Wednesday, May 31, 2006

World Cup Spotlight: Croatia

Although the Croatian World Cup squad lacks the impressive qualities that surprised everyone at Euro 96 (their first major international tournament) and two years later at the World Cup in France, wherein the Croats battled their way into third place, don't count them out just yet. Their tenacious courage on the pitch and the fact that they have plenty of fans in Germany (a number of players are employed in the Bundesliga) to back them up should make them tough to beat. Then again, they have Brazil to contend with in Group F as well as Japan and Australia. My money is on Brazil and Japan to make it out of the group, though you just never know with these things.

Players to look out for--midfielders Marko Babic (Bayer Leverkusen), Darijo Srna, team captain Niko Kovac (Hertha Berlin), and the young Luka Modric, who is supposed to be a promising talent; forwards Dado Prso (Rangers), a formidable striker who is an essential component of the squad (arguably the most essential part) and the unpredictable Ivica Olic (CSKA Moscow); and defender Robert Kovac (Juventus), younger brother of Niko's.

I wish the Croats much luck, but I really do think it's going to be a short tournament for them considering their lack of experienced players on this kind of scale. But you never know with these things, do you?

Where can like-minded idlers watch the World Cup in Eugene?

The following are a few places in Eugene where you may be able to view the World Cup. Make sure to call first, of course, but these look promising:

RENNIE'S LANDING (1214 Kincaid St, 541-687-0600)

TAYLOR'S BAR & GRILLE (894 E 13th Ave, 541-344-6174)

BIER STEIN BOTTLE SHOP & PUB (345 E 11th St, 541-485-2437)

Muchos gracias to Idler for asking, and Evon and the The Wave Generator for supplying the info.

I just met one of the 25%!

Earlier today, while I was working at the bookstore, I managed to surf the net for a few minutes and inevitably found myself at the World Cup Blog reading a piece about how something like 25% of the German population are not interested in the Greatest of All Sporting Events in the World! The world, comrades! Well, you all know that already. I was shocked and amazed by the story nevertheless (I should know better, I know) and then went about my humdrum day, perplexed by the idea of that many people not caring about the Greatest of All . . . .

Near the end of my shift, still moored at the counter even though my mind was already at home watching the the meaningless yet engaging England vs. Hungary friendly, a tall blonde woman walked up to the counter to purchase a couple of books. As I was ringing her up she asked me, "Do you have any foreign language books?"

I detected a slight accent, though I couldn't yet place it. "Instructional books or actual novels in a foreign language?"

"Novels," she replied.

German. She was definitely German, I thought. Maybe. But I had to ask anyway.

"Are you German?"

"Uh, yes." She smiled curtly.

"So . . . I have to ask you . . . . Are you excited about the World Cup or could you care less?"

She actually seemed to warm up at this point. "I'm not interested in it honestly. My husband is from Holland and he follows the sport. I've never cared for soccer or baseball or hockey. I don't really see the point. Why watch when I could play?"

And then she tucked her purchases into her bag and exited the bookstore, leaving me a bit flushed and weirdly pleased by our brief passionless encounter. Well, that's one of them identified, I thought. Only 19,999,999 to go.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

World Cup Spotlight: Argentina

We've been here before . . . . In the 2002 World Cup Argentina found themselves in the so-called Group of Death and never made it out of the first round. They beat the impressive Super Eagles of Nigeria 1-0, lost to their bitter rivals England 1-0, and then tied with Sweden 1-1. The disappointing boot out of the tournament was a major shock for the team and country, and the heartache has continued to haunt the South Americans for four long years. Argentina has something to prove this time around. Only problem is, they're facing death again.

Like many of the teams competing in World Cup 2006, Argentina has been plagued with injuries--aging defender Roberto Ayala and eighteen-year old striker Lionel Messi in particular. Kid dynamo Messi has been out of commission since early March with a hamstring injury he received during the second-leg of a Barcelona-Chelsea Champions League match. But if Messi is healthy and focused (this will be his first World Cup) . . . watch out. With Messi and Chelsea-man Hernan Crespo hunting for goals up front, Juan Roman Riquelme (the introspective Villarreal tactician) methodically designing play in the midfield, and the tempestuous Juan Pablo Sorin (another Villarreal man) controlling the back-line, all that talent and their quest for redemption (albeit a humble crusade for a change) may be enough to help Argentina squeak into the round of sixteen. Just don't tell their Group of Death mates the Netherlands, Cote d'Ivoire, or Serbia and Montenegro.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

want to watch the world cup amidst like-minded zealots?

Here are some local places where you can:

KELL'S (112 SW 2nd Ave, 503-227-4057) -- all games!

COSTELLO'S TRAVEL CAFFE (2222 NE Broadway, 503-287-0270) -- not open for 6 am games but those will be replayed at 6 pm the same evening.

THE MOON AND SIXPENCE (2014 NE 42nd, 503-288-7802) -- unconfirmed. Call first.

PIAZZA ITALIA (1129 NW Johnson, 503-478-0619) -- waitress uncertain. Call first.

HORSE BRASS PUB (4534 SE Belmont, 503-232-2202)

THE BAKERY BAR (1028 SE Water Ave, 503-546-8110) -- closed Sundays, but may open for games, depending on demand.

REDWING COFFEE AND BAKING (1700 SE 6th Ave, 503-445-9900) -- all games!

THIRSTY LION PUB (71 SW 2nd Ave, 503-222-2155)

MARATHON TAVERNA (1735 W. Burnside, 503-224-1341) -- all games!

Updates will be posted as new information arises. Many thanks to Zach and Eleven Devils for the leads...

Timbers Two in a Row

The Portland Timbers were on the road this evening, playing the Minnesota Thunder back in the land of ten thousand lakes. I followed the game online via the official Timbers web site and it seemed like an exciting match, with plenty of shots on goal and ultimately, only one that mattered. Forward Byron Alvarez headed it past Thunders' keeper Joe Warren in the 34th minute from a cross by Timbers' midfielder Hugo Alcaraz-Cuellar. Kiki Lara from the Thunder fired in a shot late in the second half to equal things up, but the midfielder was offside and the goal was ruled dead on arrival. Portland win 1-0 and now find themselves fourth in the league.

Next weekend the Timbers play the Seattle Sounders on Friday up north, and then at home here in P-town on Saturday against the same nefarious bunch.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

World Cup Reading

In addition to all of the great links Lynda (who is still out of commission today) listed in her last post, as well as the June issue of National Geographic that Eric helpfully mentioned in the comments, I'd like to steer your attention to two new books that I've been reading in preparation for the World Cup.

The World Cup: The Complete History by Terry Crouch has recently been reissued and it's a hefty (almost 600 pages!) tome of facts, history, and game analysis. Not the most page-turning, entertaining read--strictly for the soccer wonks out there--but I'm digging it nonetheless.

Much more satisfying in terms of readability and amusement, there is The Thinking Fan's Guide to the World Cup, edited by Matt Weiland--who is the deputy editor of Granta--and Sean Wilsey--author of the memoir Oh the Glory of It All and editor at large of Mcsweeney's. The anthology features thirty-two writers (Nick Hornby, Aleksandar Hemon, Henning Mankell, Tim Parks, Eric Schlosser, and Dave Eggers among others) taking on the thirty-two countries competing in the greatest of all sporting events. A fantastic, eccentric, impressionistic primer for the games and I can't recommend it highly enough. Sure, there's bound to be essays that don't work for you or simply not be to your taste, but I found it enlightening, informative, and even poignant at times. Most importantly, though, it's all put together with passion. Galeano, who sadly couldn't be part of the project due to reasons best explained in the preface, should be proud.

And lastly, I should mention that the new issue of World Soccer magazine has hit the stands and it's a special edition featuring extensive coverage of the teams heading to Germany. There are interviews with all of the coaches, notable players, short overviews of each of the players who made it to their respective provisional squads, and plenty of commentary by plenty of experts. Essential stuff.

Now, if there was someway to fast-forward two weeks to the games . . . .

Friday, May 26, 2006

World Cup Fever

This is what I've named the mysterious illness which struck me down with little warning late on Tuesday, because it started as just a fever so severe that it masked any other symptoms. It's an extremely corny thing to do and I apologize; it won't happen again. Blame it on the fever. As I hovered on the edge of delirium Wednesday, popping Ibuprofen whenever my temperature started edging past 103, I considered how tragic it would be to shuffle off this mortal coil a mere two weeks before the start of World Cup. My co-bloggers have since assured me that they would have written a chant in my honor, which is, I suppose, the best one can hope for.

