Wednesday, February 29, 2012

That's On Point - USMNT vs. Italy Recap


"The catcher hits for .318 and catches every day// The pitcher puts religion first and rests on holidays." -- Piazza New York Catcher, Belle and Sebastian. 

Maybe it was business as usual inside the Stadio Luigi Ferraris in Genoa, Italy for the U.S./Italy Leap Day friendly.

On couches across America, things were slightly ... weird.

Call it the repeated airings of "Leap Dave Williams" on USA all day.

Was that Italy wearing ... white ... at home? The Azzurri?

Why was the U.S. looking, as my Internet amigo Erik pointed out, looking like they were doing their best scrappy college point guard impression with white undershirts under their navy kits? (Or as others pointed out, the Nazi kits in the 'Escape to Victory' movie, aside from the socks.)

And what the heck was Mike Piazza doing in the stands, sans mustache!

A strange day -- without Mario Balotelli in the mix, no less -- turned into a historic day for the U.S. notching its first victory over Italy in a history spanning back to 1934 thanks to, who else? Clint Dempsey.

Hard, as usual with friendlies, to get a true gauge on just exactly what this result means. Italy seemed to play the game at a snail's pace, context to let Andrea Pirlo try to thread in a pass here-or-there. It wasn't until the Azzurri went down 1-0 that they seemed to ratchet up the attack, which to that point could be summed up with Alessandro Matri being flagged offside.

The U.S. did, however, look organized and composed. More importantly, up a goal they didn't lose their cool and ground out a 1-0 result. Again, grinding out results against Antigua and Barbuda isn't exactly the goal at this point, but it's what the U.S. has facing it in the immediate future of marathon CONCACAF qualification.

The pragmatic (buzzword) 4-4-2-ish the the U.S. played against Italy might be boring and soccer's missionary position, but it seems to suit the team in the long term. You could even make the argument with fewer teams in Europe (or elsewhere) it might behoove the U.S. to stick with this, over the more in vogue 4-2-3-1 formations since teams aren't used to facing it any more.

Still, whichever way you want to look at it, Italy is still Italy and a team that didn't give up a goal at home in Euro 2012 qualification. Even for a friendly it's not worth diminishing the result. It's probably not worth trumpeting either from on high either.

That said, chances are we probably saw the high-water mark for the U.S. in 2012 and for the brief Jurgen Klinsmann era as a whole.

Random Thoughts: 

* Biggest talking point is going to be Michael Bradley and his commanding, box-to-box, performance. Not sure how much of this is because he's playing for Chievo Verona or since Jermaine Jones -- who gobbles up the ball a lot when he plays for the U.S. -- was out injured, but the No. 6 shirt was excellent throughout. Maurice Edu didn't do a ton, but he was a nice complement to Bradley otherwise.

* Jozy Altidore was the bad Jozy Altidore in the first half, meaning tumbling over at a sneeze from the Italian defenders. The second half he held his ground, won Fabian Johnson's cross and laid it off to Dempsey for the game-winner. He's still the best option the U.S. has at forward, but it wasn't a coincidence he looked more active when Dempsey pulled up closer to goal.

* We're all running out of words for Dempsey. Please stay healthy, Deuce.

* Nobody reading this cares too much about Italy, but the U.S. certainly did the Azzurri and Cesare Prandelli a favor today because there's no way he heads to the Euro without Balotelli or with the pint-sized Sebastian Giovinco has his No. 1 option. The way Italy played Wednesday went right into the U.S.'s hands. It almost felt a lot like the U.S. game in the Confederations Cup against Spain where they scored a goal and hung on, blocking a bunch of shots in the process, namely Jonathan Spector. Nothing exactly revolutionary via Klinsmann.

* Hard to muster up too much vitriole, despite the past, with Italy considering the Azzurri played with almost zero emotion until it was almost over.

* If there's going to be an issue for Klinsmann down the road in two years, but going to have to wait and see if old hands Steve Cherundolo and Carlos Bocanegra as still capable of starting at the international level.

* Fabian Johnson and Timmy Chandler (perhaps Eric Lichaj, too) could be a fun little battle at the black hole that is traditionally left back for the U.S.

* On a great night otherwise, Sacha Kljestan probably didn't win any brownie points in the eyes of Klinsmann in a brief 20 minute cameo.

* Is it wrong to think, with the bulk with a starting XI comprised solely of players playing professionally in Europe, that the intimidation factor for American players isn't what it once was.

And by same token, in a weird way it's probably tougher on these pros to go to a place like Guatemala in the sweltering heat of summer than a nice, quaint European ground against a disinterested Italian crowd?

* Took a swipe at Taylor Twellman yesterday, but credit is due for his solid performance on the mic for ESPN, as he didn't talk over the game. 

* How about that Clint Dempsey, huh? Should we mention him again?

Final thought:

Nice, no, great result. Overall a fairly forgettable match, as far as the actual game went, but it was a solid, professional and performance ... one that was revenge for Brian McBride's forehead.

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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

That's On Point - USMNT vs. Italy Preview

Kaiserslautern ... not just a jersey Darrell Sheets found in a storage locker.
It's about time, right? We've got ourselves a U.S. National Team writer. Mike Cardillo, who we've been reading for YEARS on his site, "That's On Point", for US preview/reviews and English Premier League musings will be providing some coverage of the Nats as they begin their 2014 World Cup Qualifying campaign.

Mike's has been writing about the National Team for as long as we've been reading about American soccer on the Internet! He's got a quick wit and pop cultural references up the ying-yang. 

So welcome Mike to the site and your opinions on the USMNT fly! 


