wherein DF travels to Deutschland for the 2006 world cup to follow the US men's national soccer team

Sunday, April 30, 2006

You cannot be serious: JOB injured again

In an easy-to-report revelation that merely requires soccer writers to cut and paste text from countless identical previous articles, John O'Brien was injured, again, while practicing with Chivas USA. Yanks Abroad has the best report on the incident, which took JOB out of commission for this weekend. It's not much of a knock, just a minor left calf strain, but for the love of God, what does the aforementioned deity have against O'Brien? Of course, I keep assuming that JOB is the victim of an unbelievable skein of bad breaks, when in fact it's likely the case that each of his injuries make future injuries more likely, so it's not as though the only factor at issue here is pure chance.

I've been assuming all along that JOB will make the final USMNT roster, thinking that if he becomes injured then we can just replace him with an alternate. Turns out things aren't that simple. FIFA rules permit roster players to be replaced only if they injure themselves after the May 15 deadline for submitting a final 23-man squad. So if it turns out that Bruce names JOB to the team, and then this latest injury (or any of the preexisting ones) prevent him from playing, FIFA would not permit the US to name an alternate to the roster. Of course, this particular injury doesn't seem serious enough to keep O'Brien out of commission for the Cup, so it's not that much of a risk. And given his track record, I think the real concern is that JOB will injure himself in a major way before the WC, and if that happened we could name an alternate to the squad. At the end of the day, though, I remain skeptical that JOB will actually be fit enough to contribute to the US effort in Germany. But I really hope I'm wrong.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Il Bruce


The boards and the blogs have picked up on this already, but I have to echo their enthusiasm for Grant Wahl's stellar article on USMNT coach Bruce Arena. (That's actually the followup piece to the original that ran in SI; you have to buy the magazine or an online sub to get the latter.)

The article explains in detail something most US fans already know: that Bruce is one of, if not the, major reasons for the rise of US soccer in the past few years. The guy simply knows how to win. He's been the coach ever since I followed the team closely, so I've never had to be in a situation where there were coaching problems, but they're obviously endemic at the national team level, where some countries just can't seem to choose and commit to a system that works for them. It's not only Bruce's talent as a coach that recommends him, it's also the fact that he's been around for so long that helps the team have a sense of stability and confidence that other national teams lack.

There's talk in the article of Bruce's future. The norm is that coaches would stick around for two World Cups at the absolute max, but Wahl's sources suggest that barring a disaster in Germany (or a success so spectacular that Bruce is sure to leave for a club in Europe), he'll likely stay with the US. This may seem like an unorthodox move, but I don't see why there's any reason to get rid of the best coach the US has ever had just for the sake of change. England's great coaches--Walter Winterbottom and Alf Ramsey--led their teams for seventeen and eleven years, respectively. It may be the case that Bruce chooses to move on (and the extended interview that is included in the Journey to Germany DVD suggests that he's contemplating this), but if he doesn't US Soccer would be insane to let him go.

Pimp my site

Working on a blog is a peculiar experience. You put stuff out there in cyberspace, hoping people will read and enjoy it, but never really knowing much about how it's all received. After all, why do it in the first place? For me part of the reason is just because I like the sound of my own voice (in written form at least). But it's also a way of channeling my addiction to soccer in something like a constructive form. And as with last summer's project, when I head to Germany for the World Cup, the blog will become something more like a travelog (travelblog, I suppose) recording the experience for posterity and my legions of devoted readers.

But until then there have been some encouraging signs. DF in Deutschland is finally the first link you get when you type in that phrase on Google. (You also get mirarchi's blogger profile but for some reason not mine). This Google search also returns a link to something called Blogshares that I don't understand but appears to be some kind of stock exchange for blogs. According to the virtually incomprehensible charts and graphs, the value of this site is...up?

I've also started a blogroll with links to some of the many fine sites out there on US soccer and/or MLS. Several of these sites have been kind enough to cross-list me on their blog indices. In particular, shout-outs to MLS Fangirl, MLS News and Views, and du Nord for their kind inclusion of this humble site. Please note also that I've established an email address for readers who may want to contact me (also in sidebar on right). The volume of email I was getting in my personal inbox related to this blog was simply overwhelming, you see.

So onward and upward with this project, solipsistic and ephemeral though it may be. Thanks to all for reading, and please continue to watch this space. Peace out.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Thug life


When I saw this AP story titled "Soccer star who hit teammate hopes for World Cup spot", I honestly thought it was about some other team with some psycho whose roid-rage rendered him unable to resist randomly clocking his fellow players, and was generally considered to undermine his fine play with menacing outbursts. Then I clicked the link and I realized the piece was about our own pugilistic phenom, Clint Dempsey.

I suppose the writer was just looking for a hook, but I really doubt that any other serious MNT fan thinks of Deuce as a "player who hit his teammate." The one-off fight with Franchino is familiar (if old) news, of course, but there's no pattern of behavior there, and from what little I know about the Revs, Franchino is a bit of a hothead and I had always assumed he kind of deserved it.

Weird framing aside, this is actually a pretty good article. It gives a good account of Clint's accomplishments (both in fisticuffs and on the soccer field), and recounts the anxiety surrounding his possible trip to the World Cup.

And on that note, I have to voice disagreement with much of the media and some posters I've seen around the boards. I don't at all regard Deuce as a fringe candidate to make the World Cup. I say he's got to be a lock. This time around there are basically two new players who I think will make an impact at the World Cup: one is Gooch, and Dempsey's the other (actually, include Convey in that group too). Sure, Clint's still a little raw, but he brings a flair and passion and confidence that few of our other players possess, and his record in the pre-WC friendlies has been stellar (two goals, including the game-winner against Poland, and generally high-level play).

