Thursday, December 29, 2011


3 games at Comcast today and, in an unequivocal admission of an absence of imagination, I went to all three.

There are worse things then spending the day watching collegiate basketball for six hours. Particularly if you live in College Park, where the first two games offered a chance to watch two top twenty women's basketball in action and the third welcomed Alex Len into the fold.

Let me pause on the men's game first and state what is obvious to everyone who is a true Terps fan: Pe'shon Howard is, on his own, worth the price of admission. His dime-dropping is performance art; geometric designs that befuddle and bedazzle. Howard drew Coach Turgeon's ire after foregoing a layup to flip the ball back to either a trailing Padgett or Pankey to set up a slam. The degree of difficulty of the dish surpassed that of the layup, but Howard clearly enjoys rewarding his teammates' hustle more than putting points on the board.

Len's debut is the story for the win over Albany and he is as advertised. Howard, however, is a very, very good point guard. So now, for the Maryland faithful, what was supposed to be a down year now features a ridiculous scoring machine in Terrell Stoglin, a fantastic assist man and floor leader in Pe'shon Howard, a dangerous, versatile seven footer in Alex Len, and a solid, steady perimeter force in Sean Mosley. Throw in three exceptionally athletic wild-cards (Nick Faust, Mychal Parker, and Ashton Pankey) and the indefatigable effort of James Padgett and there is some room for optimism heading in to conference play beginning with NC State.

But whatever else I saw today at Comcast, the thing that will stick is Elena Delle Donne. My eldest fell asleep shortly before tip-off and I settled in to watch the game knowing nothing about either team on the court. I spent the entire first half wondering what number 11 was doing on Delaware's roster.

I had to wait a few hours to learn the answer, provided in this terrific recent piece by Amy Farnum.

Just wow.

Sunday, December 25, 2011


I spend way too much time in my personal life complaining about the poor quality of the Washington Post's sports section; whining that is patently hypocritical insofar as I constantly read the Washington Post's sports page.

(In contrast, I've never bothered to read a single word of Steve Rosenbloom's writing and tend to only glance at David Haugh's ruminations when a competent commentator -- this week, the Chicago Tribune's own Dan Pompei -- ably demonstrates the limitations of the faculties waking the news).

So, I register here another opinion of no consequence: Paul Tenorio is very good at his job. He covers a non-glamorous beat -- prep sports -- with a minimum of snark and a high level of enthusiasm and ability.

And he doesn't miss opportunities to tell meaningful stories.

Tenorio's Christmas gift to soccer fans this week was a neat little profile of Manassas's Junior Flores and the quandary of national representation for the country's elite soccer players that happen also to be the sons of recent immigrants.

The question of whom to represent often gets twisted into a proxy on national pride, when, for players, the response to the question seems eminently practical: who will give me the opportunity to play at the highest level of international competitions?

One example left out of Mr. Tenorio's story is Maryland's own Rodney Wallace. For whatever reason, Wallace continues to be under-appreciated in his home country. But that's probably not going to be a problem for him in Costa Rica: the former Terp netted again for the Ticos on Thursday, this time in Venezuela.

In terms of University of Maryland soccer, however, Mr. Wallace's international achievement was unfairly overshadowed by Jurgen Klinsmann's invites for this year's January camp featuring three former Terps: Graham Zusi; A.J. DeLaGarza; and Omar Gonzalez.

Wallace, Zusi, DeLaGarza, and Gonzalez. 36% of the starting lineup from Maryland's last championship game in 2008.


Thursday, December 22, 2011

Good Luck Devon

Another poor season led to all kinds of casualties, many of whom were tough to see go, including: Marc Burch, the Terp who made the transition from attacker to unfairly maligned fullback; Santino Quaranta, the Baltimore-native who became the most popular D.C. United player over the last four years; and Clyde Simms, the classiest dude I've ever had the privilege to cheer for -- D.C. Scores' loss is unquestionably Boston's gain.

Of those let go, the hardest one to take is Devon McTavish, who announced his retirement from professional soccer today at the age of 27. Probably not a sentiment shared by a lot of United supporters, but McTavish was a major reason I became a committed fan of the team. Devon did everything asked of him and made the best of a thankless role.

I'd like to say that my lasting mental image of Devon was an unpleasantly cold March day at RFK back in 2008. McTavish's brace against Jamaica's Harbour View in the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Champions' Cup was certainly unexpected, but no less so than how enjoyable the experience was for the fans who came out for the match.

But that's not it. What will stay with me is the scene outside of FedEx Field after the Real Madrid friendly. Throngs of fans had gathered to catch a glimpse of the Madristas' bus and as we walked back through them to get to our car, we ran into Devon navigating anonymously throw the crowd with a rolling carry-on bag behind him. If the contrast between the adulation showered on the Galacticos and the indifference shown him bothered McTavish, it wasn't evident. He just seemed to be enjoying the day.

It may be bizarre, but pointing out Devon to my eleven-month old daughter and exchanging a brief greeting is all I really remember about the game. I can think of no better demonstration of why I feel blessed to root for D.C. United and am not chomping at the bit to get into the Bernabeu.

Good luck Devon. Thank you.

Friday, December 16, 2011


The night before Maryland men's soccer team was slated to meet Louisville in the NCAA tournament, my eldest and I were having dinner at the Macaroni Grill in Silver Spring prior to catching the kid's movie of her choice. Not my favorite restaurant, but my daughter got to make the call and I simply could not cajole her into selecting Nando's.

Fifteen minutes or so after we had sat down and ordered, in walked Louisville's team followed by an impressively large group of boosters and family members. And as the very talented college soccer team enjoyed an evening meal, including three seniors expected to be taken in the first round of next year's MLS draft, I got to talk to my kid about the tournament game the next day in the context of a personal familiarity with the athletic contestants that I had never had as a kid.

That dinner made her enthusiastic about the game early Sunday evening. We sat on the grass hill/embankment and I, once again, counted my blessings. Shortly thereafter, Athletic Director Kevin Anderson strolled up the same hill with his lovely family and I momentarily considered bounding over to him and thanking him for working to create an environment where I could take my kids to games with pride. I demurred, having earlier interrupted a private moment of President Wallace Loh's to introduce ourselves, but have come to regret not stridently expressing support for the regime change that brought Randy Edsall to College Park.

These thoughts kept haunting me as we sat in a cavernously empty Comcast Center on Wednesday night watching Zeke's Florida International Union embarrass Maryland for long stretches of the game. For my daughters, this was their second college hoops contest of the week, having endured the Georgetown-Howard match at Verizon on Saturday. The contrast between the two games was stark. While Georgetown's fans were stunned by how long Howard stayed in the game, they remained supportive throughout and got behind the team at key stretches. Maryland's fans took the opposite tact, bitterly grousing throughout most of the game. At one point, I needed to calm down the infant by walking around and found that I didn't need to actually see the game to follow the action: every time Maryland missed any shot or committed a turnover, the crowd collectively groaned in exasperation; every time FIU scored, the crowd behaved as if it had been wounded.

There is no reason this should happen. Mark Turgeon's doing an admirable job with what he has and, in the absence of Pe'Shon Howard and Alex Len (who both return over the next two games), Maryland is 6 and 3 with wins over a Big East team (Notre Dame) and a Pac-12 team (Colorado). Unless they trip up -- as they've come close to doing the last two games -- they're likely to go into the conference season with ten wins. And while the talent has been derided, there are some good players still on this roster; I really enjoyed Ashton Pankey's performance against FIU.

And, yet, Kevin Anderson continues to bear the brunt of criticism leveled at University of Maryland athletics. All kinds of voices (including alums who own small businesses, go to a few games, and, as such, are entitled to lecture the school about the constitution of the football program) have been popping off about what needs to be done to fix Maryland football and basketball and the grievous ways in which the "legacies" of Ralph Friedgen and Gary Williams were tarnished. But we're through the football season and now comfortably into the basketball season. The one thing that's been pretty consistent is piss-poor fan support.

According to the largely useless Report of the President's Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics (Nov. 11, 2011), overall fundraising revenue (composed of Terrapin Club contributions, major gifts, and endowment revenue) fell from $15.3 million in fiscal year 2008 to $11.1 million in fiscal year 2009 -- a 28% decline in a single year while, by the way, both Friedgen and Williams were coaching their respective programs. Fundraising revenues fell again in FY2010, to $10.1 million (again, while Friedgen and Williams were still coaching) and to $9.1 million in FY2011. The $6.2 million dollar decline in fundraising revenue from FY2008 to FY2011 constituted nearly 6 times the $1.2 million dollar operating loss Maryland Athletics experienced in FY2011 and more than the projected loss for any future year through FY2017. The amounts aren't split out, so it is unclear how big of an impact declines in endowment revenue had on the overall budget, but the USA Today's "College Athletics Finance Database" pegged endowment and investment income as contributing less than $500k to total revenue in FY2010.

