Sunday, September 19, 2010

a season in 'Little Mexico'

Woodburn High School, located in Woodburn, Oregon just outside of Portland, consistently produces hugely talented soccer players--most of them children of immigrants or immigrants themselves--who have grown up playing the sport "in the street"--that is, with players of all ages, sizes, and skill levels, which often leads to better, more well-rounded players. Yet they lack the privileges of students at richer, whiter schools, whose parents have the time and money to send them to private soccer clubs throughout the school year to refine those skills. In his book The Boys From Little Mexico, Steve Wilson writes of the clash between the Woodburn High School students and the wealthy pupils of Lakeridge, from the affluent Portland suburb Lake Oswego:

Only 5 percent of Lakeridge students are eligible for a free or reduced lunch. At Woodburn High, 75 percent of the students are eligible for a free or reduced lunch.

...The one place the two communities come together on equal footing is on the soccer field. Not coincidentally, the two demographic groups represented on the field--upper-middle-class Anglos and working-class Hispanics--are also the two groups in the United States for whom soccer is a real sport and not a punch line.

Wilson hails from apm's old headquarters of Portland, Oregon, and he recently took the time to answer some questions from us about his book, one which seems to me particularly significant in a time when the anti-immigration voices in the US have grown especially shrill and hateful. He uses Woodburn's soccer team, the Bulldogs, to tell not just a story about soccer, and American soccer in particular, but a story about a new generation of immigrants in the US--who, like persecuted Irish immigrants and loathed Italian immigrants and other groups before them bear the brunt of a nation's collective insecurity and wholesale identity crisis.

Steve and I talked about immigration, and the need for better recruitment of soccer players among Hispanics, and, of course, footy. So, without further ado, here's our conversation:

At the beginning of the book, you mention seeing and then losing an article about the Woodburn soccer team, but what made you decide to write this book in the first place? Are you a soccer fan? What aspect(s) of the story compelled you to take on this project?

I have been writing essays and nonfiction articles for years, mostly about travel. That stemmed from a fairly footloose period in my twenties, when I traveled a lot to inexpensive countries, including Mexico. During my travels I became very interested in the way that people from different cultures interact, and I was looking for a story about that kind of cultural clash when I read about the Bulldogs.

So, I was not a soccer fan before I began following the Woodburn team. I had been to some professional games, dating back to the old NASL San Jose Earthquakes when I was a kid. I also attended some games overseas. But the soccer aspect of the story was for me, initially at least, simply part of the larger story of being an outsider in America. As soccer fans in the U.S. know, enjoying the Beautiful Game is enough to set you apart from all the usual football-baseball-basketball sports fans, even if you grew up in America. Since soccer is such a big part of Mexican culture, the mostly Mexican and Mexican-American kids in Woodburn not only had a different language, different social roles, and darker skin than the stereotypical "American," they also were passionate about a sport most Americans don't follow.

With that said, I became a big soccer fan by the end of the season. Partially this was because I was around the Bulldogs so much, and I began to care about the things they cared about, but also it came from standing on the sidelines. Seen on a TV screen, soccer can appear to be slow and not very physical. But as I learned standing just feet away from the action, it is a tough, physical, and exciting game. I think it's a great sport.

What were the most difficult/frustrating aspects of researching and writing this and the most enjoyable/rewarding parts?

The most difficult aspect was that Woodburn is about an hour from my house, and I did the research while in grad school. I also had a part-time job and a small child, so I was constantly rushing to get to games and rushing to get to class and back home. It would have been better to move to Woodburn. These practical concerns also limited the amount of time that I had to poke around town, and so limited the number of people I could speak to during the season. This is why the book is structured the way it is structured, giving over sections to the larger life stories of Carlos and Octavio, because these stories I could get through interviews at any time, rather than just during the season.

The most enjoyable part was definitely hanging out with the Bulldogs at practices and before games. I was in my late 30s when I was doing the research, so it had been a while since I had been in high school. Spending time with all these 16 and 17 year-old boys reminded me of how much fun it can be to be that age. They were mostly cheerful and fun-loving in that very particular teenage-boy way, lots of physical humor and jokes about girlfriends. They weren't stressing out about paying the mortgage or picking up their kid from day care on time. They just wanted to have fun and play soccer. It was nice to be around that kind of energy.

I came to this book as a huge soccer fan, of course, but I think this is also an important book given the state of the immigration in the US right now. Have you had any feedback regarding that aspect of the book?

Readers are quick to pick up on the immigration aspect of the book, and the most insightful reviews that I have seen point out that although there is a lot of soccer in the book, Boys is not really a soccer book. It's really about these kids trying to find their place in a country that isn't really ready for them. I've had several radio interviews where time was spent on this topic and hopefully, with the current immigration debate, that will continue.

Are you still in touch with any of the people you wrote about in the book?

We had a team reunion in July, which was the first time I had seen many of the kids in years. I am in touch more regularly with the people who have very central roles in the book: Coach Flannigan, Omar, Carlos, and Octavio. Mike Flannigan is coaching again, a youth club team this time; Omar is still trying to sell his house and move to Texas, Carlos is about to start his senior year in college, and Octavio is back in the U.S. ready to start his junior year at college.

Do you read soccer books, or did you read any soccer or more general sports books in preparation for writing this one? Any that you particularly recommend?

For background information on soccer, I relied heavily on Soccer Rules Explained by Stanley Lover, and The Simplest Game, by Paul Gardner. I found Offside: Soccer and American Exceptionalism, by Markovits and Hellerman, to be very useful, as well as Soccer Against The Enemy by Simon Kuper and How Soccer Explains the World by Franklin Foer.

I read quite a few sports narratives in preparation for organizing the narrative of Boys. The two that were most useful to me were Friday Night Lights by HG Bissenger and Fall River Dreams by Bill Reynolds. Anybody who hasn't read Friday Night Lights should run out and do so immediately--it is the prototype for taking a sport and using it as a lens through which to examine a community. It is also at times beautifully written.

As someone who’s very frustrated with US soccer’s continued inability to effectively reach out to Hispanic/Latino communities and recruit beyond the upper middle class private soccer clubs, I really like that you addressed this issue in the book. I think we’ve got a wealth of soccer talent in this country which is simply going to waste. Do you have any further thoughts on this, or how it might be more effectively addressed?

Common wisdom is that the mostly Mexican and Mexican-American soccer talent in the U.S. has not been tapped because we scout our future professionals through elite (and expensive) club teams and colleges. I agree with this. I also don't see that American teams will expand their scouting to include high school and adult men's league teams (where most Latino teens play) until soccer is a much larger sport in the U.S.

I equate this to basketball. We have all heard stories of young black men scouted on the playgrounds of American cities, usually by people with relationships to private high schools. This happens because of the incredible wealth that is generated by the NBA and college basketball, and by the prestige high schools receive that produce top NBA and college players. (No doubt there is money making its way to the high school as well, although I have not done any research on that.)

Soccer in the U.S. doesn't have that kind of money or infrastructure, and until it does, I expect that we will continue to miss talented Latino players.

On the other hand, as we have seen recently, Mexican teams do have that kind of scouting system, and Mexican scouts have been traveling the U.S. looking for potential players, especially those with Mexican passports. What is interesting to me about this is that for the first time we are seeing some of those players making the decision to return to the U.S. to play, after getting their start in Mexico. We saw this on the U.S. National team, with Herculez Gomez and Jose Torres, both of whom slipped though the MLS cracks before finding success in Mexico. Here in Portland, we're seeing another example of it with Omar Salgado, who is trying out for the Timbers in preparation for the MLS Superdraft. Salgado is from El Paso, but has been playing for Chivas's U20 team and could have decided to stay in Mexico. With our growing Latino population mostly fueled by Mexican immigration, I expect to see more kids with roots in both countries choosing to play in the U.S. because of non-soccer reasons, such as family or lifestyle. As soccer continues to grow in the U.S., that decision should become an easier one to make.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Soccer and immigration in the U.S. are bound together in the U.S. I see our country's changing demographics reflecting that bond through soccer's ongoing growth in popularity. However, I think that growth will take place over generations. Soccer fans need to be ready for a long, slow road to acceptance in this country, just as immigrants do.

