get behind a team where there is no glory, no honor, no hope. Just guys playing out their contractual obligations. Although Hamid started in place of Perkins, the backline in front of him featured Julius James, Carey Talley, Devon McTavish, and Marc Burch. I'm thrilled that Burch is back and the threat posed by his free kicks was on display tonight. But Carey Talley is 33. Julius James, Marc Burch, and Devon McTavish are 26. What is the point? Dejan (25) has a hamstring problem, but no injuries were reported regarding Jordan Graye (23) or Barry Rice (22) or new DCU recruit Jed Zayner (25). So, why is the oldest crew possible on the field? Are we supposed to come to the stadium to watch veterans put together digital video reels for future job positions? And if it is about letting veterans play out the string with honor, why isn't Jaime Moreno on the field?

Pablo Hernandez and Andy Najar were the best thing about being at RFK tonight. Hamid put in a disappointing shift tonight, but I am willing to sit through it with the hope that his game will improve with more first team experience. Same with Graye and Rice.

Before leaving for the game tonight, I caught some of the Red Bulls-Galaxy match. The gulf between what the supporters of these two franchises enjoy and what DCU fans currently endure has never been greater. And its widening. Every day.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Mustang Solly

I would hazard to guess that there were not many other folks within the District of Columbia on Friday afternoon that were punching the air and whopping in response to Chris Solly's first touch of the ball in Charlton's away tie against Leyton Orient. I am always too optimistic and rarely ever appreciate the depth of the weakness of any team I root for, but boy oh boy do I like this team. Of the three hours of League 1 football played by Charlton so far this season, over a full hour has been spent a man down. The result? Charlton 4, Bournemouth/Leyton Orient 1.

I thought Chris Solly was hard done by not being part of the starting XI at Leyton, but it is impossible to quarrel with the results. A beautiful cross from Simon Francis, the man picked ahead of Solly at fullback, converted by Alan McCormack put the Addicks up a goal before the half hour as the former shrimpers combined masterfully. Having already provided Nicky Bailey to Charlton, Southend has become the Pittsburgh Pirates to CAFC's Chicago Cubs. For Solly's part, no hung head, but, quite to the contrary, a late introduction is met with a vibrant response that put the game away and relieved all the tension the faithful felt as Charlton attempted to hold on to all three points. Top of the table is a nice place to be, even if it is only early days. Well done. Well played. Hoo-rah.

There seems to be a consensus that Charlton Life will sponsor one of Mr. Solly's shirts this season and he is fully deserving of the support. For our part, we (read: I) have decided to continue sponsoring players on other clubs, although to a far more limited extent than last season. I love the additional incentive provided by sponsorship to follow results in other leagues and I have generally been well-rewarded with great storylines. For instance, this year we are once again sponsoring the home and away kit of a player on Accrington Stanley. Stanley, as a story as well as a club, is absurdly compelling. For the last two seasons, the team has seemingly hovered at death's door and yet, irrespective of daytime television level trials and travails, they achieve great things. Last season, in defiance of all expectations, Accrington maintained its league status and had a wonderful run in the FA Cup that allowed us to watch them live on television in their fourth round home tie against Fulham.

John Coleman's been the head of the squad since 1999 and Accrington's continuing gadfly presence in the League must surely be the product of some magic on his part. Again this season, Stanley's year began with more problems following Ilyas Khan's decision to leave the Chairmanship and a transfer ban being imposed that left the team with something like four registered players. And, yet, nevertheless, straight out of the gate, Accrington managed to take the scalp of the Championship side Doncaster Rovers in the Carling Cup and their profit on it is a home tie against Newcastle United, following the Toon's return to top flight. How absurd is this story? The Crown Ground's total capacity is a little over 5,000, which the club struggles to fill on a regular basis. When NUFC has an open training at St. James Park, 6,000 show up to watch practice (PRACTICE? PRACTICE? We're talking about PRACTICE?).

On the other hand, faerie tales would not seem to be true for all the teams we have a soft spot for. We are not renewing sponsorship of a Bohs player, but not for lack of trying. Repeated efforts to once again sponsor a player from the Irish champions were ignored, making recent reports that the club is in dire financial straits following their embarrassing departure from the Champions League at the hands of The New Saints more depressing. The Independent notes that the poor financial outlook of the team which may require Bohemians to go back to part time is due to lower than expected gate receipts and commercial income -- which makes the failure to follow up on supporters' past financial support even more inexplicable.

Friday, August 13, 2010


There is some amazing work being done by folks operating U.S. soccer-related blogs. Over the last few years, I have gone from being disappointed at the lack of decent coverage from reporters in traditional sports media outlets and frustrated by the half-assed efforts of local reporters assigned to cover the sport to blown away by the high level at which many committed soccer enthusiasts operate online, independent journals.

