Wednesday, December 17, 2008

An Analogy

Having Tim Tebow on your team is like being the only country with nuclear weapons. You're glad it's you, but it's still kinda creepy.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Your SEC Champion Florida Gators

Your SEC Champion Florida Gators

The creepily impressive football machine has led the Gators to an SEC championship! Bring on the Okies! The preceding assumes the computers cooperate, of course.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Jacksonville versus Houston on MNF

Jacksonville versus Houston on MNF

Tune in now! The Jaguars are putting on a clinic for the entire country on the fine art of sucking at football.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

FSU Safety accepts Rhodes scholarship.

FSU Safety accepts Rhodes scholarship.

You won't see me sending many kudos out to the Maroon rejects out in Tallahassee, but when somebody juggles being a Division 1A (Sorry, Football Bowl Subdivision) football player with pulling off a Rhodes scholarship, that deserves notice. I won't feel too bad when he goes to Med School at UF.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Can we please find a buyer for FC Dallas?

Can we please find a buyer for FC Dallas?

I have to say I am getting pretty frustrated with the ownership of FCD.


First, Kenny Cooper seems likely to move on, possibly to Eintracht Frankfurt in the German Bundesliga. As sad as it is, it is an understandable move, but what is galling is the ownership's apparent refusal to offer more than $325,000 to $350,000 per season, when he has clearly produced like a Designated Player.


Of course, it doesn't end there. FC Dallas is also currently engaged in a public spat with Defensive midfielder Pablo Richetti, who is claiming for the second offseason in a row that the team has not followed up on verbal promises to rework his contract if he played well. Richetti has been the defensive anchor for Dallas, has shown the ability to begin the attack from the back with smart passes. Throw in the fact that he is the clear leader on the field, and you have someone who has earned a raise. I think it's also no surprise that we have heard similar complaints from several other players, including former Hoop and MLS All-Star Juan Toja.


To throw further fuel on the fire, consider the Hunts' other MLS team, the recently crowned champions Columbus Crew, who may lose their coach, two-time MLS Cup champion and NCAA champion Sigi Schmid because he has had the unmitigated GALL to ask for a contract approaching the amount the Hunts paid for FCD's own resident no-pro-experience, never-closed-the-deal-at-SMU, kick-my-nuts-in-an-infomercial Schellas Hyndman. The Crew may also lose MLS MVP and assist leader Guillermo Barros Schelotto because the Crew no longer have enough MLS "allocation" funny money to avoid having to pay Schelotto the whopping 200 grand out-of-pocket it would take to keep him.


Congratulations, boys, your Dad would be proud.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Back to Basics

This post should start a new and (very?) occasional series of posts that come to me when I realize a forum response I think I'd want to write is careening off the rails, both in regards to length and content; here we go.

There are apparently four new American Football ("Gridiron") leagues planning to start up in the next year, and I have to admit I'd only heard of the first two on the list:
  • -The UFL, planning to play in the Fall on Friday nights, and backed by, among others, Dallas Mavericks and would-be Chicago Cubs owner Mark Cuban.
  • -The AAFL, which plans to play in spring in or near college towns, have territorial rights for teams to grab players from nearby schools, and require those players to have college degrees.
  • -The New USFL, which somehow claims to be a direct descendant of the 1980s experiment that brought us Herschel Walker, Steve Young, and three-dollar antitrust judgments. The new league seems to care about as much for the traditions of the game as WWE's XFL did.
  • -The UNGL, which had its Wikipedia page deleted and has logos, but no team locations or names. This one is just confusing and looks more like some graphic designer's fantasy league than a legitimate organization.
I think one of these leagues (I'll nominate UFL as it's the only one I think might play more than one season's worth of games) should take a few small steps back towards gridiron's heritage (including its distant shared ancestry with soccer) and get away from the overly coach-centric mentality the NFL has developed. Obviously, no one wants to return to the bad old days of inadequate protective gear and no substitutes, but there's a chance here for legitimate product differentiation that I for one would appreciate, especially since none of these leagues will be attracting top talent, especially if they all somehow managed to be active at the same time. Namely, I would recommend the following:
  1. No TV timeouts. If there's no on-field reason to stop, then for god's sake don't stop. Gridiron already gives you plenty of chances to go to commercial. The timeouts that occur immediately after the kickoff after a score (i.e. ONE play after you got back from the last commercial break) are particularly galling and slow the game down.
  2. No telecommunications gear in the helmets. When you do that, you might as well give the coaches a couple of Joysticks and mount electric motors to the players asses. If you can't get your play in with hand signals or a messenger guard, then let the QB call the damn thing.
  3. Only players can call timeouts. The game is supposed to be 11v11. At least keep it that way on the field.
  4. Strangely enough, I am a fan of instant replay in Gridiron, as the stop-start nature of the game allows it to be used with minimal disruption, but have the reviews done by the officials, as in college, and not via coaches' challenges. If I want to see a contest between two grumpy, middle-aged assholes, I'll watch chess. This is supposed to be a sport. This would also allow institutionalization of the unwritten rule that only significant plays should challenged (e.g. scoring plays, 1st down conversions, and turnovers).
I'm sure I'll think of more as the NFL and College seasons unfold, but there's a start. I'm open to suggestions.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Blogging from my smartphone

While I test this method of blogging, I also want to note that match reports for every single match are just not a realistic option for the immediate future, mostly because I don't want to do them. Also, we're about to enter the window where where we have two soccer leagues and two football leagues going on at the same time, and I almost pooped my pants.

I plan to keep this blog around though, just so I have diary of sorts for my sports related thoughts. Stay tuned, just maybe not too attentively.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Omnibus FC Dallas Match Report 001

Houston Dynamo 1 - 1 FC Dallas --- We got the Cannon! Suck it Houston!
FC Dallas 1 - 2 CD Guadalajara (Chivas) (Friendly) --- Late goals are a killer.
FC Dallas 2 -1 Miami FC (US Open Cup) --- Slow Abe Parts One and Two.
FC Dallas 1 - 1 Kansas City Wizards --- Slow Abe Part Three.
FC Dallas 1 - 3 Charleston Battery (US Open Cup) --- The wheels come off. Holy hell.

In other news, Kenny might go to Norway, Schellas wants a forward to complement (replace?) Coop, and Arturo Alvarez has spiraled into an abyss of suck. And yet, we're still within two good games of a playoff spot.

Anyway...

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Red Bull New York 1 - 0 FC Dallas

Wow. 3 hours before kickoff of the next game. I'm cutting these things close.

Well, that was a clusterfuck. I understand Schellas wants a four-man backline. I think it could work. I think it could work this season, even. It could not work in this game, when the new boss had what, two practices with the team? It could not work when the team, already thin at pure defenders due to playing with a three-man backline for the whole season, was missing two more due to national team duties.

I also want to know in just what sort of ball-smashing lala-land Marcelo Saragosa is your first-choice winger. On a team with many defensive midfielders, he is the least competent contributing to the offense, and the slowest thinking in making passes of any kind. He has excellent workrate, is a dedicated and competent tackler, and would be ideal as a game-killing defensive sub to lock down wins. He is not any kind of offensive threat, and is so one-dimensional as to be a distinct liability played as anything other than a deep-lying midfield destroyer. He is not a winger!

Things need to get better, quickly. It's only two hours thirty-five minutes until the next game. We must win the next game.

Anyway...

Saturday, June 21, 2008

FC Dallas 1 - 0 Chicago Fire

I suppose I should get this one up before the next game kicks off, huh?