By Mike Cardillo / Senior National (Team) Correspondent 

"Ich habe Durchfall." -- Lonley Planet's Guide to Germany

Sometimes you really have to hand it to Germany, no, not for their efficient railway system, luxury sports cars and 7-foot sweet-shooting power forwards named Dirk. Perhaps the highest compliment you can pay any Teuton is their undying commitment to efficient organization, which might be a stereotype yes, albeit a nice stereotype to have heaped on you as an ethnic group.

This organization trickles down Germany's sports where its fan clubs seemed better run than most American municipalities. German soccer fan groups in recent years have successfully lobbied the Deutscher Fußball-Bund for keeping ticket prices -- including standing sections -- affordable and for keeping an on-air highlights package of Bundesliga matches on free television. Sadly in America, the land of supposed freedom and democracy, our sports fans act no better than braying sheep as owners, leagues and sponsors continue to suck more and more money out of pockets.

In turn, the grounds across Germany probably host the best of that fabled "atmosphere" of anywhere in Europe. You'd think, by their cold, stern outward apperance Germans would be indifferent to such trivial matters as grown men kicking around a ball, but apathy and fußball don't exist.

Something Ze Germans love with all their hearts, too, beside beers and sausage are megaphones. Don't ask me why but German fans must single-handily keep the megaphone business in hard because you're not going to a match without a couple fan "captains" leading the cheers with them.

And yes, you'll note in the video below that is indeed the reviled former German captain -- and future ESPN Euro analyst -- Michael Ballack joining in with the Bayer Leverkausen fans.

Now at this point you're probably thinking what the heck all this has to do with Wednesday's United States/Italy friendly in Genoa (2:30, ESPN2). Rest assured, this isn't going to be a swipe at U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsman's subtle attempt to mold the USMNT into Die Mannschaft 2.0.

Instead, let's rewind almost six years to a simpler time in our lives, a time before Justin Beiber and Katy Perry had even used ProActiv, let alone star in those unending strings of commercials for the face product which used to air nonstop on Fox Soccer Channel. Let's go back to a trip on Die Bahn from the idyllic college town of Heidleburg, Germany to some far flung outpost known as Kaiserslautern, which was home to both a nearby United States army base and the Fritz-Walter Stadion -- the site of a 2006 World Cup encounter between (then) three-time champion Cup Italy and two-time mullet World Cup champion, the United States.

It was on this train I personally witnessed the German's love for megaphones great and small with the entire ride comprised of a would-be German comedian trying to play AC/DC's "Thunderstruck" via the sound tones on said megaphone's keypad. Well, that was until a real comedian -- me -- took the reigns and gave those Germans, along with a random Japanese journalist, the time of their lives by reciting the medical terms from the Lonely Planet guide.

Suffice to say, men talking into a megaphone about their menstrual patterns must be a taboo subject in Germany because my "set" killed. Germans react to comedy by silent, stern faces instead of laughs, right?

And that set a tone for a wonderful, memorable day in Germany, which served as a personal turning point in my experience with the USMNT. Call it a day when everything seemed possible yet finished, in Don Henley terms, with the end of the innocence.

Due to all the nearby U.S. servicemen and women, plus their families nearby, Kaiserslatuern was overrun with red-blooded Yanks. Stars and Stripes facial tattoos outnumbered Azzurri in Roman Legion helmets 10-to-1. This wasn't like the U.S.'s first game at the 2006 World Cup, where the menacing, grim, dare I say barbaric Czech Republic fans ran roughshod over Gelsenkirchen in advance of a dispiriting 3-0 defeat at the Arena Auf Schalke.

It was the Czechs who provided the greatest lift of all, as they lost to Ghana 2-0 earlier in the day meaning if the U.S. notched a result against Italy it would control its own fate in the final group game against the Black Stars (let's not talk about this game, okay?). This revelation kicked what was already a day of joy, merriment and libation into another gear, which turned out to be a tough decision later on as it turned out the Fritz-Walter Stadion was situated atop a small mountain that was only accessible by foot.

Fortunately that handy, dandy Lonely Planet book provided nonstop entertainment -- especially when blurting out half-drunkenly to other random (bombed) people that you have your own syringe or you don't want a blood transfusion. (Ich habe meine eigene Spritze!)

Although the ascent to the stadium would have made Sir Edmund Hilary blush, it was well worth it, as the Americans were, as the Europeans say, in full voice. Since the stadium was enclosed by steel walls, it made for a cauldron of sound unlike anything I've ever been a part of, aside, from this one NBA game I went to when they played "Carwash" midway through the second quarter.

By the time the National Anthem was played, the crowd was whipped well into a frenzy. It's important to note, despite the presence of heavy scarves in near 90-degree weather, there wasn't an influx of costume-wearing, look-at-me U.S. fans. The pomp all happened oraganically, perhaps aided by the easy access to cheap German suds.

The ensuing 90 minutes were the best -- and worst -- of the U.S. rolled into one.

At its best, it felt like all those Nike-sponsored, "Dont' Tread on Me" ad campaigns might actually be more than something cooked up in Beaverton, Ore. At its worst, it felt like no matter what the U.S. did, unless it embraced the dark side of the game it would never get to the next level. For all the strides since a mainly amateur team played Italy at the 1990 World Cup, the gap had closed ... but not all that much. Wednesday's game in Genoa gives the U.S. another barometer to judge themselves against the longtime European standard-bearer, now with a coach won lifted the World Cup on Italian soil 22 years ago.

It helped, too, that the Italians that day in 2006 were an easy enemy with Rino Gattuso, Fabio Canavarro, et al, lining the phone booths of Kaiserslautern wearing nothing more than their briefs in a Dolce and Gabbana ad. The stereotype, too, of Italians doing everything short of killing their mothers on the field to win never felt more accurate. Seemingly everything Americans hated about soccer -- the flopping, the prancing, the guys with girls names -- it was all there in the form of the nefarious Azzurri and their meticulously groomed haircuts.

