The Five Billion Person Party

Notes of a wandering American soccer fan

Archive for December, 2007

They dislike the home team

Posted by steigs on December 22, 2007

This one is for the entertaining I Dislike Your Favorite Team blog…

I live in DC and, I hereby confess, I hate the Redskins.  Sure, I didn’t grow up around here but it’s not like I root for the team of my youth, the Rams.  They left CA too, which makes it difficult to show native loyalty by cheering for them.  (Similarly abandoned, my brother adopted, of all teams, the Bengals during their dark 90’s out of pity, as best I can tell.)

Living in DC it’s hard to avoid the Redskins worship.  And it bugs me.

Their owner is an incompetent greedy Steinbrenner.  Their nickname is racist.  Their fanbase has the delusion that the team is still an elite contender when it’s been years since they’ve been a Super Bowl threat.  The new stadium is in the middle of nowhere and, by most accounts, is a machine built to suck your wallet dry while being surrounded by drunken lunkheads.  Bleah.

So I used to joke that I didn’t have a team.  I just rooted for whoever was playing the Redskins.

(After Katrina I adopted the Saints, out of solidarity with one of my favorite places.)

Now, as often happens in the five billion person party, I learn there are some soccer fans who’ve taken this idea to new heights.  Meet the Norwegian group Fanklubben Heia Bortelaget (“Supporters of the Away Team”).  The latest Four Four Two has an article on them (not available on-line, alas):

“Back in 1992, a group of psychology students from Trondheim University, who were sick and tired of Rosenborg’s dominance of the league, decided to try and disrupt the status quo.  Their scheme involved attending matches in pink, singing anti-Rosenborg chants (the catchy ‘Come on Away Team’ being a favourite), and even awarding prizes to any side that managed an away win — all in the hope that anyone, other than Rosenborg, would win the title.”

Awesome!  I’m kind of tempted to get decked out in pink and try that at Fed Ex.  Well, except for the fact some giant drunken meatheads would inevitably treat me to some English-style hooligan thrashing.

But here’s the other problem.  It didn’t work!  Rosenborg reeled off 13 straight league titles  after the fan club was formed.  I’m not going to do anything that might help get the Redskins a Super Bowl.  Nope, not me.

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Posted in general | 2 Comments »

Figures that Rangers gets the GREEN team…

Posted by steigs on December 21, 2007

The draw for the Champions League round of 16 and the UEFA cup round of 32 was today, telling us what tasty big-stakes matches will be able to watch in February and March.

Most of the headlines are about the eye-catching match-ups like Arsenal-AC Milan and Real Madrid-Roma.  Me, I’ll be watching Barcelona take out Celtic.  Sigh.  Why do my two favorite Euro teams always have to get drawn together?  (Celtic did manage to upset the Catalans in the 2004 UEFA Cup but lost at home to Barca in the group stages of the following Champions League campaign in ’04-’05.)  I suppose I should be happy that one of my teams will be in the quarter-finals for sure — or that Barca got an easy draw, given the current state of the Hoops.

Meanwhile, the now Beasley-less Rangers drew one of the traditional big two of the Greek league, Panathinaikos.  Not only do they wear green — their crest is a shamrock!  Judging from the team’s Wikipedia entry, though, there’s no sign that it was founded by Irish Catholic immigrants, which should reduce the potential for crowd trouble.

This seems a good time to tell you about my trip to see Rangers.  Want to read more about seeing a game at Ibrox, where they have banners celebrating Queen Elizabeth and bands play “The Great Escape” theme?  Read on after the jump!  Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Barca, Celtic, Champions League, Scotland | Leave a Comment »

Return of the Florida gambit?

Posted by steigs on December 21, 2007

In the pre-Beckham era of MLS, there was a regular stream of suggestions from aging soccer stars that they might be interested in playing in our league.  (The British press is perpetually awash with “transfer” gossip of all sorts, often of dubious reliability, and it would usually come to our notice there.)  Back then, it often came in the form of a suggestion that the player might be interested in playing Florida, a sunny playground for Europeans.  I suppose it conjured up images of relaxing sunny days, with training stints alternating with trips to the beach.  It was especially amusing that these stories continued to pop up even after MLS contracted away the teams in Florida, Tampa’s Mutiny and Miami’s Fusion (RIP).  You’d think an agent worth his salt would at least know to suggest his player might have an option to play for a team that actually existed…

Nowadays, the new aging star move is to suggest he might follow Beckham’s lead to MLS.  The league appears to have new energy, as it expands (back) to San Jose, and then Seattle, and perhaps one more city by 2010.  The leading candidates for that last slot have generally considered to be Philly and St. Louis.  But is Miami getting into the mix?  It appears it might:

Miami Dade County, which backed the plan on Tuesday, is ready to put aside $50 million for the new soccer stadium and that could help persuade Major League Soccer (MLS) that Miami is the right place for an expansion team.

