Wednesday, December 5, 2012


I am going to miss Maryland's return to the College Cup Final Four and the Georgetown derby sited in Alabama on Friday.  I also missed Maryland's game against George Mason Sunday, missed our first home game tonight (against UMES), and will miss the South Carolina State game Saturday.

But even on vacation I cannot stop trying to find a sporting event to attend.  Thanks largely to a useful post on Puerto Rico Day Trips, we made it out to the Carolina Gigantes/Cangrejeros de Santucre game tonight at Roberto Clemente Stadium.

The stadium is, indeed, big, beautiful, and well-maintained.  We got ourselves a bit turned around getting out to Roberto Clemente, as (coming from the west) we needed to take a U-turn at the intersection of PR-3 and PR-857, then missed the turn to the parking lot (north on PR-853) and ended up back on PR-3 heading west.  Correcting the mistake was easy, parking cost only $2, and admission was free.  Scott Kazmir was on the mound for Carolina with Kyle Blanks in left field, the opposition featured Neftali Soto, former Nat/Oriole Luis Matos, and former Nat Felipe Lopez, and the stadium was gorgeous, so I kept looking for reasons to spend money to even out the experience.

Because Kazmir was on the mound, a number of scouts were in the stand.  At the game, I did not realize that he was back on the radar of major league clubs and, from tonight's performance, I do not think you would have reasonably guessed that this was the case.  Kyle Blanks, on the other hand, is striking.  I had not seen him play before.  At 6'6" and 270 pounds, he stands out without having to swing a bat.  He hammered a couple of balls tonight.  Given the level of talent there, I hope Blanks will finally be able to string together a full season of good health.

I did not expect to enjoy going to a winter league baseball game as much as we did tonight.  Definitely a family-friendly environment, with the added benefit of very easy access by car to Carolina's stadium from San Juan. 

Tuesday, December 4, 2012


Real Maryland's demise has me pondering a bit more the club's impact.  I have focused predominantly on players like Mason Trafford, Joe Funicello, Jonathan Borrajo (recently released by the New York Red Bulls), and Draymond Washington because there was something about their play at Richard Montgomery High School that stood out -- making the trip to Rockville seem worthwhile.

In the summer of 2011, we went to Richard Montgomery largely to check out how a number of players with connections to the University of Maryland's program were doing.  We ended up seeing impressive individual play by a group of players attached to George Mason University, including Dray.  The kid that most captured attention was a crafty, diminutive winger just finishing his college career.  Ryan Gracia had scored 15 goals in four years for George Mason, but seemed to score at will for Real Maryland.

I completely underestimated Gracia and trained my eyes on him in a vain effort to discern the flaws that would prove that he was not as good as the Terrapins who were not getting many opportunities on the team.  Yet, in every match that Gracia played and we attended, he continued to impress.

Until yesterday, I had assumed that a failure to land a contract with a USL Pro squad at the beginning of the year meant that Gracia was not going to be given an opportunity to play professional soccer.  Not true.  Having found nothing to his liking here, Gracia went off to Scandinavia, trialed with the Swedish fourth division side Bodens BK and earned himself a contract in February.  Gracia's rookie year went well enough that he was able to parlay the experience into a contract with Nykoping BIS to play in the Swedish third division in 2013

I get that playing in Iceland or the Aland Islands or in the Swedish third division is not something that captures the hearts and minds of American soccer fans, but the fact that these opportunities are available and that American (and Canadian) players are seizing them is quite remarkable.  Gracia is 22 years old.  While conventional wisdom dismisses the ceiling of collegiate players, the best American outfield player played college ball until he was 20.  Over the next few years, Gracia can, if he so chooses, chase a dream that eluded virtually every American that has ever shown competence with a soccer ball at his feet.

That's pretty cool.  So is the fact that little Real Maryland played a part in making that pursuit possible. 

I am going to have to get used to the idea of getting up to Bel Air on a consistent basis in 2013.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Impeccable Timing

Nothing like extolling the praises of an entity that ceased to exist the previous day.  Having missed every game last season, attending a Real Maryland match next year will not be an option:

Hello Everyone,

How are you? I hope this email finds you well.

I am sad to inform you that Real Maryland FC will suspend operations for the 2013 Season after a great 5-year run.

The ownership group has decided to forgo next season as they have turned their attentions in another direction.

I have been working this past month with the USL in trying to find a new ownership group for the Real Maryland FC Franchise.

The turn-around time for a new group to come in for the 2013 Season has proven to be too short of a window for potential investors.

The Rights are now with the USL and interested investors should contact them directly.

While this is a sad and unfortunate turn of events, I don’t believe that this will be the last time the area will see a USL PRO/PDL/W-League Franchise. I am sure 2014 will see something stirring about; I hope.

This will be one of my last emails in addition to a report on how the last three remaining Real Maryland FC Monarch Teams do in the up-coming USL Super Y League North American National Finals this December.

Please help me wish the U12 RMFC SYL Boys (Coach Luis Calderon), U13 RMFC SYL Boys (Coach Julio Arjona) and the U15 RMFC SYL Boys (Coach Tim Francis) the best of luck in the finals.

At this time, I would like to say THANK YOU to everyone who helped out with Real Maryland FC over the course of the past 5 years. Without you, I wouldn’t have been able to do any of this.

Lastly, the office will be open today (Wednesday), tomorrow (Thursday) and Friday from 10am – 3pm. I am cleaning out the office and all gear must go!

All gear items will be on sale for $10 each – warm up pants, warm up jackets, rain jackets, training tops, polo’s, sweatshirts, blankets, banners, socks & shorts, medals, hats, professional game jerseys, replica game jerseys and game shorts are some of the items that will be available. These items will make great holiday gifts and memorabilia. All items will be sold at a first come, first serve basis.

Please keep playing the game like there is no tomorrow, support one another and you will reach great heights.

I hope to see all of you again soon.

Thank you everyone.


David B. Noyes
General Manager
Real Maryland FC
12114 B Heritage Park Circle
Silver Spring, MD 20906
P: 301-933-6460
F: Real Maryland FC Facebook Page
Whatever else might be said about the club, Real Maryland afforded a platform by which soccer players -- including Draymond Washington -- could either launch or sustain their professional careers.

With Real Maryland alum Mason Trafford again anchoring the back line, IFK Mariehamn recorded the club's best ever position in the Veikkausliiga table -- fourth on 51 points in 33 matches.  Trafford is out of contract, with some hope he will return to the club, and has had a remarkable run in Finland regardless.

Iceland's Thor Akureyri also had a terrific season, including continental competition in the Europa League and a return to the top flight after topping the second division table.  Real Maryland alum (and IFK Mariehamn dissident) Joe Funicello played a big part in the club's run and the team recently announced an agreement for his return next year.  Joe will be joined -- again -- by someone we saw in the stands at Richard Montgomery, as Josh Wicks has also signed up for another year with the club

And more recent Real Maryland alum Jake Pace headed home the winning goal yesterday that sent the Terrapins back to the College Cup as Maryland avenged Louisville's win at Ludwig in the tournament last season.

Four players:  NASL Champions, fourth in Finland's Veikkausliiga, first in Iceland's First Division, and in the NCAA men's college soccer final four.  Although Real Maryland may not have been a success as a financial operation, it had an impact and will be missed.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Premier Development

Due to scheduling conflicts and uncooperative weather, we failed to make a Real Maryland match this past summer.  I didn't try very hard, having also soured a bit on the United Soccer League's model in the face of the USL's repeated attacks aimed at the NASL.

Wednesday's announcement by the Tampa Bay Rowdies -- the NASL champions -- of Draymond Washington's new two-year deal (likely one year guaranteed and the second a club option) is a reminder of the value of Real Maryland and the USL Premier Development League.

We attended quite a few of Real Maryland's games in 2011 and Draymond, the team's captain, stood out as one of the most consistent, competent performers on the squad.  He was not, however, targeted by any MLS squads after graduating from George Mason University.  Instead, Draymond made the most of a trial with Tampa Bay earlier this year and earned his first professional contract.

Washington made his professional debut in May with four starts in a week and a half: first in a win over the Atlanta Silverbacks in Atlanta, then three days later in Tampa's second round U.S. Open Cup victory over Jacksonville United, then again three days later in a scoreless draw against the Minnesota Stars, concluding with the remarkable chance to go toe to toe with MLS players in the Rowdies' third-round Open Cup loss to the Colorado Rapids on May 29th.