Granted, none of this mattered when Alberto Gilardino's header from a beautifully delivered Andrea Pirlo free kick beat the U.S. defense barely 20 minutes into the match. The Italians, lo and behold, as detestable as they might be, were also quite good at soccer.

Somehow, though, that U.S. never-say-die attitude pulled the U.S. level through a Christian Zaccardo own goal. (Only goal in open play scored against Italy during its run to winning the tournament.)

Then things basically, in the words of the kids, "jumped off." Danielle de Rossi's elbow split open Brian McBride's face like a ripe peach turning the men in blue shirts into Satan incarnate. Fortunately the American sports fan, as aforementioned is a docile sort, because it felt like a riot might ensue when first Pablo Mastreoni and later Eddie Pope were sent off for the U.S. (In retrospect, yeah, rash tackles leading to cards is a U.S. trademark, however that night it felt like the team was being jobbed by the Sepp Blatter brigade.)

Still, down a man for almost a half, Bruce Arena's boys hung in -- appeared to have a winner through DaMarcus Beasley waved off via offside -- and nicked a point off the eventual tournament champions. Yet in the long run, the blood of McBride paled in comparison to the grift and graft of the Old World.

That night however, despite, on the descent from the stadium play-acting like the flopping Italians and hurling out insults at Silvio Burlesconi -- and Gabibbo -- it still felt like the U.S. had done something tangible that night, even if that tangible result was, in fact, a tie thanks to an own-goal. Whatever, the U.S. had a chance to prove itself -- on European soil, no less. 

Sure, the U.S. has had success in the ensuing five and a half years. The Gold Cup win over Mexico in 2007. The stunning win over Spain at the Confederations Cups, as examples, but some of the spark from Kaiserslatuern seems to have faded. 

The naivety, however, that the U.S. might simply be able to win a World Cup going about things in their own special, unique American-way seems to have been extinguished. The removal of Bob Bradley for Klinsmann seems have only to have confirmed that. If the U.S. is going to win, it'll be playing their game -- not vice versa.

However the next few World Cup cycles pan out, we'll always have that shining moment of Kaiserslautern.


* So much for the "first game Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey playing together under Klinsmann" narrative, eh? Sounds like Donovan is very sick.

* Eric Wynalda has been a bit of a blowhard, lately, trying to position himself as a truth-teller outside the accepted, tacit U.S. Soccer media. While that act can be grating, his constant reminders on Fox Soccer for Dempsey to play closer to goal in a U.S. shirt is one of his better, if not best points. Dempsey playing closer to goal is important since, we've seen repeatedly, Jozy Altidore isn't suited to play alone up top without a running partner. Long-term Klinsmann has grand designs on a playing style and system for the U.S. You wouldn't think that includes a traditional two-forward system, but at some point you have to start winning games, too. For the immedaite future, Dempsey playing a more traditional attack role, even as a withdrawn striker is the U.S.'s best option.

* Jonathan Spector has never gotten a ton of love from me in this space, but he deserves a chance to claim a place in the U.S. defense -- or even midfield. After playing a bit role and suffering relegation with West Ham last year, the former Manchester United youth player swallowed his pride and went to Birmingham City -- also relegated. At Brum he's been a regular for Chris Hughton's side, which is within striking distance of promotion playing both as a defensive midfielder and at right back.

* Maybe it's me, but it seems like there are, what, about 50 potential guys in the U.S. pool to play defense all offering roughly the same level of play?

* Figure two guys who'd want to play in this match and play well are Carlos Bocanegra and Maurice Edu, considering the financial meltdown engulfing Rangers at the moment. 

* Damn you Cesare Prandelli, damn you to hell for leaving Mario Balotelli out of the Italian squad. Let's just laugh at this picture instead.

She ordered a .... fish filet?

* Not that it's an area of strength for the U.S, but if it were ever to generate some play in the wide areas of the field it's here, since Italian soccer seems averse to developing wingers of any sort. The fact, at 32, Andrea Pirlo remains the creative force for both Juventus and the Azzurri says a lot. Figure on Italy starting four natural central midfield types.

* Italian forward Giampoalo Pazzini and Alessandro Matri aren't speed merchants or all together that dynamic, yet they're crafty and have the knack for creating their own space in the box. The usual physicality that the U.S. defense displays -- albeit without the injured Oguchi Onyewu -- will be tested by the (term make me look smart) "tactical nous" of the Italians. That said, the most anticipated player for Italy is 20-year-old Roma striker Fabio Borini, who naturally isn't anticipated to start.

* Shame Freddy Adu wasn't in the mix for this one since Sebastian Giovinco is in the team for Italy. It's not every day Adu can line up on the field an toward over an opponent. Giovinco is generously listed at 5-foot-4.

* Fortunately Giuseppe Rossi -- scorer of two goals in Italy's 3-1 win in the 2009 Confederations Cup against the U.S. -- is out injured for this match. Beyond tired of that narrative.

* In keeping with the German nomenclature, perhaps we'd best start labeling it the 1.USMNT.

* With Jermaine Jones pulling out of the team due to injury, I'll be planning on giving myself a yellow card sometime around the 27th minute.

* Part of me, the devious part, hopes Michael Bradley starts the game on the bench to start a massive conspiracy theory/meltdown by U.S. fans on Twitter, considering Bradley is the only American playing in Italy.

* Nothing personal, although his admitted love of the Black Eyed Peas might taint this, but ESPN analyst Taylor Twellman is a little too much of a "bro" for my tastes behind the mic. Then again, Ian Darke could make a potted plant wearing an Affliction t-shirt seem witty and insight sitting next to him.

* Next scheduled match for the U.S. isn't until a May friendly with Scotland in, of all places, Jacksonville, Fla. Guess the USSF wanted a place that's already used to dealing with small, indifferent crowds via the Jaguars. Then again, haggis is huge in northern Florida. Huge.