My predictions, in order of certitude: Clint will make the roster; he'll see meaningful time in the Cup; he'll score a goal; he'll start a game. I wouldn't be surprised if all four happened.

Chat with Landycakes

I just read this transcript of Landon Donovan's recent ESPN chat that has some really funny stuff in it. First, there's this question:

Adam (San Francisco): "Landon Donovan"... are you a porn star?
Landon Donovan: (5:13 PM ET ) Sweet. Maybe that could be my profession after soccer.

Although I'd never really thought of it before, the name "Landon Donovan" really does sound fit for a porn star. This got me to thinking that "Clint Mathis" could also be a porn star's name. Clint Mathis, Landon Donovan, Dirk Diggler...

Then there's this brilliant question:

John (SF): Isn't "Galaxy" a pretty pansy name? You might as well be called the Unicorns.
Landon Donovan: (5:20 PM ET ) I like Unicorns better. I had nothing to do with that. But it makes sense .. Hollywood .. stars .. Galaxy .. people recognize it.

Again, I'd never realized it until I read the question, but "Galaxy" really is a pansy name. And now that I think of it, "Wizards" is also quite a pansy name.

You've got to love this question:

Joe (LA): Whats your favorite nickname? LD, Landycakes, or Lanny?
Landon Donovan: (5:25 PM ET ) I perfer primadonna.

I always chuckle to myself when I hear people refer to Donovan as Landycakes. I'm a huge Donovan fan -- I think he's easily the most talented player on our team and he has been great for us when it's mattered most. But he has just enough prissiness to make the Landycakes nickname a fitting moniker. I'm glad Lanny has enough of a sense of humor to laugh at the question.

Donovan's response to this question strains credibility:

adam (oax, Mex): beer or wine?
Landon Donovan: (5:28 PM ET ) I've developed from beer to wine. I used to pound as much beer as I could in the offseason (dark beer) but I think I'm more of a wine drinker now.

I had to laugh when I read Donovan's response. The guy is just too fit for that statement to have any credibility -- Donovan has always been one of the two fittest guys on the national team (along with Hejduk). There's no way he could maintain that fitness level and spend his offseason pounding as much beer as he could.

The only point in the chat where Landycakes starts to get a bit techy is when asked about his receding hairline:

Balding (Reno, NV): How concerned are you about losing your hairline- Zidane got away with it, do you think you can?
Landon Donovan: (5:34 PM ET ) I'm going to all measures to keep it. I use a product to keep what I have so it doesn't get worse. Look man, if it gives people something to make fun of me for, that's fine. It is what it is.

Clearly the question touched a nerve. I admire Donovan, though, for being so willing to admit that he's going to all measures to keep his hair, including acknowledging his use of a product. It is really remarkable how bald the guy was, even at the tender age of 17. At a certain point in the not too distant future, I think he's going to have to shave his head and go with the Zidane look -- otherwise he's just going to look too funny.

In any case, the chat was a fun read, and props to Donovan, or whoever it was who selected the questions, for allowing the irrereverant ones to be asked.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Bruce discloses US WC lineup (no joke)

So apparently there's this show called "Los Tecnicos" ("The Coaches") on which head coaches of all the WC teams appear and talk about the upcoming tournament. For whatever reason, they end up disclosing massive amounts of information to the host, and Bruce was (surprisingly) no exception. I didn't actually see this show, but rather read a thread about it on BigSoccer. However, in his conversation, Arena basically discloses the US lineup, which one poster astutely distilled as:

if O'Brien is healthy:

**************Keller***************
**Cherundolo***Gooch***Pope***Lewis **
*********Mastroeni*****************
*************O'Brien***************
********Reyna*********************
***********************Beasley*****
********Donovan*******************
*************McBride***************

If O'Brien can't play:

**************Keller***************
**Cherundolo***Gooch***Pope***Lewis**
*********Mastroeni*****************
*************Reyna****************
***Dempsey************************
********Donovan*********Beasley*****
**********************************
*************McBride***************


There you have it. A few things about this surprise me. First is the use of Pope not Gibbs. It depends on Pope's health of course, but still--I think in defense you normally go with youth. I hope Pope doesn't become the over-the-hill liability that Agoos was last time around. The one-forward setup represents a deviation from what we're used to (4-4-2 all the way) but it does make sense. I don't think anyone can plausibly claim that any of our other forward options are anything close to world class, so in light of Bruce's general rule to put the best players on the field, this makes sense.

Of course, caveat lector--this is only my account of a BS.com poster's account of a show I've never seen. But I have no reason to think the thread was a hoax, and the lineup has the solid ring of plausibility to anyone who's been following the USMNT. It looks like BA is doing the best with what he's got, but I'm kind of worried, especially about who's going to score goals for us.
This setup puts a lot of pressure on McBride, who had a great first half of the season for Fulham but hasn't been as sharp of late. On the other hand, the defensive setup looks really solid.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Eskandarian and the USMNT: what if?


When I was in the sixth grade, the only person who would talk to me was the class fat kid. And even when fatty deigned to speak to me, it was invariably about his obsession with comic books. For some reason, one of the "coms" (as he called them) sounded interesting to me. It was called What if? and posed a series of counterfactuals about how things would have been different if some major world event hadn't occurred.

Today, as I watched my DC United emasculate Red Bull New York 4-1, punctuated by two goals from Alecko Eskandarian, I was thinking about a What if? style experiment of my own. What if Matt Reis hadn't flattened Esky early last year, leaving the DCU forward concussed and out of commission for the entire season? How might this have changed things for the USMNT?

