Friday, March 28, 2008

Shaka Hislop blogs MLS

Dear to me for his service with the Trinidad & Tobago squad in 2006 (and to some readers and my fellow apm contributors for his West Ham goalkeeping), Shaka Hislop will blog weekly on the Guardian throughout the upcoming MLS season. I'm happy to report the vast majority of comments so far are of the pleasantly-surprised-and-anticipating variety as opposed to the tiresome "blah blah blah Americans can't play footba..." God, I got so bored thinking about it I couldn't even finish the sentence.

You know the drill: I can and will trash talk MLS, American soccer players, and Team USA till the cows come home, but as I once heard the great Texas author Joe Lansdale say*, "It may be junk, but it's our junk."

At any rate, I'm excited that US soccer is getting some decent, knowledgeable coverage in the Guardian. It's long overdue.

*Mr. Lansdale was in fact referring not to American soccer, but to crap horror movies. Which is not to say that either horror movies (another of my favorite indulgences) or American soccer are really crap. Have I equivocated enough here? Good. Moving right along...

Friday, March 21, 2008

mala noche

The little girl, maybe nine years old, at the tapas joint/restaurant/cerveseria yesterday was going to have a good night, like the rest of us gathering for Barca's Copa del Rey match against Valencia. She wore her blue Barca away kit and sat up front next to her dad, or on the lap of her mother, who stopped in briefly. She knew everyone in the restaurant, including the staff, who doted on her, kissing her and supplying her with bottles of Fanta with the straw sticking out the top. When Valencia scored the first of what would be three goals, she tore off the jersey and shouted at her squad. The two old women next to us flung their napkins down in disgust and stormed out. Valencia's second goal, in the final moments of the first half, had the slow-mo, I-can't-believe-this-is-happening quality of a nightmare. Anger and commiseration at watching your team go down like this has a common language of its own and we all cried out and shook our heads at one another. It was too much for the youngest fan present, who leapt up, lip trembling and eyes brimming with tears, and raced into the square outside. Her dad went out to try comforting her and bringing her back, but to no avail. We last saw them trudging up the narrow Barcoleneta street towards home.

I'm normally idiotically optimistic during soccer games but given Barca's performances of late I wasn't holding out a lot of hope for them to come roaring back in the second half. Our goal celebration for Henry was short-lived as Valencia's devastating response came only seconds later. We exchanged wordless sympathies with the old man behind us who got up and began pacing around the bar, unable to sit still for the remainder of the match. Hope surged back with the late Eto'o goal in the 80th minute, and Valencia began to show signs of wear. Yet it was all to no avail, and in the end Barca went down with scarcely a whimper.

Barca's won only a single match--the Champions League leg against Celtic--since we arrived in the city, and that at the expense of Leo Messi for the rest of the season. Now, it seems, they're on track to lose the season along with the Copa del Rey loss, and what will become of them in the Champion's League is anyone's guess. It seemed the night couldn't get any worse, but then Derek reached for his wallet and discovered that Barca wasn't the only thing around getting its pocket picked. Down one Copa del Rey championship, one fifty-euro note, and one debit card: the costliest football loss we've endured. Mala noche, indeed.

Nic's been writing some good stuff lately about the team's struggles of late and here's his match report from this game.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

US Team Will Play England in Exhibition Match

It's been rumored for awhile, but it's been confirmed by the bigwigs at US Soccer that the US Men's National Team will travel to Wembley to play England (for the first time since 1994) on May 28. The US team had already been lined up to play Poland on March 26 and Spain in June. The match up between the Three Lions and the Uncle Sam is great news for fans of the US team and should be a fantastic prelude to World Cup 2010 qualifying which begins later in June.

You can read more about it here.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Maradona

Bad Guy. Icon. Hero to the Downtrodden. Bum. There’s always been a little of Tony “Scarface” Montana in Maradona. Beloved by millions… loathed, mocked, and just plain hated by everyone else the world over… Diego Maradona is a football superstar no one can be passive about. Sure, it’s easy to laugh at his eccentric on and off the field buffoonery, drug and alcohol excesses—but it’s impossible to deny the man’s talent or the importance of his legacy. It’s been a little over ten years since the rotund and fierce juggernaut of the pitch retired amidst scandal due to his drug addiction and the notorious 1994 World Cup incident in which Maradona was accused of taking the drug ephedrine and was subsequently booted from the tournament after playing only two matches, and so it is perhaps a bit convenient to forget the marvels the young boy from the slums of Buenos Aires graced the world with.

