Archive for the soccer Category

Why So Serious, Part 2

Posted in art, soccer, writing with tags , , , , on August 27, 2014 by cueball

It started with Eric Cantona.  Actually, it really started in third grade when I decided to play soccer instead of football like all my cousins.  My contrary nature and need to find my own path rears its beautiful head again.

It was Cantona who really turned me into a soccer fan though.  At the point that he was at his Manchester United height (and depths) I was in college. I had stayed a soccer fan and occasional player throughout and then this, quite honestly, insane soccer angel entered Manchester United’s line-up and my life. 

King Eric was one of the players who embodies the magnetic draw soccer can have.  On one hand he was a mesmerizing and brilliant player.  On the other hand he did this.  The list of red cards, other sundry offenses don’t obscure why we are drawn to him. 

For me, Cantona represents everything I love about soccer and sports in general.  The magnetic unpredictability of the whole enterprise.  It is players like him and currently Mario Ballotelli and Luis Suarez in soccer or a Johnny Manziel in football that draw us to the games.   

As much as the sports moralists like to rail against these players because they are “bad influences” (“Think of the children!”), these players represent the reason we love sports.  They are all unpredictable.  Unfortunately, they are unpredictable both on and off the field.  We don’t know what is going to happen with them.  As much as people search for sure things when they gamble on sports, they gamble because of the rush of not knowing what will happen next and having some kind of wager riding on the outcome. 

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Why do we become obsessed with sports or novels or movies or craft beer or comic books?  What is it that these things provide us?  In my opinion, and in the opinion of Albert Camus (someone infinitely smarter than me) it is because they are created worlds that provide us with unity and coherence. 

These things all have some type of internal logical framework.  They always follow that framework making it easier to comprehend and grasp the workings of what is happening.  This is different than life.  Our everyday world and everyday life is to a great extent full if illogic.  It rarely makes consistent sense and it rarely pays off the way we want it. 

Homebrewing gives you a sense of control.  From the initiation of the idea of the beer you want to brew, to the ingredients you choose, to the actual brewing, to the finished product, you as a brewer control everything in this universe.  It is the same with writing a novel. You create and control the universe from beginning to end.  These things become almost acts of Zen meditation.

In part Zen is the study of the way to give up the illusion of control of those things outside of you. Completing the tasks of art is a way of replicating that.  You control the universe of your tasks even if you cannot control the outcome.  You may have an idea of what beer you are trying to make and if you do everything right you will probably get very close, but then again you may not.  It doesn’t matter if you don’t because the idea is to keep replicating the actions you can control.  That means more times than not you will get the beer you set out to create. 

Creation and creativity is not about creating the thing you want.  It is about the act of creating.  The joy is in (here is that phrase again) the process.  The joy is in doing the thing, because if you do it right, you will get a harmonious outcome even if it isn’t the one you envisioned to begin with. 

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Why Fresh Cut Grass Is Important

Posted in beer, food, life, soccer with tags , , , on August 9, 2014 by cueball

Fresh cut grass.  Not cookies, cakes, or pies baking in the oven or the smoke from a grill on a summer’s evening.  It is the smell of fresh cut grass that I love the most. 

That aroma reminds me of being young and on a soccer field.  The sun beating down on you.  You watching the ball on the far end of the field waiting for it be played.  Then you see the ball take off and hear the thump of the kick and watch for a split second to check the flight of the ball and judge the run of the man you’re marking.  In that split second your mind does thousands of mathematical and physics computations that you could not explain in a million years to know how fast and where to run.  Then you are both off like Labradors after a tennis ball.  You beat your guy to the ball by the width of your shoe and deflect it away to the right.  You knew your plan instinctively so you are able to gain a little more space as you both sprint towards the spheroid.  You collect it, take a couple of dribbles and play a long ball to the other side of the field and watch the last 15 seconds of your life play out in a mirror image 60 yards away. 

You would entertain yourself for hours chasing a round ball all over a grassy meadow with a bunch of other likeminded individuals.  You would push yourself, test yourself, and entertain yourself in the pursuit of what?  Freedom, joy, happiness.  Yes. 

