The Five Billion Person Party

Notes of a wandering American soccer fan

Archive for July, 2008

DC United go AC Milan?

Posted by steigs on July 31, 2008

Over at Booked for Dissent, Dave’s been contemplating “how Kasper failed” DC United this season.  The team’s apparent lack of depth has clearly been a problem this season and a number of the off-season moves haven’t panned out.  (Niell?)  That said, I think DC United has done some decent shopping in the bargain bin so far, with Doe a plausible third forward and the chance taken on Quaranta partly paying off.  Now they’ve made a trade for a solid MLS veteran in Ivan Guerrero, which should help (and be popular with the Central American fans in my Mount Pleasant neighborhood).  And Gonzalo Martinez is at least one off-season move that’s been a plus.

The depth problem was brought home to me when I recently started a Championship Manager game with DC United.  (If you don’t know about the game, more here.)  The game started in January ’07 but we’d recently downloaded an update patch that resulted in a DC United roster that mixes the ’07 and ’08 rosters.  Martinez AND Vanney.  Gomez AND Gallardo.  Kpene AND Cordeiro.  (No Troy Perkins, though.)  Ben Olsen’s healthy.  This virtual DCU team looks rather like a juggernaut, at least in pre-season friendlies against USL competition.  I’m playing a 3-5-2 to get both Gomez and Gallardo on the field, with Christian playing up high and Gallardo in the center with Clyde at d-mid.  The board’s expectations are to reach at least one MLS Cup final in two years.  I’ll feel like an idiot if I can’t dominate MLS with all that talent.

Sigh.  Meanwhile, in the real world, this does seem like a team in need of its starting 11 to contend and with key players over 30 that’s always a gamble.  We’re not going to three-peat the Supporters Shield at this rate, that’s for sure.  What we do have is a potentially good cup team.  With Emilio, Moreno, Gallardo, Fred and a decent performance from the backline we can beat anyone in the league. 

I’ve seen this movie in European soccer in recent years — AC Milan.  An aging team (aside from Kaka) that used savvy veterans like Seedorf, Inzaghi, Gattuso, and Maldini to win one Champions League and should have won another, except for six minutes of madness in Istanbul.  At the same time, they never posed a serious threat to win Serie A.  Week in, week out, they gave away too many points, let the old legs take games off etc. 

DC United doesn’t have that much depth and our savvy veterans are having trouble staying healthy, as veterans often do.  But we could win trophies with just a handful of peak performances.  First of all, we’re probably only one good game away from the US Open Cup trophy.  Granted, a semi-final against the Revolution is no gimme but if we can win that, we’d get a USL side in the final. 

After that, DC United should be focused on getting healthy and ready for the play-offs.  This team should qualify, though perhaps in third or fourth place.  Once there, it only takes a couple of good games to have a shot to win it all.  That’s what we did in ’04, after all. 

Easier said than done, I know, especially with a team that has — let’s face it — choked in the play-offs the last couple of seasons.  The real challenge may be juggling the new CONCACAF Champions League games with the latter stages of the season.  Those international trips and extra games may be just the thing to ensure a Moreno or Gallardo aren’t 100% for the play-offs.  I hope Soehn has figured out a better way to rotate and rest the team by then. 

So pay attention to this Open Cup semi.  And remember we just need to make the play-offs.  It’s not like we’ve been able host the stupid Eastern final the last couple seasons anyway….

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“It’s like religion. There’s no why.”

Posted by steigs on July 10, 2008

Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, talked to Germany’s Der Speigel about soccer in advance of Euro 2008.  He grew up in Istanbul a fan of Fenerbahce:

SPIEGEL: Why Fenerbahçe?

Pamuk: It’s like religion. There is no “why.”

Here’s Pamuk remembering watching the games as a child.  Can you tell he’s a writer?’

The image that I remember most of all is of the Fenerbahçe players storming into the stadium before kickoff. They were called the canaries because of their yellow jerseys. It was as if they, like canaries, were fluttering into the stadium out of a hole. I loved it. It was poetry.

