Sunday, December 30, 2007

this one is really about soccer...

So, if you were paying attention or read apm on feeds or from various soccer sites, you probably saw the last thing I posted here which was actually intended for my personal blog and totally not soccer-related, because here at apm we are nothing if not 100% professional. I just wanted to come back with an embarrassing bang. I swear, I haven't even been hitting the holiday eggnog or anything, but having potentially subjected footie fans to my ramblings on everything but, I feel obligated to actually provide you with some content now.

One week, on, I am still reeling from Real Madrid's thrashing of Barcelona, and while the scoreline may have merely read 0-1, it was indeed a thrashing. Our boys looked awful and for the first time ever, I am ready to concede that it's probably time for Ronaldinho to move on. However, the first team debut of Serbo-Catalan new kid Bojan Krkic is easing a lot of that pain for me: he's hungry, intelligent, and gifted beyond his years. With the addition of both him and Mexican Giovani dos Santos--also wildly talented but more so than Krkic right now in need of focusing, better communication skills, and maybe a touch less arrogance--suddenly my wonder kid Leo Messi stops being the wonder kid and starts looking like the grand old man of Barca. Okay, I exaggerate, but their performance on December 23 left little doubt as to just how crucial Messi is to Barca's success. Meanwhile, I like Rijkaard's use of Eidur Gudjohnsen as a hardworking midfielder: he's a player I've never stopped rooting for despite his inability to really succeed for us as a striker (and I wish Rijkaard had used him last week).

Speaking of Rijkaard, what is with the absurd speculation that Jose Mourinho is going to replace him? Enough with this nonsense.

In other news: another player, Motherwell captain Phil O'Donnell, tragically collapses and dies on the pitch. There aren't really words for this one: we all imagine how we'd feel if the same happened to one of our beloved players. I don't understand why this happens--what players' physicals screen for, if there's any way to prevent this.

And in news of the bizarre, if Man City doesn't stop their meteoric rise (they're 5th place as of this writing and a mere point behind Liverpool), I am going to end up a fan of both the team and Sven-Goran Eriksson. And that will just be silly. I can't help pointing out that gosh, it turns out Sven-Goran really was a decent coach and that, well, maybe the England team just sucked. It would have been interesting to see whether Mourinho could have turned them around--and if he couldn't have, I don't think anyone could. Fabio Capello? I haven't made up my mind.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

FIFA Club World Cup Final and Third Place Match Tonight!

Just a quick note: FSC here in the States will be broadcasting the Club World Cup third place match between the Urawa Reds from Japan and Etoile du Sahel from Tunisia live at 10:30 pm. It should be a great match. Urawa played well against a slightly more fluid AC Milan earlier in the week and unfortunately lost. But the Japanese side had nothing to be ashamed about. Milan, who are more experienced at pulling off the big wins were nonetheless tested by Urawa's technical and attractive style. Don't let the 1-0 result fool you--the match was exciting throughout.

Later in the evening... or morning... AC Milan will face Boca Juniors in the final. The last time these two clubs met in the tournament (in 2003), they drew 1-1 and then went into penalty kicks in which Boca triumphed. Boca's semi-final win over Etoile last week left plenty to be worried about, and they are desperately missing the genius of Riquelme (who is in Japan but unable to play for his beloved club due to legalities) in the midfield. I'm figuring Milan to avenge their previous defeat, but you just never know. More later....

I've Seen Things You People Wouldn't Believe or: Valencia v Barcelona

It was a miserable result for Valencia CF (many of the team's supporters split from the agony at the half), as well as a humiliating public depantsing for their keeper extraordinaire, Santiago "Roy Batty" Canizares, who let three goals burn past him. But the entire team has been dreadful this season and since former Barca superstar Ronald Koeman took over in October, there's still no turnaround in sight for Valencia. Honestly, though, it's hard to imagine anyone stopping those first two strikes by Barca's Eto'o, who looks stronger and more healthy with each game. Canizares appeared... well, flaccid and seemed to be experiencing a full-blown existential crisis trying to stop the well-tuned Barca sans Ronaldinho (he shivered under the covers on the bench, no doubt being rested for next week's grand Christmas present/classico against Real Madrid). In short, the loss of form wasn't all due to Canizares. Valencia's defense simply looked pathetic and as the match went on, their players grew more and more frustrated and quick-tempered, relying on cheap shots to stave off the attacks by Eto'o, Gudjohnsen, and Dos Santos. The latter player, who must've been given a talking to about his frequent selfishness on the pitch (he has a tendency to keep the ball and take reckless shots when he should pass off to an open player, as was obvious in last week's Champions League match against Stuttgart; Eto'o and Gudjohnsen both displaying their displeasure with the otherwise wily youngster from Mexico), delivered a wonderful unselfish assist to Gudjohnsen for the final goal. All in all, Barca look fantastic and seem to finally have a trouble-free backline composed of Abidal, Milito, Marquez (who had a brilliant game today), and captain caveman, Puyol (who just keeps getting better and better). Barca look hungry and ready to deliver a Christmas present to their fans worth savoring.

The victory for Barca did come at a price, though--an injury to Leo Messi at the end of the first half. This is the worst possible news for Barca at this time (Messi is the team's leading scoring so far this season) and it's being reported that the young Argentine will be out for a month or so.

Here in the Portland area, the match next Sunday (the 23rd) between Barca and Real Madrid will be televised on GolTV at 9:55 am. For those of you who don't have GolTV, the Marathon Taverna Sports Bar, located at 1735 West Burnside (503-224-1341) does carry the station and if you feel inclined to fight off some of the tackleball fans who will, I'm sure, be crowded in there as well, one out of their many televisions should be free to watch what could be the match of the year... until they meet again later in the season. Best to call beforehand, though, just to be safe.

Monday, December 10, 2007

FIFA Club World Cup Quarter Final: Urawa Red Fever!

I've been dying to see the Japanese club Urawa Reds play for years, ever since I saw footage of their dedicated and crazed supporters in the stands madly chanting, doing the pogo, and brandishing those gigantic flags in unison for their beloved team. Like many of us, I love the spectacle and clamor of supporters benevolently unhinged; of fans shedding their collective skins of decorum and polite behavior and willingly surrendering to the gods of passion, emotional turmoil, and the frenzy and drama of the match at hand. There's nothing else like it. And when your team disconnects from the frivolity or grimness of the everyday world, playing football with all of the intelligence and furor their bodies and minds demand, it seems heretical not to succumb to the passion yourself. It seems like sin.

Watching the Urawa Reds (and their exuberant supporters) face off against the Iranian club Sepahan FC last night in the quarter finals of the FIFA Club World Cup definitely lived up to my expectations. The tournament, aired here in the States on FSC and held for the last four years in Japan, is not a favorite among European clubs--because it interrupts the schedule of whatever European/Champions League title holder is involved, not to mention is yet another tournament in an already crammed schedule--but I've always enjoyed watching it considering it pairs up teams (the six champions from the various global confederations) that you would never get to see play against one another otherwise. Last year, for example, we got a chance to see Barcelona and Brazil's Internacional vie for the title (Inter won 1-0).

This year, the six teams are Boca Juniors, AC Milan, Etolie du Sahel from Tunisia, Pachuca, Sepahan, New Zealand's Waitakere United (an underdog team if ever there was one, with most of its players working "real" jobs when they're not on the pitch), and Urawa Reds. Sepahan beat the daylights out of Waitakere on the first night (3-1, but it felt much worse), Etolie du Sahel shocked everyone by knocking Pachuca out 1-0 Saturday, and then last night the Reds and Sepahan met up. These two teams have a history with one another, as the Japanese club beat the Iranians 3-1 last season in the Asian Champions Cup (a win that landed the Reds in the Club World Cup).

Well, it seems that the Urawa Reds like them some Sepahan. Although both clubs played a fluid, well-paced and energetic game, the Reds' skill on the ball in the midfield and their methodical--though far from dull--pressure on goal (they won 3-1; the third goal was an own one, though) was impressive and could pose a problem for AC Milan on December 13. Milan are the favorites, no doubt, but I wouldn't be surprised if Reds striker Washington--a towering Brazilian who has played for Fenerbahce among other clubs--and midfielder Shinji Ono have something to say about that. We can only hope!

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

A History Lesson: AC Milan v Celtic (1-0)

Never again! It was like watching the Kombai tribe drain starch from sago palms for hours on end.

Yesterday, with no real strain on my part despite my past indiscretions with Berlusconi's team of dangerous looks and moves, I decided to root for Celtic in their vital Champions League Group D match against Milan. Barcelona is my team, of course, but I thought I'd root for the scruffy team from Glasgow since my attraction to Milan has been fleeting of late. It wasn't intended to mean anything in the first place. Just fill the hours when I wasn't watching Barcelona... or West Ham. It was always supposed to be superficial, thoughtless, and incorrigibly wicked. I could've simply remained neutral... but I never seem to remain neutral whenever I watch other teams play, however much I try. At some point, I always take a side, declare loyalty (albeit a temporary and non binding oath) to my "new" club, and rage against the opposing team. Maybe it's an American thing. Maybe it's just me. It is what it is.

Celtic are no strangers to me. But it's all secondary knowledge. Everything I know about them has come from books, articles, and highlight reels. I'm not aware of anyone (as far as I know) who actively supports them. Nevertheless, I always figured I'd see them sometime when I made it to Glasgow, as well as catching their Old Firm rivals Rangers in action. When in Glasgow....