I can't imagine that Bruce would have overlooked an in-form Eskandarian. He brings something that no one else in our forward pool does. There's a certain confidence to his play, just short of recklessness, that the US could really use. I think the closest analogy is to Clint Mathis. When he was in form during 2001-02, Clint ran at defenses with a steely nerve that was unmatched. Eskandarian and Mathis are alike also in that their primary weapon is a deadly shot. Esky scores some goals simply because goalies can't react in time to the speed and the swerve; he's not a touch-and-finesse scorer (like EJ or Twellman). The best example of Esky at his best has to be the 2004 playoffs, when he scored some great goals against the Metros, New England, and KC (four in the playoffs all told), all of which were absolute bombs.

Of course, some have rightly pointed out that Esky seems a little one-dimensional in that he's so plainly left-footed. This is something you can get away with in MLS, but at the international level it's a major liability because it allows defenders to know what you're up to and it cuts down on your ability to react quickly in situations where the ball isn't at your preferred foot. Plus, Esky (unlike Mathis) has shown no indication that he can recreate his MLS form at the international level.

Despite these reservations, though, I have to imagine that if Eskandarian hadn't been clocked by Reis that unfortunate night about a year ago, he'd be in the USMNT picture, if not on the team. And while it's far too late for Esky to be a factor in WC06, it really makes me wish he'd had the chance to show for the Nats, because none of our current options bring the Mathis-esque intensity and drive that Eskandarian does. Watch out in 2010, though.

Friday, April 21, 2006

DaMarcus Boozely II: Electric Boogaloo

So DMB had his day in court, and the verdict (well, not really because there was no jury involved, but still you know what I'm talking about) was that he has to pay a $1,500 euro ($1,800) fine and his license will be suspended for six months.

The reports on this incident also give a little more information about just what went down. Apparently DaMarcus had five glasses of champagne (the article does not specify a brand, but we'll assume Cristal or at least Veuve), and was seen "speeding away from a cafe" and "swerving erratically."

So what to make of all this? My first instinct is that the penalty is tough but fair. Eighteen hundred bucks strikes me as a healthy sum of cash, but it likely isn't for a pro athlete (though I can't say just how much Beasely makes). But having your license suspended for six months? That's an absolute killer. I know people who have had to deal with this penalty, and invariably they find the monetary costs and inconvenience of not being able to drive enormous and burdensome.

This whole incident has sparked a bit of a snarkfest among the soccer cognoscenti. Hardliners have suggested that DMB should suffer some penalty at the hands of the USMNT as well in order to send a message about (I suppose) the gravity of his offense. Non-hardliners like me have taken the position that Bease has enough to worry about with the state-imposed penalties and that those alone should be enough to send any message. It would be a different story if DMB's pro athlete status meant that he was getting preferential treatment but in the absence of any evidence of that, this strikes me as a good outcome.

One position--not entirely unreasonable but not one I agree with--is that DMB should be held to a higher standard of conduct than an average citizen because of his pro athlete status. Even if you do buy this, though, it's pretty clear that Beasely has suffered a lot more than the average Joe. If anyone else (at least, any non-celeb) had this happen, it would have been a relatively private event where only the state and close friends/family would have to know about it. But here, Bease has to suffer the additional penalty of major public humiliation in Holland and the US. That additional sanction should be more than enough to satisfy even hardliners who think athletes should suffer for their transgressions more than the rest of us.

Plus, we should all remember how little we know about this. The public facts are that DaMarcus had five glasses of bubbly at a cafe and then drove erratically. Given his slight carriage, he was likely pretty drunk, but still--that's hardly a gargantuan amount to drink. This doesn't forgive his conduct but it also puts it in some perspective. At the very least, nothing about the event suggests that there's something terribly amiss going on (other than one very bad decision).

Ultimately, I think the only action Bruce should take should be to sit down with Bease and figure out what his deal is. Was this a one-time mistake? Or is DaMarcus livin' larger than his diminutive size suggests? mirarchi pointed out in the comments to the earlier thread that Jamar Beasely (DMB's bro) was a king-sized partier and got into trouble for it. Perhaps there's something that runs in the fam here? I suspect this will end here, but Bruce should take some (non-punitive) steps to make sure that's the case.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

DaMarcus Boozely

The AP reports this morning that beloved PSV and USMNT midfielder DaMarcus Beasely has been charged with drunk driving in Eindhoven.

I like to think of this as another sign that the US is coming up in the world. Other teams have at least one bad-boy figure who's always going out to clubs, boozing it up, getting into fights, carousing with tarts, etc. By contrast, the USMNT is composed of a bunch of choirboys whose worst offense is posing for a borderline-gay photo shoot in the New York Times magazine (not that there's anything wrong with that).

Now we've got a bad boy of our own, and it's not even his first offense. DMB got into trouble with Dutch customs authorities last year when he failed to declare several items upon returning from the US. That one was disposed of in an out of court settlement, but one wonders whether the judge will be so forgiving of DaMarcus' current offense in light of his burgeoning criminal record.

So, from the perspective of the USMNT, does this make any difference, or is it just a titillating news tidbit. One point is that Bruce has shown himself to be very critical of players who make mistakes in judgment that lead them to be sanctioned. When Clint Dempsey got in a fight with Joey Franchino and was suspended by the Revs, Bruce withdrew Clint's invite to play in the Germany friendly (even though that meant we'd be bringing an even weaker team). I suppose if a player had repeated trouble (serious trouble, not a customs offense and one drunk driving charge) with the law, Bruce might take that into account, but I really doubt this is anything more than an embarrassment for DMB at this stage. I could see Bruce teasing him about it but not suspending him.