Thanks for the questions. Go Timbers!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

true heroes of the pitch

My two longtime favorite players.  Whether it's at Barca or for Spain... they are true heroes of the pitch.  After their performances in this World Cup, I don't think they'll have to pay for another meal or drink for the rest of their lives.

These goofy photos are FC Barcelona postcards that I purchased in Barcelona in 2008.  I carry them with me at all times.  Is there something wrong with that?  Why are you looking at me so funny?

Wednesday, July 07, 2010


I'll post my own idiosyncratic thoughts about the Spain v Germany match tomorrow... until then you can read Jonathan Wilson's excellent and cohesive article about the match instead.  He's spot on.  Also, German coach Joachim Low was a total gentleman after the match with his comments.  Not always the easiest thing to be.  As usual, Germany were good, difficult opponents. 

I'm more relaxed now than I was a few hours ago, but my brain is still squiggly.  But I'm happy.  Very, very happy. 

Saturday, July 03, 2010

may his pernicious soul rot half a grain a day! he lies to the heart...

I have no idea why I got in the car with him.
She promised me that she'd use the $20 for food.
If you had seen his eyes when he asked me... would you have called him a liar?
She seemed so sincere.  I really did think she had changed.
He said someone must have stolen it when he wasn't looking.
Why the hell did I sleep with her again?  After everything she's done to me!
I believed her.   I believed him.
I hate you.

I can't believe what a fool I was to have trusted Diego Maradona.  There's no question regarding the brilliance of Maradona the player.  But the coach?  I had suspicions from the start.  In fact, I thought he was a terrible choice.  I wasn't alone.  Numerous Argentinians, and admirers of the team from around the world, voiced similar outrage over his role as head of the national squad.  How could this crazy artist of the pitch, this holy fool of the beautiful game, command a team into the most prestigious of all football arenas... the World Cup?  Well, obviously he can't.  We know this now after Argentina's severe beat-down by Germany.  We know this now, because some of us still can't get the images of the assault out of our heads.  I know this now because I trusted this man to lead the charge when I knew deep down, even at the beginning of the tournament, that Argentina's road to glory was folly.

Thankfully, this incident doesn't hurt like the 2006 loss to Germany in the quarterfinals did.  Not sure why.  Maybe it was because Argentina didn't even score in this one.  If we had put up a real fight, if Messi had actually connected with the net, it would perhaps be a different story.  But punches still bruise and I feel achy all over.

Over the last few weeks, Maradona had convinced me that maybe this team really did have it in them to go all the way.  Like I said, I initially wrote them off.  Argentina, because of the way they approach the game, are dear to my heart.  But so is Spain and I've been praying for a realistic Spanish run for the cup since 2008 when pretty much the same squad won the European Championship, a treasured moment in my football-watching life.  Beautiful football won the day, style and short tidy passing conquered Blitzkrieg strength and power, and there was free money and booze for everyone!  Ah, yes, it was wonderful.

Argentina couldn't figure out how to diffuse the German onslaught.  I hope Spain can remember how they did it to them in the Euro final.  It's not impossible, as Serbia reminded us all when they clipped Germany's passing game.  But Serbia was all about defense... and Spain don't truck with that anti-football bullshit.  So... we'll see in a few days.

In the meantime... I'm going to keep my hate on for Maradona.  Pendejo!

Friday, July 02, 2010

i see the devil gloating as arjen robben writhes on his deathbed in an agony of remorse for a life of crime and cowardice on the football pitch

Arjen Robben is one of those humans who make me hope there is indeed a Hell. If there is, he will burn relentlessly and eternally in that deep and terrible circle reserved for diving crybabies. He is the poster-child for those loathesome, cynical footballers (many of whom, not coincidentally, have been too long associated with Jose Mourinho) who would rather win not through hard work, CERTAINLY not through beautiful play (such a man scoffs at the idea), but through manipulative power-plays and orchestrated hysterics aimed at convincing referees to do the bulk of his work for him. Which, too often, they do.

All the hype about Holland, all these years... Maybe they were beautiful once. There is no beauty now. Although you do have to love Sneijder's first goal, that long ball from nowhere that curled into the top corner. Even I enjoyed that. The rest of the Orangeness... Well, they can go to Hell.

So, next, Uruguay. (Alright, I'm jumping ahead here a little. It's possible Ghana may provide Forlan with his inevitable martyrdom, but I hope not, since Ghana v Holland is not a match I want to watch.) I am interested, in an oddly detached sort of way, since there will be little beauty involved on either side, to see what the crusading Saint Forlan can devise for these fellows.

Brazil was never my favorite team, but they've seduced me some in this tournament with their confidence and flash. I fell in love with Luis Fabiano, mostly for that extraordinary, double-handball goal against the Ivory Coast. It looked like such a gorgeous move until you watched the replays and saw the sleight-of-hand. Still, one marvels at the art of it, since even the defenders around him seem to have missed its illicit aspect. Does it seem like hypocrisy, loving Brazil for a gorgeous cheat and hating Holland for ugly cheating? Well, call it that, then. It's the aesthetic that makes the difference. Beautiful football is beautiful football; there's an art to it, even when you're exploring its shadier sides. Brazil has always known this, as has that epitome of lovable cheats, Diego Maradona. If it makes you laugh, if you can marvel at it, take a moment home with you and examine it joyfully under the light, then that was a moment of great football, and Fabiano's goal provided one such. Arjen Robben I think has never in his life done a thing of beauty. I suspect he would not know beauty if it bit him in the ass.

He would, however, writhe around howling on the grass until some referee, beaten down and exhausted by Robben's tireless chicanery, gave Beauty a red-card.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

world cup 2010: usa lose to ghana

The US team lost to Ghana 2-1 in their knockout round World Cup match.  It was fierce at times, but fatigue and wear and tear were obviously taking a toll on the Yanks.  It was only Wednesday when Landon Donovan boldly won the match for the US in stoppage time against Algeria.  The soccer gods blessed the team that night... but you can only cruise with their blessings for so long.  32 teams enter into the World Cup... 31 leave with hearts broken.

Our hearts are broken.  But the US team played bravely, honorably, and will no doubt improve on this inspiring World Cup run.



glenn beck is un-american and hates soccer

Glenn Beck is a douchebag and a phony.  I'm not stating anything new or shocking here.  Many of you probably think the same thing or worse.  If you do actually like him, though, I'd seriously question your judge of character, your morals, and your ethics.  It's a safe guess that you're a douchbag yourself with horrible tastes in music, humor, and movies.  You're also probably an illiterate, scared, racist, homophobic, superstitious, jingoistic, and deeply disturbed person... just like your hero Beck.  You're a dung cretin.

Why am I going off on weirdo Glenn?  I seriously don't give a shit about him.  I've never seen his FOX show and the only time that I've really seen him in action was when I accidentally tuned into his old show on some other network years ago and he was babbling about his sky god and the "End of the World" with some oily televangelist.  It grabbed my attention for five minutes and then he was forgotten.  Who knew he would be such a malignant cultural presence a few years later?

But now he's grabbed my attention again.  It seems that Glenn Beck is un-American.  On the eve of the US national soccer team's last 16 match against Ghana in the World Cup, the leper messiah of crackpot television wants you to know that he hates soccer, doesn't think it has a place in this country, and insists that Americans don't like it either... despite repeated evidence to the contrary.  He's probably praying for the US team to fail.  That doesn't sound very patriotic, does it?  Why does he hate this country so much?   Sounds like something only a douchebag would do.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

usa supporters react to landon donovan's last minute goal against algeria

How can you not love this?  And they say football isn't popular in the States.  It's a niche market... and football is doing just fine.  Just because you're not paying attention (no, not you... I'm talking about that other one over there) doesn't mean that football madness in this country isn't going on.  You're just clueless.  A friend of mine (who is otherwise intelligent) on Facebook yesterday actually equated the US win over Algeria and the subsequent reaction of supporters to how it feels to watch the NFL every year, as if non-tackleball football supporters don't know what it feels like to... win?  Yeah, I'm trying to figure that one out, too, a day later.  Also, I didn't realize that the NFL played in their own World Cup.  Huh.  How... utterly... amazing.  You learn something new every day.

