Monday, May 28, 2007
Again, lest we get too big-headed, it's also worth noting that apparently in last night's game we could not score at all despite being one man up for fifty minutes (I missed the match, and given that news and the 0-0 scoreline, I don't feel so bad about it). There is the fact that four of our goals have been scored by former Seattle Sounders arch-villian Andrew Gregor, whose turn away from the dark side remains, in the words of Eleven Devils, an emotionally confusing twist in the plot for me. The good: New keeper Josh Wicks continues to impress me with his fearlessness. It has been said he makes some mistakes, to which I reply, dude, that's why it's the USL! On Friday night a couple of lone voices now and again could be heard belting out "It's a Wicks . . . HOUSE!" which is a salute that absolutely needs to catch on. Speaking of the Army, more good news (aside from a rather nasty mob moment like some shit out of the The Lottery earlier in the month when folks would not stop taunting a Rochester player even as it became clear he was hurt pretty badly*): it's growing and growing, and enthusiastic even when on the small side. I even saw people standing in 207 when I made a break for concessions shortly before the half on Friday. Finally, the local news stations seem to be consistently reporting on games with video included, which is increased coverage over last year.
Better than any local professional coverage, however, is the plethora of fan-maintained blogs and sites about the Timbers. If you're reading this you probably know about all of them anyway, but just in case, be sure to check out the many links at the top of the Soccer City USA message board. Just last week we learned that the Timbers have a new owner, about whom very little is known. P-Town in general, and the North End on game night in particular, are rich with creative, energetic, footie-loving fans; let's hope the new boss appreciates what he's got.
*Lesson learned: avoid PGE Park if the local harvest ever fails!
Friday, May 25, 2007
You can read a far more informative pre-game report here at Roberto's Timbers blog.
And if you can't make it to tonight's match... the Timbers play again on Sunday at 6:00 against the Carolina Railhawks, who are also an expansion club new to the USL First Division.
Wednesday, May 23, 2007
What is it about Pippo Inzaghi? He doesn't exactly make my skin crawl, but somewhere in the oldest, reptilian part of my brain the sight of him sets off an alarm: DO NOT TRUST. DO NOT TURN YR BACK. BACK AWAY SLOWLY WITHOUT LOOKING AWAY.
Do I hate his goals today? Sigh. Hate is too strong a word for such a stuttering, sidewinding disappointment of a brace. Turn back, if you will, to that old 2005 final: THOSE Milan goals are gorgeous. Kaka and Shevchenko delivered gorgeous set-ups that Crespo finished gorgeously. Three cheers all round. Even the wacky Maldini goal has an undeniable, expansive joy about it. Compare the limp, backwards clutter of goals today, Liverpool's included. After the first I was awestruck: I thought Pirlo's kick had curved around the wall and past Reina on its own, and I was prepared to worship the man like a demiurge. Seeing the replay and realizing that it'd come off Inzaghi's arm was a gross disillusionment. Had I been ref, I'd have disallowed it as a handball, which may have something to do with why they never call me to officiate at these things anymore.
Then there was the second goal. If, as Paul Doyle so brilliantly puts it in the GUARDIAN, Liverpudlians Pennant and Zenden were your neighborhood postmen, "you'd wake up every morning to find parcels in your shrubbery and letters strewn all over your lawn." To extend the metaphor, if Pippo was your mailman, the letters would make it to the box, but they, and, indeed, your lawn and garden might well be torn to shreds, since he doesn't give a crap about HOW they get there, and he'd deliver them by tank if he thought it more expedient. It was a goal. It was legal. It wasn't pretty, but it won the match. All well and good, I suppose, but it nonetheless makes me scowl.
Ah, Liverpool. Let's return again to that night in Istanbul, shall we? The thing was that they were SO outclassed; their first 50 minutes of play was nothing but a constant scramble. It's what made the victory a great one: one was left with a sense that the Reds had wooed and won the hearts of the Football Gods with sheer dogged persistence and big-eyed, childish yearning. Today's Reds were a better team technically. They felt older, more practised, perhaps more cynical. I wasn't surprised that they didn't win, but I was surprised that I didn't care all that much. Like the Football Gods, I remained this time unwon.
PRIVATE POST-SCRIPT TO MR. BENITEZ: For a start, get a strike-force, will you? I've always been anti-Crouch (I think since that hair-pulling incident vs Trinidad), so when even I am relieved to hear he's warmed up and on the touchline, something's wrong. What's even worse is when your winger is so bad that everyone agrees Harry Kewell will be an improvement. Look to it, please.
