Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Two Mikes

I now believe, perhaps incorrectly, that my high definition television was designed to show Chicago Bears offensive football designed and directed by Mike Martz and Mike Tice. I had no love for either of these coaches prior to their arrival at Soldier Field -- particularly Tice, who was wholly unimpressive in his tenure with the Vikings -- but it has taken only three games to completely convert me.

The advent of well-designed offensive plays and creative, fluctuating sets would, on its own, be enough to set my heart aflutter after the John Shoop/Terry Shea/Ron Turner-induced decade long stupor. But beautiful receiving routes crafted to punish defenses for trying to take away middle and deep routes by putting receivers into space underneath are perfected by the passing lanes created by an overachieving offensive line.

The fact that the Bears are an amazing 3-0 to start the season after tough games against the Cowboys and Packers helps, but it is not the reason I am really enjoying the 2010 version of the team. This iteration of the Bears is simply fun to watch. They make in-game adjustments on both sides of the ball -- Zack Bowman was getting massacred by the Packers and the switch to Tim Jennings was huge. They seem unafraid of the defenses they face -- the Packers are a very good defensive team and, yet, with the game tied late in the fourth quarter, a full spread offense takes the field. And they are punching above their weight.

On the defensive side of the ball, Rod Marinelli has his guys cracking opposing players. And while there are many reasons to rave about Julius Peppers, Lance Briggs, and Brian Urlacher, I am most taken by what Chris Harris has offered the secondary in his return to a team he should never have left in the first place. The Bears' secondary is not going to scare any one in their gameweek preparation, but Harris solidifies that part of the unit. Another four games of watching Harris play in a Bears uniform and I may be able to get over the memories of Adam Archuleta.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Are You Worried About Trivializing Such an Important Issue?

I returned home from a trip to Switzerland in time to catch Mr. Colbert's testimony before the House and was suitably impressed with the sheer scale of the stupidity of the above-captioned question, posed by a reporter with no sense of irony. Welcome home.

The visit to Switzerland was only my second trip to continental Europe and I had no burning interest in going to Geneva, so rather than work out what tourist attractions my daughter would enjoy, I spent my time trying to figure out how to get to a soccer game.

An initial idea of going up towards Neuchatel to watch fifth division FC Beroche-Gorgier take on Zurich's Grasshoppers in the Swiss Cup foundered when the Swiss Rail ticket agent quoted us a $150 round trip price for getting close to the stadium. (We missed a 9-0 drubbing where Grasshoppers were awarded a penalty in the opening seconds of the game and were up two goals by the end of the third minute). After that, I toyed with the idea of dragging a two-year old to southern France or northern Italy or, at my worst, to St. Jakob Park in Basel to see Grasshoppers in a league away fixture. Fortunately, I abandoned all of these options.

Short trips around Lac Leman impressed how well appointed the country is with football stadiums. From the train, verdant pastures opened up to beautiful modern stadiums. In Lausanne, I took my daughter up the hill from the train station to the Cathedral and Chateau St. Marie. From outside the Chateau, you can see the lights of the Stade Olympique de la Pontaise, the current home of second division FC Lausanne-Sport and the host, a week and a half ago, of Lausanne-Sport's fairy tale UEFA Cup tie against CSKA Moscow -- maybe a 3-0 defeat is not the prototypical fairy tale, but just being in the competition is amazing -- and will host Sparta Prague on November 4th and and Palermo on December 15th. FC Stade Nyonnais, another second division club, plays in Nyon at the neat little Centre Sportif de Colovray Nyon, while yet another second division squad, FC Servette, plays in the massive and stunning Stade de Geneve.

My visit and the Challenge League's schedule did not line up to facilitate seeing a game in any of those stadiums. Instead, we took in a third division derby match between Grand-Lancy FC and CS Chenois at the Stade de Marignac located across the rails from the Stade de Geneve.

A few reactions:

First, the game was much better than I had anticipated. The quality and skill of the players on the field was well-beyond anything I was accustomed to at home... my wife's take after five minutes was "this is really pretty good."

Second, something like the Stade de Marignac, even without seats, would be the envy of Real Maryland or Crystal Palace Baltimore and it just can't be that difficult to get some place in the DC-Baltimore metro area to welcome such use of currently un-utilized land.

Third, the regional liga system operated beginning in the third division in Switzerland (similar, I would imagine, to how leagues are organized in Germany and Austria) should be an extremely attractive option for reorganizing American soccer... even beginning at the second division. The costs of travel are clearly a significant part of a lower division team's budget and gate receipts, for most teams, cannot begin to offset the cost of away travel. But just as importantly, long distances between teams severely restrains the ability of supporters to check out away fixtures. There were not many people at the Grand-Lancy and Chenois match, but supporters of both Geneva-area based squads mixed easily on the terrace; passionate about their respective teams and respectful of their opponents. The USL2 league was basically reduced to an east coast regional league this season -- running from Charleston in the south to Harrisburg/Pittsburgh in the north -- and the new USLPro league seems to be headed down this route with the recent announcement of the addition of "building blocks" of a new Caribbean Division. The mid-Atlantic (leaving Charleston and Charlotte in a southern division) should have sufficient resources to be able to support a viable division of its own, but Richmond is probably the only solid club in the region at the moment.

Grand-Lancy won the match 3-0 with Laurent Dupraz giving his team a two-goal lead off of free kicks. Grand-Lancy's keeper, David Fontaine, had a fantastic game and fully deserved his clean sheet after some tremendous reaction saves when Chenois unleashed unrelenting attacks on goal in the second half. For about ten minutes in the second half, my daughter and I stood behind Fontaine to get a better sense of how much pressure he was under and to more fully appreciate his performance.