Draymond started two more games for Tampa Bay in June before an injury to his knee, requiring surgery, cut short his season.  Now, with a new contract, Washington will have another great opportunity at establishing a career in professional soccer.

It was one season -- 15 games -- but the time with Real Maryland afforded Washington an opportunity to further hone his skills as a defender (after starting as a forward with George Mason) against talented opponents in a competitive atmosphere.  And for those outside of the MLS academy system, it is something that absent the USL PDL would be difficult to obtain. 

Sunday, November 25, 2012

"It's Sunny Jane Time!"

With about half an hour left in the match against Coastal Carolina, Mikias Eticha collected a loose ball on the right side of the goal box and flipped it to his left to an awaiting Sunny Jane.  At the upper left-hand corner of the box, Sunny had one defender between him and the keeper, Mark Petrus, a transfer from George Mason.  As Jane brought the ball down, kids in our section shouted "It's Sunny Jane Time!"  Sunny beat the defender off the dribble and then drilled a grass cutter beyond Petrus's reach off the far post effectively ending the game.

Maryland's supporters have been waiting for it to be Sunny Jane time for much of the season.  It was tonight.  Maryland's first goal came twelve minutes in off of superb wing play by Jane after he sent a fantastic cross that Eticha notched home.  Four minutes after Sunny scored, he, in turn, enjoyed the fruits of the incredible individual effort of Christiano Francois.  Francois refused to give up on a ball being shepherded over the end line by a Chanticleer defender, stole it, and then slotted it back to Jane for the brace.

In a little over an hour on the field, Jane terrorized Coastal Carolina's wings.  He wasn't the only one.  Maryland's smaller, faster players ran circles around the Chanticleer's behemoths.  Maryland's active roster features one outfield player listed at 200 pounds, Jake Pace.  Coastal Carolina has three in its starting lineup: both centerbacks, Uchenna Uzo and Kjartan Sigurdsson, and their central midfielder playmaker, Pedro Ribeiro.  The two sophomores, Uzo and Sigurdsson, along with the 6'0", 182 lb. freshman Jhamie Hyde, were often left trying to snuff out runs made by Jane, Francois, Eticha, and Schillo Tshuma on their own.  All three held their own, but their margin for error was slight and, given the circumstances, holding Maryland to five goals was a testament to their competence.

The one blemish for Maryland came off a poor back pass from Dan Metzger to London Woodberry that led to Woodberry losing possession and Ashton Bennett drill home a long-range goal past Cardona.  Bennett made the most of limited offensive opportunities and it was easy to see why he's considered a lock to be picked in the MLS draft next year.  The most impressive player for Coastal Carolina, for me, was their sophomore left back Henrik Robstak, a big, fast, skilled attack-minded fullback who put all kinds of pressure on Maryland's right flank.  Ultimately, Jordan Cyrus took some measure of revenge for Robstak's assaults by beating his man off the dribble four minutes from time and laying off a terrific ball for Jereme Raley to put in the back of the net for the fifth and final goal.    

It was only one game, but Pedro Ribiero (who has also been talked up in advance of the draft) did not make much of an impression.  Ribiero struggled contending with Stertzer and Metzger in the middle of the field.  His size caught him out, where lilliputian teammates Justin Portillo and Ricky Garbanzo seemed to find more space.

For Maryland, it was a very good showing by almost everyone who saw the field.  Patrick Mullins worked and worked and worked the full ninety minutes, with a confounding free kick that eluded Petrus.  Other than the flub that led to Bennett's sole goal, the backline -- anchored by two freshmen -- was terrific.  John Stertzer was solid for ninety minutes and Keith Cardona made a couple of tremendous saves.

And their profit on it?  A chance to fully avenge last season's early exit against Louisville back at Ludwig on Saturday.

Joseph Ngwenya was on hand to see his alma mater go down tonight.  As much as I like him, I hope Nick DeLeon leaves Ludwig next week the same way he did on August 26th and Ngwenya did tonight.

Friday, November 23, 2012


One of the lingering irritations of living in the Washington D.C. area is the poor quality of sports writing at the major dailies.  Over the last several years, other than Michael Wilbon, there have been exactly no sports journalists or columnists that I have taken any particular interest in or note of.

Happily, this is changing.

While at Comcast on Tuesday night watching Maryland dispatch Lafayette, I was struck once again by how well Pe'Shon Howard plays the point.  He committed a terrible turnover late in the game, looked very uncomfortable attempting open jumpshots, and occasionally failed to flash out fully at a Leopard looking to pop a three.  But when he was on the floor, he ran the Terps offense with poise and dropped some sizzling dimes.

I figured that I would come home and tap out another homage to Howard, one of the most underrated players on the squad.  But, as it turns out, this ground has already been covered much more competently by the Washington Post's excellent Alex Prewitt in a short post on Terrapins Insider on Sunday.   Prewitt really is terrific and does an incredible job providing context for what we're seeing on the court or on the field.  He seems to have little interest in mindlessly promoting Maryland's athletic program, nor does he appear to have any particular agenda in attacking coaches or administrators.  Instead, Prewitt provides insightful analysis and background.  He's a must-read for every Terrapin supporter.

But as grateful as I am for Mr. Prewitt's contributions, I am even more grateful for the work of the Washington Examiner's Craig Stouffer.

This has been a bittersweet season following D.C. United.  The dominant storyline is the team's return to competitiveness and falling just short of the MLS Cup game.  Despite limited interest for the bulk of the year, fans turned out for the playoff matches and the last regular season game (against Columbus).

We bucked that trend -- after going to home fixtures throughout the year, we gave away our tickets for the last three matches.  Although we fell in love with many of the players on this season's squad -- particularly Nick DeLeon -- by the end of the season, I was disenchanted and found myself rooting against Ben Olsen's favored sons.

My negativity has been further fueled by the lack of any meaningful analysis of the Olsen regime, as we are instead treated to inane hagiography.  I am, at this point, almost constitutionally incapable of giving credit to Coach Olsen for any one of the many undeniable things he has done to improve the side and develop certain individuals.

Craig Stouffer's summation of the season, published Monday, provided a balanced review that has been utterly lacking in the work of others covering the team.  As Stouffer observes, "Olsen’s coaching job will be universally lauded, but that doesn’t mean it was perfect."  Stouffer specifically questions Olsen's utilization of Branko Boskovic and Hamdi Salihi, something that has driven us nuts as we watched some really horrible performances in the midfield and at forward by players possessing nothing remotely close to the talent that Boskovic and Salihi offer.

Since United has bowed out of the playoffs, DC has parted company with Boskovic, a player who, along with DeRosario, offered the most innovation in attack we've seen in five years.  United has also locked up Dejan Jakovic with a new contract after Jakovic managed to play twenty games for the first time since 2009.  All signs point to Ethan White, again, being persona non grata in 2013.

But I take solace in the prospect of somebody actually holding management responsible.  Absent constructive critiques coming from those covering the team, there is little prospect that man management or personnel decisions will improve.  Stouffer can fill that vital role.

Saturday, November 17, 2012


For a decade now, our love of men's college basketball has been requited at the Verizon Center.  Georgetown's been the fulcrum, John Thompson III the muse, and two years of NCAA tournament games the unexpected bonus.

Nevertheless, our tickets for Wednesday night's tune up against Liberty went unused.  I'd wanted to see how much Mikael Hopkins and Greg Whittington had developed over the summer.  It would also have been our first opportunity to watch D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera in person. 

But as nice as getting to know the 2012-13 Hoyas would have been, for the first time, I wanted to be at Comcast more.  I was there for the Terps' home opener against Morehead State Monday night and loved every minute.  For the most part, gone were the frustrating defensive lapses, gone was the sniping, and gone was the one on four offense after play designs broke down.  Instead, on the floor was a cohesive unit of charismatic players.  Nothing about the win was particularly impressive, but a new day has dawned.  Scoring, for example, was balanced:  Nick Faust had 12, Alex Len 11, James Padgett 9, Shaquille Cleare and Dez Wells 8, Jake Layman 7, and Seth Allen 6.  And others contributed by adopting specific roles:  Charles Mitchell pulled down 9 rebounds, Pe'shon Howard didn't take a shot but posted 7 assists.

