The Five Billion Person Party

Notes of a wandering American soccer fan

Archive for the ‘US’ Category

DCU: Back to the Future!

Posted by steigs on March 5, 2009

The MLS season nears and DC United has unveiled the big off-season signing — Christian Gomez!  With Gallardo, the Gonzalos, and Wells all gone, it’s as if the team has decided to largely wish away a frustrating ’08 season.  Let’s put the band back together!  It’s hard to believe that an attack featuring Gomez, Emilio, Moreno, and Fred will be all that much better than they were a couple of years ago, given the years and the miles on some of them.  But it’s not implausible to think they’ll be better than last year’s offense, even if we can’t count on Olsen for much this time around.  Well, when they’re healthy, which is another issue.

This looks to me like a holding action.  Let’s get another play-off team together, one the fans will like, and hope lightning strikes next fall once we reach the play-offs.  (Alas, it did strike in the ’06 and ’07 play-offs but took out United.)  And then get more serious about rebuilding in ’10, hoping that a few of the kids (Jacobson?  Pontius?  Wallace?) show potential as building blocks when they have to step up to replace over-30 vets.

Over at the Fullback Files, Michael is “refining the roster,” following the Goffster’s updates on who is in and who is gone etc etc.  He seems to be mildly optimistic, like me: 

I’m generally a bit more optimistic than I was just a week ago, and I think we’ve assembled enough good pieces to make the playoffs, but will we be able to do damage once there?

My answer to that, aside from the inevitable health or lack thereof issue, is…Dejan Jakovic, the mysterious Croation/Canadian by way of Red Star Belgrade we just signed to play in the center of the defense.  The backline was a mess all of last year, like a chronic wound always weakening and worrying the team.  We need a Ryan Nelsen or Eddie Pope back there.  Or at least a Bobby Boswell, version 1.0.  Maybe McTavish or Janicki will grow into that.  Or Crayton will organize the kids in front of him.  But just as our problems last season had much to do with the Gonzalos not providing what was hoped for, I think a lot of this year rides on young Dejan, the big off-season signing that no one expected and no one really knows. 

So saddle up the horses for what may be the last hurrah of Gomez and Moreno and Olsen (and Emilio?) — but keep an eye on Dejan.  He may be the difference maker.


Posted in DC United, US | Leave a Comment »

So if Beckham = Brad Pitt…

Posted by steigs on February 5, 2009

So the New York Times Goal blog has identified a pop culture equivalent of the Galaxy/Beckham/AC Milan situation.  Beckham = Brad Pitt.  The Galaxy = Jennifer Aniston.  AC Milan = Angelina Jolie.

It reads like the tabloid coverage of a celebrity relationship breakup. Think Jennifer Aniston-Brad Pitt-Angelina Jolie. And now, the lawyers are involved.

Representatives of David Beckham (Pitt in this scenario) are reportedly in talks with the L.A. Galaxy (Aniston) to extend the midfielder’s loan deal at A.C. Milan (the sexy and sultry Jolie, for the purposes of this metaphor). So says Ms. Jolie, er, Milan’s vice president, Adriano Galliani.

Well, I suppose Beckham is the only soccer player who is featured in US Weekly.  But I wonder what this means if it holds true in the future.  Will AC Milan and Beckham go on to bring in a rag-tag group of young footballing orphans from around the globe?  Will the Galaxy go through a series of high-profile failed “designate player” replacements for Beckham?  Does this make Cobi Jones the equivalent of a former Friends cast member like Matthew Perry?

Posted in Italy, US | Leave a Comment »

Beckham for Obama (after Hillary)

Posted by steigs on September 23, 2008

The latest Four Four Two has a cover feature on David Beckham and an interview with the man himself about life in America and the English national team etc.  There’s also a short q and a quiz for David on various American choices, such as “Kobe or LeBron.”  (Beckham goes for his LA home boy Kobe on that one.)

There’s also this:

Q: Barack Obama or John McCain?

A: What about Hillary?  Oh, I don’t know, I’m not great on politics…Obama.

So, there you have it, our wealthy soccer celebrity English import gives a half-hearted endorsement to Barack Obama.  Of course, it sounds like he preferred Hillary.  Hmmm.  Could it be nostalgia for the Clintonite ’90s, when life was good with Man U?  Or, given his wife, that he’s used to having things run by a strong woman?  In the meantime, if I were with the Obama campaign, I might try to get this out there — how better to reach the elusive swing “soccer moms” than Beckham?

Or maybe Becks and Obama could take in some of the 2010 World Cup together in South Africa, along the lines of an idea I had awhile back.