Not many tourists in Geneva are going to consider third-division Swiss football as a serious option to wile away an evening on holiday, but they should. The Stade de Marignac is easily reached from downtown Geneva on the number 15 tram, the people at the club FC Grand-Lancy are great, it is an inexpensive entertainment relative to most everything else in the canton (10 swiss francs general admission; 6 for women and children), and the football is decent.

A few shots from the evening:

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

King James

If I have not recently mentioned my love for Julius James, Craig Stouffer provided another excuse for me to do so today. Here's James on his season so far:

“The former coach [Curt Onalfo], he didn’t have too much confidence in me, you know,” said James. “He brought in two different center backs, three actually [Juan Manuel Pena, Carey Talley, Barry Rice], and they all got a chance before I did. I worked my [male genitalia] off, man, and I kept my head down. Thank god I had the opportunity to play, and I thank god for good health… I spoke to him at the beginning of the season. I told him, ‘I’m a guy who wants to be here. I’m going to fight, scrap, do whatever is necessary to help the team,’ and I guess my little speech wasn’t good enough. I never had anything easy, and it has made me a stronger person.”

James' approach of understanding the need to prove yourself and then doing what it takes to seize the limited opportunities to do so seems to be a consistent hallmark of his career. Witness, for example, James' comments in advance of the 2008 MLS Combine in response to questions regarding his potential future representing Trinidad and Tobago.

This has been a tough season for DC United, but despite the poor results on the field, Andy Najar has always, on his own, been worth the price of admission. In addition to Najar, Julius James has been the single most solid, consistent contributor on this year's team. Last season, one of my group of season ticket holders kept telling us that Julius was going to be very good in the next season. I had my doubts, but there is no question that James has performed to those expectations.

James is not a player who will sell tickets, but he is someone who should give season ticket holders pause before they walk away from the 2011 campaign. Regardless of whether he now reads newspaper or internet treatments of his performances, James is keenly aware that he plays for the fans. He makes a point of noting that in personal interactions and he seems to sincerely appreciate when his efforts are recognized by supporters.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Ain't Got a Home

The City Paper piled on a bit this week with a completely fair and interesting treatment on the political irrelevance of D.C. United in the upcoming DC mayoral election. This is equally true in Prince George's County although the club's search for a home was never seemed to be that big of a deal in County politics in the first place.

Instead, the focus in both our city and the county will be on encouraging economic development and increasing the tax base to try and bolster anemic public services. These are, obviously, worthwhile goals, but what, exactly is going to spur this development?

In public discussions by various County Executive candidates, one of the ideas floated is the need to develop areas around the County's metro stations. But develop what? More shopping malls? The Beltway Plaza Mall and Laurel Centre Mall have seen better days and aren't unique in their decay in the County.

There is certainly no guarantee that a soccer specific stadium is going to be an economic boom; fair questions continue to be raised about whether the Red Bulls' bold experiment in Harrison will be a long term success. But a soccer stadium that is home to a routine attendance of 15,000 people has to hold some promise for income and business generation if appropriately designed and situated. As the anchor for development near a metro station, a soccer stadium would seem to be a better bet then any major store chain.

But no major politician -- in the District of Columbia or in Prince George's County (or Montgomery County or Northern Virginia, for that matter) -- appears to be too terribly troubled by D.C. United's plight or capturing some of the money leaving out of the pockets of fans supporting the team.

Crossroads Consulting Services' 2008 report on the potential economic impact of a stadium in PG County, commissioned by the County and the Maryland Stadium Authority is available here. The report contains a lot of stuff, much of which just recounts the obvious, but there are some interesting nuggets in it. For example, the report includes the consideration that any soccer specific stadium would also service a professional lacrosse team. The other local professional men's soccer teams -- Crystal Palace Baltimore and Real Maryland -- did not enter into the equation as potential tenants. There is also a useful summary of various stadiums in the MLS and events that they've held.

And there is the University of Maryland's purported attitude towards the project two years ago:

UMD officials expressed their general support of the proposed new stadium and cited that the need may exist for a soccer facility in Prince George’s County based on the historical popularity of the sport throughout the Mid-Atlantic region at all levels. Based on our discussions, it is likely that the UMD would be able to utilize the proposed stadium for specific games against major competitors. In addition, utilizing the proposed new stadium in conjunction with existing UMD athletic facilities would provide the opportunity to host more collegiate level tournaments. With respect to a potential site for the stadium, UMD officials indicated that proximity to its campus would provide for more complementary uses of both organizations’ facilities.

UMD representatives indicated that development of the proposed new soccer stadium could also be a recruiting benefit for UMD athletics based on the school’s proximity.

90 pages into the study the relevant numbers are finally flushed out:

The estimated economic benefits as measured by spending, earnings and jobs are summarized below. The total incremental spending (direct/induced/indirect) to the area related to operations of the proposed new soccer stadium is estimated to range from approximately $65.4 to $79.9 million annually.

Full-time employment to be created by the stadium is estimated as numbering between 1,080 and 1,320 people, putting it on par with employment at the Target Corporation and Chevy Chase (now Capital One) Bank in the county, and tax revenue for the state and county predicted as being between $5 million and $6.2 million per year.

The one line summary of the report is as follows:

. . . the proposed facility has the ability to provide a strong return on the investment associated with on-going operations . . .

Now, maybe all of this was bogus, as I have no competence to evaluate the claims, but it seems ridiculous that this has dropped completely off of the radar for local politicos. And not following up may reflect a lack of knowledge about the dynamics of the sport or faith in professional soccer's staying power. Or perhaps this is just the end product of a lack of political leadership. My bet is on apathy, but what do the reasons matter? The end result is the same, we ain't got a home.

