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


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 1: We're from the North End and we're here to make some noise

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

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


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