Lastly, if you haven't seen this yet... you must.  Weezer's unofficial anthem for the US soccer team.  Turn it to eleven!

landon the hero, heart attacks, and keeping it steady

What an exhausting day yesterday was... wake up, warm up the ol' typing machine, get the Twitter ready (that sounds dirty, I realize), and turn the TV on for the first World Cup match of the day.  And as the US v Algeria match stretched on, I suffered through heart attacks, vomiting, and delirium.  Around the 80th minute, I thought about abandoning the match and taking a long walk.  The US was going to lose the game, I thought.  I had to start preparing myself for the grim reality of crushing disappointment.

I'm not the most realistic person, though.  Part of me still believes that crazy shit can happen in a football match.  Twice I thought of Andreas Iniesta's incredible destructo shot in the last minutes of the 2009 Champions League semi-final against Chelsea.  The goal was a miracle from the football gods (I may be an atheist, but when it comes to football... I'm a believer) and sent Barcelona on their way to become champions of Europe.  Sadly, the US national team is not Barcelona.  So when I thought of Iniesta, I also thought what a fool I was to even entertain such masochistic thoughts.

But Landon Donovan obviously felt a calling to turn it on.  Incredible moment.  2/3 of apm screamed, clapped, stomped, sent our cats racing through the room, our neighbors dialing 911... then the tears flowed... and the laughter.  The US is through to the last 16 and will face Ghana on Saturday.  The African team booted us out of the 2006 World Cup in Germany, but this ain't Germany, and we ain't the same squad we were back then either, mate.

Here's the legendary Donovan goal.  Speaks for itself.  I didn't tape this, just so you know.  Some other dude did.  What a professional he was, too.  You can't hear him crying with joy, screaming, or cursing at all.  Pro.

The Algerians have been screwed before in the World Cup, but at least they went out this time fair and square and with their heads held high.  They're a good team.  Not all of their players took the loss well, though.

Also, here's a link featuring a few after the game video interviews with US coach Bob Bradley and hero Landon Donovan.  Pretty damn cool.  If you're a US supporter and their emotion doesn't move you... I don't want to know you.

And on that note... sleep.  More big matches await.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

random thoughts about the swiss, spanish, and united states teams

In Italy for thirty years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, bloodshed - but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance.  In Switzerland they had brotherly love, 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce?  The cuckoo clock.
-- Harry Lime (Orson Welles) justifying his murderous amorality in The Third Man (1949).  

The Swiss have given us much more than the cuckoo clock and being the punchline to one of the finest films of all time: actors Ursula Andress, Irene Jacob, Bruno Ganz; painters Henry Fuseli, HR Giger, Paul Klee; sculptor Alberto Giacometti; philosopher/writer Jean-Jacques Rosseau; psychiatrist CG Jung; revolutionary Jean-Paul Marat, just to name a few of the more notable individuals, all hail from Switzerland.  Oh, and Celtic Frost.  Aren't they Swiss?  If not, they should be.

But when it comes to football, the Swiss are duds.  Yes, they routinely make the World Cup (they've appeared nine times, reached the quarter-finals three times, and hosted it in 1954), though they play a sort of unimaginative, defensive-oriented football that only a countryman could love.  Yet somehow... they managed to beat Spain in the first round of this year's World Cup.

The Swiss "style" is not the sort of football that aims to win the hearts and minds of neutrals or lovers of an attacking, progressive style.  Current Swiss coach Ottmar Hitzfeld is not interested in dazzling the crowds with some new alchemically-laced hybrid of Brazillian tiki-taka-style with Northern European strength and power with the Dutch Totaalvoetbal ideal (which, to be honest, the Dutch don't really play any longer).  He's simply interested in grinding out results by forsaking the width of the field for the claustrophobia of the inside, clipping the opposing team's ambition for flight on the wings, and only risking an offensive move on the counter-attack when there's nowhere else to go but forward.  Only score when you've run out of all other options.  It's a tactic that oddly, brilliantly works against teams like Spain, as the strict Swiss taught them in that first round 0-1 shocker.  It's the Swiss version of catenaccio, the legendary and infamous Italian style of football obstinacy.

Hitzfeld, though, did not swipe his version of the defense-first tactic from the Italians' playbook... he got it from US men's national coach Bob Bradley.  Specifically, studying videos of the 0-2 US victory over Spain in the 2009 Confederations Cup semi-finals, a shocking defeat for the current European Champions.  In that match, Bradley--who has never been at the top of anyone's list of all-time great football tacticians--managed to stymie the living gods of fluid, creative, gyroscopic football with American grit and teeth-gnashing defense.  But the US team not only managed to kill off the Spanish offense, they managed to score against them as well.  This was no ordinary win.  This was a shockwave of mammoth proportions.  Bradley's boys did something that  no other team had managed to figure out the previous summer during Euro 2008--they toppled the greatest football team on earth.  Forget Dunga's squad of efficient though lackadaisical Brazilian hitmen, who are labeled "The Greatest Football Team" by every ignorant fan and announcer who wouldn't know brilliant tactics if they mainlined them.  Luis Aragones's Spanish squad, a team deep with talent and ingenuity, proved to the skeptics that imaginative, devil-may-care football could work during large and important tournaments, contradicting all of the unbelievers who regurgitate like clockwork the old line that only defensive-minded, ugly football wins championships.

Aragones abandoned Spain for managing Turkish side Fenerbahce immediately after the Euro 2008 triumph, but new coach Vicente del Bosque has continued the team's breakneck style of precision passing, possession, and midfield majesty.  The team has loads of talent, a deep bench, and is attractive to watch.  It's art of a kind and puts the over-hyped Brazilians to shame.  But since losing against the US and now the Swiss, supporters and admirers of the Spanish team are now faced with a horrifying reality--Euro 2008 might have been a one-time deal for this line-up.  The team may have effectively broken the curse of not having won a major title since the 1964 Euro Championship, yet Spain is currently finding it difficult to tap into that wellspring of ingenuity and flashing inspiration that has served them well.  Bradley and Hitzfeld have both shown that it is possible to flush out Spain's love of commandeering the sides of the pitch by boxing them in the middle, then making them pay on the counter-attack when Spain finally loses possession.

It's a good tactic, though one that isn't foolproof.  As with playing a progressive, forward style of game, this stubborn anti-football also comes with risk.  If the bus you park in front of the net isn't strong enough to take the onslaught of shots, if all eleven devils don't step up bravely and defend, defend, defend (anti-Total Football)--a team like Spain will eventually exhaust you, and eventually crush you.  Your defense must be just as bold, aggressive, and dexterous as the opposing team's forward momentum.

After watching Spain win against Honduras yesterday (2-0), I'm still not sure what to think about them.  I came into the tournament swaggering with confidence, just like them, sure that they would sweep on through the group stage like true champions.  But that hasn't happened.  Striker Fernando Torres can't connect with anything (such a petulant, brittle player, but lethal when the blood is up), the cerebral yet brave Iniesta is still not in the best form, and the team seems... well, uninspired.  They look like all of the Spanish teams that have come into previous World Cups and underperformed.  The US, on the other hand, are playing with passion and, despite some cautious openings that have cost them goals, real confidence.  I'd love to see them not concede early goals... but the fact that they've bounced back with real American gusto gives me more than hope that they can beat Algeria decisively and make it out of the group.

