Archive for February, 2011

The Fan In You: Death Valley Days

In this The Fan In You piece, TSG Photog Extraordinaire Matt Mathai fills us in on how he came about his passion

Death Valley Days “Life nowadays as a DC United fan”

There's only one Matt Mathai. One Matt Mathaaaaaiiii. There's only one Matt Mathai.

My first introduction to top-level soccer in America came in 1992 when a friend and I went to see the USA-Ireland match at RFK Stadium.

More so, it was a chance to see Roy Keane, Niall Quinn, Thomas Dooley, and the new elegant US player, Roy Wegerle. It was really cold and rainy for a May day and match, but we stuck it out and were rewarded with a 3-1 win.

I was hooked.

I had played, coached, and reffed soccer at various levels all my life, but this was different somehow.

I’ve now lost count of the number of times I’ve traveled to watch the USMNT in action since then.  The most memorable time was in 2001 when the Screaming Eagles, a DC United supporters group, organized a trip to Mexico City for a WC qualifier.

Estadio Azteca was and is awesome.

110,000 fans in green, and then there was about 130 of us in red, white, and blue.

The tension ramped up when we unfurled a huge US flag right behind goal. A little unwise, perhaps, but we hadn’t come all that way to sit quietly and anonymously in a corner. We were hit by all kinds of things thrown at us….beer, coins, batteries, and other less savory things that I am too much of a gentleman to mention.

I love the red jersey I wore it that day. It now has a burn mark where I was hit with a lit flare.

Yes, you read that correctly, hit…with…a…lit flare.

All of it, though, the atmosphere, the sound, the singing, the armored riot police escorting us through a tunnel of plexiglas riot shields, all of it was awesome.

1992: USA v. Ireland: Notice the Budweiser ‘frame’ they used for ads.  This was an improvement over having to take commercial breaks, which they did during the TV broadcasts of the 1990 World Cup.

In 1994, my friend and I took a lot of time off and spent a lot of money to see 14 World Cup matches.

The most notable were: Ireland vs. Italy (a shock upset), Saudi Arabia vs. Belgium (one of the finest goals ever scored in a World Cup) and Germany vs. Bulgaria (Stoitchkov beating the Germans with a beautiful free kick ). Then Italy vs. Brazil….the final.  I remember sitting in the stands in Pasadena thinking that I’d fulfilled one of my dreams.

Here’s the shot I took of Stoitchkov nailing his free kick.

And here’s a shot of the pre-game ceremony at the final in Pasadena

I joined Sam’s Army early because I liked the idea of promoting American support for the USMNT.  I was tired of watching games in the US where our fans were outnumbered.   In the beginning, it was often just 10 or 20 of us in red behind a goal.

The players noticed, though, and that made it worthwhile.

I was thrilled when MLS started.

Only the finest graphic design from 1996...

The announcement in 1995 that my home of Washington, D.C. would get a team was a great day for me.

I felt committed to helping it succeed in any way I could, so I decided to form a supporters group….which eventually became the noted Screaming Eagles.

I set up a listserve and a web page and started to attract traffic from the people I used to talk to on the rec.sport.soccer newsgroup.

I contacted the DC team (as yet unnamed) in 1995 while they were still in an office in NYC and we agreed to talk once they set up operations in the DC area.  I was lucky enough to establish very good relationships with everyone in the front office, and those relationships persist to this day.

The first sign I had that we had something was when the Name-The-Team contest was conducted via telephone and my web page.  That was pretty cool.  It’s a long story for another time, but I’m glad to say that sanity prevailed and the name ‘DC United’ was selected.

Here's a shot I took in April 1996 at the Meet the Team event. Bob Bradley, John Harkes, Marco Etcheverry.

Where have you gone, Said Fazlagic?

The year began with such promise.

It wasn’t to last.  We were terrible in the early days. Arena fired half the team after the second game, a 0-4 loss at Columbus, I believe.

