The Five Billion Person Party

Notes of a wandering American soccer fan

Life imitates Dream Team, African edition

Posted by steigs on October 16, 2008

Zimbabwe is a land with many problems — aging dictator, insane inflation, civil strife etc.  The people are getting no help from their soccer team, which has just failed to advance in World Cup qualifying, losing out to Guinea and Kenya for a berth in the final round of African qualifying for the first African-hosted World Cup.  The last straw was a 4-2 loss to Namibia, which must have been worse than it sounds, given that Namibia was up 4-0 50 minutes into the game.

So let the recriminations begin!  Round up the usual suspects!  European stars failing to come home to play?  Actually, no.  Witchcraft?  Hmm.  No.  What could it be?

How about a sex scandal?

Chief Executive Officer of the Zimbabwe Football Association (ZIFA) Henrietta Rushwaya reportedly taking care of sexual needs of a high profile premier league striker spelling the demise of the nation’s hopes of qualifying for international soccer tourneys.

Oh, dear.  What are they talking about?

“Rushwaya and the player have left the senior team in a state of shock. When he comes home especially on a siesta from his overseas club, he camps at Rushwaya’s residence where they live literary like husband and wife…”

Sounds like quite the lady.  Perhaps she could run Harchester United!

Rushwaya herself is known for being generous with her body and numerous scribes have had a go. She is a very kind boss whose generosity has won her friends especially in the media as most of her scandals are deliberately swept under the carpet,” said the source on condition of anonymity.

Yeah, that’s one way to keep the press on your side, uh-huh.  She could certainly fit right in at Harchester United.

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

Liechtensteiners for the Day!

Posted by steigs on October 8, 2008

This weekend, tiny Liechtenstein is matched against Wales in World Cup qualifying, which must give the Welsh the unusual feeling of being the Goliath, not the David.  As you might expect, Liechtenstein is not bringing a big set of travelling fans, perhaps 20 in all.

But there’s going to be to be at least double that number cheering for the Liechtensteiners in Cardiff

A group of Darlington supporters are making a 560-mile round trip to Cardiff to cheer on their summer signing Franz Burgmeier, a Liechtenstein regular.

The Darlington fans will miss their own team’s game at Luton, which also takes place on Saturday.

The Liechtenstein football federation is so impressed by its new recruits, it is giving them free tickets.

Darlington is currently midtable in League Two — three divisions below the mighty EPL, in other words — so having an international player in the side is something of a novelty.  It’s one they’re growing to like: 

Ms Schneider said the Darlington supporters were also buying Liechtenstein merchandise online.

“In our online shop, our national shirt is something they like to buy and I get orders now from Darlington,” she said.

Burgmeier certainly says the right things in return:

“The lifestyle is different from Switzerland but the people have been very friendly and the players are really helping me,” explains Bergmeier.

“I like the British lifestyle. They are nice people, they don’t worry too much about things.”

“I think Darlington should be in a higher division,” he said. “Look at the stadium. The club should be in at least League One or the Championship.”

Posted in Wales, World Cup | Leave a Comment »

The Welsh, they play tough

Posted by steigs on October 8, 2008

Maybe it’s their mining heritage.  But playing with a broken foot?  And scoring the winning goal?  Meet Ian Williams of Pontlliw FC.  That’s tough:

Teammates were gobsmacked as the club’s star striker threw down his crutches and took off his cast before hobbling onto the pitch.

Within a matter of seconds he had found the back of the net with his first touch of the game.

Ian said: “I was only on the subs bench to make the numbers up, but when we were still drawing 1-1 with five minutes left to go, I was dying to get on. I asked the boss to let put me on, and he said ‘if you think you’re up to it, then go-ahead’.

“When the ball hit the back of the net I couldn’t believe it.”

I’ll bet he wasn’t the only one who couldn’t believe it.  Heck, what defender managed to lose a guy with a broken foot?

Posted in Wales | Leave a Comment »

Okay, we’re not average

Posted by steigs on October 6, 2008

I recently suggested that DC United fans found this season puzzling because, for once, we had an average team.  Based on games like the 3-0 loss to Chivas USA this weekend, I was wrong.  This has turned into one of our “we suck” seasons and we’re likely to miss the play-offs completely. 

What’s that?  You think we still have a shot if we can win a couple of the last games?  Let’s see, our next game is on the road against the two-time defending champion Dynamo — and it appears that we won’t have Gallardo, Emilio, Fred, or Moreno.  In other words, pretty much all of our creative players.  (Go Quaranta and Doe!  Make something happen!)

It’s time to consider next season, I’m afraid.  Does a team playing this badly need to be blown up?  Or is this all about the long injury list from this season?  There was a stretch this summer when the team was mostly healthy that they looked pretty decent.  Is Gallardo likely to be on the field more next year?  How about Fred?  Or Emilio? 

If we think we’ll see more of them, I’m actually inclined to give this cast one more shot.  For one thing, DC United will have a lot fewer games next season — no early season CONCACAF Champions League, no summer Superliga for us — which could make a difference for the older players.  For another, we just saw how badly drastic surgery can go awry. 