Switzerland... hmmm.  They're technically still in the Cup despite losing to an energetic though sloppy Chile yesterday (1-0), although in their match against Honduras they will be missing their midfielder Valon Behrami because of a red card.  No matter.  All the Swiss need to do to beat Honduras is park a bigger bus in front of the net and hope Spain lose to Chile.  This Cup has been full of surprises.  Hell, Greece could beat Argentina (the game I'm watching while I type this).  It's nil-nil at the moment (68') and I don't really think it will happen... but you never know.  Stranger things have happened.  And as this tournament has shown us... anti-football is once again on the march.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

tweeting the world cup

Yep.  We here at apm (well... me) is tweeting most all of the World Cup matches.  Come on over, say hello, and watch the matches with us me.  Read our scintillating sarcasm, trivia, and things you need to know.

Friday, June 18, 2010

the battle of algiers

What a day.  From heartbreak for German supporters to frustration and outrage for us Americans to depression and resignation for England's weary fans--it's been an exhausting and emotional day.

And we're only one week into this thing.

But if you're an Algerian supporter, you have a lot to feel good about.  After a dismal performance in their first round match losing to Slovenia (0-1), Algeria bounced back in today's game with England, drawing with the football powerhouse 0-0.  But unlike England's draw last week with the US which felt more positive, today's draw is a huge disappointment for the team and their supporters.  England, equipped with their star players, looked ragged, lead-footed, and flaccid.  Algeria, as the game stretched on, looked more capable and confident with each nifty one-touch pass and ability to strip England of the ball.  There were a few minutes in the second half when Algeria seemed to lose focus, but for the most part the Desert Foxes, as they're nicknamed, looked good.  They could give the US some problems.

How did this happen?  How did a team that everyone thought England would stomp on not only hold their own, but actually look as if they belonged in this tournament.

The Battle of Algiers, my comrades.  Yes, Italian director Gillo Pontecorvo's classic chronicle of political revolution and warfare was reportedly screened for the Algerian squad before today's match.  It's an incredible film and if you've never seen it, apm highly recommends you check out the three disc Criterion set released a few years back.  It just might inspire you to topple your own Goliath of choice.  Or, at least, even the score.

Below are featured the film's trailer from the 2004 theatrical re-release and Ennio Morricone's memorable title track.

more misc. links

Just some quick links before the Algeria v England match gets under way in a half-hour or so.

The first one is bit about how the Swiss beat Spain in that first round 0-1 match.  Seems that Swiss manager Ottmar Hitzfeld has Bob Bradley's tactics to thank.  Strange but true!

Second... work isn't getting done around the world.  I could have told you that was going to happen.

And last but certainly not least... in preparation for their match against England, the Algerians watched Gillo Pontecorvo's brilliant The Battle of Algiers (1965).  Brilliant.  Let's hope they practiced their offensive "skills" as well.

diego forlan v el mundo

"That thin, angular face with its burning eyes could never have belonged to the great race of compromisers..." -- a historian describing Savonarola, but he might as well be describing Diego Forlan(1)

My grey-haired mother, no football fan, has been converted to the Church of Forlan. Diego won her heart in his South African campaign with his quiet mastery, ruling, spiderlike, his web from that moveable place at its center, the center that travels with him wherever he goes. (It seemed funny to me that the announcers were frustrated with his insistence on taking all the free kicks when he ought really have been in goal to finish them. One day he will find himself a Tesla who will build for him a teleportation device so that he can do both.)

My mother is now prepared to follow Uruguay resolutely to the ends of the earth, or the ends of the World Cup, anyway. After watching those dogged Mexicans disassemble France today (France are what my brother's Portuguese parishioners call "heavy-shirts": big-leaguers, champions of old. They tell him that Mexico always does better against heavy-shirts than light-shirts like South Africa), she's rabid to watch her Diego disassemble them... which, of course, he might. I tried to warn her that a draw might benefit both teams and she should not be too disappointed if her new hero takes the duller strategy and locks down his goal. With any luck, though, we might see that warrior glint in the eye once more before his group stage is done.

(1) De La Bedoyere, Michael. the Meddlesome Friar and the Wayward Pope, Hanover House, NY 1958

Thursday, June 17, 2010

misc. links

While I wait for the France v Mexico match to start, I thought I'd post a few cool links of things that caught my attention today.

First... World Cup: Science Fiction.  Stunning images from space of the countries participating in the world's favorite sporting event.

42 photos of the action on the pitch and of supporters around the world.  Excellent stuff.

The Spanish media is not giving the national team any breaks after their shocking loss to Switzerland.  As with Lisa, I'm not too concerned about Spain's performance.  It happened.  No need to panic... yet.

"Here’s a few numbers that the site EPL Talk put together from various sources on the tv audience that the England v USA game drew:

Around 17 million people in the United States watched the game at home — a number bigger than any of the first four games of the current NBA final.

The England match drew more US viewers than every game of the 2010 Stanley Cup hockey Final. The June 9 broadcast of the Stanley Cup Final on NBC was the most-watched NHL game in the United States in 36 years with 8.28 million viewers — about half of the amount that watched an opening round group match in the World Cup.

Overall, the first five matches of this year’s World Cup drew around double the audience that tuned in four years ago. How’s that for growth?"

That above quote comes from a great article on how well the World Cup and football in general is doing in the US.  Pretty damn well.  The sport is here... we're here... deal with it.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

round one down

Five days... 16 matches... 26 goals. I know people are bitching about the lack of goals, but I think things are going okay for the most part. Of course I'd love to see more goals. There have been plenty of scoring opportunities--did you see Spain in the second half, people?--and plenty of bad luck tagging along. Damn these capricious soccer gods.  These are early days... it'll get furious soon enough.

Today, for instance, in the South African v Uruguay match, the first match of the second round. Uruguayan striker Diego Forlan finally came to life delivering two goals--one a spectacular, powerful long-range strike that rebelled against a deflection and still found net; the second one a lethal penalty kick--which magnificently commandeered the midfield like the intelligent veteran player he is. Bravo. I was sorry to see that Uruguay's victory came at the expense of the South Africans (the real underdogs of this tournament), but this is football and football is frequently heartbreaking. If your heart isn't breaking now, odds are that it will be by the end of this thing.

So I'm not worried. I bristle watching so many teams resort to defense first measures, but those sort of tactics are to be expected during big tournaments like this. I'll probably do a post at some point about the different styles on display here... for now, though, I just want to prepare for Thursday's matches. And try to put the Spain loss behind me. From elation to concern to worry to horror in the span of 90 minutes. You know... football.

you wouldn't call it fast and furious, exactly, but things are starting to move


Oddly enough, I'm OK with this, mostly because I had the grandest time yet just watching the lovely passing between my Spanish fellows. Once the substitutes were in (Torres joining Villa up front with the very promising Jesus Navas from Sevilla out on the wing), things felt like they were tightening up, getting the right proportion, coming on balance. Not that Torres did much. As I was just telling Derek, as a Liverpool fan you learn that if you expect nothing from Torres, he'll surprise you with extremes of joy; otherwise, he'll put you in a scowling mood more often than not. If you can catch a glimpse of his face early on, it's a good indicator: if he's looking petulant, forget about it; look elsewhere for your goals. If he's smiling and confident, you may be in for some brilliance... but for God's sake, don't let him catch you EXPECTING anything from him or he might collapse under the pressure.

The other reason I'm OK with it is that, as my brother was just reminding me, the teams that shine in group stages are, more often than not, utterly different from the ones who wind up shining later on. How well I remember Spain cruising blithely through the group stage in 2006, like young boys at ebullient play, and how crushing the disappointment (of which, incidentally, I had been well warned by those more wizened in the ways of the World Cup, and which warnings I, in my naivete, happily disregarded) when they bottomed out.