Continue reading

Manchester Derby: Live Commentary

Nani scores the first goal, though no acrobatic celebration.

United right the ship after last weeks blip against Wolves. City had their chances, but United defended well. Lets see if the rest of the chasing pack have an answer to United’s derby win.

TWEEET TWEET TWEET - The game ends with no real drama. United were clinical in putting the game away.

91:00 - 4 minutes of added time. On the bench, Lord Ferg is fuming.

88:00 - Giggs and hair have a weird relationship.

84:00 - SWP has no imagination in any of his passes. He telegraphs everything. At one point he had so much potential, but in the end became one-dimensional, though something about his games keeps getting him picked by every manager he’s played for.

81:00 - 10 minutes left. Should be riveting! City still passing very well, but their end product is nothing to write home about as Dzeko blazes one over the bar.

78:00 – GOOOOOAAAL. What an amazing goal from Rooney. That came out of no where.  Nani sends in a poor cross that is behind Rooney, but he launches himself up and bicycle kicks the ball straight into the back of the net. Goal of the season. WOW. Untied 2 – City 1.

77:00 – Little Mikey Owen pretends to care about the game as he half-heartedly stretches. Harry Potter is sitting behind him

74:00 – United are giving City much to much space in the center of the pitch. They finally cut in between a SWP and Dzeko one too to clear. Game is completely open as Nani waltzes across the halfway line all the way to the box and has a shot that goes well over. He was barely challenged.

71:00 – Even at 105 years old, Giggs is a master down the wing. Unstoppable as he sends a delicious cross, but its well cut out by the City defenders and Silva brings it forward.

69:00 - Game has opened up again as both teams look to be the next to score. City’s attacks seem to be more convincing as even SWP gets into it with a nice little run.

67:00 – Lord Ferg counters by sending in the Berba for Anderson.

65:00 – GOOOOOALLL. Dzeko. The Bosniian has been on for less then 5 minutes and one times a cross off Silva’s back and completely wrong foots Van de Sar. A little lucky and Silva should be credited with that goal, but a goal is a goal and it’s all level here at the Theater of Dreams. United 1 – City 1

63:00 – Tevez and Silva certainly have developed a good understanding and ping it around the United box. Tevez brings it down and sends a teasing cross that agonizingly bounces around the penalty spot, but not a light blue shirt in sight.

60:00 – Good move from Mancini as Milner comes of for Dzeko. Should have started the game or second half like this. Lets see what the former Wolfsburg striker can do in 30 minutes.

59:00 - Dzeko’s trackie bottoms are off. Entrance is imminent.

56:00 – Silva turns three defenders with one jinx, but his well struck shot is straight into the inviting arms of Van de Sar.

55:00 – Scholes with an acrobatic and bizzare back-pass that befuddles Van de Sar and goes for a corner. From it City win another.

52:00 - City start of brightly, but like the first half, have nothing to show for it. Oddly their first move is to take Kolarov (who has been largely absent) and replace him with SWP!!!! Dzeko anyone?

TWEEEET - and City start the second half.

PEEEP PEEP. Halftime. Well it was all City in the first half, but United counter well and take a 1-0 lead into the dressing room.

46:00 – City respond well, but United have grown in confidence as a nicely worked move ends with a Giggs shot over the bar.

41:00 – GOOOOOOOOAAALL. What a well worked counter attacking goal by United, as Nani scores his 10th to give United a 1-0 lead. Giggs supplies the pass that Nani expertly controls, takes one touch and easily slots past Joe Hart. City were dominating the game, but United are up a goal. United 1 – City 0

38:00 - Shot of Gary Neville on the bench. Thought he retired?

34:00 – Giggs left alone out wide and sends in a peach of a cross that Fletcher charges in and heads directly at Hart. Nice bit of football from the red half of Manchester, but the Scot should have done better.

31:00 - City still pressing. Most of their attacks are coming from Zabaleta and Richards and typically end with Silva and Tevez. United’s rear guard standing firm but for how long?