Matched up against the sleek, current European champions Milan, I expected Celtic would really take it to 'em, especially since the Scottish club was fighting for a spot in the knockout phase of the tournament. Celtic only needed a draw to advance, but their fate was also predicated on whether Benfica managed to beat the Ukrainian underdogs Shakhtar, which was being played at the same time. At any rate, Celtic's fate wasn't entirely in their own control. To me, that means it was time to kick out the jams! Instead, Celtic played with the desultory finesse of a team best left for vulture gnoshing. Their display of "football", brilliantly slog-footed as it was, made me yearn for the Rangers v Barcelona match a few weeks earlier which resulted in a 0-0 draw. A game so depressing on Rangers' part, with their spineless dedication to the defensive anti-football grind, that their manager Walter Smith actually had the gall to gravely commend his lads for their "excellent result" afterward. Perhaps Mr. Smith has a crueler sense of humor than I originally thought.

At least Rangers had a methodology. As far as I could detect, Celtic's whole plan was to pantomime the game at its dullest, and keep things dreary in the midfield, creatively prevent any and all attempts at scoring against Milan's keeper Zeljko Kalac (Celtic had no more than three shots on goal the entire evening). Oh, where was Henrik Larsson when you need him?

My earnest sympathy for the Scottish underdogs betrayed me within twenty minutes. And so I crept back toward Milan, unable to resist their venal allure and wishing that they'd wallop Celtic just to teach 'em a lesson and hoping that the true underdog Ukrainian team could manage to equalize against Benfica. Shahktar, who seemed to be playing with far more courage and vitality in their own match (as well as with basic footballing skills) from what I could make out from the brief channel-switching I did, were sadly unable to pull through.

Supposedly, Scottish football is on the rise. But if the performances by Celtic and Rangers on the wider European stage are indicative of their newfound ambitions, I think I'll start learning where the nearest Sago palms are located.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Kids Are Alright... (for now)

With one project more or less out of the way... today seemed like as good as any to get this apm blogger back to his football scribbling groove, what with all of the Champions League games being played today and tomorrow and the FC Barcelona v Olympique Lyonnais match in particular. Barca only needed a point to go through to the last 16, but Lyon had a lot more at stake as they were vying for the crucial second place spot.

It was only three minutes in and the Barca kids were definitely alright when the dazzling Bojan Krkic (still only 17!) delivered a fantastic cross from the right off of a blistering counter attack, finding Andreas Iniesta near goal eager to unleash an intelligent finishing move. But four minutes later, Lyon answered back with a spectacular 40 yard free kick (that I'm not so sure was actually intended as a goal) from the always dangerous Brazilian Juninho (who looks more and more like Oleguer's twin), effectively declaring "game on." Thankfully, Barca never lost their cool, although Juninho and our own hulking Toure Yaya (who has been a smart and splendid addition to the squad this season) did have a little moment near the end of the first half--which got Rijkaard booted off the touchline and into the stands. I must've blinked, since I missed what that was all about.

Early in the second half, Barca took the lead again after Lionel Messi was taken down in the penalty area by Lyon's S├ębastien Squillaci. The frantic Lyon side pestered on, although they failed to ever control the game. But their persistence paid off when Juninho evened things up again from a penalty kick in the 80th minute.

Can't say I was disappointed with the result. But we really could've won the game since we had more than a few opportunities to win the game outright--namely via two golden chances by Eidur Gudjohnsen. Poor Eidur. It's good to see him starting for the team again, though he looks a bit desultory. He's always been a second or two behind the rest of the squad, but we really needed him to shine these last two matches and quite frankly he's disappointed.

Regardless, Barca is through to the next stage. Also, I saw that the battered and bruised Sevilla side went through as well after their 3-1 defeat of Arsenal (who had already qualified). Good job, lads!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

random questions

1. How can I overcome my heartbreaking attraction to the underdog?

Yeovil Town and Torquay battled fiercely this weekend in the first round of the FA Cup. I knew absolutely nothing about either team, yet within minutes I'd thrown my full weight behind Yeovil. I suspect it was because the Torquay boys looked bulkier and more ornery. The match was a hard one and Yeovil managed a first sweet ball into the net then a tantalising near-beauty off the bar before losing heart completely and becoming sort of puzzled obstacles around which their opponents gleefully ran on the way to an ever-mounting score. Full-time: 4-1.



2. Why am I more excited about the FA Cup than Euro 2008?

My blood is up. I'm counting the days until Staines Town takes on Stockport County. But can I be bothered to tune in to see my beloved 3 Lions on the pitch? or to watch Israel play Russia? I cannot. Perhaps my reluctance is a result of remembered pain from the World Cup, still creaking in my joints and bones, and my subconscious is guiding me sensibly away from national teams in general and the agony which follows in their wakes.



3. Anybody see "Eastern Promises"?

Cronenberg's ongoing study of bodily apertures and modifications of the flesh continues with this inspired ode to tattoos and throat-cutting via the Russian mob in London. In it, a luckless young Arsenal fan is walking home from Stamford Bridge. Chelsea has just wiped up the pitch with his loved Gunners. He's putting on a brave face. He pauses in a graveyard to pee against a tombstone and gets his throat cut right through his faux-Arsenal scarf. When challenged about the scarf, Cronenberg told the GUARDIAN, "I wish I could have had the scarves more accurate. But my lawyers and producers said the club would never agree to have their merchandise used in this way..."

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

it's a hat-trick for Benayoun; an embarrassment of riches for Rafa

And there it is! Just as the world loses faith in the Merseyside lads, they strike back by breaking a Champions League record! Just yesterday Derek sent me his condolences (prematurely, I'm happy to say) and I replied that I'm so tired of watching Liverpudlian draws, I could spit. And now this! 8-nil over Besiktas!

It looks like Arbeloa is the running partner I've always wanted for Benayoun. There was some fine interplay in the first half, both of them playing like gangbusters, and the post-Hammer Israeli was on fire in the second. The Turks were so intent on marking Voronin and Crouch (everyone seemed obsessively freaked out by Crouch's height) that Yossi was able to run with a fair amount of freedom.

But all the Reds played well. Voronin gave lovely assists (how about that Brazilian backheel, eh?); Gerrard showed a piece or two of his mastery; the young Ryan Babel was exciting with his own backheeled goal. Even Harry Kewell seemed fit and ready, and before this week I'd forgotten he was still on the side.

All that said, a win like this is a little mortifying for everyone. I genuinely grieve for that brave and beleaguered keeper, so often seeming like the only Besiktas man on a pitch filled with men in red. And I take my hat off to Rafa Benitez: he is a true gentleman, obviously uncomfortable with a point-margin this extreme. Tommy Smyth can rail against him as he pleases, but Rafa is a favorite human of mine in the footballing world. He carries with him an enviable air of grace in both defeat and victory.

Go, you Reds!

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

a short hiatus

apm will be on hiatus for the next 2-3 weeks as 2/3 of us are buried under deadlines. (There is always, of course, the possibility that our lovely and talented third member Lisa will decide to do a stealth post.)

Please check back later in October for new posts!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Elementary Particles: Barcelona v Real Zaragoza

The papers, in and beyond the borders of Spain, have been speculating about a possible move away from Barca to Chelsea for Ronaldinho. And despite vociferous denials from the Camp Nou via president Joan Laporta and coach Frank Rijkaard, the press continues to beat the drums that there's turmoil within the club, et cetera. Nothing new, of course. And frankly, if Chelsea want to spend 80 million euros on Ronaldinho, they can have him since no player is worth that much money. And if the big, fleet-footed Brazilian would rather play for the Blues than with the Blaugrana, then my heart is broken and good riddance.

But I don't think he's going anywhere, certainly not to Chelsea, and as Laporta and Rijkaard mentioned in their press conferences over the last few days--"Barca is where it is today thanks to him." And so it is.

Still, critics insist that Barca is unable to play without Ronnie and that the team is unstable without him. I find such comments amusing since it's obvious that they haven't been watching the squad of late. I know it's still early and that some players have taken awhile to find their forms, but the last three matches have been showcases for fabulous, progressive football at its finest, and I think proof that the team is strong with or without their celestial #10.

GolTV co-announcer Phil Schoen summed it up best today as Barca dismantled an increasingly frustrated and impotent Real Zaragoza side: "Whenever you get tired of the modern, cynical game, you might want to leave this one on tape." With Ronaldinho still out because of an injury (and I ain't talking an injury on the dance floor while he was juggling Rum bottles or whatever it was he was supposed to have done... if you listen to the Spanish press) the team played better than I've seem them all season and maybe even longer. They look strong. They look fabulous. And they'll look even better than ever once Henry actually can break through his malaise (though he played fine all game despite his woeful finishing... but he's getting there) and fine-tune his communication with Messi and Iniesta. I'm thinking next match, Henry will definitely step up and remind us all of yesteryear.

No surprise, Messi was peaking yet again, and like the match on Saturday against Sevilla, he almost earned another hat-trick. But he did garner another two goals. Iniesta also notched another beauty and he continues to be my second favorite player on the squad (after captain Puyol, who will hopefully be back from the injury list soon). I hope to write about Iniesta once my project is finished within the next few weeks. He's been a consistent joy to watch and his performances just grow stronger and stronger in that left-side attacking midfield position vacated by Mr. #10. A joy to behold and his vision and pace never fail to impress me. The kids dynamite--Gio Dos Santos and Bojan Krkic--made their moves known, too, and I'm excited to see what they'll continue to bring to the club over the years. Even Marquez scored! End result: Barca 4, Real Zaragoza 1.