The Shin Guardian's recent interview with the Sounders' David Estrada is a perfect example of this. What TSG has publicized to soccer fans throughout the country is a compelling story of a player in the MLS who you want to root for. This is the type of stuff that gets me to tune into MLS games when they are on ESPN or the Fox Soccer Channel and sparks my wife's interest as well. TSG's piece is what sells the MLS -- and this point is not made to argue that Mr. Estrada's achievements to date would be any less impressive if they were not highlighted in an interview, only that a great story would be known by far too few people.

Similarly, I am awed by the work of Brian Quarstad over at Inside Minnesota Soccer. I don't really care about soccer in Minnesota (hailing from Illinois and Iowa, I am interested in the sport in those two states, but know nothing about them) and yet I make sure to check out Mr. Quarstad's site every day. IMS is essential reading for anyone who follows second division professional soccer in the country, as evidenced by his piece today on the USSF's release of the standards that will be imposed on the league next season. Outside of Mr. Quarstad, I have not run across anyone else who affords D-2 soccer serious treatment sufficient to keep supporters usefully apprised of developments. Indeed, it is the height of absurdity that, as a season ticket holder, I get more information about CP Baltimore from IMS than from any local news source or from supporters of the club.

Unfortunately, any concerns that I have about being left in the dark will likely be rendered moot by the standards Mr. Quarstad posted today from USSF. As noted, I have no useful information about the club, but I would highly doubt that CP Baltimore will be in any position to meet the requirements for a club in D-2 next season. In fact, I would be amazed if the minimum required -- eight teams -- would be able to meet these standards (although clearly the USSF must think that eight teams could meet these prerequisites next season). But I understand why it has to happen; as Mr. Quarstad has repeatedly noted, a 75% fail rate for franchises in the second division is the product of an unsustainable business model that does little to promote the image of soccer as a serious spectator sport in the United States. At this moment in time, getting the second division right -- in the wake of all that has been done to place the MLS on solid ground -- is vitally important to the growth of soccer in country.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Really Maryland

I was able to listen to the first half of Charlton's opener through CAFC player and the description of the game seemed to indicate that Charlton controlled much of the tempo of the match and created numerous opportunities on goal. The 1-0 win seemed to reflect a failure to convert opportunities, but three points is three points.

We were able to catch the final home game of Real Maryland's disappointing season later in the day. Our two-year old was in a great mood and was making the most of the night out, allowing me to focus on the game more than any previous one this season. And what I saw was a decent game, a heart-breaking 2-2 draw with Charlotte where Real Maryland should have taken all three points. There were still a lot of frustrating things about the team -- most noticeably, the squad members spend an inordinate amount of time screaming at each other in frustration, despite some pretty awful play from nearly everyone on the team at some moment or another during the game. Someone in front of us asked a friend if he thought that DC United spent as much time screaming at each other and then concluded that they probably yelled just as much, but you couldn't hear it in the stands. I restrained myself from answering that I've only seen Morsink and Q yell at their teammates in the same manner and that even opposing sides generally don't scream at each other with the same level of hostility. The discord within the team makes them difficult to watch.

On the other hand, the wide play from Real Maryland's midfield was excellent. I was embarrassed to realize that I did not know anything about either Ben Hunter or Israel Sesay, both of whom were very impressive on the night. Hunter served up a beautiful ball from the left for Jyler Noviello to tap in for the team's first goal and then scored the second off a wicked shot that skipped off of a defender's arm and into goal. Hunter has a remarkable story. He's 25 and hails from the Doncaster Rovers academy set up, but came to the U.S. to play soccer for the University of Rio Grande (a two year college not confusingly at all located in Ohio) before transferring to UNC. Ben did well enough for the Tar Heels to be drafted by Columbus in the fourth round, but didn't make a senior appearance for the Crew. After a couple of seasons at Richmond, Hunter joined Real Maryland this season. What Hunter lacks in pace he makes up for in placement. The pass to Noviello for the goal was fantastic and Hunter's ability to switch the field was great.

On the right side, Real Maryland featured Israel Sesay, easily the most creative force in the team. It is ridiculous that I did not notice Sesay earlier in the season. Sesay, who will turn 20 in September, is only three years removed from earning a $57,000 professional salary for the LA Galaxy as a 16 year old. Sesay had two stints in Bradenton in the U.S. Soccer Residency Program, where he played with Zac MacMath and Gale Agbossoumonde. Sesay was brilliant on the ball and has uncommon dribbling skills for third division soccer in the U.S. When he gets the ball on his feet, the modest crowd was frequently drawn into the game, waiting to see what Izzy would do.

I've been snarky about poor performances from Real Maryland in the past, but, on the last of the home fixtures, I finally realized that there was something worth paying attention to on the pitch. Better late than never.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Nth Power

It has been a frustrating year for local professional soccer. DC United and Real Maryland occupy last place in their respective leagues, and Crystal Palace has only been spared that same infamy by flagging franchises in Miami and St. Louis. For all three clubs, poor performances on the field have further endangered their prospects for survival over the long term and have substantially dampened enthusiasm at an otherwise opportune time for expanding their fanbase.

