Friday, June 29, 2007

Copa America Group C Round-Up: Paraguay v. Colombia (5-0); Argentina v. United States (4-1)

Okay, that title is a little misleading, since we didn't see much of the Paraguay v. Colombia match--we must, after all, sometimes stop watching soccer long enough to earn the money to pay for our outrageous soccer-induced cable bill--but I did want to acknowledge that another match was played yesterday and damn, that was a shock, after checking the score at 2-0, to go back and see it at 5-0. Poor Colombia. I don't ever enjoy seeing a team get thrashed like that (well, maybe Seattle, at the feet of the Timbers). More on that embarrassing outing for the Colombians here.

The prospect of the Argentina v US match left me feeling a little bit schizoid. I make no secret of my love for the Argentines, but I generally wish the US team well--even when, as in yesterday's match, I don't actually want them to win. There didn't seem much danger of that, given the young and largely untested team Bob Bradley had chosen. I was initially as peeved with his choices as plenty of other US fans, because I really believe it's important for the US to participate in more challenging competitions than those within the CONCACAF region and a look at the roster suggested that the US might not be taking this as seriously as one might hope. However, I cooled down a bit once I realized that Bradley was hampered MLS demands, the need to give our European players something of a rest, and by the timing of the Gold Cup. So I looked on the bright side: this would undoubtedly be good experience for some fresh young players and perhaps a new opportunity for a rising star. In the match against Argentina, I hoped for a good showing from the US with a lot of goals. Optimistically--reflecting my hopes rather than my real expectations--I predicted 3-2 Argentina.

Well, I did get the total number of goals right. Like Linda over at The Beautiful Game, I thought the US played well in the first half and overall not poorly at all, given their inexperience. I don't know if it was due to the nearly-100 degree temperatures, but I was pleased to see them at a slower, smoother, more methodical pace, and I did not miss the chop-down-the-opponent defensive tactics of Oguchi Onyewu. About five minutes in, Jimmy Conrad cleared a Messi cross to Crespo that would surely have started Argentina out ahead, and a few minutes later Eddie Johnson--who looked particularly good in the first half--broke out with one of those long fantastic runs we see from Landon Donovan sometimes, when he can be bothered. The foul against him in the penalty box as Ayala and Milito closed in on him was precisely the kind that annoys me as a spectator, because it shut down what looked as though it was going to be an impressive goal. Johnson scored on his penalty and, according to the announcers, the largely Venezuelan crowd was cheering for the US squad. If that is in fact the case, then take that, you pesky squabbling governments! Soccer unites the people!

Johnson's penalty, alas, would be it for the US, although they kept me pretty worried through the first half and the beginning of the second. "Send in Tevez!" I screamed over and over at Basile, as the scoreline seemed stalled at 1-1 following Crespo's goal in the 10th minute. Benny Feilhaber had a couple of nice attempts, a good low shot in a 32nd minute free kick that went wide and a strong shot in first half stoppage time. But the Argentines were dancing in triangles around the US from the very beginning, and then they came out with an urgency in the second half that they hadn't displayed in the first, which allowed me to finally relax into the game.

In the second half, Argentina looked like Argentina and the US looked, well, a bit lost. There were more goals: another for Crespo, and one each for Aimar (who blasted one in out of nowhere in the 33rd minute) and Tevez (who is a beautiful, beautiful man when he scores a goal). Irrelevantly, I note that I am sorry to see Cambiasso with a cueball head, as I always liked the way his balding head somehow made him look less like a football player than a banker who'd donned a kit and wandered onto the pitch. I am sorry there was not a goal for Messi, who looked increasingly frustrated and stymied by the US defense and was eventually subbed out. I am still undecided on Basile. Though it all turned out well in the end, I think he should have put Tevez in earlier, when it looked as though Argentina might be stuck at that 1-1 scoreline. Moreover, his reluctance to even stand up when Argentina struck the ball in the net in caused me to ask Derek "Did Basile have a stroke or something?" I much prefer a manager with more visible enthusiasm for his own squad.

All in all, an enjoyable match, and until the final Tevez goal, not an embarrassment for the US. And a 3-goal differential is hard to take, but let's face it: it could have been a beatdown, and it wasn't. I didn't see enough of Paraguay or Colombia to make a prediction about whether the US will get out of this group or not, but this drubbing may encourage them to step up their game in subsequent matches.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Gio Shuffle

(photo courtesy of Paul Blank at;


I'm gonna miss you, man. I know you were inconsistent, but so what? So am I. Of course, I'm not a multi-millionaire athlete playing for one of the world's biggest and best teams. So I can glide under the radar, bide my time, and hopefully get out of this whole mess without disappointing too many people. You, on the other hand, will always disappoint because expectations are so high.

But you never disappointed me, Gio. I thought you were a supercool Dutch-Moluccan cat, what with that zippy pace of yours and your one name moniker. Very cool. Oh, and I once had a stupid dream about you, Deco, and me hitting the bars in Barcelona cruising for trouble, women, and whatever else. But that's a story best left in my own head.

Now, unfortunately I won't get a chance to embarrass my partner-in-crime at the Camp Nou when I belt out a rendition (sung to the tune of Boz Scaggs' "Lido Shuffle") of:

Gio, whoa-oh-oh-oh...
He's for the Barca, he's for the show
Gio's a-waitin' for another goal
Gio, whoa-oh-oh-oh...
He said, "One more goal oughta get it
One last shot but we'll never quit it
One more for the road"

Take care, Gio. I'm shocked and saddened, but I and countless others will pull through. No really, I think it's great that you're returning to Feyenoord. Maybe apm will just have to mosey on over to Rotterdam to see you. Perhaps, I'll simply serenade you then.