On the other hand, a small part of me worries if DMB is on a bit of a downward spiral. He suffered a serious injury late last season, and hasn't really gotten back into the groove that he was in back in 2004-05 with PSV. He's lost his starting spot, and I don't think he's even scored a goal for Eindhoven all year. You can imagine that living in a foreign country (especially in a god-forsaken, freezing part of Europe like Eindhoven) and struggling with your career might drive one to have a frosty cocktail or two, and perhaps even also to make the not-great decision of driving afterward. I don't of course know the whole story but my thought is that if anything is of concern here it's not that DMB drove drunk on one occasion, but about what led him to do so in the first instance. Ultimately, though, I don't think much will come of this other than the hilarious pun that is the title of this post.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

AP reports on Arena shocker!!!

Today, the AP shocked soccer fans across America--and, indeed, throughout the world--with the shattering revelation that Bruce feels the US will be ready to compete in the World Cup. After months of expecting a wholly unprepared team to take the field in Germany, this unexpected reversal has set the US Soccer community on its ear.

"What the hell is this all about?" asked a justifiably angry Jed Thickett, longtime MNT supporter from Davis, Kentucky. "I bought my goddamn tickets to the World Cup months ago, and have shelled out thousands of dollars in plane tickets and other expenses, all in the expectation that the Nats would be woefully un-ready for the World Cup, and now at this late date Bruce announces that the team will be 'prepared' instead? Unacceptable."

Hardly alone in his ire, Thickett's response is understandable. Virtually all US fans who purchased tickets for the World Cup did so only for three games, assuming that a not-ready team would take the pitch and get swept aside in the preliminary round. Countless others bought no tickets at all, reasonably assuming that--given Arena's terrible track record--the MNT would be entirely unprepared for the world's biggest sporting event, rendering attendance inadvisable for US fans.

Players, too, were dismayed at Arena's shock revelation. "Bruce wants us to be 'ready' for the World Cup?" asked an incredulous Brian Ching. "Well, if I'd known that I might have tried to score against Germany or Jamaica. Now what am I supposed to do?" Josh Wolff attempted to make a similar comment but injured himself in the process and had to be stretchered out of the room before finishing his remarks. Defenders, too, were left shaking their heads. "Man, did I have it backwards," lamented a chastened Gregg Berhalter. "If I'd thought that Bruce planned to have a team ready for the World Cup I might have thought twice about gifting Germany three chances in ten minutes in that friendly. I did not see this coming."

The media has often been accused of manufacturing stories to fill up dead time during duller moments of the run-up to the World Cup. But with this story, the AP has put the lie to this bad rap. More soon as the repercussions of this shocker continue to be felt around the nation.

Dear FIFA-Coke Rankings,

First, I'm very flattered by all the attention, and why wouldn't I be? After all, your most recent set of rankings is nothing if not ego-inflating. It's great that you think of us as the fourth-best team in the world, behind only Brazil, the Czech Republic, and Holland. I mean, I was surprised when you put me fifth last month, but to move up a notch even after getting torched 4-1 in that friendly against Germany and drawing 1-1 at home against Jamaica--wow.

And when I think of all the hot national teams you prefer over me--Argentina, England, Spain, Portugal, Italy--I'm just really, really flattered. But the thing is, I'm not sure we're really on the same page with how we feel about each other. You're a great international sporting organization, and your rankings are so influential, don't get me wrong, but it just seems like you're much more into me than I am into you. I could accept a ranking of 11th or so (and would be excited to be in the top ten), but fourth just seems like a little too much, too fast.

The truth is--as much as it hurts to say--I just don't think you "get" me. If you did, you'd have me in a different place on the list, as it should be. And, to be honest, I think there is a ranking system with whom I have a better rapport. I'm sure you've heard of the World Football ELO Ratings, and it's no secret that both of you are ranking me, but when I see how they've got me around fourteenth, I just think, well, that makes more sense for me. I hope you'll understand.

Please don't take this all too hard. A lot of people think you're kind of crazy, but I think you basically make sense, and I don't want to sever ties entirely. I want you to keep ranking me, and I'll definitely keep coming to all your tournaments. It's just that--in the past few months especially, with being ranked fifth in March and all--things have been moving a little fast and I think it's better if they cool off a bit. I hope you'll understand. Your friend,

The USMNT

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Final roster: to the extent that there are questions, why do we care?

So the relative dearth of haps in the USMNT camp of late has led me to engage in major hand-wringing over the final 23-man roster that's due to be announced in a couple weeks. And before the readership derides me as a hopeless soccerneurotic, I'd like to point out that you're all the same as me.

But in the interest of quelling my obsessiveness so I can at least pretend to focus on work, I've come to the conclusion that the roster announcement doesn't really matter. The reason is that the only hard questions come at the margins: will we take Wolff or Ching? Albright or one of Berhalter/Conrad? Olsen or Noonan?

Answer: it simply doesn't matter. The likelihood is that none of these guys will see much time (well, maybe the forward--but even then it will be marginal). As of right now, we know who the key players are, and the ones that are last on the roster will likely just be filling up space.

But wait, DF, you rightly say. Isn't it the case that Bruce is nearly unique among major national coaches in using almost all his roster players? A couple things. First, Bruce doesn't necessarily use all his players. Last WC, in addition to KK and Meola, neither Regis nor (was it?) Vanney saw any time. So it could be the case that the last defender or midfielder picked spends all their time on the bench.

But true also that last time around Bruce used unlikely players like Llamosa and Cobi in late-game role-filling positions. So Albright/Berhalter or Olsen/Noonan could well see some time. Fair enough, but does anyone really think that if we're trying to kill some time at the end of a game or we need support on the right for the last ten minutes of a game because Reyna is gassed it'll make that much of a difference if one or the other of these guys fills that spot? I can't really see it.

Now this all may be a rationalization designed to convince myself that I should just go ahead and accept the lack of news from the USMNT camp. If that's the case, please don't convince me otherwise. I need to at least make a pretense of getting some work done.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Scalp condition

My earlier post about tickets made me think about measures FIFA has taken to render tickets unique to their original purchasers and how this will affect the World Cup. For all the tix I bought, I had to submit identifying information: name, birthdate, passport number, and nationality.