That smell is probably why I love hoppy beers.  When I have a good IPA poured into my glass I always take the time to get a good whiff taking in all the fresh cut grass and piney aromas I can before I sip.  That is the power of good food and good drink.  Not just the enjoyment at that very moment, but the memories it conjures of the past. 

That breakfast plate you are so fond of at the diner across town isn’t about the greasy goodness of the eggs and bacon, it is about the Sunday mornings you had as a kid watching your father cook his one meal of the week and the joy of sharing that meal and that time with him.  That double cheeseburger at the new place down the block you love so much isn’t about your love of cheddar, it is about the burgers your uncle cooked on those long summer nights of your childhood.  You and all your cousins would eat and then go chase fireflies until it was too dark to see while the adults sat, watched, and heckled from their lawn chairs.  Everyone a big happy mostly functional extended family.  

Food and drink aren’t important just as nourishment and fuel.  They are important because they are a key that gives us access to memories we hold sacred in our hearts and in our minds.  The memories that make our life something more.  That is why cooking real food still matters and why the slow food movement has taken such a strong hold.  Yes, you can get your vitamins and minerals from a host of semi-edible substances and you can get your caffeine from semi-drinkable liquids, but you lose that connection with your past and the world that way. 

That is the difference between existing and living.  You can exist by joylessly performing all the necessary functions to keep your body alive.  However, to live is to enjoy the food and the drink that not only nourishes your body, but also your mind and your memories. 

A lot about soccer and with a dash of Breaking Bad (no spoilers)

Posted in soccer, television with tags , , , on August 26, 2013 by cueball

67,000 people.

Last night I watched a soccer match in the United States that had 67,000 people in attendance.  This wasn’t a World Cup match, a US/Mexico World Cup qualifier, or two European club teams playing an exhibition.  This was a regular season match between Seattle and Portland in the Major League Soccer.

If you had asked me low those many years ago when I was playing high school soccer on football fields and glorified cow pastures if such thing as 67,000 people going to see a regular season soccer match were possible, I would have thought for a moment and not be able to conceive of the circumstances that led to this.

Somewhere, someone right now is writing on a message board how this means soccer has arrived in the United States and will take over as one of the big three sports along with football and basketball in a few years.  They may even write how soccer could replace football because the concussion issue will eventually bring football low.

There is also somewhere on the Internet writing how this huge crowd was an anomaly, the result of Clint Dempsey’s return and ESPN and NBCSN making us think we care about soccer because of all their commercials.  They will point out that big attendances like this occurred all the time with the New York Cosmos in the early-70s and soccer is still at best a second class sports citizen.

As is my wont, I think they are both right.

Winston Churchill once said, “This isn’t the end.  This isn’t even the beginning of the end.  However, this is the end of the beginning.”  That works as guidepost here because this isn’t soccer overtaking baseball in the American sports consciousness nor does it feel like someone off made for TV bit of pop culture phenomena.  However, I think it represents the moment when soccer said it isn’t going anywhere.

Throughout its first 15 years Major League Soccer always seemed to be on the verge of collapse.  In fact, 2001 was almost the year the league died.  It contracted two teams and the majority of the league was owned by one person, Phillip Anschutz.

However, from the low-ebb the league has survived and I think with the signing of Clint Dempsey has started to show its willingness to pay players still capable of contributing to big clubs in Europe a competitive wage.  I am talking about the 27-30 year old player still in their physical prime like Dempsey.  The real test will be after the World Cup in Brazil next summer.  Will the league pony up the money and can it sign players from the World Cup in that age group?  These are the players still in their national team’s mix and still capable of playing in the Premiership, La Liga, or the Bundesliga.

Yes, a lot of the hype for the match was built around the home debut of Dempsey in a derby match, but it didn’t matter that the game winner was scored by Eddie Johnson and not Dempsey.  Let’s put it this way, this wasn’t like going to see the Cosmos in 1975 hoping to see Pele score and instead seeing a game winner form someone like Jorge Siega or Joey Fink.  That is the difference between this league and the NASL back then.