All in all, it was a brilliant mid-week match and a straight shot to the critics who naively think that Barca can't hold their own without Ronaldinho. He'd no doubt be missed--I personally would hate to see him depart--but we'd get by. He may have made the club what it is today--i.e. a global brand--but he didn't put the club on the map. All of the individuals that make up this glorious squad are important components of its success--including Oleguer! But none of them are bigger than it; none of them are bigger than the history, the supporters, the residue of good and bad memories that surely permeate the atmosphere within the Camp Nou. That history combined with those players and those Fortean moves are the elementary particles that make Barca so dear to so many the world over.

I hope the fans greet Ronaldinho with loving arms when he returns to the pitch soon. But I also hope that he doesn't forget that we'll sleep fine without him if he ditches us for that icy Russian blonde.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

You Cannot Stop Us. We Are the Rose City.

Over at Soccer City USA there are numerous threads saying all the things I would say here: we are bursting with pride and love for our team. Of course we are sad to have lost the semifinal match against Atlanta, but we are not disappointed in the Timbers one bit. These are tears of joy, not anger or frustration. There is so much eloquence and emotion over there that my own contribution here seems almost superfluous, but here goes.

I won't try to recap the grueling match, which you can read about here, or rehash complaints against the refereeing. I want to try to remember what it was like:

As the boys in green, subdued, paid their final respects of the 2007 season to the North End supporters, the defiant chant arose: We're gonna win the league! We're gonna win the league! I don't know how, I don't know when! We're gonna win the league! (Next year!) I sang along until my voice broke and I had to focus on blinking back tears, because we won't be back to watch them win next year. Oh, I can't complain: we'll be seeing lots of football elsewhere, the Hammers and Barca and St. Pauli and plenty more, but our hearts will be back in PGE Park and we will be following the Timbers as closely as we can.

The mood at the wake after the match was one of melancholy defiance, punctuated by bagpipers. And then the players arrived. I saw Tommy Potl wander in, followed by Lawrence Olum, Scot Thompson. Something like half the team showed up. A beautiful end to a beautiful season, and we knew then it was time to go, so we finished our pints, shook hands with Olum and thanked him, and left. For the first time in weeks, on the way home, no one stopped us or shouted from cars to find out the score, as though the city already knew its summer love affair with the Timbers had come to an end.

What an amazing showing from the Portland fans! There are so many people who have worked so very hard over the years to make the experience of attending a Timbers game what it is--most visibly, those who dream up and then make into reality those mad displays of tifo, those who turn up early to hang banners and haul flags and other paraphernalia back and forth from the Bullpen, and the capos, who spend much of the game with their backs to the action on the pitch in order to perform the often thankless but crucial task of keeping a rowdy crowd of drunks* in full voice and on tune. Even when they are sometimes rowdy and drunk themselves.

I went to my first Timbers game in, I think, 2003, when I bought a GA ticket and slouched into a seat in 207 and witnessed a small but spirited party erupt in the section below. I never imagined then, and I did not imagine even at the start of this season, that I would eventually see seven or eight or nine sections in PGE Park standing and singing for an entire game. That I would see the entire west side of the stadium on their feet. And here is what I thought, at the close of the brilliant, beautiful, 2007 season: we have done what naysayers around the world did not believe could be done. Here in the United States, we have taught one another, and we have taught Portland, how to attend a football match. We have done the impossible, and that makes us mighty.**

Finally, I have no idea if any players for the Timbers have ever seen or are even aware that this blog exists, but if any ever stumble across this: thank you for bringing us so much joy this season. Much love to you all.

More here:
The saddest photo you've ever seen
More pictures from Allison Andrews
KPTV video of Monday night Gavin Wilkinson interview
Oregonian piece on who's signed for 2008 thus far
Scot Thompson in the Tribune: "I love this team to death."
Forgot to post this the other day: Josh Wicks is USL First Division Keeper of the Year
Timbers among nominees for USL First Division Rookie of the Year, Defender of the Year, and Coach of the Year
You Tube highlight reel of the 2007 season

*Disclaimer: Rowdy crowd of drunks is an exaggeration used for purposes of humor. I am well aware that not only is the entire North End not a bunch of drunks, but that some faithful followers of the Timbers are a good fifteen or more years away from legal drinking age.
**Sorry. Geek alert.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Timbers and Jose and women in soccer

Lots happening in the football world this week and too little time here at apm headquarters to do it all justice, but quickly:

Of course, no news is bigger than this afternoon's semi-final showdown, Portland Timbers against the Atlanta Silverbacks in the race to the USL First Division Championship. Five p.m., PGE Park, also televised on Fox Soccer Channel, get there early and make noise until you can't. The boys tied Atlanta 1-1 in the first leg on Friday, which suddenly makes me think the USL needs the away goals rule...not because it would put the Timbers ahead of the Silverbacks (although that would be one advantage, obviously) but because it would make all the playoffs more exciting: it seems a bit weird to have traveled all that way only to produce what might as well be a 0-0 scoreline for all the difference it makes to the playoffs. Oh well; I also think US soccer needs to abandon playoffs altogether, which basically gives the regular season all the importance of a series of practices, and introduce relegation and promotion, and I would also like a puppy and a pony and to see pigs fly past my window, so, yeah. Moving on to the real world...

I am as aghast at the rest of the footballing world at the soap opera unfolding at Stamford Bridge. I'm not even going to attempt to link up to any of the gazillions of articles covering this; I'm sure you can find your own way to the main Guardian football page and beyond. (Okay: here's one.) I'm no Chelsea fan and have made no secret of how much Jose Mourinho can irritate me...so I certainly never imagined a chain of events that would actually not only make me feel sorry for Chelsea fans, but for Mourinho himself. Anyone who drags out that tired old chestnut about Chelsea's success being due not to Mourinho's coaching skills but to Roman Abramovich's pocketbook doesn't know what he's talking about: you need look no further than the struggles of Real Madrid's superstar Galactico lineup (uh, before last season, that is) to see proof that tons of money and talent do not an unbeatable squad make. Mourinho was obviously a fantastic coach and as annoying as he could be, I loved to hate him: I am going to miss his crazy press conferences, his passive-aggressive pronouncements, his disagreeable, disdainful manner of answering questions as though he could barely bring himself to respond to the press, who were all so very far beneath him. As for Abramovich, I can't fathom how he became a billionaire if he has made insane business decisions like this in the past. My prediction: Mourinho, who's been treated disgracefully, can take his time looking for a new job if the reports are true that his contract through 2010 was bought out, and will certainly land on his feet, while Chelsea plummets in the standings, the Big Four that some swore up and down (ridiculously, I always thought) was as unchanging as the constellations is no more, and the English Premiership table gets really, really interesting this season.

Finally, I haven't been able to write about the Women's World Cup in China as I'd hoped, but the US women defeated England and move on to semifinals, while my fellow apm-er Derek predicts another victory for Germany, having viewed their middle-of-the-night (our time) beatdown of the tough North Koreans. I am really pleased that the Guardian, after initially not really seeming to realize that the tournament was even happening, is doing a lot of coverage of women's soccer, and David James in particular gives me more reasons to love him by writing multiple pieces on the tournament in China.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

I can't help falling in love with you

Someone should have been writing a book about the Portland Timbers this season; I want to read it. I want to watch the feel-good Hollywood movie about this improbably brilliant season, the season that should never have happened and should not be happening still, not in the wake of finishing in last place the season before, spirits broken, a coach out of touch with players and fans, and ongoing acrimony between supporters, Timbers front office, and security that culminated in the ousting of eight loyal longtime fans following their doomed pyrotechnic protest*.

One year on, supercoach Gavin Wilkinson has turned the team around entirely--surpassing even his own expectations of spending three years rehabilitating the sickly squad--while after years of absentee ownership with an attitude toward soccer ranging from the indifferent to the outright hostile, enter Merritt Paulson, and I think--correct me if I'm wrong--he wanted to own a baseball team, but he took a few looks around at the Timbers, at soccer-mad Portland, and at the fookin' mental supporters group and he got it! Finally, management sat down with a representative group of fans, each found out that the other group is not made up of hideous monsters (in the case of fans, hideous monsters planning to rip children from the bosoms of middle America and devour them but worst of all teach them to swear while they're doing it and in the case of management, hideous monsters intent on launching a cleansing campaign against anyone in homemade Timbers gear or weird-looking at all in a broadly interpreted sort of way, a campaign led by an army of humorless, decidedly un-MILF-like [sorry, boys] soccer moms in tricked-out minivans spangled with bumper stickers boosting the cause of suburban vacuity and zombification) ...whew, I just ran out of breath. The point being: who could have foreseen a season like this one, so soon after last year's disaster?

So the Timbers defeated the Vancouver Whitecaps 3-0 on Sunday night, for a 3-1 aggregate quarterfinal score, and Timbers move on to the semis. And as the scoreline mounted Sunday night, I loved you all, North End. I wanted to marry every single one of you, twice, so it's a damn good thing they don't allow for that sort of thing because today my hand would still be too cramped from signing all those annulment papers to write this post. What else? Spectacular tifo opened the match and the North End, sprawling across at least five packed sections, was monstrously loud. The banished flare-wielding crew marked the end of their year-long expulsion, entering with a bagpiping band. Awards were handed to players, a pre-game plaque for Kiki Lara as Community Player of the Year and a halftime ceremony for Josh Wicks to receive his Supporters Player of the Year trophy.