Yes, Chicago was missing players. Yes, It was ridiculously hot. You know what, though? None of that matters, because this was the best approach the Hoops have taken into a game all year, and it paid off with an entertaining game and a solid win that puts them halfway to winning the season series and the fan-created Brimstone Cup trophy. Cooper looked great, Oduro, while he didn't get a goal, employed his speed to keep a slow-ish Chicago backline off balance, and when the team was up late, they used solid possession and took the ball to the corner to burn time and sap the last bit of energy the Fire players had left. This last point reminds me that this is exactly the way any Texas soccer team should play in summertime day games against players from places with cooler temperatures. If you train in it and the other team doesn't, it should be an advantage.

This is the sort of performance I hoped to see and thought I might when I started the year so high on this group. Let's hope the new coach can keep it going.

Anyway...

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

New England Revolution 2 - 1 FC Dallas

I only caught the last thirty minutes of this game. From what I understand, they were the only thirty minutes worth watching. the Hoops just couldn't come back from an early two-goal deficit.

As unfortunate as the loss was, those thirty minutes really were some of the best soccer the team has played all year, and if not for New England's keeper Matt Reis making more saves than the Red Cross, the Hoops would have pulled a point. If the team can just play like that for a decent stretch in each game, this team will have some life left in it yet.

Anyway...

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Colorado Rapids 2 - 1 FC Dallas

So, Marco Ferruzzi finally lost one. There were defensive breakdowns and a lack of creativity, but I'm not going to get all butt-hurt about it. It was away, and there were quite a few players missing for the Hoops. Frankly, given all the crap this team's wading through, they're doing pretty well. With eight of fourteen teams making the playoffs and the summer transfer window about to open, I'm interested in seeing what's going to happen. I was high on the young FC Dallas squad at the beginning of the season, and I still think they pull something out of this season, at least a first-round playoff win or a good US Open Cup run. It's up to them to prove me right.

Anyway...

Friday, May 30, 2008

FC Dallas 2 -2 Houston Dynamo

New (interim) coach. Same shit.

For the second time this year, the Evil Orange Menace manages a last-second goal to salvage a point against the Hoops. Also, for the third consecutive game, FC Dallas has a player sent off for a straight red, this time for a very silly Drogba-light face slap. Still, we're back up to second place in the (very weak) Western Conference and at least the swamp-dwellers haven't been able to beat us this year; steal a win in Houston next month, and El Capitan will finally be spending some quality time in North Texas.

Finally, to continue a running theme, attendance was awful. Naturally, given the current state of the team, its modest place in the larger Dallas-Fort Worth community, and the mid-week timing of the game, that's not surprising. What is troubling, and should be another nail in the professional coffin of FC Dallas general manager Michael Hitchcock, is the fact that this game, against an important Western Conference opponent and the fans' most-hated rival, was supposed to be a Saturday night game later in the season. It was rescheduled after the regular season had started. Now, this is not uncommon in soccer land. In England, matches get rescheduled all the time for unexpected Cup runs and even, in some older stadiums, for water-logged pitches. So then, what was the soccer-critical reason that caused the FC Dallas front office to reschedule an important game for midweek, giving their own team three days rest, versus the opponent's six, and meaning that for the Hoops' next game, they'll be on four days rest and the other team will be on seven? Why, Ozzfest, of course!

Now, I understand the realities of Major League Soccer and Pizza Hut Park: concerts and other events are necessary to make the economics of the thing work. It's not like I could forget; for god's sake, there's a giant stage on one end of the damned stadium. I further understand that FC Dallas will not get all the prime dates that the fans and soccer-side employees might want; such is the price for having the team as a going concern. What is an unacceptable crossing of the line, however, is rescheduling an important match to an entirely soccer-stupid date after the schedule had been released in order to tack on one more concert. Many fans, including me, have complained about the schedule when it was released, but I've always considered that garden-variety whining, and nothing that a competent group of players and coaches can't work around, especially with eight of fourteen teams still making the playoffs, but when a front office chooses to make a last-second money grab that puts its team at a competitive disadvantage and makes it more difficult for hard-working fans to get to the game, it tells the team and fans where they stand in the grand scheme of things.

FC Dallas fans understand that concerts and other events are necessary to keep the soccer team in business. What this front office and general manager have failed to understand, however is that we need to believe. We need to believe that this team, those players and colors, that crest that the fans pay money to wear, that they all mean something. MLS is not the highest level of soccer that we could watch, but we do, because, glib stadium announcements notwithstanding, it really is our team.

The ownership and management of a sports team are stewards over a cultural patrimony, whether they want to be or not. This is especially true of a soccer team which wants rely on the grass roots to build its fan base. Stunts like the rescheduling of this Houston game are a slap to the face, reminding us that our stewards may not be particularly good ones.

We all know we need concerts and other events at the soccer stadium, but I guess I thought that those events were to make the soccer a successful business, not that the soccer was a tolerated nuisance to the management of a suburban concert venue.

These Hoops are still my team and will be as long as they're around, but Mr. Hitchcock and Messrs. Hunt, please remember that it will never be because of you, and right now it's most certainly in spite of you.

Anyway...

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

FC Dallas 2 - 1 Real Salt Lake

So, did something happen this past week?

Fortunately, the Hoops decided to that they did in fact have some heart, beating Real Salt Lake in the first game after the surprise firing. If this year is salvaged, then Steve Morrow, wherever he ends up, will deserve a large amount of the credit for putting together the young, talented roster. As for this game, Dominic Oduro deserves a lot of the credit. I hope the Birdman is showing true development, and not just a temporary jump in form. Either way, I'll take it.

Also, count mine among the voices calling for the head of Dallas GM Michael Hitchcock. Hitch is generally understood to have been behind some of the ill-considered, less-successful (yet ridiculously expensive) signings the team has had to endure. He has precious little experience with the playing and coaching of the game, and he has repeatedly taken steps that reinforce the team's reputation for not understanding the fan base, and therefore not growing the fan base (just take a look at a few of the comments in that last link). Even this firing, as Steve Davis eloquently points out in the Soccernet article linked above, reeks of desperation and clumsiness. His contract is up at the end of the year, and the sooner he's gone the better.

Anyway...

Monday, May 19, 2008

Fairweather fan?

So, my post yesterday has generated a pretty animated response in my estimated readership of one. My wife has told me in no uncertain terms that she is disappointed in the defeatism of the post, and especially the bit about looking forward to the gridiron season. She even went so far as to imply the "FF phrase."

I must insist that a downcast blog post written in the lingering hangover of a weekend of two big losses (one big because of the occasion, the other because of the score line) does not a fairweather fan reveal. I followed the Jaguars when they were 4-12, and when the roster was gutted due to the salary cap sins of the father being visited upon the metaphorical son. When I became a fan of the Atlanta Braves in the 80s, they were mired in years of playing some of the worst baseball the National League has ever seen. In my brief tenure as a soccer fan, I have withstood two straight fizzled promoion campaigns and two straight first-round exits from the MLS playoffs. For god's sake, I even endured the Zook years!