First, what’s the rationale for this policy? First, the request for passport information suggests that it’s an attempt to cut down on hooliganism. A lot of fans involved with international violence have had their passports revoked, so that suggests that it would be an easy step to deny tickets to people whose passport numbers are on the hooligan list.

Second, it appears to be an attempt to reduce secondary markets—resale on eBay, on-site scalping, etc. But it appears to sweep more broadly than that. If I can’t make the game and have a good friend who would benefit from the ticket, then my friend is out of luck and the ticket goes to waste. There is, of course, a good story to be told about this. If I want to buy a ticket and give it to my hooligan friend (hypothetical friend, that is), then he’s out of luck as well, and that’s a positive result of the policy than no one can really object to.

The only reason I have reservations about it is that my sense is that (1) there’s nothing wrong with secondary markets in ticket sales; and (2) I think a lot more fans than tifosi will be shut out if the unique identifiers are actually enforced. But now that I think more about (1), it could be that if scalpers know that secondary markets will be deflated by the ID policy, they won’t try to buy the tix in the first instance, meaning that initial sales go largely to fans and not to would-be gouging touts. As for (2), it is as the man says an empirical question with an empirical answer, so my sense may be wrong. Also, even if the policy shuts out 20 true fans for every one psycho, that still might be a positive result for the atmosphere overall considering the havoc that the latter could wreak.

Then there’s the question whether the ticketing policy will actually be enforced. I’m not so confident that it will. Enforcement would require every ticket to be matched to a verifiable passport (because standard forms of ID don’t have passport number), although it’s possible that the ticket takers would just require name matching (if the passport number is just to rule out sales to people on the international-hooligan list). Considering that there are as many as 70-odd thousand people going to each game, this could present an insanely difficult logistical issue. But then again, many major clubs have strong ID policies. When I saw Ajax in Amsterdam, it was necessary to buy an ID that was verified at the turnstile when I entered the game. It’s not hard to imagine that the World Cup organizers would be similarly strapped with ticketing tech to reduce logistical snafus (indeed, FIFA's official policy suggests that they'll have just such tech in place).

One other fact is that there’s been and will continue to be large-scale secondary markets despite everyone having known about the ID policy for a long time. I wonder what will happen to the folks who buy on these markets? Will they be simply out of luck? Will it screw up the situation for everyone if every purchaser of a scalped ticket remonstrates with stadium security when they realize their ticket is invalid? And how would it look if FIFA managed to enforce the policy at the cost of excluding thousands of fans and creating swaths of empty seats in the stadiums? They’d still make the same amount of money but it could make for a poorer spectacle.

Ten things I hated about US-Jamaica

So we all know that the US tied Jamaica 1-1 in a disappointing friendly this past Tuesday. Commentators have already wrung all the salient points about the game, but I didn’t have the chance to chime in, so here’s my top ten list of what sucked about this game.

  1. I had the result spoiled when I was leaving a restaurant and passed through the bar, which was televising the game in its ninetieth minute on a big-ass plasma TV. Normally, I would have been happy to know that the demand among the bar patrons was for US soccer (though I don’t know if anything else was on tap), but this time around it just sucked.
  1. It’s a drag that LD is so clearly our best player. No one (at least, no one on the field that day) has anything like his vision and skill. As he goes, we go. Thank god he’s been so resolutely healthy so far; I hope it stays that way.
  1. My damn TiVo recording of the game was static-y as hell. I’ve since fixed the problem, but it was like watching the match through a heavy snowstorm.
  1. I’m jealous of Jamaica’s physical presence. Their players are bigger, stronger, and faster than ours, even if they’re less skilled on the ball. I think all sports is moving in the direction of picking bodies first and developing them into players, as opposed to picking skilled players regardless of stature. Jamaica’s size and speed helped them earn a draw against us despite not being the “better” (i.e., more talented) team.
  1. It bugs me that the players that stepped up their game were likely so far off the radar screen that they’re not in a position to make an impact at the World Cup level. I like Ben Olsen, but he’s not truly international material. And Chris Albright would be a passable backup to Dolo in case the latter got hit by a truck or something, but Hejduk can fill that role as well, so I don’t see Chris doing much for us in Germany either (assuming he makes the roster, which is likely), which is no major tragedy, despite his aerial presence in the box.
  1. I’m bummed that my prediction that this would be a goal-heavy game with the forwards putting in major performances was so wrong. I think our forward play was the weakest part of the game. These guys have been torching defenses in MLS; why then the disappearing act against Jamaica?
  1. It’s irritating as hell that Josh Wolff can’t play onside for the one good moment he’s contributed to the US in the past year. The goal he scored (actually, didn’t score) wasn’t one that took any meaningful advantage of his coming from an offside position. He just lost concentration and failed to play even with the last defender. You know it’s the forward’s fault when he doesn’t even make an effort to challenge the offside call.
  1. It kills me that we couldn’t beat Donovan Ricketts more than once (other than Wolff’s called-back goal). That goalie has the ability to make some great saves and some asinine errors. The Olsen goal was a gift, and Ricketts should have handled the Wolff shot as well. It seems as though he does well only against high-quality shots like Albright’s two headers. In the future when we play Jamaica, we should essay to get only crappy shots on goal in the expectation that Ricketts will spill them into the back of the net.
  1. I forgot to wear my new “Jamaican Me Crazy” shirt while watching the game. I bet it would have brought good luck.
  1. Can’t the USSF figure out that Cary, NC is a graveyard for our guys? The past two times we’ve been there we’ve had to scratch back for a draw against a clearly inferior opponent. (First the 2-2 draw against Richmond Kickers in 2002, and now this.) For the superstitious among us, this is clearly not the Nats’ venue of choice.