The match itself got off to a shaky start for the Timbers: some shockingly miscalculated passes, easily plucked by the Whitecaps, and calls that just didn't seem to go our way. As the minutes mounted and the scoreline remained level, my sense that this would be another Timbers-quarterfinal-crash-and-burn grew. And then the break: a 27th minute header from Justin Thompson, and after that it was anybody's game to win. Timbers looked better after the half and goals by Andrew Gregor and Jaime Ambriz clinched the victory. The third goal felt like a dream, the kind where you know it's a dream because it doesn't ever get this good in real life.

Ecstatic as I was to see them head home empty-handed, I couldn't quite bring myself to join in the Your season ends tonight! final-minutes taunting of the Whitecaps, having had the same nightmarish refrain in my head during previous seasons. (Make no mistake: Seattle I'd have taunted with glee.) Although things turned ugly on the pitch at the end, the players had the class to turn and applaud the Timbers supporters before going over to thank their contingent of traveling fans. Afterwards, at the Bullpen, I chatted with a guy who had come to the game almost by accident: giving a friend an emergency ride, he'd meant to drop her off and leave and was somehow persuaded to stick around. He said he wasn't into sports and had never been interested in attending a match, but ended up having a fantastic time and planned on returning. It was a different crowd, a different atmosphere, than he'd imagined or experienced round a sporting event before.

Three days on, I still feel like I'm in the grip of a happy dream. I think the Timbers can defeat the Atlanta Silverbacks this weekend and I think they can beat any team they face in the final, but if their season ends this Sunday, they will have done enough for me this year, more than I could've asked for. Next year apm will be following the Timbers from afar, as we (or two-thirds of apm anyway) are hitting the road to check out soccer pitches in the rest of the world...and bringing you on-the-ground coverage of same, naturally...so it's been extraordinary watching our boys make it this far.

Report and photos from Sunday night's match are here. Timbers play Friday night in Atlanta against the Silverbacks and the second leg this Sunday at 5 pm in PGE Park. (I think. Timbers website says 5, Fox Soccer Channel says they're showing the match at 4, so find out when you buy your ticket and don't take my word for it.) Tickets are on sale now at the PGE Park box office and the match will be televised live on FSC.

*scroll down thread for gorgeous pics from Allison Andrews

Friday, September 14, 2007

Timbers vs Whitecaps in First Leg Playoff Match Tonight

Do you smell that? Oh yeah, my chartreuse-minded, absinthe-fueled, green-fairy-feverish-hooligans (benevolent ones, of course) of the mighty Portland Timbers--tonight is olent of VICTORY! Our hometown lads won't be melting the Whitecaps at home, though. The Timbers begin their post-season campaign to win the league this evening against the always formidable Vancouver Whitecaps in a first leg match guaranteed to curl toes and elongate the anxious little stalks breaching your skinny green and white necks. Unfortunately, tonight's game isn't televised--though Sunday's second leg match will be on the glass teat at 5:00, courtesy of the Fox Soccer Channel. But you can saunter on down to Slabtown (1033 NW 16th Ave, Portland, OR, 97209; 503-223-0099) to eat happy hour vittles, slosh down drinks, and watch the game via web cast at 7:00.

You can read about how to obtain tickets for Sunday's playoff match here. See ya then! Ah yeah... I can smell the victory from here....

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Women's World Cup: US vs North Korea

The consolation for US soccer fans, who are long accustomed to hoping the men's team will put on a good show but can have no hope of winning a major international tournament like the World Cup, is our women's national team. They're a well-trained, well-funded group of professional athletes, and they're enormously successful: in four World Cups, they've won twice and placed third in two others.

But lots of the legends have retired over the last few years--Mia Hamm, Tiffany Milbrett, Brandi Chastain, to name just a few of the more household names--and this new squad has some young and inexperienced players. And little was known about the North Korean team they faced yesterday. No one who saw yesterday's match, however, is likely to forget that North Korean team, least of all the US women who, following Abby Wambach's powerful strike in the 50th minute that gave them the lead, found themselves struggling as the Koreans answered with goals in the 58th and 62nd minute. (Wambach went down with an injury to her head a few minutes after her goal, and both Korean goals were scored during the time she was off the pitch getting patched up.) Fortunately Heather O'Reilly equalized a few minutes later, and although the game continued to be dynamic and attacking, neither side was able to put away a winning goal.

The US defense made several errors, and new keeper Hope Solo let the first Korean goal--blasted in by Kil Son Hui--slip through her fingers. In the second half, however, Solo's confidence seemed to increase, and she finished with two spectacular saves in stoppage time. Both squads played a fast, exciting, aggressive game.

These games are on in the middle of the night in the US, not unlike the 2002 World Cup, so unless you are an insomniac or a night owl you might have trouble catching them live. Fortunately, ESPN 2 is replaying the US games, at least, at a reasonable time (4 pm Pacific). I'm going to keep watching and I'll try to write about as many of the matches as I can. There's plenty of drama here: the word is out that the formidable US team is vulnerable, and the Koreans a force to be reckoned with. Will the US shore up their defensive line and claim a decisive victory in the next match against Sweden on the 14th? How will their draw against North Korea affect their efforts to get out of their group? Will they reclaim their place as champions, lost in 2003?

If you are a fan of men's soccer, I hope you'll make an effort to catch at least one of these matches as well. The level of play is very high; moreover, many of the teams from other countries train in substandard conditions amid indifference and even prejudice regarding women in the sport. In other words, they do it for the love of the game. In a world of overpaid, overpampered, oversponsored superstar athletes, that's worth tuning in to.

More at the official FIFA site and the official US soccer site.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Subdued Super Cup: AC Milan v Sevilla

No surprises here... the UEFA Super Cup was bruised by sadness for the loyal Sevilla supporters who journeyed to Monaco, the heartsick Sevilla team who had to face the Champions League title holders AC Milan, and hell... everyone, really. The death of Antonio Puerta on Tuesday has affected countless people around the globe, even football-mad fools who have never seen the team play before. People who had perhaps never heard of the 22-year old midfielder before have now learned more about him this week....

Sevilla (who won the Super Cup last year against Barcelona) already had their Champions League qualifying match against AEK Athens postponed until this Monday due to Puerta's death, and there was serious talk about having today's Super Cup match delayed as well. But Sevilla agreed to play, though it was obvious that despite some urgency in the first half--in which they did score in the 14th via striker Renato--it was going to be a difficult night for them to get through. After the Renato goal, the Sevilla players huddled together and, with fingers pointed heavenward, honored Puerta... their supporters, many of whom displayed flags and banners adorned with Puerta's face, no doubt were offering up prayers, blessings, and thoughts as well.

And the match went on....

Inzaghi, the Great Venal One, elaborated on why he's one of the most hated players in Europe by ridiculously fumbling to the ground in the box in the 20th, which should have earned him a yellow card but didn't. It's easy to hate the rat-like "Pippo." I'm not particularly enamored with him either--he reminds me too much of a degenerate Borgia count, an extra in a Charles Bronson movie, most likely playing "mugger #3" or "rapist #4," or Klaus Kinski's debased brother... the one he kept in the attic and would refer to as Werner...but woe to the player who underestimates Pippo's goal-poaching cunning.

Renato followed with a brilliant opportunity in the 26th but shot it wide. Milan's Seedorf, after Inzaghi comically tried to backheel the ball past Sevilla's keeper Palop, attempted to head the ball in but also blew it. Only thing was, Seedorf didn't look like a fool. Inzaghi bulleted a long shot toward goal in the 33rd, but again there was to be no payoff.

Sevilla's Kanoute had a wonderful chance in the 42nd when he found himself open at the top of the box. Deftly controlling the ball off his chest, he whipped around and rocketed the shot toward Milan's Dida, but the shot (I think it deflected off a Milan player) went nowhere. Inzaghi scored in stoppage time, but surprise, surprise the goal was offside.

But in the 55th minute, Inzaghi wasn't offside--a nice header in front of goal via a beautiful cross from Gattuso from the right-hand side. Game was indeed on, though it became even more apparent that Sevilla was losing form and perhaps inspiration.

Milan duce Silvio Berlusconi beamed from his eagle's nest in the stands, no doubt wondering which "man suit" he would don later that evening for the annual beginning of the season sacrificial ritual. Something fresh or something classic?

Milan's Czech left-back, Marek Jankulovski, a man not known for his scoring, did just that in the 62nd after receiving a textbook clean ball from Man of the Match Pirlo. It was another nice shot, too. And then Sevilla looked like they were going to fall apart. Midfielder Duda received a yellow, then Dani Alves (whose mind, even before Puerta's death, was already elsewhere) wanted a yellow as he rolled around on the ground, looking as if he was auditioning for a role as an extra in a Sergio Leone Spaghetti Western, then immediately jumped up when the ref looked at him disappointingly. But the ref was kind enough to reward Sevilla's Christian Poulsen with a card seconds later.