So, for the record, I can't see ever giving up on my Hoops, my Bluebirds, or any other team I follow, and certainly never for a reason as silly as losing games. If I get smacked around by the football gods on some weekends, I might let off a little psychological steam, but these teams are stuck with my grumpy ass for the long haul.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Portsmouth 1 - 0 Cardiff; FC Dallas 1 - 5 LA Galaxy

Not a good soccer weekend for me. At least Cardiff kept it respectable and had some chances, but the magnitude of the loss is still quite the bummer. The Hoops, on the other hand, have me doubting the legitimacy of MLS as a competitive entity. Seriously... 5-1? I can't be the only FC Dallas fan who found himself wondering if the fix was in. The silver lining, if there is one, is to here the (remaining) crowd booing every touch of the World's Biggest Soccer Starafter he displayed some not-so-classy behavior in the wake of a tough tackle (but one that deserved a yellow at most, if you ask me).

So, when does (American) football season start?

Anyway:

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Real Salt Lake 2 - 1 FC Dallas

What's worse than a sister-kisser? Losing last Saturday because of a defensive clusterfuck on the worst artificial turf used for professional soccer since, well, since ever; it's bad. This game is a confusing one, as RSL may actually be getting better, and injuries screwed with the FCD lineup a bit, but it's still frustrating. Next up is Goldenballs and the Galaxiscrubs (featuring Landycakes). Let's see how that one goes.

Anyway...

Monday, May 5, 2008

San Jose Earthquakes 0 - 0 FC Dallas

This is a game the Hoops should have won. San Jose is a brand new expansion team wrapped in the garb of the old Quakes, most of the roster of which now constitutes the unholy Orange Menace. FC Dallas once again failed to pick apart a defensive-minded opponent, and dropped points against a club that should end up on the bottom of MLS. Still, the play of young Anthony Wallace was impressive, and the Hoops did manage to take a point on the road, something which should not be overlooked. But man, this should have been a win. Damn.

Anyway...

Cardiff 3 - 0 Barnsley

No revenge for Barnsley.

In a meaningless but fun end to the league season, Cardiff climbed a little higher up into mid-table mediocrity. Frankly, I'm ready for the next game.

Anyway...

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Burnley 3 - 3 Cardiff City

When does the post-game action eclipse the events of a 6-goal match? When a player victimized by a clumsy tackle chases the perpetrator down the tunnel! The match itself was crazy, with the Bluebirds coming back from 2 goals down to save a point for pride as they coast to the end of the League season. Darren Purse may miss the FA Cup, but perhaps that's not the worst thing in the world.

Anyway...

Saturday, April 26, 2008

FC Dallas 0 - 1 New England Revolution

Well, it was bound to happen. This team was obviously not going to win every game. Still, it's a might frustrating to lose at home to a team missing a lot of starters. Dallas looked good in midfield and on defense, the goal excepted, of course, as it was an ugly thing that skipped along the ground and somehow magically found its way into the net. The finishing was awful, as the Hoops just seemed unable to break down the Revolution's packed-in formation in the final third. Of course, New England keeper Matt Reis had a great game as well. All in all, it was pretty disappointing, but I still think this is a better team than last year.

Anyway...

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Wolves 3 - 0 Cardiff City

Tough away game + Virtually no shot at playoffs + Looking ahead to FA Cup final = pwnage.

Anyway...

Chivas USA 0 - FC Dallas 2

Holy crap Kenny Cooper! This is exactly what we all hoped you'd do as the primary target.

Holy crap Abe Thompson! Who can say you're too slow now?

Holy crap FC Dallas! What a win.

This is what I had hoped to see when FC Dallas chose to deal away Carlos Ruiz. This team is truly coming together as a unit. This time, they not only got an early lead against a supposedly superior opponent, but closed the deal, even grabbing an insurance goal to ice the game. Of course, FC Dallas has started hot each of the past two seasons and wilted in the stifling heat of a Texas summer, though I wonder what Cardiff or any other British team could manage in temperatures closing in on 40 degrees Celsius. It's still early, but my guarded preseason optimism is starting not to look so pollyanna-ish now. The Hoops are undefeated and may be on the beginnings of a roll.

Anyway...

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Scunthorpe 3 - 2 Cardiff City

With apologies to T. S. Eliot,

This is the way the playoff chase ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

Really, guys? Really? Three to two loss to already-relegated Scunthorpe? Something very bad happened to the defense today, and it must be fixed. Fortunately, I suppose, the rest of the League season is now a series of warm-ups for the FA Cup final against Portsmouth.

Fix this.

Anyway...

Sunday, April 13, 2008

FC Dallas 2 - 0 Red Bull New York

Belatedly continuing the good news, The Hoops dispatched a short-handed Team Energy Drink at Pizza Hut Park on Saturday night. This team is starting to show me that the season may be less a rebuilding one than many have feared. Kenny Cooper Jr. needs to be encouraged not to wander too far from the goal, but when he is managed properly, as he is when paired with a strike partner whose skill and mobility he respects (i.e. Arturo Alvarez), he seems to do better, and if he keeps playing like he is, no one will give two craps about what happened to Carlos Ruiz. The defense finally got a clean sheet, and Dario Sala continues playing like a Dapper Dan Argentine Ward Cleaver goalkeeping monster. Long live Dario!

Come on you Hoops! Let's keep this thing going!

Anyway...
Hold on. I don't want this pomade, I want Dapper Dan. I don't carry Dapper Dan.  I carry Fop. I don't want Fop, god damn it! I'm a Dapper Dan man!

Cardiff 3 - 1 Blackpool

A (league) win at last, a win at last! Thank God almighty a win at last!

Cardiff once again opened scoring in the first ten minutes, a trend that is for the most part satisfying, but which is made slightly frustrating by my tendency to remember to turn on the audio feed five minutes into the game. Not that I'm giving those goals back. It looks like Cardiff's form in the FA Cup run may finally be spilling over into the league, where the Bluebirds' playoff chances just refuse to die. I love the fight in this team, if nothing else.

Anyway...

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Ipswich Town 1 - 1 Cardiff City

Ah, the joys of following a Championship club in America. A little bit of real life, and I completely miss that there was a midweek game. It's good to know young Aaron Ramsey is playing well, but another tie? I like to fancy myself an egalitarian type of guy, but the FA Cup Semi notwithstanding, this is getting ridiculous.

Anyways (a classic this time):

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Houston 3 - 3 FC Dallas

Lost in all the FA Cup hubbub, was the fact that FC Dallas tied at Houston on Sunday. This is a good-news-bad-news situation.

Good, because until this game, Dallas had never taken a point in Houston. Admittedly, that amounts to two seasons and one game, but still, it's a start against the awful orange menace. Also, this means that in two games against the teams that finished above them in the Western Conference last year, Dallas is undefeated. Kenny Cooper, much to my surprise, played like a striker and came away with two goals and was impressive.

On the other hand, in each of its first two games, Dallas has blown a lead and dropped the points. Somehow, I don't think one point per game is going to win us any hardware.

Anyway...

Monday, April 7, 2008

Cardiff 1 - 0 Barnsley (FA Cup)

Okay, I can calm down now. Wait, no I can't.

Cardiff are in the FA Cup final! HO-LEE SHIT!

The best part of this may be that the winning goal was scored, brilliantly, I might add, by Joe Ledley, a product of the club's academy and a Cardiff native and Cardiff City fan. Something like this is why you root for a team outside the big four. This is the apotheosis of the romance of an open cup competition. This is awesome, in the root-word sense of the word. I am in awe of the Bluebirds right now.

