The Five Billion Person Party

Notes of a wandering American soccer fan

Archive for April, 2008

Professor Zidane vs. More Cowbell

Posted by steigs on April 28, 2008

I see Aaron over at Fighting Talker thinks the Swiss 2004 side may have been one of the worst to play in a modern European championship.  I disagree — I actually saw them play a decent game against France.  Average, perhaps, but they didn’t belong among the truly atrocious.  (As I wrote about before, I also saw the 2004 Latvian team and, well, they had a lot of heart.) 

I was lucky enough to spend 10 days in Portugal for Euro 2004.  Alas, I won’t be getting to Germany and Switzerland for this year’s tourney.  (Then again, even if I could get the time off, I don’t think the feeble dollar would allow it.  Sigh.)

I was also lucky enough to get to see the legendary Zinedine Zidane play for France against Switzerland in Portugal’s college town, Coimbra.  What was that like?  Read on after the jump! Read the rest of this entry »

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Posted in Euros, Portugal | 1 Comment »

Falling for the Westfalen

Posted by steigs on April 24, 2008

This weekend I was disappointed to see that Bayern Munich won the German Cup, with a hard-fought 2-1 victory over Borussia Dortmund.  The Dortmunders have had a rough few years, due largely to financial problems, and could have used a cup win to cheer up their massive fanbase. 

Dortmund is in the industrial Ruhr region, a center of…brewing (mmm), among other industries.  I’d never heard of the place before I started paying attention to the Bundesliga and certainly wouldn’t have spent a day there if it weren’t for soccer.  But I’m glad I did and I’d like to get back to the Westfalen for another game one of these days — it’s one of the biggest and most enjoyable stadiums in European soccer.  I was there during better days for Borussia Dortmund, as you will see if you read on after the jump, and also got to see two Czech stars who would later torment the US at the 2006 World Cup.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Champions League, Germany, Ukraine | 1 Comment »

A half-time gas

Posted by steigs on April 24, 2008

This is exactly like something that would happen to Harchester United

Brazilian champions Sao Paulo were forced to flee their dressing-room at halftime after it filled with an unidentified spray during their match away to Palmeiras on Sunday.

They were playing the second leg of the semi-finals of their regional tournament against rivals Palmeiras.   Perhaps it’s not a surprise that Palmeiras won the game 2-0 for a 3-2 victory on aggregate.  Or that this happened:

Flamboyant Chilean Jorge Valdivia finished off a breakaway for the second in the 84th minute and appeared to provoke Sao Paulo’s defenders as he celebrated.

Almost immediately, the lights went out and there was a scuffle in midfield as Sao Paulo players remonstrated with Valdivia.

Yeah, that could happen to Harchester.  As well as this follow-up:

Sao Paulo coach Muricy Ramalho has rubbished suggestions that his own club was behind an incident on Sunday, when their changing room filled with a mysterious spray at halftime in a derby match at Palmeiras.

Well, all I can say is that I wouldn’t want to be on the Palmeiras team that next visits Sao Paulo…

Posted in Brazil, Life imitates "Dream Team" | 1 Comment »

Gerrard and the gangsters

Posted by steigs on April 18, 2008

Another edition of “Life Imitates Dream Team” …

This time the star is the otherwise fairly straight-shooting Steven Gerrard of Liverpool.  Liverpool, you see, is a town filled with rough elements, and when they do you a favor then, as we all know from the movies, you owe them.

When the name of the character witness was read out to the sleepy jury at Lincoln Crown Court this week, even the doziest of their number sprang to rapt attention.

Steven George Gerrard MBE – captain of Liverpool Football Club, occasional captain of England and role model to millions of impressionable youngsters – wished it to be known that he had “the utmost respect” for the man who stood in the dock.

Never mind that the defendant, John Kinsella, was a known gangster charged with tying up a security guard during a £41,000 robbery.

Wonder why Gerrard aborted that move to Chelsea a few years back?  The answer may be here:

With a big wage increase in the offing, he even text-messaged then Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho to say he was looking forward to working with him.

Days later, all that changed. Gerrard told a stunned press conference that he had changed his mind and would be staying in Liverpool.

Officially he was happy – but his ashen face and monosyllabic speech told a different story.

The truth, insiders say, is that on the eve of his transfer, Steven had a visit from his father.

Paul Gerrard, who had previously been supportive of his move to the capital, had a stark message for him: you can’t go.

“If you were to leave this city and this football club,” he said, “our lives would become intolerable.”

Steven, sources say, buckled under the pressure.

The precise reasons why this remarkable U-turn came about remain shrouded in mystery.

However, it is known that, at the time, a number of leading gangland figures in Liverpool were determined that their football club’s prize asset should not be lost to the city – at any cost.