For anyone who still has their doubts, Maradona: The Autobiography of Soccer’s Greatest and Most Controversial Star should help jar the memory. It’s all here: the rags to riches story of the precocious young Maradona’s rise to stardom in Argentina playing for a number of clubs, including his beloved Boca Juniors, the inevitable big money tease and lure from the fat cat European clubs, his short and less than glorious time with FC Barcelona in the early 1980s (where he also picked up his cocaine habit), his stellar and controversial time playing for Napoli in the Serie A, where he took the club to heights undreamt of before his arrival (two domestic league championships, a Coppa Italia championship, a UEFA Cup championship, and a Supercup championship), and Maradona’s World Cup appearances. This, of course, is what most fans will want to read about and Maradona doesn’t skimp on the details or excitement of the tournaments. The 1986 World Cup quarter final against England is classic stuff and has been written about ad nauseum. But here, as told by Maradona to his two ghostwriters, El Diego’s idiosyncratic syntax snaps us to attention in all its coarseness and exuberance. The audaciousness of the “Hand of God” goal and the pure brilliance of the second, more entrancing goal are appropriately lavished upon, as is the complete burnout of the 1994 World Cup games held in the United States.

All of that is worth picking up the book in and of itself, but I found the rise and fall of Maradona’s time playing for Napoli to be the most interesting. The team, which had always performed respectfully though permanently in the shadows of the bigger, more lucrative Serie A teams, snatched Maradona up from Barcelona for a then unheard of 6.9 million pounds and transformed the squad into a spectacular new era. For bringing glory, revenue, and championships to the team and the city, Maradona was heralded as a living god of the pitch. Of course, the downfall came like a bullet—rumors of friendship with the local Camorra (the Neapolitan mafia), cocaine abuse and fathering an illegitimate son. Regardless, El Diego’s appetite for self-destruction knew no bounds….

For some… including myself as a child… Pele was the perfect embodiment of football—he had the grace, charisma, good humor, and the style to fuel a million adolescent daydreams. But Maradona appeals to the adult in ways Pele unfortunately never can. Maradona certainly proved on the pitch—the only thing that matters in the end—why he was Pele’s equal and nemesis. Certainly, his life off of the pitch fascinates as well. For all his prowess as a football superstar… he seems so desperate to impress, oblivious to his frailties yet such a willing victim to his own inflated ego. He seems so utterly human and sadly recognizable. His fleet-footed gifts were so spectacular and he had a prodigious personality to match. But underneath the showbiz gregariousness resides something so painfully weak and essentially identifiable to us lowly mortals. Locked in the perpetual cycle of ascension, ruin, and suffering that seems to be his lot, one day it will all cease. And then… everyone will speak of him as if he were the brightest star that ever burned.

Maradona: The Autobiography of Soccer’s Greatest and Most Controversial Star is available from Skyhorse Publishing for the first time in English and should be obtainable from the usual suspects.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times


The air was thick with smoke and Catalan curses. Unlike the night of the Champion's League match against Celtic a couple of weeks ago, half the neighborhood hadn't stopped in beforehand to reserve seats in front of the giant projection screen, so by arriving unfashionably early by Spanish standards--a whole ten minutes before match time--and, luckily, showing up hungry and promising to order food along with our cervesa, we were granted seats in the VIP section of the bar. Said seats appeared to be parceled out in a strict hierarchical fashion, which allowed old men who'd been coming there for years to sit wherever they liked, order nothing, and smoke profusely for the duration of the match; the handful of outsiders who trickled in were largely turned away or sent to the other half of the bar with the regular-sized television. Only one table of nonregulars besides ourselves passed the mysterious test and were allowed to stay. Once you were in, though, you were treated as well as anyone, and the pub grub enough to make you weep when you thought back to what you'd uncomplainingly consumed in similar situations in America. How can we ever go back to frozen fries and indifferently assembled sandwiches when a neighborhood dive in Barceloneta delivers to us--as a series of well-orchestrated courses, even--little dishes of anchovies and olives, pa amb tomaquet (that's bread rubbed with olive oil and garlic and tomatoes), and pinxtos--succulent little skewers of still-pink beef accompanied by still more olive-and-garlic drizzled bread? The old men around us shouted and cursed the referee and Almeria and debated the lineup with passion; behind the bar a bell pealed to celebrate each Barca goal. Soon we were standing room only. Outside children boosted themselves up on the sills and pressed their faces against the windows, while a lanky youth followed the radio broadcast with his headphones while watching the action on the screen and smoking a languid joint. The place erupted with young Bojan's goal, and again when Eto'o scored, and cried out in anguish each time Almeria leveled the scoreline, as Milito was sent off, as things went from good to bad to worse for the Catalan side. It might have been a dream come true of a night if not for the final score, the impotent 2-2, Barca's inability yet again to capitalize on a Real Madrid loss pushing a victory for the season still further out of reach. The place finally fell silent after Almeria's second goal, though we all hung on till the bitter end, hoping for a miracle. Afterwards, though, the place cleared out in seconds, and we tumbled into the street, torn between infatuation with this city and, yet again, frustration with our team. We said, "We've still got Champion's League." But a lot of disappointed old men made their way home along our neighborhood streets last night.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Follow the Timbers at The Offside

It's just all The Offside, all the time around here, and if you follow the Portland Timbers you probably know this already, but: via Dave Knows, the news that Bob is back and blogging about the Timbers at the Offside has us long-distance Timbers fans jumping for joy. If we can't be there at PGE Park this season to watch our boys win the season (right, lads?), following them via daily updates from Bob is the next best thing.