With only 8,724 inside the stadium, the vibe was relaxed -- low pressure -- and incredibly family friendly.  Tonight's game against LIU-Brooklyn was a 7 pm tipoff and it seemed as good a time as any to bring the kids out to the new look Maryland under Coach Turgeon.  The cost was foregoing Georgetown's game Wednesday, but the reward made the tradeoff well worthwhile.

Students clearly heeded Coach Turgeon's request for more active support.  At 12,785, Comcast was rocking.  Often, the intensity on the court matched the intensity in the stands.  Dez Wells had a ridiculous stretch of three consecutive blocks.  Seth Allen went five for six from beyond the arc.  Pe'shon Howard had thirteen assists and one turnover.  And my kids, a four-year old and one-year old, stayed with the game until the last minute.

We've been to some great games at Comcast, games that had my eldest bouncing out of the stadium.  But all of those were women's games.  We've been to some great men's basketball games, games that had my eldest bouncing out of the stadium.  But all of those were Georgetown games.  Tonight was the first time that our kids walked out of Comcast grinning after a men's game.


Friday, October 26, 2012


Thursday's edition of the Terrapin Club Weekly highlights John Stertzer as the Solomon Eye Associates' Terp of the Week.  I love Stertzer's game, particularly the consistent intensity with which he plays.  This season, regardless of the opponent, Stertzer seems to have approached every game as a platoon leader responsible for leading both by example and by voice.

It is perhaps fitting then that the single most vivid memory I will take away from his senior campaign comes from a poor Maryland showing against Lehigh Tuesday night.  Late in the match, after yet another offensive break came to nothing against a defense that should have been completely overrun (final tally, Maryland = 30 shots; Lehigh = 6).  Mikey Ambrose had made an overlapping run wide past Patrick Mullins on the left side.  Rather than drop the ball off to Ambrose in space -- without a defender anywhere close -- Mullins crossed into a tight space in front of the goal box hoping that a carom would find its way into the back of the net.  After Lehigh's second-half keeper Taylor Sulmonetti collected the pass, Maryland's players ran back while Stertzer briefly lit into Mullins for not rewarding the fullback for his run.  The passing moment was of no significant importance to the match and was an aberration for a team that rarely bickers on the field.  But it perfectly captured a game that was slipping away as several players seemed hellbent on showing that Lehigh could be dispatched by the conversion of extraordinary opportunities rather than a pedestrian display of superiority.

Mullins ended up scoring the game winning goal with around two and half minutes left in regulation.  John Stertzer assisted on that goal, which gave Patrick a brace for the match and double-digits for the season.  All's well that ends well.

Nevertheless, as professional scouts begin to consider how John Stertzer may or may not fit into their plans, I hope they will look for tape of the Lehigh match.  It shows a strength of character and commitment to competitive integrity that augur well for a career after college.     

Friday, October 19, 2012

What was that?

With my eldest in tow, I planned to spend a relaxing evening at Ludwig watching the Maryland women play Miami.  There were not going to be many more people at the stadium than for the Colgate game Tuesday, but the match was not ignored.  Athletic Director Kevin Anderson was there with his daughter.  President Wallace Loh showed up as well.

What everyone in attendance saw was ridiculous, an embarrassment to college athletics.

Miami features two players with local roots that both started in the defense -- Senior Ali Brennan (Columbia, Maryland) and Sophomore Maddie Simms (Bowie, Maryland) -- and both had considerable amounts of support in the stands.  That's not unusual.  There are often family and other partisans for the other side at games.  That's the way it should be.  Things went off the rails tonight, however, in part because of a complete lack of decorum from the otherwise welcome guests.

Abuse of the referees by the Miami supporters started early.  Maryland's fans on the same side didn't exactly react well and howls of complaint and derision erupted every time any foul was perceived.  The rancor in the stands -- focused on the referees -- fueled physical conflict on the field.  In the second half, Maryland's terrific forward Hayley Brock got hammered over and over and over again.  Good ball control and quick turns terrorized Miami's backline and the response, particularly from the Hurricanes' Blake Stockton, was to cut Hayley down.

The eventual breakdown was presaged by a moment late in the second half where Brock, struck down again outside the box, responded by getting up and kicking out at the face of an opponent that had also hit the ground.  No card.  No warning.  Just the referee and linesmen being berated by boorish men.

We were on the other side of the field, but it looked like Maddie Simms got a measure of revenge by kicking a ball hard into Brock when play had been stopped and Brock responded by landing a haymaker.  Bedlam.

Awful?  Yes.  But the lack of discipline by the players paled in comparison to the idiot dad who jumped over the fence to get in between the players.  Idiot may seem a strong word.  In this instance, an understatement.  When I finally shepherded my four-year old out of the stadium at the end of regulation -- as a mother screamed at Miami's fans "EXCUSE ME! EXCUSE ME!  NUMBER 27 IS MY DAUGHTER!" -- the same dad stood outside shouting that he shouldn't have been ejected because he "didn't go on to the field,"  he "only went on the sideline."


That there is one idiot -- an excitable, over-involved father -- in the stands was not remarkable.  That no one else within the pro-Miami faction shut him up or pulled him back was a total embarrassment.  

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Generation Adidas

I went to Ludwig last night expecting to see the depth of Maryland on display against Colgate.  Alex Shinsky got his first start in the midfield (tally me a big Alex Shinsky fan) and redshirt sophomore Marquez Fernandez replaced London Woodberry at center half. 

Things didn't exactly go well in the first half and had a Colgate goal not been waved off, it would have been full freak out mode at the break.

As substitutes, John Stertzer, Schillo Tshuma, Jereme Raley, Jordan Cyrus, Sunny Jane, and Patrick Mullins took control of the game in the second half. 

There were not a lot of people out for the match -- this will change Friday -- but for those that were there, Patrick Mullins demonstrated (conclusively) that he should be in play for a Generation Adidas offer.  Maybe he's stuck as a Home Grown product of the Chicago Fire.  If so, bummer.  If not, there is not much more he needs to do to establish himself as an elite professional prospect.

The night was cold.  The opponent was underwhelming.  Teammates were eschewing passes to open players in order to try and break down opponents for individual glory.  Mullins seemed unaffected.

Maybe it was because the Crew loudly heralded the two Deuce goals that sent the USMNT to the hexagon, but Mullins is the same height as Dempsey (6'1"), he has roughly the same build as Clint (~77 kg), and damned if his self-assured style of floating through a game terrorizing opponents doesn't seem like a fitting tribute to the best soccer player America's produced.

Mullins got an assist and a goal; Maryland got its 12th win. 

Bring on Mikey Lopez.

Monday, October 8, 2012

New Generation

Maryland's football campaign has been way, way more enjoyable than I anticipated.  The defense is loaded from front to back.  The offense was always going to have problems, but it is very charismatic.

Stefon Diggs may be better than advertised.  Kenneth Tate is back.  The Terps have won three games. Suddenly, I'm looking forward to Saturdays for reasons other than Charlton Atheltic.

There's probably a lot of interesting angles to cover about the game against Wake Forest, but with a day to reflect, one thing in particular stuck:  the play of Anthony Nixon.  The freshman from Pittsburgh was awarded a game ball for his special team play and Coach Edsall singled number 20 out for praise in his post-game comments.  From the stands, the only time I cracked open my Maryland Gameday program (featuring a profile of Mikey Ambrose and Dakota Edwards) during game action was to figure out the name of the kid playing flawless football in the secondary in the second half. 

Maryland is blooding a ridiculous number of freshmen.  The coaching staff has been forced to rely on young kids and remarkably many, like Nixon, are responding with aplomb.

On a related note, I've linked above to a couple of pieces from the Washington Post.  After spewing all that awful vile towards the Athletics Department and Coach Edsall last year, WaPo has pulled back and become a fun read.  All credit to young Alex Prewitt who is doing a terrific job covering Terrapin football this year.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

First Place

Following today's win over Wake Forest, Maryland is the only undefeated team in conference play in the Atlantic division of the ACC.

Beautiful day to be at Byrd.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Roll on, Maryland

We have lived in College Park for a decade now and, yet, the benefits of life in this little corner of Prince George's County continue to present themselves anew. 