This may rate as my second favorite match, as Paraguay bitch-slaps Italy from their customary group stage torpor with a stunner of an early goal. To their credit, the boys in blue met the challenge (albeit, I suspect, reluctantly), shaking off the last remnants of their pre-tournament gloom and hibernation (the gloom, I read somewhere, is customary for the Italians when defending a title, and that makes all manner of sense to me) and diving headlong into the fray to grasp that all-important equaliser.


Frustrating, maybe over-cerebral (am I giving them too much credit here?), certainly rather dull win by the Dutch. As a Liverpool fan, I was looking forward to it as Daniel Agger v Dirk Kuyt, and while Kuyt came away with a late, well-won goal and the commentators' praise for his continuing hard work (and, whatever you think of him, he is certainly one of the hardest working men on any given pitch), Agger emerged with a bad miskick and an own-goal bounced off the back of his head; not a good day for my favorite Dane.

The man of the match for me, however, was Simon Poulsen, the young Danish defender who came back from the infamy and horror of having bounced that own-goal off Agger's head to redeem himself with the most beautiful save I've yet seen in any match, a forceful bicycle kick off the line to keep out Afellay's zinger in the 88th minute.


A slow start but an entertaining second half. I've been interested in the North Koreans since reading a piece in Time by a Liverpudlian who saw that match they played against Portugal in 1966 when they took a 3-0 lead only to be foiled by that paragon of scorers, the magical Eusebio, who led his team back to a 5-3 win. And they played well here. I wouldn't be utterly surprised if they were the other team to rise up to the knockout round from the ashes of the Group of Death. The Brazilians, like the Spanish and the Germans, look easy and fluid, not quite to standard yet, but who knows how much of that is getting used to this silly ball? or the astroturf? In any case, they look far more comfortable than they did in 2006 with Ronaldo lingering rather clumsily up-pitch and Ronaldinho never quite finding his samba. They look to be, as in days of yore, a joy to watch.


The Ivorians look the better side, but one senses the Portuguese are playing it safe until they meet Brazil. Ronaldo had one of those near-gorgeous moments of his with an early screamer pounded from distance off the post, but after that it was yawns all around. Funny: I hate that guy, that Ronaldo guy, but I do love to watch him play.


OK, OK, we've had enough grousing about the ball... except that I haven't got my two cents in yet. Are we all sick of watching the ball fly over the bar every third minute? Adidas says (see above link) that the point is the difference in playing at higher elevation, not the ball at all. It's also stated, interestingly enough, that the ball has had preparatory use in France, Argentina and Germany. Smart lads. You'd think everyone else might've got in on a piece of that action as well.

My boyfriend's theory is that the thing's got no spin. I wonder if future generations will look back on the Jabulani Kerfuffle and laugh at the old geezers who couldn't keep the ball down; the difference being, of course, that they'll have been raised with it. Anyway, I expect that from the Round of 16 forward everyone should have found sufficient familiarity with the Official Villain of the Tournament that we might have one or two free kicks that don't wind up in the rafters. Here's hoping.

Monday, June 14, 2010

my teutonic ephiphany

We here at apm have oft noted amongst ourselves a rather (to us) odd-seeming phenomenon among American football novices: they turn into Germany supporters. As someone who's always been attracted to the elegant passing game and grace of La Liga and Spain and the 2006 Argentina squad, this has been a bit of a mystery to me. People whose acquaintance with the country extends about as far as looking up a wiener schnitzel recipe on the internet once suddenly discover Teutonic roots in their family tree. (And we Americans, as is often noted, are very much into our individual national origins.)

But it suddenly occurred to me today while watching the German team rout poor Australia yesterday: Germany plays the way Americans imagine the US squad would play if we were actually really good. Powerful, offensive, creative, ruthless, efficient.

I'm normally not a fan of the German team myself (and can never forgive their ugly dismantling of beautiful Argentina in '06--that's the kind of heartbreak that leaves you with baggage that hardens your heart in any future relationships with other national teams), but in a tournament that has thus far been goal-poor, I did find their clean, methodical strikes and steady accumulation of goals pretty exciting to behold.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

photos from usa v england match (athens, ga & berlin)

I didn't know what to expect from my new home Athens, Georgia during World Cup. American tackleball is huge here... a religion... and something taken very seriously. So I figured only a few places would be showing matches. Much to my surprise there are quite a few pubs, restaurants, and cafes doing so. Places were generally packed, which made me very happy. If you don't think football is popular in the States, you're simply not paying attention or you're being intentionally obstinate.

Here are a few of photos from The Globe, one of my favorite pubs here in town, taken before the match. The staff seemed a bit overwhelmed... and way too slow... but overall it was just cool to see so many people packed in wanting to root on the US squad. The upstairs was packed, as well as downstairs. A few people wandered around wearing English kits, including a little tyke who broke into tears during half time just minutes after English keeper Robert Green committed the blunder of the series so far. Cheer up, kid. Being an England supporter, you'll have a lifetime of disappointment and punishment to look forward to.

And these two bottom photos are taken by my friend M in Berlin who watched the US v England match in the Mitte district at a little outdoor pub. Pretty cool.

germany v australia: it's getting cold in this room

A few things occurred to me early on in the match: one is that now Michael Ballack and Jens Lehmann are gone, the German squad is not nearly as loathesome as it used to be. It's difficult to dislike a coach like Loew, a man who looks like he's carrying the weight of the world on his haggard shoulders, a man who obviously cares more than is healthy. The players, although still tall and humorless like frozen ents, did not immediately repel me, not until those spine-chilling victory yells began. The other thing that occurred to me, and I shiver as I speak it, is that Germany is going to win this damned World Cup.

Granted, the night is young. I have not yet seen the form of many strong contenders: Spain, Italy, Brazil, Portugal. Messi might still manifest some beautiful, chaotic miracle for that beautiful, shambolic Argentine side. That said, I was completely stunned at the confidence and cohesion of this teutonic team. They have a perfect play, and they keep at it, over and over: they begin by passing the ball around at the back in a leisurely fashion until the Aussies are lured out of their caution and dart forward to challenge. Then the ball is threaded through the middle and someone makes a sudden and lightning-fast run while someone else makes a parallel run, so that when the two reach the area, defenders trailing at their heels, the first runner passes to the second runner and one or the other has a terrifyingly good chance at goal. Over and over they lured the Aussies out and with their passing skills moved among them silent and untouched; over and over came the sudden charge on the goal-mouth. Over and over the Australians fought bravely to regroup, and Schwarzer in goal seemed sometimes downright unnerved.

Everyone has a favorite underdog. Mine is Australia. There's not a human in the world who thought the Socceroos would beat Germany, but they're still a burly, physical side, not easily outmuscled. They were far too respectful, though, for the first bit, too intimidated, and they have nowhere near the ease and surety in one-touch passing that they'd need to get past a team of this quality. Around the half-hour mark, my boys began to get mad and more aggressive; not downright Croatian, but more physical, less cautious, and it boded well. When it came time for Tim Cahill's red card, which I thought was harsh but by no means scandalous, they coalesced at last. You have to a love a team that doesn't fold, that does the OPPOSITE of folding. You throw them a piece of disaster, they pull together and fight harder. I do not give them up yet; this is their hardest match in group stages by far.

And I have to give credit to the ref, who gave not one but TWO yellows to diving Germans. It's a bold move, a card like that; both calls were spot-on correct, he did not hesitate, and I was very grateful for it. Especially the one toward the end. You're winning 4-nil over a side that's a man down, and you're pulling a blatant dive? Man, how low is that?

world cup 2010: usa v england 1-1

It shouldn't have happened at all.  Football, though, is filled with impossible imaginings, especially during World Cup.  Having trailed 1-0 since the 4th minute when Steven Gerrard delivered a beauty of a shot past US keeper Tim Howard, the Yanks nevertheless kept their composure for much of the first half, biding their time until an advantageous opening was conjured.  Clint Dempsey, the rough-hewn yet dangerous US forward, eventually stepped up in the 40th minute with a bold yet speculative strike at best, lacking that special spark of invention.  It shouldn't have happened at all.  Not much power or finesse fueled it... an easy save for England keeper Robert Green to make.