If it comes to pass, I look forward to the revival of those British stories suggesting aging players tired of the rain and cold of England could be persuaded to ply their trade in Miami…

Posted in US | 1 Comment »

Here’s to Bruce!

Posted by steigs on December 21, 2007

Ordinarily when I say something like that, my wife assumes I’m talking about Springsteen.  But in this case I’m talking about the guy who keeps us American soccer-heads up to speed, Bruce McGuire, the madman behind the daily links-fest at Du Nord

 I love to steal ten or fifteen minutes late in the day for my favorite sport, clicking the links to the newsworthy stories Bruce has collected, along with a blog or two from his roll.  If you haven’t read it, check the link to the right.  Pretty soon I’ll bet you’ll be like me, checking it most days to find out what’s going on around American soccer and around the world. 

Here’s to you, Bruce!  A cold one in honor of Du Nord.  May your Minnesota Thunder give you a title this season!

Posted in general, US | Leave a Comment »

“Football is very important to the Shia.”

Posted by steigs on December 21, 2007

Try being a Lebanese fan.  Thanks to the political troubles in that divided land, the government has banned fans from going to games.  As the Guardian describes it:

Despite the threat of violence, army reprisals and government censure, some fans still haven’t taken no for an answer. At the Christian derby between Sagesse and Racing Beirut the following day, played at the Bourj Hammoud Stadium across town, members of the Sagesse Fan Club gathered on an overpass and on the rooftops of nearby residential flats before kick-off. Several hundred were there to surreptitiously watch the match, a guerrilla act that had clearly rankled the patrolling soldiers below.

“It’s dangerous, there are mad drunk drivers driving past,” shouted Jeffery, a Sagesse fan clinging to the crash barrier. “You can’t blame the government. People are afraid of the fights. Some people are crazy and mad [but] I have supported this team for 40 years. Can I stop now? How can I stop now?” Despite the effort, Sagesse still go down 2-0. The Sagesse Fan Club trudged disconsolately home. Maybe next Saturday they can finally return to their rightful seats.

In this season where we remember the good things in our lives, give thanks that we’re allowed to watch our teams play in person.

Posted in Middle East | Leave a Comment »

Barca: More than a club

Posted by steigs on December 20, 2007

This Sunday is one of the great matches in the five billion person party — Real Madrid vs. Barcelona.  I see even Time magazine has noticed.  It’s one of those great rivalries where everyone should pick a side.  Me?  I’m like Franklin Foer and side with Barcelona, one of the great romantic teams in the world.  Style, glamor, and a history of being repressed.  Oh, and a history of great Dutch and Brazilian players too…

Want to hear about how I got on the field at the Nou Camp and stayed in an Orwellian hotel?  Read on!

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Barca, Spain | 2 Comments »

When Life Imitates “Dream Team” continued…

Posted by steigs on December 19, 2007

Although if this happened on the show, the accused would be one of the starters, not a young scrub…

From the Guardian:

Footballer bailed in rape inquiry

Sarah Bridge and agencies
Wednesday December 19, 2007
Guardian Unlimited

A Manchester United player was released on bail today after being arrested in connection with an alleged rape at a hotel where the club was holding its Christmas party. Jonny Evans, a 19-year-old defender, presented himself for questioning last night and was held overnight at a police station in Manchester. Evans, who joined United in July 2004, was being questioned again today and was believed to have fully cooperated with police.

The arrest came after a 26-year-old woman alleged she had been raped at the Great John Street hotel in Manchester in the early hours of Tuesday.

A spokeswoman for Greater Manchester police said: “A 19-year-old man has been bailed until 23 February. Further inquiries will take place.”

United had booked the entire 30-room hotel for the party, which was attended by 150 guests. The hotel, a converted Victorian schoolhouse, has a rooftop hot tub and suites which cost as much as £395 a night.

The party began at 2pm on Monday when the players travelled by coach from their Carrington training complex to the 235 casino in the city centre. The entertainment then continued at the hotel, with lunch and a show by drag queens and burlesque dancers.

During the evening the party moved on to the Old Grapes pub, part-owned by the Coronation Street actress Liz Dawn, and the players were heard chanting football songs before leaving at 9.30pm.

Some of the players also briefly went to a strip club in town while the rest of the party continued drinking at the hotel.

The party is understood to have gone ahead with the reluctant approval of the United manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, who had warned the players to be on their best behaviour after problems in recent years.

Last year, the club’s Christmas party was held at the same hotel, where glasses were smashed and the floor damaged at a cost of £41,000.

Evans, who was born in Belfast but went to school in Sale, has made three appearances for United, most recently during last week’s Champions League game against Roma.

He made his international debut for Northern Ireland in the 3-2 victory over Spain in September last year.