Tonight, I walked our youngest over to Ludwig while our oldest accompanied her mom to a Friday night movie.  Enjoying a Maryland soccer game with a toddler is not new, but the number of other families -- including coaches from other athletics teams at the University -- that are now also doing so means that I can now get through a full ninety minutes.

Or maybe this is how it has always been.  Maybe there has always been an easy collegial vibe between administrators and athletes hanging out at soccer games (in addition to head coaches and athletes from other squads, President Wallace Loh was again on hand).  But for an athletics program that was hammered last season by everyone who deigned to opine on the Terrapins, it sure seems like building a community anchored in pride is not just a promotional slogan.

Based on the limited stolen glances I had of the game, it was a good night to be one of the 4,846 folks at Ludwig.  The game was tight, but Maryland kept its composure throughout.  The one-nil victory over the Wahoos was well-deserved.  It is just flat-out fun to watch Sunny Jane go.  He is kind of good.  Dan Metzger and John Stertzer were also very impressive tonight.  

For their part, Virginia never backed down.  The Cavaliers did not create a lot of offensive opportunities, but they still managed to absorb wave after wave after wave of rapid assaults.  Georgetown Prep alum and DC United Academy veteran Marcus Salandy-Defour, a true freshman, acquitted himself well for Virginia.  In fact, for a very young team -- five of the starting eleven were freshmen, four were sophomores and all three subs used were underclassmen -- they did not make many damaging mistakes.  

The only notably poor performance tonight came from the referee, Shane Moody.  I am no saint in the stands.  I have developed the terrible habit of screaming in frustration at poor calls made by refs.  But I have also refereed youth soccer games and blown numerous calls, so I rarely make note of any particular performance.  I have never actually bothered to learn the name of any referee from a college game prior to this evening.  But Mr. Moody, who has, I think, experience in the MLS and in the U.S. Open Cup, went way, way, way over the top in making a spectacle of his control of the match.  Moody did not render any notable bad decisions, but he did loudly convey disdain for Coach Cirovski's protests regarding some questionable offside flags raised by his assistant before theatrically flourishing a yellow card to the Maryland bench for complaining about a foul call.  In the stadium, Moody's exaggerated gesticulations looked ridiculous and seemed more a performance for the cameras than the game.

But that is only a very mild quibble for what was otherwise another great night of Maryland soccer.

Not every Maryland athlete was represented at Ludwig.  The women's basketball team was at the movies and, before leaving, were stopped by a little girl and her family who are eager for the season to start.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Wagner's Double

Although we have gone to a number of games over the last week, I wanted to get to another Maryland women's soccer game before the season closed. 

I made it to the Towson match and while Towson has really struggled this season, Maryland was impressive.  The thing that stuck with me the most from that game was the play of senior Olivia Wagner, who scored a pair of goals and added an assist.

Maryland was not as impressive tonight against a very talented Virginia side.  The Cavaliers bossed much of the game and the normally solid Domenica Hodak got blitzed by the Wahoos attack.  Virginia outshot Maryland 15 to 9 and won 5 corners versus just one for the Terps (taken by Ms. Wagner after a slight distraction from a precocious four-year old).  Yet, against the run of play, two free kicks from Olivia Wagner delivered victory to a surging Maryland team. 

The Terps are halfway through the conference season and have now run their record to 4 wins -- including victories over North Carolina and Virginia -- and 1 tie.  They've already equaled their conference win total from last season (4-4-2) and it is the first time in the 26 year history of women's soccer at Maryland that a team has started this well.  The team's best conference mark, reached in 2010, of 7-2-1 is conceivably in play, although three of the final five conference games are on the road (at Va. Tech Sunday, at N.C. State the next Sunday, and at Boston College) and Maryland will close the regular season against a terrific Florida State squad.

Thursday, September 27, 2012


A Goff post on DCU attendance offers the opportunity to check out other opinions regarding why numbers have been so far down this season.

The sampling of supporter views reflected in the comments does not lend much credence to my efforts to hang this on the gaffer.  The best I can do is stretch the "boring" complaints as popping out of the game plan.

Instead, the consensus view is the rotting corpse of a football stadium is keeping customers away.

Goff offers a series of other factors:

(1) no international stars;

(2) no need to buy tickets in advance because of large, unused capacity;

(3) high ticket prices;

(4) the deterioration of the season ticket base;

(5) unfavorable scheduling (including four games in August and no visit by the Galaxy); and

(6) budget.


But the decline in attendance in 2012 comes on the heels of an overall 4.5% increase in attendance between 2010 and 2011.  The quality of RFK didn't decline substantially since 2011.

The average attendance for the two New York Red Bulls games was 11,783... 13% below average attendance for the year.  Goff explains the low numbers for Thierry Henry's team on the Sunday and Wednesday dates, but the Wednesday game was below average for the four Wednesday games played during the season (10,581 for the season, 10,303 for the New York game).  The Red Bulls home numbers this year don't bear out the value of an international star ... their attendance in Harrison is down 13% from 2011.  Even the Galaxy's home attendance is down 3% from 2011.

Who has seen a pronounced uptick in attendance this season?  The star-studded Columbus Crew, up 18% from last year.

What team was the biggest draw for United this season?  Montreal, with 18,000+ attending for the game in June (after pulling in 10,000+ for a midweek game back in April).  Second biggest?  Kansas City (16,314 for the season opener).  Then Seattle (15,651), then New England (15,104 and 14,627).

Mid-week games pulled down season numbers.  One-quarter of the league home fixtures were played on Wednesdays -- 21.5% below the season average and 31% below the eight home games played on Saturday (averaging 15,363).  Take these games out and the season average climbs by nearly a thousand fans.  But even if you exclude midweek games, the average this year would still have been down 5% from last year.

How about marketing?  The city happened to be plastered in D.C. United advertisements at the same time as television coverage of the MLS improved tremendously.  The club deployed people to stand at metro stations and hand out flyers heralding the arrival of Paris Saint-Germain and still only drew a little over 13,000 to the friendly.

Tickets are priced high, yes.  Personally, we couldn't find people to take our unused season tickets for free and, more broadly, tickets in the various secondary markets sold well below walk-up prices.

People aren't staying away because of a lack of goals... United's averaging 2.13 goals per game at home and their 1.57 goals per game season average is the best the team's posted since 2007.

Maybe its just that the Nats (and O's) have sucked up the limelight and the spectator enthusiasm this season.  Or maybe it is everything, or nothing, or something.

Weird team.  Weird season.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012


Last season, the Colonial Athletic Association's Georgia State posted a 7 and 1 record at home, beat North Carolina State and George Mason away, and got knocked out of the NCAA tournament in the first round with a one-nil loss to Duke.  The breakout season was good enough to land the Panthers a spot in the RPI's top fifty nationally amongst men's college soccer programs.

Things haven't gone that well for Georgia State this year -- Duke beat them 3-0 in Durham and losses to Evansville, Mercer, and Towson preceded tonight's visit to Ludwig.

In the box score, it was a thrashing.  22 shots for Maryland versus one solitary shot for the Panthers (in the loss to Duke, Georgia State managed nine shots to Duke's ten; in the first half, the Panthers outshot the Blue Devils six to one).  From the seats, the game looked like a training exercise.  After Tsubasa Endoh scored a gorgeous opener from distance in the twelfth minute, Maryland continued to dominate possession but eschewed good shots for extravagant combination play to try and put the game away early.  The half finished a lackluster one-nil, with the match closed out early in the second half by a brace from Patrick Mullins... the first created largely by Sunny Jane's decision to stepover an angled grass cutter from the left side of the goal box that found the far corner of goal, while the second was simply bundled by Georgia State's German keeper.

Based on the individual talent displayed by some of Georgia State's players at various moments during the match, the game should not have been as one-sided.  Seventeen of the players on the roster list a hometown in Georgia.  The seven without Georgia addresses all hail from foreign countries (Canada, Zimbabwe, Ireland (2), Chile, Germany, and the United Kingdom) -- including a player that represented Chile's U-17 side, a kid from Waterford United's youth setup, and another from Walsall's.  They looked disorganized, but not incompetent, and yet Maryland blew them off the pitch without urgency or particular passion.