Copa America Group B Round-up: Chile v Ecuador (3-2); Mexico v Brazil (2-0)

Brilliant. It was another great day at the Copa America. Yesterday, the four Group B teams went at it, and both games had their share of magic moments and goals, goals, goals. Ecuador and Chile were up first. Early evening and the humidity and were still high; 88 degrees at kick-off. Ecuador were the favorites going into this, despite the fact they have always had a tough time in the Copa America. But their showing in last year's World Cup was strong and the team hoped to further their modest successes by doing well here. They looked great, I thought, and dominated the pace of the game for large swathes of it with their tidy passing, flowing rhythms, and ability to fall back when exhaustion seemed to be nestling in the players' muscles, only to disappear when a breakaway toward goal was needed.

But somehow, Chile managed to win it. A much-deserved win, though it can't be denied that they blew many opportunities to command the game. They had plenty of nifty short passes and in the early stages of the first half they were the more prodding of the two teams. But their players lacked commitment and a certain selfishness that could've dismantled Ecuador's relaxed territorial defense.

Ecuador went on the scoreboard first in the 16th, but Chile scored themselves a few minutes later. But before the Chileans could fully bask in their goal, Ecuador rushed back into form when Cristhian Benitez fired one in. Both teams had plenty of immediate chances early in the second half, the most insanely cheeky moment coming when Chile's Humberto Suazo sprinted down the middle with no one to stop him except an Ecuadorian defender and face-painter keeper Cristian Mora. Managing to sweep around the defender, Suazo flicked the ball over the charging face-painter's head only to see it land on top of the net instead of in. Chile's cautious determination eventually did pay off with goals in the 40th and 42nd minutes. Sadly, though, I think Ecuador deserved better. Nevertheless, it was the best game of the tournament so far....

Until Mexico walloped Brazil. From start to finish both teams played flourishing attacking football, and early on Dunga's so-called B squad (Robinho, Vagner Love, Diego, Ze Roberto, Gilberto Silva, Alex, Doni, Fred!) did what those over-marketed Joga Bonito illusionists do. But Brazil have been an increasingly troubled and underwhelming team since World Cup 2006 and perhaps their reputation as the finest proponents of The Beautiful Game has finally started to fade past the no return mark.... Maybe a little tarnished, but the Brazilians still looked good. They scored in the 6th only to have it declared offside (I don't think it was). Alex had another good chance a few minutes later, but Mexico's keeper Guillermo Ochoa, a young swishy player with the calm and serenity of Buddha, kept it out. Ochoa, who plays for Club America, has grown on us over the last year and no doubt the Brazilians will never forget him. Oswaldo, watch out!

Mexico, coming off of a disappointing and brutal loss against the US in the Gold Cup final, turned things around beautifully in this match, consistently attacking and thwarting the increasingly bewildered Brazil squad. Mexico scored via the crafty Nery Castillo (who has been viewed with suspicion by the Mexican media and plenty of the fans as well before tonight) in the 24th and then by the veteran Morales from a great free-kick inthe 29th.

Brazil had lost their groove. They were definitely not down and out by any means, and Dunga's lads had plenty of powerful shots aimed right at the curly-locked Ochoa. But Mexico kept their wits, kept their energy level up throughout and managed to pull off the biggest upset so far. And the buffoonish Hugo Sanchez, who was sure to get sacked if El Tri failed to impress, has perhaps staved off the return of Ricardo Lavolpe for a little while.

Tonight's big match: Argentina v USA!

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

US Open Cup Results: Timbers v Sounders



Well, now we can solely focus on winning the league. And we are going to win it, natch!

AC Milan Primavera in Eugene

AC Milan Primavera's visit to Oregon didn't stop in the Rose City. Following their felling by the mighty mighty Timbers on June 19, the Italian lads headed down south to Eugene for a match against a team of young local players assembled by the Eugene Metro FĂștbol Club. Now, when you think of Eugene--provided you are not going "Who?"--perhaps you think of runners or anarchist revolts, but Eugene is also home to a thriving community of soccer enthusiasts. And according to Evon Smith, president of the Eugene Metro FĂștbol Club--and one of several Eugene residents whose hard work made the friendly possible--they turned out in droves and did their part to show the Italians that yes, a growing population of US-ians does love and "get" soccer. In her words:

Brilliant night. Pape field was packed, and the game was excellent. We had the whole show... cute little kids holding hands with the players as they paraded on to the field, anthems, lots of cheers for both teams. AC scored a highlight goal in the first half, just an amazing one touch strike outside the 18 yard line into the upper left corner. Unbelievable! Eugene Metro had the Italians on their heels in the first ten minutes. I could see AC did not expect this level of play, and so they stepped it up and began to play with heart. Both teams had the same quick passing game with lots of creative runs out of the back and from the wide mids. In the second half you could see AC Milan's fitness and professionalism. They returned to the field prepared to raise the game, and the Eugene Metro Select players had to work very hard to keep up. We almost tied it up with a great crossing shot from the 16-year old guest player Raul Yepez (being scouted by AC Milan) to Leland Wright (former South Eugene player, now at U-Portland). AC Milan put away a garbage goal near the end of the game and won 2-0. The crowd loved it, and everyone agreed it was an inspired night of soccer.

Nice work at arranging these friendlies and hosting this U-21 team, Oregonians! It was a fantastic week for soccer in this state.