Get yourself connected

First, where have I been? This, broad readership, is an excellent question. For much of the past couple of weeks I’ve been in St. Croix. I highly recommend this destination unless you have some moral or aesthetic objection to sun, rum, and endless sandy beaches.

But now I’m back and it’s time to celebrate my return with a World Cup related note. In a move of retrospectively astonishing foolishness, I failed to pre-order tickets to the US-Ghana game, despite having the incredible luck to have a friend with an inside track to tickets that allows me to bypass the whole USSF/FIFA ticket fiasco.

As a result, I have for the past few months been trolling around various sites to get a ticket to the game. For a moment, it appeared that my good friend and occasional co-blogger mirarchi would have an extra, but no such luck. At one point I was in touch with a very shady Englishman who had two tix but lost me when he asked “Am I looking at 350 pounds sterling for the pair?” It was the smarmy tone as much as the extortionate price that made me decline the offer.

Then, a couple days ago, my secret connection put me in touch with a colleage who apparently has tons of extra tix and was able to hook me up with just what I needed: a Cat I ticket to US-Ghana, at face value. He might also be able to get me into Mexico-Portugal. The lesson: despite the countervailing wisdom propounded by country and western singers, it's good to have friends in high places.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

The Final 23

We've played our last friendly before the deadline for finalizing our WC roster, so now it's time for Bruce to decide on the final 23. Although Bruce says that he'll be monitoring players' performance in MLS over the next three weeks, I have to think that with the exception of one or two spots, the roster is set. As far as who the final 23 will be, here's my prediction:

GK: Keller, Hahnemann, Howard

Keller, of course, is a no brainer. Although I haven't actually seen him play, Hahnemann, by all accounts, has been outstanding for Reading this season. And after Keller and Friedel, Howard is probably the American 'keeper with the most natural talent. He has no doubt suffered from his lack of playing time with ManU, and when he played last season, seemed prone to embarassing mental lapses. But as far as natural ability goes, he's head and shoulders above the competition.

Defenders: Bocanegra, Onyewu, Pope, Gibbs, Cherundolo, Hejduk, Albright

The only two guys on the above list who are not locks to make the final roster are Hejduk and Albright. Hejduk makes the cut because of his versality (he can play either left back or right back), and because of his experience and strong performances in previous World Cups (I still remember how he was one of the few U.S. players who didn't look scared playing against Germany in WC '98). Albright makes the roster as a backup to Cherundolo on the right. Against certain teams, or in certain situations, I think Bruce will want to have the option of playing someone with Albright's physical presence at right back, rather than the diminutive Cherundolo or Hejduk. Albright has also done well in the chances he's gotten with the nats. He had a good second half against Jamaica, and was twice robbed of a goal by sterling saves from the Jamaican 'keeper.

Conrad and Berhalter get cut, simply because we're so deep at center back. Although Conrad and Berhalter are both competent defenders, Boca, Gooch, Pope and Gibbs are just in a different class. Spector gets cut simply because he doesn't have the experience, which is really too bad because he's got boatloads of talent. If this World Cup came a year later, then I think Spector would have been a lock to make the final roster.

Midfielders: Reyna, O'Brien, Donovan, Beasley, Lewis, Convey, Mastroeni, Dempsey, Olsen

The first seven guys listed above are all locks, assuming they stay healthy (which is a big assumption in the case of Reyna, and an even bigger assumption in the case of JOB). Lewis or Convey likely will end up playing as much left back as they will midfield, but since they're natural midfielders, and play there with their clubs, I'll list them as midfielders.

The only two players listed above who are on the bubble are Dempsey and Olsen. Olsen makes the cut because he is a team leader, who gets the guys fired up both in practice and for the matches. Because of that, Arena will want him around, and he'll help the team even if he never actually gets a minute of playing time in the World Cup. He plays with a lot of heart, always working his ass off and giving 110%, a quality that Arena no doubt finds particularly endearing. He's also an Arena favorite -- a UVa boy, and when he played for Arena at DC United, he actually lived with the Arenas his first year or two there. Arena also had good things to say about Olsen after his performance in the Jamaica match. Barring a rash of injuries to our other midfielders, I'd be very surprised if Olsen starts. I can see him being called in as a late game sub for a forward if we're ahead and want to protect a lead.

Dempsey makes the team as much by default as anything else. Ralston looks like he's still injured, and had a stinker against Jamaica. Noonan, while competent, just hasn't looked as dangerous as Dempsey in the chances they've gotten with the nats. Dempsey has shown, both in MLS and with the nats, that he has a nose for the goal. He also makes things happen -- the U.S. looked much more dangerous against Jamaica once Dempsey was subbed in. Of course, there are things that could keep Dempsey off the final roster. The fact that he punched out Franchino certainly doesn't help. And I get the sense that Bruce just doesn't really like Dempsey all that much. Dempsey is also young, and could use a bit more seasoning at the international level (although I think he learned a lot when he ended up on his ass more often than not in the friendly against England). Bruce commented after the last World Cup, though, that the World Cup is a young man's game. No doubt Bruce was referring, at least in part, to the performances of Beasley and Donovan, who were both 20 years old at the time. Beasley in particular had about as much international experience at the time of the '02 WC as Dempsey has now.

Forwards: McBride, Johnson, Twellman, Wolff

These are the same four forwards that 'Celo predicts, and I'm with him on this. McBride is an obvious lock. Johnson makes the team because he's so damn talented, and because he had such a hot streak with the nats before he got injured. Wolff makes the team because of his experience, his good play in the '02 WC, and because, even if he has lost a step due to age, injuries, and surgery, he still has decent speed, and I think Bruce will want to have available a speeding, slashing forward (although Johnson and Donovan can also both play this role).