Without Taylor Kemp, without Helge Leikvang, without Dan Metzger, without John Stertzer, Maryland waltzed.



Sunday, September 23, 2012



Even with a Living Social deal in full swing, average attendance for the last six home games -- where D.C. United has won four games and tied two -- is down to 12,403, now an 18.5% drop from average attendance last season (15,211).

Results aren't keeping people away.  With four games left in the season, United hit the fifty point mark this evening -- the most the club has had in a season since 2007.

And it certainly is not the weather, as it was another beautiful night in D.C.

Nor do I think that the club's promotional efforts can be blamed.  We contributed three to the total this evening and spent the first half in the VW garage.  Tonight's match is the first game we've attended where both my girls unequivocally enjoyed the night out.  Both found children of equivalent age to cavort with and when they weren't playing, we got close up views of Maryland alums Danny Califf and Casey Townsend as well as phenomenal combination play between Andy Najar and Nick DeLeon on the right flank.  The garage is a terrific setup for young kids and a godsend for parents that want to see a live sporting event.

We only were able to check out the garage tonight because the four other people we have season tickets with found other things to do and could not find anyone that had an interest in going to a soccer match gratis.

This is a weird team in a weird situation. 

The talent is the best we've seen as season ticket holders.  The home grown and drafted players -- Chris Pontius, Bill Hamid, Andy Najar, Nick DeLeon, Chris Korb, and Perry Kitchen -- are charismatic and each has improved as the year has worn on.  The foundation for a quality team is there.  In DeRosario, Boskovic, and Salihi, there is some real veteran class and skill in the roster. 

None of this is resonating with the fan base, who are largely staying away.  The lack of enthusiasm also likely has little to do with the continuing decline of RFK -- friends and family that we've previously enticed to games in past seasons showed no interest this year, but will head well out of their way to the spartan setting of Ludwig Field to catch Maryland.

When Curt Onalfo was first introduced to the fanbase, he made a point trying to connect with fans.  He did so through the false promise of attacking, attractive soccer (he did not come close to delivering).  Olsen replaced Onalfo with the underlying promise that a connection with the fans is already there based on his tenure as a player.  Olsen's record this season and the considerable development of his younger wards are testaments to his natural abilities as a coach.  But my four year old has never felt comfortable walking over and saying hello to Bennie when she's seen him at Ludwig or at the stadium.  That, in and of itself, means nothing but is a small and insignificant reflection of what happens when the "bite" you advocate from your side is turned on supporters.


Ethan White and Stephen King were on hand Friday night at Ludwig.  They signed autographs for fans in attendance (and briefly entertained my four-year old).  White & King also walked out at halftime while the p.a. promoted Sunday's D.C. United match against Chivas.  Not even polite applause from the stands.

D.C. United's formal presence at Maryland games is appreciated, although I am not sure how much it adds beyond the regular informal attendance of players and management.  Choosing White and King as the teams representatives was also a bit strange.  On the surface, two Maryland alums on the club's roster are the only rational choice -- but both White and King have been hard done under Olsen's regime.  After starting 21 games last year (and playing in three more), Ethan White has not played a minute of first team football for D.C. United this season.  Stephen King started 11 games (and played in 20) in 2011.  Numbers in 2012? 1 and 7.  King's hurt, but even if he was healthy, there is little chance he would play under Olsen.  So why send these two out as the face of the team?

Probably the same reason why Branko Boskovic got substituted out of the game in the 58th minute of Thursday's match against the Union.  All the better that his removal came shortly after a gorgeous cross clubbed fifty yards over the crossbar by Lionard Pajoy.

Want to watch entertaining football?  Screw you.  Chew on this "bite."

Think you know something about the game?  Screw you.  My skin is gossamer thin.

Believe that you bear witness to the rebirth of United?  Screw you.  I can cut off my nose with the best of them.


Over the last five home MLS fixtures, an average of 12,530 fans have come out to RFK.  That is 11.3% below the average for the prior ten home matches (14,132) and, compared to the season averages for every other MLS team, is the lowest in the league. The Revolution have managed to draw an average of 12,542 fans this season -- meaning that we are now packing in even fewer fans than New England.  A playoff team in a city stadium drawing less than 13,000 in the MLS is ridiculous.

There will be all kinds of vapid opinions bandied about as to why attendance has been awful; e.g., a terrible stadium, years of past performance finally catching up, and a captivating Washington Nationals run.  Maybe.  But the debate we are having about whether to head down to RFK and use our season tickets on Sunday has nothing to do with these variables.  Instead, that 58th minute substitution looms large (as does the ridiculous take that the substitution was somehow seminal in the win -- yes, Maicon Santos played a terrifically weighted through ball up to Pontius, but isn't applauding Santos for the goal more random than not crediting Boskovic for his pitch perfect cross simply because Pajoy's screwed up one and not the other?).

Sure, fans are superficial and lack true knowledge about football strategy and tactics.  And, sure, we don't get to see what the gaffer views on the training ground.  So, by all means, treat us as idiots while you stamp your authority on our foreheads.  We'll take it.


Project 11,000 is now in full effect.


Monday, September 3, 2012

Icelandic (and Aland Islandic) Football News

On Saturday, Thor Akureyri secured its return to the Icelandic top flight in 2013 with a 3-1 victory over Viking.  Three Americans were in the starting eleven for Thor:  Real Maryland alum Giuseppe (Joe) Funicello, D.C. United alum Josh Wicks, and former Connecticut Huskie and Wilmington Hammerhead, Chukwudi Chijindu.

There are several Americans plying their trade in the Icelandic second division this season, including the remarkable N.C. State alum Kris Byrd, who plays for Hottur.  Oddly, there is a relative dearth of Americans in the Landsbankadeild, the Icelandic top flight, but perhaps Joe, Josh, and Chukwudi will stick around to change that next season.

Joe and Josh's former team, Finland's IFK Mariehamn, and their former teammate, Real Maryland alum Mason Trafford, are enjoying a great season in the Veikkausliiga.  Mariehamn is currently fourth in the league table after 24 matches -- the highest position the club has ever finished in Finland's top flight -- and is mounting a serious challenge for a place in the European tournaments with nine games to go.

Let's Goooooooo Maryland

Three days, three trips to campus, four games.  Three Terrapin wins, one tie.

Most of the ink will be spilled bemoaning low attendance at Byrd and a poor performance by the football team against an FCS team.  There is certainly justification for a negative takeaway from the weekend (it was shocking to watch) but Maryland's other football teams put in performances that were just as jaw-dropping for positive reasons.

As fans, the recurring theme of the weekend was the incredible support garnered by the various teams from within the athletics program.  Among the 6,562 people in Ludwig Friday night was Nick Faust and Pe'shon Howard, as the men's basketball team was well-represented.  My daughter and I ran into Faust again Saturday at the football game.  Tonight at the men's soccer game against Cal, I was bracketed in the stands by Coach Brenda Frese and her family on one side and Domenica Hodak and Hayley Brock on the other.  (Much respect to Coach Frese's boys, who responded to one of the Crew's many "sucks" chants by trying to start positive chants of their own.  I remain unimpressed by the Crew who cracked up the stadium with a rousing rendition of Katy Perry's "California Gurls," but wiped out that witticism in a late game chant with the inclusion of the homophobic slur of choice for the student body's biggest tools.  You can't put an umbrella up in the stands, but no worries about a group of students calling an opposing player a f&**%t).  At the women's soccer game against Towson a few hours earlier, President Loh sat behind Jonathan Morgan for his first official home game as head coach.

Little bit different story for the student body.  ESPN3 likely showed the backs of lots of Maryland students leaving Ludwig in the second half of the match against UCLA Saturday night and leaving Byrd on Sunday for the dire game against William & Mary.

It was worth staying for both.

It isn't exactly easy to be optimistic about the football team but after one game it is already clear that, yes, Stefon Diggs is that good.  And, yes, the offense is really, really bad... but from a purely selfish standpoint, the inability of the offense to move the ball or avoid turnovers meant that the game stayed close and tense until the last minute, resulting in my eldest being around for the final whistle of a football game for the first time.  Still, it is going to be a painful season.

