Archive for the ‘The Beautiful Game’ Category

Movie Review: Pelada


Last night Matt and I went to the Victorian Theater ( a lot fancier than it sounds ) to see the documentary Pelada.

The movie follows two former college stars a few years removed from undergrad as they try and figure out what to do with their lives. Luke is being pressured by family to go to law school and Gwendolyn is trying to write a novel. Both frustrated and missing soccer they plan a worldwide whirlwind trip to play pickup footie.

They start off in Brazil and make their way to Argentina and other places in South America. They play with elderly folks, they play in dodgy sections of Buenos Aires and even play in a prison pickup game.

They then make their way to Europe and Africa and then to China and Japan. The film ends with them in the Middle East.

I really enjoyed this documentary. It was a good mix of interviews and stories with some of the people they played against/with, as well as a snapshot of the places they were visiting. Both Luke and Gwendolyn were incredibly friendly and respectful to the people and situations they came across and in turn were treated in similar fashion. There is a lot of humor in the way it was shot and the camera people/directors (Rebekah Fergusson and Ryan White) did a wonderful job of capturing the fun with the intensity of each pick up game.

Austins Field in Methare Valley, Nairobi - Kenya

As someone who has done a lot of traveling and often migrated to any area where there might be pickup, I recognized the nervousness and awkwardness of speaking an unfamiliar language while trying to communicate that you would like to join their game. Most everywhere they went, they were greeted with welcoming arms and curiosity. Both could hold their own, though pretty much everyone playing was surprised and impressed with how good Gwendolyn was.

Just like all situations in life everyone had a story. The film often concentrated on the idea that while things are tough either through poverty, politically or what have you, that everyone enjoys a game of football and that it transcends all. We are often led to believe based on various feel good stories that come out around any major tournament time that football can bring peace, stop wars, end conflict (which they do) etc… and it was refreshing though sadly interesting that their experience in Jerusalem did not follow these feel good paths.

Jerusalem is home to three different religions and close to various violent attacks and conflict from many sides. They play a pick up game where the division between teams is between the Jews and the Arabs and it is very obvious. In the interviews it is clear that they don’t like each other and when a conflict arises over whether a goal is scored, things get heated. It seems from the film that the game just ends after this situation.

Gwendolyn and Luke

The film is careful not to take any sides politically and it does it best stay away from showing anyone in a negative light (apart from a guy in a “Robin Hood” hat who deserved it). Its very respectful of every situation they are in, which mirrors the attitudes of both Luke and Gwendolyn. They’re both wonderful people and their joy and excitement with every game they play is infectious. As mentioned they were former college stars who didn’t make it professionally. Luke has made peace with this (he comes across as one of the most patient and easy going people in the world) and his calm demeanor is mirrored in the way he plays the game. Gwendolyn is having a harder time as she wrestles with her current situation versus her life long dream to be the best.

This is an excellent movie that captures the joy of kicking a ball around with old friends and neighbors whether in competition, for exercise or just something to do. It reminds you that regardless of how tough life can be, that people do find joy and release in a pick up game of football, that the game is important to everyone and in most cases brings people together.

Check out their site here and if there is not a screening being shown near you, buy the DVD, watch it and then go out and find a game.

It will rain tears of sorrow in the plains of Spain

Will he lift up the World Cup Trophy July 11th?

The other Guardian publication came out with this article a couple of weeks ago about 6 great teams that never won the world cup. It’s a good read and it got me thinking about other great teams, club and country that had it all but couldn’t capture the big prize. Most recently Barcelona came to mind in this years Champions League. They were an incredible team but couldn’t get it together nor break through Mourinho’s well orchestrated defensive tactics and lost over two legs in the semis.

Spain are a fantastic team. As of now they are the favorite amongst most pundits and bookies to hoist the cup on July 11th. They won Euro 2008 beating holders Greece, Italy and Russia en route to a 1-0 final against Germany. Between the end of 2006 and the summer of 2009, Spain went unbeaten in 35 international matches until they lost to the US in the semis of the Confederations Cup. Since that 2-0 loss in South Africa they have won their last 9 games. That is 1 loss in 45 games!!! This is a great team and a great team that will not win the world cup in 2010.

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The Beautiful Dunk

Kind of cool to see this coming out of a high school dunk competition in the midwest. I would have imagined Steve Nash doing this first but either way, great pass and great finish!

Help Brian Ching Build Houses Now…

TSG’s The Beautiful Game series explores how soccer makes a difference around the globe.

Brian Ching might be resting his hamstring–for a month or more–but he’s not resting on his laurels….

I had a chance to converse with Clark Haptonstall on Monday night. This post was due out earlier today with Brian’s announcement, but the day got away from TSG.

The House That Ching Built

Anyway, Clark is a player representative for Brian Ching, Stu Holden, and Rico Clark among others.

If you’ve read the publication since it’s inception, you know that Clark was the first rep to grant The Shin Guardian an interview…with Stu Holden after his Gold Cup theatrics nonetheless.