Does that meet coach Soehn should take the fall?  Perhaps.  It was clearly a rough start to the season — but that seemed to be about poor off-season personnel decisions.  How responsible should we hold him for those?  Me, I’d be inclined to give him another year — if you’re largely keeping this bunch together.  But it’s entirely possible that those closer to the situation think the team isn’t listening to him.  To me, it looks like they’re still fighting (most of the time) but often playing confused.  That could be the fault of the coach, of course, but it could also be the result of the endless chopping and changing forced by injuries and those initial poor off-season decisions.   

Who would we hire instead?  Richie (“ABMOD”) Williams?  Harksie?  I think Stoichkov might be available if you want to scare people…

Sigh.  And I was so much more optimistic a couple of months back.  At least there’s the US-Cuba game at RFK to look forward to…

Posted in DC United | 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 »

What it feels like to be average

Posted by steigs on September 17, 2008

So DC United lost 2-0 last night at home to Saprissa of Costa Rica in the CONCACAF Champions League.  Sigh.  Some, like D of the DCenters, are “ashamed.”  Others, like Aaron at Fighting Talker, are frustrated and ready to write off the rest of the season.

Yeah, it was an ugly game.  After the first 10 minutes, the Costa Ricans realized they didn’t need to bunker against our makeshift line-up and started coming forward, always looking more likely to score, which they did.  McTavish got a marginal red for what was clearly a stupid foul.  But I will say that after the second Saprissa goal early in the second half, I did see a United team that kept scrapping at least, when they could have easily rolled over.  My takeaway was “not dead yet, actually, at least for the league.”

Overall, I suspect what it is going on is that the DC United fanbase is in new territory — our team is merely average.  We don’t know how to feel about this.  During the history of MLS, short as it is, we’ve had three different kinds of seasons:

1) Winning the MLS Cup (’96, ’97, ’99, ’04)

2) Disappointing losses in the play-offs, usually to the Fire (’98, ’03, ’05, ’06, ’07)

3) Disasters where we didn’t even make the play-offs.  (We’re looking at you, ’00-’02.)

Almost every time we’ve lost in the play-offs, we thought we could win it all.  (And, yes, we should have won the Cup in ’98, I know.)  In ’05, we were defending champions.  In ’06 and ’07, we had the league’s best regular season record.  We weren’t just grateful to make the play-offs, we weren’t like those teams who consider an invitation to the NCAA tourney as marking their season a success — we were expecting to be there at the end, fighting for the title.  We didn’t think we were average.

Then there are the dark years after the initial dynasty.  We were a losing team, fumbling around, but we had the recent victories to keep telling ourselves we were the class of the league.  We were not average.

The possible exception was the ’03 season, where we did barely make the play-offs with a rather hot-headed team led by an aging El Diablo in his final United season.  I remember being happy just to be there and not especially surprised by our first round elimination. 

This season’s version of DC United is, I think, average.  There’s some quality in the side but it never gelled, in part because of injuries to key players.  There’s also been a lot of player turnover, in part because some offseason moves didn’t pan out.  We knew the core of the team the last few seasons — Moreno, Olsen, Gomez — could win.  They did it repeatedly.  We don’t know about the core of this new version.  We can imagine all the pieces coming together…or not.  They win some, they lose some.  They hover around the .500 mark. 

This is what I imagine it feels like to be a fan of a more normal team.  Say an FC Dallas/Dallas Burn fan.  The team usually makes the play-offs but rarely threatens to win anything.  Sometimes they look really good for a month, sometimes they stink — but in the end it usually evens out.  The management tries different coaches, different stars — there’s some hope each time but, more often than not, average-ness reasserts itself.   You don’t have the arrogantly high expectations that come with being a DC United fan.  You don’t have the resolute defiance that it would take to root for the often pathetic Metro Stars/Red Bulls team for years on end.  You’re a B-/C+ student.  You’re average.

Maybe with all the injuries and the tough schedule this team will spiral down, missing the play-offs and joining the “disasters.”  But I think we’ll make it — and then get eliminated in the first round by the Dynamo or the Crew (for a change).  And I’ll accept that, an “average year” where the team managed to win the Open Cup and stay at .500 despite a host of injuries and personnel mistakes. 

So maybe that’s why I can’t match D’s anger:

  This match was a betrayal, and it’s just a matter of figuring out who the traitors are. Was it Tom Soehn for putting out this line-up and having this team in a point where we’re scrounging for points for a playoff run? Kevin Payne and Dave Kasper for getting so many of the early season acquisitions wrong? Lady Luck for damning us with injuries to Olsen, Peralta, Vide, Gallardo, Guerrero, Emilio, and Fred recently? The League with its unmanageable roster rules when it comes to international competition? Pour a shot for each of them, and down them all, and maybe it’ll make tonight feel better. Or, at least, more difficult to remember in the morning.