NFL Kickoff

Odd start to the NFL season for me. Caught a bit of the Juventus-Sampdoria barnburner -- Milos Krasic is very, very good -- and Liverpool-Birmingham -- Pepe Reina is insanely good -- before heading to Ludwig with daughter in tow to watch Maryland's women take on the Blue Hens of Delaware.

Rather then find a way to watch the Bears open up the season with a very winnable game against an improved Detroit Lions team, I largely succeeded in avoiding the game until returning from campus (much, much easier to endure only a quarter of a game Chicago should have lost, even if Cutler's numbers ultimately were impressive: 23-35, 372 yards, 2 touchdowns; perhaps that is not impressive for other NFL teams, but in the past ten seasons a Bears quarterback had thrown for 370+ yards only once, when Brian Griese passed for 381 yards in a loss at home against Minnesota in 2007).

Because of a steady drizzle, not many people saw Maryland's women play today but the few on hand were treated to a strong performance by the team. Maryland is a well organized side that passes well and bore down on Delaware's goal box throughout the opening minutes of the game. But Delaware has some pretty talented players on their side -- Tania Domingos, in particular, showed lots of skill on the ball in the middle of the field -- and Delaware went up a goal early on by refusing to buckle under Maryland's pressure and continuing to counter the Terps' attacks.

But that was all Delaware would get. Maryland scored a flukey equalizer on a ball headed from midfield into the goal box that Jasmyne Spencer was chasing down and caught Breanna Stemler in a bad position such that the ball simply popped over her head into the goal untouched. If the first goal was just bad luck for Stemler, the next three were the product of Maryland's superior talent and organization. And Jasmyne Spencer (at least the first two). She is quite good and, again, alone worth the trip to Ludwig. A brilliant through pass saw Sade Ayinde into the box with only the keeper to beat leading to a penalty that Ayinde converted for the lead. And an equally brilliant cross a bit later ultimately led to another Ayinde goal from open play. Maryland is now 7 and 0 to start the season, with one more game (against George Mason) to play before the start of the ACC Conference season.

In Finland, IFK Mariehamn got a huge win at home over Turun Palloseura today, moving them up from 13th to 10th on the league table. Mason Trafford and Joe Funicello both started for IFK and the early returns for Real Maryland's alums have been promising.


Of all the things happening on the field last night in the Freedom's final game of the season, Abby Wambach's poor performance stood out to me. Mostly because it was such a surprise. I have not seen Abby play often but went to the game with high expectations.

Craig Stouffer's summary of the game included the following observation:

Wambach, who botched a golden opportunity to score on the counterattack in the first half, said it was one of her worst games of the season but happily accepted the role of hero when Becky Sauerbrunn fed her a perfect long ball for her 13th goal of the year.

Wambach's forthright assessment of her performance is as surprising, to me at least, as her performance in the game. It is comforting, as well as a bit unsettling, to see a premiere player recognize publicly a poor game.

Chalk it up as one more reason to support the team.

Saturday, September 11, 2010


Not my normal day of all soccer all the time. I missed Charlton's unconvincing win against Notts County. Missed DC United's well-deserved win up in Toronto (watching the replay was a pleasure -- a coming out party for Pablo Hernandez who not only set up some fantastic chances but started to pull himself off the ground where earlier he would have complained about not getting a foul called; also really nice to see Graye taking advantage of his second chance at the starting lineup). And missed all the European fixtures today.

But today was the last opportunity we had this season to go see the Washington Freedom play in a game that promised to be entertaining; with the Freedom needing to win to insure a playoff spot. Walking to the field from the car, I was reminded of how hollow our commitment to women's professional soccer has been over the last few years as our daughter kept trying to guess what team we were going to see at the stadium. Since she was born, she's seen Real Maryland, DC United and Crystal Palace Baltimore play at the Soccerplex. She has even seen me play at the Soccerplex, but tonight marked the first time that she'd ever seen the Freedom play at their home stadium and it was the first time we've seen the Freedom play anywhere other then RFK.

We are going to seriously consider season tickets next season if the league comes back for another year. It is a long distance out from College Park and the tickets are surprisingly pricey, but the club does a wonderful job in creating an environment where kids enjoy a night out. Our little girl had a fantastic time, although she might have watched a total of five minutes of the game. Nevertheless, she celebrated when Abby Wambach scored the game winner, knew that her team won the game, and expressed annoyance when we left during the club's salute to Briana Scurry upon her retirement.

I, unfortunately, watched much more of the game and I was disappointed by the quality of the performance on the field. Despite being billed as a must-win game for the Freedom and a match essential to salvaging an underwhelming season, the home side was only slightly less listless than the Crystal Palace apathy-fest against St. Louis we had watched at the same park earlier in the summer. Both tactically as a team and in the bulk of individual performances, those in the stands would be excused if they thought that the Beat was playing for a postseason spot and the Freedom were merely playing out the string. In fact, several people around us innocently asked whether the Freedom were in the red or blue uniforms on the field. Lauren Sesselmann's red card with 15 minutes to play did not result in a definitive advantage for the Freedom as Washington continued to bomb the ball forward to two players taking on two center backs or, alternatively, bring the ball up the middle and then outlet to the left wing for one touch crosses of varying quality to no one in particular.

I doubt that what I think I saw fairly reflects the team. The enthusiasm that supporters have for their side is palpable even from outside the stadium and could not be sustained if this were par for course. And, regardless of the aesthetics of the performance, the Freedom got the three points they needed and booked their tickets to a chance to win the league. And we enjoyed a night out watching soccer. Nothing else matters.