Posted in Life imitates "Dream Team" | Leave a Comment »

When DC United won big games

Posted by steigs on December 14, 2007

As a follow-up to the previous post, here’s a story of the good old days for us DC United fans, and perhaps my personal favorite “back in the day” game I saw at RFK:

It was the deciding game of the 1999 Eastern Conference finals with the winner to play in the MLS Cup, the championship game.  DC United versus the Columbus Crew at RFK.  It was, though we didn=t know it then, the last gasps of the founding dynasty.

What made it so sweet was in part that hint of mortality.  DC United had lost in the MLS Cup the previous season and Bruce Arena had left to take over the US national team.  United had played well enough in the 1999 regular season, though.  At this point, the ever-shifting MLS playoff structure involved rounds of best of three games series before the one-off neutral site championship game. 

It was also sweet because it was the third year in a row that Columbus and United had met up in the play-offs.  United had won the previous two years.  There was a rivalry developing, which gave it an edge.  Columbus had a rising team with two strong forwards, American Brian McBride and the wonderfully named Stern John of Trinidad. 

The first game went to DC United, 2-1.  So far, so good.  But then in the second game, in Columbus, the Crew had struck back.  And how B they beat United 5-1!  Uh oh.  We=d failed in the final the year before.  Would we now fail in the semi-final this year?  Had the decline become that real?  Was Columbus overtaking us?

Game 3 at RFK.  A brilliant November Saturday afternoon.  One of those sunny crisp days that makes most sports fans think of college football.  With the MLS Cup scheduled for Foxboro, it was the last DC United home game of the season.  The lower bowl of RFK was packed and there were some sections busy on the top level.  It was a full house, 21,000 in attendance.

One sliver of the upper bowl was occupied by die-hard Crew fans with banners and drums.  Before the game they began singing and chanting.  Hey!  This is our place, not yours!  Who did they think they were?  We were DC United, the kings of the MLS.  Right?   

The Crew fans got many United fans B beyond the normal standing sections of the Screaming Eagles and Barra Brava B going.  As a result, the crowd was chanting and drumming from the start.  The atmosphere was electric.  The adrenalin was pumping.

As it happened, the Crew fans would have been better off staying in Ohio.  The initial few minutes were even and physical.  Then DC United took command.  El Diablo was running the midfield, dropping his long passes all over the place to the tricky Moreno and the fleet Lassiter.  The amazing thing was the ball possession.  As the game wore on, it seemed like Columbus simply couldn=t get the ball, as if DC United were playing keep-away. 

It was a joy to watch.  The goals started coming.  The first was only 17 minutes in.  It was a classic Moreno to Etcheverry to Moreno move, a give and go in the box with Moreno putting it away.  1-0, United.  Across the way, the Screaming Eagles and the Barra Brava had the RFK stands bouncing up and down.

The second goal was one of that United team=s other standard types, a gorgeous long ball from Etcheverry in the United half to the speeding Lassiter, who scored on the fly.  2-0, United, still in the first half.  At this point, the Crew knew they were in trouble.  DC United were feeling the flow and holding the ball for long stretches of time.

The third goal came relatively early in the second half and it was a gem.  Etcheverry earned his third assist, this time on a free kick into the box that Moreno headed on B and then Lassiter converted with a bicycle kick!  3-0, United, after 55 minutes. 

The Crew fans in the upper deck fell silent.  DC United didn=t let up.  They kept the possession and the pressure up.  This was the lion king contemptuously swatting away a cub, the master reclaiming his authority.  They weren=t just DC United of old B they seemed even better.  And the doubts beforehand made it all the sweeter.  We fans has the oles going.  It was a party now, not a contest.

El Diablo, deservedly, got the dessert on our rich feast of soccer.  With only a few minutes left, he rifled a free-kick into the net and got a goal of his own, after setting up the other three.  Ole!  The goals were a variety pack of classic DC United scores, including one each of the give and go, long bomb, and an El Diablo free kick, as if to demonstrate their full range.

4-0 was the final.  It could have been 6-0 more easily than it could have been 2-1.  Off the momentum of that dominant performance, United went on to beat the LA Galaxy (again) in the MLS Cup for their third title in four years.  We were still the best.

The following year, after further off-season player losses, the team simply fell apart, not even making the playoffs.  But I held onto that afternoon of greatness, and kept going back to RFK hoping it would reappear someday.  And, finally, I was rewarded with another championship run in 2004, complete with a dramatic epic conference final at RFK.  And maybe there=s another coming next year too.

Posted in DC United | Leave a Comment »

Has DC United turned into the Atlanta Braves?

Posted by steigs on December 14, 2007

This one is for the good folks over at the DCenters, who help me understand my team better. 