Not so for the soccer teams.  Although Maryland's record got its first blemish after failing to defeat a very good UCLA squad, the second half of that match was thrilling.  With Keith Cardona in goal, Taylor Kemp and Mikey Ambrose at fullback, London Woodberry and Dakota Edwards at center half, Helge Leikvang and Dan Metzger cleaning up the midfield, John Stertzer directing the offense, and Patrick Mullins as the target man up top, this is a familiar, traditional Maryland powerhouse men's soccer squad.  The type of squad that once featured three of the twenty-five called into the USMNT for the World Cup Qualifiers against Jamaica (Maurice Edu, Clarence Goodson, and Graham Zusi), one of Costa Rica's internationals (Rodney Wallace), three of the professional soccer players on hand at the game against Cal tonight (Zac MacMath, Matt Kassel, and Jeremy Hall), and two of the starters for Chivas USA who got blistered tonight by San Jose (Danny Califf and Casey Townsend). 

But this year's version of Cirovski's Brigade is decidedly different because of what is on offer from Sunny Jane, Schillo Tshuma, Mikias Eticha, Widner Saint Cyr, Alex Shinsky, and Christiano Francois.  These six players are remarkable on the ball and can, with varying degrees of reliability, launch breathtaking runs with only a sliver of space.

UCLA did very well bottling up release valves for these runs, but Maryland still managed 22 shots to UCLA's 8.  Cal-Berkeley, picked by Pac-12's coaches to finish second behind UCLA in the conference this season, did not do well in that regard.  While the 22 shots against UCLA resulted in 2 goals, 20 shots against Cal tonight resulted in 6 goals.

No Taylor Kemp, no Helge Leikvang tonight (replaced in the starting lineup by Widner Saint Cyr and Mikias Eticha, respectively), no problem.  In driving, pouring rain and terrible conditions, kids all around the stadium begged their parents to stay a little longer.  Mostly to watch Maryland's number 10.

In three games -- against pretty good opposition in Louisville, UCLA, and Cal -- Maryland has scored eleven goals.  They are electrifying.  The attacks in the second half of tonight's game (when five of the eleven team goals were scored), Maryland's offense was relentless as they toyed with a defense that was brutally overrun.

Maryland's first road game of the season is against another powerhouse, the #13 (NCSAA)/ #10 (Soccer America) Boston College Eagles, who need to rebound after a disappointing showing against Boston University Monday.  With another good showing Friday night, the foundations for a special season will be laid.

Separately, congratulations to Jonathan Morgan on the women's emphatic 5-0 win this afternoon against Towson.  Hayley Brock is terrific, but the story of the match was Olivia Wagner's brace.  Both were long-range blasts; the first one was stunning.  With several freshmen playing a major role on the squad this season, the women are likely to be inconsistent.  Today's match gave supporters a little taste of how good they can be.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Homegrown II

Having spent last night complaining about the former Terps hard done by the Olsen regime, D.C. United was well represented at Ludwig tonight.  Nick DeLeon, decked out in a red Louisville soccer shirt, was among the 3,002 others in the stands.  DeLeon spent some of the first half sitting on the parking lot side of the stadium within a group of Cardinals supporters; just a little bit further over, Brandon McDonald, Chris Pontius and Kurt Morsink, now United's scouting director, watched the match in surprising anonymity.

All saw a resplendent, dynamic, Marianas Trench deep Maryland squad trounce Louisville.  I think the post-game quotes from Coach Cirovski indicated a game that was closer than its scoreline.  It didn't seem that close from the stands, as Maryland's passing and movement kept the Cardinals' on their heels throughout the match. 

Coach Cirovski featured three freshmen in the starting eleven -- Mikey Ambrose at left back, Dakota Edwards as the center half opposite London Woodberry, and Schillo Tshuma up top -- while Christiano Francois and David Kabelik also saw time on the field as subs.  Given the challenge posed by a good Louisville side, the freshmen were fantastic.

All three seniors -- Woodberry, John Stertzer, and Taylor Kemp -- started and both London Woodberry and John Stertzer likely got Morsink's attention this evening.  I've not thought that London would do well inside, but tonight he snuffed out attacks and, after Widner Saint Cyr came on to buttress the midfield spine along with Helge Leikvang, Woodberry made a couple of useful marauding attacking runs over nearly the full length of the field.  Stertzer was terrific; he got the ball off his feet quickly and distributed the ball well enough to create numerous attacks on Louisville's goal.  Morsink might also have enjoyed Stertzer's frequent barking at teammates (often at Patrick Mullins) as he's not shy about letting his opinions be known.

And then there was Sunny Jane.  Two assists, with the second coming late in the match from a well-placed pass across the width of the field by Mullins as Coach Cirovski yelled for Sunny to hold the ball up and eat up the clock.  Instead, Sunny attacked his man, beat him off the dribble and played a ball in that evaded both shots and clearances until Stertzer tapped it in to kill the game.  He's fun to watch.   

Sunday, August 26, 2012


Tomorrow night, the Maryland men's soccer team's 2012 campaign will officially begin against the school -- Louisville -- that closed the book on the 2011 season.

This season I will not head to Ludwig hoping to see budding D.C. United contributors; not because I believe that this year's team isn't replete with talent (it is), but because I would prefer not to see Terps cut their professional teeth in a team led by Ben Olsen.

While Marcelo Saragosa, Mike Chabala, and Emiliano Dudar put in questionable shifts for United this afternoon in Montreal, Maryland alums Ethan White and Stephen King weren't even included in the 18.

Young players are not excluded from Ben Olsen's side.  Perry Kitchen (20) started again, along with Andy Najar (19), Bill Hamid (21), Chris Korb (24), and Long Tan (24).  Nick DeLeon (22) was ill, but otherwise would likely have been involved, while Chris Pontius (25) and Joe Willis (24) were available off the bench.

The issue isn't a lack of opportunity for young players generally.  Olsen has no problem going with youth.  The issue is, instead, player development. Najar, Hamid, Pontius, and Korb have shown improvements in their game this season --  Najar is more aggressive defensively and has ideas in mind after exhilarating runs; Hamid's confidence is exceptional; Pontius has become a legitimate scoring threat; and Korb's exhibited some surprising offensive skills.  But from the perspective of sitting outside the club, the margin for error for younger players not named Perry Kitchen is substantially smaller than for veterans, even where (particularly in the case of players like Jakovic, Dudar, Russell, Saragosa, and Morsink) the deference isn't warranted by on-field performance.

I've enjoyed D.C. United this year.  Even fleeting glances of lineups featuring Boskovic-DeRosario-Pontius-DeLeon-Najar justify the costs (both temporal and monetary) of season tickets.  Ethan White's total freeze-out has grated.  So has watching Saragosa ascend to the current throne of guileless midfielder fueled by piss and vinegar.  Even with all the problems at fullback, I harbored no desire for United's front office to find ways to return Rodney Wallace or Jeremy Hall to the region.

Jimmy Burns' fantastic "La Roja" highlights a quote from Johan Cruyff that unmasked the parochial origins of my frustration:
"Fans the world over like to see good players who share their mentality, and preferably come from their country, and if a coach has to choose between a foreign and a local with equal qualities, he should go for the local.  That way the fans are less likely to whistle him if things go wrong.  In Barca, people like seeing players from the cantera in the first team; it makes them feel that the coach somehow is more a part of Barcelona that way."
 For me, this is undoubtedly true.  I would be willing to sit through five horrid performances by Conor Shanosky well before sitting through the ninety minutes of mediocre meaninglessness embodied by Marcelo Saragosa today.  No matter how many times commentators try and paint a different picture, Perry Kitchen is having a very disappointing season in United's midfield -- yet, in the stands, we shrug off the unforced giveaways and poor passes.

Superficially, this whinge makes no sense because it is aimed at someone who spent over a decade in the black and red.  Olsen is hard-woven into the fabric of the club.  But while he is indelibly part of the franchise, Ben Olsen, on his own, is not D.C. United.  The qualities that Olsen embodied are inconsistent, as a governing philosophy, with United's image of itself.  A cagey, veteran team with "bite" that gets stuck in every match might compete well in the league and, possibly, be in frame for an MLS Cup, but it is certainly not what D.C. United has been selling to supporters.

But more important than the marketing sleight of hand is what it means for the talent trapped on the roster.  When supporters of the Houston Dynamo weighed in with "Free Geoff Cameron" signs, I half-hoped that offers would come in for Pontius, Najar, and Hamid before the close of the August transfer window.  All three are a joy to watch, but all three would be better served somewhere else.