Friday, September 10, 2010


I am about a quarter of the way through David Wilcove's "No Way Home," an accessible, fascinating account of animal migrations throughout the world. The book is helping me to appreciate the wonders of a number of species on their way to greener pastures (songbirds, herons, butterflies, dragonflies, and toads) that stop temporarily in our yard.

Perhaps because I am sedentary by nature, intentional movement -- particularly over vast areas -- fascinates me. This has been one of the elements of soccer as both a sport and profession that I have found intriguing. There is some migration in the American big four sports. I have been to winter ball sites and watched American players chase their MLB dreams when they are no longer in Kansas. And, certainly, stellar athletes in Latin America, the Caribbean, Korea, and Japan seek to ply their trade in odd settings in the minor leagues of American baseball. European and Chinese basketballers increase their relevance to the NBA and many American basketball players have shown a willingness to go to Europe (including Russia) and further afield to play professionally -- Antonio Lang is just one of many American basketball players who made a living playing in the professional leagues of the Philippines and Japan. Although a smaller geographic range applies, the same principles are generally true for hockey in North America.

But soccer is, truly, the world's sport and the movement of players in search of a chance to develop their skills is remarkable. Max Lipset's tales (as hosted by Brian Quarstad: postcard 1 and postcard 2) of his time in Bolivia with La Paz FC provide a small window into the lengths that hundreds of American soccer players are willing to go to augment their game and solidify their chances of making a living out of it. And that is only a tiny sliver of the world's players that pull up stakes to chase their dreams all over the globe.

I've been thinking more about this lately because of Real Maryland's announcements that Mason Trafford joined IFK Mariehamn in Finland and that he has now been joined by two other American players formerly of the USL2, Charleston's Lamar Neagle and Real Maryland alum Joe Funicello. Funicello is one of the few players on Real Maryland that our daughter has an autograph from and has been an object of interest because of his efforts to build a professional career in Italy (with Salernitana) and in Britain (with Corinthian Casuals) that reportedly led to a (failed) trial with Charlton. Funicello left Real Maryland to play for Thor Akureyri in Iceland this season and now has moved on to the warmer climes of Finland.

The club has announced that Trafford and Funicello are not the only players tied to the team to find a paycheck in Scandinavia. Kenneth Sola assisted Jonathan Borrajo in linking up with a Norwegian agent, eventually leading to a job with the Norwegian third tier side Hamarkameratene. While Trafford, Neagle, and Funicello have signed on in time to bolster a desperate effort to stave off relegation, Borrajo has joined a side that is currently top of the table and seeking promotion to the Adeccoligaen.

However it turns out, this has got to be pretty cool for both Borrajo and Trafford. They spent last year playing professional soccer on a high school football field and practicing on a recreational league field in College Park (side note: I had no idea that Real Maryland practiced within walking distance from our home; tough to explain how Israel Sesay has the drive and commitment to continue to stay the course after going from highly touted teenage prodigy prospect to playing and practicing alongside David Beckham and Landon Donovan to putting the ball into the net at the College Park Community Center). Translating that hard work and a tolerance of the absurd into gametime as a professional player in Norway and Finland is an impressive achievement.

By the same token, the move the other way is probably just as impressive. Sola came to Real Maryland from Stavanger IF following the club's relegation in 2009. He is now apparently back in Norway with a club recently promoted to the second tier of Norwegian soccer, Sadnes Ulf. And last year's captain, Gareth Evans, found his way to the Austin Aztex after playing for Cefn Druids and Wrexham in Wales and Charlton cup killer Northwich Victoria in Britain. While some of the conditions they played in back home might have been dire, they would have been hard-pressed to match the meager provisions allowed for in the USL2. And, yet, the football players still come. And they still go. And their journeys will continue to take them to the strangest places, all in service to a dream yet unrealized.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Congratulations and Now Back to Work

John McGlynn, gaffer for Raith Rovers, has been recognized for his pitch perfect start to the 2010-2011 campaign by being named Irn-Bru First Division manager for the month of August.

While the award must have been well-received, the nice profile penned by Stewart Fisher in Sunday's edition of The Herald must have been almost as appreciated.

Raith's rise is a testament to careful planning and adhesion to a well-articulated vision. As all make clear, one swallow does not make a spring and success is far from guaranteed for Raith this season. Still, a month of good work is a month of good work. Here is to hoping that it is more of the same in September.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Bottoming Out

The decision to not spend three hours on the metro going to watch DC United get beat once again at RFK was due, in part, to listening to Charlton fall flat against Exeter nine hours earlier. Toggling between the two feeds on the CAFC Player did not change the general theme: an underwhelming performance from a team that needs to be playing with desperation and drive. And they are not. Despite Phil Parkinson having his team in place, the team seems to bleed no more for the shirt, for the club, and for its supporters than those (arguably more talented players) that preceded them but were found wanting.

I do not think that the same thing applies to DC United. Indeed, but for the long trip and the inability to convince anyone to join me, I had every intention of going and was even enthusiastic about the game.

D.C. United's performances are getting better. The players get stuck in. Even if the fans -- read: me -- aren't willing to put out the same effort, the season is not yet lost to them. Andy Najar had his worst game of the season and still United controlled much of the match. This was due primarily to the continuing resurgence of Santino Quaranta who has not only taken to the captain's armband but has transformed himself into the embodiment of leadership on the field.

Quaranta balanced Najar on the wings of the midfield with Pablo Hernandez and Stephen King powering the team's offensive surge from the middle. Clyde Simms slotted back with Julius James to anchor the defense with Jed Zayner and Jordan Graye at fullback. The makeshift four person backline was more than adequate, as the only goal was scored off of Bill Hamid's gift to Schelotto.