But Green bumbled it--the football gods deciding that it was time to make an example of the West Ham keeper, reminding us all that the ball is capricious as much as it is functional.   1-1.

England pressured Howard plenty in the second half.  Heskey, Lampard, and Johnson all tested Howard--arguably the US's best player--but no opening could be exploited.  Rooney, who had been invisible for most of the game, reasserted his vocation to scoring, though the ball remained unconvinced.  And in the end, both teams walked away with a point each.  For the US, it was a fair result.  Something to work off of and the players' confidence should remain high.  For England, it must feel more like a loss, a bitter gob of spittle at the bottom of the pint glass.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

diego forlan: there's a berserker lurking in there, you mark my words

So we all learned something new about the offside rule from Mexico v South Africa! Well, I did, anyway. Now that you SAY it, it seems so obvious...

The most compelling part of the opening day for me was not Tshabalala's splendid goal, or even our lovely Rafa's surly, practical response (he's a great one, Marquez, for the snarling, no-nonsense equaliser, sometimes without celebration, although he did that thumbsucking thing this time, didn't he? which seems to be off-putting to a lot of us yanks for some reason). The match lacked the pace and drive I wanted. Bafana Bafana showed some hunger, but why are El Tri so easily discouraged? Why don't they ATTACK? I kept thinking in the second half. Is it possible they were pouting?

No, the really intriguing part of the day for me was Uruguay v France, which I had to tape (WHY do they make me go to WORK?) and watch late last night, while I was hallucinatory from lack of sleep. I'm the spitting, hissing enemy of catenaccio as much as the next guy, that ugly lockdown strategy that results in 90 minutes of boredom and frustration and very little football. At first that looked to be the way of it, with Uruguay stoppered at the back with a massive defensive plug and France careening around the edges trying to find a way in. What gave it life (for me... it may have been all sleepless hallucination, I admit that) and fluidity was that two-man danger-squad up front, Forlan and Suarez. I never got bored. If I hadn't known the outcome already (my supervisor, --cruel, cruel man,-- announced it to me while I was stuck football-less at my computer), I'd have thought at every moment that Forlan was going to score.

I've been aware of him, of course, since I started following Barca five years ago. He was with Villarreal then, and his name comes up a lot now he's with Atletico (as it does when you score more goals in a season than anyone but Lio Messi and maybe one other guy in the whole world), but I think this is the first time I ever really watched him, and he seemed to me like a man possessed. Like he's going to haul Uruguay to that trophy single-handed if he has to. There's something almost scary in that steely gaze; it puts me in mind of Joan of Arc. How she really must have looked, I mean, not soft and misty-eyed like they make her in movies. Hard, steely, obsessed, fanatical: these things come in handier than soft and misty-eyed when you're going into battle, and I suspect Forlan is a man on a mission. I think villages might get burned in the wake of his fanaticism, old stalwart religions might fall and new, terrible ones rise. I'm keeping an eye on this one from now on.

As for France, how on earth do they do it? They swan around and swan around and don't look very interesting and then suddenly they're in the final. Charmed lives. Maybe it's all the red wine, or possibly the prostitutes. Keeps you young and beloved of decadent gods.

where to watch the World Cup in Athens, Georgia: update 1

We've had some great feedback in comments and email on other places in town to watch the World Cup and are happy to report there are more of us soccerheads than we thought out there in Athens. Here's what we've learned so far. Original post on where to watch the World Cup in Athens, Georgia is here.

First of all, @UrbanHaiku has dedicated an entire blog to where to watch the World Cup in the Classic City. She's got some great suggestions I didn't know about and is updating lots, so be sure to bookmark it to keep up.

Normal Bar, on the corner of Prince and Oglethorpe, is opening early for at least the afternoon games. This new bar is an awesome, friendly little neighborhood place. The staff is super and the inside is gorgeous and they have this great-sounding summer cocktail I'm getting the next time we're there which includes Pimm's and ginger and lemon and other refreshing summery things.

From the comments, Agua Linda on Prince was open for the 9.30 Mexico match, and Anonymous reports about 17 or so people, staff and customers, turning up. We'll definitely be checking in here for a Mexico match at some point. Also, Las Conchitas, the Peruvian restaurant next door, is also believed to be showing games. (That place never seems busy, but I had lunch there once and my food was really good.)

Farm 255 is bringing a huge TV screen into the bar for the viewings and @UrbanHaiku reports that the Globe has brought in a TV for the downstairs bar.

I'm so pleased and pleasantly surprised to see many local places joining in the party with the rest of the world!

Friday, June 11, 2010

and so it begins...

We here at apm--like most of you, I imagine--couldn't wait for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa to start.  The opening ceremonies got things started with the requisite flourish and... well, you know, the usual artistic choices that accompany these sorts of things: gorgeous dancers, brilliant musicians, conceptual celebrations of team and country, the honorable Archbishop Desmond Tutu getting his groove on, a giant dung beetle kicking at a soccer ball, and R. Kelly.  Something for everyone. 

And then there were the games.  South Africa doesn't have the best squad in the world--although they did perform well at last year's Confederations Cup in South Africa--but they held their own against a Mexican side that should have done... oh... so... much better.  The first half was mostly in El Tri's favor, though the poor finishing by former Barcelona player Gio dos Santos and former West Ham jobber Guillermo Franco was aggravating for the team's supporters.  South Africa simply looked out-classed.  But come the second half things turned around with a fabulous rocket of a goal from South Africa's Siphiwe Tshabalala (we'll all be able to spell his name fast by the end of the tournament, you just wait) in the 55' minute, sending the Mexican players into a tailspin.  Rafa Marquez evened things up in the 79' minute, but El Tri was unable to do anything other than give South Africa more space, options, and ultimately a couple of wonderful chances at winning the match.  But it wasn't meant to be and the soccer gods bestowed upon the teams a fair draw.  Decent, relatively exciting football to be sure.

The next match, between Uruguay and the Republic of Ireland... sorry, France... was a whole other beast.  I don't know much about Uruguay other than that they've won the World Cup twice before--at the first tournament in 1930 and again in 1950--and they feature one of my favorite players, Diego Forlan.  I had high expectations for this one, but other than a few moments of inspiration here and there, it was mostly a game for lovers of defense and clogged-arterial football.  Not my thing.  It was skillful, tactical football on Uruguay's part, and the way they stymied France was something to behold--a squad that failed to show any enthusiasm for playing except for when Thierry Henry made his appearance in the late second half.  But it was dull, frustrating play as well.  A midday sedative of the worst kind for anyone craving a good dose of progressive, creative football.  In the end, it was 0-0.  Uruguay got a point for parking the bus in front of goal and France received one for their public shame.  Now, if only Forlan could create some magic with his finishing... showing the rest of the world who don't watch his brilliance every week in La Liga why he matters.

But it's just the beginning.  The tournament is long and there are always duds like the latter match.  There will be a couple more... and games that remind us why we love this sport in the first place.  I have a feeling the real good stuff is about to get rolling tomorrow.  A dung beetle promised me.

follow apm on twitter during world cup 2010

Hunkered in our living room(s) or drinking at inappropriate times in our local pub(s)... apm will be watching and blogging about every World Cup game. 

We'll also be Tweeting!  And if you want to follow us there while we vent our spleen or wax poetically about some player or team who defies the script of the tournament... we'd love to have you aboard.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

where to watch the World Cup in Athens, Georgia

I did this in 2006 for Portland, so here's another round for Athens. That's Georgia, not Greece.