In short the thing I know about Clark is the players he works with always, “do good” outside the game and Brian Ching today is just another example.

Brian is attempting to raise of $25,000 this weekend through a ticket promotion for the Dynamo’s match against the Galaxy. For more on the promotion, visit Brian’s web site.

More impressive? Since Ching announced this past December that he wanted to raise over $75,000 for Habitat for Humanity, he’s already raised or had pledged $40,000. Wow. “The House That Ching Built” is scheduled for construction in October of 2010.

There are few times when The Shin Guardian posts a press release from a player or team. This time, it’s the in the name of a good cause and for a good effort.

Thanks Brian, for showing the reason why it is called, again, the beautiful game.

(Stay tuned for another great Beautiful Game piece Wednesday.)

The Shin Guardian’s Interview from February with Brian.

Rayo Vallecano versus Celta Vigo

View of Madrid from the top of Estadio Teresa Rivero

Hello all from sunny Spain. Actually it isn’t very sunny and pretty damn cold, but I’m here on a short holiday so figured lets try and catch a few games for some real live commentary. I’m in Madrid and tomorrow is the big one, Real Madrid versus Atletico Madrid. It’s being played at the Bernabeu so it should be an amazing affair. Am told tickets are going to be hard to come by, but I’m going to swing by the stadium tomorrow morning and see what i can get – if not, maybe the scalpers can help me out.

I didn’t want put all my eggs in one basket so I decided to check out a Segunda Division game with one of Madrid’s many other teams, Rayo Vallecano. They’re a typical yo yo team that bounces back and forth from the Primera Division to the Segunda. They were hosting Celta Vigo, who up until the 06-07 season were top half of the table finishers in the top league in Spain, perennially qualifying for the UEFA cup and even getting to the last 16 of the Champions League in 2004. The hosts are currently 17th and Celta Vigo are mid table.

Who needs a ticket when you live next to the stadium

I took the excellent Metro from where I was staying in central Madrid and got off at Portazgo which put me directly in front of the stadium. The first thing you notice is that it’s smack dab in the middle of a residential neighborhood. Obviously easy to get to by metro or bus, it must be REALLY easy to be a fan and just go to a game anytime you want. Stadiums in the US tend to be a bit of a hike to get to (or not over shadowed by apartments and houses) and apart from some such as Wrigley or Fenway aren’t really part of local neighborhoods.

Emerging from the underground, I heard the fans in full voice. Due to a mix up with day light savings time and a couple of bottles of honey rum the previous evening, I was running a little late. As I was purchasing my ticket, I heard a roar from the crowd. A goal had been scored…bah I missed it…and double bah cause it was Celta Vigo who scored. I got to my seat, or at least where I thought my seat was (the ticket was impossible to decipher) and immediately took in the atmosphere. Its a cozy stadium, seating  about 15,000 with splendid views of Madrid, but I wasn’t there to admire the scenery. I was curious to see what the level of play in Spain’s second tier was like, how it might compare to MLS and whether or not this is a destination for potential US players to try and apply their trade (sorry Matt😉 ).

The level of play was decent. The final score was 2-1 to Celta Vigo. Players controlled the ball well and made good passes. Hard tackles and even soft tackles were met with entertainingly theatrical dives and the immediate clutching of body parts, but for the most part the ref just waved play on. The Rayo Vallecano goal was a thing of beauty. Their winger scampered down side, beating the defenders for pace and sent a picture perfect pass to an on rushing forward who slotted the ball into the bottom the corner of the net. Soon after that they won a penalty through the same speedy winger but it was well saved by the Celta Vigo keeper.

Celta’s second goal was gifted to them by an atrocious clearance/piss poor decision by the Rayo keeper. The fans simultaneously lifted their hands in horror and then disgust as the Rayo keeper flubbed a clearance right at the Celta Vigo striker, who calmly struck the ball around a helpless keeper. High comedy

The Ultras cheering on their team or hurling insults at the opposing fans...hard to tell

What made the game great were the fans. The Rayo “Ultras” positioned behind the goal were in constant voice, singing and chanting and getting the rest of the stadium involved. Drums were beating and heckles and worse were launched at the Celta Vigo supporters, who were perched in the top left of the stadium. Even though the traveling supporters had the last laugh, the Rayo Vallecano fans never quietened, even as we left the ground. At one point the Ultras would point toward one side of the pitch and start a chant to which we responded back. They then pointed to other side and they in turn did the same thing. This went on for 10 minutes. This outside of college bball and football does not exist in US sports. It’s a shame and fodder for another article, but I must admit I’m glad that the Sounders and other MLS teams have fans who are bringing this sort of atmosphere into their own grounds. Its what makes home field advantage such a big deal in soccer. Its an added 12th man and impossible to ignore for opposing teams. Many a better away team has lost a game due to the relentless noise/abuse directed at them and cheering for the home team. I really hope to see tomorrow’s derby. It will be intense!