One of the beautiful things about the run of play under Ben Olsen is that it brings into sharp focus the deficiencies of Curt Onalfo's reign. I mistakenly believed that Onalfo was getting the team on track, but Olsen's decision to tab Quaranta with the captaincy underscored the absurdity of Onalfo's choice of Carey Talley as captain. Talley proved once again on Wednesday that as incredible his career and as wonderful his approach to the game is, he does not merit a roster spot, let alone being the captain of a team. Olsen, I think, hammered that point even further home by moving Simms back rather than risking an extended run with Talley partnered with Julius James.

The other harsh reality is that Danny Allsopp, who seems like a very nice guy and an exceptional professional, may not be good enough to be the first option at forward for an MLS team. Allsopp is getting decent service and had at least two chances on goal that should have been converted that were left wanting.

The only major negative for me coming out of watching DC United's fixture from the comfort of my couch was that Fox Soccer's coverage made it impossible to turn away from Kurt Morsink. Morsink played competently on the field -- this was not even close to his worst performance this year -- but I cannot dismiss the totally unsubstantiated conclusion that he is a negative influence on the team. Jordan Graye, who once again put in a good shift of work for United, got into a stupid argument with Hilario Grajeda over a foul called against him and, rather than drop back into defense, persisted in arguing his point. It was a mistake and something that left the Crew with an advantage on the ensuing free kick. And Morsink let Graye know that he had made a mistake and continued to berate the rookie after a Crew player whipped in a dangerous ball across the goal face from the position that Graye had abdicated. That would be fine as Morsink is a veteran and Graye had screwed up, except the team probably would have been better off if Morsink had simply covered rather then screamed and, if memory serves, Morsink has placed a priority on arguing with referees over positioning several times this season.

Never mind. The team continues to play hard. Since Onalfo was fired on August 4th, United has been in every game they have played ... with the two goal loss to FC Dallas only resulting because of a goal by Jeff Cunningham in injury time when United was pressing for the equalizer. Eventually, I believe, the pieces will come together and they'll have seven more chances in league play to see if it happens this season.

Time and Place

I flew solo to Ludwig for the night game between Maryland and Northeastern, but the whole family went to see the Maryland women play Stony Brook earlier in the afternoon. It was the first time we had seen the women play this season. The Maryland women chalked up their fifth win and have become a very good team fully deserving of their top ten ranking in women's soccer.

Jasmyne Spencer is the main attraction and lived up to top billing on Sunday. Spencer set up Maryland's second goal with magnificent play with the ball on her feet culminating in a gorgeous pass to Sade Ayinde.

My daughter seemed to find the fact that women were playing soccer to be a bit of a novelty and kept asking if we were at a soccer game. This, of course, reflects poorly on me as while I have no qualms about dragging her to all kinds of games at far flung locales, we have not yet gone to a Freedom game this season and I didn't bother to go to the women's first two home games against Iona and Missouri.

I cannot say that she enjoyed the game however and this goes back to the same broken record complaint: the culture of student fan support at Maryland is an embarrassment for the school. Whomever takes over as the new Athletics Director needs to witness first hand young male coeds berating female athletes at Ludwig with crude, completely inappropriate insults. Chelsea Morales, Stony Brook's keeper, played a fantastic game and stonewalled a number of shots that would otherwise have been Maryland goals. Her play was, in no doubt, motivated by idiotic shouts of "souie, souie" from a few morons behind her. While some of the insults that rained down on Oliver Blum in the nightcap were clever and playful ("You make Robert Green look good"), much of the Crew's contributions to the match against the Sea Wolves were mean-spirited and idiotic. We did not really begin to fully enjoy the game until the second half when we moved to the far end of the field far away from the Crew around families and kids who came out to watch a good soccer game on a beautiful Sunday afternoon.

There is no question that Maryland's students have the right to act like belligerent children if they feel so moved, but it is quite a different thing for the school to tolerate and, arguably, encourage the behavior. Everything about the student support screams immaturity -- underscored by the "Do Her" t-shirts complete with explanation of how the phrase is not sexually crude but instead an exhortation of feminine power... the type of inanity in bs that most children abandon in junior high school.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Back in Stride

There is a time coming -- and it will be sooner rather than later -- when the buzz that pervaded the exit of Ludwig last night is going to spread far and wide and tickets to Maryland's games are going to be valuable commodities. Sasho Cirovski has been with the school since 1993 and, as converts, we are of ludicrously recent vintage. This is only our fourth season sitting in the stands at Ludwig; a tiny portion of Cirovski's 18 seasons in charge. Perhaps the teams of the past, those that featured, at different points, Taylor Twellman and Jason Garey and Maurice Edu and Danny Califf and Robbie Rogers and Clarence Goodson, generated similar excitement, but I would doubt it. This year's iteration is tremendously skilled and routinely pulls off plays that generate audible gasps from the crowd.

Last night, twenty Terps players saw the field in a 5 to 0 drubbing that handed Northeastern University its worst loss since losing by six goals to Coastal Carolina to open the 2005 season. Billy Cortes had an incredible game and the senior showed everyone in the stands why he should get an opportunity to play professionally after this year. Cortes can drive powerful shots and passes with either foot. He repeatedly terrorized Northeastern's right flank with surprising speed. Cortes' ability to stop on a dime and restart immediately frustrated his markers and led to an incredible sequence where Cortes beat his man to the touchline, but rather then play the ball off his defender for a corner, Cortes froze the ball, allowed the defender to fly by him and then whipped in a cross that Townsend headed in for his second and Maryland's third goal of the game.