Kaka was taken down in the box in the 86th and was rewarded with a penalty kick, which he subsequently missed. But the player, who was just named as the UEFA Club Footballer of the Year, headed in the ball which had deflected off of Palop's face, serving up the victory once and for all to Milan. Kaka is a class act, though, and he repeatedly pointed to Puerta's name on the back of his jersey (all of the players wore Puerta's name on the back of their shirts) while modestly celebrating the goal. Seedorf also made a point to display Puerta's name when he was subbed off a few minutes later....

Sevilla will hopefully play better against Athens on Monday, and no doubt this will serve as a much needed warm up for a team that would probably rather not have to be playing games so soon after the tragedy. But I'm guessing Antonio Puerta would have wanted his teammates back on the pitch and winning matches, not lost in their grief.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Eto'o is injured, and a sad week for football

Looking at the squad assembled this season by Barcelona manager Frank Rijkaard, the question on everyone's lips was how on earth he was going to manage those talents and egos, giving each superstar the playing time he'd insist on having, not to mention developing some of the up-and-coming talent. But last season Barca faltered, and long stretches of injuries and/or poor form from Messi, Ronaldinho, and Eto'o were significant factors. The other day I predicted (not here, just yammering away about football as usual) that at least one of the formidable stars would suffer an injury and we'd be glad of the depth. Sure enough, it appears Samuel Eto'o will be out for at least two months, following an injury suffered during the Joan Gamper trophy match yesterday.

The Joan Gamper trophy is a traditional season opener friendly for Barcelona, heavily shadowed this year by the tragic death of Sevilla's Antonio Puerta. Over at the beautiful game, Linda has put together a nice photo essay of the match, which honored both Puerta and a former Barca vice-president, Nicolau Casaus, who died 8 August.

It's been a horrific week for the untimely loss of young footballers: in addition to Puerta, former Zambia international Chaswe Nsofwa collapsed and died Wednesday of heart failure while practicing with his Israeli squad, while promising QPR striker Ray Jones perished in a car accident on Saturday. In better news, Leicester striker Clive Clarke, whose heart attack stopped a Carling Cup match on Wednesday against Nottingham Forest, seems to be recovering. Apparently the recent tragedies have led to calls for routine cardiac testing as part of medical clearances for footballers; I must admit I assumed such testing would be routine and I'm surprised to learn otherwise. It's also my understanding, though, that some fatal cardiac irregularities can be difficult or impossible to detect.

I don't really have a neat end for this post. It's been a sad week.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Antonio Puerta

[EDITED: I've taken down the YouTube footage of Puerta. It can be found in lots of other places, and frankly, I think he should be remembered for his skills]

Everyone who witnessed Sevilla midfielder Antonio Puerta inexplicably collapse in the 28th minute of the first half in the match against Getafe last Saturday was bewildered by the incident at first. Standing near his own goal just as the keeper was preparing to kick the ball back to the Sevilla midfield, Puerta suddenly crouched down and then appeared to go into a seizure. His fellow teammates tried to keep the 22-year old player from choking on his tongue and eventually team medics got Puerta back on his feet and into the locker room. The game went on.

Subsequent news reports stated that Puerta, who was born in Sevilla and had played his entire career with the club, had suffered a heart attack. In the dressing room, Puerta's heart gave out yet again and he went into unconsciousness. He was whisked to the hospital where he was reportedly stable though in intensive care. But his body was unable to withstand the damage that had wracked it and unfortunately the player died this morning in Spain.

Puerta, a crafty left-footer, was a major contributor (he scored the winning goal) in a 2006 UEFA Cup semi-final match against Schalke... which eventually led the Andalusians into the final against Middlesbrough who they beat 4-0. Puerta also helped his team win last season's UEFA Cup final against Espanyol when the match dragged on into penalty kicks. Puerta also played once for the Spanish national team in October 2006.

Sevilla, who were supposed to play today in a second leg Champions League qualifier against AEK Athens, didn't. The game has been postponed until next Monday. The team's European Super Cup match this Friday against AC Milan will supposedly still be played and the game will be aired in the US via Fox Soccer Channel. The match will be played in honor of the fallen player.

All of us at apm join the rest of the football universe in offering up our deepest condolences to Puerta's loved ones, his team, and the supporters who cared. You can read more about Antonio Puerta here and here.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Temper Tantrum in Valencia

A giant nightmare was more like it—for Valencia’s players (who as their frustration grew, behaved more and more like ill-tempered children), their manager Quique Sanchez Flores, and most certainly the faithful supporters who had flocked to the Estadio Mestalla to watch the team battle it out with Villarreal in a first match of the season derby. Perhaps the ongoing feud over money (of course!) between Audiovisual Sport and Mediapro should’ve penalized the showing of this match instead of yesterday’s Madrid derby and today’s Barcelona match against Racing Santander. I’ve no doubt that the faithful Valencia fans crammed inside the bars or at home to watch the game figured the same after such a desultory result.

Both teams are attractive, mischievously attacking squads and—despite some fallow periods last season, especially Villarreal—finished 4th (Valencia) and 5th (Villarreal) respectively. Both are contenders for top spots this season as well. But despite some early momentum courtesy of Valencia’s Joaquin, who can consistently test the opposition whenever he sprints and weaves up the right wing (which is a lot), delivering potentially deadly crosses for certain goal, today just wasn’t going to be his day. Nor for anyone on that bedraggled Valencia squad. Niether of the Davids (Silva or Villa) could flex their creativity either and when the normally crafty, deadly Villa went down a little too easily in the box, bent on drawing a penalty but earning a second yellow for the cowardly dive instead in a desperate bid to even things up, the night seemed all but over. Not quite so fast, though. There was still some beatdown to go. Villarreal, who played with complete cohesiveness and fidelity toward their mission to pick up where they left off at the end of last season when they went on a blistering end of the season run (I don’t recall how many wins in a row; was it eight?) dominated throughout and certainly knew how to finish off poor Valencia with a 3-0 win. They may no longer have the idiosyncratic Uruguayan striker Forlan up front (he fled for Atletico Madrid at the end of last season) and the gloomy prince Riquelme may not be long for them (he desperately wants to return to Boca Juniors, even requesting that he’d play for free), but Villarreal—the little Yellow Submarine that seems determined to stay firmly in La Liga—likewise looks determined to do fine without them. Two red cards for Valencia (Villa, Joaquin); three goals for Villarreal (Tomassen, Rossi, Cazorla); and probably no wine shared between the two managers after the match.

I wasn’t in the best mood leading up to the game. Primed, though not necessarily bushy-tailed for the 10:00 am (Pacific Time) opening match between Racing Santander and Barcelona, only to see that the game was not going to be televised due to the ongoing Spanish television rights war. No matter, I guess, since it seems Barca performed poorly and were lucky to slip away with a point from the 0-0 draw. Ugh. It’s still early, right? No need to panic yet. Right? Right?

Friday, August 24, 2007

15,833!

It didn't take a special exhibition match or a superstar player to shatter USL-era Timbers attendance records: a warm evening, cheap beer, and a general buzz around town about the team's success this season brought a crowd of 15,833 spectators to PGE Park last night for the final home game of the regular season. And following what has seemed like an endless string of 0-0 results and dodgily-disallowed goals, a win was in the air. Buoyed by a thunderous North End that stretched across at least four sections, the Timbers brought the most soporific reaches of the stadium to their feet. When yet another goal--S-C-O-T-with-one-T-Thompson late in the first half--was waved off, the lads didn't let it discourage them, and the drought finally ended in the 81st minute, thanks to Justin Thompson. The crowd went wild! The flag was unfurled again at last! Owner Merritt Paulson came racing down the steps between 106 and 107, and racing back up, high-fived fans all the way! Timbers-colored smoke rose into the air! I was baptized in someone's beer! And then at some point UP keeper/TA capo Dan went aloft, passed up through the crowd! An astonishing night in every way, and in a real show of sportmanlike class, Charleston Battery keeper Dusty Hudock turned and applauded the Army at the close of the match. This was absolutely one of my proudest nights ever as a Timbers fan. MLS investors, listen up: give us the Timbers name and a PGE Park converted for soccer, and we will give you the numbers you need, because this is indeed Soccer City USA.

Pics and match report here.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Timbers v Battery Tonight at PGE Park! Last Regular Season Home Match!

With only five more games left in the regular season, your opportunities to see the mighty Portland Timbers play at home are growing thin. In fact, tonight is your last chance!

Okay... we're heading into the playoffs, so you'll no doubt get another chance to see the boys again once they end the season playing four grueling away matches in early September. But why wait? Especially considering that the Timbers' form of late (despite being currently in second place, only four points out of first) has been lackluster--five draws and two losses since July 22nd, one of those defeats being at the feet of tonight's bastardly opponents, the Charleston Battery, who this season serve as the paycheck for our ex-superstar Byron Alvarez.

So come... have some beers (it's Thirsty Thursday, remember)... SING... SHOUT... and root for the Green & White. They need to feel the momentum, they need to feel the love before heading off to finish the season where the chants grow more faint and the enthusiasm dims.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

semper fi?

Players come and go; I understand that. But how does one of the Faithful remain so through the shock of a change of manager? Man U is Man U, be it Eric Cantona or Pout-Faced Ronaldo up front, but when Fergie leaves, that'll be a whole new ball game.