Whether Bruce will take Twellman over Ching is a close call. I think Twellman gets the nod simply because, based on their recent form with the nats, Twellman has looked better. He broke his duck in the January friendlies, and he was unlucky to have had near misses or legitimate goals called back before he finally scored for the nats. Like Olsen, Twellman goes balls-out every game, which can only help. Twellman, if he makes the final roster, will probably be the last forward off the bench. And if Ching lights it up in MLS over the next three weeks and Twellman doesn't score at all, it's possible Ching gets the call over Twellman.

So that's one man's prediction as to who the final 23 on our roster will be. Now we just have to wait until May 3, when Bruce announces the actual roster.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Waldo v. Arena

I just discovered this amusing article written back in February about Eric Wynalda's and Bruce Arena's man crushes on Taylor Twellman and Brian McBride, respectively. I don't know how I missed it earlier, but there are some great quotes:
  • "I'll just say it -- Bruce Arena has a love affair with Brian McBride," Wynalda said.
  • "Is he considered a soccer expert?" Arena skeptically questioned of Wynalda.

It's quotes like these that make me really love Waldo and Bruce. Waldo always speaks his mind, which keeps things fun, even if he does sometimes seem like he's a couple sandwiches short of a picnic (does anyone other than Waldo and Twellman's mom really think Twellman is the better forward than McBride right now?).

And then, of course, there's Bruce getting his panties in a wad about Wynalda's comments. Another coach would have just said something along the lines of "Eric and I will just have to disagree on that point." Not Bruce. Instead, he questions the soccer knowledge of the #1 all-time leading American goal-scorer, who has been capped over 100 times, played in three world cups, and torn up the bundesliga, scoring nine goals in his first ten games, before the Germans broke his leg. In my mind, Arena gets away with saying things like that only because he's been so successful as a coach -- he's succeeded at every level, winning NCAA Division I titles repeatedly with UVa, winning MLS titles repeatedly with DC United, qualifying for the World Cup repeatedly, and earning the US a spot in the quarterfinals of the '02 World Cup. As much as Arena's arrogance sometimes drives me crazy, at the end of the day I have to admit that Arena has earned the right to be arrogant.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

JOB to Chivas USA

Earlier speculations have been confirmed: Chivas USA has signed US midfielder, ex-Ajax player and WC2002 star John O'Brien. A short list of what's great about this move:
  • JOB is back in the WC mix. Only a month or so ago, I'd basically written off the possibility that he'd be able to recover in time for or contribute to the American World Cup effort. But with absolutely no time left to spare, it looks like JOB is healthy and will have a couple months of games to get match-fit for the tournament. Given how much vision and talent he brings, this is wonderful news for the US.
  • Chivas is no longer a joke. Chivas USA weren't just the worst team in MLS last year, they were one of the worst teams in MLS history, ever. This new-look side seems to have much more going for it, at least if Sunday's 3-0 pasting of Real Salt Lake is any indication. However, with Ante Razov, Ryan Suarez, and now John O'Brien, they're a team of real credibility that should be hard for anyone to beat, and a lock to make the playoffs. Plus, think of the implications for the LA derby. Last year it was less a derby than a humiliation in four parts (though it did save the Galaxy's playoff hopes with twelve points). With Landon facing off against JOB, this is a match that all US fans will want to tune in to.
  • Chivas is no longer (largely) using a racial/ethnic standard in choosing players. I am always happy to see any new ownership enter the league, but I was skeptical of Vergara and Chivas last year because it seemed that one element of his project--selecting a largely hispanic team--drew the kind of racial lines that have long been rejected in American public life. The new-look 2006 Chivas appear to have laid that bad experiment to rest, with JOB's hiring the final nail in that particular coffin. This is great news for C-USA's fans, who comprise a major hinchada behind the goal but suffered through some awful performances in '05. Their loyalty deserves a good team, and it does them a disservice to prioritize some sense of racial identity at the cost of putting the best possible team on the field.

The sole caveat: I hope he can stay healthy. Of course, this is always a concern with O'Brien, who's played around eight Eredivisie games during his last three years in Holland. But you have to play if you want to get match-fit, and you play there's always some risk of injury. All things considered, this is a great development.

Additional note: best moment from the press conference was JOB giving his remarks in Spanish, English, and (to some extent) in Dutch. I like the idea that C-USA will retain indicia of its Mexican identity as a part of the Guadalajara organization, but I'm also glad that the idea of a largely hispanic roster has been abandoned.

A concern: a reporter asked JOB if he's 100% (as his agent claimed he was). JOB said he's not, but that he'll be working to get back into games over the next month. Apparently the latest health setback was a groin injury not the calf-and-hamstring issues that had plagued him in the past.

US-Jamaica roster notes

The 18-man roster for the Jamaica friendly on April 11 in Cary, NC is out. My reading of these particular tea leaves:
  • We're not taking this one too seriously. If we were, Tony Meola wouldn't be in goal; instead, Bruce would be taking the opportunity to get a look at some of the MLS-based keepers (Guzan, Cannon, Hartman).
  • JOB! It's been almost a year since he played for the US, scoring the goal that tied Honduras in the semifinals of the Gold Cup (a great win for us that was buried because we had so many other great moments in 2005). Btw, no indication of his club status leaked in the roster; he's listed as "out of contract."
  • My guess as to the lineup: a 3-5-2, with Dunivant, Pope, and Hejduk in the back; some combination of Ching, TT, EJ, and Wolff up top; and then Landon as AM, Mastro and JOB as D-mids; and then Noonan on the right and Clint on the left. This is more to get our best guys on the field than to put everyone in their natural positions.
  • The forwards have the most to prove. The backline is likely set and going to consist of European players. But with the exception of McBride, our forwards will be MLS-based, and who's going remains very much undetermined. E.g., imagine if Twellman plays terribly but Ching bags a hat trick. Does this mean you take Brian based on recent form (including four goals for the Dynamo last weekend)? Probably not, but a hard call.
  • Expectations? I think we'll do a number on Jamaica. Our guys are going to be taking this one real serious, since it's the last chance to show Bruce what they've got before the WC roster is announced in early May. Look for the forwards especially to pour in on as they seek the few remaining spots, which as I said above remain up in the air.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Dave Eggers on soccer