* Apropos of nothing, Paulie Walnuts in Italy is never not funny. The entire three-minute montage has been deleted by the YouTube cops, so this clip will have to suffice.

Lineup Guess:

Midfield diamond, perhaps?

GK -- Howard

DEF -- Cherundolo -- Bocanegra -- Cameron -- F. Johnson

MID -- D. Williams -- Bradley -- Edu -- Kljestan

FOR -- Dempsey, Altidore

Closing Thought:

A lot of how you view this match probably boils down to your impression of Italy. The Azzurri, post their World Cup 2010 flame out in the group stages, have lost some luster. That said, with the Serie A success in the Champions League this year, plus the Italian's recent upturn in the last year, which includes a friendly draw with Germany and win over Spain. Is Italy good enough to beat either of those two in the Euro, probably not, but the Azzurri are still among the elite in the world.

Still, with the cagey way Italy is prone to play, this is a game the U.S. should be thinking is winnable if not for the maddening, frequent mental mistakes by made by the team. ...

Prediction: Ita;y 1, U.S. 1

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Beer And Soccer Event - Redhook and Emerald City Supporters Launch of "No Equal" Amber Lager


Redhook Brewing Company and the Seattle Sounders supporters group Emerald City Supporters invite you to a unique night of soccer and beer where the two will launch a new collaborative beer called "No Equal" Amber Lager.

This Friday, March 2 at The Atlantic Crossing starting at 6pm will be the launch of Redhook’s latest Blueline Series beer: No Equal Amber Lager. Brewed in partnership with the Emerald City Supporters (ECS) in honor of the Seattle Sounders, the release party will tap the first kegs while celebrating the rapidly approaching opening of the MLS season.

In addition to great beer and an energized group of ECS fans, Jen Talley, brewing operations manager for Redhook and leaders of the ECS will be available for interview to discuss the brewing process, what ECS asked Redhook to come up with when creating the recipe and how the partnership rolled out from start to finish.

The event is open to the public, so feel free to share the invite.

If you're in the Seattle-area and are looking for something to do Friday night... here ya go! Support soccer in Seattle and support breweries that are supporting soccer, like Redhook!

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Monday, February 27, 2012

The Tuesday 10 - Champions League As Oscar Best Pictures


By "The Other 87 Minutes" / Senior Unemployed English Major Correspondents

We get in the spirit of one of the most glamorous nights in Hollywood....ah, who are we kidding, we were bored as sin too. Here are the last ten UCL Champions and the ten Best Picture winners that most closely represent them (note: owing to my spotty knowledge of pre-1990s Oscar winners, forgive the bias towards more recent movies. Also, we're not riffing on the name of the movies; rather the general character of the movies and the likelihood of their victory).

Barca is the best. Did I stutter?
2011: Barcelona -- The King's Speech. Everyone's hum-drum pick for Best Picture. Utter lack of surprise in the victory. If Barcelona were boring that season, The King's Speech was even more so.

2010: Inter Milan -- The Hurt Locker. Mourinho's men scrapped and clawed their way to the Special One's second UCL, overcoming the behemoth Barcelona along the way (does anyone really remember who Inter beat in the final? OK, it was Bayern, but still). Similarly, Kathryn Bigelow overcame the highest grossing film of all time (Avatar) to win BP in a fairly large upset.

2009: Barcelona -- Lord of the Rings: Return of the King. Easy comparison. Sextuple, meet the clean Oscar sweep.

2008: Manchester United -- The English Patient. Fitting for the only all-England final of the last ten years, the stereotypical English film of the 1990s that also won Best Picture. We would have used The King's Speech if we hadn't already.

Maaaatt. Da-Mon.
2007: AC Milan -- Million Dollar Baby. Both wins featured a potent blend of the old (Clint Eastwood, Morgan Freeman, Nesta, Maldini, Seedorf, Inzaghi) and the young (Hilary Swank, Kaka).

2006: Barcelona -- The Departed. The very good film in which Scorcese finally gets his Best Director Oscar. Likewise, the very good Barcelona team in which Ronaldinho finally gets his UCL title.

2005: Liverpool -- Shakespeare in Love. Written off from the very beginning, Liverpool continued to surprise at every turn, edging it's way to the final, going down three goals to Milan, and then storming back. Similarly, Shakespeare in Love was supposed to be another faceless victim of Spielberg's blockbuster Saving Private Ryan, but surprisingly managed to prevail in the end.

2004: Porto -- Crash. 2004 was Mourinho's big splash into the crisp waters of European football. Similarly, Paul Haggis had been mostly a TV writer before he released Crash, which to everyone's great surprise topped Brokeback Mountain in the Best Picture category.

What? No "Italian Job"?
2003: AC Milan -- The Godfather Part II. The final in 2003 was the first contested between two Italian teams... which reminds me of another time when the world was wooed by a certain Italian charm--when Al Pacino and company stole the show in 1974 with the riveting ode to the Sicilian mafia.

2002: Real Madrid -- The Titanic. Another easy comparison. Up until that point, the Galicticos assembled by Florentino Perez was the most expensive team ever created. And at the time James Cameron's magnum opus was created, Titanic was the most expensive film ever created. Both provide examples of the rare instance dollars alone purchase a title.

What is this new site we're exposing you too? We'll let them explain:
The Other 87 seeks to provide something that’s not instant analysis or eve of matchday previews. Think of us as the good bits of your favorite soccer coverage: the profiles that examine what makes a certain player tick, the historical background that sheds some light on how the sport has evolved to the present day, the silly features that are more than just tacking names on a list, but considering and explaining why each one deserves to be there.