I'm thinking, as always, of the Hammers. Having been football-starved for the better part of a year and plunged back in (to the tune of fifty plus bucks a month) thanks to the kindly folks at Fox Soccer Channel, I find myself in the odd position of watching Alan Curbishley's Irons. Suddenly, I am Katharine Ross as wives around her become Stepford or Kevin McCarthy while body-snatchers invade. Someone has dismantled my team in the dead of night and built an exact and insidious replica in its place, and I have an eerie foreboding as I watch. I am waiting for the mask to slip and reveal some of David Icke's lizard-men.

For starters, seeing West Ham play without Etherington and Konchesky I found wincingly uncomfortable, like watching some fellow without a skeletal structure lurch bonelessly around the pitch. Curbishley tossed "Gamblin' Fool" Etherington in at the half and I breathed more easily; now, at least, they had snapped on a collarbone. I do not resent the passing-on-to-questionable-pastures of so many of last year's A-team. It's an expected and chilling repercussion of managerial usurpation. Reo-Coker and Harewood, even Benayoun I release with blessings. I am troubled, however, by the ease with which I was glamoured into high hopes by the flash and glitz of Ljungberg and Ashton and Neill, all of whom have yet to prove themselves after a singularly unimpressive opening match. Neill, in fact, seems to have thrown his hat into the ring to inherit the Harry Kewell Perpetually-Off-Pitch-With-Some-Vague-Injury crown (what is up with the delicate Aussies these days?), and Craig Bellamy wheels his snappy-but-mostly-useless act into town, fresh from the green grasses of Anfield.

Then there's Bobby Zamora: a lizard-man, unquestionably, perhaps even a cartoon lizard-man. I think he is the Polanski character from "Chinatown", that twitchy speed-freak guy itching to explode into violence at every moment, only somehow transported into a studly footballer's body. Watch his neck and shoulders: he's so tense he'll snap in two if a big wind comes up. I often amuse myself by noting how long it takes him to explode in anger at the ref each match. This time, he clocked in under six minutes.

So these are our boys. Curbishley, the alien at the helm, has a strategical sense which at first glance seems random and dubious. His presence on the claret and blue throne throws strange and tramontane shadows across the castle walls. I am no longer on familiar ground. The king may be mad; the players, well, reptilian. Much remains to be seen. In the meantime, do we, the Faithful, remain so out of duty, pride, habit, or fear of change? What are the repercussions of switching allegiance? I have always had one eye fixed on the Liverpudlians, and Roy Keane is making his Black Cats very seductive underdogs indeed. For now, though, the Hammers keep hold of my attention by sheer force of their fascinating perversity.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

First Place Never Felt So Bad

The Timbers played twice in the last few days, both to scoreless draws, and as a result I, and doubtless the team and and a whole lot of other fans, are feeling vaguely...unfulfilled. Actually, it's worse than that: this piece really ought to start off "the Timbers were robbed of a win Saturday night," because Bryan Jordan's fine 80th minute goal was inexplicably and incorrectly called off. Of course, the difference between a good team and a great one (and what makes the US-style of playoffs and the knockout rounds of tournaments so frustrating) is the ability, over the course of a season, to overcome a few poorly called games. Still, with PGE Park reporting season-high turnouts for the last couple of games, it's a shame the masses had to witness two nil-nils in a row.

Actually, I have my own theory about what's going wrong. It's that damn chant, the one that's been around forever and always seemed perfectly innocuous and has somehow become the default for corner kicks and free kicks, the one that goes, "Here we go, here we go" etc. etc. It's a curse, I tell you. Invariably, I find myself muttering "...and there we went" as yet another opportunity is wasted--and when we did score on the chant last night, leading me to briefly believe the curse had been broken--well, we all know how heartbreakingly that turned out. Personally, at such moments I like the groovy musical numbers the best, the drumbeats accompanied by "Heeeeeyyy...for the Timbers...." which I am firmly convinced conjures up the appropriate football deities for victory. I tell you, it's a demon-haunted world, this business of footie fanaticism.

It was good to see traveling fans from both Minnesota and Vancouver, some of whom even braved the Bitter End for pre-game drinks. We here at apm have a soft spot in particular for fans of the Thunder; back in the day when we first began attending matches regularly we sat right behind the lone vocal fan, whom Army regulars from several years back will doubtless remember. In those salad days of yore the dreaded YSA seemed so shiny and promising and each time the Army roared the imprecation, he followed plaintively, his voice hoarse and failing: No, you rule, Joe Warren! (To this day, when we catch a Minnesota Thunder game on TV with Warren in goal, we cry You rule Joe Warren!)

The Timbers have one regular-season home game left, an August 23 match against Charleston followed by a difficult road trip schedule of 5 away matches, most of them to the miserably hot and humid regions of the USL. It's safe to say we'll make it into the playoffs this year but I'm feeling increasingly anxious about how we'll perform there. I do think they're capable of winning the league but I'd feel better if I saw more consistency, more complete domination during matches. Still, we've known all along this stretch of the schedule was going to be challenging, and we're still in first place, even if nobody seems to feel very good about it. Let's hope Thursday's road trip back to Minnesota will be beset with fewer difficulties than the previous one and somehow up there in the wilds of Garrison Keillor country, our boys get their mojo back.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Mid-Table Mediocrity (a brief West Ham United preview)

As a West Ham United fan... and after suffering through a painful last season watching the team barely rescue (courtesy of the recently departed Tevez) themselves from a full-fledged disaster on the pitch and then the boardroom disaster, courtesy of the former owners, that smelled awfully like corruption (I thought that didn't happen in England, only in those swarthy, sweaty lands down South)... I'm ready for some sweet mid-table mediocrity. Manager Alan Curbishley--someone, I might add, I'm not entirely sold on--has made some interesting and strong trades over the break, most notably sending former captain Nigel Reo-Coker and Marlon Harewood to Aston Villa, sadly Benayoun to Liverpool, and shuffling former Liverpool knee/golf club fetishist Craig Bellamy and longtime Arsenal player Freddie Ljungberg into the fold. Ljungberg is a shrewd, wise, though surprising choice. I think he'll work out fine. But Bellamy is a huge question mark. There's no doubt that the guy has pace, keen vision (I unfortunately remember him setting up Riise in that brutal win over Barcelona during a first leg Champions League match, not to mention his earlier equalizer and subsequent golf club swing celebration), and he's a brutal finisher when his heart and mind are keyed up (something that never really happened with his season with Liverpool). But he's a liability when you factor in his suspect shenanigans off the pitch. I have a feeling that if Bellamy doesn't feel like playing nicely, everyone else in the locker room suffers accordingly and feels the ripple effects of his tantrums.

I guess we'll just have to wait and see with him, and I hope that his professed sincerity about giving his all for the Hammers and all that jazz really does come from the right place in his heart. God knows last year's squad had its share of bloated egos, locker room bullshit, and lackluster energy on the pitch for most of the season.

And then there were the injuries--Upson, Gabbidon, and Ashton. But with those players fit and ready to play again (Ashton's return is perhaps the most important), the Hammers will no doubt be in better form. Unfortunately, captain Lucas Neill (who Curbishley signed to the team mid-season last year and who immediately got injured) is now injured again--he "tweaked" his knee ligaments--and will definitely miss tomorrow's opening match against Sven's Manchester City lads.

All in all, I'm cautiously optimistic for mid-table success. Curbishley, though, has bigger aims for Europe and ambition to be something more than a glorified feeder club to the big four in the Premiership. Easier said than done, of course. We'll see how much of a risk taker he'll be once the bruises start showing....

West Ham United v Manchester City airs Saturday on the Fox Soccer Channel at 6:55 AM (Pacific).

Thursday, August 09, 2007

A Whole Lotta Football

You want football in the Rose City? Well, you got it for the next three days. Tonight, the Portland Timbers play the lowly (they are currently in last place) Minnesota Thunder at PGE Park at 7:00. The two played last weekend in Minnesota where they drew 1-1, so the Timbers will definitely be striving for the much needed full three points tonight. The Timbers and the venal Seattle Sounders are currently tied for first place in the USL standings, though our lads still have a game at hand.

Fans of Mexican football will be sure to be inundated with excitement tomorrow when PGE Park hosts the Super Classic of Legends tour featuring veteran players from two of Mexico's most popular clubs, Chivas de Guadalajara and Club America. The crowd in the stands and the play on the field should be a blast to behold and a portion of all tickets prices goes to help out the MEChA/Latino Club at Tigard High School. Sounds good to us!

And if that wasn't enough footie action... the glorious hometown Timbers play the melting White Caps from Vancouver on Saturday. Can you say six points for our lads? Oh yeah! I just said it.

Oh... and for those of you who stand in the North End and have wondered why does everyone keep singing that crazy song over and over and over again... and has perhaps wanted to join in but still don't know the words or haven't been able to remember them because of the plentiful brew sloshing around in thy gut... here is a transcript of the feverish, whirling dervish that is known as The Greek Chant. Learn it, love it, remember it:

Group 1: So who are we?
Group 2: SO WHO ARE WE?

Group 1: We are the boys!
Group 2: WE ARE THE BOYS!

Group 1: We're from the North End and we're here to make some noise
Group 2: MAKE SOME NOISE!

Group 1: For our boys!
Group 2: FOR OUR BOYS!

Group 1: And you will see!
Group 2: YOU WILL SEE!