Anyway, I couldn't blog, what with the not being able to sit up without the room spinning round and the concentrating on not dying (at least not till July) and all that. But now it's only two weeks till the tournament and we've got lots of other countries to tell you about! We're going to do our best! Of course, we never intended for a pretty move to be a place for up-to-the-minute news and stats--lots of other people do that far better than we do. But while we're sticking with our quirky personal observations, purely subjective reportage, and occasional flights of fancy, here are a few more great places you should be checking out for your World Cup needs.

World Cup Blog, originating here in Portland, has a different writer blogging each of the 32 countries.

Derek linked yesterday to Guardian podcasts and their main World Cup page is here.

If you're a local fan, you are already reading timberlog (or you should be!). But if, like me, you've picked Trinidad and Tobago for your Cinderella story of the tournament, you'll want to stop in even if you aren't one of the Rose City faithful, because you can read occasional updates from former Timber and Trinidad and Tobago international Brent Sancho as we lead up to the World Cup.

And for you novices, who are gearing up for your first-time bout with World Cup fever:
Official FIFA site--your one-stop place for all the basic info on teams, dates, matches, more
A very basic primer for those of you who feel that soccer lingo is a foreign language
A far more extensive Soccer 101 Glossary
Rest assured that no matter how much soccer watching you do and lingo you learn, you will still argue about the offside rule.

Now I'm off to soothe my sore throat with some chamomile tea. I hope I have a voice for the Timbers game next weekend--I have already frightened one caller tonight with my scary creaky vocal cords and now I'm reduced to utter silence. I feel like Harpo Marx, who was always my favorite, but I didn't want to be him. Somebody buy me a little horn.

Soccer Miscellany

Fans of the English national team (albeit the B squad) got a chance to see the lads play a friendly against Belarus in Reading Thursday in preparation for next month's World Cup. And though the game had no real importance, it did give us all the chance to see Michael Owen slowly getting back to speed and, of course, the opportunity to finally watch much-hyped 17-year old Theo Walcott who was subbed in for Owen in the 62nd minute. Except for his wonderful swiftness and one attention-getting attempt on goal, forward Walcott was a bit underwhelming in my opinion and at least from my vantage point (far, far away, nestled in front of my television set on the West Coast) didn't really do anything else. 19-year old Aaron Lennon, on the other hand, was more consistent, faster (he gave his defender plenty of trouble), and delivered some nice crosses. I like him. Oh, and England lost 1-2, by the way. You can read more about the match here, and you can also read here about the horrible and excruciating injury to England's third-choice keeper, Robert Green.

I know my a pretty move compatriot Lisa will be happy about this news item--Robert Pires, of the mighty Arsenal, is in fact not staying with the North London club despite what the very manly Thierry Henry promised last week. Harry Pearson, writing for the Guardian, isn't so amused.

Liverpool striker Fernando Morientes is fleeing Albion and heading down south as well.

The French World Cup team is currently training at their super-secret mountain retreat, and it seems that the lack of oxygen is definitely getting to alternate keeper Gregory Coupet. You can read more about his crazy beef with the fab one here.

Over at the Guardian, the second "warmup" World Cup podcast has just gone up, hosted by James Richardson. Good stuff and you can listen to it here.

And back here in Portland, our very own Scot Thompson (S-C-O-T, Scot with one T!) from the Timbers has started an online journal over at the official team site. And you can read one of his poems to boot!

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

World Cup Spotlight: Czech Republic

Is it within the power of the "dissidents"--as a category of sub-citizen outside the power establishment--to have any influence at all on society and the social system? Can they actually change anything?
--The Power of the Powerless by Vaclav Havel

In late summer of 1996, Lynda and I journeyed to the Czech Republic so that she could teach English at a small school in Mlada Boleslav (located 50 km or so northwest of Prague) and I could read, write, and generally soak up the dreary atmosphere of this small, factory town primarily known as the home of the Skoda automobile plant. Although the town seemed picturesque upon arrival--with its old town square, castle, inexpensive local beer like Staropramen and Gambrinus, and a great little sausage stand near the supermarket--the reality of how damn depressing and dire the place could get became apparent even before the first chemically-enhanced snowflakes coated the already grimy streets, locking us within an industrial freeze that would last for months.

It certainly wasn't all bad: there were weekend excursions by unheated bus into Magic Prague where we would breakfast at our favorite restaurant, wander the maze of streets that spidered from Old Town Square and never failed to get us lost and amused, postcard moments upon Charles Bridge that seemed completely meaningful and facile simultaneously, and late dinner and beer within the warm seclusion of an Irish pub that made us homesick for an unattainable, non-existent state of mind (at least as far as I was concerned) and reluctant to return to the origin of our problem. But return to Boleslav we would, and back into the overheated panelak that increasingly became the outward manifestation of my prolonged unease.

Luckily, we had a small black & white television at our disposal, and when the books ran out (which was quick) and I wasn't scribbling in the numerous journals that I'd brought with me, physical proof that I really was trying to be a writer for the first time, I'd sit a few feet in front of the guttering screen and watch Sparta Praha.

I was a complete soccer novice at the time. Here in Portland, I grew up in the late-1970s being a fan of the original NASL Portland Timbers. But honestly, it was a fleeting love and by the time I hit my teens I rarely if ever thought of the sport (hell, way of life). But watching Iron Sparta play, it was like my true memory of how things ought to be returned. My memory of the intricacy of the game was hampered, though that didn't cripple my enjoyment or excitement of watching the furious play in any way. I was covertly falling in love with it all over again, even though it would be another six years (World Cup 2002) before I succumbed fully to the passion for good.

In 1996 the Czech national team had just come off a second place finish against the Germans, and the country was still rightfully proud of the team's accomplishment and return to world tournament glory after years of non-existence. Led by Pavel Nedved, (who would subsequently be picked up by every real fascist's favorite team, Lazio, and then more notably Juventus), Vladimir Smicer (FC Girondins de Bordeaux), Patrik Berger (Aston Villa), Pavel Kuka, Karel Poborsky (who holds the record for the Czech team in most appearances), and Lubos Kubik, I would frequently see replays on television of the squad returning home as if they had beaten Germany and every time I watched, I'd feel their need for a little respect, a little retribution.

The World Cup 2006 squad is aging and dealing with injuries, but their determination to struggle on never fails to move me. They also have arguably the world's best keeper at the moment, the appropriately monikered Petr Cech from Chelsea, striker Milan Baros (currently stuck with Aston Villa, though for how long . . . .), Marek Heinz (who plays in Turkey and scored two decisive goals for the team in Euro 2004), and Arsenal midfielder Tomas Rosicky to help Nedved and Smicer further the cause.

I admit my allegience for the team is completely personal, sentimental, and biased. I want them to win the whole damn thing and hope they will lose with grace. Despite their FIFA World Ranking at number two, I realize that there can be no hope for a team so acclimated to loss.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Iranian Women Protest; Soca Warriors Supporters Prepare to Party

The scene outside Team Melli's training ground yesterday: dozens of women prevented from entering, singing and carrying flags to support the Iranian World Cup squad; a father brings his young daughters to watch; men watching from inside the grounds calling out "Sisters, don't give up!" One presumably doesn't get to be an Ayatollah by allowing oneself to get shoved around all willy-nilly by public opinion, but I can always hope that the squad's appearance in Germany this summer will highlight this inequity and perhaps create enough humiliation for those surrounding and advising (Ayatollahs still get advised, right? I mean, by regular humans, in addition to the divine variety?) Iran's supreme leader to persuade him to rethink the ban President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad tried to lift earlier this year.

Meanwhile, Luton midfielder and Trinidad and Tobago international Carlos Edwards writes his first in a series of columns leading up to the tournament. Some highlights: the Soca Warriors fear no one, their supporters are the best partiers in the world and cause trouble to no one, and Coach Leo Beenhakker will bollock anyone, including Dwight Yorke. No matter how far they get, no one is going to have more fun this summer than the lads from Trinidad and Tobago and their loyal fans.

World Cup Spotlight: Spain

It's one of the world's oddities that Spain has never won the World Cup. And, in fact, that its best finish was fourth place, and that was 56 years ago. It points to the existence of whimsical and capricious gods.

In 2002, La Seleccion waltzed cheekily through early group rounds with nine goals and a perfect record then promptly lost their mojo, barely stumbling past Ireland in penalties and falling to South Korea.

Is this the Spaniards' year? They've had a lucky draw to start (Tunisia, Ukraine, Saudi Arabia). Coach Luis Aragones has assembled one of the youngest squads (average age 24) in a decidedly young tournament, exciting consternation with his exclusions of 2002 veterans Ruben Baraja and Fernando Morientes. Morientes was second only to Raul (captain and superstar) in goal-scoring that year, and played on the 1998 team as well. Despite a weak 2005-6 season (9 goals for Liverpool), his record in Spain speaks for itself (26 goals in 43 games).