I live in DC and I’ve been rooting for DC United as long as there has been an MLS.  I’ve had partial season tickets for going on a decade now.  I became a soccer fan in large part because of all those evenings at RFK, rooting for the boys in black.

The past few seasons have been frustrating.  Loads of beautiful — and winning — soccer, international tourneys, likeable players.  All good, right?  And yet only one MLS Cup, back in’ 04 when the team was arguably weaker than the sides we’ve seen since.  The last two years United had the best regular season record — first time a team has done that in back-to-back seasons in the league’s (short) history — and didn’t even reach the MLS Cup final.  And the failures weren’t just in the MLS play-offs, United has had a series of close losses in international competitions.  Any United fan knows the litany: the blowout loss to the Fire in the ’05 playoffs, the late collapse in Chile in Copa Sudamericana, the “smash and grab” 1-0 loss to the Revs in the conference championship in ’06, the goalkeeping mistake in the rain in Mexico that let Chivas beat us the first time around this season…

All in all, it’s hard to come up with a “big game” win for United since that ’04 run.  It hurts.  United used to be that team that found a win to win when it mattered.  We had a swagger in the early years, after that ridiculous rally in the downpour to beat the Galaxy in the first MLS Cup.   It seemed like the team would step up in big games, like play-off matches or cup tourneys.   Not anymore.

Which brings me to the Atlanta Braves of the 1990s, a team that routinely dominated the regular season, running off a remarkable 14 division championships in a row.  But they only won a single World Series (1995) during that stretch.  A common theory was that a team built around strong starting pitching enabled them to pile up wins during the long regular season but was vulnerable during the shorter rotations of the post-season series. 

Has this model of DC United been built with a similar structural flaw?  Too vulnerable to the greater defensive pressing one might seen in a do-or-die match, perhaps?  Maybe.  Or perhaps it gets into team chemistry/composition issues, a lack of the killer instinct or crazed “won’t accept defeat” leadership?  (Though Ben Olsen seems like the latter type, in the Roy Keane mold.)

Or is this really more a matter of some bad luck and we shouldn’t try to assign structural reasons to it?  The ’06 loss to the Revs felt like one of those bad luck games where your team just can’t score but has a ton of chances.  The ’07 team failed because the star forward got injured at the worst possible time.  And expecting a result on the road in Mexico and Chile might just be too much to assume for an MLS team yet.  Of such flukes, reputations are won and lost.  Look at the Buffalo Bills of the early ’90s.  One made field goal and they are no longer the team that lost four consecutive Super Bowls.  What if their MLS-equivalent Revs had found a goal during regular time of that first MLS Cup they lost to the Galaxy, instead of letting Ruiz beat them in overtime? 

This debate matters as the team looks at making changes during the off-season.  Is it a matter of minor tinkering (bring in a good CB!) or something more substantial (bring in a “designated player!”)?  If the team brings in Juan Sebastian Veron it seems like that would be, at least in part, about adding a player for those big games.  If you’ve played for the Argentine national team and in the Champions League in Europe, presumably an MLS play-off game is not exactly an occasion for nervousness.  If there are leadership issues, is it time for a veteran like Jaime Moreno to retire or leave for one last pay-day in the Middle East?  But if you just think some bad luck is involved then you spend more time lining up a solid back-up forward in case Emilio gets hurt at the wrong time.  Look at how the Dynamo won the MLS Cup without their number 1 forward. 

I’m inclined to think it’s something a little more substantial than bad luck and bad timing over the last few seasons.  We haven’t really won a big match in years.  So if we’re going to let former league MVP Christian Gomez go and bring in a “designated player” I’ll give it a chance.  I’m willling to support making some bigger changes.  I’m too tired of getting my hopes up after a great string of regular season results.

But, as a fan, I reserve the right to change my mind halfway into next season if we start losing!

Posted in DC United | 1 Comment »

An Easy Day’s Night

Posted by steigs on December 11, 2007

So Liverpool faced a must win game tonight in Marseille.  Win on the road or risk failing to make the knock-out stages of the Champions League.

Eleven minutes in and the game was pretty much over.  An almost instant Gerrard goal on a saved penalty and a gem from Fernando Torres, who danced through the Marseille defenders like they were orange traffic cones.  2-0 to Liverpool before I’d gotten halfway through my dinner as I watched the replay on Tivo.  It was 4-0 by the end.

I must confess to rooting for Liverpool, even though they were the “big” team.  I have a soft spot for “the Reds,” my second choice among England’s “big four”.  (Arsenal is my EPL side but that’s a story for another day.)  They liven up the knock-out rounds, even if they don’t seem capable of challenging for the EPL title (yet).  Why?  Well, I’m sure part of it has something to do with Liverpool’s most famous export.  Read on for a story about my trip to Anfield and why one “never walks alone” as a Liverpool fan…

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Champions League, England | Leave a Comment »