24:00 – As one might expect, the game has slowed down a bit, but at the same time opened up as well. Both teams are getting time on the ball.

16:00 – City have looked the more dangerous team as they are making the better runs coupled with the crisp penetrative passing. Van de Sar hasn’t been challenged though.

14:00 – Micah Richards just manhandles Giggs as the Welshman goes of on one of his trademark mazy runs. Everything was within the rules, but that is no way to treat the elderly.

12:00 – Another random surprise here, but Micah Richards is playing very well and and very effective as a wing back. will get back to you re his defensive duties.

11:00 - Nani gets a little space and sends in a pile driver of a shot that whistles inches over the bar. He then complains to the ref about something.

8:00 – Lots of shoving and blocking and end to end stuff, but nothing that has troubled either keeper.

4:00 – Silva and Tevez have a lovely one two that leaves the Spaniard one on one with the Van de Sar, but at a very tight angle. His shot trickles inches wide.

2:00 – This one is started with all the pace and verve of a runaway locomotive. Milner brings it out of his own penalty area all the way past halfway, but is well tackled by Scholes. Not sure what was more impressive or surprising.

David Silva has been quietly having a very productive season and has brought out the best in Tevez

TWEEET TWEEET – and United kick off and in seconds win a corner

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Sadly no Balotelli as a match up between the fiery Italian with tons of talent and Rooney would have been fun to see. Dzeko on the bench? Not sure why, but i guess Mancini knows what he’s doing.

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Here are the line ups

Manchester City: Hart, Richards, Kompany, Lescott, Zabaleta, Milner, Barry, Toure Yaya, Kolarov, Silva, Tevez.
Subs: Given, Wright-Phillips, Dzeko, Boateng, Vieira, Jo, Toure.

Manchester United: Van der Sar, O’Shea, Smalling, Vidic, Evra, Fletcher, Scholes, Anderson, Nani, Rooney, Giggs.
Subs: Lindegaard, Brown, Owen, Berbatov, Hernandez, Carrick, Rafael Da Silva.

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Morning everyone. It’s stupid o’clock here on the west coast, and TSG studios is up and stupid.

The Weekend: What Americans Watch

Your top 5 games for Americans to watch this weekend:

(And when we say to watch that doesn’t mean an American has to be playing just that we’re suggesting you check out the game if you’re around some HD in the States.)

It's been mostly "hold the applause" for Everton this year. Can Timmy and team turn it up and keep it up?

5. Sunday: Bolton over to Goodison to face the Toffees

The skinny: After a blazing start, the Bolton Wanderers find themselves bobbing around the middle of the table–currently 8th–as the season hits the home stretch.

Is Europe out of the question for Bolton?

Well a lot will depend on the impact of Daniel Sturridge, the single reinforcement for Owen Coyle’s troops in the January window. With Kevin Davies showing some wear-and-tear and Johan Elmander slumping from his early season form, the Chelsea loanee will be needed to stretch the field and find the net even more. (Sturridge has made it count in two outings thus far (two goals) and TSG took a small step towards becoming a “believer” on his game.)

Everton, notoriously a slow starter, hasn’t had that mid-to-late season kick that it usually does. It will be even harder now as Jack Rodwell, who moved from potential to realized on the player bar, finds himself on the PT table for the next four to six weeks.

That will pair two like-minded central midfielders in Fellaini, a true difference maker for the Toffees, and Mikel Arteta, paid like a difference maker, in the middle…the duo has not always complemented one another.

Will Fellaini play up to use his noggin or sit deep to play the true holding role he excels at. Will Arteta drift outside right and lose his game further?

However they’re deployed, they’ll face the hard-checking duo of Stu Holden and Fabrice Muamba, both who caught a break during the FIFA dates.

This one will be a battle of the midfield here and despite the Rodwell loss I see Everton being stout at home and eeking out the win.

4. Saturday: Pachuca v. Puebla

The skinny: The Herculez Gomez Bowl.