Further grumblings abound concerning other conspicuous absences, among them Mariano Pernia of Getafe, Vicente of Valencia (recovering from an ankle injury) and Guti Hernandez of Real Madrid, but it all serves to point up the wealth of the pool from which Aragones is fishing. Raul has suffered knee problems and two poor seasons with Real Madrid, but is still Spain's all-time leading scorer. The other two young and hopeful striker-heroes are Fernando Torres (of Atletico Madrid, possibly Manchester-bound, and spot-on with either foot) and David Villa of Valencia, La Liga's second top scorer this season.

This extraordinary line-up is fleshed out by Premiership favorites Fabregas and Reyes of Arsenal and, from Liverpool, keeper Pepe Reina, Xabi Alonso and Luis Garcia (fondly known as "Thumbsucker" here at a pretty move for his creepy and disconcerting goal-celebrations). For full squad lists from both 2006 and 2002, press here.

Monday, May 22, 2006

World Cup Spotlight: Cote d'Ivoire

On the day the Elephants returned home victorious from their unexpected World Cup qualification last October, Ivorians danced in the streets and declared the country reunified after years of civil war, the president promised each member of the qualifying squad a villa worth 30 million African francs, and the players asked that their success act as a "catalyst for peace."

Most-recognizable players include, of course, Chelsea's Didier Drogba as well as Arsenal defenders Emmanuel Eboue (as faithful readers of a pretty move will recall, much-maligned here of late) and Abib Kolo Toure. If you follow French football you'll know most of the rest as well; much of the squad was selected from Ligue 1 clubs. They're coached by former French international/Nantes Atlantique midfielder (playing a record 532 matches for the club)/France manager Henri Michel.

Another debutant at the tournament, Cote d'Ivoire are reputed to be perhaps the strongest African nation in the Cup but face a brutal struggle in the group phase, having drawn into Group C along with Argentina, the Netherlands, and Serbia and Montenegro. If they can fight their way into the round of 16, though, they may well turn out to be the little team that keeps the 2006 World Cup anything but predictable.

Meanwhile, the country itself prepares for rebel disarmaments and national elections in hopes of putting the last few troubled years behind them. Perhaps the national squad will conjure up a performance next month in Germany that will bring some hope to Ivorians as they stitch their tattered country back together again.

Johan Cruyff Inspires Timbers to Win (sort of)

There have been moments this season (already) when I've thought, will we score again? What will it take to put the ball in the net? Drunk with anxiety, I could almost feel the presence of Johan Cruyff near me, whispering one of his stark raving encouragements like, "without the ball, you can't win" or "to win you have to score one more goal than your opponent."

Simple wisdom. Perhaps even stupid. But he's right.

The Timbers beat the Toronto Lynx 2-1 at home last night, and though the crowd was small, it was a raucous good time as usual. Though they played well in the first half, it wasn't until the second half that the lads in green and white took Mr. Cruyff's advice and finally put the ball in the goal. Midfielder Luke Kreamalmeyer scored in the 52nd minute and midfielder Oral Bullen contributed his talent in the 60th. Unfortunately, the Lynx managed to ruin the clean sheet by scoring in stoppage time (their first goal of the season), but even that slight irritation couldn't dampen the team's well-earned victory.

Timbers are on the road Saturday to play the Minnesota Thunder and the next home match will be against archrivals Seattle Sounders on June 3rd, the day after an away game against said villains.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Timbers vs Lynx

Tenth placed Portland Timbers host twelfth placed Toronto Lynx today at PGE Park. The game starts at 6:00. The Timbers, who lost their match Friday against first placed Rochester 1-0, played decently and held their own against the faster, thuggish Rhinos. And how about them dives by the opposing team? I could've sworn the Eboue Awards had already been given out earlier in the week.

Anyway, hopefully the Timbers can pull off a well-deserved win today. More tomorrow regarding how it all went down.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Soccer Miscellany

A shout-out to hard-working Allison over at Soccer City USA/The Timber Mill for the links as well as the always-reliable match reports and fantastic photos, and to Bob who juggles the Oregonian's Timbers weblog with his duties at the World Cup blog. You'll find those links on the side as well.

Now, I said (offline) I was done talking online about the Champions League final and the subsequent unbecoming whinging from the Gunners' camp, but one remark has been bugging me more and more with each passing day and I guess I can't let this one go without comment.

Thierry Henry: "...maybe next time I have to dive. But I am not a woman, so I stayed on my feet."

Now, it's not like I expect soccer players to be walking around flashing women's studies degree--that, frankly, would be weird and unsettling--but seriously, given the success and popularity of women's teams in the sport, that's...actually, it leaves me speechless. I'm sure that, oh, say, Tiffeny Millbrett, Mia Hamm, Portland's own champion Pilots squad, or the Arsenal women's squad (who just lifted the Women's FA Cup) were delighted to hear that they were all cheating divers on account of their genital configurations.

Thierry Henry, up until three days ago you were one of my favorite players in the Premiership this year. I beg of you, please just stop talking so I can try to like you again.

No-logo types can cheer at the news that Barca has not only abandoned plans to use their kits for advertising space, but intends to finance humanitarian projects instead.

Meanwhile, over in Italy, after insisting that the widening football scandal there will have no effect on Italy's World Cup hopes, Italian coach Marcello Lippi was questioned for three and a half hours yesterday by police in Rome. And even the Vatican has weighed in!

And last night on FSC news, the ordinarily mild-mannered Bobby McMahon expressed in his thick Dundee brogue his wish for disgraced Juve ex-manager Luciano Moggi, if guilty, to rot away in jail for his "crime against humanity."

Really, I couldn't have said it better myself.

Rhinos Trample Timbers 1-0

It wasn't as bad as last year's humiliation. Last year, Lisa and I watched every agonizing moment from the stands, while Derek's work schedule spared him the horror of actually seeing it all unfold and he followed along with the radio broadcast until it became too much for him to bear. As I trudged up Burnside after last year's match, a group of people at a table outside Mazatlan called to me to find out the final score; they'd been unable to sit through any more of it and we all shook our heads in speechless united defeat. 5-0!

Later that night I met Derek for a beer and a bite to eat and as I was relating the dire details of the match, I found that my stomach was in such knots I not only could not eat, I could not finish my beer. Now, you must understand that, for reasons I can't fully explain, I consider leaving one's pint only partly-drunk a lapse of both propriety and good common sense. I have been known to point out pint-abandoners in restaurants and pubs. "Look," I'll say, "they didn't finish their beer" in the hushed tones one normally only reserves for observing the most appalling absence of social graces. I can, in fact, point to only one other occasion in my life when I have done the same: it was a rainy night in Dublin, Ireland, 1989, in a pub off Aston Quay, and my Irish drinking mates, refusing to believe that one more pint was going to render me so comatose as to be unable to make my way up from the table (much less navigate the half-hour walk home to Rathmines), continued to purchase rounds. Now that I think about it, my abandoned stout elicited the same contempt and disbelief I've displayed for similar behavior since; perhaps it all started there when I was young and impressionable.

At any rate, last year was devastating; this year was merely disappointing. The Rhinos are the top team in the league and I think most of us would have been pleased with a draw. The good news is that we held them off for much of the match and in the end only gave up one goal; the bad news was our complete breakdown inside the box. There were a couple of opportunities where it looked like it was going to be impossible for us not to score a goal, and yet somehow we managed the impossible.

Sunday evening against the Toronto Lynx we should be able to take away three points; if not, I'll start to be concerned about the remainder of the season.

Match reports at Soccer City USA and the offical Portland Timbers press room.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Timbers Play at Home Friday

The Portland Timbers will host the Rochester Raging Rhinos(!?) tomorrow evening at PGE Park. The lads in green and white had a tough couple of games last week on the road--—against Miami (3-2) and Puerto Rico (3-1)--—but will hopefully turn things around this weekend. Rochester currently has a 4-0 record, while Portland is currently 1-3-1. Reportedly, defender Scot Thompson--—who was injured last week in the game against Miami--—will return for the Timbers, though midfielder Edwin Miranda will be out with a “thigh injury.” Tomorrow'’s game is at 7:00. Portland will also be playing on Sunday at 6:00 here in P-town against the lowly Toronto Lynx.