Posted in England, US | Leave a Comment »

The douche soccer fan, American style

Posted by steigs on September 15, 2008

Deadspin’s weekly EPL post today sparked an amusing “let me tell you about the douche fan at our soccer bar” binge in the comments.  Makes me feel better about the crowd at Summers, that’s for sure.  Deadspin:

I’ve got a theory about watching soccer in large groups (and what it lacks in nuance it more than makes up for in infallibility): The biggest douche in the crowd is always a Manchester United fan. Always. Saturday was no exception. It’s pretty easy to hold up when United is playing, but even in the crowded bar the grand prize winner stuck out like a hetero on Project Runway (what, don’t pretend like you don’t watch it).

Wannabe old school United jersey? Check. Popped Collar? Check. Gel-spiked hair? Check. Nothing with both self-respect and a y-chromosome should ever put effort into looking like that but again, local time, this was before 7 am on a Saturday. I was happy to have pants on at that hour. Who is giving up sleep to groom themselves? And to what end? It’s the world’s most useless gesture. Attendance rates by women for 7 am soccer starts are lower than those at NAMBLA meetings. Even before he opened his mouth, the guy was a tool.

Then he opened his mouth. Before kick he was singing “You’ll Never Win A League.” Three or four times. Nobody joined in. Then it was “When Johnny Goes Marching Down the Wing.” Also multiple times. Also without anyone jumping in. The latter is a song about Man U’s John O’Shea. He didn’t march down the wing. He never got off the fucking bench. Have I mentioned it’s early? Everyone who’s not drinking is hung over. Is it too much to ask if you’re going to be an annoying prick to at least sing something relevant?

Three minutes in United went up 1-0 and it could have been 2-0 as the ref might have missed a hand ball in the box. At this point it looked like the Red Devils might be in a walkover, 4-0 or maybe 5-0. Manchester McSingy breaks out the “You’re Not Singing” song. Leave it to the fucking English to sing a song about other people not singing. You really needed our help? You couldn’t have just irritated Hitler into submission?

From the Comments:

“Wannabe old school United jersey? Check. Popped Collar? Check. Gel-spiked hair? Check.”

It’s nice that Beckham supports his old team, but what the hell was he doing in Austin?

I, too, was at a Fado (in Philadelphia), and of course the most vocal/obnoxious person in attendance was an alleged United supporter. Only this glory-hunting frontrunner was an obese, bespectacled, bad-tattooed woman with a dodgy replica jersey (Who is “Gigs”?) and a never-ending supply of terrace songs. Once the final whistle blew, and we Liverpool fans started giving her and her cronies some shit, her argument was that, as Americans, we were all phonies and not real fans. A Man Utd supporter said this.

Gigs? Seriously? The worst we have at my bar is this woman who comes alone in a Rooney jersey, shouts in a Madonna-ish fake British accent cheering for United, and attempts to join our table on a weekly basis. We have to avoid eye contact or else she comes right over. Aggravating.

Yeah, we have a whole slew of fake-accent-adopting fans at my bar, as well. I guess some people really want to recreate a terrace environment, though it doesn’t really work when it’s 730am and no one else is singing. Perhaps when the dollar gets stronger, these idiots can just pony up the dough for a trip to Old Trafford.

The bar I was at for the CL final had no less than 10 United Douches. But the Chelsea douches made themselves more visible, including the one that got in a fight with the Sheva shirt that had the name and number taken off, I hear hes happy with his Robinho shirt though.

Posted in England, Soccer bars, US | Leave a Comment »

When the talent flows the opposite way

Posted by steigs on August 20, 2008

Here in the US, we’re getting used to our best players being lured across the pond (‘bye, Jozy!  See you, Maurice!).  Prime-age US national team players rarely ply their trade here at home in MLS.  And when they do, we often wonder what is wrong with them.  (Yes, we’re looking at you, Landon.)

But as with much in women’s soccer, the situation is reversed.  As a revived women’s league prepares to launch, it’s the English teams who worry about their best players leaving:

The Premier League has entered what will almost certainly be the final season of its current format with an ominous warning from the Arsenal manager, Vic Akers, that American predators could rob the proposed new Super League of its top players.

The Football Association board is expected to rubber-stamp proposals for an eight-team summer league, projected to start in March 2010, at its meeting on Wednesday. But in the US the Women’s Professional Soccer League, the successor to the ill-fated Women’s United Soccer Association that folded in 2003, kicks off next summer and several England internationals are being headhunted with the carrot of professional contracts.

At the least, perhaps the pressure of US teams offering — oooh — “professional contracts” might give the English women players a bit more leverage to get EPL teams to spend a bit more on their women’s teams and give the sport a nudge there.  If they fail, well, we’ll get to enjoy their stars over here, for a change.

Posted in England, US | Leave a Comment »

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.