Copa America Group A Round-up: Peru v Uruguay (3-0); Venezuela v Bolivia (2-2)

Christian telefascist Pat Robertson wants him assassinated. The US Government believe that he is an imminent threat to democracy in the Western hemisphere and that his greatest aim is to destabilize North America via "asymmetric warfare." Many US allies think he is simply crazy, a buffoon, a charlatan, a tyrant, a criminal, and a bad guy politician more akin to Tony Montana than that of a proper statesman. His name is Hugo Chavez, the President of Venezuela, and for the next 20 days he wants us all to enjoy how the former "Nothingland" hosts the 2007 Copa America.

The tournament, the oldest international competition in the world, features 12 teams (10 teams from South America and two invitees from somewhere up north; Mexico and the US this time around) in a standard group then knockout stage. I'm going to try my damnedest to watch all of the matches and blog about them... but I can't promise anything. But it's been a year since the World Cup and my bones, blood, and soul are primed for some kind of large scale tournament such as this, and I'm sure I'm not the only one.

The first match of the day was between Uruguay, a team I've been wanting to watch more closely, and Peru, a team that before today I knew nothing about. Uruguay, of course, have players like Diego Forlan (Villarreal), Diego Lugano (Fenerbahce and formerly of Sao Paulo) , Carlos Diogo (Zaragoza), Alvaro Recoba (Inter Milan) and a bunch of other players I was looking forward to seeing. Peru's team--well, like I said, I didn't really know anything about them going into this. But after today, I think they're serious about getting out of their group.

The match started out cautiously, methodically, and the passing from both teams was skillful and technical. It was just the way that I wanted it, so I slipped into its perfectly modulated rhythms and was ready to watch Uruguay take over--not that I was rooting for them exactly; but they were the clear favorites. Peru looked a little jittery in those opening stages, relying on good hard defense than any real desire to score, though in the 9th they did manage to slip a nice ball into the box that ultimately went somewhere else than its intended target. Uruguay, on the other foot, tested Peru's defense a bit more, but the throughballs and crosses aimed for a box-lurking Forlan were reckless, wasteful, and ultimately frustrating. There was an ambitious rush into the box by Peru's Claudio Pizarro (who was recently signed by Chelsea) but it would be another minute before the Inca Warriors would strike gold with a fantastic towering header by Miguel Villalta, whose subsequent goal celebration stunned us by how cool and almost calm it was. The Peruvian fans in the stands, though obviously happy, seemed strangely subdued also. Perhaps they just didn't want to get their hopes up.

Uruguay had plenty more chances before the end of the half. But the great crosses from Fabian Estoyanoff to Forlan went MIA. Peru scored again in the 32nd, but it was immediately flagged for an offside. Uruguay had another intrusive ball in the box in the 36th and another fine long blast toward goal in stoppage time, though that half-time whistle couldn't come fast enough. Surely Galeano's countrymen would turn things around in the second half....

Not on your life. Peru immediately attacked, sending Uruguay's Fabian Carini sailing and the ball ricocheting off of him. Forlan tried again a few moments later--the best attempt thus far for this wildly idiosyncratic player--but it also went nowhere. Uruguay looked a lot better in the second half and there was more urgency to their passing and shot selection. Peru clamped down defensively even more (earning some yellows in the process) and appeared as if they were going to just hold Uruguay to a 1-0 lead. Fortunately, Peru's Juan Carlos Marino thought he'd mix it up even more, scoring a monstrously good goal in the 69th. Ten minutes later, Paolo Guerrero added his own beautiful touch to the embarrassment being served up to Uruguay's defeated. Perhaps not official world killers, but Peru definitely displayed some smooth, silky killer finishing.

The next match was between Venezuela and Bolivia. Neither team is expected to get far in the tournament, though many give the nod to Venezuela to make it out of their group because they're the "home team," even though they haven't won a Copa American match in 40 years! Well, they didn't win one today, either. Despite Bolivia being branded the weakest team in the competition, they managed to come from behind twice (okay, one of the goals was a Venezuelan own goal, though I think the shot from DC United's Jaime Moreno would've gone in or Arce would have plucked it in since he almost got a touch on it anyway) to deservedly earn the draw. Overall it was a fairly good match, though there were moments of inertia, poor passing from both teams, and hurky-jerky defending, especially early on. Time and time again Bolivia's Moreno would provoke Venezuela's defenders with some crafty, intelligent maneuvers along the outside of the box. And as the game progressed into the second half, players on both sides grew more weary and Bolivia in particular started rocketing more and more speculative long range shots toward goal. Realistically, either team could have won it, but perhaps both sides were still a little traumatized after watching Chavez and Maradona aimlessly kick a football around the pitch for the opening ceremonies. I know I'll never wipe from my mind the image of that hideous track suit the Venezuelan president sported.

Next round of games: Ecuador v Chile and Brazil v Mexico. Check your listings!

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Timbers v Sounders in US Open Cup Tonight!

We love the US Open Cup, and tonight our mighty Timbers will face our most hated foes from up north in the second round. If the Timbers beat Seattle tonight, they will advance into the third round to face MLS club Chivas USA here in Portland on July 10th!

The game tonight is being simulcast via audio at 7:00. Better yet, if you're in town and want to fraternize with the equally mighty Timbers Army, the good folk over at Slabtown will be hosting a listening party with plenty of good cheap food, beer, and well drinks. Sounds good to us. Unfortunately, apm will not be in attendance (though we hope to drag our sorry asses down there soon), but we certainly love to hear about establishments such as Slabtown being so accommodating and friendly to the Timbers faithful. Cheers!