Thursday, May 18, 2006


It was late Saturday night and I was exhausted. I should've been in bed, if I wasn't in fact doing something useful. I had to get up early the next morning and go to work. As it happened, I ended up on the couch, sipping a few beers, dutifully and depressingly channel surfing for something worthwhile to watch, gaze at, fall asleep to. Food of the Gods? The wretchedly inspired and thoroughly wonderful 1970s craptacular craptacular starring former teenage evangelist/hack actor Marjoe Gortner, Ida Lupino(!), Ralph Meeker(!!), and the cold yet lovely Pamela Franklin(!!!?) who looked so dazed, water-logged, and embarrassed that she was probably praying that director Bert I. Gordon would re-write the script and mercifully give her a death scene? Sadly, it wasn't on. And besides, I'd already watched it twice the previous week when it had plagued one of the movie channels. There was always House of the Dead, a movie "so bad it's gone past good and back to bad again," as Enid cautioned in Ghost World. No, definitely not Uwe Boll's celluloid punji stake.

I should have watched a real film earlier when I was more awake, sharp, and hungry for something more meaningful. I should have read a book when I was more awake, sharp, and hungry for something more meaningful.

Though it was hardly without meaning, I opted for the Olympique de Marseille/FC Girondins de Bordeaux match on FSC. And like a glorious dream the play unfolded in waves of spectacle, drama, and suspense. Not a legendary match by any means nor was it particularly brilliant. But its narrative sucked me in with its heady atmosphere of sun flares upon the camera lens; billowing smoke roiling across the pitch, up from the crowd birthed by the red flares igniting; the image of Bordeaux’s surly and volcanic Oliver Stone look-alike manager churning in his seat along the sideline; the ball thrown at the ref by a petulant Marseille player, a red card flashed in retaliation; Marseille’s visiting shirtless supporters penned in like animals ravenous for victorious prophecy into next year’s Champions League yet realizing that their foolish dream was rapidly turning to dust; the breathtaking moment when Marseille keeper Fabien Barthez cosmically channeled eccentric keeper Rene Higuita (sans “scorpion kick”) and abandoned his post near the end of the game, bolting down the pitch to the opposite end to single-handedly accelerate the nightmare back into dream, back perhaps into giving him a reason to stay with his club for a little longer.

In the end, though, rash Fabien was subservient to a larger will, and the crusade for a little honor dimmed into the dusk for another season. From fourth place to third to fifth within moments, and Fabien, not surprisingly, handed in his notice the next day for nowhere.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Soccer Miscellany

Local writer Zach Dundas has fired up his own football blog, Eleven Devils. Should be a good read, so check it out.

MLS chief gives thumbs up to a proposed "Beckham rule," wherein each MLS team would be permitted to bypass the salary cap and sign one renowned international player. While I kind of like the idea of salary caps, because I am just a dirty commie that way, I like good soccer even more, and hoo-boy, could we use a boost like this in the MLS. Becks isn't a player I'm going to be writing any paeans to around here, but I have long thought his coming to America might be good for the overall popularity of the sport.

And I'm already reading and hearing some nasty rumblings in the wake of the Champions Cup final about the quality of the refereeing, and I've been turning it all over in my head. Here's the bottom line: Barca scored three goals--one of them disallowed--while Arsenal scored one. Let's say Lehmann doesn't get sent off but gets a yellow instead, which means the one goal is presumably allowed, and he manages to block Barca's other two shots where Almunia could not. You're still looking at 1-1 and a game that goes into overtime. Sure, what if Arsenal had played with eleven men? Similarly, what if Barca--what if the whole game--had not lost steam for some time following the Lehmann red card? But if we're going to theorize about bad refereeing and imagine the Lehmann call going differently, we're also going to have to rule out Eboue's blatant dive, which led to Arsenal's only goal for the match. I guess what I'm saying is that I wasn't happy with the refereeing toward either side, but I don't think that's ultimately why Arsenal lost the final. I think they lost because once they had a goal they defaulted to the defensive play that got them past Villarreal and into the final, and when their defensive line was clearly tiring toward the end, Barca was able to exploit that vulnerability. Meanwhile, along the same lines of strategy, Wenger refused to sub in a second striker or any support for Henry, which I think made all the difference.

I don't believe either team was a clear favorite going in, and neither played their very best, but I do not think it was even close to a clear-cut case of Arsenal being robbed by the ref, as Henry basically claimed as he left the pitch earlier today. I was sorry to hear these words from Henry because he is a player I like an awful lot and I normally consider him to be an all-around class act, and he ought to have been more gracious than he was. (While the ref missed fouls on both sides, the one call I thought Henry would have been fair in disputing--the Lehmann red card--he seems to be okay with.) The problem wasn't that the ref was a Barca agent in disguise--he just made many lousy decisions, and both teams suffered for it.

And then Lehmann turns around and is more gracious than I expect him to be--although he, Wenger, and Henry all claim in that piece that the disallowed goal was probably offsides. And...I gotta admit, they could be right about that--I'd have to replay it and see for myself.

This is why I hate dodgy refereeing (as opposed to generally unfounded contempt for and distrust of the referee who called the game that your side lost, which is a time-honored and important tradition I intend to participate in throughout the season as needed) no matter whose favor it goes in: it always taints the result. I mentioned the what-might-have-been game the other day in my post about the Timbers loss against FC Miami--I understand why Gunners fans are indulging in it and I'd be doing the same thing in their place. But in the end, I think Arsenal was undone by trying to play too much defense against a team that took a long time to loosen up but played with all their attacking strength in the end.

And what I wouldn't give to be in Paris or Barcelona tonight!

El Barca es Mes Que un Club

Despite having a technical one man advantage over Arsenal, Barcelona rarely displayed their characteristic free-flowing play and Ronaldinho was consistently hampered by the Gunners' aggressive defense. That is, until Samuel Eto'o offically equalized in the 75th minute with a brilliant low shot past Almunia. Finally the game is on. And it was the goal that finally loosened up the Catalans, giving them their confidence back and signalling to the world that this great team hadn't lost their cool, hadn't given in to Arsenal's resolute marking. Then in the 80th, Barca's Henrik Larsson delivers a spot-on pass to Belletti who strikes a dangerously tricky shot through Almunia's legs and back into the net. The turn-around has taken hold and for the first time during the match I actually relax a little, actually start to believe that Barca is going to pull this through and win it on their own terms--with a pretty move and with passion.

And so they did. Arsenal played with courage and heart, but offensively they never commanded the game and simply relied on their effective pressure defense to slow Barcelona down. But you can't halt progress, as they say, and though Ronaldinho sadly never exemplified his hallucinatory skills in the way we hoped he would, Barca were able to consistently attack the net in a manner that Henry and company never really did. Arsenal's one goal was from a set piece and not during the run of play, unlike all of Barca's goals (including the disqualified Eto'o shot).

It may not have been the classic match that I was praying for, but it was excellent and personally memorable nonetheless. And for only the second time in their history, beloved FC Barcelona are the well-deserved champions of Europe. They win 2-1.

A clamor rises
from the pitch
We're the blue and claret people
Makes no difference where we hail from
Whether it's from the south or the north
Now we all agree
we all agree,
One flag unites us in brotherhood
Blue and claret flowing in the wind
One valiant cry
We've got a name
that everyone knows:
Barca! Barca! Baaarca!

United we are strong
So much glory through the years
Oh, the many goals we've cheered
And it had been proven, it has been proven
That no one can break us
Blue and claret flowing in the wind
One valiant cry
We've got a name
that everyone knows:
Barca! Barca! Baaarca!

Cant del Barca--The Barcelona Song

Click here for a short video of the Camp Nou faithful singing and/or click here for the full audio version.

Champions League Half

A very strange match thus far--most significantly, Jens Lehmann sent off twenty minutes in for taking Samuel Eto'o down, while Barca is denied the goal they scored in spite of his tackle. Sending Lehmann off was, I believe, the wrong decision (not to mention I believe that the Barca goal should have stood!) and much to my surprise, I actually felt sorry for him. This does, however, underscore my main objection to Jurgen Klinsmann's decision to favor him over Oliver Kahn for the World Cup squad: I do not believe Lehmann has the temperament for World Cup (we here at a pretty move have been known to refer to him as "Preston Burpo" in fond memory of the former Seattle Sounders hothead keeper and all around bad guy) and in fact predicted last night that he would be sent off during that tournament. I didn't expect to see my prophecy fulfilled so quickly; perhaps (I'm not counting on it) it will temper his World Cup persona. Replacement keeper Manuel Almunia is performing well so far, minus the Burpo-like aggro.

Thus far I must admit that both offensively and defensively Arsenal is outplaying Barca, who can't seem to find their rhythm. Having said that, the free kick that netted Sol Campbell a goal for Arsenal was a result of a completely bullshit call, a clear dive on the part of Emmanuel Eboue.