Contributions (fundraising) are just as big of a component of the overall athletics budget as football revenue or basketball revenue at Maryland. Kristi Dosh analyzed figures reported to the U.S. Department of Education for FY2010 and observed that Maryland clears the second least amount of football revenues in the ACC -- $11.5 million (compared to $10.1 million in revenue from contributions the same year), just ahead of Wake Forest. Duke, the school immediately above Maryland in terms of football revenue in the ACC, generated $16.1 million in revenue from their terrible football program, 40% more than what Maryland earned. Debbie Yow's new school earned almost twice what Maryland earned in football and Virginia Tech earned almost three times the Terps' take. On the flip side, Maryland spent the least on its football program.

For basketball, Ms. Dosh reported revenue for the Terps of $10.7 million in FY2010, putting it in the upper end of the ACC compared to $26.7 million at Duke, $20.6 million at UNC, $10.4 million at NC State, $9.8 million at Virginia, $9.3 million at Virginia Tech, $9.1 million at Wake Forest and Georgia Tech, $8.0 million at Boston College, $7.1 million at Clemson and Miami, and $5.8 million for Florida State.

While basketball revenue seems significantly higher for Maryland basketball, Ms. Dosh's reporting would seem to confirm that Maryland's financial contributions have been relatively meager compared to the athletics program at the University of Virginia which received $26.0 million in contributions for FY2010, while Florida State received contributions amounting to $23.2 million and Virginia Tech's received $16.1 million in contributions as reported in this article from Ms. Dosh.

So, likely because football revenue and contributions revenue put Maryland at the lower end of the ACC totem pole in FY2010, the school relied heavily on student fees -- purportedly the fourth most in the country -- generating $13.7 million from enrolled students. Thus, current (cash-strapped) students contributed more to the FY10 budget than alumni, which seems completely crazy.

Other than noting that luxury boxes at Byrd have been a financial drain rather than boon, the President's Commission Report doesn't spend nearly any time discussing the revenue woes that seem to afflict the program. And while the Report frequently discusses expenditures in context of other conference schools, it makes no such comparative effort with respect to revenue.

But maybe that just acknowledges the slim prospects of embarrassing this fanbase into action. For a game broadcast on ESPN, attendance -- both of the student and non-student supporter variety -- was horrific Wednesday night. Given what the financials indicate about compulsory support from the students, I'm not bothered that they don't show up. But for alums and general sports fans in the region, tickets could be had in the secondary market for less than $5, cash parking at a garage in easy distance from Comcast was $10. Still, the upper bowl was virtually empty. Our row in the lower bowl was completely empty. No one could be bothered.

The other side of the coin here is that A.D. Anderson has a unique opportunity to take a hard look at the culture of University of Maryland sports. He now has a chance, looking out across empty seats in both Byrd and Comcast, to think about how much of a role "F U!" chants and unvarnished front-running play in retarding support for the school's terrific athletic programs.

In the meantime, empty seats at Comcast mean more room to spread out the winter coats, baby toys, and diaper bag and put me at a greater distance from the caterwauling that seems to characterize most of contemporary Terp nation.

Sunday, November 27, 2011


I read Tracee Hamilton's most recent column as my three-year old napped prior to tip-off of the Maryland-Florida Gulf Coast game. We were taking our daughters to their first Maryland men's basketball game after a pleasant Tuesday evening visit to campus for my five-month old's first Maryland women's basketball game.

The view of Comcast that my girls had at both games was roughly the same, as the stadium was largely devoid of fans for Mark Turgeon's second home game of the year. The thousands of empty seats led the Baltimore Sun's Don Markus to observe:
One more thing. I have never seen the Comcast Center as empty as it is tonight. I know it's Thanksgiving break, but the marketing department should have done a better job getting tickets out to youth groups, etc. to try to fill the student section behind the basket.
Of course, if Markus ever wants to see Comcast more empty, he need only show up to a women's basketball game.

Hamilton's frivolous lament stuck with me during the game because it seemed to so perfectly reflect the ethos of what it means to be a Washington-area sports fan. It also encapsulates why midwesterners (among others) have such difficulty sympathizing with the fickle nature of the DC-area sports fan.

Washingtonians behave as if this is an anointed city of Champions. And not just run-of-the-mill "we're ridiculously, phenomenally blessed in these particular areas of sport" but Champions in things that will earn the attention of important people around the globe. What matters is the Redskins competing for the Super Bowl, the Wizards marching towards the Eastern Conference finals, the Nationals stirring towards a wild-card spot, the Capitals hoisting the Stanley Cup, and the Terps in play for a BCS bowl or yet another Final Four men's basketball tournament appearance.

The complaints about the dire status of Redskins and Terps football, Wizards and Terps men's basketball, and Washington sports generally comes at a time when my enjoyment of local sports -- particularly those at the University of Maryland -- is at an all-time high. And the incongruences between the way sports are covered in this region and what actually takes place become all the more remarkable.

The best example I can give is from two weekends ago beginning with Veterans Day.

The weekend began with a trip to Ludwig to watch the Maryland women open up their NCAA tournament games against a La Salle team that had given up seven goals all season. Led by a fantastic performance by sophomore transfer Hayley Brock, the Terps put five in the back of the net against the Explorers in one game. There were probably more La Salle students in the stands for the game than Maryland students, but those Maryland supporters that showed up were treated to a terrific showing by an extremely talented Terp team that had sputtered a bit through ACC play.

After the game, we walked down to Comcast to watch the women's basketball team open the regular season by blowing out Loyola. And, as usual, the student showing was even more sparse than at the soccer game. Even with few eyes on them, Coach Frese's team served notice that this year's squad is much stronger than last year's version.

Saturday night, we traveled over to FedEx Field to catch Maryland get whacked by Notre Dame. There were probably better ways to spend the evening and there's little doubt that the Terps are not a good football team, but, for us, we're not going to do a lot of traveling with the team and sitting down on the field engulfed by Notre Dame supporters afforded us a level of intense fan support that is unmatched at Byrd on gameday. Plus, despite being pounded on the scoreboard and pummeled in the stands, we got to watch solid linebacker play out of Demetrius Hartsfield and freshman Alex Twine.

And Sunday, I went to Comcast twice -- first for the Maryland women's prolific beat down of a very, very good Georgetown team (a team that embarrassed Georgia's women tonight in Las Vegas) and later for Coach Turgeon's inaugural win as head coach of the Maryland men against UNC Wilmington. For both games, the Center was largely empty. And the massive line from community supporters waiting to meet the Maryland women's players and coaching staff after the Georgetown upset was piteously juxtaposed with the short wait I endured to get into the men's game as students got their tickets scanned, then turned around and walked out of the stadium (something I've never previously seen first hand).

In between all of that, I also attended my first ever field hockey games, watching Maryland beat Iowa in their first round NCAA tournament game and then sitting through most of a thrilling, tense affair that concluded with the Terps upending Syracuse to advance to the Final Four.

Of all the Maryland events I went to that weekend, the Syracuse field hockey game was the single-best sporting event; although I had little idea of what was going on in terms of rules or playing strategy, the contest was so engrossing I forewent a large part of the Maryland-Georgetown game. And the timing could not have been better... the next weekend, for entirely bizarre and providential reasons, we toured the Field Hockey Hall of Fame housed in Collegeville, Pennsylvania on Saturday and then my three-year old and I watched, through a live feed, Maryland's stunning comeback win over the Tar Heels in the National Championship game on Sunday.

I may not have any ability to appreciate the subtlety of the sport, but even my three-year old could appreciate the drama of a two-goal comeback with four minutes in regulation and the exhilaration of Jill Witmer's determined run in overtime to give the Terps yet another National Championship.

But an NCAA field hockey championship is not a real championship and Kevin Anderson still deserves to be fired and Debbie Yow remains the worst person in the world. And *yawn* we've got another top ten women's basketball team in College Park. And *shrug* Maryland's men's soccer team absolutely obliterated West Virginia -- with a hat-trick from future professional Casey Townsend -- in their opening game of the NCAA tournament, roughly a week and a half after Maryland alum Omar Gonzalez was named MLS defender of the year and shortly before he and fellow Maryland alum A.J. DeLaGarza would start together and secure a clean sheet MLS Cup win.

Of course, all of the above relates only to Maryland.

After skipping the Georgetown men's home opener to watch field hockey, I went to Verizon that Monday to see the win over UNC Greensboro and was floored by how good Georgetown's young team was. I sat down behind Roy Hibbert, equally impressed by how accommodating Hibbert was with fans in the crowd and how impressive Georgetown's freshman class looks on the court. For those who were paying attention, the Hoyas remarkable run at the Maui Invitational wasn't wholly unexpected -- indeed, on the strength of the Greensboro game I stayed up to watch the Kansas opener live because I thought that Georgetown had a decent opportunity to pull the upset win. Although this year was written off as a down year for the program, the chances now are better than fair that the Hoyas will once again be among the nation's elite.

And none of the foregoing even begins to account for the insane level at which prep sports are played in this region: DeMatha's soccer team went undefeated and was generally considered the number one or two high school team in the entire country. The last ESPN ranking I looked at had Good Counsel's football team placed at sixth nationally.

Yet, even with these overflowing blessings, the accepted storyline is the paucity of compelling sports storylines this fall.

I don't get it.