I'm not always the most realistic of people, so I'm a bit disappointed that today's game wasn't the Beethoven's Ninth of football matches, but it was still enjoyable and there were moments of nice play by both clubs. All in all, though, neither side appeared brilliant and although Liverpool commanded the pace of the game for most of it and were able to shut down Milan's Kaka and Seedorf (the Czech left-back Janus Jankulovski, on the other hand, shut himself down for the entire first half and showed up to play intermittently in the second) but somehow were never able to contain the slippery, venal assassin known as Inzaghi. Is there any player who looks more like an extra from a Charles Bronson Death Wish feature? I don't think so. "Pippo" Inzaghi's second goal--a ludicrously comical "strike" that slowly rolled in past Liverpool's keeper Pepe Reina who struggled to intercept the striker--really shouldn't have even happened if the Liverpool side had actually... played some defense. Instead, the stealthy (not in a beautiful way) poacher remarkably stayed onside to begin his run toward goal, with not a single Liverpool player moving an inch to stop him. Worthless and comical. Did those stunned Reds assume Inzaghi was offside? He frequently is (Sir Alex Ferguson once said that Inzaghi was born offide). But not tonight. Strangely enough, one of Europe's most hated players (at least in the UK) was Milan's savior, and although I would've loved to have seen Kaka live up to his "greatest player in the world" status, the young Brazilian's pass to Inzaghi for that second goal was tasty indeed. Personally, I thought Andrea Pirlo's fantastic low free kick in the final moments before the end of the first half, which was ever-so-slightly shouldered in by Inzaghi, was the highlight. One of those mean, soul-sucking goals that can really drain the spirit from a club because it just wasn't supposed to happen. A freak goal, but a goal nonetheless.
Considering what happened two years ago, no one in their right mind was going to count out Liverpool, even with time trickling down. Luckily, the Reds did manage to score their one goal of the evening courtesy of Dirk Kuyt in the 88th, but as the three minutes of stoppage time quickly evaporated, so did their chances.
Many will undoubtedly whine about Milan's efficient if unimpressive win. They certainly didn't play anywhere near brilliant (see their second leg semi-final dismantling of Man Utd a few weeks ago) but it was a well-deserved victory for a team that really shouldn't have blown it two years ago when they truly did deserve to hoist the trophy up as Europe's finest.
AC Milan 2 - 1 Liverpool
Friday, May 18, 2007
But backstage politics, public embarrassments--e.g. Roy Carroll's drinking and gambling problems, Anton Ferdinand's punch-ups--and some questionable mid-season signings (that now don't seem too stupid) weren't enough to simmer the undying loyalty and raucous never-say-die attitudes by the Upton Park faithful. Half-way across the world, far away from the tumult of imminent relegation, I can't say that I always felt so fearless and brave as a West Ham fan. There were whole weeks, months, that my loyalty to the club felt frayed and a bit bruised. But deep down, I harbored secret thoughts that we could pull out of this debacle and stay in the league. I just refused to tell anyone of my perverse thoughts for fear of jinxing my wish, as if football were a form of sympathetic magic, and that if I triggered the wrong thought, desire, fantasy, I would single-handedly relegate the whole team down into oblivion with my misdirected optimism.
It was bullshit, of course. But somehow... West Ham managed to gather their senses and pull off a dramatic streak of late-season wins. Carlos Tevez had a little something to do with that. I think it's unfair, though, to say that he single-handedly kept the team up (no player is capable of such a feat for more than a game or two) but he surely pounded that anvil with all of the strength, passion, and stamina that many of us knew was in him and that ultimately fired up the rest of those underachieving Hammers. From his first goal for the team against Tottenham, a brilliant direct free kick that was even more memorable due to the Argentine's whirlwind goal celebration and hysterically joyous dive into the throng of Upton Park (which landed Tevez with a yellow card), to his tireless performance against Man Utd. last week, a win that kept the Hammer lads in the Prem for another season, Tevez no doubt earned his place amongst the legends of the club.
Tevez is back in Argentina for the summer, no doubt debating with his handlers where he'll end up next season. I would love for him to stay with West Ham, but if he leaves perhaps a club in Spain would be the finest fit for him. Regardless, I'll follow wherever he lands.