Just the kind of story you so often see here in the US with our NBA stars — even the clean ones can find it hard to escape the tougher elements from the ‘hood.

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

A bullet in the post

Posted by steigs on April 17, 2008

Awhile back, I noted that Cliftonville of Northern Ireland was off to an especially good start this season.  They’ve faded a bit recently, down to third in the most recent table, eight points back of Linfield with a game in hand.  Still, it’s a very good season for the Reds…which can bring the wrong kind of attention in a city like Belfast.

A bullet sent through the post to [Cliftonville manager Eddie] Patterson was intercepted at the sorting office in the run-up to last Saturday’s Irish Cup semi-final – which Cliftonville lost 2-1 to Linfield FC – threatening efforts to reduce tension at the game, played on neutral ground at the Oval in Belfast.

The authorities are trying to do their best to tamp down this misguided fandom.  Linville’s manager offered the right kind of reaction:

I trust the police will apprehend the idiot who has done this. Words like condemnation are an understatement.

Yes, apprehend the idiot, please. 

Posted in Northern Ireland | Leave a Comment »

Great Expectations

Posted by steigs on April 16, 2008

So DC United’s season is off to a bumpy start.  A couple of shutout losses on the road in league play already, with the 4-0 loss to Real Salt Lake one of the worst games I’ve seen the team play in years, and eliminated from regional play by Pachuca.  The grumbling/worrying/complaining has begun.  Perhaps the off-season changes aren’t helping.  Perhaps it’s time for a new coachEtc.  That’s what fans do.

This comes down to expectations.  We United fans have high expectations, at least in MLS terms.  We’ve had a winning team for four years now, with the best regular season record in MLS the last two years.  It might be different if we were rooting for Real Salt Lake or Toronto where just getting to the play-offs would constitute a good year.

Other teams I root for have even higher expectations.  Look at Celtic.  Two consecutive league titles and back-to-back trips to the round of 16 in the Champions League.  Pretty good.  Oh, but they’re in second this season in Scotland and, perhaps more importantly, keep losing to Rangers.  Heck, they’re having trouble even getting a goal on their eternal rivals.  (I hope that changes today.)  Cue talk about coach Strachan moving on.  It’s like what happens to an Ohio State or Michigan football coach who can’t get a victory in that rivalry.

There’s Arsenal, now clearly bound for third in the EPL and knocked out of the Champions League by Liverpool.  Cue complaints about the failure of Wenger to bolster his young squad.  At the beginning of the year, most didn’t expect the young team could contend for the league title but a nice early run had the Gunners in first place for months.  They even managed to play with some style, like notable recent championship teams coached by Wenger.  This should be seen as a successful rebuilding year and now would be the time to talk about missing pieces to add — a world-class center defender, perhaps? — but now it doesn’t feel as successful.  Hopes were raised.  Expectations grew over the course of the year.  And, as students of revolution will tell you, it’s always when expectations are rising that rebellions are born, not when everyone is ground down and dispirited.  Still, no one thinks Wenger is going anywhere.

Finally, mighty Barcelona, stumbling to second (or third?) in La Liga but still in the Champions League.  Superstars on the wane, with talk that Ronaldinho, Deco, maybe even Henry to leave after the seasonNot to mention coach Frank Rikjaard.  One would think a run to the semi-finals of the Champions League would count for something.  But the expectations for Barca are so very high — win the league, contend for the Champions League, and do so with massive style.   It’s tough to meet them for very long.  Time to bring in a new manager, the old one’s running out of steam.

So, back to DC United.  My expectations are high — I want the team to win and I want to contend for the MLS Cup, plus continue to qualify for regional tourneys.  If MLS set up its competitions as they do in Europe, we’d actually be coming off of two league championships in a row — but both would have seen flops in European competition (as the counterpart to our play-offs).  We’d be looking at our team like fans of Inter Milan and Real Madrid do, with some frustration and disappointment. 

Ah, but of course, we don’t set up our competitions that way.  With the MLS regular season counting for so much less than a European season, we’re going to be happier if the team performs as Liverpool and AC Milan have in recent years — “good enough” in league without necessarily threatening to win it and then excelling in Champions League runs.  (Of course, I really want a “double” like Manchester United is going for this year — league and Champions League — but my expectations would be met with an AC Milan/Liverpool type of performance.)  I also want to keep playing in regional tourneys.  One of these days we’ll beat a team in Mexico and, in the meantime, maybe we’ll learn something and keep building our name with Latino fans in the US who have all too often looked down on MLS. 

Expectations matter.  The last two regular seasons have led to rising expectations — we seemed clearly best in the league, making the play-off crashes all the more frustrating.  Just as, I imagine, an Inter fan is getting ticked off by a team that cruises to the Serie A title yet can’t make a real run at the Champions League.  I’m trying to lower my expectations back to what really matters to me. 