And finally, judging from the handshaking, back-patting, and all-around friendliness on the pitch between Thierry Henry and the Barca players, I'm starting to believe the rumors of a move to Barca. I'm of two minds about this: on the one hand, I would, of course, love to see Henry in Barca colors. On the other hand, I do believe he's great for Arsenal, and, as Bobby McMahon said on FSC news the other night, good for the Premiership in general.

Il Calcio in Crisis

Here in P-Town, our soccer scandals tend to consist of items like GM Jim Taylor resigns, Coach Bobby Howe sacked, or Livid Soccer Moms Force PGE Park's Hand in Banning Admittedly Tiresome "You Suck, Asshole!" Chant: Protests Ensue.

Over in Italy the football world has been plunged into chaos. What began last week as a wiretapping sting that exposed the involvement of Serie A champions Juventus (owned by the old-money Agnelli family) in match-fixing and ref-bribing has exploded into an investigation that threatens to take Fiorentino, Lazio, and AC Milan (owned by new-money Silvio Berlusconi) down to Serie B, not to mention the spectres of ruined careers, public humiliation, and criminal charges. The news just keeps getting worse, from the resignation of the entire board of Juventus to the implication of Juve keeper Gianluigi Buffon (just named to the World Cup squad) in illegal gambling activities to the latest story that the entire Italian FA has been placed under emergency administration.

Now anybody with even just a passing familiarity with Italian football--that would be me-- is aware that corruption around the pitch is hardly a new phenomenon; in fact, Lazio and AC Milan have already made the shameful journey down to Serie B as a result of similar activities once before, in 1980. And Italy is by no means unique in this--witness last year's Bundesliga scandal. Black hearts hoping to make a fast buck (or even, if I remember my facts from the Bundesliga ref-fixing correctly, a mere widescreen TV will do the trick) in the beautiful game spill across all borders. There can be ideological reasons as well: When falling into a particularly conspiracy-minded mood, Derek has been known to advance his theory that the Rupert Murdoch-owned FSC broadcasts repeats of "classic" AC Milan victories in response to a win by a current team not in favor with the oligarchy.

I'd like to think that, as the "unnamed source" in this article states, this could, in the end, be a good thing for the sport in Italy, cleaning house once and for all. Bear in mind that what I hope will happen and what I expect to happen are not necessarily the same thing: I am, after all, the kind of person who hopes that Theo Walcott will prove to be a boy wonder and that Trinidad and Tobago will win the World Cup. On the other hand, if players like Luca Toni are indeed the future of Italian soccer, if catenaccio is, as he says, truly a thing of the past, perhaps there is reason for hope after all.

It's going to be a long, hard slog for Italian fans no matter what though, and Italy's bid for the World Cup just started to look a lot tougher. In the meantime, Italian speakers can follow breaking news at La Stampa, La Gazzetto dello Sport, Corriere della Sera, and La Republicca.

grazie mille to Joe McGinniss for the Italian links

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Champions League Final

Oh, yes, this has all the markings of a classic Champions League final--two dynamo leaders, Barcelona's Ronaldinho and Arsenal's Thierry Henry, two attack-minded and dynamic squads (except if the Gunners decide to play like they did against Villarreal in the semi-finals) filled with international superstars, the possible return of Barca's Argentinean kid-fantastic Lionel Messi, no clear favorite, and all of it taking place in Paris, where 50 years ago the first Champions League final (then known as the European Cup) was played.

The game is on ESPN2 Wednesday at 11:30 a.m. Pacific time. If you've never watched a soccer game in your life or have only seen a Premiership or an MLS game here and there but have never fully committed to the beautiful game, then this is an opportune time to do so.

Plenty of links to investigate further:,,1776530,00.html,,1776487,00.html,,1776466,00.html,,1776615,00.html,,1776390,00.html,,1776605,00.html,,1775677,00.html

more despair for the liverpudlian spaniards

Luis Garcia rouses himself out of the metaphorical gutter where he's dwelt since a sadly well-deserved red card smashed his FA Cup hopes just in time to pass the bottle to teammate Fernando Morientes. Last week Morientes made a penitent public plea for another chance, apologizing for his languid season and vowing to turn a new leaf. Now on the heels of talk that Benitez has him on the auction block comes the added shock of being passed over for the Spanish side.

Monday, May 15, 2006

the Walcott Affair, several days on

Like every place else, theories hang heavy in the air here at a pretty move. Is Sven mad? a genius? a cynical bastard? The most interesting is Derek's "smoke and mirrors" scenario: following intimations that Rooney is not nearly as injured as we all think (the photos, the Texan who called into "Football Friday" claiming to have seen Rooney swanning around Old Trafford sans limp or oxygen tent), Sven appoints Walcott to keep us all arguing so vociferously we fail to notice the big bloke is ready to play. The world relaxes its guard, laughing at the prospect of wounded Owen/wacky Crouch/untried newbie carrying the day. But at the half, out charges Rooney like King Arthur, recalled in England's moment of need! Victory is Albion's.

Lynda and I are optimistic, and fond of the "Sven as kingmaker" alternative. The man is opening up room for a miracle. He is allowing a hero to unfold in our midst. As Marina Hyde put it, it's the story we love best, this fairy tale. In years to come the historians will speak of the Walcott Affair and the blockbuster "Goal" in one breath: youngster rises up from nowhere at all to dance England into glory (which suggests a cynical off-shoot, the "this is all an advert for the films" theory--not for consumption by the ordinary human, recommended only for the most hardened conspiracy theorist). When one of us voices cheeriness regarding Theo, Derek folds his arms and stares darkly into an uglier future than that, muttering, "I'm NOT a football cynic. I'm not."

In any case, if there is a good that has arisen from the painful jeremiad of West Ham, it is that Steven Gerrard has unequivocably shown us he can carry the full weight of a hard match easily on his capable shoulders, regardless of who wears the strikers' shoes around him.

"Goal!": the total film experience

(First, an apology: I saw this film opening night, but by the time I rose next morning the Great West Ham Sorrow had occurred while I slept, and writing about film suddenly seemed indecent, disrespectful, even absurd. So here's the review, tempered by some days' lapse.)

Here's the bad news: Having grown up in the era of Neil Simon, I've been privy to some sentimental hogwash in my time, but this sapfest out-maudlins the lot. It follows by careful rote the most basic heartstring-tugger formula: a succession of melodramatic crises, each capped by folksy life-lesson wisdom, each mounting in crescendo to the climactic game. It has nothing to do with real life. (As somebody said, "You know it's a fantasy when Newcastle United looks pretty.") You, or your grandma, whoever, could tell me the story of this film, scene by scene, even if you never saw a single preview. There are literally no surprises in it. The only plot-points you'd miss might be the ones that seem too far-fetched to speak aloud.

That said, I both laughed and cried. More than once from the corner of my eye I saw arms shoot into the air in the universal victory gesture when ball met net onscreen. The joy and angst of the fans was well and lovingly captured. I look at it this way: after watching a string of football films ("the Firm", "Football Factory", "Fever Pitch", etc) that left me saying, "All right, but where's the football?", I figure the bad parts of "Goal!" are the trade-off for getting to watch real footballers play real football, and have a blast doing it. Everyone's having a good time in this film. And don't let anyone tell you it's badly acted. No movie with the likes of Stephen Dillane and Sean Pertwee can be called badly acted. It's a melodrama; that requires, shall we say, an exaggerated style. Anyway, you'll have fun. You will.

Never Get Off the Boat

Talk about a rough weekend for the Portland Timbers. Two games in three days--against Miami and Puerto Rico--and two frustrating losses. Yesterday's match against the Puerto Rico Islanders was painful to endure. I was at work following it on the computer with my co-worker and a pretty move compatriot Lisa, and we could both feel the bruises welling darkly from way across the country. As we followed the live match report online it was obvious the team should've never gotten off the boat, as Captain Willard would have said. By the end of the first half Puerto Rico had a 3-0 lead and it appeared as if our boys were in need of some serious soul-searching before the torrent of abuse resumed. Thankfully, the Timbers came out aggressive in the second half and the team--especially Hugo, Troy Ready, and Byron "Superstar" Alvarez--tried to rectify the damage done (Alvarez scored from an Edwin Miranda pass in the 67th minute). But the cauterization wasn't strong or fast enough and Portland went down again 3-1. Scot Thompson was still out because of the injury he received on Friday against Miami and forward Mamba Chisoni and flash midfielder Alejandro Gutierrez were unable to play because of visa regulations.

Get some rest, lads, and we'll see you Friday night at home against Rochester.