O87 wants to be a home for soccer writing that makes you think, but that also treats the game as just that, a game. The greatest game, the one we obsess over and fixate on, to the point where we can’t read that gas costs 3.43 a gallon without thinking of Ajax’s 1995 Champions League winning team. But a game nonetheless.

“When you play a match, it is statistically proven that players actually have the ball three minutes on average. The best players – the Zidanes, Ronaldinhos, Gerrards – will have the ball maybe four minutes. Lesser players – defenders – probably two minutes. So, the most important thing is: what do you do those 87 minutes when you do not have the ball…. That is what determines whether you’re a good player or not.” –Johann Cruyff

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VIDEO - "Return to MLS Paradise"


Our friend Jay Bell put together this cool video to get you pumped up for MLS "First Kick".


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John Harkes Is.... "The Commentator"

"I'm just as surprised as you all are that I'm coming back."
Editor's Note: With all due respect and a thousand plaudits to "Dirty Tackle" (It's only fair... they spun off one of our series, too) we present the potentially true life and times of America's favorite soccer commentator, John Harkes.

I'm baaaaaaaaack! Haha to all you haters. Here you thought you gave ol' John Harkes the "long-walk-off-a-short-pier" sorta thing.

Death, taxes, and John Harkes. Those are the only certainties in life. And death by listening to John Harkes... I heard that might have happened once, but I say it's an urban legend.

John Harkes cannot be held down. Of course, by now, you've heard the news that I'm back in broadcasting for Comcast SportsNet to do "color" for D.C. United games. It's not ESPN, but then again those guys were pricks. Always getting upset for me taking home office supplies. Don't worry... I've got "free pens" written into this contract with CSN. Free pens for Harksey!

I'm a little disappointed to no longer be working with that Ian Darke character. He sure knew how to do a really good impression of a British accent (Yup. Spoiler! It's fake!). Poor Taylor Twellman, though, he's got some big Harkes-sized shoes to fill now. I mean his feet are waaay bigger than mine. Haha!

A few months back you were all celebrating my demise. I retreated to the tree house decorated with posters of myself, to plot my comeback. It was just like after I got kicked off the 1998 World Cup team and came back to play in the 2002 World Cup. Wait... that might not have happened... I have a hard time figuring out what it real and what are parts of a screenplay I wrote about a dashing American soccer player and his rise to stardom.

Have you seen my goal in the FA Cup for Sheffield Wednesday?

Man! Play-By-Play guy Dave Johnson and I are going to have so much fun. It's a "getting the band back together" sorta thing with him and I when we worked together back in 2003. I wonder if he remembers me and all the good times we had. Him talking about about all the on-field action and me rambling unprompted about my playing days for D.C. Haha! Good times!

Ben Olson better watch out. I'm going to be all over him and his coaching this season. Second-guessing, calling out tactics and player moves, and professionally, yet, pretty unprofessionally calling for his head on broadcasts all season. I might even sneak in a few remarks about him dressing waaaay too nicely. You know a little "put some doubt in the Missus' head" sorta thing.

America! You might want to move to the Washington D.C.-area just to hear and see me again. And if you can't... well... there's always "MLS Live".... I'll be there, too.

Until next time.... remember 1989!

Read the previous entries of "The Commentator".

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Friday, February 24, 2012

Who We're Buying A Beer For.... Drew Carey


The one thing we love more than drinking beer and watching some soccer is being able to share said beer with people. We do it all the time and so do the fine men and women that subscribe to the of the Free Beer Movement Philosophy. We share our beer with our friends, family, and co-workers who desperately need some education on the soccer front to understand the passion that drives our connection to the sport of soccer.

Some people already get it and they're working day in and day out to improve the atmosphere in the U.S. for soccer. Those people or groups deserve some recognition and we only know one way to say thanks.

A beer on us.

Each week we serve up a healthy dose of brewskies for the individuals and organizations that are building a foundation for soccer in America. Hey... kinda like us at the FBM!

Yeah... most of this is literary flourish, but if we were to ever run into one of our honorees, we'd be obligated to let them know that their next drink is on the Free Beer Movement. And we'd hope, dear readers, if you ever ran into one of the ladies or gentlemen you'd let 'em know the FBM owes them a beer (or better yet pick up a drink for them and send us a picture and the tab!)


By Ryan Rosenblatt / Senior Los Angeles Correspondent

What does one do when someone buys him a beer? He buys that someone the next round, of course. What does one do when someone buys more than 40 beers for him and his closest friends? He writes about how everyone should buy that someone a beer.

American soccer? Check.
Beer? Double check.
On January 22, the American Outlaws gathered in Glendale, AZ to see the United States take on Venezuela and it wasn’t for the high quality of play or the thrill of a vital match. Both teams showed up with few first-teamers and some players who would be best classified as fourth, fifth or even sixth choice. The match had no real importance other than the flags each side represented. It was not the type of match that soccer hitches itself to as an advertisement of all that is well and good about “The Beautiful Game.”

That day was exactly what the American Outlaws hitches itself to as an advertisement of its fanaticism, though. Without any recognizable players or stakes and on a random January Saturday in a city within relatively close driving distance of one major market, the American Outlaws showed up in force.

First, the group settled in for a tailgate outside the stadium that featured a lot of people, some people kicking a soccer ball around and a beer or two. As time crept on and it was nearing time to enter the stadium, the chants at the tailgate grew louder and by the time the group settled into their spot at the stadium, their section was full and the songs were echoing in a still-empty stadium an hour before kickoff.

Nobody in section 139 at University of Phoenix Stadium needed an excuse to sing and chant after hours of tailgating and drinking, but they found one. Having spotted Drew Carey standing on the field behind the goal sporting his United States scarf, the American Outlaws started chanting for the comedian, Price is Right host, vocal soccer fan and Seattle Sounders owner (order of importance left at your discretion).

What began as an innocent and beer-fueled chant turned into one of the best moments of the day and the ultimate Free Beer Movement exercise.