Now a starter after being hitched to the bench for the beginning part of the campaign, Gomez features for a Pachuca team that is getting moldy in the basement of their Clausura group.

Puebla is not doing much better in their group, uncomfortably resting just above the cellar dweller in their group.

Both coaches are under fire for their under-firing teams and need the victory.

Has anyone seen Paco Torres lately?

Hugging Hamsik has become a common occurrence at Napoli...

3. Saturday: Roma v. Napoli

The skinny: It is con…..gested up top in the race for the Scudetto. Inter has roared to life with the Spaniard now banished, and Roma is currently on the outside looking in for a spot in Europe sitting seventh.

A huge one Saturday as Roma heads to Napoli Napoli takes the Marek Hamsik Show on the road and heads to Roma looking for than a point for their excursion.

Clint Dempsey, mischevous in the other team's end all season...

2. Monday: Big London vs. Little London

The skinny: It’s basically been Clint Dempsey or bust for the Cottagers this year on the attack.

What makes Dempsey’s push for his first EPL double digit scoring year all the more impressive is that the stork dropped off a new bundle of joy for the US forward just this past Fall.

Usually that means lack of sleep, for Deuce it appears to be inspiration.

Bobby Zamora’s return (two weeks in the offing) can’t come soon enough as Fulham really don’t have a pattern for their goals with Dempsey seeming to conjure up some impressive shots out of thin air.

For the Chelsea, it’s been the Blues lately. Unable to shake off the midseason doldrums and now having the pressure to integrate a new striker into the mix.

The writing seems to be on the wall for Nicolas Anelka to finally take a walk, yet, incredulously Chelsea boss Carlo Ancelotti used Anelka–to ambivalent results–in the key attacking forward role last game. Le Sulk in a role that plays conduit to the Drogba-Torres firepower up top? Really?

So with that new striker incoming, Chelsea left arguably their most important player, Florent Malouda, out of the line-up for 80% of the match last week and are relying on a diamond shape that forces a 30-year-old and World Cup-drained Ashley Cole and a recently returned, but not fully fit Jose Bosingwa to fly up the flanks. More confusing still.

What in the world is going on at Stamford Bridge. Can’t blame John Terry for this, can you?

Will the new guy come up big on Derby Day?

1. DERBY!Manchester’s Derby

The skinny: Manchester City vs. Manchester United. Quickly rocketing up from the bottom of depth charts like a bad Oasis anthem, has a similar feel to the Red Sox-Yankees’s clashs early in the 2000′s. The upstart City team starting to splash the cash and quite yet able to quell the monstrous and historical goliath down the road.

This weekend sees the Fergies’ looking to recover from their first stumble of the season and playing at home. By all accords, to the home team at Old Trafford should go the spoils.

And that’s why this is Manchester City’s biggest statement game of the season as a potential six point swing is only in the offing if Mancini’s side challenges the Aons. With a monumental win, City would find them right in the mix for the title at two points back, 54 to 52. Lose and it’s likely a goal of Champion’s League or bust at the Eastlands.

A few weeks ago, City took to the road and after toying around with the idea of going head-to-head with Arsenal for the first ten minutes or so, battened down the hatches, closed up shop and decide to play for the draw against the Wengers.

Champions are made by going for it and Man City needs to step up in this category. Let’s hope they let it roll and in turn the game is open on Saturday.

Note: TSG’s Shaun Webb will be live-blogging this one.

Honorable mentions:

* Re-Juventus vs. even more rejuvenated Inter: I know this game should probably go up in the top five (and probably ahead of Roma-Napoli), but Quagliarella, Milito, Chivu are all absent for this one. Nevertheless, with Leonardo moving Wesley Sneijder back to the midfield (after Rafa Benitez forsook him in a false nine role), the match bears watching just for the Dutchman’s play of late.