Of course, nothing but respect to Barnsley, who put their all into this cup run, and without whose giant-killing exploits Cardiff (and Portsmouth, for that matter), might not even have the chance to win this thing. It was a hard-fought, basically clean match, and even I felt for Bansley striker Kayode Odejayi. I really think that, while running full tilt, he saw the desperate Cardiff defender out of the corner of his eye and thought that the near post was the only chance to score. Poor guy looked gutted, but here's hoping he gets over it.

Adding to the good news (but let's not get ahead of ourselves), it looks Cardiff will have a real shot at a UEFA Cup slot if they beat Pompey, though some people, of course, weren't likin' it.

Anyway...

Sunday, April 6, 2008

BLOOOBIRDS!

More later, for now, I am just happy. Bluebirds in the FA Cup final!
YIPPY-KYE-YAY, MOTHERFUCKERS!

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Cardiff 0 - 0 West Brom

Another sister-kisser.

This one saw the Bluebirds fail to close in on Wolves, and the playoffs seem less likely, though in the grand scheme of things one can't get too upset over tying the Championship's Arsenal, with their gaudy goal-difference of 27, a full nine more than their closest competition, and if they win their next game in hand, that goal difference would put them into first place.

The maddening thing is that the one man who needs not to be satisfied with this outcome, Dave Jones, seems to be: "Both teams had a right good go at each other – good football, a lot of endeavour and commitment from both teams. I enjoyed it." WTF, Dave? It's the "we're not ready for the Premiership" bull all over again. The man has done well to keep the dysfunctional front office goings-on from destroying the team's performance, but this lack of ambition is frustrating.

Anyway...

Monday, March 31, 2008

FC Dallas 1 - 1 Chivas USA

Opening day. Games that matter. The start of a new season, full of hope -- and ties. Damn, dirty, point-dropping, soul-gutting ties.

Well, not really. You see, Chivas USA, now that they have been made aware of the fact that the best available American players are better than rejected Mexican players, are a very good team. They had the best regular season record in the Western Conference last year, and are one of the early favorites to win the MLS Cup this year. While it's still frustrating to drop points at home, the Hoops have to feel good that it wasn't worse, especially with Kenny Cooper Jr absolutely refusing to acknowledge that he is, in fact, a six foot three inch forward and instead pretending that he is a pretty pretty twinkle toes. Now, Kenny played for the Man U reserves for a while and has very good footwork by MLS standards, but he is not Christiano Ronaldo, and the sooner he realizes this, the sooner he will start scoring goals.

FCD's big offseason move, Mexican Defender Duilio Davino had a mixed game, making some good last-second clearances, but totally botching a late-game chance that lead to the Goats' equalizer. Still, the Hoops would have had no chance if not for Super Dario in goal, who is still playing out of his mind.

The stadium was pretty full, though there were, as always, lots of latecomers and empty red seats. Sigh. Still, the atmosphere was pretty good, and it was a fun game to be at. I'm looking forward to a season that I still suspect will be better than some (i.e. almost all) are predicting.

Anyway...

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Cardiff 1 - 0 Southampton

Listened to this one on the internet audio feed, though of course logging on 6 minuets into the game means I missed the Paul Parry goal (to my American ears, the crowd's chant still sounds like "Potpourri! Potpourri!" I'm sure that would please Paul.). The rest was a bit "meh," but that also meant there was no serious threat by Southampton, which is good enough for me.

There are two scenes in Monty Python and the Holy Grail in which minor characters must insist to their clueless fellows that they are not, in fact, dead yet. With an ugly win over relegation-threatened Southampton, Cardiff's playoff hopes could be described in much the same way. Whether they end up like loyal Concorde or the plague villager remains to be seen, but I'd be on the lookout for Eric Idle carrying a club. On the plus side, the lingering possibility of relegation is shrinking in the distance in the team's collective rear-view mirror, and the FA Cup semifinal is coming up.

Anyway...

Thursday, March 27, 2008

OMG teh MLS NEWZeZ!!!11!!!!1!!

So, I am reading Goff's blog, and I see that Dick's Sporting Goods (Heh heh -- I bet I'm the first person to notice that the company's name includes a funny word for "penis."), a sponsor of MLS and the named sponsor of Colorado's home stadium, has finally started selling MLS gear on its website, including a very nice selection of FC Dallas gear. This is a nice step in the right direction for MLS, which still struggles to get its (non-Beckham) merchandise into stores, online or otherwise. On my way to the FC Dallas page, I see the following on the sidebar:

(See full screenshot here.) From this graphic, we can deduce several exciting tidbits and even some real shockers.

First, David Beckham has been realized for the beyond-world-class talent that he is, and has been elevated to being his own team. The Galaxy must be gutted, though now they have a good bit more salary cap room.

Second, Toronto FC management has finally realized that soccer will never work in Toronto, and has sensibly moved the team to be the second club in the Dallas area, reviving the proud name of the Dallas Burn. I can only assume the team will play in Southlake to overwhelming fan response.

Third, by cleverly announcing the expansion Orlando Pirates, MLS is finally returning to Florida, or maybe South Africa. FIFA is reported to be distressed either way.

Finally, the restored San Jose Earthquakes have seen the error of their ways and have wisely abandoned one of the few names in American soccer with any significant history, severing all historical and emotional ties with those silly MLS Cup trophies and that no-talent hack George Best, and revived the glorious Nike-name San Jose Clash. Somewhere in punk rock heaven, Joe Strummer is smiling.

So there you have it, folks, DSG is giving us all the awesome news! They are taking a true leadership position in the American soccer community, and we should all be thankful. Eat your heart out, MLS Rumors.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
UPDATE: As of 10am on Thursday morning, it's still posted that way.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
UPDATE 2: As of 5:45 pm on Saturday, it's still posted that way. Jeez. Am I missing something? I hit "Refresh" on the browser.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Disclaimer: I'm sure I'm not the first to notice this, but I have intentionally avoided looking up any other response to the story. I wanted to work in an unadulterated creative environment because I'm awesome like that. No really. I am. Why are you laughing?

Sunday, March 23, 2008

FC Dallas 2 - Clube Atlético Paranaense 1 (Friendly)

UPDATE: Great posts on 3rd Degree here and here.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Sorry, didn't catch this one either. What can I say, real life is actually more important than soccer (Shhhhh, don't tell anyone!).

Clube Atlético Paranaense ("CAP") has partnered with FC Dallas to share business and soccer practices and to help each other out in training. Many MLS clubs have such partnerships, but the FCD-CAP one is remarkably productive, in that the clubs actually seem to, well, do stuff. FCD has two players on loan from the Brazilian club, and the Hoops have spent time training at CAP's facility in Brazil each of the last two years, and FCD has returned the favor each of those years. In fact, two of FCD's players are actually on loan from CAP, and there is the near-promise of more to come in future years.

As part of the partnership, the teams play a home-and-away friendly series called the USA-Brazil Challenge, and give the winner a ridiculously large trophy. Yesterday's winning performance was the final leg, with FCD having won the first leg in Brazil two-to-nil with each FCD goal scored by one of the on-loan CAP players. FCD takes the cup with a 4-1 aggregate score, and the rest of MLS trembles in awe of the Hoops' preseason might -- or maybe not.

What made last night's game interesting was the fact that CAP finished the game with nine men after someone knocked over the ref while their whole team had surrounded him to protest an FCD goal off of a quick-kick. It was apparently pretty ugly, and while some fans are pretty angry at CAP's behavior, I think that since nobody got hurt, it just adds a little spice to a relationship that had been altogether too Kumbaya to make for really exciting soccer on the field. With some of their players having been such big babies, I feel more comfortable posting something like the below.