"I want to give you free beer!: (Photo Credit: Kayla Knapp)
Carey walked over towards section 139, waving his scarf in the air and saying something, but exactly what he was saying wasn’t quite clear over all of the chanting. When he got to the front of the section and pulled his hand out of his pocket, it became clear what he was doing and saying. He was buying a beer for me. He was also buying a beer for more than 40 of my closest friends, whether I knew their names or not. He certainly didn’t know our names, not that it mattered. Drew Carey was buying the entire section a beer.

Several hundred dollars later, the American Outlaws were well lubricated, or more accurately, more lubricated than 20 minutes earlier and it was thanks to Drew Carey.

As the match wore on and the U.S. struggled to find a goal, but finally in extra time, Ricardo Clark (RICARDO. CLARK!) nodded home the winner. A day that had a great start (the tailgate), now had a great end (a win) and thanks to Drew Carey, it had a great middle too.

So next time you see Drew Carey, be it in Seattle, at a soccer match near you or on the set of the Price is Right (you can totally smuggle stuff in), buy the man a beer. After all, he bought dozens in support of U.S. soccer.

Do us a favor and say thanks to Drew Carey for his support of American soccer through his Twitter account and let him know if you ever run into him you'll buy him a beer.

About Ryan

When not posting about adoracute animals posing with soccer balls, or flying about the country taking in USMNT matches, Ryan Rosenblatt deigns to cover MLS matches for SB Nation Soccer. The lollipop of Soccer, Rosenblatt's got a flavor that will appease anyone: coverage of the US national team? You got it. Stepping in to write about the Eredivisie? I bet you can't even spell the Dutch League correctly. Mocking Arsenal fans? It might not show up on the front page, but it's almost certain there's a running dialogue in this Spurs' supporter's head.
Rosey is also silly enough to be a fan of the Los Angeles Dodgers, but that shouldn't make you take his soccer writing any less seriously.

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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Soccer Marketing 101 - Turning Around the Chivas USA Brand

Tray tables on Volaris' flights... very innovative.
Like about half of the Major League Soccer clubs this season Chivas USA launched a new kit. We're not sure of the rhyme or reason to the rotation, but each team is set on some sort of timetable from adidas and this year we've seen new shirts (although nothing mind-blowing given the "house league" look that all adidas shirts seems to have) from Columbus, Los Angeles, New England, Chicago Fire, Real Salt Lake, D.C. United, Montreal Impact, and a handful of third shirts as well.

While Chivas USA's new look is not a massive departure from their shirts last season, their launch of them was certainly the most unique of all in the league.

Last week, Chivas announced a new sponsorship with airline Volaris which operates flights between Mexico and several southwestern U.S. cities and also debuted their new shirts ON a flight from Guadalajara to Los Angeles.

Players like Juan Pablo Angel and goalkeeper Dan Kennedy walked down the aisle (now that sounds odd) along with Chivas USA girls while passengers on the flight were gifted their own jerseys to wear off the flight.

Chivas USA gets a lot of flack for their marketing approaches (given the whole idea of the team sounds and has looked gimmicky) and compared to the success of their Home Depot Center roommates, the Galaxy, they light-years behind, but this move at least shows some dramatic re-thinking of how to approach their whole brand.

Many if not most of the passengers on this launch flight from Guadalajara (and future passengers) were probably already fans of the sister club in Mexico and if they weren't previously aware of USA's branch, now they are. Honestly, they may even have thought they were getting Chivas shirts from Mexico. Either way the sponsorship and the marketing here is a major push to more closely link the success of the Mexico brand with that of the American brand.

We may be getting ahead of where Chivas USA is, but if they're going to be successfully, and this ship has to get turned around quickly, they've got to get these Chivas (Mexico) fans on aboard quickly. Since 2004 they've flailed about in Southern California. In part, Chivas USA thought that the link between the two and the fandom for your average Mexican-American would come automatically, naturally. The other part of the failure being that in marketing to Mexican-Americans and Mexicans in the United States it was real poor to assume that everyone was a Chivas fan. You're never going to get a America, Puma, Pachuca, or Cruz Azul fan anywhere near a Chivas USA game and there are loads of them, too, in LA and elsewhere.

But they're here now, made their bed in tying the team to the Chivas name, and the USA side now has to telegraph their marketing more directly.

It's taking the USA brand to Mexico and basically saying "Hey, this is the American branch of CD Chivas. When you're in the U.S. and in Los Angeles, come support this side like you would in Guadalajara and Mexico."

It sounds obvious, but Chivas USA's market is much, much bigger than the Los Angeles-area and to pretend that they're going to be able to compete on a fan-by-fan basis in this marketing with the Galaxy is absurb. Ask the Clippers how that works against the Lakers in that town (although they're doing much better this season). When put up against a more successful and flashy club with a deeper history then you're going to get creamed.

Chivas USA has got to make each CD Chivas (Mex.) fan in the LA-area and the whole United States a fan of their side. If I were a fan of Chivas' Mexico branch I'd sure as hell want to support this side if I knew there were more than just a name connection between the two.

The two Chivas need to play a friendly against each other every season. The relationship should really be more like a senior side to an academy team. Even though that seems insulting to the "Major League" label attached to Chivas USA it's a reality that it is the only club in the U.S. with this sort of unique arrangement.

Young Mexican players needing serious minutes should get a run out in the USA side. There's a lot of serious ticket draw to see up-and-coming players make their professional debuts.

Certainly none of this is new and, at some level, been done, but it's the regularity and the promotion of it all that needs to be turned up to "11" on the dial.

Last year's shirt sponsorship deal with Mexican beer Corona (no matter what you think of its taste) and was a huge step in the right direction to continue to connect the two Chivas brands and the Volaris deal is another positive trend.