Last night’s match felt like a celebration of everything that the league and US Soccer has achieved so far.  It felt like a moment when all of it supporters could exhale and say, “OK.  We’re not going anywhere.  We’ve built this and its foundation is strong.  What’s next?”

For all the fans of Breaking Bad out there, stop trying to guess what will happen next.  We, like Hank, are playing checkers while Vince Gilligan and his writers, like Walter, are playing three-dimensional chess.

Real Madrid v. Manchester United and Duke v. UNC Diary, Part 1

Posted in soccer with tags , , , , , , , on February 13, 2013 by cueball

1:00 pm

First beer, Lagunitas Brewing Hop Stoopid and half a frozen pizza.  Lunch of champions.

1:30

Pot of Earl Grey tea to combat the 8% ABV of Hop Stoopid.  Must slow down to get through this match.  Plus, if the Duke/UNC turns out the way think it will, I will need a lot more beer to stay sane.

2:06

First Gus Johnson sighting.  He gave a great interview on the Men In Blazers podcast.  Seems to understand the enormity of what he is being given and honestly wants to do a great job.  He doesn’t come off as bombastic as American soccer fans seem to worry he will be during games.  I think he’ll be fine.

2:30

New shoes  just got here in time for the game.  Old school Adidas Sambas.  Ah yeah.  I’m reverting to my high school self in some ways as I get older.  Don’t know if that is a good thing.

2:52

Just saw photo of Duke mascot on a pike at UNC Student Stores.  We may lose the game, but we will win the Twitter war.

2:59

Manu’s defense has been a mess all season.  Ronaldo will exploit that at some point.

Every soccer fan agrees:  Ronaldo is douche, but if you were to create a player from scratch, this is what he would look like.

3:04

1-0 Manu.  Welbeck scores a header.  The definition of an “against the run of play” goal.  If you are on the post, you stay on the post until the ball is cleared.  I learned that in junior high.  Apparently, Real players have forgotten that.

3:14

Again, he is how you would build a soccer player. 1-1 on Ronaldo header.  Basically, he levetated over Evra, hung for a second, and headed the ball into the net.  Ridiculous athlete.

3:22

It took about 35 minutes, but Gus is getting warmed up now.

3:49

United appear to have gotten the hair dryer treatment at half it appears.

3:53

That didn’t last long.  Real Madrid has complete control of this match.  They are dominate in midfield.

4:00

United hanging on now.  No possession of the ball, crowd in full voice.  Too many players holding on to the ball in midfield too long.  Must move the ball quicker or go down 2-1 with the accumulated pressure.  I understand they want to absorb pressure and attack on the counter, but at some point you need to get control of the ball for an extended spell.

4:01

De Gea makes some of the weirdest great saves in the history of the sport.

4:06

Giggs is on the field now.  I am happy.  He has been on United’s first team longer then some of his teammates have been alive.

Real dominating the proceedings but a goal doesn’t feel inevitable.

4:13

Swing and miss by RVP.  There was so much going on that sequence.  First, a great shot and save, a complete defensive nap, followed by RVP missing a sitter.

4:37

A good match.  Exactly what you want out of the road leg of the Champions League.  Take your 1-1 tie and get home.

David De Gea plays like a performance artist just learning how to be a goal keeper.  To say he is unorthodox is a major understatement.  Perhaps he is a genius creating a whole new style of goal keeping.

Gus did well in his first match.  As it went on he started to get more comfortable with the rhythm of the game.  He had a good feel of when to let the crowd do the work, when to talk to move things along, and when to exclaim.  I like what FOX is doing giving him time to learn how to call soccer matches before the World Cup.  This is much better than ESPN throwing Dave O’Brien into the deep end with only a few months to learn.  Also, American soccer fans (In all honesty, we can be a bitchy lot.) need to relax and not worry that Gus is going to sound like a buffoon.  If this match teaches us anything, a lot of what Gus is famous for is shtick.  He does get excited and it does come through, but he is a professional and understands people are there for the game and not him.   A good review of the game and Gus on SB Nation, right here.