Portland is a football-mad city--more than 10,000 people turned up for the Italy v. France 2006 final shown on a giant screen downtown in Pioneer Square. I confess that 2/3 of us have been more than a little worried that we'd spend the month watching every single match alone in our living room. That's better than nothing, of course, but half the fun of the World Cup is the camaraderie, the party atmosphere. Slinking out of your house at 9 am to sip Guinness with other football-loving commie reprobates and furriners. In the US, the love of soccer is like a secret handshake. An instant icebreaker. One of my Portland Timbers Army comrades with a respectable identity in the real world but known in local footie circles as Bickle once described it more or less thusly: you like football, you are my friend, and it's true.

Anyway, we've identified a few local places so far that have definitely caught World Cup fever, and we'll be updating this list throughout the tournament. We'll also visit as many of these fine establishments as possible, just as we did back in Portland in 2006, and provide you with reviews.

Also, if you are local, and you love footie, I urge you to get out and try to support as many of these places as possible, particularly the ones that are opening early and going out of their way to promote themselves as World Cup venues. It's not easy being a soccer fan in the US; it's even harder to be a football fan in the American-football-mad South. Let's show them that fans of the "other" kind of football are here to stay.

Here's what we have for you so far:

Transmetropolitan -- No website, but this well-regarded pizza joint at 145 E. Clayton Street in the heart of downtown has been advertising in Flagpole that they will open at 7 am throughout the tournament, providing a special brunch menu, showing matches on seven giant TVs, and running a beer special--$2 pints of Guinness. We'll be taking in the England v. USA match there on Saturday and I'm so excited I'm ready to start camping out in the sidewalk in front right now. Fortunately, that probably won't be necessary.

Casa Mia Tapas -- Also right downtown, 269 N. Hull St. (stumble up to the Manhattan afterward to drown your sorrows if your side loses badly). Also another restaurant I haven't gotten round to trying yet, and want to, so we'll be checking it out soon too. There's nothing on their website about it, but they tweet that they'll be up early for the game tomorrow morning and running $2.50 specials on all beers.

Farm 255 -- Also downtown. 255 West Washington St. Farm 255 just posted (literally, as I'm writing this) to their facebook account that the Farm Cart in all its glorious goodness will be open at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. with World Cup specials including $2 PBR and Highlife Tallboys. I'm assuming you'll be able to get your food and drink at the cart and watch the TVs at the bar inside? Anyway, I've eaten at both the restaurant and the cart and the food is phenomenal and it's a great space inside; we'll definitely be hitting this spot too.

The Globe -- Pretty sure they're showing games at the upstairs bar. Love this bar on the corner of Clayton and Lumpkin beyond reason as it's barely changed since my university days here (added food and an upstairs bar). Will confirm and provide more details later.

The Royal Peasant -- 1675 Lumpkin Street. Despite their hopelessly outdated footie calendar, this British-style Five Points pub is also a pretty safe bet, as they promote themselves as a place to watch the Premiership and I notice their TVs are always tuned to football when I stop off at the liquor store next door (what?). This is another place I've been wanting to make it to and haven't -- Hillary Brown, food critic at Flagpole, raved about their food not long after they opened.

Agua Linda Tacqueria -- This picture, worth at least 100 words if not 1000, came via Athens Feed's twitter account (worth following if you're local), so clearly that's another spot. Not sure what their hours will be. That's the Atlanta Highway location (I can't find the address), not the one on Prince Avenue. We won't be visiting this one for a review as we are dirty commies without a car and I am kind of allergic to the Atlanta Highway, but it will probably be an especially fun spot for Mexico games.

More to come!

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

anxious and confident... waiting for the world cup

With less than two days to go before the 2010 World Cup in South Africa gets rolling, it's probably safe to say that I'm not the only football fan out there anxiously surfing the net reading blog posts, news stories, and tweets regarding the tournament.  Also, I'm glued to the television watching old World Cup matches on ESPN Classic... trying to manage to get some work done in the process as well.  Though honestly, it's been more of the former than the latter.

Of course, once the tournament ends in a month, I'll be relieved, exhausted, and anxious to forget about loyalties to country for a welcome return to league play.  As Lisa posted last week, despite my anxiousness for it to begin and my sometimes unfortunate romance of the game and the tournament... the World Cup is rarely pleasurable, hardly comforting in the manner that being hopelessly in love should be.  It's agony, pain, and masochism of the highest order.  What that says about my personality... well, I'll leave it at that.

But unlike previous years, I actually have confident, though cautious, optimism for the US team.  Still not a fan of the lumbering defensive-minded hybrid of catenaccio that coach Bob Bradley favors, but we look fit, solid, and confident.  Not overly-confident, mind you, like Ingerland, bloody Ingerland.  Confident in a good way.  So I have high hopes that we'll beat England on Saturday.  The World Cup rarely goes as predicted, though, so take my wish-fulfillment with plentiful salt, lime, and the tequila of your choice.

The last time we played England (I believe) was on May 28, 2008 at Wembley in London.  Two of us had just returned from three months in Spain and had plans to go see the game live... but we ended up watching the match at a pub down from our B&B instead... in a room full of English supporters.  We were roundly humiliated, as was the American team who lost 2-0 against a slovenly English squad. 

Last year's US appearance at the Confederations Cup in South Africa was a big improvement and I found myself falling for our scrappy Yanks in a way that I've never felt before.  Not only did the US look like they could beat Brazil in the final, the guys seemed to feel it as well.  This wasn't a fluke, this was the fulfillment of years of promise.  The US lost the final 3-2, but it was a line in the sand for me.  We weren't going back, we weren't going to return to the dark days of the 2006 World Cup embarrassment. 

We've done well in the big tournament before.  The 2002 World Cup for instance.  But our brutal assault at the feet of the Czechs in 2006 left some long-lasting bruises on many fans and will hopefully remain merely an aberration in the overall history of the national team.  Probably not, I know, but I'm trying to be optimistic these days.  Hopeful.

I know we can beat England.  They don't have any fear... but that's just a sad reminder of their arrogance, naivete, and penchant for self-delusion.  Crazy island dwellers, you know.  I don't for a second think we can win the whole thing, but I do know we can take down Ingerland.  And that's all that matters at this point.  One game at a time....

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

The Boys From Little Mexico

So how's everyone doing in the last breathless run-up to World Cup? Checking out some of those friendlies? Obsessively filling out wall charts, making predictions? Chewing your own arm off in crazed anticipation?

One of the ways we here at a pretty move have been coping is by acquiring a stash of footie books to keep us going before, during, and in the aftermath of World Cup 2010. We've got some old classics and some great new reads, and we'll be writing about some of them in the coming months. But in the meantime I wanted to give readers a heads-up on a new book we'll be talking more about next month after World Cup, The Boys From Little Mexico:A Season Chasing the American Dream.

This may be of particular interest to Portlanders--the story of the mostly-Latino soccer squad at Woodburn High School. Like some of the best footie books, it looks to be one which is about so much more than the game itself--not that the game isn't enough, but it also acts as such a great lens for everything from politics to sociology and beyond. And in the wake of the Arizona hullabaloo, this is a book about the real America--you know, the one that's full of immigrants, the America that we all came from (unless you are of indigenous descent).

We'll be featuring an interview with writer Steve Wilson in July, but in the meantime, pick it up! After all, what else are you gonna do with yourself in between matches for the those 31 days?

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

the agony and the... well, the even more agonizing

Some months back over Indian food, I suppose it would've been just after Beckham's big injury, my brother asked about Portugal v England in 2006, asked if it was true that Becks had wept when he was sidelined.
Yes, I said, he'd pulled a Gaza act, but I'd suspected at the time that he knew the Lions were going to be humiliated and was exaggerating his wound so he wouldn't have to be part of it.
There was a silence while my brother looked at me with his eyebrows raised. "Is that a little cynical?"
"In my defense," I said, "you have to remember that by that time in the World Cup I was completely insane."

Which is utterly and absolutely true. Not just neurotic, but bughouse mad. I'd quit my job so I had nothing to ground me into the earth during the month of footballing hysteria. I had no cable so I spent the bulk of my days up at dawn crawling into dark, smoky pubs where I drank gallons of bad coffee and ate (when I had to) terrible, greasy food. Many of these places had no windows. The only reason I knew it was summer was because after two or four or six hours I would have to stumble outside, snarling and vampire-pale, and make my way to a computer where I could unload into words on this very blog all the emotions of the day.