Cortes capped off his wonderful performance by heading home the fifth goal after another display of ridiculous skill by the superfreshman Sunny Jane. This time, Jane attacked on the left and Cortes made a run on the right hand side. Jane weaved around defenders to build space and put in an exceptional cross that Cortes easily capitalized. Jane was introduced with 22 minutes remaining in the first half and thirty minutes in the second half and on both occasions, he made his mark quickly. Jane seems not only to impress fans with his technical ability but also appears to quickly have earned the respect and admiration of his teammates. They feed him the ball at impossible angles and speeds only to see him pull the ball down and attack with stunning pace. His end product does not always meet the quality of his possessive touches, but he does enough to strike fear in the other side. Maryland likes to switch its midfield wings when Jane is in the game and this also appears to be an effective strategy in unsettling the other side.

Matt Kassel is credited with running the team (this praise ought really be given to the captain of the team, red shirt senior Doug Rodkey), but both his possession from the holding midfielder position and his dead ball efforts have been underwhelming in the first two games of the regular season. Kassel's blast following a six-second call on Northeastern's goalie put Maryland up two (and his free kick from just outside the box on Friday night gave the Terps a brief lead over Michigan State), but the team has yet to seriously threaten to score on corners, despite commanding advantages in this statistical category in both games. Kassel is, however, the hard man of the Terps squad and does not allow opponents to build attacks through the middle of the field. Indeed, Kassel seems to have set the tone for the rest of the team and other squads that believe that they can play the Terps physically will find Maryland a difficult team to intimidate.

Alex Lee is a perfect case in point. Despite his horrific injury last season, Lee remains fearless and throws himself after fifty-fifty balls in the air. A brutal shot to Lee's head with 19 minutes to go in the first half led to Alex's departure from the game (London Woodberry, though less of a physical presence, did well in Lee's absence and beautifully set up Jason Herrick's first goal of the season). Lee was writhing in agony on the field, but popped up and ran off the pitch holding his face before a trainer could make it out to check in on him. At the whistle of the first half, Paul Torres took an elbow to the side of his head that drew massive amounts of blood, but at the restart Northeastern's physical play was returned in kind.

Maryland's freshman from Norway, Helge Leikvang, got about a 25 minute run out in the second half with the game well in hand and showed good possession and distribution skills as a defensive midfielder. His free kicks were horrid, but presumably his few kicks were not a fair reflection of his overall skill. Less time was given to Maryland's kiwi import freshman, Gordon Murie and redshirt freshman Jake Pace, when they were subbed in for Ethan White and Greg Young with nine minutes to go, but they easily showed how big Maryland can get at the back. White and Young are not midgets at 6 feet and 5'9", respectively, but a back line of Murie and Pace towers over them at 6'5" and 6'2". The attacking trio of junior Casey Townsend, redshirt senior Jason Herrick, and junior Karou Forbess was spelled by junior Matt Oduaran, sophomore Jordan Cyrus (who now seems to be a forward rather than a defender or midfielder), and sophomore John Stertzer. While Townsend's and Forbess' skills are generally above anyone else on the field, the Oduaran-Cyrus-Sterzer combination does not trail that far behind and they will hopefully continue to improve together as a unit as the season moves on. Cyrus had a wonderful chance on goal that he was unlucky to put above the crossbar and both Oduaran and Cyrus deal well with balls over the top for them to chase down -- another look that Maryland can give opponents.

Scouts should flock to Ludwig if only to get a glimpse of the consistently exceptional performances displayed by both Casey Townsend and Ethan White. Both will have a future in the professional ranks and both show clear improvement over last season.

Only six players on the Terps squad were kept off the pitch last night -- senior keeper Will Swaim ("Will's got skills!"), sophomores Widner Saint Cyr and Gonzalo Frechilla, and freshmen Marquez Fernandez, Patrick Mullins, and Jereme Raley. Given their respective pedigrees it is stunning that they are on the bench, but there wasn't anyone of the twenty that did play that failed to show that they belonged on the field.

In two games, there have been three moments of pure magic from Maryland. The first from Friday -- Forbess' side volley equalizer -- was matched by Cortes' pull back and cross to Townsend last night. The third moment came on a meaningless play in the middle of the field towards the end of the game when Sunny Jane pulled down a pass and spun around the ball to the delight of the crowd. Cirovski's Terps are must see soccer and I am grateful to have the opportunity to watch them on a regular basis.

Also quick applause for Irishman Brian Ainscough, Northeastern's head coach, who reacted to the six-second call on Oliver Blum with furious protests and a hysterical count of "ONE! TWO! THREE! FOUR! FIVE! SEVEN!" the first time MacMath picked up the ball after the call.

Saturday, September 4, 2010


A significant student turnout for Maryland's home opener -- students composed the vast majority of the 4,451 in attendance -- made Ludwig field the place to be last night. Not 4,450 in attendance, but 4,451, thanks to Ben Olsen, taking in the game sans tie and smartly attired in a plain white t-shirt. To the extent D.C. United's head coach stuck around for the full match, he was treated to a spectacle.

Michigan State is a well-organized team and despite being under assault by the Terps for much of the game never cracked under pressure. In every statistical category, save the one that matters, Maryland dominated the game. The Terps spent much of the game down two goals and unable to take advantage of multiple opportunities. Jason Herrick, Matt Kassel, Taylor Kemp, and Billy Cortes had tough games. Kemp and Cortes made up a left side that didn't threaten much; at the end of regular time, Maryland had won eleven corners, of which only one was hit into the box with any real threat by Kassel (although his free kick at the end of the game from the left side outside of the box gave the Terps a very brief lead); and Herrick's opportunities on goal were not put on frame and did not trouble MSU's keeper.