Part 2, will start later and it may be a live blog that ends with me drunkenly typing away about Sudoku if the game gets out of hand.

Only Heysel Like Pain Will Kick Racist Behavior From Soccer

Posted in soccer with tags , , on January 4, 2013 by cueball

Yesterday, during a friendly match between AC Milan and Pro Pratia, Kevin-Prince Boateng kicked the match ball into the stands and walked off the field followed by his AC Milan teammates.  The reason, for the 25 minutes they were on the field a very vocal minority of Pro Pratia fans racially taunted the black AC Milan players until Boateng had enough and lead his teammates off the field.

Unfortunately, this is not something new to European soccer.  In fact it happens with enough frequency that UEFA, European soccer’s governing body, has a program called Football Against Racism in Europe (FARE).  FARE’s sister organization Kick It Out, based in the Barclay’s Premiere League, has come under recent scrutiny for what many black English players see as ineffectiveness.

If Kick It Out, FARE, or UEFA really want to deal with racism in European soccer, organizing protests and wearing t-shirts is not going to help.  Neither is having the players of a major power like AC Milan walk out of a friendly (exhibition) match against a fourth tier Italian club.

To make any real dent into racist actions taken by fans, UEFA needs to step back in time and repeat what it did on June 2, 1985.  That day, after the Heysel Disaster/Riot occurred because of Liverpool hooligans ostensibly in Heysel to cheer for Liverpool against Juventus in the European Cup Final, UEFA said enough.  The continent as a whole was tired of drunken English hooligan armies rampaging through the European.  So, they banned all English soccer clubs from any international competition for five years and Liverpool for ten years.

During that time the English Football Association and the British government fixed English soccer (improving playing grounds and tracking hooligans like terrorists) and laid the groundwork for what has now become the biggest sports league in the world.

If UEFA and FIFA really wanted to keep racist taunts from fans out of the sport, they would implement Heysel level punishments for the teams and soccer governing bodies involved.

For American sports fans, think of it like this: If a college football/basketball team were caught in major violations, not only would that school receive a post-season ban, but all the other teams in that conference would receive a post-season ban.  Also, it isn’t just a post-season ban, it would be a ban from playing anyone outside your conference during regular season also.  So, not only would the schools lose out on post season money they would lose out on the ticket money from big regular season games.  Now add about three zeroes onto the amount of money those schools would lose and you get why this would be an effective deterrent.

A five-year ban for the other teams in the country as well as a ten-year ban for the offending club would make a real difference.  It would only take one for everyone in Europe to get the message.  The moment you start hitting people’s pocket books, they get real attentive real quick.  This is also, not about eliminating racism.  You cannot govern how and what people think, but you can govern how they act in public towards others.

Just so you don’t think that I have this idea that the US is past it’s racism, this was posted by Jemele Hill (@jemelehill) on Twitter just this morning.

Progress Has Been Made-A Case for MLS

Posted in soccer, sports, Uncategorized with tags , , , , on January 3, 2013 by cueball

I read a Twitter exchange between Sports Illustrated writers Andy Glockner (@AndyGlockner) and Seth Davis (@SethDavisHoops).  Davis wanted to know the best league to start following soccer with this son.  Glockner suggested the Barclay’s Premiere League in England and the Spanish Primera or German Bundesliga.  That is fine.  I follow all three of the leagues Glockner recommended.  I would point out, that there is a pretty good league here in the United States that deserves a little attention called Major League Soccer.  I also would suggest further that the true way to make a true fan is to attend games and the easiest way to do that for Davis and his son is to go to MLS matches.

This brings up two things.  One, I don’t want soccer to become the next hipster affectation.  I really don’t want to see a bunch of twenty-something indie bands walking around in Norwich jerseys because they are trying to be cool.  The other thing it brings up is an interview the FIFA president Sepp Blatter gave last week in which he was decrying the lack of progress for MLS in this country.

On one hand, he is an idiot.  That is not simply based on this topic.  It is based on his history of saying stupid and even offensive things.  He has not been to an MLS match since its first season so he has no standing to judge the progress of the on the field or in the stands product.  Believe me, I watched the first MLS match and have watched most of them since and the level of play and in game atmosphere have both grown at an exponential rate.