Slabtown is located at: 1033 NW 16th AVE (corner of 16th and Marshall, one block north of Lovejoy) Portland, OR.

apm... properly chastised

I may have been a little too low key for my own good on Sunday after the Mexican v USA match. But hey, I was a little bruised and well... vulnerable after watching Mexico blow the lead, lose the momentum, and fall back while the US team did the complete opposite. It was a great game and I should have extolled the virtues of Benny Feilhaber's blistering volley more than the quasi-footnote I relegated it to. It certainly deserved more.

Wise over at local sports blog site True Fan certainly thought it deserved more than a toss-off comment, too. And he's right, because Feilhaber's goal did have that special kick-ass coup de grace feel to it, much like when West Ham's Yossi Benayoun chipped in that monstrously powerful shot against Fulham in January of 2006, the same game where Anton Ferdinand added his own name to best goals of the year with that swivel-volley.

I have been properly chastised.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

U.S. Beats Mexico in Gold Cup Final (2-1)

It was the best that either team had played in the half-baked though intermittently exciting tournament, and both teams managed to keep it clean, fast, and--at least in El Tri's case--dexterously attack-minded. Mexico's young left-wing midfielder Andreas Guardado coolly scored on keeper Tim Howard right before the half, giving El Tri the momentum going into the second. But the U.S. equalized in the 62nd when Landon Donovan (who looked vibrantly dangerous when he broke free and tested the Mexican defenders) took a penalty kick in response to Brian Ching being taken down in the box by defender Jonny Magallon. Time and time again Mexico were able to weave short passes and move the ball through the middle and the wings, which appeared to frustrate and tire the club-footed, hacking U.S. defenders, but ultimately Mexico were unable to secure another goal.

There was a tense moment in the 68th for both teams when Guardado and U.S. defender Jonathan Spector (who also plays for the mighty West Ham United) smacked heads while jumping for the ball. Both players appeared wobbly (once they did finally stand up) and Spector had to be sidelined, though Guardado played out the rest of the match, no doubt in a haze. It sure did show, and unfortunately Mexico seemed to lack any real energy for the rest of the match until the final moments when they weaved passes into the box again from off the right wing and valiantly tested Howard in front of goal--Adolfo Bautista's crazy shot in the 89th surely got apm headquarters in an uproar! But the U.S. maintained their lead (Benny Feilhaber scored off of a corner in the 72nd) and added more than a pinch to Mexico's and Hugo Sanchez's wounds.

Now both the U.S. and Mexican teams will venture to Venezuela for the start of Copa America 2007, which starts on Tuesday and will be shown here in the U.S. on GolTV. The U.S. will be fielding a controversially younger and mostly untested (at least in regards to major international tournaments) squad against a formidable looking Argentina team, as well as that little team from Brazil, sans Ronaldinho and Kaka, the reigning champions.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Thierry Henry Confirms Move to Barcelona

I realize that there was no official statement from either Barcelona or Arsenal when the news of Thierry Henry's move to the Catalans was leaked yesterday by the Spanish press, the Guardian... and a more cautious BBC. But this morning Henry himself has confirmed the rumors, much to the dismay, disappointment, betrayal, and heartbreak of many a Gunner supporter.

Besides the Guardian, the BBC also has an article up with Henry's statement. Nothing official yet from the Barca web site, but it's being reported that an announcement should happen this weekend.

Condolences to my Arsenal supporting mates. Johnny? You out there, man? Cheers.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Thierry Henry Joins Barca!

My head is spinning. Last year when Arsenal's captain was rumored to be going to Barcelona to join up with Ronaldinho, Eto'o and the lads, I was ecstatic and confident that he'd do it. Then the Gunners lost to Barca in the final of the Champions League and the deal was kaput. Forever.

But the rumors have been swirling around again the last few weeks, though I figured the sleek and deft Henry would actually just end up staying at Arsenal for another year instead of going to Barcelona or Milan.

Wrong again. Henry has joined up with the Catalan team for the next four years. Oh yeah, my head is spinning. You can read a lot more about the trade at the Guardian. More later....

Riquelme Rejoins the Albicelestes

Juan Roman Riquelme's return to the Argentina squad for the upcoming Copa America tournament has been announced, and as a result I am probably more excited about these upcoming matches than I have been about any games since the World Cup.

I have a confession to make: I had to work during the live broadcast of last year's Germany v. Argentina World Cup match, and after learning the match results, I have never been able to bring myself to watch it, although I still have it lying around on tape somewhere. What makes a World Cup loss so upsetting is the fact that once a team you have fallen in love with is eliminated, you will most likely never again see that particular squad play. Many players see the World Cup as a kind of swan song, the glorious (or not-so-glorious) close to a career. And when Argentina got knocked out followed by the immediate resignation of Jose Pekerman, it seemed all over for that particular squad. I actually felt wronged by their elimination, as though--I am trying to not be overly dramatic here, but this is how I felt--I had been interrupted in the middle of watching a beautiful piece of art taking shape, or like someone had snatched an intriguing book out of my hands and set fire to it before I could finish reading it. To this day I feel vaguely, unjustifiably, resentful toward fans of Germany's national team, as though they personally tromped all over something while I was in the middle of enjoying it, and didn't even have the decency to notice how beautiful it was! And Riquelme's announced retirement from the national team a couple of months later only confirmed it.