The performances of others were a bit more uneven. Karou Forbess eschews the easy pass for cheeky spins and redirections. Few hit their target, but when Forbess connects -- like when his scissor kick from the top of the box knotted the game at two -- it is gorgeous. Doug Rodkey was generally stable although he surrendered possession unnecessarily from poorly weighted balls from the middle. Rodkey got Maryland back into the game with a neat turn that earned a penalty (converted by Kassel) for the Terps' first goal. Sunny Jane's introduction in the first half immediately ratcheted up Maryland's attack as he scythed through a solid line. Jane's magic and touch deserted him in the second half and Sunny's impact was more negative than positive towards the end. Casey Townsend, on the other hand, flipped the other way and had an amazing second half. Townsend's control and decision-making on the ball up front after the break was damn near perfect.

Ethan White was dominant in the back and he absorbed a lot of pressure when John Stretzer was introduced for Greg Young in the second half. White distributes well and is the locus point for much of the attacks built from the back on the floor. On the right side, Alex Lee had a solid game, completing his impressive come back from his injury last season. Two late subs made impressive marks on the game -- London Woodberry provided a quick outlet for Zac MacMath and reversed the Spartans' counterattacks immediately; Matt Oduaran's steal of the ball at the restart following Maryland's equalizer and consequent run through MSU's defense is what set up the Terps' third goal.

Despite the surprising and disappointing setback to start the season, I continue to believe this is a very good side and that the disparate pieces will fall together sooner rather than later. There is a lot of talent on display on the field and I imagine that Northeastern will have difficulty parrying Maryland's assaults on Sunday night.

My comments above are shaded a bit by missing much of the first half because of constant wincing at the inane, profanity-laced taunts of Maryland students. I love seeing so many students out to support their team, but it is quite remarkable that virtually all of the Crew's cheers and chants are negative towards the other team rather then supportive of their team. When the PA declared that fans should consider taking a group to the "greatest fan environment in college soccer," my wife spit out her soda. As much as I want Maryland to do well, I can admit to taking some measure of pleasure from watching the abuse from some craven Maryland students aimed towards the handful of Spartans' partisans in the stands after the Terps' third goal repaid immediately by MSU's equalizer.

On this point, I am and will continue to be a broken record: the University needs to do something to change the culture of sporting events at the school. Both the negativity and the front-running ("Well, we're down two goals, so we will be leaving soon") reflect poorly on the university and unfairly detract from the substantial number of students that come out to back their teams and enjoy a couple of hours away from their studies.

Friday, September 3, 2010


After watching the actual events that led to Pablo Hernandez's ejection a few more times, it is pretty difficult to see how the fourth official arrived at the conclusion that Pablo deserved red. Even with two days of space, I remain annoyed by an awful performance by an American refereeing crew. I have come to really enjoy the U.S. Open Cup, warts and all, but if it becomes yet another CONCACAF-type tournament that is determined through dodgy officiating, then I have better ways to waste my weeknights.

Life goes on and my love for Julius James still grows a little bit more each day. Stouffer carried the following quote from DCU's resolute center half after Wednesday night's disappointment:

“I want to thank the fans, the diehards, for still supporting us,” said James. “This is a really tough time for us and especially for them. We try really hard, you know. We train, we have our families, and the most important thing is that we satisfy the fans, and we haven’t been doing that this year, and I just want to sincerely thank the diehard guys for still coming and supporting us.”

I am a bit surprised by the comment, because DCU's fans have not -- as a general matter -- been transmitting a positive vibe for much of the season. Supporters have turned on players and have been quick to boo; enough so that Steve Goff's consistently sarcastic and patronizing tone seems to be a valid reflection of the fan base. At the same time, it would be unfair to paint supporters with a broad brush. Most of those at RFK on Wednesday night were fully behind the team and everything shouted at the players walking off the field at halftime was words of encouragement. It was, no question, a small group, but a group firmly behind the team.

It was, in other words, a fully different contingent of fans than those who seem to populate message boards shaking their fists with angry remonstrations and declarations that they will no longer back the team and no longer care if they stay or go. For those outside of the club, reading this drivel would leave the impression that DCU fans are generally arrogant in their ignorance of the game, with outlandish expectations to boot. But as James seems to make clear in underscoring the point to media folks after a gut-wrenching loss, this may not be the side of supporters that the players are actually exposed to.

Supporters -- die-hard, ridiculous, fantastic, and pathetic all at once -- are what makes the games matter. I am constantly amazed by how much people are willing to sacrifice and how much effort people are willing to expend on behalf of an athletics team. I love Charlton as much for its supporters -- fantastic authors, brilliant minds, great people -- as for its history and its promise. I have come to become attached to Accrington Stanley largely out of a fascination at the resolve displayed by the team's supporters that the club will not only survive, it will flourish, if for no other reason then the steel of their collective will.

I arrived home today to a package from a member of the management board of Banbury United. Inside was a shirt signed by some of last year's squad members and a wonderful note thanking us for our sponsorship of a player. It was a nice gesture and something that resonated deeply: not only are Banbury's supporters willing to take on the responsibility of running the club, but they also do not shirk their responsibility to insure that the fan base continues to grow (regardless of how ridiculous the address is on the other end of the conversation). I have been similarly impressed by the supporters of the Blyth Spartans and Scotland's Stanraer FC. Everyone I have communicated with at these clubs has been, without exception, devoted to their teams and unfailingly kind in welcoming any interest expressed in their squads.

Supporters can do amazing things. Portadown FC, for example, reports that it was able to secure the signing of ex-Glentoran player Shane McCabe, in part, because of the financial support received from the Portadown Supporters Society. And, of course, supporters groups have managed to acquire a number of clubs to shepherd them from financial ruin, including two I am marginally involved with at Ebbsfleet United and Stirling Albion.