And I’m not as resigned as Aaron:

I hate to say it. But this season is done. This swoon is the real thing. The talent is not there. The motivation doesn’t even look there. Warming up last night, this team barely looked like they wanted to be there. And why would they? They know they can’t compete with Saprissa, even with its three top attackers sitting. I know I’m not motivated to watch this team. I arrived at work yesterday to find this game listed on my Outlook calendar and do you know what my reaction was? Was it, “ooh, I have a game tonight?” No, it was, “Oh shit, that match really is tonight. Sigh.” I get the feeling that some of the players approached it the same way. I can’t really blame them.

Because I’ve decided that we’re going to be average this year.  It’s a strange feeling.  Memo to Kevin Payne et al: I don’t like it and I don’t plan to get used to it.

Posted in DC United | 1 Comment »

Dynamo Kiev moves on

Posted by steigs on September 17, 2008

Awhile back, I wrote of the legend of Dynamo Kiev’s Valeriy Lobanovsky, the coach who built what may have been Eastern Europe’s best team.  Lobanovsky is gone now, passing away in 2002, and Dynamo has struggled to match its previous success without him, a string of disciples failing to meet expectations while Shaktar Donetsk has regularly won the league. 

On the eve of Arsenal’s trip to Kiev to meet Dynamo, Eastern bloc soccer ace Jonathan Wilson checks in with a Guardian piece on the team’s latest coach, one who might be getting it right:

Eight months ago, they made the controversial appointment of a Russian, Yury Semin, who immediately set about clearing away the old guard and imposing his own vision. Much of it is nothing more than a return to the sort of discipline that underpinned Lobanovskyi’s success. “We put up a list of sanctions over each player’s bed,” explained the club president, Ihor Surkis. “If you came late, you had to pay. If there was a smell of alcohol on your breath, you had to pay. After that all the problems fell away themselves. No exceptions or appeals. Before we used to make a big drama out of it but now all is very simple.”

Team spirit and self-discipline are the buzz-words. “After the game the lads gather on the third floor of the stadium and share their impressions from the game,” Surkis went on. “If they really want to, they have a glass of beer right in front of the head coach. Nobody goes for the second one though, nor straight to the bars and nightclubs as it used to be before. I believe that the team administration should enforce a strict regimen on the players, that’s how it used to be under Lobanovskyi. However now we live in a different country. Now we cannot knock on a footballer’s door after 11pm and ask him what is he doing. Nonetheless, the lads have got to have some responsibility themselves for their actions and that is what Mr Semin is working to achieve right now.”

Semin has also brought about significant changes in personnel. The Brazilian centre-back Betao has impressed since his arrival from Corinthians, as has the Croatian midfielder Ognjen Vukojevic, who signed from Dinamo Zagreb. It is the departures, though, that have been the real talking points. “Mr Semin sent Rincon, Rodrigo and Kleber back to Brazil – and they were once our leading players,” said Surkis. “But the team moves on, keeps on notching one success after another. A sporting director from Lyon, Brazilian himself, told me once that two Brazilians in a team is very good, three is a catastrophe and four is a tragedy. That was exactly our situation.”

Maybe it’s not quite exactly the style of Lobanovsky on the field but it’s good to hear one of the grand names of European soccer is on the upswing.  Perhaps they’ll even mount another challenge for the knockout rounds of the Champions League, just like they did in the late ’90s under the old man.

Posted in Champions League, Ukraine | 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 »

The Mouse that Roared

Posted by steigs on September 12, 2008

Here in the US, the midweek World Cup qualifier was a fairly routine affair, a clear 3-0 victory over Trinidad and Tobago in Chicago.  For Luxembourg, it was anything but routine — their first victory in qualilfying in 36 years!

Luxembourg not only won for the first time in qualifying in nearly four decades, they managed it on the road, a 2-1 victory over the Swiss in Zurich.  They didn’t just beat another minnow, they beat a team that qualilfied in 2006.  And they did it with a late goal, after having lost a lead, a perfect time for such a major underdog to get disheartened.

Swiss coach Ottmar Hitzfeld put it simply: “We embarrassed ourselves.”

The coach of Luxembourg, who is surely a national hero now, was optimistic:  “With similarly focused and disciplined performances, we could cause another upset or two.”

Hear that, Israel and Moldova?  Be ready, the Luxembourgers are coming for ya!

Posted in World Cup | Leave a Comment »

Life Imitates Dream Team, Juventus edition

Posted by steigs on September 2, 2008

Player locking team president in a toilet?

Tiago is desperate to play in the Champions League and was upset at the Bianconeri president for attempting to push him toward Everton and Monaco who are not involved in Europe’s premier competition. Thus, Tiago locked Cobolli in the washroom as a sort of revenge. Rumours suggest that he was locked inside for over an hour before Del Piero heard the patron.

That’s one way to get a transfer, worthy of Harchester.  In typical fashion, who was it who came to the Juve President’s rescue? 

“In any case, Alessandro Del Piero responded to the noise I made banging on the door and offered to break it down.”

Typical Del Piero, always scoring late!

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