Monday, March 10, 2008

erratum

We here at apm spent many months basically living under a rock, so we've been a little slow to figure out Bob doesn't appear to be running The Offside any longer. Still, he nurtured that baby into what it is today, and the crew in there now is keeping up the good work. So, to cover all our bases, we're offering our congratulations to all involved, past and present!

Sunday, March 09, 2008

It rained... it poured.... Barca v Villarreal

It was a terrible night for FC Barcelona despite hosting Villarreal at the Camp Nou. What happened? Ah, the proverbial question whenever Barca need the big league win of late. Oh well. We still have the Champions League, right? We'll have a full write-up within the next couple of days... 'cause apm actually attended the match live. It was a big deal for us--our first time ever attending a Barcelona match.

Anyway, here are two video clips. More later!

video

The Cant del Barca!


video

Ronaldinho free kick attempt on goal.

local boy does good

We here at apm are delighted to see the indispensable football blog The Offside by P-Town's* very own Bob/Roberto named as one of the world's 50 most powerful blogs by the Guardian (even if they did call it "UK-based" and yes, we already emailed them to let them know they made a mistake, because we are nothing if not hometown boosters, as well as fans of Bob). Is it just that the Guardian can't bring itself to admit that Americans can actually write about football, and well?

(We kid because we love. We read the Guardian every single day.)

Check it out. The Offside is #35. Congratulations, Bob! World domination can't be far away!


*The Offside is, in fact, a part of the also invaluable Portland-based BootsNAll travel network. Don't leave home without checking them out!

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Messi: Six Weeks

It was enough to make any Barca supporter toss their cava. The blaugrana may have beaten Celtic 1-0 and moved on through to the quarter finals of the Champions League, but it came at a huge price. 38 minutes into the first half, kid fantastico Leo Messi inexplicably (at first) broke his sprint, hopped a few steps, then laid down on the pitch clutching his thigh... wracked in pain. And when the tears streamed down the young Argentine's face, us here at apm (2/3 of us nestled in a small tapas bar in Barcelona that strangely enough had reserved seats for patrons wanting to watch the match on the big screen; all others, i.e. us and a few other lowly fans who didn't know the secret handshake, were relegated to the other side of the joint to watch it on a much smaller TV) had to breathe deeply and pray to the football gods that this wasn't yet another injury setback for the brilliant player. Not now; not again.

But in the morning, with various images of the player splashed across the front pages of the football newspapers, it was impossible to deny the reality of the situation. Messi would in all probability be out for the rest of the season. Six weeks are what the doctors are saying. There's a slight chance that Messi will be back before the end of the league season (I wouldn't bet on it, though, especially considering the flak Riijkaard is receiving for rushing Messi to play last night, which he did because he received criticism for not playing the kid last weekend in the league match against Atletico Madrid), but the semi-final of the Copa del Rey against Valencia is out of the question as is the final if Barca indeed get there. Still... we can hope for the best.

The win was tainted, but Barcelona are through. But does the squad, who are playing well at the moment, have the momentum and focus to do what they accomplished in 2006? Do they have the resiliency to be champions once again?

On a much happier note... cheers to all of the Celtic fans that flooded the city (supposedly some 20,000!) over the last few days. Due to circumstances purely of my own making, I was unable to get downtown yesterday to snap more pictures of the Scottish supporters. I did see plenty of them still hanging out today sightseeing around the Barri Gotic and quietly nursing their hangovers with more drink at various watering holes. From all accounts, these were traveling supporters that any club should be proud to have.

You can read more about the invasion of the Celts here.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

It's a world of laughter, a world of tears, it's a world of hopes, and a world of fears...

Yesterday, on the eve of the big second leg match between Barcelona and Celtic, I spent the day wandering around the Ramblas hoping to find some obvious Celtic fans. I didn't have far to look. These aren't great pics, by any means. I had to snap fast! But I hope to get some more (better) ones today in the hours leading to the game... and while it all unfolds.

I think the most refreshing thing I noticed was the genuine camaraderie I witnessed between "rival" supporters. And though I couldn't snap a picture, last night I heard the drunken, jovial singing of Celtic fans echo through the streets of Barceloneta more than a few times. There was also a nice moment along the Ramblas when a group of teenage Celtic supporters and Italian ones were sharing their knowledge of the sport and Italian clubs. Very cool. Supporting a club is not exactly a pastime for the meek, but it sure doesn't have to be mayhem either.

Cheers! And may the best team proceed! More later.....