Everyone: WE'RE GONNA JUMP AND CLAP AND SING FOR VICTORY!
AND WHEN WE DO!
YOU'LL KNOW THAT NOISE!
CAME FROM THE NORTH END FOOKIN' TIMBERS ARMY BOYS!
OH ROSE CITY!
OH ROSE CITY!
THIS IS OUR TEAM: THE MIGHTY P-T-F-C!

Repeat until your heart, lungs, and throat explode....

Monday, July 30, 2007

Eidur to The Hammers?

Word on the street is... the Icelandic striker Eidur Gudjohnsen, who last season played for Barcelona but whose future at the club since the signing of Thierry Henry has been doubtful, may find himself back in the English Premier League playing for the mighty Hammers.

We loved watching the idiosyncratic Gudjohnsen at Barcelona, mostly because of his sincere determination to fit in with the crafty Catalans and less with his sometimes woeful finishing. But when he clicked with those passes from Iniesta, Deco, or Xavi, it could be pretty damn good. Even better when Ronaldinho and Gudjohnsen telepathically grooved toward goal.

But more so than not, Eidur frustrated. I'm not familiar enough with his time spent with Chelsea or even Bolton, but just by looking at the stats it appears that a move to West Ham could suit him very well.

With the recent signings of Craig Bellamy and Freddie Ljungberg to the Hammers, it's starting to feel like this team can steer clear of the bottom and actually fight for something other than their survival this season.

More about the Hammers and their new season trades later.... Until then, you can read more about the possible Gudjohnsen move here.

Timbers Win One, Draw One

How's your voice? We seem to be doing much better today, but I sincerely hope our capos aren't auctioneers in their day jobs, or even, say, teachers, since they heroically carried on in their duties even as their their chants subsided to croaks. Our boys in green (or yellow. whatever.) have been looking a little bit tired as well, and while we fans have until next Thursday to recuperate for another match, they are off on more road trips, Seattle on Wednesday and Minnesota on Saturday.

But it was a great Timbers weekend, and we're still five points ahead in the table with a game in hand over second-place Seattle. Thursday night saw some nice shots on goal, but Atlanta keeper Ryan McIntosh made some damn good saves for a final 0-0 score. Saturday night Portland won 2-1 (we always win! two to one!) following a Timbers goal ruled offside that wasn't and a stoppage time, uh, dive maybe which led to a penalty kick and brought the scoreline where it should have been in the first place. Both goals came from new guy Matt Taylor. You can see pictures and read about Thursday's game here, and the Preston North End friendly is recapped right here.

A couple of random observations from the weekend: kudos to new owner Merritt Paulson for his continued support of the Timbers Army. After the last owner (didn't that one supposedly "love soccer"?), who stayed mysteriously hidden in, I don't know, a fortress maybe, somewhere in California, it's amazing to have an owner who comes down into the North End, shakes hands and chats with fans. This is why he gets his very own "Merr-itt Paul-son!" chant. Also, during the Saturday night half Preston North End supporters invaded our section carrying a giant flag which led to a hilarious chant-off between sides. (If you've got straight teeth clap your hands!) It's a joy, at such times, to be a football fan in the US, where the rivalries remain friendly.

And finally, the Timbers are really getting regular coverage on local television now. Highlights of the game and scorelines are actually presented as though it's an actual sport, not some embarrassing aberration. Channel 12 did a nice piece on Andrew Gregor, including an interview, last night on their Oregon Sports Final show and showed some footage of the Preston North End chant-off (without sound, alas). The one exception is channel 6's Ed Whalen, who despises soccer and always has. Thursday night's report: "The Portland Timbers played soccer for ninety minutes tonight and didn't score a single goal." And delivered with contempt: "Nothing-nothing was the score." Wake up, Ed! We're here and we're taking over! You and your soccer-hating brethren will go the way of the dinosaurs!

Sunday, July 29, 2007

A Happy Day in Baghdad

Go you Lions of Mesopotamia (definitely one of the coolest footballing nicknames ever)! Following a header in the 72nd minute by Younis Mahmoud, Iraq defeated Saudi Arabia 1-0 in a historic Asian Cup win. Iraq has now qualified for the 2009 Confederations Cup. And all Iraq celebrates. The New York Times blog has a minute-by-minute account of the match. Other stories: Sweden's expatriate Iraqi population celebrates, the Saudi coach acknowledges that Iraq deserved the win, a Reuters reporter writes about celebrating the win in the wake of colleagues' recent deaths, the team is dogged by chaos and tragedy, and Brazilian Jorvan Vieira, the Iraqi soccer coach, speaks of the challenges overcome by his squad.

Stories like this are one of the reasons I think football is the best sport in the world. (Now if only this celebratory practice of shooting guns into the air could only be discouraged, for after all, what goes up does, eventually, have to come down.) Here's to the fervent hope that no more bullets fired off in celebration come down on anyone's head and, most of all, that the celebrations continue unmarred by sectarian violence, for as long as everyone wants to continue celebrating.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Suicide Bombers Kill Iraqi Soccer Fans

This is terrible: as joyous Iraqis--even in Kurdistan--spill into the streets to celebrate their historic Asian cup victory (they defeated South Korea and will now face Saudi Arabia in the final), suicide car bombs kill 50 and wound many more.

Every suicide bombing is tragic, of course, but the image that never fails to seize me on a visceral level in pictures of the aftermath is the sight of a kit, worn by a victim, a mourner, a traumatized passer-by, as though there can be no refuge at all. You cannot even lose yourself for the ninety minutes of watching your team move the ball up and down the pitch.

Fucking war.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Timbers Still Tops; Merritt Paulson on MLS

As the boys in green headed home from a game in Charleston, South Carolina that ended their winning streak, new owner Merritt Paulson appeared on a channel 8 sports show last night and said a few things in his brief appearance that made me very happy: That Portland is a fantastic market for MLS. That "they don't call it Soccer City USA for nothing." That it is too early to speculate as to whether he would be one of the owners of an MLS team, but that the Timbers name has a great tradition that should be carried over into MLS. Aaand...that PGE Park is a great urban location for the home of an MLS soccer team.

I've never had the time to write a proper indictment of the appalling prospect that floated around for a bit about a soccer stadium in Hillsboro, not even within reach of public transportation--which is probably just as well; I'd have ranted about the suburbanization of soccer, the American cult of the automobile, and God knows what else, probably turning red and falling out of my chair from indignation at the end as I marshaled the last of my strength to ill-advisedly hit the "publish" button. But really, PGE Park converted to a soccer-specific stadium is like a dream come true: smack in the middle of downtown, bus and light rail drop you off at the gates, bars and restaurants in the vicinity abound.

In other Timbers news, the boys won in Atlanta 1-0 but last night fell to Charleston 2-0, for which I can hardly blame them--five games in ten days, the last two on the opposite side of the country, in places which, at this time of year, are unbearably hot and humid. (Native P-towners: when y'all say "humid" out here, you have no idea what you're talking about.) Anyway, I'd have started thinking they were robots, not human beings, had they kept it up--no way would top-level players ever be submitted to such a grueling schedule, but the ways of USL scheduling are strange and arcane. Apparently Josh Wicks got hurt in Atlanta and Bayard Elfvin had to finish that match out and play in Charleston; as much as it grieves me to lose Josh for a few games, Elfvin has been a fantastic backup keeper for us in years past and, best of all, plays with real passion and heart.

The Timbers face the Atlanta Silverbacks again in PGE Park on Thursday night at 7 p.m. and then on Saturday night welcome England's Championship side Preston North End for a friendly.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Timbers Defeat Whitecaps, 2-1

... And something is spreading throughout the city. Earlier, at the grocery store, the checkout guy asks about the "Rose City Til I Die" emblem on the front of Derek's Unofficial Timbers Army T-shirt (made by capable capo Loose Charm) and referred to the Timbers as a football team. ("Did you hear?" I said excitedly on the way out. "He said 'football'!") Last week a neighbor saw our scarves as we headed out to a game and immediately knew them for Timbers scarves; last night another one, who didn't recognize them, got excited about the prospect of a game and said he was going to get out and see them play.

After the match, the singing carried on as the stadium emptied; through the concourse, out into the night, car horns honking, knots of people still singing, and up the hill past the Chevron station a woman stopping at the pumps to get gas calls out her window at us, "Did the Timbers win tonight? What was the score?"

If winning is what it takes for P-town to wake up, rub its eyes, and notice there's a soccer team in town, so be it. Winning we got.

Such a good (and wholly new, as a Timbers supporters) feeling to go down one goal and never doubt you'll pull out a win. My only bad moments came during the completely insane and seemingly endless almost-six-minutes stoppage time (nearly two minutes beyond the already-inexplicable official four). The Timbers faced a tougher opponent last night, the Vancouver Whitecaps, who've had our number plenty of times in the past. But Gavin Wilkinson's boys--who surely had tired legs for their third game in eight days--were more than a match for them, as Andrew Gregor and Lawrence Olum put two balls into the net and gave the Timbers a five-point lead in the USL table above our nearest competitors, the Montreal Impact. A proper match report and photos here. (Of all the fantastic pictures Allison makes, my favorites are the wistful empty-stadium shots like this one.) Check out more great photos here.