And the emotions were high and many. At the time I was still newly in love with football (newly enough that when I heard the Bill Shankly quote about football being far more important than life and death I thought yes, yes, that's exactly it) and had not grown a skin thick enough to separate myself from whatever absurdities were occurring on-pitch in Germany. When my teams were knocked out (all five of them) I experienced it as heartbreak as true as any I've felt at the hand of man. Successful cheating and diving left me breathless and gasping from the lack of justice in the world, and over-aggressive fouls I experienced as pure evil. In short, I had no perspective.

I have, naturally, been reviewing the events of that last World Cup in my head, and it seems to me, even over the distance of the years, that for every high and soaring moment I experienced there were nine or ten truly excruciating ones. Let's take a little trip down memory lane, shall we?

May as well start with Portugal v England, and get it over with: the stomp, the wink, and that horrible penalty shoot-out. The awful, gut-twisting humiliation when Jamie Carragher took his shot too soon and had to do it over. And Cristiano Ronaldo kissing the ball before he kicked it: was there anyone in the English-speaking world who didn't want to fire-bomb Ronaldo's house after that match? Lucky for him I'm a democrat and have no real training in weaponry.

Speaking of Portugal, travel with me now to Portugal v Holland. I remember sitting in the Marathon, I think it was, with Lynda, and I'd been kind of talking up Portugal as an interesting team... And then for the next two hours it was like watching through one-way glass at a nursery school while kindergartners tore into each other during some ferocious Romper Room. How many red cards were there? I think each team had maybe nine players each left on the pitch, keepers included, at match end. Mark Figo head-butted Mark Van Bommel, Deco PICKED UP THE BALL during play while arguing with a Dutchman... It was mass chaos, one vast embarrassment. We were exhausted afterwards, and I've never yet shaken my mistrust of either Portuguese OR Dutch footballers since.

France v Spain was a heartbreak for me, as La Furia Roja is the great love of my life. In it, Carles Puyol was accused of fouling Thierry Henry, leading to a French penalty and goal and giving France the edge they needed. Puyol came at him from an awkward angle, but Henry went down clutching his head (which Puyol had not touched) and until Puyol stands here and tells me otherwise I will always think of it as a successful dive. The interesting thing is that a month or so previous, following Barca's defeat of Arsenal during the 2006 Champions League Final, Henry (then of Arsenal) had been vociferous in the press about Barca's (Puyol's team) propensities for diving. "Next time I'll learn to dive maybe," he said, "but I'm not a woman." Guess he learned to dive, possibly becoming a woman at the same time.

These are just a few of many. Remember Brian McBride bloodied and dazed from the elbow of Daniele De Rossi? Remember Croatia v Australia, during which the Croatians were so very savage and unruly that poor Graham Poll lost track of his cards and gave one fellow three yellows? Remember the sickening crunch of Michael Owens' knee in the first minutes of England v Sweden?

Then there are two memories that I will never forgive. First, you have not known hell until you've sat in a college bar watching Germany take out the Argentine keeper with a knee to the ribs then win in penalties while frat boys (why do Americans who know crap about football always root for Germany?) roar with vicious Schadenfreude all around you. The other, the worst, was when Fabio Grosso put an end to Australia's hard-won and bravely-fought hopes by diving across Lucas Neill's prone body in the area and drawing the penalty. Although I later forgave the bulk of the Italian team during their rather wonderful humiliation of Germany (my enemy's enemy is my friend), Grosso will know my wrath until the day he dies and beyond.

That was the bulk of the bad. But there was also good.

I remember a miracle corner by Beckham that bent around into the net... was that England v Ecuador? Gorgeous. There was Argentina v Serbia-Montenegro, in which La Albiceleste showed us all what a beautiful passing game looks like. There was that lovely run by Tomas Rosicky against the U.S., and the best, most joyful, buoyant run ever by Carles Puyol, of all people, all the way down the pitch with the Ukrainians helpless at his heels, then a tap over to Torres who finished: perhaps the most playful, lovely goal of the tournament.

And that's pretty much it. When I try to think of more beautiful things, instead I think of more awful ones: Peter Crouch climbing up the hair of Trinidad's Brent Sancho to head in his goal, for instance. Sometimes it's downright embarrassing to be an anglophile in public.

I know you're thinking I left a bad point out: that OTHER head-butt, the one that got so much attention. I omit it on purpose, because I don't consider it a low point of the tournament. Quite the opposite. Consider: think what a long, excruciating match that final was. Neither side were playing in a scintillating fashion. It dragged on and on, as so many of the matches had, into penalties. Had Materazzi not goaded Zidane into action, had Zidane held his temper, I suspect we'd have all gone home feeling itchy and dissatisfied at the anticlimax of it all, and perhaps felt depressed and enervated for several days. As it was, thanks to Zizou, the 2006 World Cup went out with a bang, and I thank the football gods for it.

Anyway, it was Materazzi. Were he standing here right now, I'd head-butt him just for standing here being Materazzi. You see how violent I am already? And World Cup 2010 is still more than a week away.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010



Though I think that Arsenal player Theo Walcott was a ridiculous choice to be named to the England World Cup squad four years ago (the main reason being he was too young, too inexperienced) it seemed realistic to think that England manager Fabio Capello would name him to the 2010 squad. Walcott has matured over the last four years and shows great promise. Capello obviously thought so too, calling him up to play for his country for qualification... but alas, not good enough to name to the final 23.

More later....

Friday, May 28, 2010

countdown to euphoria... anxiety

In exactly two weeks the 2010 World Cup will begin in South Africa.  For soccerheads, Christmas comes only once every four years.  But it lasts a month.

These two weeks are going to feel interminable, though.  It can't come fast enough.  The trick is to stay busy until kick-off... not to give into the anxiety.  That will come soon enough once the tournament begins.

So this morning, while trying to keep my mind off the fact that I have to wait yet another two weeks before the start of the matches, I came across these cool World Cup murals done by the am i collective based out of Cape Town, who were hired by Portland, Oregon ad agency Wieden + Kennedy through ESPN.  The 32 murals, inspired by wonderfully cheesy Ghanaian movie posters from the 1980s, symbolically show the respective warriors of the pitch ready to take the ultimate crown of the only game that matters.  Vanity Fair magazine also did a piece on it and you can see more of the murals here.

ja! ja! ja!

Now where's my scotch?

Thursday, May 27, 2010

bradley's boys at the white house

Yesterday coach Bob Bradley announced his 23-man World Cup squad live on ESPN--generating plenty of controversy at the same time--and earlier today Bradley and the squad were guests at the White House.  President Obama, former President Clinton (who is a US Bid Committee Honorary Chairman), and Vice President and all-around shit disturber Joe Biden met with the team and... well, it bodes well for the sport in this country, I think.  You keep comin' a long way, baby.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

one born every minute


Main Entry: ass hole
Pronunciation: \'as-,(h)ōl/
Function: noun
Date: 14th century
1 usually vulgar : Anus
2 a usually vulgar : a stupid, incompetent, or detestable person b usually vulgar : the worst place--used in phrases like asshole of the world

-- Merriam-Webster   

In William S. Burroughs's classic novel Naked Lunch, there is a scene, a routine really, about a man who taught his asshole to talk.  It's brilliantly funny, upsetting, and acidic in that Burroughs way.  Monty Python on smack.  For years I thought the piece was nothing more than fiction.  Yes, the world is full of strange, unbelievable wonders.  But surely this was just Burroughs riffing off of some make-believe routine he used to do for friends.

I was wrong.

A man named Barney Ronay has mastered the trick.  Unbelievable indeed!

And after you read about that incredible piece of human ingenuity, you can read a measured and thoughtful reply.