* Championship: Hull City vs. Preston North End: Americans only here as Brad Guzan looks to keep his strong record in goal for Hull City going and faces Easy Eddie Johnson on loan from Fullham. I surmise this is your last shot to be a grown-ass, EJ.

* Super Lig: Bursaspor vs. Eskisehirspod: Jozy’s squad takes on the mid-table contender on Sunday. Altidore will get a playing time, but the question is where and how much with Scotsman Kenny Miller slamming them home for club and country and 20-year-old sniper Sercan Yildrim starting to look like a superstar in the making for his homeland.

Finding Your Home…When You’re An Ex-Pat

This is a guest piece by frequent contributor John Nyen

My weekend home...

At 6:30 in the morning on a Sunday you should be asleep. Sleep is a very serious matter that is not interrupted without the requisite jolts and pangs of natural disasters, political strife or burst water pipes.

Certainly you shouldn’t be walking down the side of a snow-covered street heading towards a small building that appears closed. These are the things that average, common folk will tell you.

This building in particular has a single car parked in the front. The speakers outside play a bit of what sounds like a news cast, but with the cold it is time to hurry up inside.

The door barely opens and someone almost spills out, the building is packed and inside the droning chants of opposing fans yell abuses at each other from across the floor.

This is how it is to be a English football fan in America.

The bar is so full of people that upon opening the door, the heat steams out into the cold air, the vapor spinning away. It would be impossible to know that this place existed from the outside, packed with swaying and chanting fans.

The fact is that in order to truly enjoy sports it is necessary to watch them live, and (barring being in the stadium) the best place to watch soccer live is your local pub. Forget what comfortable fans tell you about enjoying the spectacle from home in your comfortable chair, in your comfortable bath robe. This particular event must be done right, after all you woke up early. The thing that many American footy fans don’t always think about is that there probably is a pub very close to you right now, and at 6:30 in the morning it will be full. Pints will be passed, English breakfast eaten, and all the while the various tribes of soccer fans will gather together in some sort of less violent version of Fight Club.

The first rule of watching at a pub is “DO talk about this”.

To Anyone.

Bring your friends, and educate them on the finer points of the Free Beer Movement. Buy them a pint and tell them the historical differences of these teams. Tell them of the matches old and new, by doing this you indoctrinate them into a broader spectrum of sports.

The British Bulldog is one such place in Denver, Colorado.

A snippet of camaraderie...

I stood there, before Saint Patrick’s Day, two years ago to watch a resurgent Liverpool team play Manchester United. The fans were split down the length of the bar with chants and songs ringing back and forth with the swings in the match. Pints were passed around with food and during the tense portions fans grasped, in pure anguish, the scarves that swung around their necks

When goals were scored, perfect strangers were hugging and embracing each other in absolute joy over something that happened 2000 miles away.

It was the same at Rush Bar on 32 Rue Saint-Sébastien in Paris. From the outside they all look the same, serene and peaceful places of business located on a corner street. However, upon opening the door you hear accents and languages consisting of French, English, Irish, Scouse, Australian, and German. So many nationalities are presented at once but the basic scene remains the same. Sitting close to the bar with a Guinness in hand, I hear at the same time, a Frenchman and a Scouser yell in two different languages at the television screen.

At half time the commodities of cigarettes are exchanged outside and small conversation ensues about tactics, your day and the requisite news of the team that you follow. I think back to sitting at the Bulldog, and remember the same scenario of whistles blowing and people crowding around together shielding lighters from the wind.

Towards the end of the half time period those same people shudder back inside and group back together with their friends and new allies. The common bond is formed here, shoulder to shoulder, as the ball is kicked off again, half way around the country.

This is the way it was on Sunday February 6th when fans of both Chelsea and Liverpool gathered at the Bulldog. The Chelsea fans banged away on their drum with songs floating as the Liverpool fans sang songs over the top of the Chelsea people. Both supporters groups attempted to outdo each other as the game played on over the multitude of TV screens. With the final whistle the masses dispersed out into the cold, ready to start the day.