Anyway...

Cardiff 2 - Bristol City 1

I didn't get to listen to this one, as I was participating in that most American (and Texan) of pastimes, shooting semi-automatic firearms. What were you expecting? Rounders? Fortunately, the Bluebirds didn't need my psychic assistance, as they beat promotion-challenging cross-border rivals Bristol City. This win goes a long way towards insuring that Cardiff won't have to sweat any kind of relegation fight, even if they hit a bigtime loss in form the rest of the season.

What's even sweeter about beating Bristol City, apart from knowing that the fans were singing the old standard, "Always shit on the English side of the bridge," a ditty which amuses me far more than it logically should, is that a certain former Swansea player goes back to Bristol with a loss. For those who don't know, Bristol City striker Lee Trundle was a longtime player for Swansea City, and on the occasion of Swansea's win in the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff at the 2006 FA Trophy final (not to be confused with the more prestigious FA Cup), he had himself a bit of fun. Lee was already a fan favorite of the Swansea faithful, and even though the Swans and the Bluebirds were not in the same league and the game wasn't against Cardiff City, Trundle made himself a legend to both fan bases with an anti-cardiff flag and t-shirt, though obviously each group of fans has a bit of a different take on the guy.


Anyway...

Friday, March 21, 2008

Success... for now

By now it's old news that Cardiff won their hearing versus the shady Langston company, though Cardiff's lawyers did their part to light up the cockroach-ridden tenement flat that is Cardiff's front-office situation, naming former chairman and Wimbledon-succubus Sam Hammam as the power behind the "throne" of Langston. The basics are this: Langston loaned the club 24 million pounds while Hammam was chairman, and are now claiming that the entire amount is immediately payable. The club contends that it has made various arrangements that mean the debt doesn't need to be repaid until 2016 or so. If it sounds like a cynical power play by an ousted chaiman, that's because that's probably what it is.

The hearing was for summary judgment, which in the legal world means the judge was required to view all the facts in the best possible light for Cardiff and then determine whether, having done that, Langston would still obviously be in the right. It's an early gambit by Langston, and there is still the specter of a full trial on the disputed facts. Still, the gambit failed, and with this victory, which forces Langston (who moved for summary judgment in the first place) to pay a healthy chunk of Cardiff's recent legal bills, Cardiff has shown the world and, perhaps more importantly, the local council, that they have a strong case going forward and are in this thing to win it, notwithstanding threats of administration and its ten-point-penalty bogeyman. They can also now seriously look into a much-needed loan signing for depth.

There had been some debate about whether the man who began the dismantling of Wimbledon or the man who began the dismantling of Leeds was the worse chairman, but now I think most Bluebirds supporters will echo the sentiments of one messageboard partisan: "Do the ayatollah now, you piece of shit." Here here. Long live the overspending corporate shill; down with the false-fan hypocrite. One thing I do know is that if there ever were any karmic debt to pay for the dark days of hooliganism, the Cardiff fans' ledger should be more than balanced by now -- Barnsley and Pompey/West Brom, beware.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

FC Dallas 0 - 0 Los Angeles Galaxy (Friendly)

Mr. Beckham (finally) comes to North Texas.

First, here's a little background. Last season, FC Dallas played in Superliga, a made-for-TV tournament pitting MLS teams against Mexican teams. For a variety of reasons, these two leagues' futures are intertwined, though there is still much more money in the Mexican game right now. It ended up being a fun tournament, with in-season MLS teams holding their own against late-preseason Mexican clubs, and the $1,000,000 prize enough to motivate the players who took the field (many veterans and national teamers on the Mexican squads were held out, especially in the early group-stage games). LA and Dallas were in the same group, and Beckham was scheduled to make his only appearance in Dallas in the LA versus Dallas group stage match. The Dallas front office promoted this game like they have never promoted anything before. It was frankly kind of frustrating, as Dallas were in form in the league at the time, but only a scrawny English deadball specialist who plays for a different team could warrant a billboard on the highway. Whether it was the marketing or just the general cult of celebrity surrounding Becks, the game was an instant sellout with tickets going for well above the standard going rate. Fans of Man U and Real Madrid, celebrity-loving soccer moms, and thousands of other people who couldn't name a single player off the FC Dallas roster.

Needless to say, when Becks bowed out with an injury, these people were not happy. People were demanding refunds and complaining about a bait and switch, and the FC Dallas front office learned a valuable lesson about overpromoting, and trust me, this is not a typical problem for FC Dallas. To top it all off, LA won a ridiculous but fun match at Pizza Hut Park, 6-5 (ask me about Landon Donovan sometime).

Afterwards, FC Dallas and the Galaxy managed to put together a preseason friendly for charity to stem the Public Relations bleeding, with FC Dallas agreeing to give free tickets to anyone who had bought tickets to the Superliga match, and fortunately for FC Dallas, Becks has been healthy. Not that it really matted, of course. Once word was out that one of Fabio Capello's little helpers would be watching the game in Dallas, ol' Goldenballs would have had to be missing a leg before he'd miss this game. I think I may actually have heard the sighs of relief in Frisco from my house 50 miles away.

As the wife and I had got our tickets to last year's game on the secondary market for a very good price once people had found out there would be no Beckham, we didn't have free tickets to this game, so we just caught this one on the streaming internet video FC Dallas provided. It was a pretty good game for a preseason warmup. FCD's manager Steve Morrow is implementing a new formation with a three-man back line and trying to get more width in the midfield. While the finishing was sub-par even for MLS standards, the crosses were flying in and there was a lot of activity in LA's defensive half. Frankly, I'm encouraged, especially since Dallas keeper Dario Sala played lights-out, making several great saves. Beckham, as could be expected in a match where he was trying to prove his fitness, was everywhere: tracking back to defend in his penalty area, advancing all the way upfield (to the point of being caught offside twice), and I swear at one point I saw that son of a bitch intercept a pass from his own teammate intended for a differeant Galaxy player.

The game ended 0-0, but there were a lot of chances for both sides. LA's defense is not well-thought-of (almost half of the Gals' salary cap is spent on three offensive players), but I am optimistic that with a few more games together, FC Dallas will have a better offense this year than last and a defense that is at least no worse. Go Hoops!

Anyway...

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Colchester 1 - 1 Cardiff

Cardiff dropped points today to Colchester. Colchester is currently in 24th place. That's dead last in the biggest friggin' soccer league in the solar system. I don't care that the game was in Colchester, this was 2 points that shouldn't have been dropped and will be very missed. Of course, it didn't help that Jimmy Floyd left the game about an hour in, which is not unusual, but doing so by means of a straight red is slightly out of the ordinary and not particularly helpful. The team's playoff chances are sinking down into the horizon, and the Bluebirds seem to be in no hurry to catch the sun.

Anyway...

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Cardiff 1 - 0 Hull

This weeknight special came on yesterday while I was at work, but I did remember to pull up the Soccernet Gamecast, which is really quite nice these days. A Stephen McPhail goal very early on gave Cardiff the win over top-6 team Hull, as they try to take advantage of the games-in-hand they have to claw their way back into playoff contention.

If they really want it, that is.

Anyway...

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Cardiff in the UEFA Cup? Perish the thought!

Cardiff City, of course, is headed to new Wembley for a semi-final in the craziest FA Cup this side of 1980. They'll be playing Barnsley, the giant-killers (great example in that link of an American journalist having to write for an unfamiliar audience, by the way). Fortunately, Cardiff are not giants, so the Bluebirds have a reasonable chance of advancing to the final, a game in which a win earns the victors a trip to Europe's second-most-important pan-national club tournament.