Which is, in a roundabout way, why I’m not particularly upset yet.  If it takes Soehn and the DC United folks another month to get Gallardo and the rest of our attackers in synch, so be it.  If it takes another month of formation tinkering, so be it.  (Please don’t play three at the back again, though, unless they’re three regular defensive starters.)  If it takes a month to get Emilio putting balls in the net regularly, so be it.  Maybe it’s time to figure out if Quaranta is there to spell/learn from Moreno or sub for Olsen at right wing or a mixture of the two.  And so on. 

Because as we’ve learned the last two years, it’s not the first few months that determine whether our expectations are met — it’s the last few weeks of the season.

 

Posted in Celtic, DC United, England | Leave a Comment »

Like a “little red bug”

Posted by steigs on April 11, 2008

One of DC United’s multitude of new South American imports this season is Franco Niell, a forward on loan (presumably with an option to buy) from Argentinos Juniors in (duh) Argentina.  He’s of the small pesky type and, based on his initial few games, plays like a “rambunctious gnome,” as I believe someone on bigsoccer described him.  His nickname translates as “the dwarf,” which makes sense since Franco appears to be around 5-3. 

He’s been okay so far, impressing more with energy than skill, but came up with a goal as a substitute against Pachuca Wednesday at RFK.  Some may wonder what an Argentine kid like Niell is doing in MLS.  Why not live at home in Buenos Aires?  Well, the economy in Argentina — and thus its league — have some issues.  And, as someone who has seen Argentinos Juniors play, RFK may feel like a step up.  For more on my visit to Estadio Diego Maradona, home of Argetinos Juniors — known as the “little red bugs” — and first professional home of Argentina’s beloved #10, read on after the jump. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Argentina, DC United | 2 Comments »

Enlisting in the “Yellow Blue Army”

Posted by steigs on April 7, 2008

The Danish league just kicked off again after the long winter break deemed prudent by the country’s northern clime.  It is a frequent destination for second-tier American players looking for a fatter paycheck than MLS offers and, perhaps, a chance to be spotted more easily by more prestigious European leagues.

One of the stories of this season has been the way perennial powerhouse Bronby FC has faltered.  They currently sit ninth in the twelve team league.  Not long ago, they were regularly winning the league and competing in the Champions League (preliminaries) and UEFA Cup.  I was lucky enough to see Brondby play during happier times back in 2004, and while the game did not go Brondby’s way (a significant understatement), I gained an appreciation for the joys of watching soccer, Danish style, with Brondby fans, rooting on their “Yellow Blue Army.”  (Hint: alcohol plays a role.)  For details, including a recap of the magical Danish Euro ’92 championship and a mini-tour of Copenhagen, read on after the jump! Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Denmark | 1 Comment »

El Jefe

Posted by steigs on April 3, 2008

While the DC United season has gotten off to a slow start, with the team now riding back-to-back 2-0 losses, one bright spot in my opinion has been our new central defenders, Gonzalo Martinez and Gonzalo Peralta.  So far they’ve been tough, seem to read the game well, and react well to pressure.  It’s a bit confusing to have two new players in the same position with the same first name.  Ask Paul Caligiuri, who on the broadcast of the Harbor View game felt the need to state that they were not brothers, despite having the same name.  They are very different physically, with Peralta taller and fair-skinned and Martinez shorter with dark skin.  My wife, M., has dubbed them “tall Gonzalo” and “short Gonzalo.”  That is a serviceable pair of nicknames.  She takes defenders seriously, having been one in her youth, and approves of them both so far.  But surely a team that currently boasts “the doll” (Gallardo) and “the flea” (Niell) and used to boast “el Diablo” can do better than that.

So I was pleased to learned that Martinez recently introduced himself at a team function as “El Jefe.”  I hereby encourage the United blogosphere to adopt this nickname for Martinez.  The more nicknames, the better!

Posted in DC United | Leave a Comment »

“Expensive, unwanted, and unloved”

Posted by steigs on April 3, 2008

From Italy, comes news that Juventus, the “gray lady” of Serie A, is preparing to build a new stadium.  This might be part of the financial arms race we see in England (as well as American sports) — gotta find a way to generate more revenue, with more seating and luxury boxes etc.  Juve is in third in the league at the moment, cruising towards a return to the Champions League, a sign that it may be moving past the scandals of recent years.

But I don’t think it’s just about money.  The current Stadio delle Alpi is no jewel, hardly the temple of football that the San Siro represents.  “Expensive, unwanted, and unloved” is how the Rough Guide describes it.  I was lucky enough to see a game there back in 2000, when Zidane ruled the Juve midfield.  That tale after the jump: Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Italy | Leave a Comment »