Saturday, May 13, 2006


As Lynda mentioned at the end of her last post, Liverpool defeated West Ham in the FA Cup after a lengthy and bruising initial 90 minutes, overtime, and then the dreaded penalty kicks. No team wants to lose by penalty kicks, and if you win, well . . . you win. None of us here at a pretty move were able to make it over to the Horse Brass to view the game, but after reading the Guardian's match report as the game was still in overtime and perusing some of the post-game verdicts, I'm sad that we didn't watch it live. Despite West Ham going down like that, I'm still looking forward to watching the game on Tuesday when FSC replays it. From all of the accounts I've read the game was one of the best FA Cup matches in a long, long while, and the Hammers have nothing to be ashamed about despite the heartbreak. And for a team that was just promoted back into the Premiership this season after spending 2003-2005 in the Championship league, Alan Pardew's crew proved that their return to the top was no fluke. Europe beckons next season, as the Hammers will be included in the UEFA Cup, and I hope for some much needed greatness from them. They may not always be pretty, they may not always be graceful, but the team has given me enough moments of bliss this season to keep me watching.

Next year, though, I'm taking the day off and heading over to the pub no matter how early I have to get up.

Miami FC Takes Down the Timbers

Like Timbers fans all over the Portland area, late yesterday afternoon I shut out the sun and huddled over my computer to follow their match against Miami FC. In the absence of Andy McNamara's sorely-missed away radio broadcasts, the official Timbers website provided live updates--until it appeared to crash (which was nostalgically reminisicent of the tendency last year for the broadcast to dissolve inexplicably into salsa music). Through the magic of cell phones and text messaging, faithful fans saved the day over at the Timber Mill till the updates reappeared.

Miami are my bad guys for the new season: not only was one of their goals decidedly dodgy (hit the underside of the crossbar and bounced off? Oh please!) but in the first minute someone sent our skipper and poet-warrior Scot Thompson home in a Florida ambulance! Or, to be more accurate, his head was gashed badly enough that he had to be stretchered off and taken to a local hospital for stitches. Now our defense is far stronger than they were last year, but one can't help utter those saddest words of tongue or pen and wonder what might have been had he remained in the match.

The new lads continue to impress: Zimbabwean forward Mamba Chisoni has arrived at last, and with a bang, scoring the first goal of the match six minutes in. The buzz is all about Chisoni, who I can't wait to watch, and I continue to be thrilled beyond words (hence why we seem to keep recycling the same words here to describe them) at how fast and creative and energetic this new squad is shaping up to be. Perennial favorite Hugo Alcarez-Cuellar was our other goal-scorer with an 84th minute equalizing penalty kick. I was hoping for another goal and counting on at least a point from this match until former Brazilian national Romario broke our hearts in the 89th minute. 3-2 Miami FC.

Chisoni won't be able to play in tomorrow's match against Puerto Rico due to still-pending visa issues and I've heard no further updates as to whether or not Scot will be fit. The Timbers are 1-1-2 now and it's time for their record to start reflecting their strong play. Next weekend they're home again to take on Rochester and Toronto; let's hope that with the support of a home crowd they can take away six points.

In other news, West Ham succumbed to Liverpool in the FA Cup finals following an agonizing series of penalty kicks. Last night I seriously considered an early morning wake up call to trek over to the Horse Brass for the broadcast on PPV. However, the knowledge that I actually needed to accomplish some things today coupled with the certainty that spending much of the morning in a smoky pub where I would find the full English breakfast well-nigh irresistable was likely to lead to an afternoon of grease-induced sloth and possibly even self-loathing, kept me home. I did manage to catch a bit of the final minutes of the actual match on the Guardian's live updates and saw them head into penalty kicks; the suffering was all over by the time I checked in again later. Despite my love of Steven Gerrard (who was, reportedly, magnificent), I was rooting for the Hammers on this one, so a disappointing result--but it still sounds like a fantastic match and I'm looking forward to seeing it repeated later this week on FSC.

Soccer Miscellany

There's been a lot of startling and interesting football news over the last few days, from Sven Eriksson's disastrous--okay, perhaps it wont be a disaster but it sure does boggle all common sense--selection of hyped unknown prospect Theo Walcott into the forefront of England's World Cup squad to the real disaster waging havoc in Italy's already troubled Serie A league--a match-fixing scandal that grows more ominous by the day. We'll hopefully comment at length about the above topics within the next couple of days, but until then . . . .

Looks like Barca midfielder/striker/magic imp Giuly isn't the only one gifted with the phone or the gab. All-around dynamo Ronaldinho likewise speaks with Arsenal's equally brilliant Thierry Henry on the horn and you can read more about the possibility of Henry's move to Barcelona here.

Remember the New York Cosmos from the old NASL days? You know, the team that brought Pele to America, as well as superstars Franz Beckenbauer, Carlos Alberto, Giorgio Chinaglia, and Johan Neeskens, among others? Well, there's a new documentary about to hit screens this summer chronicling the glorious rise and fall of the team and you can read more about it here.

The Guardian also started their so-far excellent World Cup podcast this week and you can check that out here.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Boro Bested

We've had a soccer news blackout here at a pretty move for the last 36 hours or so, because all three of us were waiting for our schedules to mesh so we could watch the UEFA Cup championship tonight on tape. It was a grueling and dodgy 36 hours, but I'm glad that we didn't know the ghastly result of seeing Middlesbrough pummelled by the divey lads from Sevilla. Granted, Sevilla did play better, and really commanded the pace of the game for most of it. In the early stages of the game Boro really could've taken control, but they never seemed to coalesce, they never seemed comfortable, unable to break free of their jitters. They played more like the Premiership Boro than the European underdog contenders that they'd been in the tournament thus far. I had high hopes that Maccarone would turn things around in the second half, and really break free from the stalemate that was preventing them from doing anything productive on the wing. But it wasn't meant to be. Especially after Sevilla made that second goal. Can't say we, especially Lisa, were much impressed with midfielder Stewart Downing, named to the England World Cup squad, and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and Mark Viduka never quite seemed part of the game. Viduka had two wasted opportunities on goal which I'm sure he'll be living with for a while, at least until he blows a few more opportunities at the World Cup for Australia.

Boro's defense shut down countless times, leaving keeper Mark Schwarzer (also on the Australian World Cup squad) to fight Sevilla's intrepid attacks. There were a few seconds when I thought Boro could turn things around, even when they were down 0-2, because they had proven in the last two rounds of the UEFA Cup that they could conjure miracles. But perhaps the devil's bargain that they'd agreed to caught up with them in the end, and their barren trophy case will collect dust for at least another season. But considering Boro's history, perhaps for a lot longer.

The only saving grace from watching the taped telecast from FSC was the nervous wreck of a Sevilla fan who even after one goal seemed shaken and stirred with angst and only allowed the euphoria of his team's victory to sweep him away when they got the third goal. By the end of the match, he had relaxed and seemed to believe that his Andalusian lads had, for the first time, managed to take a European trophy. If I ever encounter him in the streets of Sevilla, I owe him a glass of Manzanilla for making the defeat bearable.

Full match report here.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

World Cup Spotlight: Togo

Little Togo, a thin slice of a country sandwiched between Ghana and Benin. Until you qualified, I think a lot of people didn't know you existed. I did, because I am a geography geek; I pore over maps and atlases and guidebooks to obscure places. In fact, you are an essential component in the West Africa itinerary I've been tinkering with for years without ever having the opportunity to fulfill its promises. Alas, one of these days I'll make it there, and perhaps take in a football match while I'm at it.

Arsenal defender Emmanuel Adebayor may be the national team's best-known player, although quite a few round out such French squads as PSG, Metz, and Brest. Alas, despite their trouncing of my Senegal Lions in qualifying rounds, Togo's performance at the African Nations Cup in Egypt this year was anything but stellar (consistent with their performance there in past years, they never made it out of the first round). And the new coach, German Otto Pfister, will have only been with the squad a matter of months and will not, in fact, have worked with the team until they begin training in a few days' time in Germany. On June 13 they take to the pitch against South Korea. They'll also face France--against whom, I predict, they haven't a chance--and Switzerland in Group G.

Frankly, it doesn't look good for the Sparrow Hawks (Les Eperviers, for those of you practicising your French). And the Nigerian coach who led them through the qualifiers was controversially fired after their disastrous African Nations Cup campaign--according to some, following a dust-up with the purportedly prima donna-ish Adebayor. So is their spot in Germany merely a fluke? Realistically, I don't see them making it out of the group phase, but it's still doubtless an exciting time for the Togolese, and as with all the underdogs, I wish them well. In the meantime, check out the Site Officiel de la Federation Togolaise de Football.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

World Cup Spotlight: Angola

This southwest African country is, to my mind, a clean slate save for vague and anxious impressions of civil strife and warfare. So good on the Black Impalas, one of a trio of World Cup debut squads hailing from Africa, for giving us all a more optimistic image of their long-troubled country. Angola's qualification was a surprise--and they knocked out a team I like a lot, Nigeria--but I'm prepared to forgive and forget and see what these fellows have to offer. Any chance they'll make it out of Group D? Well, Portugal's showing in 2002 was poor--they finished at the bottom of their group--and while Mexico and Iran are both bringing strong squads, facing them is hardly the equivalent of having to get past powerhouses like, say, Brazil or Germany. The fact that Angola was once a Portugese territory may also put a fire in their belly when they play their first match on June 11 against their former colonizers .

