Monday, January 11, 2010

Who We're Buying a Beer For...

1) Clint Dempsey

No one has done more for American soccer this week than USMNT and Fulham FC midfielder Clint Dempsey has by launching what many are calling the "goal of the season" in
the English Premier League.

Funny enough, some intrepid writers have likened Dempsey's strike to the first shots at Lexington and Concord (notice how we're being accused of firing first... damn fish-and-chips-eaters!) and a warning to the English National Team. Add Landon Donovan's impressive debut for Everton this week against Arsenal and the British newspapers are going to lose their shit real soon.

By now as a soccer fan you've probably seen the wonder-strike, but we're sure you won't mind watching it again. Take a took:

Around the world this clip has put American soccer on the map again. But, alas, for mainstream sports fan it was probably missed.

Mike Cardillo of the brilliant soccer blog (EPL and USMNT), That's On Point, laments the big miss for ESPN to capitalize on Dempsey's goal:

What's actually a little more outrageous is the fact that Clint Dempsey's absolute Gol-azo-azo-azo for Fulham vs. Stoke City on Tuesday was left out of the "Sportscenter" top 10 plays. Imagine if that goal came on Telemundo. Andres Cantor might have pulled a play out the Mick Shrimpton playbook.

You'd think, mind you think, the goal in-and-of itself would be worthy of inclusion -- the next day a play from Sevilla/Barca made the list. But since it was an American, it seemed a slam dunk -- no pun intended for the other clips on the list, especially since it's on the short-list of Premier League "Goals of the Year." (Maybe John Harkes, who won the award back in 1990 with Sheffield Wednesday blocked it.)

Alas, Dempsey's strike will live on in the Inter-tubes, which isn't all that bad.

Yet it holds to a bigger point, which I've made a million times in this space, so if you want to skip ahead no hard feelings.

In the year 2010, ESPN is sports in America. When it comes to soccer it continues to talk out of both sides of its mouth.

On the one hand it's acquired some Premier League rights, the World Cup, USMNT games (mostly), etc. At the same time the Worldwide doesn't have anchors that can get through a highlight with the correct names, or simply ignores the best goal by an American in Europe, perhaps, ever. (Obviously it wasn't better than a pedestrian NCAA basketball dunk.)

You'd think that John Skipper would realize that, hey, we own the rights to these events. Shouldn't we try to drum up interest through osmosis? Wouldn't Dempsey's great goal -- by an AMERICAN -- plant some seeds in the back of the casual fans minds for the World Cup in less than six months? Wouldn't it help familiarize people with perhaps America's most important or at least enigmatic player for the campaign in South Africa?

Look, the most ESPN I watch is on the machines at the gym. So do a lot of people, I'd assume. Wouldn't a glimpse of Dempsey's rainbowing volley subliminally help draw eyeballs to the set in June? Wouldn't it help dispel the notion that Americans can't play at a high level?

I won't even mention MLS's presence on ESPN. Sure it gets microscopic ratings, but wouldn't some casual talk about the league or, gasp, HIGHLIGHTS, help increase interest. Treating MLS like the Pro Bowling and Pro Billiards leagues is an embarrassment. (Of course, the league's rating are that, too.)

Maybe this is an overreaction. Maybe since the game was on Setanta in the midweek (more on that later) somebody missed it. It's possible. The game was 3-1 at the time in the 85th minute, after all.

Again it's goals like the one scored by Dempsey that capture the imagination and make people fall in love with the game. Nothing sends the imagination soaring more than a crack from distance. Half of YouTube and every other tube site is devoted to goal highlight compilations.

For the major sports force in the country to swing-and-miss on a the very definition of a highlight is part of the reason why the best American soccer player is filming ads for the Mexican lottery.
So like sands through the hour glass our ESPN vs. soccer community world continues to turn. Grab a beer and sit down because 2010 is going to be a wild ride.

2) Wayward former USMNTers Freddy Adu and Eddie Johnson

Remember those names? Currently answers to the fictional National Team game show question, "Which two Americans were expected to change the face of U.S. soccer in the mid-2000s, but failed miserably and we're quickly dropped from consideration?" Adu and Johnson now find themselves as teammates on the Greek club Aris Thessaloniki FC.

Honestly, we find it pretty bizarre that they both happened to land on their feet at an obscure soccer team in Greece (at least obscure to us... apparently their the fifth best supported team in the league and regular participants in the Europa Cup. Thanks Wikipedia!). More bizarre:

Yes, that's Adu being welcomed by Aris supporters at the airport, in droves, chanting his name.

Count the FBM as skeptical for the pairs' career move, but if it works out the Nats and American soccer are better for it. As newspaper columnist George Will once said, “The nice part about being a pessimist is that you are constantly being either proven right or pleasantly surprised.”

So for us its either a 40 oz. for some dead homies OR celebratory drinks on us to their success.

3) Landon Donovan

The USMNT and LA Galaxy playmaker was on the list last week, too, but the on loan to Everton midfielder made his shock English Premier League debut this past weekend. LD didn't just get a trot out to test the water wings in the British soccer pool, but was thrown to the lions by earner a start from manager David Moyes against top side Arsenal.

Donovan wasted no time is getting into the mix assisting on the Toffee's opening goal and working tireless on the left flank of the Everton attack.

One commenter on The Shin Guardian said:

"I was amazed at how comfortable Donovan looked–almost as if he’d been playing all season for Everton. What a great day for Lando and US soccer.
With the continued success of Dempsey at Fulham, Tim Howard at Everton, Jay DeMerit at Watford, and Brad Friedel and Brad Guzan at Aston Villa, Donovan can add his name to successful American abroad to make up for the mixed performances other intrepid Americans that have plied their trade across the pond. Every successful American performance in England and Europe helps push the U.S. brand further into the hearts and mind of scouts and coaches.

Even the normally anti-American English soccer press was force to say nice things about LD (from Major League Soccer Talk):

“With Louis Saha’s clever runs and Tim Cahill’s waspish presence augmented extremely well by the expert dribbling of Landon Donovan on an eye-catching debut, Everton caused Arsenal serious concern from the off,” Amy Lawrence, The Guardian.

“With Arsene Wenger’s side missing Alexander Song, they struggled to impose themselves in midfield allowing Everton debutant Landon Donovan, in particular, to take advantage. The American gave Gunners left-back Armand Traore a torrid time throughout, and it was from his corner that Everton opened the scoring,” Ian Hughes, BBC Sport.

“With 25 minutes to go and the Emirates pitch turning white, Moyes turned to Diniyar Bilyaletdinov, a man more accustomed to the adverse conditions. He replaced Donovan who will have warmed his manager with an industrious first outing on English soil,” Everton FC match report.

“Donovan looked lively on his Blues debut, the American offering an outlet wide on the right as he came in for Diniyar Bilyaletdinov.The American will feel he could have done better on the equaliser however when he failed to clear the ball enabling Andriy Arshavin, back after a foot injury, to slip it inside to Eduardo who rolled a pass into Denilson’s path whose shot took a wicked deflection off the unfortunate Osman to wrong-foot Howard,” David Randles, Liverpool Daily Post.

“But Everton have improved dramatically since [the beginning of the season] and the introduction of MLS loan signing Landon Donovan for his debut gave [Everton] an extra creative edge,” The Sun.

And we couldn't agree more. Which is why he's getting another run out on this week's beer shopping list.

Photo Credits: The Original Winger (Dempsey, Johnson, and Adu)

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"Anyone who tells me soccer is boring, I'm going to punch them in the face."
- Former Dallas Burn (aka FC Dallas) coach Dave Dir

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