Posted in Euros, US, World Cup | Leave a Comment »

Soccer Diplomacy

Posted by steigs on June 25, 2008

My day job is in politics.  I don’t discuss it (much) here but sometimes I do daydream about ways we can improve America’s image through the “beautiful game.”  So, a modest proposal: President Barack Obama should attend a game at the 2010 World Cup.  (Assuming, of course, that he wins the November election.)

I’ve been watching Euro 2008 and a staple of the television coverage is the cutaway shot to the celebrity and/or politician fans.  German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been particularly prominent:

She has even chided German winger Bastian Schweinsteiger for being suspended for the Austria game. He said: “She told me that I shouldn’t do the same stupid things again. When Frau Chancellor says you have to do something you have to do it.”

Germans have been charmed by her enthusiasm, which with a general election expected next year, she may find useful.

If a President Obama traveled to South Africa to watch, say, a US-Ghana rematch with his Ghanian counterpart, you know that the worldwide television feed would show him every chance it got.  And the message sent would be, to paraphrase US Weekly, “Americans: they’re just like us.”  In the wake of the last few years, we need to reassure other countries that there are shared values, that the US is not simply an angry, alien land. 

Obama is already something of a continental hero in Africa — a trip to South Africa for Africa’s first World Cup would be wildly popular there and seen as a gesture of respect, much like President Bush’s plan to attend the Summer Olympics in Beijing. 

I recognize that Barack Obama is not known as a soccer fan, although the British tabloids seem to think he supports West Ham.  His love for basetball is abundant and authentic.  But he is clearly a serious sports fan and the World Cup has become a popular sporting event in the US.  As such, he might even have a great time — and having millions and millions around the world see him doing that would be worth more than most public diplomacy initiatives dreamed up around Washington can achieve.  Barack Obama has written eloquently of how America is viewed in the shantytowns around the globe.  Here’s a simple trip he could take that would bring him into all those shantytowns at once.

Oh, and for his domestic political advisors, here’s a thought:  Have a President Obama attend the next US-Mexico World Cup qualifier in 2009.  Millions of Hispanic voters will be watching!


Posted in Euros, Television, US, World Cup | 1 Comment »

ESPN’s Euro 2008 Ad campaign

Posted by steigs on May 21, 2008

I was a huge fan of ESPN’s World Cup 2006 ad campaign, perhaps in part because they used U2 for the soundtrack.  With “Worldwide Leader” taking a run at showing Euro 2008, I was curious to see how they’d try to sell it to Americans, given that the tourney not only lacks a US team (duh) but also the English. 

EPL Talk has collected the first five ads and the answer is…national stereotypes!  Some are complaining about this.  (I’m looking at you, Italy World Cup blog.)  Me, I think it’s a good idea.  After all, the average American sports fan would be hard-pressed to recognize 99 percent of these players.  But they know these countries.  So make it about the Italians, not Luca Toni.  Or the Portuguese, not Ronaldo.  Heck, I’m not sure most European fans know much about the defending champion Greeks anyway, aside from that magical run of 1-0 victories in Portugal four summers back. 

My favorite is the Italian ad.  Let’s face it, they do complain a lot.  The Portugal ad has the best highlights.  (Thank you, Ronaldo.)  And the one for Spain just seems wrong — the tagline is “All Surrender to Spain’s Red Fury”  WTF?  They choke in every tourney.  The main red fury I’m aware of is that directed at the team by Spanish fans every two years.

Still, I’ll give’em a B+.  Give me a great Dutch ad or a funny French ad and I might go to A-.  (Seriously, where are they?  I’d think they’d be more promot-able than Spain.)  And I’d think a Russia ad would be easy enough.

But I think we all would agree.  The latest Nike ad, the first person “Take It to the Next Level” commercial, is the best currently running.  Seriously, it flat out rocks.  Go watch it now!  That’ll get you more in the mood for Euro 2008 than anything ESPN is running.

Posted in Euros, Television, US | Leave a Comment »

RFK, My Friend

Posted by steigs on March 9, 2008

It’s almost DC United opening day, with our first home game next week against Harbour View FC of Jamaica.  Time to head back to RFK and I’m looking forward to it.  While all the talk lately has been (rightly) about DC United’s next home, whatever it turns out to be, I’d like to go on record saying, you know, I like RFK.  I understand the economics dictating that United get its own home but there’s a part of me that wishes the team could somehow take ownership of RFK, maybe fix it up a little, and call it home for a few more decades.

Okay, sure, it’s run-down and has acquired some quirky seating and other features (thanks, Nationals!).  But it’s ours.  It’s got some atmosphere (thanks, Screaming Eagles, Barra Brava, and La Norte!).  It’s easy enough to get to.  And it’s got some history.  That’s a rare combo for American soccer.