If you read Portugese, or just get a kick out of running pages through translation engines, check out their official site. And when they take to the pitch in a month, keep an eye out for Benfica striker Mantorras (Pedro Manuel Torres) and captain Fabrice Akwa. No one seems to know quite what to expect from this squad, which is just the way I like it.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Highbury R.I.P.

This past Sunday the Gunners played their final home match (they won 4-2) at the famed 93 year-old Highbury stadium. The legendary grounds will be converted into apartments and the team will move to nearby Ashburton Grove next season. Unfortunately, I never got a chance to visit this classic urban stadium, so I've been enjoying reading up on all of the Highbury lore.

You can read a match report of the Arsenal vs Wigan game here; ex-Gunner Charlie George takes you on a tour of the stadium where he made his name here; a gaggle of supporters give you the skinny on their fave Highbury moments here; and a local Timbers supporter recently got a chance to see the Gunners and Tottenham battle it out for the last time on the grounds, and you can read his tale here.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Soccer Miscellany

Alas, an Iran redux: the Supreme leader has decreed women will not be allowed in soccer stadiums after all. Looks like it's back to men's clothing, ladies.

And Tottenham fans are livid and suspicious over their team's loss on Sunday against West Ham which ended their Champions League hopes. The Spurs got no reprieve from the match despite ten of their players being struck down with a mysterious ailment, possibly food poisoning. Once again, apparent criminal mastermind Arsene Wenger is under suspicion: will this sick voyeur who assaults other managers with invisible punches in the tunnel stop at nothing in his bid for world footie domination?

my troubled romance with west ham

They say you don't choose your side; your side chooses you. An accident of geography, maybe: if your dad had taken a job in a different town you'd be wearing different colors. Or an uncle swept you at a vulnerable age halfway across the country to watch two equally mysterious teams at battle and one stood out in sharper focus, like the gods were saying, "Look! Your destiny."

For me it was a series of dreams in which I was walking the streets of east London and happened upon Upton Park, people crowding into it, excitement in the air. The sky was always grey. Sometimes I'd wake then; sometimes I'd get in the gate. The one time I made it into the stands Brendan Gleeson spilled Guinness on me, a not altogether unpleasant experience. In the dreams I never did see any football, but when I began watching in waking life (when my friends finally got cable, I mean), it was the claret and blue that drew me.

I knew names like Bobby Moore and Phil Parkes but when I saw my first Hammers match I didn't know the current squad. I was a clean slate. Clean enough that because Roy Carroll played well that day and I haven't seen him since he lives in my mind as a worthwhile keeper, and I am genuinely bemused at near universal opinion to the contrary.

It was at Upton, that game, and against Fulham, and a strange and beautiful thing happened. I no longer have the tape, but in my memory it was no more than eight or nine minutes into play when Anton Ferdinand scored one of the most poetic goals I've ever seen. "A full swivel," the announcer called it. It was an impossible strike. He was facing the wrong way, defenders on all sides. The ball came in at an awkward angle, he met it with the inside of his boot and swept it in a circle and hard against the back of the net, a thing of unspeakable beauty. Not long after, Benayoun made his own intricate and lovely score, and thus began my dark and nervous love affair.

The season is done. Ferdinand, who I thought would be a continuing revelation of grace and power (is that so much to ask?) expands into Olympian grandeur occasionally with vast wastelands of lazy and routine playing in between. Harewood, for all his glorious strength, is a shameless dive-taker. I have come to depend mightily on Konchesky, but he scares the crap out of me. I think if I said "the Beautiful Game" to Mullins and Scaloni they would turn on me stony and cynical eyes. Watching Ashton take out Boro's keeper in the FA Cup semifinal, then very nearly take out his backup half an hour on, poisoned the sweetness of the ensuing victory, turned it acrid in my mouth.

My Irons are ruthless in their pursuit of the win. They will stop at nothing, and the strategy is working well for them. In short, my boys are thugs, and it is only their raggedy grace and moments of boyish glee which keep me happy while I'm under their thrall.

Those things, and Benayoun.

He has, over the season, become the crux of the matter, the man in whom my best dreams live. He is generous; his passion for the game is obvious and stubborn; his footwork is lovely to behold. Reo-Coker and Harewood and Ashton are neon and flash and I love them in spite of myself, but it is when Benayoun gains possession that I am most raptly fixated, and my soul goes still and quiet with the prospect of a beautiful play.

Timbers vs Thunder

On the heels of Friday night's 1-1 draw against Vancouver, the Timbers rose to the occasion on Saturday beating the Minnesota Thunder 2-1. Midfielder Alejandro Gutierrez (new to the Timbers) scored a penalty kick in the 31st minute after forward Chad Bartlome went down in the box, but Minnesota came back in the first-half stoppage time with a listless yet psychically bruising goal that triggered flashbacks of the Timbers' tendency last season to give up the lead. But Troy Ready's shot in the 69th minute managed to be the game winning one and helped erase the previous night's encouraging yet mildly disappointing result, though I can't remember experiencing (at a live match) a more distressing or brutally long second-half stoppage time before.

Over all, though, the Timbers' performance over the weekend would have to be deemed a success and a harbinger for better more creative play. Sure the newfound speed and flair (primarily courtesy of Gutierrez) can also go against them at moments (dig those crazy poor crosses), but this is a re-energized team that also hasn't had the proper prep time needed to make the squad balance things out from the get-go. But I think Agnello and the lads are on to something good.

Unfortunately, I didn't actually see Ready's goal. Too nervous leading up to it--and hoping that I could somehow mysteriously help the cause--I fled 107 to take a bathroom break and alas I heard the crowd erupt into applause in celebration. The other person in the john--a completely wasted fellow propped over his sink of sick--groggily exclaimed, "They scored! Oh man, they scored!" That they did, my mysterious friend. And perhaps it was your sacrifice (not my own cowardly bladder) that propelled the team to victory. And though I wish you no ill will, may you drink to excess and vomit all over the place for many games to come.

A Sign of the End Times . . .

. . . that I don't have anything particularly vitriolic to say about the words of George Bush, who appears to at least be genuinely trying to understand this whole World Cup business.

Were he actually the Texas good ol' boy he plays on TV, as opposed to a privileged scion of the well-to-do New England moneyed class (oops, there I go with the snippy), I might find his earnest befuddlement a bit more endearing, but for a man suspicious of all things foreign (or worse--European), it's nice to see the tournament acknowledged as worthwhile as opposed to say, some kind of French plot to humiliate the US.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Timbers Opening Night

It was a magical night from start to finish. The pre-game crowd at the Bitter End sang songs. Section 107 couldn't be contained, overflowing and spilling out all over 106 and 108. Another incisive issue of Ax to the Head had rolled from the presses. The evening was warm and the long winter months of trudging past the silent stadium, peering through the fence and humming chants and wishing for summer all melted away.

A very different team from last year's took to the pitch (albeit retaining eight of 2005's strongest players). It was fantastic to see veterans like Byron Alvarez, Hugo Alcarez-Cuellar, Josh Saunders and S-C-O-T with one T Thompson back at work and exciting to see what the new lads had to offer as well. My new favorite player is Colombian Alejandro Gutierrez--speed and flair! At one point I heard no less than three separate grumbles around me, all to the effect of "A little too fancy!" Apparently, we are suspicious of the fancy in these parts. Other supporters, though, shared my enthusiasm for his style.

Newly signed striker Chad Bartlome scored the Timbers' one goal, in the 21st minute, which Vancouver equalized shortly after the half. Although the match ended in a draw, this had none of the "Timbers can't hold onto the lead" feel of last season.

Creative, unpredictable, fast, and entertaining--that's what I saw on the pitch last night. This team still needs time together in order to gel but they were actually stronger than I anticipated at this early date. I'm feeling good about the new season and hopeful for tonight's match against the Minnesota Thunder.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Soccer Miscellany

From the department of all Barca, all the time, a fantastic photo of the champions accompanied by a piece reminding us that sure, the Catalan idealism the team embodies is not always as genuine as we might like it to be . . . but its mythic resonance is what matters in the end.

