Wednesday, March 7, 2012
Planting the Seed of Soccer Across America: Free Beer Movement
The CONCACAF Champions League is back! Actually last night as winner Monterrey opened their campaign, but the North American sides join in the fun tonight. A perfect chance to launch a new series here on the FBM that focuses on both the local game and the local beer of a particular place.
We can't be everywhere, but our readers (and potential contributors) can educate us all on soccer and beer in their corner of the world.
Submit a piece on your cities/state/country's soccer and beer by e-mailing us at freebeermovement@gmail(dot)com.
By Elliott Turner / Senior Senor Correspondent
Several months ago, you saw an odd image on TV. Thanks to the CONCACAF Champions League, Toronto FC, a Canadian MLS team, butted heads with Real Esteli of Nicaragua in Nicaragua. The Estadio Independencia Esteli offers floodlights and some covered seating, but the pitch was a disaster. I love my adopted homeland, but the mudfest and stadium similar to a US high school did not offer a particularly glamorous image of professionalism. And a glance at the brewsky options in Nicaragua leaves an even more bitter taste in the mouth.
First, the footy. Real Esteli is one of the top teams in the Nicaraguan league. If they don't win it all, then they are breathing down the champions' neck for most of the season. Conversely, Toronto FC regularly fails to make the playoffs despite breaking attendance records. Toronto FC's presence in a tournament called "Champions League" discredits the entire concept. This appeared a mismatch, right? Kinda, at least if you conveniently overlook the entire sporting, political, and historical context of the two teams.
Canada is a first world country that has largely avoided the global economic recession. Despite Richard Whittall's grumblings, Toronto is a sizable, bustling metropolis. MLS is a respectable league, despite what you just read on BigSoccer. Real Esteli is the pride of the Nicaraguan national league, but perspective is necessary. Nicaragua has been ravaged by earthquakes and civil war in the last few decades. Also, the entire country is the size of a US state. Managua is a decent-sized city, comparable to modest Midwestern places like Kansas City. However, Esteli is a much smaller city near the mountains. I have no doubt the Romans pitted the strongest and best fighting Christians against the laziest of Lions, but Goliath tramples David nine times out of ten.
Americans and fans of MLS have slowly witnessed a growing stream of fine soccer players from Honduras and El Salvador. We even have cried when dual citizens have forsaken the USMNT for a shot at Central American national team glory. Most folks hate Carlos Ruiz, but know he is from Guatemala. The Costa Rica national team ties or beats us at their suffocating and cursed Saprissa stadium. But Nicaragua? The Nicas have only recently adopted soccer over baseball, and normally immigrate to nearby Costa Rica in lieu of the US. Close USMNT watchers may have noticed when former US & Chivas USA player John O'Brien visited Granada, a small colonial town, a few years ago with Futbol sin Fronteras, but no Nica star has lined up for any MLS team yet. In sum, Nicaragua was off your radar until last July and August, when Toronto FC beat Real Esteli 4-2 on aggregate to advance in the CCL.
But it shouldn't be. Don't let the muddy field fool you, Nicaragua is a place of staggering natural beauty and warm people. Folks looking for Latin American fun sans the Mexican drug violence and expensive South American airfare should visit this diamond before the rough edges get too smooth. And, of course, when visiting the place or watching Real Esteli, you need to select the appropriate alcoholic beverage. Flor de cana is the clear winner in rum, but, for beer, the deceptively ugly side of Nicaragua rears its ugly head: the false selection dilemma.
Between the jaw-dropping volcanoes and great lakes, mirages pollute Nicaraguan politics and beer. The false selection dilemma is when an individual is presented with two allegedly different options that are in fact almost identical. The rational individual then racks his or her brain, trying to discover a meaningful difference and make the ideal selection. The individual finds no difference, but doubts their own sensory capacities and suspects they are missing something. They often end up making no decision, with is the worst result, especially since making any decision would have had the same positive result. D'oh! In Nicaragua, don't let the superficial fool you into this trap.
In politics, Gabriel Garcia Marquez's 100 Years of Solitude is playing out, but replace Macondo with Managua. Former President Arnold Aleman was convicted and incarcerated for rampant corruption during his term. This was a major blow for transparency and justice. However, near the end of Daniel Ortega's recent term, a strange thing happened. Aleman was released. Then, he decided to run as a candidate for President. And, to top matters, Daniel Ortega blatantly disregarded the Constitution's ban on consecutive terms and decided to run for re-election (and won in equally shady circumstances). On the surface, Nicaragua appears to have two parties (actually quite a few more). However, in reality, backroom deals and disappearing ballots rendered any decision unimportant. No matter who you voted for, Daniel was going to win. A rational citizen's head would explode.
The land of beer is sadly not so different. In theory, there are two competing major label brands: Tona and Victoria. Victoria is a Pale Lager. Tona's most popular drink is a Golden Lager (though they have recently offered some new flavors). The difference in taste between these Lagers is negligible, even for a developed beer palate. Why so similar? Well, if you scratch below the surface, you find an odd occurrence: despite being alleged competitors, they are owned by the same company: CCN. Thus, between catching waves at San Juan del Sur, when your waiter ask you your drink, don't hesitate in your decision. Either beer should do if you're looking for a Nicaraguan Lager, and the aftertaste will be assuredly less bitter than the recent stolen Presidential election.
Elliott blogs about soccer at Futfanatico.com. He is the author of An Illustrated Guide to Soccer & Spanish.
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