On almost any weekend day over the last couple of months, anyone could easily have taken themselves over to watch world-class athletes compete in high-level sporting contests. Those of us in this region are privileged to have before us a bountiful cornucopia of excellence across fall sports -- football, basketball, soccer, and field hockey -- and yet the complaints about what we don't have register the loudest.

There are many, many more important things that I am thankful for. Nevertheless, the simple fact is, as a massive fan of sports, I am thankful for what D.C. offers. And, in my own selfish way, I'm thankful for all the empty seats around us that facilitate going to these matches with an infant and toddler in tow.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Puzzling Evidence

On Monday, the Columbus Crew, along with every other MLS team, released its list of players protected from the possibility of selecting by the Montreal Impact in the expansion draft. The ten players they chose to protect included a number of familiar names:
  • Balchan, Rich
  • Duka, Dilly
  • Gaven, Eddie
  • Hesmer, Will (GK)
  • James, Julius
  • Marshall, Chad
  • Miranda, Sebastian
  • Renteria, Emilio
  • Rogers, Robbie
  • Tchani, Tony
  • Anor, Bernardo
The inclusion of a former much-beloved DCU alum means that Columbus believed that Julius James and his $72k salary were important enough to the future of the Crew that the club risked losing an established contributor such as Andres Mendoza or Emmanuel Ekpo or an inexpensive prospect like Justin Meram or Korey Veeder. Again, we are less than one-year removed from the front office's determination that James did not merit a roster spot (replaced by Rodrigo Braseco) on D.C. United, dropping him into Columbus' lap at no cost to them.

For its part, D.C. United protected Dejan Jakovic.

Last season, Jakovic earned $201k to play 15 games, after managing 18 games in 2010 and 23 in 2009. In the 15 games Jakovic started, United gave up 24 goals -- a 1.4 goal against average per game that represented an improvement over the 1.5 GAA United had for the full season.

James started 31 of Columbus's 34 games and, in those matches, the Crew gave up 35 goals (the equivalent of a 1.1 GAA).

I like Jakovic and I enjoy watching him play. But the decision to protect Dejan and eliminate the possibility that Montreal would select a Canadian international that happens to be one of the highest wage-earners on the team seems about as puzzling as cutting Julius James.

Ethan White was automatically protected as a home grown player and protecting Brandon McDonald, who earned a paltry $45k last season, was an obvious move. With Perry Kitchen also protected, United has three good options at center back even before taking Dejan Jakovic into consideration.

And yet, there it is, United's front office will go into 2012 making the same gamble on Jakovic's health as has been made the last two seasons. And, at the same time, will go into the year with a complement of fullbacks that don't exactly strike fear into the heart of opponents.

It is unfair to kill the FO for dumping James without recognizing the shrewd acquisition of Brandon McDonald in season, but having benefited from Frank Yallop's erratic judgment already, people around the team have to have considered that Jakovic's salary would be better applied to trying to entice Bobby Convey back to RFK (perhaps this is not an option... I know nothing about Convey's previous tenure here).

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Grave Expectations

With the Washington Post's drums of doom beating with greater urgency and foreboding, our little of family of four set out for a morning constitutional to Byrd -- including a short pit stop at the recently opened local branch of Bobby's Burger Palace -- to catch the last home game of the football season.

There were seven home games on the schedule this year, but yesterday was the first fixture the whole family was able to attend.

All kinds of negative things will be written about this season (although the Post's assault is likely to subside as each of its columnists takes turns expressing their deep moral outrage at Penn State's Athletics Department, presumably highlighting the terrible human failings resulting from a singular focus on the results of a football program to the detriment of its character, before once again pummeling Coach Edsall for failing to claim victories in ball games this year) and much of this will detract from what, with the notable exceptions of the Temple and Boston College debacles, was a very entertaining slate of football games played at Byrd.

The second half of the game against Virginia sucked for Maryland partisans. Effort from certain Terps, most obviously at the edges of the defense, dissipated, and the Cavaliers rolled. But the weather was perfect, the scenery from high atop the stadium stunning on a fall day, and the first half gave another tantalizing preview of what Maryland football might look like next season.

At four months, my youngest doesn't form opinions about such things, but my three-year old has perspective to spare and we had, in another venue for another athletic event, a thoroughly pleasant afternoon on Maryland's campus.

All kinds of people in the neighborhood and within the Terrapin community are supremely disappointed. I have not had success in convincing friends and neighbors otherwise, but outside of the Temple game, there has been a lot of entertaining football played at Byrd.

Start with the Monday-nighter against Miami: I've been equivocal about expressing support for the full Terrapins athletic program (largely, to be sure, because of the culture of Friedgen's and Williams' respective squads). Sitting in the upper deck, that all washed away as the rain poured down and Maryland attacked a weakened Hurricane squad. That night, I walked back home from the stadium in a downpour soaked to the bone but exhilarated by the event.

Two weeks later, I returned to watch the Terps get battered by the Mountaineers completely encased within drunken WVU students who periodically broke into "We're going to the SEC!!!" chants as West Virginia piled up points. As the alcohol wore off, Maryland made an insane run that fell one drive short. A single Danny O'Brien misread overshadowed a furious three touchdown onslaught that had the Mountaineers on their heels and their fans finally exhaling with a minute fifteen left in regulation.

We were out of town for the Temple game the next week and, as such, were spared the spectacle of a comprehensive drubbing in miserable weather. By coincidence, we were staying at the same hotel north of Philadelphia as Maryland's women tennis team -- when guests attempted to harangue the players about the upset, they shrugged it off. So did we.

The victory against Towson the week thereafter wasn't exactly comforting -- Maryland looked awful. Another comeback that fell short -- this time engineered by C.J. Brown -- against a far better team in Atlanta against Georgia Tech instilled a bit of hope.

Georgia Tech bled into a colossal home return against Clemson. And for every Terrapin booster complaining about the program, I'd like to hear how he felt after Matt Furstenburg crossed into the end zone. Actually, considering Nick Ferrara's kick to Sammy Watkins on the next play, perhaps it is tough to remember any elation from that game.

So, now, with bad losses to Florida State and Boston College, let's all remember that Maryland went 8 and 4 during the regular season last year -- and won a luxurious trip to RFK for the Military Bowl. Never mind the 2-10 season in 2009. And never mind these numbers: 51,263; 47,954; 44,452; and 39,168. That would be the average home attendance figures for Maryland football from 2007 through 2010.

This year? 42,355.

I had high hopes for Coach Edsall and the rest of the staff, but truth be told, the performances haven't been encouraging. Maryland's special teams play, in particular, has been horrific and has not appreciably improved as the season has progressed. But we'll be getting season tickets again next year and root for the Terps with a clear conscience.

Friedgen's three-year run from 2001 through 2003 was incredible. But his early success masked deficiencies that would become all too apparent as mediocre season followed mediocre season. Coach Edsall will not be afforded the same margin for error that allowed Friedgen to post a 41 and 41 record from 2004 through 2010.

The process is more important than the results and while it will make things more difficult in the near term, I want the college football program I support to be under close scrutiny. We went to our first Maryland football game in 2002. Even to a passive observer of the program, things have not been right. I'm more confident now about its relative integrity; maybe that's wrong and maybe I'll be disappointed, but I'm way more interested in watching Terps football now then I've been over the last decade.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Unanswered Questions

I am a frequent visitor of Steve Goff's "Soccer Insider" on the Washington Post. It is great to see regular coverage of D.C. United in a local paper with national circulation, but I fail to understand how soccer fans in the region should be satisfied with what continues to be low-quality writing and analysis of a sport of major professional and amateur significance in the area.

Last week Goff published an interview with DCU's Kevin Payne in two parts. The fact that the interview took place and that it was disseminated is fantastic, a boon to any United supporter. But the substance of the interview is remarkable. If there were betting lines for such things, no sportsbook would take any action on Goff harping on Charlie Davies and working in a reference to Davies' recently-filed civil suit (an action that has clearly offended Goff's strong moral sensibilities).

But let's spend a moment on what President Payne actually said, substantively:
“We need another center back. We have Ethan [White], Dejan, Brandon [McDonald] but I feel strongly we need to have another natural center back. It’s fine to know that Daniel Woolard, in a real pinch, can play there, but I don’t think you want to start guys like [Woolard and Marc Burch] as center backs. They’re good left backs."
Another center back? That would seem to be an interesting comment. I seem to remember that United had a center back under contract -- a guy that many United supporters thought was one of the few bright spots in an otherwise dismal 2010 campaign.

When Julius James was unceremoniously cut at the beginning of this season, Goff explained:
James played a lot of minutes on a terrible team and wasn't very good. They shopped him around. No one was interested in relinquishing anyone or anything. He might get picked up at some point.
So it would seem noteworthy that the same guy who "wasn't very good" started 31 of 34 games for a team that finished three spots higher in the eastern conference, made the playoffs, and gave up 15% less goals for the season (52 for DCU and 44 for Columbus).

Nevertheless, the front office's decision to cast away a competent (and inexpensive) centerback does not merit mention in response to the team president's lamentation of a lack of depth at the same position?