That is, of course, unless that winning team is Cardiff.

As background, I should mention that from a soccer standpoint, Wales is as independent of England as is Brazil, with it's own National Team, (such as it is), own governing body (such as it is -- which isn't much), and even its own top-level league (such as it is -- which isn't much -- at all -- no, seriously -- it's crap -- no offense -- and don't even get me started on the FAW Premier Cup). Cardiff, along with a few other clubs, play in the English system because, historically, the FA of Wales was even more crap than it is now. However, the Bluebirds still played in the Welsh Cup, run by the FAW along the same lines as England's FA Cup. Cardiff often won this cup, and with it the right to play in European competitions that eventually merged into and/or evolved into and/or were replaced by the UEFA Cup. Cardiff was in many ways very lucky to be able to do this, but the spots were Wales's to give, and they gave them to any team based in Wales that won the Welsh Cup.

Eventually, however, the FAW began to notice that the rest of Europe was (a) annoyed that England's smaller neighbors had an anachronistically large influence on the rules of soccer, and (b) noticing how truly crap the FAW was. Therefore, to ensure their survival and that of the national team (both laudable ends, particularly the latter), the FAW tried to appear to be aiming for Scottish levels of non-crap. To that end, they set up the League of Wales (meh -- whatever, but the potentially ultra-prestigious Champions League is based on doing well in League play, and they wanted to enter somebody), but they declared that only teams competing in a Welsh league would be allowed to play in the Welsh Cup, with the prize of a UEFA Cup berth. Of course, for the FAW, the result was excluding their three best clubs and three more that could arguably be the next three best clubs (i.e. Newport County, Colwyn Bay, and Merthyr Tydfil), and the lack of any positive Welsh results in European club tournaments speaks volumes. The FAW are crap.

As has already been mentioned once or twice, the FAW are a bit crap, and the League of Wales is also quite a bit crap (and of course I mean strictly from a competitive standpoint; far be it from me to impugn someone for supporting their local club, but still, it's really crap). Because of this, Cardiff and the rest told the FAW what they could do with their League, knowing full well that the alternative was a competitive ghetto of trans-Glaswegian proportions. In return, they gave up the possibility of any European tournaments, as the English FA was content to allow the clubs to remain in the English pyramid, but loathe to give up any lucrative European spots to "foreign" clubs.

Of course, it has been decades since a Welsh club was in England's top flight, and even longer since any were challenging for European slots through either the league or the FA Cup or League Cup. Therefore, the Exiles major gripe has been with the FAW, and not the English FA. On the Welsh side, the FAW have realized how badly they've dropped the ball, leaking cockamamie schemes to help the Welsh big three back into Europe without having to backpedal and restart the pissing match that got them into this mess in the first place. As to the English side, only Cardiff's recent surprising success in the FA Cup has been able to get people talking, and as the only club to take the FA Cup outside of England, you'd think the FA might have a bit of love for one of its stepchildren (or is that step-dragons?).

Still, the Bluebirds do have at least one potential white knight, and of course, there is a (very) long way to go to keep this from becoming a (very) moot point for at least another year. And ultimately, the Exiles' best chance of European play is to figure out some way to help the FAW, which is crap, after all, figure out a way to extricate its foot from its mouth so it can enter its best clubs into European competition, an area where it is a uniquely deficient governing body.

To close, I will simply say, "GOOO BLOOOOBIRDS!"

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Middlesbrough 0 - 2 Cardiff (FA Cup)

Man U beaten by Portsmouth. Liverpool AND Chelsea beaten by Barnsley. Every Premier League club EXCEPT Pompey and Boro beaten by SOMEBODY. Frankly, it feels like Cardiff were just fulfilling their destiny. It's been said elsewhere, but this is the Soccer gods throwing a bone to fans of every single non-Big-Four team out there. Peter Whittingham's and Roger Johnson's goals were like the final killing blows delivered by the ancient Roman conspirators to the reeling (and in the case of Boro, I do mean reeling - they played very poorly) embodiment of oppressive power, finishing the work begun by Portsmouth and Barnsley and Oldham and all the others. So what happens from here? Does Pompey play the part of Marc Antony or Octavian? Will Cardiff, with its upcoming legal case, continue to play the role of Brutus to the bitter end?

I don't know. all I know is I am a very happy Cardiff fan.

Anyway, on a slightly less classical note...



Thursday, March 6, 2008

FA Cup Motivations


Oh the majesty, oh the history, oh the glory of the FA Cup. Professional team sports are big business around the world, and as businesses, they naturally fall into the category of "Entertainment," a field that inevitably follows trends and hides its past. For that reason alone, it's wonderful and to me a bit amazing to see some of our favorite "Entertainment companies" (i.e. football clubs) continue to play in a 130-year-old tournament against competition against all-comers. It's good that those aspects of being a sports fan that make sports more than mere entertainment have survived long enough and well enough that we get to see near-amateurs score twice against one of the most-storied clubs in the world.

Clubs and players want to win the FA Cup for the glory, the prestige, the honor of it. They want to win for the players' and managers' egos or to be featured on the largest stage in British football. They want to win to be a part of history. They want to win it to show they can compete with the best in the world. They may even want to win it for the fans. Often, of course, there is the promise of riches to be spent on new stadiums, new cars, or any number of other things.

Never before, I think, have we seen so glorious a motive for winning an FA Cup match as Cardiff City has for winning against Middlesbrough on Sunday:

Litigation management.

From what I can tell, the fans and (I believe) the players would be alright with just glory, pride, and adulation, but if it's the prospect of paying legal bills that get Pete and Dave get all hot and bothered, we can now rest assured that they will give it their all come Sunday.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Crystal Palace 0 - 0 Cardiff

Well, at least a midweek draw on the road is better than a Saturday loss at home. Trevor Sinclair is back for the first time in quite a while, and Riccy Scimeca is back for (I believe) the first time since I've been following the club. I am assuming (or is that hoping) that starting them both means the Bluebirds are desperately trying to build up some usable depth in preparation for the FA Cup match versus Middlesbrough and not sheer insanity. After all, we have had, shall we say, a few issues on that front, and funny how a player who was "nowhere near ready" 10 days ago is now okay for 71 minutes in a League game.

Anyway...

Monday, March 3, 2008

Cardiff 0 - Leicester 1

So I finally have Linux working well on my laptop. The most recent Ubuntu actually gives me 3d acceleration and a stable Wireless internet connection, and I know the workaround I need to get sound working. The only things not working are Blackberry-as-bluetooth-modem and DRM'd digital media like my Cardiff City World audio feed. I was still basking in the glow of technological freedom on Saturday morning, so I just left the laptop in Linux and pulled up the BBC's live text updates.

I didn't miss much.

Looks like Dave Jones will have no trouble getting his wish to avoid having a bad Premier League season next year. Lord knows there's no good that can come of a year of increased national and global exposure and ridiculously huge TV revenue. Now, I'm not saying that Cardiff has the right situation to go up right now, but "sour grapes" is not exactly a trait that becomes the stuff of legends.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

My Clubs, Part Two: Throwball/Gridiron/Helmetball/American Football

First, let me just say that as an American who didn't grow up in a soccer-loving household, and DID grow up in the South, American football was almost pre-determined to be my first sporting love, and it was.