The commonality of soccer takes place in many countries the world over. However, right next to you there is probably a place, like the British Bulldog in Denver where you can share in the true experience that is the global game.”

A Quick Conversation With Sunil Gulati

Finally had our chance to catch up with USSF President Sunil Gulati.

US Soccer leader Sunil Gulati

Gulati is a figure that doesn’t need any introduction. A lighting rod of criticism by uber fans over the last year, the president of US Soccer is actually quite a likable figure. He’s got an email readily available to any fan that wants it and, from only recent observations, you can tell there is quite a bit of passion and US Soccer zeal under a veneer that is always aware of how strong the signal is coming from his voice.

As we commented a few weeks ago, TSG was able to sit with Sunil as he presided over a socratic method-style fan forum before the Chile game.

We were able to catch up with him after the game and led off with a subject that is dear to his heart, the US Women’s team. In doing our research we learned that Sunil loves to talk about the US ladies and is so smitten with the team–beyond his job details–that, in 2008, he elected to stay in China to watch the US Women do battle in the Olympics rather than hightail it to Guatemala to catch up with the USMNT for a critical qualifier against Guatemala.

Don’t worry, he caught both games–he never misses watching any.

Now our conversation with US Soccer prez Sunil Gulati:

TSG: So, are you going to watch the ladies tonight?

Sunil Gulati: No, no. I’m on a flight back to New York. How could I watch it live? Oh, on the internet. I have a flight back when it’s on at 3am.

TSG: What’s your expectation for the women’s team at the upcoming World Cup? Do you think they’re challenged by their youth? They’ve had a few stumbles in the last two tournaments or series of games if you will?

SG: The challenges are they’ve lost only two games in the past two years…so I’m not sure anyone is hitting the panic button.

Continue reading

Lionel Messi’s Immaculate Conception

Ray Hudson describes the action as Lionel Messi gets the better of Cristiano Ronaldo–this time on the international scene–as Argentina downed Portugal, 2-1.

FIFA International Date Spotlighting

Some players and subplots you might want to pay attention to Wednesday:

The hair's good...what about the defense though?

• Washing away the sour exit of World Cup 2010….

The powerhouse match-up of Brazil-France gives the two teams another chance to another step away from their forgetful and regretful World Cup exits.

Brazil will run out new Chelsea man David Luiz partnered with Thiago Silva (Oguchi Onyewu’s pre-injury foil at AC Milan) and hope to infuse youth at the backbone while not missing a step.

The young tandem will be tested by two absentees from the France’s South African side in Samir Nasri and Karim Benzema.

• Scotland on the up-and-up?

Even with Darren Fletcher and West Brom’s Graham Dorrans out, Scotland boasts an EPL-quality laden squad heading into their clash with Northern Ireland tomorrow.

In the back eight, names such as Blackpool’s Charlie Adam, Tottenham’s Alan Hutton and Liverpool’s Danny Wilson will feature.

Up top? Former Ranger frontman Kenny Miller gets the armband and is off to a sizzling start at Jozy Altidore’s Bursaspor with two goals in his first three games.

• Thiago Motta (Italy)

Yes, the man lining up at the catalyst in the midfield for an Azurri team that recently boasted such pure Italian last names as Gattuso and Pirlo is…in fact…a native of Brazil.

That makes the fact that on-fire Giuseppi Rossi is an American nearly an afterthought.

Italy take on the German machine in another immovable object clash.

• The Guus Hiddink Invitational

Turkey takes on South Korea in a battle of two speedy sides and two sides that Guus Hiddink has once called “mine.”

Hiddink of course is in the employ of Turkey and it was Hiddink’s run with South Korea in 2002, laying waste to Italy and Spain until they slammed into Germany.

Hamit Altintop for Turkey, a TSG fave.

• Who we playing?

In typical CAF fashion, South Africa now plays Kenya tomorrow after claiming at alternate times over the past month that opponents Zambia and Burkina Faso were done deals.

More coming…

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