The stakes are also high for Charlton this season -- as they have been each of the last three campaigns. And, yet, I cannot stifle my excitement as kickoff approaches against Bournemouth at The Valley tomorrow. Season tickets are down, reported to be 8,437 as of today. There is no question that support has waned and the dire financial straits of the club heaps yet more pessimism on immediate prospects.

Still, what Phil Parkinson has achieved in pulling together a side with little more than duct tape has been nothing short of remarkable. There is virtually no one left in the team from the last time we saw them play -- the opening match of the club's return to the Championship against Scunthorpe -- but the team has the potential of being even better than last year's version. Gone are Nicky Bailey, Jonjo Shelvey, Lloyd Sam, Frazier Richardson, Deon Burton, Darren Randolph, Sam Sodje, and the trio of disappointing strikers who never came close to meeting their promise (Izale McLeod, Chris Dickson, and Stuart Fleetwood). In their place, Gary Doherty, Alan McCormack, Johnnie Jackson, Simon Francis, Pawel Abbott, Matt Fry, Ross Worner, Lee Martin, and Bally Smart join Rob Elliott, Kyel Reid, Akpo Sodje, Therry Racon, Jose Semedo, captain Christian Dailly, Miguel Llera, Kelly Youga, Alex Stavrinou, Scott Wagstaff, Chris Solly, and Tamer Tuna for the new look Addicks. Although none of the new signings are world-class footballers, they appear to be solid players and to fit into Parkinson's plans for how he would like the team to play.

Not bad for a manager of a skint club. And, even better, considering that Parkinson has taken full ownership of the team he has compiled.

The patience from supporters will undoubtedly be short and a set back against the Cherries will poison the well from the word go, but I don't think there is reason to take a gloomy view based on what PP has managed to do in the market.

Of course, I was also excited about the signing of Izale McLeod -- one of his shirts, purchased from the club at a remarkably reasonable price, hangs in my closet -- and don't have the foggiest first-hand knowledge of the vast majority of the team. Hope springs eternal. Come on you reds.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Good Bye to You

I am always uncomfortable meeting a professional athlete from a team I support in any setting. Face-to-face the absurdity of paying to see someone do their job and of often traveling long distances to do so is impossible to ignore. And let's say you once asked for an autograph from Ryne Sandberg while wearing a shirt that had .... a picture of Ryne Sandberg on it... well, then there is no question that you are a tool.

So, two Sundays ago at DCU's Meet the Team Day, I tried to think of something to say in the uncomfortable moments when my daughter was handing over a soccer ball for signature. Most of my witty riposte was met by bare tolerance from the players. Julius James was particularly gracious when I earnestly informed him how much I enjoyed him play this season. Branko Boskovic was, I think, mildly concerned when I tried to explain that I would be wearing a Rapid Vienna shirt at RFK in his honor (thought bubble at that moment over Mr. Boskovic: "they cannot all be this stupid"). When we got to the head coach, I offered: "Coach, when I met you at Blackfinn before the season, you promised to put out an exciting team. I want to thank you for keeping your promise, we've really enjoyed going to games regardless of the results." I meant the comments sincerely -- we've enjoyed going to games this season far more than last year -- and was surprised when Onalfo's response was a half-grunt, half-"thanks", and quick turn away. It was all the more surprising because there were no other fans waiting for his John Hancock.

It quickly washed away by going to see Adam Cristman, a player who every fan is lucky to be able to cheer for, but after leaving the stadium I remained puzzled by Curt's callous response. No big deal, but the stress from the job must suck (or, alternatively, I am just an ass). Maybe it shouldn't have been a surprise that Onalfo got canned today. But I certainly didn't expect it. Recognizing that D.C. United has a putrid league record, I thought that Onalfo had done enough to at least merit riding out his first year at the helm. Najar had developed well and had been growing in confidence all season. Setting aside two poor turnovers, Jordan Graye had also exceeded expectations. And Bill Hamid impressed in goal whenever he got a chance between the sticks. Clearly, Onalfo was not harming the squad's young players.

At the same time, something was clearly wrong with the team, evident to many fans in the stands. I had grown increasingly focused and annoyed at what I saw from Kurt Morsink on the field (the limited times when he got to see the pitch). I believe that the questions that have been raised by many regarding Santino Quaranta's contribution have some merit. In numerous games this season, poor play from Q overshadowed the moments of sublime beauty he offered -- frequently manifested as a perfectly weighted through ball that would spring a teammate but fizzle away after a poor touch. The two big offseason signings -- Christian Castillo and Danny Allsopp -- did nothing for DCU.

The upshot is instead of seeing Raul or Marlon Harewood on the field for United, the club decided to risk a $600,000 hit over the next two seasons on guaranteed money for Onalfo and torpedo the season with someone at the helm that the front office has expressly stated is not prepared to be a head coach. This doesn't seem like it will end well.

Good luck Curt. Thank you for what you tried to do, sorry that you didn't get much time here. Thought you did a decent job, but others clearly disagreed.