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?