Of course, despite the fielding of many of my favorite players--in addition to Riquelme, there's Messi, Cambiasso, Crespo, and Tevez, among others (though Barca's Javier Saviola, alas, is not included)--it remains to be seen what sort of tactics will be encouraged by manager Alfio Basile. Many pundits praised Pekerman's commitment to cleanly played and beautiful football and suggested the likelihood of Basile's returning the squad to its stereotypically diving, fouling, cheating roots. On the other hand, just as the saying goes that a woman must do any job twice as well as a man in order to be taken seriously, a Latin footballer, it seems, is twice or three times more likely to be dubbed a cheater than, say, an American or English footballer for the same number and nature of offenses. (Why, didn't I see a yellow card for diving issued against Landon Donovan during the Gold Cup match against Canada yesterday?) I'm really holding out hope for more of the gorgeously choreographed play we saw last summer.

Does anyone know if there's someplace in Portland where a contingency of Argentine nationals/fans might be watching any of these games? I'd like to try to see at least one in the company of some fellow supporters of the Albicelestes.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Barcelona Blues

As is no doubt obvious, we here at apm have all been a bit too depressed at how the La Liga season went down in the end to say much about it. But you can find a series of fantastic season-end writeups over at The Beautiful Game. And if you are a Barca fan, you simply must bookmark this English-language FC Barcelona blog, where you can read everything from news on their basketball team to rumors passed on by taxi drivers and key cutters.

It looks like Eto'o, Ronaldinho, and Rijkaard will all be staying on next season, just as they've been insisting they'd do all along (imagine!). Let's hope everyone is better-rested and uninjured and that personal problems get ironed out. Some random final observations about the season: you certainly couldn't beat the last couple of weekends for drama. It might have been best had Sevilla won, because a Barca victory would have meant the Messi handball just would not have gone away. Derek has almost succeeded in convincing me, by the way, that Messi nobly took on the sins of the handball in an attempt to stop the far greater evil: the victory of Real Madrid. Messi=Messiah of football. I shall keep repeating this to myself until I believe it.

The Devil You Know

Or rather, the pitch you know. Surely it had to be a factor in those Milan boys' failure to trounce the Timbers on Tuesday night. That didn't keep it from being a point of contention Tuesday night when the new owner, Merritt Paulson, decided to make a gladhanding pass through the shed, where he was met with cries such as "Owner! Owner! Buy us some grass!" (and handshakes as well. It was decent of him to make the effort, as it's more than the previous owner ever did. He could really win some hearts and minds by joining the Army for an entire match one night.) At any rate, as this Oregonian article points out, the young lads from Milan were significantly technically superior to our Timbers. But they were unprepared for our secret weapon--the pitch of concrete!

I know it was a good night because I woke up yesterday morning with a sore throat. We mocked Berlusconi; we shouted at them in Italian; we were led in singing something which was doubtless rude by a fellow clad top-to-toe in Inter gear; we gave them a show which was not even remotely what they are used to seeing every weekend in Italy, but perhaps we disabused them of the notion that Americans haven't a clue how to create a proper atmosphere for football. (Were those looks of surprise I saw on their faces, looking back as they crossed the field for the first time?) Good to see Italians come out as well, dressed in blue, waving their flags. I believe they were roundly abused as well but secretly we were delighted to have you all, no, really, we were. It was a perfect night for smoke bombs, alas. (Note: CALM DOWN! I am not planning on carrying prohibited smoke bombs into the stadium. I don't even know who's lit them in the past. I don't know anybody. I just think smoke bombs are cool and pretty. Plus, my head is still swimming from the display the Gremio fans put on in the Copa Libertadores last night. We all set now?)

It was a warm, clear evening, and 11,000 people turned out, despite an utter lack of advertising. The Timbers, fielding mostly bench players on account of tonight's game against Montreal, got the lead in the first half with a goal by Tom Taylor, but AC Milan Primavera's Enrico Traviani leveled the score in the second half. Oh, and Andrew Gregor got a red card. Did I forget to mention that? No one seemed to really know precisely why, but don't you kind of always want to give Gregor a red card? God, I'm sorry. I really am. I know, I know, he's a Timber now. Carry on.

With a 1-1 draw the match went to penalties, which is always exciting in PGE Park. I'd like to think it was the collective roar of the Timbers Army which caused the young Milanese to perform so poorly but it was probably just that crappy pitch again, and the final triumphant score was 4-1 Timbers.

Goalkeeper Bayard Elfvin, who always displays an infectious spirit on the rare occasions he gets to play, was man of the match for sure (though my love for Josh Wicks only grows thanks to this nice Oregonian profile, and if that doesn't tug at your heart then surely, like the Grinch's, it is two sizes too small). You can read match reports from Bob or Allison or just take a look at Allison's photos, which are, as always, fantastic. It was wonderful to have the AC Milan Primavera team in town . . . now if we could only get some grass or a centrally located soccer-specific stadium (which is not, God forbid, in Hillsboro, something I've been meaning to blog about for ages but I'm really just too mad to talk about it), we could attract top European teams on friendlies--like AC Milan Primavera's big brothers--and really live up to our "Soccer City USA" moniker.

The Lazy Magician Stuns Gremio Some More

Boca Juniors, led by the genius "Lazy Magician" playmaker Juan Roman Riquelme, dismantled an attack-minded yet disastrously wasteful Gremio squad in the second leg of the Copa Libertadores final. During the first leg last week in Argentina, at the fabled La Bombanera, Boca furthered their cup dreams by beating the Brazilian club 3-0. Tonight, Boca solidified them dreams and took their sixth Libertadores title 2-0, with both goals courtesy of Riquelme.