That gives away the game. Goff doesn't seem to be terribly interested in soccer as an actual athletic competition and, yet, for whatever reason ... this is apparently the best we get.

I vacillate on whether this is a fair characterization of someone I read fairly often. But the day that the U.S. Women's National Team released the roster called in for the November 19th friendly against Sweden, Goff (appropriately) posted a note about the WPS's termination of majicJack FC, running Dan Borislow's response stressing his own purported commitment to the national team. The piece, however, failed to even mention that Georgetown's Ingrid Wells formally received a call in to join the country's best female soccer players. Not a mention.

We get it Steve, women's professional soccer is in trouble. It could fail and you've got no qualms about piling on. But not even a hat tip to an incredible achievement by one of the best women's collegiate soccer players to have ever graced this region?

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Student Athletes

For Maryland (and, more directly, University of Miami) football fans, the fallout from "The U"'s latest heinous scandal is a matter of great interest in advance of their September 5th opener up here in College Park. As yet more Miami athletes are accused of receiving improper payments and benefits from a crooked booster, the academic aspect of collegiate athletics seems entirely absent.

There are a number of reasons why making the trek over to Ludwig for Friday night's huge matchup between the two elite women's soccer teams of Stanford and Maryland (it ended up being a fantastic game fraught with tension on a beautiful night), but what stood out to me the most was the play of Stanford's Chioma Ubogagu.

Maryland boasts some impressive talent -- Jasmyne Spencer is a very entertaining player (and should have been awarded a penalty that would have determined the game) -- but Ubogagu is a special player. The freshman had a brilliant first half and I spent halftime trying to learn more about her on the wireless: from Coppell, Texas; fresh off a team that won the Class 5A state championship; the granddaughter of a former Tottenham Hotspur and Nigerian national team player and one of the most heavily recruited female soccer high school athletes from last year's class.

Chioma was so heavily recruited that she turned down an offer from the elite women's program in the country at the University of North Carolina to play soccer at Stanford. Why?:
“It was just the best of both worlds, educationally and soccer-wise,” Ubogagu said. “I kind of wanted to go a place that I could start a tradition. Stanford has never won a national championship, and I'd love to be a part of that as opposed to just being another ring.”
Ms. Ubogagu's profile notes that she boasted a 4.975 GPA in high school. In a February 2010 interview, Chioma was asked what some of her goals were in her junior year in high school. Her answer:
Academically, my goal this year was to make all A’s [every] 6 weeks which I have kept up with so far. Soccer wise, I would love to win another state championship.
Per a nice profile on ESPN Rise, prioritizing academics comes from her parents and the opportunity to play soccer is conditioned on excelling in the classroom.

I am deeply ambivalent about big time college football and men's college basketball. While the poor academic achievements of the majority of Gary Williams' and Ralph Friedgen's players may not have bothered many supporters of the college's athletics programs, it has been, alongside the abusive nature of student support for those two teams, a major factor in keeping our family away from their games.

But when the balance is right -- when athletics is something clearly and intrinsically tied to the academics of a university -- there's no ambivalence in the stands. Chioma Ubogagu would seem to be the living paradigm of all that collegiate athletics aspires to be.

A few random unrelated additional notes riffing on Maryland alums:

This household was very happy to see the news that Rodney Wallace has been called in to the Costa Rican national team. Listed as a midfielder, he'll get a chance to play on the wing alongside or behind Christian Bolanos -- one of our favorite international footballers. We'd have much preferred to see Wallace get a shot in the U.S. men's national team, but it is hard to see how he'll be able to generate enough buzz off of his performances for the Portland Timbers to catch Jurgen Klinsmann's eye.

I love nearly everything about the Timbers' entry into the MLS, but the team is not exactly developing Maryland talent. And, for that reason, we were similarly very happy to see Jeremy Hall move to FC Dallas. We had hoped that getting away from Red Bulls would allow Hall to show his terrific talent and while that may not have worked out, early returns for Dallas have been promising. If nothing else, Hall's change of address led to me watching a phenomenal performance tonight from Brek Shea in Kansas City.

On the other side of the spectrum, we noted that the Harrisburg City Islanders beat the Rochester Rhinos in a USL Pro semifinal and will face Orlando in the championship on September 3rd. Neither Jason Herrick nor Drew Yates will take part in the game, as both were lost to season-ending injuries early on. Herrick reportedly suffered a concussion that killed an already disappointing first professional season, and Yates injured his ACL. I've not been able to locate information discussing either's progress (or lack thereof) in recovery, but we hope that it is swift for both.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Badge of Honor

There's no real new news on the progress of FIFA's ongoing investigation of CFU officials.

There's the temporary spectacle of a non-Colin Klass led Guyana Football Federation, where Franklin Wilson expects to keep his seat warm until Mr. Klass's suspension concludes. And then there is Mr. Klass's concession that he expected FIFA's actions. Not, of course, because he did anything wrong, but because he is "one of the outspoken leaders in Caribbean football . . ." Mr. Klass is, then, fully understandably "very disappointed" in the Ethics Committee and he's "upset about it . . ."

The mother ship's move to silence leaders of Caribbean football would lead to more hue and cry from the region if, say, it looked like there was such a crackdown. For while Mr. Klass's future career in international football looks to be very much in doubt, fellow compatriot and Jack Warner-loyalist Captain Horace Burrell is entertaining visions of running not just the CFU but CONCACAF as well. It is a possibility currently openly discussed in Jamaican football circles, with an eye towards the benefits that would potentially inure to the country should Capt. Burrell be elevated.

Around these parts, Bill Archer -- who has provided brilliant commentary and background on the topic for uninitiated Americans like myself -- has asked for someone to lecture him on how Andrew Jennings has no obligation to consider his sources with respect to the current low-intensity campaign to discredit one Chuckie Blazer. I'll confess to bemusement at the full-throated defense of Mr. Ten Percent.

First, the source of the information does not detract from the newsworthiness of the content of the information. The fact that Jack Warner is the person behind the information fed to Andrew Jennings seems uninteresting. What is, instead, interesting is the validity of the information provided. And while we may quibble as to whether characterizing the FBI as investigating Mr. Blazer's financial transactions is misleading, the reality is that Chuck's financial affairs are most curious.

Second, the history of Mr. Jennings' reporting would seem to have established that he is heavily reliant on self-interested whistleblowers disclosing information to attack opponents and, further, the return fire from such escapades in order to obtain information that is otherwise entirely concealed from the public. One sinner hands Mr. Jennings a dossier of documents with the goal of undermining another sinner; the sinner in the cross hairs, in turn, slips other sheets of papers under the many doors of an unreliable blogger hoping that he will run with it.

Here, Jennings runs stories criticizing Chuck Blazer's financial dealings. Mr. Blazer, in turn, lets loose on Jack Warner's continued interference in CONCACAF's affairs and how he's screwing CFU. And the rest of us are awaiting the next salvo while wondering what the problem is with stoking this conflict. Chuck Blazer's not just a really fat rich guy. He's a really fat guy who became rich as an executive in international football on the coattails of Jack Warner's profligate reign over regional football while acting as an attack dog for other men who made it rain off of the beautiful game.

Playing some FIFA executives (and former executives) off of others would seem to be a very fruitful strategy for a reporter.

Consider, for example, Yves Jean-Bart, who took a different angle in pleading his innocence earlier this week. Jean-Bart noted that there was no shame in FIFA in being investigated by an Ethic Committee. After all, as Jean-Bart explains, Sepp Blatter, Julio Grondona, Ricardo Texeira, Jerome Valcke "and others" were all under investigation at one time or another and who would not want to be part of that illustrious group?

For what it is worth, Yves Jean-Bart claims that he is only being investigated because representatives from Haiti failed to meet with investigators in the Bahamas (Jean-Bart, alas, had no Bahamian visa, and the association's secretary, Jacques Lionel Desir, was at the Copa America). Dadou is clean and everyone, even those that despise him, knows this:
"Je suis clean. Tout le monde le sait, et meme ceux qui me haissent."

All of which doesn't really explain why Jean-Bart is the only official from the national association under investigation, but no matter. It makes him part of the constellation . . . Blatter, Grondona, Texeira, Valcke and now, Jean-Bart!

Where else but FIFA could being the subject of an ethical investigation constitute a badge of honor?

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Terps 2.011

Two very pleasant trips to campus today.

An early morning constitutional following the Arsenal and Liverpool tie (nice to see Carl Jenkinson getting a full run out in major games -- he looks like he will be able to hold his own in the EPL) took us to the football stadium shortly after the end of the open practice, but still in time for the three-year old to get autographs from Coach Edsall, Coach Crowton, Kenny Tate, and Danny O'Brien.

The university does a terrific job with these events. The relaxed atmosphere was perfect for introducing my daughter to the stadium, showing her where our seats would be, and planting the idea of adding football games to the portfolio of sporting events the she will accompany me to. It is also nice to see how much a small community of Terps football supporters genuinely appreciate the access to and time spent by the team's staff and players.

We were back on campus seven hours later for the men's soccer team's exhibition against Georgetown. The event marked the first live soccer game attended by our youngest and we could not have asked for a nicer night as the backdrop for the match.