There’s a bit of pop psychology that says male friendships are often built on shared experiences (while female friendships are supposedly bulit more on shared confidences).  In that case, me and RFK, we’re friends.  We’ve shared a lot of experiences….

Some are familiar to most DC United fans — the epic 2004 conference final victory over the Revolution, the 1997 MLS Cup win in the rain over the Rapids, the 1999 conference final destruction of the Crew.  (Not to mention some more painful experiences, like the more recent play-offs.)  Or US national team games, like the qualifier against Jamaica back in ’97 or friendlies against teams like Uruguay and South Africa.  The Women’s World Cup in ’03.  A Belgium-Saudi Arabia World Cup game in ’94 that featured one of the most remarkable goals in World Cup history, though I was too new to the sport to understand just what a fabulous play I’d just seen the Saudi player make, particularly because I was surrounded by unhappy Belgian fans.

Others are more personal.  My first date with my wife was that rainy April 2000 comeback victory over the Fire.  I first really got to know my future father-in-law when he came to town for that brutal World Cup Qualifying loss to Honduras in 2001.   Heck, the time I saw the late, great Ramones at the HFStival, watching the whole floor of the stadium pogo-ing along.  A couple of U2 shows, particularly that drizzly one on the ZooTV tour.

Then there are the more mundane aspects, the warming familiarity of the rituals.  For me, that’s taking the Metro to the game, feeling heartened by the others I see wearing DC United gear along the way, and that walk past the Armory, often amused by the scalpers just outside Stadium-Armory  stop.  (Hey!  We’ve arrived — there are guys who think our tickets are worth re-selling.)  Meeting up with friends who have seats nearby.  Discussing on the subway if it’s hot enough to drink the Sunset Wheat beer or whether we’re in the mood for fries or something else for dinner.  Assessing the game on the ride home.

I know there are plenty of different rituals other fans have, such as the extended, perhaps legendary, tailgating of our friends on the “loud side.”  Maybe kickarounds in the parking lots for the suburban types who drive in with the kids.  These rituals a part of being a fan.  After a tough week at work, it’s soothing to be able to relax and do the usual fun things before, at, and after the game.  I’ve seen it on my travels.  The Arsenal fans grabbing a pint at their usual pre-game pub.  (Wonder if they’ve found a new one, post-Highbury.)  The AC Milan fans snacking at the concession vans in the San Siro parking lot.  Lord of the Wing often speaks for the Celtic fans who take the charter bus into Glasgow for their games.  It’s part of what we love.

I’m sure I’ll like, probably even love, DC United’s new stadium, wherever it turns out to be.  Our management seems to understand that there are some mandatory requirements, like Metro access, and has development experience.  But I’m going to miss RFK when it’s gone.  Probably a lot.  That happens with friends sometimes.  I’ve moved cross-country from where I grew up and went to college and lost track of some friends in the process, people I may never see again.  I miss them but at least we’ve got good memories.  Leaving RFK may be a little like that.  We have to go our separate ways eventually but, you know, I’ll miss it too.   And so I’ll try to take the time to appreciate the next few seasons there, understanding that it’s just a temporary thing now, not the permanent part of my life it’s been for the last decade.

See you there next week!  Let’s have a few more memories before we part.

Posted in DC United, US | 2 Comments »

Overkill, but that’s a good thing!

Posted by steigs on March 6, 2008

The US starts World Cup qualifying in June with a two-leg preliminary series against either Barbados (ranked #133) or Dominica (ranked #182).  Should be a formality before the semi-final round of regional qualifying later in the year. 

Still, we need to make sure our team is sharp and has some practice in advance of those games, given the tremendous costs of a hiccup in qualifying.  So the Federation is scheduling some friendlies to get the team warmed up.  What teams will we play?  It’s looking like:

England at Wembley on May 28th.  At Spain on June 4th.  And Argentina on June 8th, perhaps at the Meadowlands.  That would be three of the top 11 teams in FIFA’s rankings (such as they are).  That’s a string of three games — two on the road — with maybe one-third of the countries that can claim with a straight face to be contenders to win the World Cup.  Yeah, I know England just choked out of Euro 2008 qualifying and Spain routinely blows it once it makes it to an international tourney.  Still, that’s a murderer’s row of games.  That should quiet the bigsoccer types who complained about our weak friendlies in advance of the ’06 Cup, much as I enjoyed a second opportunity to see Latvia play in person.

Yeah, our team might be ready to play mighty Barbados after that trio of games.  If they survive.  I can’t imagine what the Federation will schedule as a warm-up for the final round of qualifying next year.  Maybe Brazil and road games in Italy, Germany, Holland AND an African tour to play Ivory Coast and Ghana?  Yowza.

Posted in Argentina, CONCACAF, England, Spain, US, World Cup | Leave a Comment »