I was never really one for organized activities as a kid, much preferring to go play games with my friends in the street or the yard, but when I was younger my parents did insist that I do one organized sport per year. at 5 and 6, I played soccer (the last soccer uniform I ever wore was the shiny silver and black and collared shirt of the Collierville Animal Clinic... totally blowing away the green tshirt I wore the year before for the Hawks, by the way). At 7 and 8, I actually did Track and Field, the highly individual nature of the sport severely stretching the limits of what my parents were trying to do by telling me to play on a team, but I'm pretty sure my blue ribbon for the 100 meter dash and my red for the baseball throw are still in their attic. 9 through 11 were "full-kit" gridiron, and while I never did quite feel at home with Football players (and coaches), I was hooked on the game itself. I was from Florida, but living in Tennessee, and so I settled on a couple of Miami teams: the NFL Dolphins and the NCAA's University of Miami Hurricanes. Eventually, though, we moved back to Jacksonville and I grew into the "right" clubs for me, as I matured (or didn't, as the case may be).

Jacksonville Jaguars: I am now a proud Texan, and will raise up little Texan babies who will probably root for the Cowboys like their mom, and that's okay, I understand the intertwining of sports and community. But as for me, I am from Jacksonville, a city that has no particularly good reason to have one of 32 NFL teams, but somehow does, and I will not give them up. Like Tim Parks in the Italy essay in the very good book The Thinking Fan's Guide to the World Cup, the one thing I hold onto having moved away from the place I grew up is the sports team, because sports provides a disproportionate return on investment in terms of staying connected to one's place of origin. I prefer living in Texas, I will always live in Texas, and I rarely if ever call myself a Floridian when I can call myself a Texan, but it's okay, Jacksonville, because I still love our Jags. I still remember the day when I heard that our little town had landed a BIG TIME team. I was full of pride of place that has never quite left me. If the small-market Jaguars were ever to become someplace else's Jaguars, I doubt I'd ever watch another NFL game.

University of Florida Gators: My alma mater. Of course, don't ask me to SING the alma mater of my alma mater, because I don't know it. I've only been to one game in person, and I left at halftime because it was a blowout and no one would let me sit the hell down (hmm... perhaps I won't be joining the FC Dallas supporters' section anytime soon). Frankly, during college, I mainly associated the football team with missing classes, getting arrested, and keeping me from being able to drive ANYWHERE on homegame weekends because 60,000 alumni and fans flooded into Gainesville and clogged everything up. I often rooted AGAINST Florida when they were favorites, because I have always had a soft spot for underdogs. Hell, one time I specifically took all the french fries from the buffet at the dining hall by my dorm because I knew that was Steve Spurrier in line behind me and might have wanted some.

However, there were two cases where I always, always ALWAYS rooted for the Gators: Postseason bowl games against Yankees and the FSU game. To this day, I still chuckle when I imagine the cute little Big 10 and Big East schools thinking they know how to play College Football; actual results show this to be an unfounded prejudice, but college football fandom is not rooted in sanity, much less proper analysis. It is as severe a tribalism as exists in American sport.

This tribalism is exactly why I now root for the Gators EVERY game they play. It was a small incident, but it tapped into half-conscious, primeval social patterns that I was powerless to resist. I attended graduate school at a school whose sports teams are rivals of the Gators, and once, upon being asked by the person at the bookstore checkout counter where I did my undergraduate work, I answered, and the reply came, dripping with disgust, "Then why are you HERE?" I was taken aback, but quickly realized that when it came to this subject, there was only one tribe I would truly and completely belong to, and I embraced my destiny.

Texas Christian University Horned Frogs: Of course, one of the few ways one might join a new tribe is to marry into it. That is how I came to call the TCU Horned Frogs one of my teams. It is true I will never be as much a Horned Frog as I am a Gator, but at least they're both reptiles, and has a name ever so successfully combined whimsy and menace as "Horned Frog?" My wife is a (very) proud TCU alum, we got married on TCU's campus, and TCU is a spunky underdog that doesn't care what people think about its colors or mascot. As one of the schools thrown out with the bathwater when the old Southwest Conference collapsed in on itself, Frog fans take delight in the successes of the team, especially against the bigger schools that abandoned it. Those successes don't always come, but when they do they are sweet.

Monday, February 25, 2008

My Clubs, Part One: The sawcker

I am a firm believer that the one of the best ways to truly internalize universal lessons is to glean them from very particular narratives. I may have relatively little to add to the discussion on broader cultural trends and themes surrounding sports and why we love them, but I do see those trends and themes at work in my own experiences, which I offer as a few more data points for the subconscious statistical analysis we all do to come to our conclusions about such things. Without further ado, my list of clubs:

Who: FC Dallas (nee Dallas Burn)
Where: Pizza Hut Park, Frisco, Texas. A beautiful stadium in a perfectly tidy suburb. Of course, there is no THERE there, but that will all change once the construction is done, at which point one will say that there certainly is a THERE there, though the THERE will still look and feel exactly like a large number of other faux-urban THERES that still require a car to get to them and to get from one chain retailer/restaurant concept to the next. Does that negate the THERE?
Why I Care: I live in Fort Worth. This is the team my father-in-law took us to until I had seen enough to realize that there was something great going on with this soccer thing. I have been told that one must attend an ice hockey game live to truly appreciate it, and for the uninitiated, that goes double for soccer. This is my home town club, and as long as they're around, they're my team, warts and all.
Why you might find them interesting: They are a microcosm of everything that is both promising and troubling about American soccer. On the one hand, they are actually profitable, have a lovely place to play, and have partnered with a local youth club to begin a player development academy. On the other, well, there are struggles. They struggle for attention in a market that is obsessed with the gridiron game, to the point where on any given weekend towards the end of the MLS season, local news outlets will devote more coverage to EACH of several High School gridiron games than to the Hoops' match(es) on the pitch of Pizza Hut Park; that's alright, though, because one or two of those gridiron games will ALSO have been played on the pitch of Pizza Hut Park. They have also re-branded the team, which many decry, but then, the original name grew out of a wave of ill-considered 90's EXTREME ATTITUDE, doomed from day one to fall into the realm of kitsch. Still, the fire-puking horse is pretty cool. Finally, the club is mired in mediocrity on the field, either a victim or beneficiary (depending on whom you ask) of the parity rules that govern MLS.

Who: Cardiff City
Where: Ninian Park, Cardiff Wales. An old ground full of character... and rust. I am so glad I got to go, but from a business standpoint, I can understand why the powers-that-be are so thrilled to be building a new stadium across the street.
Why I Care: Easy enough. Click here.
Why you might find them interesting: Some of this is also outlined in the link above, but they are an interesting case in European football. They are in Wales, which as far as FIFA is concerned is an independent country, but they play in the English system. English referees give red cards, but Welsh bureaucrats decide the fines and suspensions. Both countries' governing associations are rather uncomfortable with the situation, so along with the five other so-called Exile clubs, they have literally no chance to be entered into meaningful European tournaments. Even better, the current chairman is the man who ran Leeds United into the ground, but he is arguably an improvement over the last one, the man who set the wheel in motion for the end of Wimbledon FC. Finally, if you're into this sort of thing, some of the Bluebirds' fans have... a bit of a reputation.