Monday, August 6, 2012


The first Maryland football game we attended was a non-conference match-up against Akron back in 2002.  The gross imbalance in the size of the players on the two squads commanded all of our attention; the violence was asymmetrical, not an athletic contest so much as an exercise in brutality.  That game dulled our enjoyment of college football for some time.

Last year, the DeMatha-Gonzaga football game matched two high school teams of similar size and skill.  One team did not bludgeon a helpless opponent.  But our belief that the disquieting violence of the Maryland-Akron match was due to one team being substantially weaker than the other disappeared.  Standing on the sidelines close to the action, we could feel the concussive blows delivered by teenage wrecking balls.

American football loses its luster; when Devin Thomas walks away from $700,000 in salary from the Chicago Bears citing, in part, concerns about long-term health, the "we don't want anyone not fully committed" line from Lovie falls flat while the absence of any reference to Thomas's welfare concerns on the official web-site is a damning indictment of the NFL's ability to grapple with this new reality.

American football won't be the only sport under strict public scrutiny for very long.

Last night, a ball pops loose in the goal box in front of Bill Hamid.  All 6'4" of Emiliano Dudar jumped back towards goal authoritatively to clear the ball back over the bar, willing to concede the corner kick to bring order to chaos.  Innocuous enough play, except all 5'10" of Daniel Woolard went to clear the free ball the opposite direction and met Dudar's head instead.

We love Woolard.  We love everything that Woolard stands for in terms of perseverance and commitment.  Didn't get a single DI scholarship offer to play soccer.  Played in Division II for Midwestern State University. Worked hard enough, played well enough to be a MLS supplemental draft pick in 2007.  Four years ago, Daniel (and Stephen King) earned $17,700 as professional soccer players for the Chicago Fire -- on a team where Cuauhtemoc Blanco pocketed $2.5 million to play the same game for the same team. 

Woolard's not exactly swimming in cash now with D.C. United -- he's one of the lowest paid players on the squad, with a lower salary than King's ($56,250).  And to get to this point, Woolard had to overcome being cut loose by the Fire and going back to play in the PDL where he suffered a concussion with debilitating after-effects.

We know Woolard's story.  It is a huge part of why we enjoy watching the man play soccer in a DCU shirt.

So that is in our heads when Bill Hamid is trying to organize the defense in advance of the corner kick.  And then Hamid is frantically screaming at Woolard -- standing fifteen yards out near the noisy side -- to get into the box and Daniel's not responding.  One of his teammates runs out to see what's going on; a moment later the players on the pitch are even more frantically signalling to the sideline that help is needed and a sub must be prepped.

The image that will stick with me is of Woolard's eyes as he was escorted into the locker room -- although somewhat vacant, they evinced both fear and anger.

Maybe there will be good news in the coming days and that would put our minds somewhat at ease.  What we saw (from the stands) was horror.

There are worse things.  One of the things we look forward to at MLS games is catching up with college players that we got to see at Ludwig.  Last night, it meant seeing Justin Meram (Michigan) and Ethan Finlay (Creighton) again.  We didn't get to see Maryland's ACC-rivals on the Crwe, Cole Grossman (Duke) or Kirk Urso (UNC).  We won't be able to see Urso play ever again.

Rest in peace.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Any press is good press

Last week, the Washington Post published a thoughtful and measured story by Mark Giannotto on a local professional team that is quickly becoming irrelevant to the region's mainstream sports fans.  The gist of the piece was a description of a dwindling fan base and a sampling of opinions as to why the Washington Mystics have lost much of the goodwill the franchise has built up over the last fifteen years.

Giannotto's recounting of the Mystics woes is depressing, but not as disheartening as this fun fact he relays about the WNBA:
After leading the WNBA in attendance in six of their first seven years (1998-2004), including an all-time high average of 16,202 in 2002, the Mystics averaged a league-high 10,449 fans per game last season. They rank second in the WNBA through 10 home games this year with 9,207 fans per game, behind only WNBA champion Minnesota (9,272). San Antonio (12-5), the most successful team this season to employ one person as GM-coach, ranked third in attendance at 8,407 fans per game.
For the Mystics to be second in league-wide attendance, things must be horrible for the other eleven teams. 

Giannotto's article is remarkably thorough; the one measure, however, that he doesn't hit on is the resale market for Mystics tickets.  After deciding not to remain as season ticket holders, for the last several years we have not bought tickets from the club, but have instead used brokers.  The secondary market for Mystics tickets is always brutal; this year it is a bloodbath.  For the vast majority of home games this season, full corporate suites (18 tickets) have been on offer for less than $150 -- often $100 ($5.56 a ticket) -- as suite owners try to entice anyone with even a remote interest in women's professional basketball to games.  Yet even with the opportunity to use a suite at Verizon for less than the price of two 100-level seats, there is little evident interest in spending two hours at the stadium for the Mystics.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Meet the Team

D.C. United's annual "Meet the Team" day is my favorite event of the season.  I love taking my eldest down on the field and giving her the chance to see up close what we see from a distance in our seats during matches.

It helps that the players are, to the man, incredibly nice around kids and fans -- and that the fans are overwhelmingly respectful of the players at the event.  Today was no exception.  We sat for about fifteen minutes in the locker room watching Kurt Morsink, Brandon McDonald, and Emiliano Dudar interact with everyone who wanted a moment of their time.  Their appreciation for supporters is disarming, and, not coincidentally, makes it difficult to maintain critical thoughts about a player's (Morsink's) contribution to the squad.

Of course, the player that went to Fred-like levels to entertain my daughter and get a smile out of a four-year old clearly not enjoying the stifling heat on the ground was Danny Cruz.  Probably the guy that I've grown to dislike the most on the team and he was incredible; it may have been miserable for the fans who showed up, but it was much, much worse for the players and yet none of them seemed put out by the obligation to entertain supporters.

The "Meet the Team" day is a credit to the club and, for me, will keep bringing us back to RFK year after year.

The club is probably disappointed that in spite of all the things it has done to enrich the season ticket holder's experience ("Meet the Team" day, Chalk Talks, PSG friendly, etc.) attendance has fallen by something like 10% (not including the last home game against Montreal, which drew 18,000+).

The product on the field alone should be enough to get people out to games.  Through 18 matches this season, DC United sits atop the Eastern Conference with Sporting Kansas City with 33 points.  The club is behind San Jose (37 points, 19 games) and Real Salt Lake (36 points, 20 games), but this only distracts from how ridiculously good Ben Olsen's squad has been over the first four months of this season: 
  •  10 wins out of  18 games works out to a 56% winning percentage.  You would have to go back to 1999 to find a version of United that won with such frequency.  Because, prior to the 2000 season, the MLS required every regular season game to be won or lost, if you adjust winning percentages to remove shootout wins (6 in 1999 and 7 in 1998), this D.C. United team is running at the best clip in the club's history.
  • With 10 wins by the end of June, Olsen's team already has more wins than the club managed total in six of the prior sixteen seasons (37.5%).  One more win and they'll have tied the season's total for wins in nine of the prior sixteen seasons (56.3%).
  • Through 18 games, D.C. United is averaging 1.83 points per match, slightly better than the 1.81 points per match accumulated by the 1998 squad and tied with the per game totals of the 2007 squad -- the best in the club's history.

What's more, D.C. United is experiencing this success in a league packed with talent.  Because of a fluke in scheduling this weekend, I got to see the majority of three MLS league games -- Seattle Sounders-Colorado Rapids on Saturday night, Los Angeles Galaxy-Chicago Fire this afternoon, and New York Red Bulls-New England Revolution this evening. These are all pretty good teams.  The addition of Montreal may have diluted last year's talent a bit, but this seems to have been more than made up by the addition of new blood into the league.  And D.C. United is thriving in this environment.

There were a lot of lines today and it was a miserable day to be standing in a lot of lines outdoors.  A common refrain in those lines was surprise at how there was a lot of doubt surrounding Bennie's appointment as gaffer and how, while questions remained, it was impossible to deny the results.  I am very much in this camp as well.  I cannot believe that they are as good as the table says they are, yet watching DeRosario, Boskovic, Najar, and DeLeon play the ball around the midfield with competent players (including an ascendant Chris Pontius) both in front and behind them, it is hard to conclude that any of this is an illusion.