Thursday, May 17, 2007
This is football as science fiction, with the legendary Zinedine Zidane as the astronaut journeying into inner space. Sadly, the film is still not available on DVD in this country (though people with multi-region players or capabilities can easily pick one up here) and it hasn't received any substantial theatrical play outside of being shown in a few U.S. cities over the last few months (appropriately enough at museums) and some screenings at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival in January. One would have thought that Zidane’s World Cup 2006 burnout/head-butt would have been just the kind of ballyhoo that an American film distributor would have desired—free publicity!—but so far no one has had the courage to finance what would realistically be a limited arthouse run. That shouldn’t be too surprising, I guess, once you’ve actually seen it. It’s a marvelously hypnotic, visual opiate—but fans of the great Zidane looking for in-depth interviews, biographical detail, and psychological clarity are destined to be disappointed. Instead, directors Douglas Gordon and Philippe Parreno, with the help from the brilliant cinematographer Darius Khondji (Delicatessen, City of
But Zidane’s talents were far from extinguished that night in
And then Zidane snaps… much like he did in Germany in 2006, and the red card is flashed, sending this Achilles of the pitch into the dressing room to sulk about his misdeeds yet again. Or maybe he just keeps thinking about the glare of the lights and how they failed to dissolve him completely, failing to dissipate the rumblings vibrating through his muscles, his head, sending him back to that first time when he scored and everything mattered and... nothing really at all.
It’s not a film for everyone, and it will certainly tax the patience of people expecting something more than what it actually is. But if you give yourself up willingly to its strange rhythms, it will make for a fascinating hyper-realistic waking dream.
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
I'm not a fan of Espanyol, though I've been impressed with their vigor and hunger to finally win the UEFA Cup after years of disappointment--the closest they'd come was in 1988 when they lost to Bayer Leverkusen in the final--and I'm fond of their central midfielder, Ivan de la Pena (aka Little Buddha), who came up through Barca's fabled youth academy and played for the senior team under both Johan Cruyff and Bobby Robson back in the 1990s before he was traded off to Lazio, Marseille, and ultimately to Espanyol, where his career has taken an upswing in recent years. I'm a late-comer to de la Penya, but his brilliant passing, precision longballs (I hate 'em, but if you've got to serve 'em up....), and vision have been a joy to behold. Raul Tamudo, Espanyol's captain, is also an exciting player to watch and both he and de la Penya played well until they were unfortunately benched in the second half, leaving their ten comrades (Hurtado Perez Moises was given a ridiculous red card in the 68th minute) to battle it out against a simmering Sevilla side.
And all looked lost for Barcelona's Parakeets as both weary teams stretched things out into extra time after neither team were able to break the 1-1 draw. Sevilla's Freddie Kanoute, a lithe killer with the ball who has been seductively vicious all season, earned his bonus by stealthily slipping one past the Espanyol keeper from a beautiful cross from the right by Jesus Navas. It was a devastating blow to Espanyol and the images of old men weeping in the stands was enough to make our household bow our heads with remorse and compassion (I guess I should state that although I was religiously supporting Sevilla in this match, Lynda, on the other hand, was devoting her energies and sympathy toward Espanyol, due mostly to their underdog status despite my vociferous protestations, rants, and libelous pleadings that she couldn't support "those f***ing Fascist bastards," and other hysterical, uninformed, and nonsensical accusations. I mean, Espanyol were a Fascist club and are notorious in Barcelona for their neo-Nazi/Fascist lovin' hooligans*....).
De la Penya's replacement, a Brazilian by the name of Jonatas, remarkably turned things around for his club in the 25th minute of extra time, and for a moment there I really thought that Espanyol might just make their own history, albeit a less momentous occasion than Seville's two-year domination of the crown. But that Jonatas goal was thrilling to experience, though unfortunately the team wasn't able to carry that momentum into the dreaded penalty kick round.
Sevilla wins 3-1 on penalties.
Sevilla has been a wonderful new addition to the European scene the last few seasons and is still in realistic competition to strip Barca from taking La Liga three years in a row (Sevilla is in third place just three points behind Barca and first place Real Madrid). Next year, this classy, skillful, and exciting team will be playing in the Champions League where they belong, vying with the old guard to hoist the trophy a year from now in Moscow, no doubt impressing the uninitiated with their pretty moves and confirming that the Spanish Primera is arguably the best, healthy, and most balanced league in the world talent wise. EPL, I'm looking at you!
*see page 105 of Simon Kuper's Soccer Against the Enemy
Sunday, May 13, 2007
Saturday, May 12, 2007
Still, there are bright spots, and this young Bryan Jordan is certainly one of them. And the Timbers have a chance to redeem themselves against the Rochester Raging Rhinos tomorrow night at 6 pm.