It was always going to be difficult for the Porto Alegra side to come back from such a deficit, but they played with enthusiasm for much of the first half. But their finishing was abysmal, and Gremio consistently squandered good crosses with poor--or no--finishing moves. No doubt, a dreadful sight for their vocal and flare tossing supporters, who seemed to grow more agitated by the minute with no goals, no salvation in sight. Boca's best attempts for goals in the first half came from striker Rodrigo Palacio in the 28th, when he charged the net and shot, though the ball deflected off of a Gremio player's face before being swatted away by keeper Saja. Then in the 42nd minute Boca had a good opportunity to score when Riquelme took a free kick that could've sent Gremio back into the locker room for the half diligently preparing their exit from the stadium. But the kick was weak and both teams left the pitch looking exhausted and more than a little bit imaginatively spent.

Boca have had a difficult time all year playing on the road, and though they looked more precise than the reckless Gremio side, they didn't look exactly ravenous for goals either. Guess a 3-0 aggregate lead will do that to you. Gremio did get a great chance in the 50th when Gremio's Rolando Schiavi headed in the ball, smacking it off the left-hand post, which then deflected into the oncoming path of Diego Souza, who then blew the shot.

In the stands, Boca and Gremio supporters grew more agitated, charging at one another (they were separated by riot police and a sectional barrier) and tossing projectiles into one another's area. And eventually a flare hurled down from the smoke-filled stands onto the pitch. In the 68th, Boca's Palermo almost scored when the Gremio keeper charged off his line leaving the net complete open except for one defender, who himself was unable to stop the Boca striker from firing off a shot. No worries, since Palermo's shot wide and behind the net.

And then Boca's breakthrough finally emerged in the 69th from a long-range Riquelme shot that beautifully invited itself into the upper left area of the goal. The Gremio players looked understandably crushed. Riquelme scored again in the 81st, and then Palermo had a golden chance to make it 3-0 when he was awarded a penalty kick in the 85th. But he missed, and soon, the agony was over for those poor seething Gremio supporters. Hopefully, many of them will be so foggy from the match (and whatever else) that they'll be unable to remember exactly which hotel the team from Argentina were staying at (there were reports that earlier in the day Gremio and Boca fans fought at the hotel) and simply wallow in their misery without bloodshed.

Riquelme, on the other hand, is now prepared to leave his beloved Boca Juniors and return to Europe. The question now is, who will he play for? West Ham United has been rumored to want him, and I would love to see him there since the former playmaker Reo-Coker has now split. Do I dare dream?

Boca Juniors 2, Gremio 0.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The Timbers v AC Milan at PGE Park Tonight!

It may only be the AC Milan U-21 squad, but many of the young players have already played for the main team--you know, that little group of guys that beat Liverpool in the Champions League final a few weeks back! And many more of the players will surely be playing for the main team in the years to come... or with some other European club. As the cliched sports saying goes, These are the stars of tomorrow!

The advertising for this friendly match has been dreadful, so Portlanders, you need to fill the stands (after downing a couple pints of your fave microbrew, of course) and root (LOUDLY!) for our lads. It's really as simple as that. Beer, cheers, and victory!

You may never get another opportunity to see a team such as this in P-town. Game starts at 7:00.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

The Italians are coming! and other news.

The AC Milan U-21 squad, to be exact, on what is supposed to be a lovely Tuesday evening. Tickets are reserved seating only, so call or stop by the PGE Park box office or go here to purchase them online. The roster of Milan players for the match was released the other day and reveals a few first team players, and as long as the mysterious powers-that-be behind soccer at PGE Park continue to insist that a turf more likely to cripple a player than actually facilitate a decent game is perfectly good until 2013, this is the closest you are going to come to seeing a major European club in P-Town. If we are really fortunate, we can hope to see a little Serie A-style drama! intrigue! desperate beseeching of the ref! on the pitch. And over at local rag Willamette Week, your hardworking Eleven Devils correspondent Zach Dundas provides a point-by-point comparison of the two squads, which is pretty funny as long as you can get the chart, inexplicably provided as a .pdf attachment rather than just printed along with the intro, to load on your computer (alas, I couldn't, but I read the dead tree version).

Also in Timbers news: Earlier in the week, they successfully dodged what would have been a humiliating loss to the Bakersfield Brigade (I know, they sound a bit dodgy, but apparently they are a perfectly respectable PDL team) in first-round play of the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup.

In other soccer news round the net from the past week:
The New York Times speaks with former Portland Timber Brent Sancho about the ongoing problems of players from the Trinidad and Tobago national team at getting the country's football federation officials to fulfill their World Cup promises.

A Guardian columnist actually admits that some Americans might actually know a thing or two about soccer, prompting a flurry of comments, the reading of which makes me want to do nothing so much as lie down with a cold compress on my head.

And finally: are you interested in the ins and outs of Eastern European football? Then you should be keeping up with the work of Jonathan Wilson over at the Guardian, whose insightful pieces on topics such as the influence of organized crime in Bulgarian clubs , a celebrated player's narrow escape from Sarajevo on the eve of war, or a look at the making of Serbian nationalist and Red Star hero Sinisa Mihajlovic nicely contextualize the sport within the region's history and politics.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Was that Francis Ford Coppola at La Bombonera?

Yes, it was. The legendary film director recently came out of "retirement" to direct the forthcoming film Youth Without Youth, based on the novel by Romanian writer/philosopher/religious historian Mircea Eliade (he was also a member of the anti-Semitic fascist party the Iron Guard during the 1930s), and has recently been in Argentina readying his new film, Tetro. The film, starring Zoetrope vet Matt Dillon, has been described as a family saga focusing on Italian immigrants in the country.