Similar levels of passion and tangible support would be most welcome in the DC area. Both DC United and Crystal Palace Baltimore appear to be facing imminent threats to their continued existence (at least in the area). The existence of these clubs, as well as of Real Maryland, offers invaluable opportunities to American and Canadian professional soccer players to hone their craft and make their mark on the sport. Indeed, this point is driven home by the recent experience of Real Maryland's center half Mason Trafford. I think Mason played every minute for Real Maryland this season and, in the games we saw at Richard Montgomery, he consistently showed well on the back line. His profit on it was a chance in Europe (Finland):


Contact: David Noyes



September 2, 2010

Trafford Finding Feet in Finland Real Maryland CB Makes Move to Europe

USL Feature

Thursday, September 2, 2010


His season with USL-2’s Real Maryland over, Monarchs center back Mason Trafford knew he wanted his next move to be to take a crack at breaking in with a European team.

With IFK Mariehamn in the Finnish Premier Division, the 24-year-old Canadian is getting that opportunity.

With help from his agent, Trafford’s highlight video gave Mariehamn’s manager Pekka Lyyski a chance to see the player, and from there he was brought in for a trial. On Sunday he signed with the club.

“I’m really enjoying the new club right now,” Trafford said via e-mail. “The club is a very tight-knit group - the management, the coaching staff, and the players all have a good relationship and that has made the transition much easier for me. Everything has been very professional so far, and I think that has allowed me to settle in and feel comfortable right from the start. I feel happy here, Mariehamn is a small city but very nice, and everyone has been good to me so far.”

Trafford has arrived in the middle of a relegation fight for Mariehamn, which currently sits in 13th place of the 14-team league, two points behind Oulu and FC Haka with six games remaining. In his debut on Monday, the side lost 3-1 to league-leading HJK Helsinki, but with games against Haka and bottom club Lahti part of the remaining schedule, the opportunity is there for the side to stay up.

After the season he just went through with Real Maryland, it would appear as though Trafford has gone from one tough situation to another, but Trafford himself believes he and a number of his Monarchs teammates learnt a lot from this season.

“Although we didn’t have success as a team,” Trafford said, “I think everyone involved came away having learned something, and hopefully myself and some other players can find success after a disappointing season.”

Trafford, who was with the Vancouver Whitecaps for the 2009 USL-1 season, certainly thinks his experience with the Monarchs helped pave the way for his new opportunity.

“I think I have become a better player as a result of my time in USL-2,” Trafford said. “RMFC allowed me to develop parts of my game and parts of myself that I couldn’t develop while I was at the Whitecaps. I was able to find a regular starting place at my preferred position, and also take on more of a leadership role. I have to tip my hat to Coach Anthony Hudson for bringing me in and having confidence in me. He also provided me with a different perspective on how to play this game, which I think helped me with my confidence and has prepared me during my time so far in Finland.

“It’s tough to find a place where you feel comfortable and a place that is suited to your game. I came away from USL-2 feeling like I had added an element that wasn’t there in Vancouver. And it led me here, to IFK, which is what I wanted to get out of the USL season, so in that respect I think my time in USL-2 has to be seen as a success.”

It may not be the EPL, but it is a hell of an achievement for a guy who had to play professional soccer at a high school football field in Rockville, Maryland. And, but for fans showing up and supporting the team, even that meager opportunity would not have been available.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010


A few things at the outset:

DC United did not lose tonight's U.S. Open Cup semifinal against the Columbus Crew because of the refereeing of the match. United lost the game because they could not convert two beautiful chances on goal -- one from Andy Najar and one Dejan Jakovic -- and can not do enough in the attacking third to profit off dominating possession and slick ball movement.

Pablo Hernandez dives. He does so ridiculously, shamelessly, and most importantly, unnecessarily.

Pablo Hernandez also deserved the red card he received for kicking out at Danny O'Rourke.

With that out of the way, I watched the Crew's game against Santos Laguna and, while the refereeing was not good, much of what was complained about by Crew supporters appeared (to me) to be unjustified.

On the other hand, tonight represented the single worst refereeing performance that I have witnessed this season at RFK. And it does not make sense to me. I have seen games called by Chris Penso before (he was the head ref for DCU's US Open Cup game against Dallas where he tossed Onalfo -- justifiably) and while I might quibble with some calls, he has been generally a decent referee. Not tonight. Penso lost control of the match by repeatedly and egregiously applying different standards for fouls. Eddie Gaven dove as brazenly as Pablo Hernandez in the game and yet received calls for almost every theatrical dive. Crew players went through United players on challenges and with elbows up on 50/50 balls and fouls were repeatedly waved off. At times Penso would glare at the United player on the turf. The most ridiculous moment for me came in extra time when Hedjuk launched two studs up tackles immediately in front of our seats -- a tackle that had earned yellow cards when similarly made by a DC United player early in the game. Not only was there no foul, let alone card, awarded, Hedjuk rolled around on the ground after missing the second tackle with a cramp and Penso stopped play.

I think it is generally poor form to question the integrity or impartiality of a referee, but Penso's performance, a referee who hails from Ohio, was so awful and one-sided tonight that it is impossible to believe that he is that incompetent.

And I have no doubt that others perhaps saw things differently. But we sit on the field at field level and have the same line of sight as the referee. What Penso saw was often the mirror image of what we saw. Some calls are close and our perception of events might be wrong. But it happened so often and so ridiculously tonight that I don't think I am wrong on this. It was consistent, it was frequent, and it was obvious. And the one word that each of us had on our lips while exiting the stands will be familiar to Crew supporters: "travesty"