The Chivas USA idea is still salvageable (and perhaps a move to soccer-mad San Diego might get them out of the Galaxy shadow) and last week's announcement shows that the right moves are finally being made.

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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

VIDEO - NBC Sports MLS Promo "Stand"

Like it? We made it. NBC... call us!

The new NBC Sports Network just keeps cranking out the fantastic Major League Soccer promos for the upcoming 17th season. Whoever is behind them in the NBC marketing department is nailing it.

Each of the ads we've seen now have really touched a chord with us and the greater American soccer community. The dedication in tapping into the core elements of what makes this sport great is on display with each of their spots. And it all started with a tiny, 20 second promo during a National Football League game to really get American soccer fans thinking that maybe, this time, a sports network would be good to us. Because we've been hurt before.

Then came the "warm up" commercial featuring a few of the lesser-known members of the Los Angeles Galaxy (basically anyone not named Donovan, Beckham, or Keane) which touched a hopeful, yet down-to-earth approach. Signalling that NBC was, perhaps, going to spend good time building the narrative of the players of this league (a good thing for newbies to American soccer).

The last ad we saw from NBC Sports was, of course, the "dangling piece of meat" spot focusing on the momentary, yet massive battle for time and space that is a corner kick. A video that appealed both to the veteran fan for its poetic nature of the event and the newbie that could explain how what seems to the untrained-eye as an inconsequential event it actually one of great importance.

By the time their fourth advertisement hit today it was pretty much a given that the camera would be turned from the field to the stands. Much like the corner kick ad, the appeal in NBC's approach is a powerful narrative that can move both novice and passionate supporter at the same time. A tough balance to strike to engage someone who knows less about soccer or American soccer and the died-hard, but the evolution of these ads proves that it can be done.

Check it out (if it doesn't play:... try directly on the MLS website)

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Tuesday XI: President Day Edition


By "The Other 87 Minutes" / Senior Unemployed English Major Correspondents
Yesterday was Presidents Day here in the U.S. (not that any of us got the day off), so to celebrate, we decided to assemble a lineup of the greatest men ever to hold the office, whether they were elected to the office, assumed it on the death of a predecessor, or were written into it.
GK – Abraham Lincoln – Tall, athletic and iron-willed. What more could you ask for?
I find this picture of young Chester Arthur hysterical.
LB – Chester A. Arthur – We took to Twitter to figure out the best possible presidential option at left back. We got back Grant (who played the role on this team), Truman, Polk, Van Buren and W. Bush, but the best answer came from @TheSquadPlayers: “No one born and raised in America can play the position well. It has been proven.” Lucky for the U.S. of A., we have Arthur, who everyone knows was actually born in Canada. (Good thing we’re past that kind of base political slander, huh?)
CB – Andrew Jackson – His stout, some would say brutal, defense ensures opposing strikers have a long, tearful walk back to their dressing room.
CB – James Monroe – Lets the opposition know right off that he feels he “owes it, therefore, to candor and to the amicable relations existing between the Presidents’ side and those opposition powers to declare that we should consider any attempt on their part to extend their system to any portion of this half of the field as dangerous to our peace and safety.”
That's our President...kind of.
RB – Thomas J. Whitmore – An inspirational leader in the dressing room who’s not afraid to get his hands dirty on the field of play either.
LM – John F. Kennedy – Spritely at 43, his (relatively) youthful energy on the flank helps assure the survival and success of our squad.
CM – James Marshall – Only recently took over this spot from our previous destroyer, Teddy Roosevelt. TR may have led the charge up San Juan Hill, but he never told Gary Oldman to get off his plane.
Thanks KCKRS and
 Life Magazine.
CM – Thomas Jefferson – This do-it-all footballing polymath is so versatile he’s moved from right back to the center of midfield, providing dynamism and plenty of ideas next to Marshall’s grit.
RM – Richard Nixon – On a team full of upstart citizens, he’s our cunning master of the dark arts.
Deep-lying forward – Josiah Bartlet – Isn’t afraid to get tough when he needs to be, but mostly his role is to use his off-the-charts football intelligence to dictate events around him.
CF – George Washington – Led his army across the Delaware, led the nation through its first years, led this team in scoring for three years running.

What is this new site we're exposing you too? We'll let them explain:
The Other 87 seeks to provide something that’s not instant analysis or eve of matchday previews. Think of us as the good bits of your favorite soccer coverage: the profiles that examine what makes a certain player tick, the historical background that sheds some light on how the sport has evolved to the present day, the silly features that are more than just tacking names on a list, but considering and explaining why each one deserves to be there.
O87 wants to be a home for soccer writing that makes you think, but that also treats the game as just that, a game. The greatest game, the one we obsess over and fixate on, to the point where we can’t read that gas costs 3.43 a gallon without thinking of Ajax’s 1995 Champions League winning team. But a game nonetheless.
“When you play a match, it is statistically proven that players actually have the ball three minutes on average. The best players – the Zidanes, Ronaldinhos, Gerrards – will have the ball maybe four minutes. Lesser players – defenders – probably two minutes. So, the most important thing is: what do you do those 87 minutes when you do not have the ball…. That is what determines whether you’re a good player or not.” –Johann Cruyff

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Monday, February 20, 2012

NASL Champion Minnesota Stars FC Get Their Own Beer


When the Minnesota Stars won the 2011 North American Soccer League championship cup last fall we're sure they weren't thinking they'd be able to drink a beer made especially for them when their title defense kicked off the following spring.

The Twin Cities-based Northern Brewer, a home brewing store with over 17 years experience and the web's number one retailer of home brewing supplies, just announced a partnership with the club that will put a Stars-specific beer in the hands of their supporters.

Meet "Shining Star" Pale Ale.