But when he's not working, Coppola obviously likes to take in a little Boca Juniors at the infamous La Bombonera. Nestled in his box--with Maradona, Tevez, and whoever else not far away--Coppola sure did pick a great night to watch Buenos Aires' most popular club (Calm down River fans! Calm down!) as they trounced Gremio 3-0 in the first leg of the Copa Libertadores. Boca's first goal, courtesy of forward Rodrigo Palacio (the kid with the rat tail), wasn't pretty (and was offside) but it managed to turn the screw enough to put the pressure on Gremio. But in the second half Boca dazzled when playmaker Juan Roman Riquelme blasted in a free kick from about 30 yards out. Gremio player Sandro Goiano was sent off with a red in the 59th after he kicked Boca's Ever Banega in what looked like the chin-neck area but what has been reported as the stomach. I need glasses, I guess. Maybe I should be a ref. Boca lowered Gremio's coffin in the 89th when Pablo Ledesma sent in a crazy header... and I sure hope Coppola felt a little shiver of inspiration as the fans, fireworks, and flares helped cast the runes toward a cup title.

The second leg of the final will be played in Porto Alegra next Wednesday night.

Copa Libertadores Final--Boca Juniors v Gremio

We've been remiss here at apm in covering the prestigious South American Copa Libertadores Cup--an equal to the European Champions League, though even more wild, unruly, and exciting, I think--this season, even though last year we had plenty of fun watching it here, here, and here. Not sure why that is, though other writing gigs, commitments, and simply other football matches have surely added to the distractions. It happens and we certainly aren't whining about it. Personally, I think having the reigning champs, Brazil's Internacional, booted out in the group stages sort of put a damper on things. Although the team this year was a far cry from the team that hoisted up the trophy for the first time ever last summer, I'm sort of fond of captain Fernandao and the youngster Alexandre Pato a.k.a. The Duck! The kid is going to go places, just watch. I wouldn't be surprised if a Spanish club scampered away with him this summer, though I think he wants to go to Italy. Anyway, he's a talent to watch.

But for tonight... you can watch Argentina's Boca (with the enigmatic Riquelme weaving the tempo in the midfield like a deep spell... or not. It all depends on his mood!) battle it out with Brazil's Gremio in the first leg of the final. The game airs on Fox Sports en Espanyol at 5:30 p.m. Pacific time. Should be a great game and you can read a little teaser from the Guardian here.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Supercool Football Blog Alert(s)

Over the last few months I've been enjoying the writing and observations over at If This Is Football, a site run by Thomas Dunmore who is an English ex-pat currently residing in Chicago. Dunmore has written some fine pieces on our own beloved Portland Timbers and the rabid TA supporters (focusing on the sometimes contentious relationship between the front office and the dedicated fans from the North End who collectively generate the sound and fury any team would pay to have backing them up), Barca's outspoken politically-minded defender Lillian Thuram, and the brilliantly exuberant fan support and atmosphere fueling the new MLS expansion team Toronto FC, as well as the Chicago Fire's own Section 8 supporters group, comrades to our own TA.

Earlier this week Dunmore fired up a new blog, Pitch Invasion, which will focus on "football supporter culture, politics and passion in all their forms." I love it already and you should too! Soccer, football, whatever you call it, is always first and foremost about the game--the physicality, the drama on and off the pitch, and the addictive delirium that overtakes us as we watch our team(s) win. There really is nothing else quite like it. But for many supporters and teams from other countries there are always other elements at play during a match--politics, regionalism, nationalism, religion, et al--that we here in the insular U.S. either forget about or outright ignore because for most of us a game is simply a game. It's not, though, is it?

Saturday, June 09, 2007

The Hand of Messi

I have seen the player who will inherit my place in Argentinean football and his name is Lionel Messi. -Diego Maradona

Those of us who've been watching boy wonder Lionel Messi develop over the last couple of years know how special he is, but it was his performance in the Copa del Rey semi-final against Getafe CF on April 18, 2007, that rallied the press to a fever pitch, many dubbing him "Messidona." Yet the amiable, low-key Leo Messi has always seemed free of the dark shadows that haunt Diego Maradona. Oh, Leo. Did you have to imitate your progenitor quite so literally? You were my favorite, you know, and you have broken my heart into a million pieces. "Little cheating bastard," announcer Ray Hudson--who clearly adores the Barca boys--declared, disappointment in his voice. "But Barcelona fans, they don't care!" Oh, yes, they do--this one does anyway. Not only is it disappointing to see a player of his caliber resort to such tactics, but it taints Barcelona's race for the title. I know it is supposed to be the way of the modern game: it's results that matter, not how you get them, right? But today I discovered there is something that feels worse than losing, and worse than losing by shoddy refereeing and shady tactics on the part of the other team, and that is when your own team, your very own favorite player, hangs on by a thread with a blatant cheat.

And like Maradona, Messi then went on to score a decisive goal in the second half, as if to say, just as Maradona did, You see? I could've just as well done it this way, too.