As always, a fine analysis from Bob and pics and video clips from Allison.
Friday, May 11, 2007
And briefly, during the Timbers v Necaxa exhibition on Wednesday, the ever-popular though oh so dreadful and spent YSA chant was finally extinguished and replaced with an alternative (and better) chant. You can read more about that here and print out the flyer to give to any newbies, acquaint yourself with the new change, or simply give to any unrepentant TA supporters still bent on "keeping it real."
"I felt ashamed. If it had been possible I would have wanted the ground to open up and swallow me. After the game I cried from the feelings of powerlessness and I couldn't sleep."
Here's hoping Barca takes a long, hard look at themselves and can pull it together to win the league this year, at least--and with their stylish, flowing play, not a series of ugly "results."
Thursday, May 10, 2007
Also, a big North End cheer to ex-Timber Hugo Alcaraz-Cuellar (sadly now playing for the Sounders this season) who slipped into the Bullpen after the match (alongside his brother who played for Necaxa) to say hello to fans, take pictures, et cetera, before fleeing to the Timbers Meet & Greet in the Pearl. You're a beloved player in Portland, Hugo, and we hope to see you wearing green and white again.
But it wasn't to be.... Getafe charged the net from the opening moments, challenging Barca with speed and expert passing, weaving a wondrous spell around the blaugrana that was dispiriting to watch as much as it was impressive. Only Barcelona skipper Carles Puyol seemed to show up in that first half, protecting the goal alongside keeper Jorquera (a fine goalie who has had a good run all season in the Copa), waging a one-man battle of will against Getafe... and then subsequently his own lethargic club.
Barca simply looked dreadful throughout the match. Ronaldinho failed to show, as did Eto'o, Giuly, Iniesta (my favorite player of the season), Xavi, and on and on and on and on. Lionel Messi, who manager Frank Rijkaard no doubt rested for the upcoming pivotal league matches, was sadly missed, especially since it was against Getafe in the first leg where the young, brilliant Argentine got his hat trick and dazzled everyone with that gorgeous, serpentine Maradona-like strike.
Barcelona seemed to spark (only a little) near the end of the match when the reality of their 4-0 defeat was starting to stab into their minds. But not even the inclusion of Eidur Gudjohnsen or the wily Saviola could change things. It simply wasn't meant to be.... Getafe played like champions and defiantly yanked down my beloved Barcelona squad, making them look like fools.
Getafe move into the Copa del Rey finals (I believe their first appearance ever) to face a very strong Sevilla team. Good luck to Getafe! They certainly deserved to be in it.
Tuesday, May 08, 2007
So, we lost on Saturday, 1-0. Painful, but hey, because I am infected with that particular brand of insane optimism that grips any football fan as a shiny new season opens, I still firmly believe we're gonna win the league. But the Timbers need you! Preferably somewhere in the North End, standing and singing. You can come and support them on Friday night at 8 pm when we wreak our revenge on Seattle, and Sunday evening at 6 pm when Rochester won't know what hit them. Those are different times from the standard 7 pm start, so don't show up too late or too early.
But wait! Before the weekend rolls around, you have the chance to see them play Mexican club Necaxa tomorrow night--that's Wednesday at 7. Okay, so I can't imagine it's going to be anything other than their B squad, considering Necaxa is in the thick of their Copa Libertadores battle (though they have just suffered the indignity of getting bumped in favor of a Shakira concert), but a good time is sure to be had by all nevertheless. Hopefully this will bring out the area's soccer-loving Latino population in droves like the 2002 match-up between Cruz Azul and Guadalejara, which was just about the best damn time we here at apm have had in PGE Park. Now those fans know how to attend a soccer match!
Last but not least, all of us here at a pretty move would like to extend a belated but huge congratulations to Roy Keane and the Black Cats of Sunderland for not only achieving automatic promotion into the Premiership, but winning the Championship title this past weekend. Sunderland is the second team for lots of local fans, as the Timbers are for a number of Black Cats supporters across the pond (not to mention, apparently, a sizable number of Irish folks), and this is a great boost after their horrific run in the Premiership during the 2005/2006 season. (And in the tradition of fine old sports superstitions, is it possible that Sunderland's fortunes presage those of the Timbers? As we both suffered ignominious defeat after defeat last season, does Sunderland's rise mean the Timbers will end their season as champions as well?) At any rate, we hope to enjoy watching Keano and the Black Cats in the top rank for years to come.