In the words of Northern Brewer:
Bright and intrepid, great hops on a grassy backdrop, and superb interplay between all the elements. Wait, are we talking about the beer or the Stars Soccer team? The two converge in this tribute beer to The Minnesota Stars FC, the 2011 North American Soccer League Champions.
To support their worthy efforts we've developed a hop-forward pale ale of the American school. Palisade hops lend a smooth bitterness while Centennial and Columbus provide brisk citrus, pine, and grassy flavors. A measured contribution of crystal sweetness from Bairds Light Carastan rounds out the flavor and makes for a
A sessionable ale, perfect for watching the latest match or unwinding after a game.
Northern Brewer is donating 10% of profits from this kit to the Sanneh Foundation, a charity that focuses on soccer as a way to make a difference in the lives of inner city kids.
Stars FC now join an elite group of teams and/or supporters that have beers made in their honor, but the first home brew that fans can make themselves.

Sporting KC has their "Drop Kick" Amber Ale from Weston Brewing, while supporters of Seattle Sounders have two beers to their name ("Brougham Bitter" from Big Al and soon "No Equal" Amber from Redhook), and Columbus Crew have a pair of local beers renamed for their team.

The beer is now available from Northern Brewers online shop. Even if you're not a Stars FC, but you are a home brewing soccer fan, why not try and brew up this batch?

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Where in the World is the 2000 MLS Cup?

UPDATE: Turns out the Cup has been in Kansas City all along. It was put in storage during renovations to Arrowhead Stadium a few years back. Either way the Hunt Sports Group is "loaning" the trophy to Sporting KC to display at LIVESTRONG Park for this season where it will then return to Arrowhead and be featured in a gallery dedicated to Lamar Hunt. Sporting will get a replica to show off.

The late Lamar Hunt said that the trophy was so important to him that he was able to keep it when he sold the team to local, OnGoal, but years after his death it is apparently not important enough to his son and the rest of HSG to dust it off and display it without the Internet getting on his case.

We still believe the real MLS Cup trophy belongs with Sporting KC and its fans and not in the former owners AMERICAN FOOTBALL stadium where it will most certainly be completely unappreciated.

The Wizards celebrate with their MLS Cup.
An unseasonable warm mid-October day in Washington D.C. was the setting for the 2000 Major League Soccer Cup. The championship game pitted the Chicago Fire, the league's most potent offense, against Supporter's Shield winners, Kansas City Wizards.

Miklos Molnar would capitalize on some unusually poor Fire defending to score on Zach Thorton in the 11th minute. For the remainder of the match the Wizards and Cup MVP Tony Meola would weather the Chicago attack (and make ten saves) to hold onto a 1-0 win in front of nearly 40,000 fans.

For the Kansas City Wizards, now Sporting KC, the 2000 MLS Cup would be the franchise's only domestic league title to date (they won the U.S. Open Cup in 2004). On the field and in the locker room players like Meola, Mo Johnson, Preki, and Uche Okafor would celebrate with the Alan I. Rothenberg Trophy and bring the hardware back to Kansas City to share it with supporters.

For the Hunt Sports Group, the 2000 MLS Cup would be the first league title for one of the teams they owned. At the head of HSG, Lamar Hunt, who backed the founding of MLS after the success of the 1994 World Cup, and in the league's darkest days of the late 1990s and early 2000s, kept it afloat along with AEG.

Thanksgiving Tower. HSG HQ.
In 2008, the Hunt-owned Columbus Crew would add an MLS Cup of its own to HSG's trophy case.

But in 2000, until the sale of the KC franchise in 2006, the only league title Hunt could claim would be that of the Wizards.

Presumably while the Hunt Sports Group (which also owns the Chiefs) still administered the Wizards the MLS Cup was predominately displayed somewhere at Arrowhead Stadium, but when the team was sold to OnGoal, a local investor group, the Cup left town.

Hunt Sports Group's headquarters lie within the Thanksgiving Tower in Dallas. The 645-foot, fifty-story building is the city's eighth tallest and sits in downtown looking like the government building that Neo would have to make his way through in  first "Matrix" movie.

But deep inside this building isn't Morpheus, but Kansas City's MLS Cup.

For whatever reason when the team was sold to OnGoal the Cup was packed up and moved to Hunt's headquarters. Was it an oversight in the sale negotiations? A demand that Hunt keep what he thought was rightful his? The answer is a mystery.

(Right now, no one on either side is talking. We've reached to Sporting people and a few on the HSG side and gotten no response. Clearly this is a sensitive issue for both sides.)

Hunt, center, with the Crew and their 2002 Open Cup.
Certainly the Cup is a reward for Lamar Hunt's contributions to American soccer, but for the fans of KC it is a symbol of the team's triumph. Lamar Hunt passed away later in the same year the Wizards were sold, but his son Clark now controls the soccer-side (among other things) of the Hunt Sports Group.

The Wizards were re-branded in 2010 as Sporting KC, but that doesn't mean the history of the "Wiz" is gone and forgotten. Just as their fans celebrate their 2004 U.S. Open Cup (ironically named after Lamar Hunt) as a part of their collective history, so do they the 2000 domestic title.

It is incumbent upon the Hunt Sports Group and Clark Hunt to do the right and noble thing and return the 2000 MLS Cup to Kansas City and its fans. The Cup has no more place in Dallas as would the one Columbus won. Certainly credit to HSG in building the league and the Wizards into a championship side, but  owners are no more important than the players, coaches, and supporters that worked along the way to make this possible.

Here' to hoping the 2000 MLS Cup makes it way back up Interstate 35 to Kansas City soon.

Editor's Note: The Sporting KC blog, "The Sporting Times" got the ball rolling (pun intended) on this issue and is pushing Hunt Sports Group to bring the Cup back to town with FC Dallas on March 25th. Read his appeal and about his efforts here.

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