It was a day of extraordinary moments in La Liga. Three matches, all kicking off simultaneously: Real Madrid v. Real Zaragoza, Sevilla v. Mallorca, and Barcelona v. Espanyol, the last a Catalan derby and in each match, a title contender. Fans in the stands monitored other matches on headphones and here at home the announcers for the live broadcast Real Madrid v. Zaragoza game abandoned all pretense of keeping the scores of the tape-delayed games a secret and resorted to split screens showing the action across Spain. Sevilla v. Mallorca remained scoreless, ending Sevilla's title hopes, but the Hand of God is apropos indeed, as you'd have thought the gods were playing some sort of back-and-forth on the football pitches, using players as pawns and raining lightning down from the heavens to show their displeasure. Espanyol's Raul Tamudo was first to score, at 30 minutes, but Madrid supporters' joy was short-lived as Alberto Diego Mileta of Zaragoza quickly followed with a penalty in the 32nd minute and suddenly both teams looked poised to be giant-killers. Messi's handball closed out the half; then Ruud van Nistelrooy equalized for Madrid in the 57th minute at the same time that Messi scored his second, legitimate goal. Zaragoza pulled ahead again at 64 minutes, Milito with his second goal of the day, and for the next 25 minutes the top spot in the Primera Division looked to be Barca's at last, albeit in a tarnished sort of way. But in the 89th minute Ruud van Nistelrooy did it again, leveling the score at 2-2, and one minute later at the Camp Nou Tamudo crushed Barca's dreams and made it 2-2 as well.

Now Madrid must lose next week, the final week of La Liga competition, for Barca to have a hope of taking the title. And meanwhile, Leo Messi, lacking the swaggering arrogance of Maradona, may find he is unprepared for the fallout sure to come on the heels of that audacious, almost-beautiful, devastating punch into the net.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Timbers Beat Impact 0-1

As is wont to happen whenever the Timbers are televised this season--it ain't pretty. But the crafty Brian Jordan--a player who has quickly garnered favor with the Timbers supporters in his first season with the club--drew a foul in the box* early in the second half, resulting in an Andrew Gregor penalty kick that gave our lads the lead and ultimately the game.

Nerve-wracking stuff for large portions--there were some unseemly keeper gaffes courtesy of Wicks throughout--but Scot Thompson (as usual) held the back line nicely and helped keep Montreal from scrounging up any points in their home, no doubt ruining an otherwise beautiful Friday evening (at least it looked that way on the TV) for their fans.

I shed no tears. I've had my share of beautiful nights ruined at the feet of opposing teams stealing a victory from our lads at PGE Park. It was nice to see us do the same whether that penalty was just or not.

The Timbers play again tomorrow against Rochester before returning home for the big AC Milan U-20 friendly on June 19th at PGE Park.

EDITED TO ADD: the Timbers will actually be playing an away game on Tuesday June 12th against the Bakersfield Brigade as part of the US Open Cup.

* dived

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

that time of year again

...when the rumour mill is in its full and heavy rotation. Allow me to share with you some of the good (and troubling) bits:

It looks like West Ham is losing Reo-Coker (no surprise) to Aston Villa. Harewood is being given the not-unexpected heave but no word on where he'll land, poor fellow. Meanwhile, Curbishley has signed Newcastle's Scott Parker and is nosing around Andy Johnson, Darren Bent, Tim Cahill and Shaun Wright-Phillips.

Rafa Benitez has made it clear that he's keen to spend a lot of American money to buff up his ailing Liverpudlians. Earlier this week his attentions seemed intensely focused on Barca's restless Samuel Eto'o, but AC Milan has since made a semi-formal declaration of courtship in that direction, and who could resist making a pact with that particular smooth-talking devil? (Put it this way: here's a lot of money to live in a dismal English port-town and help revive a very good but struggling side. Or, for an unimaginably huge amount of money, you could live in a sunny, pleasant, cosmopolitan part of Italy and play among the best of the best in stunningly handsome white away kits. What'll it be, Sam?)

Now Rafa has turned his gaze toward his second choice (hah! Take that, Mr. I-Am-Not-A-Woman), Thierry Henry. I suspect Rafa is a bit like the pimply and desperate kid at the prom who's determined to make out with a cheerleader--doesn't matter which one--by the end of the night, and prospects are pretty grim. According to little Cesc Fabregas, Henry is being wooed once more by the silver-tongued and dashing Barca itself. Having once taken no for an answer from the coy Frenchman, I doubt the Catalans will let him slip through their roguishly charming net a second time.

To cap off the Reds' bad luck, rightback Dani Alves of Sevilla and "Les Gones" midfielder Florent Malouda seem to have been scooped up by Chelsea while Rafa was off chasing glamor-strikers.

In other news, Roberto Carlos is headed away from Real Madrid to the Turkish club Fenerbahce, and curmudgeonly Spanish manager Luis Aragones has announced his retirement once Euro 2008 has run its course.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

The Best Brazilian You Never Heard Of

Alex Bellos (author of Futebol: The Brazilian Way of Life) writes a nice piece about Marta Vieira da Silva, one of the best Brazilian footballers and arguably the best woman player in the world. Bellos focuses on the sexism which made it impossible for her to play professionally in Brazil (and got her kicked off boys' teams); I don't doubt the descriptions of the deeply entrenched chauvinism, but it's not as though the UK has wonderfully enlightened attitudes toward women's football, either. The US is a bit better, but there's still a long way to go in the English-speaking world before women's athletic competitions are viewed as much more than a consolation prize. In the meantime we need to stop defending or making light of casually sexist attitudes in the same way we would find casual racism unacceptable: earlier this year Steven Cohen on Fox Football Phone-In laughed uproariously (in response to Mike Newell's comments that women officials don't belong on the football pitch) as he remarked that women refs are likely to burst into tears and race off the pitch when they encounter that nasty language footballers are likely to deploy in their direction. People like Cohen rightfully deplore the appalling specter of racism that hangs over the sport while appearing utterly blind to the fact that the (more than) half of the population with a different genital configuration from his don't actually get a kick out of being infantilized, belittled, or stereotyped either.