Who: JCT FC
Where: Guru Gobind Singh Stadium, Ludhiana, Punjab, India
Why I Care: My wife's dad was born in India, in the state of Punjab. He grew up in Phagwara, which is the base of operations for JCT FC. JCT is the only Punjabi team in the I-League, the newly reorganized, ostensibly professional league in India. I want to see Indian football develop, and I want to follow a team in the country and town where my soccer-loving father-in-law grew up, and which fosters a national team my children might aspire to play for should they ever become high-level players (and are somehow overlooked for the US National team(s), of course). Honestly though, if the team were based anywhere but Phagwara, even I might not have looked into it.
Why you might find them interesting: In a league where almost all the teams spring from the huge cities of Mumbai and Kolkata, or else come from the Portuguese-influenced coastal region of Goa, JCT hails from rural, mountainous Punjab near the Pakistani border, and more specifically Phagwara, a town of under 100,000 people, though they play their matches in nearby Ludhiana, which is a good bit larger, but still would flatter itself to claim 10% of the population of either Mumbai or Kolkata. In this sense, the Millmen (named for the JCT Textile company which sponsors/owns the team) are somewhat akin to the NFL's Green Bay Packers, playing in a tiny northern outpost that looks just a bit out of place in their league. Also, following an I-League team from the US becomes a unique test of one's psychological endurance and willingness to scour the Internet. Alas, I was unable to catch a broadcast from a p2p website before the season ended, with the Millmen coming in a very respectable third, led by Indian National team striker Sunil Chetri and BRAZILIAN Eduardo da Silva Escobar. How a Brazilian striker ends up plying his trade in Punjab is probably quite a story, and I'll be sure to write about it if I ever learn more.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

In Seattle

The wife and I are in Seattle for the weekend, staying downtown. Beautiful city, and so far seems more of a soccer town than I've seen before. So far in one day, spotted in the wild, in locations with no direct soccer connection:

-Guy in a Man U windbreaker at the airport.
-Gazzetto Dello Sport (12 days old) in a newsstand.
-Guy in a US Mens National Team jersey in Pikes Place Market.
-Guy in a Lampard jersey in a restaurant.

I haven't seen any Seattle Sounders paraphernalia, but maybe that will change if Goff heard right.

I do see the occasional Chivas truck-window sticker or Club America jersey back home in DFW, but I can't recall having come across four sightings like the above in one day. It's enough to make a guy envious, but then, that is one of the unique challenges of being a fan of my hometown club and frankly, I am a spiteful bastard of a homer, and seeing all these people in their soccer shirts and their NFL stadium that looks like an English stadium just made me that much happier that the Hoops ended Seattle's cute little US Open Cup run.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Cardiff City? Texas?

I saw Dave's post at his very excellent blog, and it got me thinking that I might want to talk about how I chose my own club in the league of a foreign country to which I have precious few links (this subject has been discussed here, as well as elsewhere). After my father-in-law dragged me to enough FC Dallas games that I finally realized how wonderful soccer might be, I dived in.

I was entranced. Here was an entirely new universe of teams and concepts and competitions for me to discover. For instance, I was instantly enthralled by the concept that a club's very existence in the top-flight competition depended on a certain measure of success. It was a no-brainer to support my local club, FC Dallas, and they are without question my primary focus – when they're in season. But as we all know, one of the great wonders of soccer fandom is the fact soccer season never ends, it just migrates, and I had to follow the flock.

Being an English-speaking American, I had a natural affinity for the English system, and while I have always been pretty good at enjoying any given game just for the game itself, I knew I needed a team. I had, even before the soccer bug bit me, had a certain fondness for Arsenal, thanks to Nick Hornby's Fever Pitch, but I have also always been a fan of the underdog and the outsider, so Wenger and his beautiful football were out, along with the rest of the Big Four.

Then I saw something: at the top of the Championship, in position to be automatically promoted if they could only just hold on, were Cardiff City. They are the ultimate outsiders in the English system, for Christ's sake, they're not even English! Here they were, threatening to bust back into the sacred shrine that is the English Top Flight. It got better: they had actually taken the FA Cup out England for the first and only time in 1927. Furthermore, the Bluebirds were led by a charismatic half-Indian striker, which tugged at the heartstrings of a guy married to a charismatic half-Indian woman, and my own family name (I won't commit any farther than the name, as family history is not my strong suit) originates in Wales. I could have picked Swansea or Wrexham, but while I love a good underdog, the English system is, to paraphrase the apocryphal cosmologist, underdogs all the way down. Anyway, I'd been to Wales on a backpacking trip after college and, to me, Cardiff was lovely, Swansea was drab and boring, and Wrexham was a train stop on the way to catch a boat to Ireland. It all added up.

I was set. My Welsh team would be in the Premiership in one year, maybe two, led by Michael Chopra, and on Fox Soccer Channel twice a month. Then the pain started coming.

A lousy run of form started that lasted the rest of the season. What had begun like a little kid sprinting off the start on a mile-race had finished, well, exactly like that same kid: gasping and wheezing across the finish line, the fast start only managing to ensure that there were a few hopeless cases bumbling along behind, frankly going no slower by the end, but without the benefit of that first sprint.

Then they sold Chopra. It was honestly too good a deal to pass up, and I would have done it too, but another season would have been nice. Then the creditors came calling, or, more accurately, suing. Then the stadium was delayed. Then there was no money for incoming transfers over the summer, and the club brought in two very old men to play striker in Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and Robbie Fowler, though I admit to feeling a bit of selfish glee that Cardiff had got him instead of the other similarly-situated suitors (say that five times fast). Things were not going well, and I started eying the Premiership clubs again; maybe my father-in-law was onto something with this Manchester United thing. I was still a Cardiff fan, but now there was a sense of stubborn contrariness about it (ask my wife and you'll find it's perhaps not an uncommon feeling for me to express). For a sports fan, sunk costs are never forgotten, and those sorry bunch in Cardiff were a sorry bunch indeed, but they were my sorry bunch. Still, I can look back and see that my relationship with the club was under strain, and like so many people who pick a team instead of vice versa, there was a dark place in the back of my mind where a little voice reminded me that I could bail if I needed to.

Fortunately (from my point of view), it never came to that, and when it comes to English club football, I will live and die with Cardiff City. What caused the turn-around? It's simple, really: I experienced a game. My wife and I went to England for a family wedding, and there was a mid-week game in Cardiff (against Watford, in case you care). We got tickets online, but only after I called the ticket office, only to be so completely baffled by the thick Welsh accent on the other end of the line that I lied and said the connection was bad and hung up. We went to a pub and met up with some Cardiff fans I'd talked to on an Internet messageboard, and had an amazing time, and never had to buy a single pint for ourselves. We all (and by all I mean all, not just my wife and I and our new friends) marched down Sloper Road to Ninian Park in the foggy drizzle, and we all cheered for Cardiff. It was electric; I even got to experience what I'd been told about in the pub, that when an equalizer or go-ahead goal is scored, there is the briefest of silences, as the crowd reassures itself that the miracle really happened and inhales for what comes next: pure jubilation, pure happiness, the high that explains why fans of all teams put up with all the heartache.

Of course, the bastards from the London suburbs scored two and won the game and Cardiff was playing as badly to start the new season as it had to end the last, but none of that would ever again affect my connection to this team, this place, these people. I am forever a Cardiff City fan. Should the unlikely event occur of a meaningful game between the Hoops of FC Dallas and the Bluebirds, I will root for my hometown club, so I may never be the biggest Cardiff City fan, but I don't think I'm out place claiming that I am a true Cardiff City fan, and I am quite sure that I will be one for the rest of my days.