Maryland's starting eleven featured many familiar faces -- including three players that spent time with Real Maryland this summer (Will Swaim, Karou Forbess, and Alex Lee) -- and one unfamiliar face, as Marquez Fernandez paired up with Lee in the back.

While the game ended in defeat and had long stretches of sloppy play, I walked away impressed with Sasho Cirovski's team. Maryland started the game with two solid fullbacks, London Woodberry and Taylor Kemp, have a very strong holding midfielder in Helge Leikvang, a clever, entertaining wide player in Sunny Jane, and a strong, talented attacker in Patrick Mullins. Alex Shinsky got a run out as a substitute -- the team is certainly not hurting on depth.

But the principal takeaway from the game (for me at least) had to be Kyle Roach.

Brian Wiese's men came to Ludwig with aggression in their minds and hearts. Maryland players were punished in the midfield, with Georgetown's number 7 (I believe Gabe Padilla) rocking some clattering challenges against the Terps. Maryland is an extremely skilled and well-coached team (really liked the design of an early corner -- Forbess short to Kemp, curled past the back post to Mullins/Stertzer, with the ball headed back into the middle and the defense thoroughly unsettled), but they can be bullied and thrown off their game. When the referee allowed hard challenges (fouls), Maryland seemed unsettled.

Enter Mr. Roach as a substitute for Taylor Kemp at left back. Although a freshman, Roach is clearly the most physically imposing player on Maryland's roster and he left his mark on several Hoyas. Late in the game, Roach put in a poor corner and, in subsequently trying to win the ball back, blew up a Georgetown player to draw a caution (a straight red might also have been appropriate). Although not particularly tall (5'10"), Roach is big and fast and he gives Maryland an element of ferocity that, in the absence of Matt Kassel, Jason Herrick, and Ethan White, would otherwise be sorely missed.

Thursday, August 18, 2011


I am very late to this party.

Discussing Chuck Blazer with friends during D.C. United's terrific home performance against the Vancouver Whitecaps led one of them to note, "You haven't heard the story about the CONCACAF credit card and Scores?"

I had not and, as such, had missed Mel Brennan's excellent description of what it is like to be the General Secretary and Treasurer of CONCACAF. The outrage and disappointment Mr. Brennan felt on his first day on the job is palpable:

The [American Express Centurion credit] card existed on the back of the aggregated wealth of CONCACAF; the everyday commitment to football made by the people of CONCACAF’s forty nations (and the subsequent investment television broadcasters and advertisers make in football to reach those audiences, and the resultant sales they expect to garner from those audiences) made it possible.

And it was in Chuck’s name. And it just paid for food, strippers/dancers, and a set of massages.

That’s what the General Secretary and Treasurer of CONCACAF, the FIFA Executive from North America, spent the region’s money on…regularly.

Brennan's imagery is of gluttony unbound; of a man distinguished more by his avoirdupois than his professional achievements paying for women to pretend that they see past the folds with funds intended to promote the world's game in the region.

As much as Andrew Jennings (correctly) hangs the devastating public airing of Mr. Blazer's perfidiousness around the big man's neck, it is the picture painted by Brennan that should stick with people when Blazer tweets his congratulations to the U.S. Women's National Team for their good work. And that portrait should entirely eclipse any characterization of the man as an intrepid whistle blower willing to sacrifice the trappings of power for principle.

It is almost enough to make one eager for the coming reckoning.

Yet, there are far worse things than feckless executives with a taste for silicon.

Based on one of Bill Archer's recent posts, I picked up and read Stewart Bell's "Bayou of Pigs."

It was well worth the time, because it would otherwise be impossible to fully appreciate the insanity of Patrick John's role in international football.

Less than two months ago, Mr. John was handed another four year term as the head of the Dominica Football Association. The absence of Mr. John's name from the list of CFU officials under investigation -- following his decision to provide a sworn affidavit to FIFA during the 48-hour "come to Jesus" window -- would seem to indicate that there is a good chance that he'll finish out the new term.

Or perhaps not; not because he'll face discipline from FIFA, but because the boundless ambition of a small man has led him to eye bigger and better things.

If you click through the link and read the article, let that sink in for a moment. Mr. John moots his name as a potential replacement for Jack Warner at the top echelons of FIFA leadership while simultaneously declaring an undying love and affection for a man that is supposed to have nothing to do with international football. Mr. John's love letter to his forlorn friend reads:

"I would just like to tell him that he has been my friend and we will continue to be friends. I respect his decision to pull out from the football arena, but as a member of CONCACAF and CFU, I will still be in touch with him. I will continue to get his assistance and expertise in moving Dominica forward, as it relates to football."
The thought that Patrick John, enshrined by Jack Warner into the CONCACAF Hall of Fame in 2007, might be a serious candidate for promotion within FIFA is mind-boggling.

Patrick John was convicted of hiring a mercenary group composed of Ku Klux Klan members and neo-Nazis to violently overthrow the elected government of his country. He spent almost a decade in prison because of the crime. Per Bell's reporting, Mr. John defended himself in court against the charges using a line of argumentation that may have foreshadowed his participation in FIFA:

"It was only two thousand years ago when evidence of untruths and half truths, evidence contrived for obvious reasons and designed and created by persons with special interests, was given against a man who was charged with conspiracy to overthrow a government and install himself as king, and the court then condemned [him] and found an innocent man guilty. They raised and praised and claimed a murderer, Barrabas, and set him free, giving him all he desired, and up to today, descendents are living with the consciences. I am not guilty and I am totally and completely innocent of any charge."
The "Bayou of Pigs" story is incredible; it exemplifies the maxim that truth is, indeed, stranger than fiction. That Patrick John -- who owes his position to the machinations of Jack Warner to depose the legitimately elected former officers of the association -- has now cemented his involvement in the governance of international football is an equally incredible story. And they are both stories that every person interested in football in the CONCACAF region should know.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Keep Talking

Andrew Jennings has quite correctly turned the good ship Transparency towards the large floating mass that is currently heralded as its faithful steward -- one Chuck Blazer.

Jennings has been fed information regarding Blazer's remuneration and, well, Mr. Blazer's done well for himself.

The timing and substance of the information leaked means that you don't exactly have to be Nancy Drew to figure out where it is coming from. Indeed, Mr. Jennings' piece includes priceless missives from Lisle Austin's legal team of one Barry Blum, including the following:
‘It is laughable that FIFA enjoys a status as a not for profit sporting organization. It is actually a sinister business organization operated by robber barons with no regard for ethics or integrity; power is all that matters.’
(Just to clarify, Mr. Blum, you're suing to get your client back in charge of one of the outposts of the sinister business organization operated by robber barons with no regard for ethics or integrity which should not be considered a non-profit tax exempt entity? Good luck with this litigation strategy.)

On the substance of what Mr. Jennings reports, it is not exactly shocking or earth-shattering news that a FIFA executive loyal to Sepp Blatter has pocketed many, many farthings off the back of the beautiful game. All around the world the same song. The scope of Mr. Blazer's compensation is remarkable; his public trumpeting of his good fortune even more so. And certainly Mr. Jennings is absolutely correct in observing:
Nonetheless Blazer, Chairman of FIFA’s Media Committee, enjoys favourable reporting in the American media. He has been lauded as the ‘whistleblower’ who ejected Warner from FIFA.
The same may be said of the USSF as our own federation had made no effort to distance itself from the man.

But the support that Mr. Blazer enjoys in the federation and the apathy of the American media towards the circumstances of his enrichment may ultimately facilitate a reckoning. Because if there is one thing that Mr. Blazer has in common with many of his brethren in CONCACAF -- particularly in the CFU -- it is that he likes to talk. And not just talk, but locate himself as morally superior to all that may try to impeach him.

There is a nice example of this in Mr. Jennings' piece where it catalogs Mr. Blazer's outrage at being asked about his son's employment at CONCACAF:
‘Your question about my son is completely inappropriate. I am a public person and recognize that harassment from people like yourself with agendas to sell books and papers and who have little regard for the truth, comes with the territory.’
(Note: the desire to make money is obviously why anyone would report on the financial affairs of FIFA's executive members. It is, of course, a wholly dubious, commercially-corrupted enterprise. And a total insult to FIFA's doyens, who commit their time and energy to soccer in a selfless, tireless public-minded effort to bring world peace, through football, to the panting masses.)

But the better example can be found over with Richard Conway, who has a reply from Mr. Blazer up on his blog, which begins with "Mr. Jennings is an unreliable blogger who doesn't care much for accuracy or the facts." (Oh, snap! Do you see what he did there? "Mr." Jennings doesn't even merit the word "reporter" or "best-selling author" or "investigative journalist." He's only a mere blogger). Mr. Blazer is so certain that his number twos have no aroma that he decides to go into detail about the small matter of $250k remitted to him by the Caribbean Football Union:
In the instance of the mentioned 250k payment, Mr. Warner owed me the payment of a loan for over 5 years in the amount remitted. I was dismayed when he sent it with his accountant drawn on the CFU account, but was told by the accountant not to worry, it would be properly reflected to show that it was his money. Since then, Jack has resigned, but has not turned over the checking accounts of the CFU to their Executive Committee and Secretariat. I have had to bail them out by providing offices to them in our Miami CONCACAF offices to operate the regions competitions. Once he has turned over the accounts, we will be able to determine, whether as described by the accountant, the funds were Jack's, or if they were not.