Rayo lining up to take a free kick

This game had more quality then an MLS game. These players have played at the highest level in Spain at some point in their careers and if not yet, soon will be. That said, I think this would be a perfect place for up and coming US players to get their feet wet, learn from some seasoned veterans and really get to work on their ball skills and over all game understanding. Sure some of these current Segunda Division players maybe over the hill and some might not make it back to the grand stage a few miles down the road, but they all controlled the ball well, all had a good first touch and all knew how to tackle. Off course, every player wants to make it at the big club but so many get lost on the bench or in the reserves. There is no beating first team football, no matter what the level.

All it takes is one or two players to come over and make a difference. So instead of languishing on a bench or in the reserves in the Premiership, try it out in the Segunda Division in Spain. It might not be glamorous and you might not get on ESPN, but you will be playing and learning and people (other managers, national team coaches etc…) will see you.

As for the overall experience. I do hope that MLS continues to adopt the atmosphere and excitement that I saw in the game today. I went to the game with a good friend who is a casual soccer fan at best. After wards he said “Eff it, lets get tickets for tomorrows game no matter what the cost”. Sounds like a good idea to me.

Soccer Can Be More That Just A Game

“The Beautiful Game” series explores how soccer makes a difference off the pitch.

Two weeks ago, TSG ran the first part of our Supporter Series about the Tony Danza Army, a group of guys who support the Pali Blues of the W-USL.

In writing the piece, it was suggested that TSG request a quote from Pali Blues’ General Manager, Jason Lemire. Not really knowing too much about Pali Blues at the time, I suggested that Mr. Lemire should comment on TDA and the opportunity to attract new fans with the recent folding of the WPS Los Angeles Sol.

At that time Mr. Lemire chose not to answer the second part and I assumed he was being respectful of the still unfolding situation for the Sol. What I didn’t realize at the time was that the Pali Blues had a deep connection with the LA Sol. The co-founder of the Blues was one of the original owners of the Sol and the Blues coach was, until the Sol disbanded, the general manager of the WPS team.

In other words, the two teams were basically sisters in the LA market. But, according to an Open Letter to Pali Blues’ fans penned by Mr. Lemire,  the connection ran much deeper. Both teams shared a common belief that their mission transcended performance on the field to the inspiration of young girls and women. So with the folding of the Sol, Los Angeles may have lost more than just a women’s professional soccer team.

It would be easy to dismiss a (semi)professional soccer team’s desire to inspire young women, but the impact can be tremendous. Mrs. Shinguardian, my wife,  played soccer through college and credits the sport with being a big part of the women she has become.

Championships are only part of the goal for the Pali Blues.

All team sports provide some level of commitment, teamwork and goal setting, but, according to Mrs. Shinguardian, soccer stands above the rest for women. As she pointed out, soccer is one of the only team sports that has identical rules for men and women.

In women’s soccer, the ball is the same size (unlike basketball), the field is the same (unlike softball), the gear is the same (unlike lacrosse) and the rules are the same (unlike hockey).

The underlying equality in soccer may not seem like a big deal to men— it didn’t at first to me — but rest assured it is one for women and girls. To the extent then that teams like the Blues and the former Sol can be a positive influence on young women speaks to the power of the beautiful game to have an impact on lives, not just trophy cases and bank accounts.

Mr. Lemire finally did eventually comment on the folding of the Sol in that Open Letter to Pali Blues’ fans and supporters of women’s soccer in LA specifically. The letter provides insight into what Pali Blues is all about and an invitation to all within the LA market to be inspired by what is going on at the Stadium by the Sea.

With permission from Mr. Lemire, here is his Open Letter:

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Ultimate Peace

Lets pretend that that's Matt in the yellow hat

So even though Matt and I share a passion for the beautiful game, we first met playing ultimate frisbee. We loved playing and care about the sport very much and in our frequent match ups (I don’t think we ever had the pleasure of playing on the same team), the discussion of soccer/football etc… would often come up.

We started a rec league soccer team based on Ultimate players (a surprising amount used to play soccer at a decent level before switching to chasing plastic). One of our team mates is speedster with a glorious finishing touch named Louis Eisenberg.

He’s put together a world cup pool where half the money goes to supporting an effort to help bring peace to the middle east using Ultimate as a tool. They’re taking children from under-served Palestinian and Jewish communities in the West Bank and within Israel and offering them an opportunity to learn and participate with each other. More details can be found here but if you don’t already have enough world cup pools, then you should seriously sign up for this one as it promotes a very worthy cause.

The Key Details
* $20 to enter
* Half of the money supports a very worthy cause promoting peace in the Middle East: Ultimate Peace
* The other half of the money goes to the top finishers (winner gets 80%, 2nd place 15%, 3rd place 5%)
* You can update your picks throughout the tournament
* Register here and submit your entry fee (PayPal or check) by the night of Thursday, June 10th

Thanks so much for your time and back to the footie discussion!



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