Friday, July 6, 2012

European Tour

Congratulations are in order for Real Maryland alum Joe Funicello, now back with the Icelandic second team of Thor Akureyri:

Thor traveled to Dalymount Park yesterday for the first leg of its first round Europa League tie against Bohemians.  Joe started at left back, played until the final whistle, and will head back to Iceland with a clean sheet after a scoreless tie.  The second leg will be played in Akureyri (a town in north Iceland of less than twenty thousand, even smaller than the Aland Islands) next Thursday on July 12th.

At the same time as Bohemians failed to press its advantage over its Icelandic opponent, elsewhere in Dublin, St. Patrick's Athletic pulled out a one goal lead in Richmond Park over IBV before heading to south Iceland for its second leg match in Vestmannaeyjar (population = 4,000).

It has been another miserable year for the League of Ireland, with Galway United folding before the start of the season and Monaghan United collapsing fourteen games into this year, announcing their withdrawal from the League on twitter.

The Bohs had just come off a four-nil thrashing of Shamrock at Dalymount before yesterday's disappointment.  The club seems to continue to suffer through financial turmoil, but has at least weathered Pat Fenlon's departure with the appointment of Aaron Callaghan, who describes himself as an admirer of Tony Dungy.

Sunday, July 1, 2012


Our youngest turned one on Friday.  To celebrate, we took a group of fifteen people to the Verizon Center to watch the Washington Mystics host the Connecticut Sun.

Official attendance was 6,975.  The game was so truly awful that counting the others suffering through it in the stadium was a welcome relief.  Two or three thousand more accurately reflects the people at the game.  The attendance was more depressing than the game.

Fifteen years.  The Mystics are celebrating fifteen years in the WNBA; the attendance banners have come down from the rafters at Verizon and the once proud franchise has alienated even its most sympathetic fans

Rather than a celebration, the setting was funereal.

It is a strange setting to watch the denouement of an enterprise that everyone seems invested in failing.  We did not see the end coming for the Washington Freedom -- either time -- but it seems more cruel to have the promise of women's professional sports snuffed out by the franchise itself rather than external factors that could not be tamed.

My daughter turned one Friday.  In fifteen years, maybe it will be a different story.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Mold Breaker

The Baltimore Sun's Bob Parasiliti recently penned a short puff piece defense of the WaPo-ravaged Randy Edsall.  There was nothing earth-shattering about Parasiliti's profile.  The column's pro-Edsall bent is not subtle, and Parasiliti is clearly trying to convince Terrapin partisans that the head coach merits a second-look. 

Vocal Maryland football fans, however, are not sympathetic.  The conventional wisdom holds that Coach Edsall is a stammering, unimaginative drill sergeant, sent from the University of Connecticut to soil the upwardly mobile program crafted and polished by Ralph Friedgen.

While perusing the venomous comments abounding this series of tubes, my head kept wrapping around the intemperate, confrontational language used by the Washington Post's crappy sports columnists playing Salome.  And that brought me back to this past Maryland Day, where the number of fans that turned out for the football players' autograph session was considerably smaller than those at Maryland Day 2011.  Yet, despite the negativity, despite the personal attacks, despite the cutting accusations of professional incompetence, sitting all by himself at a lonely table was Randy Douglas Edsall.  Coach sat there for a better part of an hour vulnerable to the rebukes of any internet warrior desiring to give him a piece of their mind.

If I am a player on his squad, what Coach Edsall did on April 28th was the embodiment of living your word.  If a collegiate coach is going to demand accountability from his players, he damn well better not make himself scarce when slings and arrows are directed his way.  Coach Edsall has not run away.  He has not hidden.

This trait, while admirable, does not win any football games.  But it should win some respect and it should win some vocal support.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Catching Up

When Cameroon's football squad shook off both the lengthy Fecafoot imposed suspension of Eto'o for his alleged role in organizing a protest against remuneration for national team duty and the ignominious expulsion of Roger Milla from the FA to beat an even more dysfunctional Democratic Republic of Congo squad that had eight players ignore call ins to the national side for a world cup qualifier, Iya Mohammed -- yet another cherub adorning Sepp Blatter's collection of angels throughout the world -- might have whispered a prayer of gratitude that Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting managed to convert his penalty.  Or not.  Because, of course, in Blatter's FIFA being accused of long-standing corruption while simultaneously pissing all over the players that make football great in your country nets you an invite to manage the 2014 World Cup.

No matter.  I can fiddle while FIFA burns as much as the next man and, frankly, the only reason I cared about this match was a player that came on as a substitute in the eightieth minute.  Crystal Palace Baltimore alum Matthew Mbuta earned yet another cap for what is, despite Fecafoot's best efforts to sabotage them, a pretty good side.  The same Matthew Mbuta who plied his trade as a professional athlete in front of dozens of moderately-interested fans at UMBC's Retriever Soccer Park.  The same Matthew Mbuta who could gain no serious run out with an MLS team -- including D.C. United -- to harness his exceptional footballing skills.

Mbuta has, obviously, moved on and has a new (likely far more serious) professional employer, Sweden's Syrianska FC.  Thus far in the 2012 Allsvenskan, Mbuta's only played sporadically for Syrianska, seemingly appearing in only three of the club's dozen fixtures to date.

Syrianska is only in its second season of top flight football in the club's history; surviving a relegation playoff last season to retain a place in the Allsvenskan this year.  I had planned on learning about and following Syrianska closely this season after Steve Goff reported that D.C. United's Josh Wicks was set to join the club earlier this year.  But perhaps because Wicks added another incident (this time a headbutt leading to a red card and league suspension) to the litany of moments where impulse control would have helped his squad, any deal between the keeper and club failed to materialize.  Wicks would appear to still be in need of a club.

At the same time, while D.C. United's front-office staff showed little interest in the raw talent of a youthful Mbuta, the team remains interested in past-their-prime European players that are being shown the door by clubs within which they've become living legends.  This time, someone on staff appears to have traveled somewhere other than Vienna, and has focused on Hibernians' former captain Ian Murray.  Unlike the tabloid-concocted Ryan Nelsen return rumors shot down by Greg Seltzer, there is no obvious reason why a link between United and Murray would be invented.

The thirty-one year old center half has previously expressed an interest in leaving Scotland now that he's been released by former Bohs gaffer Pat Fenlon from a decade long affiliation with the Edinburgh club.  Murray has "always hankered for an American style of life . . ." and is reportedly keenly interested in moving to the MLS, so perhaps D.C. United's been the target of his agent's inquiries.

Murray's preference would seem to be to play as a center back or defensive midfielder.  If United is interested it would seem to be another person brought in to bury Ethan White (rather than to address weakness at fullback).  White deserves much better, but at this point, I need to stop complaining about the composition of the squad.  The team this season has been far more entertaining than I had anticipated and I am once again looking forward to games at RFK.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Bought In

That was a blast.

Over the last few years, I've gone to see the U.S. Men's National Team play Cuba, Jamaica, and Colombia.  Doesn't compare to last night's spectacle.

Q:  How do you enjoy a supposed 4-1 drubbing that purportedly reinforces your country's minnow status in world soccer?

A:  When the scoreline doesn't even begin to approximate the action on the pitch.

67,000+ people in the stands, overwhelmingly good-natured, and largely enthralled for the full ninety.  I regret not taking my kids despite what would have been a late night; it was fantastic -- expensive, but fantastic.

I listened to all kinds of commentary on the team and its performance on the metro ride home and couldn't participate because... well...  I just sat back and enjoyed the game.  I did walk out with a real appreciation for Herculez Gomez, who was terrific for the first seventy minutes and still was tracking back and winning balls late in the game.

Plus, why have an opinion when someone, in this case TSG contributor Joshua Wells, can write what you want to say in a much more interesting manner?  Lots of head bobbing during this read.  Wells:

Sure, Brazil is more talented, but Klinsmann knows that as of right now, there’s no reason the USMNT should feel inferior or be intimidated to step on the field with anybody in the world.  Now he’s pleading with his players to buy into that and be bosses because of it.  As American soccer fans, it’s time we bought in as well.

I'm a believer.  Done and done.