I have previously stated that if they were not properly Jack's funds, as they alleged, then I would return it to the CFU.

At this point, Jack continues to thwart the progress of the CFU by not giving them access to their accounts and locking the CFU staff out of the office, while providing space for four accounting personnel paid by CONCACAF and now exposed as working for the WGOC (Warner Group of Companies). How absurd.

We are sending investigators into Trinidad to get the information from the banks and to protect our assets.

In other words, the story that Mr. Blazer has decided is entirely reasonable is that he was owed money for a loan by one Jack Warner. Mr. Blazer was repaid said loan not by payment drawn from an account belonging to Mr. Warner, but, instead, was paid from a check drawn from funds belonging to the Caribbean Football Union -- an organization headed by one Jack Warner. Mr. Blazer recognized that this did not seem kosher, but having been assured by Mr. Warner's personal accountant "not to worry," Mr. Blazer locked his concerns up in a little box, placed it in his morality chamber, and cashed the check.

How absurd.

This is from the same dude who earlier commiserated with Sky News regarding his absolute shock and horror at the audacity of Mr. Bin Hammam and Mr. Warner:

It is amazing to me that two intelligent men, who were both in possession of the FIFA Ethics Code, never recognized that what they were doing was in violation of that code and wrong. Furthermore, in their leadership roles, they clearly sent the message to others that what was happening was "approved" or "correct" given their advice to the members. What a tragedy to have leadership sending their members in directions so clearly wrong. They are fully accountable for this and even today seem to be condoning the inappropriate gifts they feel is a norm. Someone needs to adjust their norms.
How noble. How stirring.

The problem with Mr. Blazer's public declarations are that they are wholly reliant on the credibility of the person making the claims. Here, the track record isn't comforting.

But why does this matter?

Ultimately, with Mr. Blazer's guidance, CONCACAF has improved and the U.S. Soccer Federation has seen quantum leaps in the development of the game in this country. That Mr. Blazer is also rich because of it is, for him at least, a happy consequence.

Still, there is the small matter of who is going to run CONCACAF. And while officials like Jack Warner, Lisle Austin, and Colin Klass may receive their comeuppance, one name not on FIFA's lists is Captain Horace Burrell, leaving him free and clear to pursue the top posts at both the CFU and CONCACAF.

In a rational world, Captain Burrell's close ties to a fallen regime and his continued loyalty to persona non grata Jack Warner would disqualify him from serving, but, as Captain Burrell recognizes, the math is quite simple:
"There are some 40 countries in CONCACAF and approximately 30 in the Caribbean, so we just have to wait and see."
It is difficult to imagine a scenario where Captain Burrell will not be able to line up CFU's members in support of his candidacy -- there are likely to be many aggrieved individuals within the CFU looking for a chance to exact vengeance in the near term on Mr. Blazer and the lack of interest here at looking more closely into Mr. Blazer's affairs will undoubtedly be a rallying point for the Captain's supporters.

The risk to American soccer supporters is that opportunities for further development of the game will be caught in the crossfire.

With every word Mr. Blazer speaks in defense of himself (to the profound shrug of shoulders from American media), the coming power struggle in CONCACAF is cemented to play out as a battle between the CFU and the United States. And we're going to lose that argument.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Final Marks

Before getting to the 16 CFU member association officials who will now be in the crosshairs of FIFA's ethics committee, spare a thought for the plight of Barbados' Lisle Austin.

The former acting President of CONCACAF was suspended by FIFA for a year for seeking relief in a Bahamian court against CONCACAF's treatment of him.

Mr. Austin's response? He's ticketed himself a vacation from organized football for quite some time:
/PRNewswire/ -- The following is a statement issued by Lisle Austin:

FIFA's desperate attempt to suspend me through its kangaroo court affirms that it believes my rights to judicial due process are inferior to its interests of sweeping under the rug any attempt to bring transparency to the football world.

FIFA's present leadership has once again shown that it is a corrupt cabal of arrogance and cronyism, administered by individuals who continue to act outside the rule of law, seeking to destroy anyone who dares to question the existing regime.

The hearing was yet another attempt to marginalize and silence calls for reform and transparency in FIFA's lucrative dominance over the game of football.

I call on those who have already raised their honest voices – and those who have watched silently in fear -- to stand with me and demand accountability and good governance of world football, and an end to the dishonestly and greed that threatens to destroy the game we so love.

I will continue my action in the Bahamian court. I must fight for what is right and have no doubt that ultimately fairness and truth will prevail.

SOURCE Lisle Austin

Just to review, Lisle Austin paid a commercial service to distribute a press release that is -- I don't know how else to put it -- batsh*t crazy. Cue the conspiracy theories that Lisle Austin is being paid to make Sepp Blatter seem palatable.

But the tale of one man's utter delusion should not distract from the marquee: FIFA announced investigations of 16 CFU member association officials.

Colin Klass and Noel Adonis (Guyana);

Yves Jean-Bart (Haiti);

Franka Pickering and Aubrey Liburd (British Virgin Islands);

David Hinds and Mark Bob Forde (Barbados);

Richard Groden (Trinidad and Tobago);

David Frederick (Cayman Islands);

Osiris Guzman and Felix Ledesma (Dominican Republic);

Anthony Johnson (St. Kitts and Nevis);

Patrick Mathurin (St. Lucia);

Joseph Delves and Ian Hypolite (St. Vincent and the Grenadines);

Hillaren Frederick (U.S. Virgin Islands)
Attention paid to the members of this list will first be given to Colin Klass -- the only one of the 16 to be provisionally suspended pending completion of an investigation -- because of his long and controversial history in FIFA.

Recounting Mr. Klass's greatest follies is totally appropriate, but perhaps the more interesting thing is the fortuitous timing of these events. There are some parallels between Klass's current predicament and that of Dr. Bertie Chimilio in Belize. Mr. Klass faces growing domestic opposition amongst his own constituents and a looming threat of intervention from the government of Guyana. By naming Colin Klass (and Noel Adonis), FIFA has created the possibility of dreaming of a world where Mr. Klass isn't screwing Guyanese footballers.

The second name on the list that will garner attention is Haiti's Yves Jean-Bart because of his defense of FIFA and Mr. Blatter in the face of proposals to delay the President's re-election. And that's fine, but the inclusion of Mr. Jean-Bart and the Dominican Republic's Osiris Guzman and Felix Ledesma in the scope of FIFA's inquiry underscores the absurdity of the original official CFU line holding that the $40k was a grant to advance football in small nations.

The nations of Hispaniola are home to the second and third largest populations in the CFU. Amongst the far more accomplished footballing nations in Central America, only Guatemala has a bigger population than Haiti or the Dominican Republic. The little country meme doesn't fly there. Instead, these federations stand for where the CFU (and CONCACAF) have failed to make meaningful progress to develop the game in the region.

Switching gears, of interest from previous posts here, the problems of the Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation continue with the inclusion of the association's secretary Richard Groden on the list. And, as Stanford Conway at SKNVibes foreshadowed Sunday, FIFA also names St. Kitts & Nevis's President Anthony Johnson.

Of the remaining names, the fact that the U.S Virgin Islands' Hillaren Frederick is there will probably fly under the radar. If the investigation implies a potential suspension down the line, this would be a huge blow to USVI football which has made huge strides since ousting former President Derrick Martin in December.

Indeed, FIFA's announcement of an investigation of Mr. Fredrick was issued the exact same day as FIFA also released a puff piece lauding the rise of USVI's national team, with the article crediting Hillaren for bringing in Keith "Grell" Griffith in May to lead the team.

And I think that just about sums up the lunacy of all of this.

Derrick Martin headed the USVI Soccer Association for years. Mr. Martin failed to properly account for funds coming into the Association. Under his leadership, the federation simply stopped reporting financial information after 2007 and failed to hold an annual congress for three consecutive years.

And FIFA/CONCACAF/CFU did not care. And footballers in St. Croix, St. John, and St. Thomas suffered for it. Prior to Mr. Hillaren's presidency, the USVI's men's national team had played only 28 official games, losing 20 of them.

Exit Mr. Martin. This year, the team has beat the British Virgin Islands twice and advanced to the group stage of World Cup qualifying for the first time in the country's history. In two months, the USVI has moved up 51 places in world rankings.

But it may not be the hiring of Coach Griffith that will be Mr. Hillaren's most memorable act in May of 2011. One brown envelope has put the team's progress in jeopardy.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Pencils Down, Time Is Up

Tariq Panja reports that the other shoe has dropped; FIFA will begin "corruption proceedings against more than 10 Caribbean officials . . ." Per Mr. Panja's reporting, FIFA's ethics panel will meet today following more witnesses coming forward.