Pamuk is less of a fan these days, perhaps not surprising, given his difficulties with Turkish nationalists, such as nearly being prosecuted for “insulting Turkishness” for comments about the Armenian genocide.

Pamuk: My childhood proved to me that there could be no enjoyment of football without community. But it becomes difficult when this community is having problems with its identity. That’s when we experience all possible forms of nationalist exaggeration. And there are many of those in Turkey today. Our relationship with the European Union has not been resolved, nor has our relationship with the Kurds.

SPIEGEL: Has football alienated you?

Pamuk: I still support my club, but it must be through some sort of Pavlovian response I have when I see the colors of Fenerbahçe. Even though national trainer Fatih Terim is an ultra-nationalist, I will of course support the Turkish team during the European Championship, just as you will support the German team. But am I a fan? No.

I wonder what he made of the fabulous Turkish run in the tourney, the scrappy underdogs who specialized in come-from-behind victories.  That’s a team one could root for.  A final thought from Pamuk, which in its own way sums up what I mean by the “five billion person party:”

SPIEGEL: What can one learn from football?

Pamuk: A lot. For example, that there are other countries and people of different skin colors, people who are our equals and whom we should respect. Football can teach us that although a team’s individual players may be weak, it can still be successful if it uses common sense. Or that we should not attack anyone physically when we suffer a depressing defeat. And one more thing: If French President (Nicolas) Sarkozy says that Turkey is not part of Europe, we can say that Fenerbahçe, as an international club, has been part of Europe for 50 years.

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Andy Gray versus Jack Edwards

Posted by steigs on July 9, 2008

Over at Pitch Invasion there’s a nice post by Richard Whittall acknowledging that ESPN’s coverage of the Euros was, you know, actually pretty decent:

ESPN also offered live, uninterrupted coverage of every game from start to finish. No ads for Ford suddenly covering half the screen during the attacking build-up play, no giant banners appearing from nowhere to advertise some horrific sitcom to air later that night, no tape delay, and no presenter trying to serve as interpreter for an audience presumed not to know or care about the sport.

This coverage was somewhat startling to regular soccerheads like myself, used to watching Euro games, often with smooth, skilled British commentators.  As Whittall notes, part of the problem with usual World Cup coverage from the ESPN/ABC family has been the need to explain the sport to the uninitiated.  Dave O’Brien’s never-ending “up close and personal” stories about the players, for example, were an attempt to give viewers a rooting interest in players they were presumed to have never heard of before.  The result was that serious American soccer fans felt like they were being talked down to — at best.  At worst, they simply flipped over to Spanish language coverage in an attempt to avoid the annoying prattling of the announcers who seemed so clueless.  (Cue a dozen bigsoccer threads of complaints.)

Whittall, perhaps because he’s a Canadian, thinks that a lot of the problem with previous coverage was all the nationalism involved as well:

This unnatural, flag-waving attempt to Americanize a game that already had a distinct national history (including a healthy, St. Louis-based league interest prior to 1930 and the Miracle on Grass in 1950) did nothing to preserve its autonomy or capture its unique American flavor. Viewers new to soccer were left with the image of a very slow hockey game played on a big grass rink, while Edward’s unrelenting patriotic exhortations underlined that the match was worth watching only to witness the USA beat the rest of the world at their own game.

Perhaps.  Certainly with no American team at Euro 2008, there was no rah-rah U-S-A style announcing to bother Whittall.  But, see, I’m an American and a fan of the American team.  I don’t mind an announcer who’s biased towards the US.  And I fully expect that come World Cup 2010 Whittall will be disappointed because whoever is announcing the US games — JP and Harksie, perhaps — will favor the US again, if perhaps not in a way that’s quite as easy to mock as Jack Edwards.  That’s because international soccer has become, at least in US sports culture, like the Olympics.  That, in fact, part of the charm to the casual American sports fan, the ones who don’t really know the difference between Real Madrid and Bayern Munich — but can easily grasp and enjoy Spain vs. Germany.  (Cue jokes about World War II or tapas!)  In an Olympic style environment, nationalism is going to be there when the US plays. 