And, on the heels of my mention of the homeless soccer fans in my last post, this Guardian piece on the U.S. National Homeless Soccer Team. Because soccer heals wounds and is good for the soul.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Top of the League

David Hague. David Hague. David Hague. Need I say any more about Sunday night's match, which catapulted the Timbers to first place in the USL? Cameron Knowles deserves accolades as well for getting the scoring started for the Timbers, bringing us level with the California Victory after they scored on us early in the game. David Hague, a rookie kid from England who's not even a starter was subbed in for Bryan Jordan in the 67th minute and seconds later--in the 68th--scored the first of his three goals. Our three points were saved. But Hague wasn't finished; six minutes later Timber Jim helped conjure another goal by leading a chant of "in the net!" and Hague did it again. The shed went mad; at 3-1 our triumph seemed assured. When Hague blasted another one in at 88 minutes the Victory didn't know what hit them; maybe Hague didn't either and I'm pretty sure the North End had no idea. Strangers hugged and high-fived. Hat trick Hague! Hat trick Hague! It was a night for singing and drinking and singing some more, and as we floated home, the win soothing our wounds (for a little while at least) over the Argentina loss in the Copa, three homeless guys stopped us to ask how the match went. "4-1?" one of them said. "Top of the league!" we assured them. "Top of the league? Really?" another said, and could be heard telling his two friends as we continued up the hill, "I really love soccer..." And they say it'll never catch on in this country!

Match reports here (with pictures), here, and here. The Timbers play the Vancouver Whitecaps tomorrow night at 7 p.m. and the match will be televised on FSN (Fox Sports Northwest), that's channel 34 for you Comcast customers. Come out and support the #1 team in the USL!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Another Bad Flashback

It was like a bad flashback of last year's World Cup defeat. Two days later... and the bitterness of witnessing a flaccid and haggard (the mid-day heat and humidity couldn't have helped) Argentine squad come undone at the feet of Brazil in the Copa America final still burns. Although no one in their right mind before the match believed that Argentina was going to destroy Brazil, equally no one expected that the creative, imaginative, progressive Albicelestes (with one of the most extraordinary lineups that I've seen since I've been watching football) would be so thoroughly canceled out by a ruthless Brazilian defense. It was to be a battle of old school artistry (Argentina) versus ugly pragmatism (Brazil).

It would, of course, be disingenuous and misleading to suggest that Brazil plays without any trace of their old trickster ways--though the memories of those "golden days" are dimming with every passing year and will soon be nothing but fable. Only a complete novice to the sport or a willful liar would claim otherwise. But Dunga's efficient machine, as we all saw on Sunday, were quite capable of the big gesture (that first goal from Baptista was mighty nice), and the even bigger win. They fouled (37), played in a choppy, uncreative manner, wasted time, and hijacked the game from a more lucid, attractive, and ultimately befuddled (though arguably better) team. But Brazil's timing was jaw-droppingly perfect. They sure did know when to pounce when the counter-attack mattered most.

Argentina's loss is tragic for anyone who truly loves entertaining, attractive, progressive football. They may have brilliantly blown it (much like their World Cup disintegration in last year's World Cup quarter final against Germany), but I would rather watch the Albicelestes lose it all playing beautifully (of course, even this was unavailable to them) than witness them win playing like automatons with no ambition toward creativity. Is it more fulfilling to watch a club who plays dreary, defensive-minded, utilitarian football hoist up a trophy or a team who takes the risks, has the talent to pull it off, but strangely enough burns out in the end? It may hurt more, but I know who I'll stand with in the end. Why else do we watch football if not to be entertained?

So here's to the Glorious Losers! I hoist my cup to thee and drink longingly! I've no doubt that I'll get to see Argentina one day win a major trophy again, but my heart aches knowing that it will never be this squad to do so. It is a strange, painful, joyous game indeed.

Here's a link to BBC columnist Tom Vickery's assessment of the game and of the never-ending battle between football romantics and the pragmatists. Good stuff.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Timbers Top Victory, 1-0

If you were not in PGE Park Friday night, you surely missed the best party in town. Was it the fine weather, the fact that it was Friday night, the knowledge that we were being televised, the two weeks since the last home game? The North End was packed full and as loud as I've ever heard. The bobblehead Timber Jim statues were awesome. The two people who threw sodas on the pitch (for heaven's sake, at least be man enough--even if you are a woman--to throw beer) were wankers: this is a lame way to express yourself, and when you do things like this, you hurt the whole Timbers Army and the North End. I know that isn't fair, but going to a match in PGE Park is kind of like being back in grade school again, when the whole class would get punished because of that one annoying kid who wouldn't shut the hell up during assembly or whatever.

In our 1-0 victory over the California, uh, Victory (goal scored by Bryan Jordan off a great pass from Scot Thompson), the Timbers even had a pretty move or two, particularly about half an hour in when an attractive backheel from Higgins to Bagley was deflected by the keeper, Eric Reed. Reed in fact deserves to play for a better team next year, because that was some nice goalkeeping. I think Scot Thompson must have cloned himself, because he seemed to be everywhere I looked, part of every play. And Josh Wicks continues to impress me--he only had to make a couple of saves last night, but he is currently setting a new franchise record for consecutive clean sheets and moreover, he is exactly the kind of keeper I love most: fearless, aggressive, risk-taking, racing out to meet the ball rather than waiting on it to come to him. Plus,
It's a Wicks...house!
He's mighty mighty
Lettin' it all hang out!

Coach Gavin Wilkinson deserves enormous credit for taking a squad that finished in last place only one season ago and turning them into championship material. The Timbers are riding high indeed: second place in the USL table as of this writing, one point below Team Evil, the Seattle Sounders, with four fewer games played. In other words, they are poised to take the number one spot with a win tonight over the California Victory. And here's where you come in: come out and help be the twelfth man on the field for the Timbers, tonight at 6 p.m. Because it's a Sunday, I doubt it will be quite as rowdy as Friday night, but I've been wrong before (and you can help make me wrong again). Plus, it's the teddy bear toss! Think of the children!

Go here for a full match report and pictures (and be sure to check out the links there to other reports, including this fellow who caught half of the game on FSC and praises the soccer-loving locals); more pictures here.

Meanwhile, if you can get to a television with GolTV, be sure to check out the Copa America final today at 2 p.m. Pacific Time, my beautiful beautiful Albicelestes versus Brazil. Local scuttlebutt suggests good possibilities for viewing the game in Portland (always call ahead) include Kells downtown, On the Deck on NW 14th and Lovejoy, the Matador or the Marathon on W Burnside, and Zach's Shack on SE 43rd and Hawthorne.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

An Open InvitationTo Marina Hyde

Zach was the first to bring it to my attention, sometime last year: the tiresome predictability and inaccuracy of so many British journalists' pieces on soccer in the United States. That we don't get football over here and we never will, har har. That no one watches it, and those who do don't understand what they're seeing.

This week it was Marina Hyde, writing a patronizing article about 'soccer' in the U.S. (quotation marks hers--I wonder if she writes 'il calcio' and 'futbal' when she writes about other countries' names for it?), centered around the arrival of Posh and Becks in L.A. I've got nothing against the author of the piece; I've enjoyed her writing on football in the past, and this is not remotely the most insulting thing I've read about footie in the US but I guess that on reading this piece I hit critical mass with the clueless-American-football-fans articles. Reader, I snapped.

Naturally, she makes a point of mentioning that in the parking lot of the Home Depot Center she sees Christian fishes and one bumper sticker promising "Jesus Saves," because we are, after all, a nation of wacky religious fanatics. She pronounces the fact that the Galaxy shares the stadium with their fiercest rivals, Chivas USA, as proof of "how very mannerly" it all is. (San Siro, anyone?) She finds the Galaxy fans she meets who "like to talk about football the game as opposed to football the family picnicking experience" to be rare birds indeed. She goes on to gently mock the efforts of the most hardcore Galaxy supporters group to create a European or Latin American-style atmosphere and archly surmises about the unlikelihood of such a thing ever happening. She includes several hilarious references to the non-hooligan nature of US soccer fans--because we all know that screaming racist invectives and beating up people is what really makes the atmosphere at a game--and reveals amusingly that "Galaxy games are preceded by a loudspeaker announcement that foul language will not be tolerated," which is certainly not something written into the rules of any football clubs across the pond.

So. Here is my open invitation to Marina Hyde, who seems to thinks we have no idea what we're doing here in the U.S., because maybe the Galaxy atmosphere and fans really are just as you describe them. Come to Portland and hang with the Timbers Army in the North End. You quote a member of the LA Galaxy's Riot Squad saying they have about 200 people who stand during the game; here in the City of Thorns we are at least 1000 strong across several sections and growing exponentially. Thomas Dunmore, a Brit who does get the rising tide of American soccer fandom, has written about us (and other US fan groups). Our songs and chants, some of them gleefully foul, thunder throughout the stadium and the surrounding streets. We make our own stuff: we have more homemade scarves, T-shirts, buttons, kilts, and assorted paraphernalia than we know what to do with. We have a hugely active online community--a busy message board and at last check, approximately one zillion Timbers fan sites and blogs linked at the top of said message board. We used to have a zine, Ax to the Head. We have podcasts! We have capos and flags and confetti and streamers and smoke bombs (illegally) and once we even had flares, although that's unlikely to ever happen again, and best of all, we have Timber Jim, a crazy lumberjack complete with chainsaw and drum who rappels throughout the stadium. Ask traveling Sunderland fans (who have hearts of gold) what they thought of how we're doing things here.

Seriously. You should come: drink with us before and after the matches, stand and sing with us, see what's happening with football at a real grass-roots level in this American city. But be warned: we might just make a chant about you.