The committee will separately hear claims made against the august former CONCACAF head man Lisle Austin for his bizarre actions following the initial fallout. However, the identities of those that may be implicated regarding the May meeting is, as yet, unknown.

Some educated guesses can be made.

Trinidad's The Guardian notes that the country's FA president, Oliver Camps, stated that the federation had declined FIFA's invitation to provide more information regarding their involvement in the meeting.

So that probably doesn't bode well for a federation already in crisis.

And its probably worth pausing on the state of the T&TFF in the wake of Jack Warner's stewardship: it is bankrupt.

A trip scheduled to Port-au-Prince for a friendly against Haiti was canceled over a lack of funds.

And why is T&TFF bankrupt? Cue Trinidad's Minister of Sport Anil Roberts:
"The TTFF is the worst-run sporting organisation in Trinidad and Tobago," stated Roberts. "They flout all rules and procedures. They totally disregard all checks and balances that are here at the Ministry of Sport and the Sport Company. Checks and balances are very important for transparency, accountability and making sure we get value for money. This is taxpayers' money we are dealing with."
Minister Roberts was happy to provide examples to defend the decision to support football in Trinidad but not the federation:

"They presented a document which states that a assistant coach with the national team is being paid $120,000 per month. Our investigations shows that no assistant coach was getting anything close to that figure.

"So, at that time in August, we asked for all contracts for the coach Russell Latapy, the assistant coaches, the technical consultant, all of these things. We asked for contracts to verify these figures so that we can say this is a legitimate figure. We have not received one contract for anybody, whether it is Russell Latapy for a year ago, or whether it is now Otto Pfister." . . .

"We have no clue how much Mr Pfister works for. We have not been given a contract for Pfister or for anyone. No money can be disbursed to anyone without legitimate documentation. So, the Government has agreed that we will fund football. However, the TTFF will not get a blank cheque, or a cheque for any amount of money for them to do as they please," Roberts insisted.

But surely Mr. Warner has left a legacy for football that can be the foundation for a renewal?

Mr. Camps, Mr. Camps?:
"Football is just like any of the other sports. Just like many of them we don't have a permanent home for football, and just like many other sports we have to book the stadium and such venues for matches."
I seem to recall that a whole bunch of soccer stadiums were built in T&T. Wonder what happened to that.

In any event, as Mr. Camps explains, there just isn't any money to be made in football in Trinidad:
"You know that local football doesn't generate funds," Camps declared. "To generate spectator interest, we have to bring in top teams to generate funds. And usually after paying for these teams and paying the players and other expenses, most times we just break even. People think we make big money, but many times we just break even."
Just break even. I think that is Mr. Warner's motto.

Leaving Trinidad for now, Stanford Conway of SKNVibes penned a fine story published on Sunday regarding the role of St. Kitts and Nevis's FA in this rollicking feel-good story.

Per Mr. Conway's piece, the president of the St. Kitts-Nevis Football Association, Anthony Johnson, explained:
"We have in the past cooperated with the FIFA Ethics Committee in their investigation and we will remain committed to doing so in the future. That really is the gist of our position and I don't really wish to add anything further to that."
And that follows a June 6th press release from the association declaiming any involvement in nefarious affairs; no bribes offered or accepted there. So nothing really to see here.

But Mr. Conway is undaunted and he posits the following entirely appropriate questions:
If it were a fact that the money offered by bin Hammam to the CFU officials was gifts for the enhancement of their respective organisations and not as bribes, then why did the officials from The Bahamas and Turks and Caicos return theirs?

If it were a fact that the envelopes containing money were given to all officials present at the Trinidad conference, why did 15 of them denied [sic] receiving any? And if they had indeed accepted cash gifts for their associations’ development, was it recorded in their accounts ledgers? What was it used for? Where is the tangible evidence of its disbursement and why was it not publicised?
And most saliently for those members that chose not to come clean to FIFA:
If there were no infringement to FIFA's rules and regulations concerning the illegal transfer of cash, why then were Debbie Minguell and Jason Sylvester placed on a one-year ban by the Ethics Committee?
Mr. Conway sought out James Buchanan, a past General-Secretary of SKNFA, for his thoughts and, as explained in the article, the unwillingness of some CFU officials to provide honest disclosures or to walk away from Jack Warner has endangered the Union's power.

Buchanan describes Mr. Austin's ill-timed broadside against Chuck Blazer as "premature and tactically bad."

He also offers good advice for CFU's leadership:
"They cannot ostracise the CFU members who reported receiving cash. It is time for Captain Burrell and Colin Klass to step up and step off on their own and bring new direction to the CFU. The problem is that they will first have to come clean on the CFU scandal and avoid any FIFA sanctions."
Yet, even if they wanted to, Captain Burrell and Mr. Klass will be unable to follow the recommendation.

That train left the station a while back.

Or, switching metaphors, the test of leadership created by bin Hammam's "gifts" to the CFU is over. If Bloomberg's reporting is correct, a whole lot of people failed.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Seeds of Hope

Reviewing the corruption and abuse that has infected far too many of FIFA's constituent members (to say nothing about FIFA itself) inexorably leads to the conclusion that the international football is so deeply and fundamentally bent that it is beyond the possibility of reform. Cynicism, therefore, reigns supreme. When another venal federation official commits another horrific violation of the public trust, those that have seen the same story played out over and over should be excused for merely nodding their heads in disgust and moving on.

Cynicism, of course, concedes the territory. If we expect that FA officials are, by nature, venal, mendacious, and corrupt, then the corruption of football is an unremarkable consequence; an inevitability that must be accepted.

But why should the corruption of a game that millions enjoy playing and watching be something that is tolerated?

On Tuesday of this week, a remarkable thing happened: FIFA failed to throw the full weight of its support behind the Football Federation of Belize (FFB) and the FFB's President Dr. Bertie Chimilio. FIFA blinked.

When the Belizean government took on the FFB, FIFA took action in defense of its member organization. Belize was suspended from international football. Rather than cave at the threat of a shunning, the general popular wisdom in Belize seems to have been "So what?"

FIFA changed tack, lifting the suspension and facilitating a "Belize" team to play in a World Cup qualifier outside of the country. The game went on under the direction of the FFB and over the objection of the government . . . a slap in the face of the government and a show of solidarity with the good people at the FFB.

But Belize's advance to the next stage of qualifiers did not spark a popular movement to quell the government's actions. If anything, it signaled how far the game had fallen under Dr. Chimilio's guiding hands. As Amandala observed early this week:
[I]f FIFA wants an idea of just how deep and painful are the wounds caused to the Belizean football public by those presently in control of the FFB, they only need to note the fact that there was no national outcry or lament, except from a select few FFB stalwarts, when the FIFA suspension was first announced; and neither was there any great celebration when it was lifted. In fact, the qualifier games in Honduras were hardly even discussed in Belize football circles. What the Belize football family was most concerned about was the FIFA visit, and the possible changes that they hoped may result. As one aggrieved football family member put it, “it is not Belize, but instead it is the Bertie Selection that is participating in these games.”
Thus, although FIFA allowed the farce in Honduras to proceed, nothing changed in Belize. If FIFA was going to suspend Belize (and all financial support as well), so be it -- the price of continuing under this iteration of the FFB was simply too great.

In the face of unyielding opposition, FIFA took the easier way out. FIFA backed down:
Their Football Federation of Belize has received a sharp, stunning come-uppance from FIFA that's so severe, it can't even be called a slap in the face; it's more like a kick in the rear end.

Forgive the crude analogy, but it's that rough.
Specifically, FIFA ordered that FFB has to organize a Special Congress by September to adopt new statutes and an electoral code. New elections are to be held in December.

Now, Dr. Chimilio may still retain his title come January 2012; there is plenty of time to get districts back in line. But whether there is a new President of the FFB or not, the crux of this dispute was the government's unwillingness to recognize a private football association that had disclaimed any accountability to anyone other than CONCACAF or FIFA. And, in the end, the stand taken by the Belizean government forced FIFA to intervene and demand that the FFB make reforms.

For football fans and players in Belize and football supporters generally, this is a promising turn of events. Belize may never be a power in Central American football, but they should be much better than they are now and talented Belizean footballers ought to have the chance to compete at the highest levels, just as their neighbors do. Cleaning up the FFB is the first step in correcting these deficiencies.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Getting the Word Out

I am headed up to NYC this weekend and am thinking about stopping by Belson Stadium on Sunday to see where the Red Storm play and catch my first USL PRO game of the season (having not followed through on my intent to go see a match in Harrisburg or Richmond).

Proving once again that the "USL PRO is the strongest, most sophisticated and most experienced North American men’s professional soccer league below MLS, both on and off the field," FC New York's web-site contains virtually no information about the club. Because nothing says that you're "[f]ocused on franchise stability and longevity" like being incapable of telling (or unwilling to tell) the general public anything useful about your professional franchise.