He also shows no understanding of the sports landscape in North America where only one major country has any long term sustained history of professional soccer, Mexico.  Is there more progress to be made, absolutely, but it is not a failure as Blatter characterizes it.

On the other hand, even a blind squirrel can find an acorn.  This short exchange between Glockner and Davis highlights the problem MLS has.  It is a growing league in a world populated by soccer leagues and in a country populated by at least three sports more popular on television.  Hockey theoretically is more popular, but since the NHL doesn’t currently exist I’m not counting it.  MLS Cup was played at the same time as the SEC Championship game at the beginning of December.  This was the LA Galaxy going for its second consecutive championship with David Beckham playing his last game in MLS with the most famous and best American player ever, Landon Donovan.  The game was crushed by the SEC Championship in the ratings.  It was not even close.  Yeah, there is a lot of work to do.

Blatter seems to think (if that is what you call it) that if only MLS would throw more money at players more would come to the US and the best American players would stay.  See that is a big problem, having your best players play in other countries.  Really good soccer playing countries like Holland, Brazil, Argentina, Belgium, etc. have so many problems fielding competitive teams with all their best players playing in England, Spain, Germany, Italy, and France.

The way MLS is doing this is the only way you can really grow in the within the situation the league finds itself.  It has concentrated more on infrastructure then splashy big names.  That isn’t as sexy as signing a bunch of ageing European former superstars looking for one more big paycheck and a semi-vacation.  That is building stadiums.  That is creating an academy system and a reserve system from scratch.

The NASL spent a lot of money on famous soccer players and made the New York Cosmos a cultural landmark.  The NASL lasted 16 years.  Yes, there were glory days in the early 1970s, but by the end the league was playing in front of half empty NFL stadiums with no television coverage.  Major League Soccer will enter its 17th season this spring and all but three teams play in stadiums built for soccer.

There is a lot of work still to be done, but this is no failure.  American soccer fans of a certain age have seen failure.  No World Cups for 40 years.  Yeah, we know failure and MLS is not it.

How I Became A Manchester United Fan

Posted in soccer, sports with tags , , , , on December 9, 2012 by cueball

Usually, a person’s fandom begins when they are young.  They develop their fandom like an inheritance from a parent or older sibling.  That is the deep-seated cradle to grave fandom that is always unending.  For me, that is my love of all things UNC.  I am a Tar Heel born and a Tar Heel bred (class of 1996).

Then there are the bandwagon fans.  You know them, the guy you work with who became a Duke fan when he was 30 because they won a national championship and they weren’t UNC.  These are the fans who simultaneously entertain and frustrate you.  When their team wins they strut like goofy peacocks and when they lose they disappear into the ether.

Another form of fan is the one who comes to team later in life is the one who because of an amazing game or mesmerizing player goes all in almost immediately.  That is how I became a Manchester United fan.

I just graduated high school and headed to college in 1992.  I had played soccer from fourth grade all the way through high school and finally invested in a Soccer America subscription.  This was years before FOX Soccer Channel and before ESPN started giving a damn about the game.  That was also the year Sir Alex signed “King Eric.”

By all rights, Eric Cantona is pretty close to insane, just Google his name and the list of indiscretions is as  long and entertaining as his often other-worldly play.  (The best is still him attacking a fan. After todays, derby and Rio Ferdinand getting cut by a thrown coin, I don’t blame the players sometimes.)  However, on the field, he was mesmerizing and regardless of what he was doing he always demanded to spot light.  He became the pivot point of just short of great Manu teams with a generation of young players who would define the club for the next 20 years:  Ryan Giggs, Gary Neville, Paul Scholes, and of course David Beckham.

I fell in love with the club and its history because of Cantona’s ability to get me into the tent.  I stayed and I will always stay.  Even through crappy ownership and iffy player personnel decisions because this is the club that will always give you a win like today’s.  Here is RVP’s game winner.

Now onto, the Mountain Medley from Highland Brewery, pizza, and the Carolina Panthers.