In football news of the dark and bizarre, the director of west London's Queens Park Rangers tells a court of being forced at gunpoint to resign his position. Arrests were made during a match against Sheffield United. And we thought we had ownership problems with the Timbers.

Andy McNamara, radio announcer for the Timbers, posts on his blog that he will be doing webcasts for Timbers home matches with a possibility for away matches. See the schedule at SportsJuice. These broadcasts have been very uncertain, so this news is better than nothing...unfortunately, the faithful will generally be at all the home matches. We wait anxiously for further news about games on the road.

Over at the Guardian, Marina Hyde finds a way to blame Margaret Thatcher for Wayne Rooney's broken metatarsal (reaching all the way back to the assasination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in the process). We here at a pretty move are all about being able to shake our fists and darkly mutter, "Thatcher's Britain!" as a sort of catch-all response to injustice (which Rooney's injury clearly is); it's a relief to know we can pin this one on the Iron Lady as well.

The most important item of soccer miscellany: Timbers play tonight and tomorrow night in PGE Park. Don't miss it, P-Towners!

Timbers Home Opener

The Portland Timbers will play their home opener against the Vancouver Whitecaps tomorrow, Friday, and hope for a little revenge after we fell to our northern neighbors 1-0 last month. It's a good time and all of Portland should turn up. You'll find a preview of the match over at the excellent timberlog. If you can't make it, Saturday night they meet up with the Minnesota Thunder. If you've never been to a game, you're missing out on one of Portland's best-kept secrets. No piped-in chants and music, just a fervent, grassroots, incredibly friendly fan base that makes it the best sports event in P-Town.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Once More Unto the Breach

It took them an entire season, but bruised and battered Sunderland managed to pull off a home win with only one game left before they're relegated back into the Championship. Good going, lads. Better late than never and all that.

Read more about their first home win of the season here.

Second Year in a Row

FC Barcelona takes the Primera Liga title for a second straight year. 'Nuff said.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Rooney, Down For the Count?

We here at a pretty move have been collectively screaming "Nooooooooooooooooooooooo!" (and boy, are we out of breath) since Wayne Rooney broke his foot on Saturday at Stamford Bridge. Sven-Goran Eriksson's desperate optimism aside, it seems terribly unlikely that Rooney will be fit to play at World Cup and as we are all England fans here, that's a huge disappointment. We were all looking forward to Rooney's unstoppable energy on the pitch in Germany. I've heard it said (and I agree) that what makes him such a remarkable player is his fearlessness and the fact that he doesn't seem to know when he's beaten. Alas, a broken metatarsal has done its worst.

Now the focus is on two questions: Can England win the World Cup without Rooney, and were the Nike boots he's been helping them develop, and which he wore in an actual game for the first time on Saturday, responsible for the injury? As to the first question--well, it's still possible, but boy did it just get a whole lot harder. I am much less confident about their performance this year. As to the boots--Nike denies it, and there's more coverage about that and issues of overwork and general safety of footwear here, here, and here. It does seem to be an overuse injury, and the boots may have just been in the wrong place at the wrong time. The ongoing debate as to whether players at that level are simply required to play too many games is also raised. (Unfortunately, in the US, all you have to do is sign with a USL team to find yourself periodically playing a punishing schedule, with games clustered together in part to accommodate distance.) On the other hand, it seems a bit disingenuous to suggest that the injury is wholly unrelated to footwear--and the overall trend seems to be toward favoring control over protection. At any rate, the boots' debut is now indelibly associated with the image of Rooney writhing in pain on the ground, never a good thing for PR departments.

World Cup Spotlight: Trinidad and Tobago

As I've mentioned here before, I'm partial to underdog teams. Some people can tell you about the exact moment that they knew they were in love; I can tell you when soccer swept me off my feet. In their 2002 World Cup debut, Senegal opened the tournament with a 0-1 upset of defending champions France and from that moment on I was a lost cause: head-over-heels, utterly, madly, passionately in love, via Bruno Metsu's Lions of Teranga, with football.

I'm still partial to African soccer teams, and I'd love to see another upset from any of them (my Lions, alas, are staying home this year), but I think my underdog pick for the 2006 World Cup is Trinidad and Tobago.

Naturally, there is a touch of hometown pride in the fact that former Timbers defender Brent Sancho plays on the national squad, but it's the fact that the country proclaimed a national holiday to celebrate their qualification that won me over. More familiar to non-Portland-area footie fans might be West Ham keeper Shaka Hislop. All-time leading goal scorer and center forward Stern John is one to watch as well (plus, he has a great name), along with captain Dwight Yorke, who came out of retirement to lead his country's team to qualifying victory. Led by experienced Dutch manager Leo Beenhakker, the Soca Warriors insist that they are serious about their World Cup campaign and intend to make their mark on the tournament. They'll need to face England, Sweden, and Portugal in Group B before they can do so. If Senegal can send France home from the first round, perhaps they will go farther than we think.

"Small Country, Big Passion" says their exuberant website . . . and says it all.
(music at that link)

Monday, May 01, 2006

Soccer Miscellany

As reported over at the brilliant World Cup Blog, some overzealous . . . eh, World Cup fans (okay, okay, some complete idiots) want to host their own sporting competition. Sort of. Just remember to eradicate from your mind any semblance of the beautiful game and replace good sportsmanship and the ball with plenty of lager, knives, swords, molotov cocktails (hopefully, since fire is always fun to play with, especially when drunk), and nunchucks (again, lots of fun to play with when blotto). You can read more about the hooligan shenanigans here.

Ludovic Giuly, the "magic imp" striker/midfielder who helped FC Barcelona triumph over AC Milan in the semi-finals of the Champions Cup, is also quite agile with the telephone. It seems that the diminutive gossip frequently talks with Arsenal striker and all-around cool dude Thierry Henry (who will be leading the Gunners against Barcelona in the Champions League finals on May 17th), and Giuly confirms that Henry may in fact leave Arsenal at the end of the season and join the Catalans (don't bet on it). Rumors have been circulating for months about Henry's possible move away from Highbury, but I'm not holding my breath. And anyway, if it is true, keep it on the down-low, Monsieur Imp. You can read more about Giuly's big mouth here.

Also in Barca news, it seems that the Dutch midfielder Mark van Bommel will be staying with the club after all. Good move, I think. Go here to read more.

Along with the tide of humanity that will be deluging the Fatherland with green during the World Cup, a lot of that money will inevitably be used for other leisure activities other than footie--namely prostitution. A 24hr helpline has been set up for women forced into the profession--mostly from Eastern European countries--and you can read a little more about it here.

And last but not least, Sunderland AFC was trounced yet again today--this time by Arsenal. Yet despite the nightmare year the Black Cats have had, the team can still boast of its loyal supporters. Steve Cram, from the Guardian, comments here about the club's possible future and the Mackems' undying devotion to their ailing team.

Thank You

We want to express our sincere appreciation to everyone who's stopped by, commented, emailed, linked to us, and/or pimped us out in the week-and-a-bit since our blog's birth, and in particular timberlog, the 107 Report, and Bickle over at the Timber Mill for the links (please forgive us if we're leaving anyone out). We love the unexpected attention, and we hope that, as we continue entertaining ourselves, we keep some of you entertained as well.

World Cup Spotlight: Iran

Now that we’re almost a month away from the 2006 World Cup in Germany, we here at a pretty move thought we’d toss our opinions (yeah, we realize where most of ‘em will be tossed) into the footie forum, as we embark on impressionistically deciphering who we like, loathe, and generally haven’t a clue about. We’ll try to say something about each of the 32 teams in competition. And, of course, if anyone out there has anything to argue about or add, consider the flood gates wide open.

I guess I’ll start with Iran, aka Team Melli. Though ranked only 22nd according to the highly debatable FIFA World Rankings, Iran's team is comprised of reliable veterans like striker Ali Daei, midfielders Ali Karimi and Mehdi Mahdavikia (who will eventually take over the skipper duties from Daei when he retires after the competition), and striker Vahid Hashemian, as well as younger players such as defender Hossein Kaebi and forward Javed Kazemian. With the mix of international club players (many of the vets are currently playing or have played for German teams) and home-nurtured talent, Iran is generally considered to be the most formidable national squad in their history. Team Melli has been in the World Cup twice before—in 1978 and 1998, where they beat the USA team 2-1 in the first round though they failed to reach the round of 16—and have won the Asia Cup three times in a row.

Iran will start out the tournament in Group D, which also contains the dangerous Mexican squad led by the bobble-headed Jared Borgetti (a favorite player of mine, by the way) and captain Rafael Marquez (who plays for Barca), the talented yet always underachieving Portuguese team, and cup debutantes Angola, aka the Black Impalas.