But sifting through the rubble of Queens' answer to Crystal Palace Baltimore led me to a press release that I had missed two weeks ago (that, for some reason, refers you to FC New York's embarrassing web-site): FC New York will be the first professional team to visit Guyana since Hull City dropped by in 1974.
Garth Nelson, on behalf of the Guyana Football Federation and President Colin Klass, wrote that the GFF “would like to invite F.C. New York to participate in a three games tour in Guyana. The venture will be a positive boost to Guyana’s football.”
If after over two decades of autocratic rule, Colin Klass was finally able to bring a professional team as esteemed as FC New York to Guyana, imagine what he will be able to do with another twenty years in office?

Because the press release contains the same delusional self-promotion that has permeated much of the USL (“With this trip I hope we can gain even more positive exposure as F.C. New York continues to grow globally”), it is a frustrating read. But the tie to Mr. Klass, and the FO's decision to include a side-trip to Trinidad to face Caledonia AIA, is a heck of a way to pay tribute to your Caribbean fans while standing next to regimes that are attempting to foment a conflict with a NYC-based member of the U.S. Soccer Federation.

Just a week prior to F.C. New York's announcement of its February 2012 tour, Mr. Klass came out publicly in support of Lisle Austin's call for an audit of CONCACAF finances. With an unimpeachable history of high minded civic service and an unwavering commitment to transparency, Mr. Klass decreed:
"We must anchor our ship or we will forever be lost, we cannot submit ourselves to the tyranny of a minority, the audit must be done now," Klass said.

"While I will not cast aspersions on the questionable characters of those who have foisted themselves in leadership positions and those who have scarified our names and our soldiers for their own political ambitions, I will describe the delaying tactics of the CONCACAF Exco (executive committee) and its general secretary (Chuck Blazer) on this matter as very strange. Why is this happening?"

He added: "Could it be that Chuck Blazer is attempting to perpetuate a culture of secrecy at the organisation to prevent a true accounting of what has gone on at CONCACAF during his tenure?

"Is there credibility to claims that this review would unravel and expose the lavish lifestyles of certain employees funded by CONCACAF accounts"?

Everything I have read about Mr. Blazer indicates that he should not elicit a great deal of sympathy from American soccer supporters and that he has, in point of fact, managed to provide for himself very well (thank you) off of the back of the beautiful game in the region. But he has also been instrumental in the advancement of the sport in this market and a substantial increase in revenues attendant to the development of the game -- something that Mr. Warner and his cohorts, particularly Mr. Klass, cannot similarly claim.

I read comments from CFU folks like Mr. Klass and wonder how things within FIFA have been driven so ludicrously through the looking glass that grown men stand around pointing fingers at each other and loudly decrying illicit actions of which they have also been alleged to have undertaken. It must be like a support group for adulterers where the members are required to lambaste one another for their infidelity in public scoldings.

But the story of Jack Warner, Colin Klass, Horace Burrell, Lisle Austin, and the rest may just be a story of the disinterest of the cadre of select journalists and commentators that cover soccer in the United States.

F.C. New York can announce a trip to Guyana, organized under the benevolence of one Colin Klass, because (1) F.C. New York's travel plans aren't exactly page 1 news in Metropolis and (2) for those that do care, the name Colin Klass likely does not register.

My shock and dismay at FIFA outs me as a naive ingenue when confronted with the hue and cry marshaled by Bill Archer on the subject. I mean, my gall man, this is the Patrick John I have been referring to in past posts? This is the guy that is running Dominica's FA? How is this not mentioned each and every time Mr. John's name comes up or he surfaces to comment on anything related to FIFA?

Now would seem to be the appropriate time to connect those dots. If reports are correct, Mr. Klass gave inaccurate information to investigators regarding his knowledge of what took place during Bin Hammam's visit to Port of Spain. That should mean that the non-voting member of CONCACAF's Executive Committee will be in for some unwanted attention over the next few months. And that should also mean that outlets that have more than five people reading them a day have the opportunity to educate soccer fans about the officials that currently have a stranglehold on football in the Caribbean.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011


If you google "Josh Wicks," its not terribly flattering. Wicks' Wikipedia entry, at the moment, highlights some of the things that led United supporters to turn on him. Then you have to sift through more results -- many exceedingly negative -- before you run across this terrific article by Craig Stouffer including Wicks' candid assessment of his shortcomings and his personal demons.

But perhaps that will change.

Last Saturday, IFK Mariehamn traveled to Helsinki and frustrated HJK for 80 minutes. The team dropped points after Wicks botched a punch trying to clear a corner kick that was put into the netting to secure a 1-0 win for the homeside.

The result was disappointing, but IFK's play this season has once again exceeded expectations and Wicks is being called one of the best players in the Veikkausliiga this season.

The dramatic change in Josh's fortunes has led him to be the subject of another terrific article by Brian Sciaretta over at Yanks Abroad which highlights just how far Josh has come. Gone, but likely not forgotten, are the days of just trying to get someone to give him a chance.

Now, instead, what is articulated is fulsome ambitions: (1) contribute to IFK finishing in the top four (or, better yet, three) of the league; (2) play at even higher levels in Europe; and (3) catch the eye of U.S. Soccer officials to earn a national team cap.

No doubt some will call Wicks delusional, but it would be a mistake to -- once again -- underestimate what he can achieve.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Tick Tock ...

Perhaps the strategy devised by the Caribbean Football Union's leadership in response to their May 10th meeting with Bin Hammam -- hold firm, stick together, deny, and wait for things to blow over -- was a wee bit flawed.

You've got forty-eight hours:

"FIFA sent a letter yesterday (25 July) to all CFU associations, asking the associations, their presidents, and any of their members with knowledge of anything that transpired during the meetings held on 10 and 11 May in Trinidad and Tobago to provide and report all relevant information in their possession within 48 hours.

"Truthful and complete reporting will be considered in mitigation by the Ethics Committee when deciding on potential sanctions. Any person who has relevant information but does not come forward during this 48 hour period will be subject to the full range of sanctions.

"Following this 48 hour period, the Ethics Committee will be asked to open the necessary ethics proceedings."

Skysports has the current standings:

25 associations --

1 did not attend (Cuba)

4 failed to meet with investigators (Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, and Montserrat -- note that while no one from Dominica may have met with investigators, that has not stopped Patrick John, the association's President, from talking openly about the meeting in the press).

11 met with investigators but denied receiving cash gifts (Barbados, Guyana, British Virgin Islands, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago, and the U.S. Virgin Islands)

9 informed FIFA they were given or offered $40k at the meeting (the Skysports article doesn't list the countries but five of the nine are the football associations of the Bahamas, Puerto Rico, Bermuda, the Cayman Islands, and Turks & Caicos and representatives of the football associations of Suriname and Curacao have publicly acknowledged that $40k was offered at the meeting. The last two countries not listed in the three other categories are Aruba and Grenada).

Of the eleven that denied receiving gifts, some went further.

The head of the British Virgin Islands' football association, Franka Pickering, told The Independent that she saw no evidence of any bribes at the meeting.

Carlos Prowell, representing Colin Klass and the good folks at the football association in Guyana, told local news outlets that not only was no money taken by his impeccable organization, none was offered.

Representatives of the football association of Barbados have said in statements to the press that no payments were made at the meeting (they've made it pellucid).

Also interesting from the breakdown is that the group of eleven CFU member associations reportedly represented by Colin Henry includes members that have acknowledged the offer of a bribe (the Cayman Islands and Grenada), others that have refused to cooperate with FIFA (Dominica and Antigua and Barbuda), as well as the core group of CFU's leadership (Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad & Tobago, and Guyana). How the interests of all eleven -- which, at this point, clearly diverge -- can be represented by the same counsel is an interesting question.

In any event, FIFA has issued an ultimatum. What say you?

If you're Jamaica's Captain Horace Burrell (and acting President of the CFU), you're doubling down. And so too is Oliver Camps, the President of Trinidad & Tobago's Football Federation.

So that should be fun.

But if you were to ask me what was the best part, the absolute best part of this story? How about what Louis Freeh's report had to say about one Colin Klass. From the Irish Times:
The Freeh report also includes statements about Colin Klass, a CFU executive committee member and president of the Guyana FA, who orchestrated a campaign by other associations to write letters backing Warner and saying there was no offer or talk about cash gifts at the Trinidad meeting.

The report quotes evidence from Bahamas vice-president Fred Lunn, who took a photo of the cash he was given before returning it on the afternoon of May 10th, stating that Klass went into the room when the money was being given.

The report states: “Outside the boardroom, Mr Lunn encountered Lionel Haven (a former Bahamas FA board member) and Colin Klass.

“According to Mr Lunn, Mr Klass stated: ‘Why is this door locked, are there people getting bribed around here?’ The male \[CFU official] then allowed Mr Klass to enter the boardroom, which he exited after a few minutes. Mr Lunn noticed that Mr Klass had a smile on his face and was slightly giggling.”

Klass told investigators however that he did not go into the boardroom.

The report states: “Mr Klass tried to enter the CFU boardroom on the afternoon of May 10th, but was told that the room was not for him. Mr Klass remembered that Mr Warner said on May 11th that the only gifts were a laptop computer and projector.

“Mr Klass... stated that \[he] had not been offered or received any cash gift while in Trinidad and Tobago at the meeting.”

If Mr. Klass had a smile on his face then, he doesn't have one now.