What is improving, and I hope this will continue for the 2010 World Cup, is the willingness of ESPN’s announcers to assume that viewers know a little bit about how the game is played.  The gradual infiltration of soccer into American sports culture means that some understanding of the game can be taken for granted.  A whole lot of today’s sports fans played soccer when they were kids and now they’ve seen some World Cup games.  What was noteworthy about Euro 2008 was the way it drew decent ratings with no US team involved at all.  The “Olympicization” of international soccer means there is some appeal to games matching well-known teams even without the US. 

Finally, Whittall blames ESPN’s broadcasting style for the US-Portugal game not being a bigger event in US sporting culture.  Maybe.  But I would remind him that a game being broadcast in the middle of the night, US time, is hardly likely to generate a mass audience, particularly for a game where the US was not expected to have much chance of victory.  I don’t think ESPN helped — but it wasn’t the biggest reason, by any means.

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Kiev 2012?

Posted by steigs on July 3, 2008

So the Euro party is over for another four years.  Sigh.  Such a good show.  Hail the “never-say-die” Turks!  And the temporarily fabulous Dutch!  And, above all, viva Espana!

One side-effect of Italy’s scandals was the derailing of the country’s bid to host Euro 2012, opening the door to the unlikely pairing of Poland and the Ukraine as hosts.  While both have had respectable teams of late, neither has quite the tourist draw or infrastructure of Switzerland and Austria.  Their soccer infrastructures are weak as well.  So their bids depend in part on successful investment in stadiums and roads and so on.

UEFA head Michel Platini is visiting the co-hosts this week.  Poland?

“We are carefully carrying out the plan that we have adopted and that has been accepted by UEFA,” Tusk said Wednesday at a joint news conference with Michel Platini, the president of European soccer’s governing body. “We still have a lot of work to do, including on stadiums, airports and hotels. They are very ambitious projects, but I assured the president (Platini) that we will do it.”

Poland must build stadiums in Warsaw, Gdansk and Wroclaw, and also overcome gaps in roads and other public infrastructure.

Ah, but what’s the situation in the Ukraine, a nation still riven by the “Orange Revolution” and its aftermath?

Well, they’re having a lot of trouble getting the Olympic Stadium in Kiev, due to host the final in four years, renovated. 

Two companies are vying for the right to renovate the Olympic Stadium in Kiev that will host the final of Euro 2012, Ukraine’s sports minister said on Wednesday.

A special commission is due to choose the main contractor on Thursday, ahead of an executive board meeting of organisers UEFA and next week’s visit to Ukraine by UEFA president Michel Platini.

Delays in renovating the stadium have been a focal point of concern that the country has been too slow preparing for Euro 2012 and media speculation is rife Ukraine and Poland could lose the right to co-host the tournament.

This sort of problem is making people wonder if the two countries will be able to host — or will the tourney be moved to another country which already has the infrastructure?  The Scots have their hand up to volunteer to serve as a Plan B.  That’s one way to avoid another qualifying group that includes both of the previous World Cup finalists!

Much as I love Scotland, and would love to sneak over to a Euro tourney in Glasgow and Edinburgh, I do hope they get things in order in Kiev.  One of the most enjoyable games I’ve ever attended was in Kiev:

 

It is a match-up of mid-table teams. Obolon is in yellow jerseys with black shorts. Borosphyl is in white. They represent the town where the Kiev airport is located, about 30 miles away.

In general, the Rough Guide does appear to be right about the fans, though. I see more Dynamo scarves than Obolon gear. There is a single group of Borosphyl supporters down in front with American style pom-poms, a bunch of cheerful junior high kids. I feel for them. My Ukrainian guidebook is more than 300 pages long and the only time it mentions their home town is in reference to the airport. Must be a whole lot of nothing there, just a short ride away from the metropolis of Kiev, and it must feel worse to have all those travelers bound for faraway places passing through every day. I am reminded of my own home town, hours from Los Angeles but still part of the vast Southern Californian media market. We were bombarded with ads for events we could never attend, always being made aware there was a much bigger, more exciting world than ours.

For more on that, plus a visit to Kiev’s complex of monastery caves, read on after the jump!

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