About five years back, people were crapping their pants over Dave Eggers' A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. It seemed like--and, to be fair, kind of became--the next big literary thing. It was pitch-perfect for the time. For the literati, there was the cheeky, outre title; the hyperliterate, stream-of-consciousness narrative; and the name-dropping scenesterism of the book's setting in tech-boom 1990s San Francisco. For the hoi polloi, there was the de rigeur tearjerker narrative: Eggers' parents tragically dying of cancer in the same year, leaving him grieving and left to care for his younger brother. Oprah fans and snooty lit-crit types fawned.

Myself, I didn't care for it. The dying-parents thing was terribly, genuinely sad, especially when you throw in the orphaned-little-brother bit. But after the truly heartbreaking intro, the rest seemed kind of like a fairly flat narrative. I occasionally found myself intrigued to see how Eggers got along as a twentysomething parent, but for the most part nothing in the book seemed to match the opening. And for all the laudatory commentary about his writing style, it seemed to me like verbal gymnastics--enormously skilled but expressively kind of empty. My verdict was that Eggers was 80% hype, 20% content--not in the same league as David Foster Wallace or Jonathan Franzen.

Wait, is there a link to soccer here? Oh right: Eggers has an essay in the Observer about soccer, with a sure-to-annoy title, "American sports are played with the hands. Using your feet is for commies." Once again, we're treated to an explanation for why soccer will never catch on in the US. As a prior matter, though, let me point out that the soccerphiles in the US who are going apopleptic over the title are missing the point. Eggers makes it abundantly clear that he finds the "soccer is for commies" thesis ignorant and moronic. The gym teacher who first propounded the theory to Eggers is given the unsubtle pseudonym "Moron McCheeby" in case you had any doubts. Jim Rome may say something like this and expect to be taken seriously; Eggers obviously does not.

That said, what of Eggers' take on soccer's inevitable failure to gain popularity in the US? His first point is that the US only likes sports it can claim to have invented: baseball, NFL football, basketball. This seems partly right. The big three are (more or less) our own inventions. But is this a correlation or a causation? Hockey is doing fine, and it's plainly not American-made (if anything, it's the brainchild of our sissy neighbors to the north). Nor do Americans have any problem with golf or tennis, each of which have European origins. At the very least, it seems that the US is open to sports that aren't of native extraction, even if they may not be included in the pantheon.

The second point is a bit more interesting: Americans detest soccer because of the diving. This seems true to an extent. I've spoken to soccer-hating friends who raise diving as an example of why they don't like the sport. But this seems to get the causation mixed up again. Most people who hate soccer just hate it; then they go nuts over diving as a way of cementing their preexisting opinion. There is, as any marginally informed observer knows, no necessary correlation between diving and soccer. Some soccer cultures--Latin ones, in particular, this fan of Portuguese soccer admits with regret--feature frequent and egregious diving. The British leagues and MLS, by contrast, do not.

Nor does the presence of diving necessarily ruin a sport for Americans. I was watching the Lakers/Sonics game on Friday night and heard the announcers praise Kobe for learning to "sell a foul"--that is, exaggerate contact and flop on the floor to draw a whistle. In other words, dive. He had, the commentators reported, learned this skill from the true master, Magic Johnson. One sport's praiseworthy craftiness is another sport's damnable cheating.

But it takes a theory to beat a theory, so what do I think about the future of soccer in the US? First, I think it will remain a niche sport, much closer in scope and popularity to tennis than to NFL football. But as soccer specific stadiums proliferate, MLS edges closer to financial self-sufficiency, with profitability lurking just around the corner. Second, the long-term viability of MLS will eventually see American soccer stars enjoy a B-level kind of celebrity. Landon Donovan is getting close to this level now. He's not Barry Bonds, but perhaps someday will be more like an Andre Agassi. The better the US does at the World Cup, the faster this transition will be. Third, as globalization continues to break down national borders, soccer will creep into the American national consciousness, whether the haters like it or not. During WC1990, I would never have heard of Diego Maradona unless my soccer-obsessed Spanish teacher had mentioned him. These days, world soccer stars, teams, and events are a marginal, but noticeable part of our sports culture. Among students at my school, people at the gym, and strangers walking along the street I encounter with increasing frequency jerseys advertising Arsenal, Real Madrid, or Man United. Admittedly, I'd rather see DC United or the Fire repesented sartorially, but it's a move in the right direction, and it's a move that's inevitable.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

MLS Day 1 and the USMNT

Gameday 1 of MLS season XI is in the books, and there's plenty of fodder for thinking about its implications for the national team. Viz.,

  • Until the Fire lost the thread in the last twenty minutes or so of their 3-2 loss to FC Dallas, Chris Rolfe was the best player on the field. He set up the first Chicago goal with some nice moves, scored a great second on the volley, and nearly had the third that might have deflated FCD and put things away for the Fire. As Waldo noted in his inimitably rude commentary, Rolfe looked nervous in his last outing for the MNT, against Guatemala, causing a lot of followers to write him off. But after watching him play today, I wonder if commentators (self included) were too quick to dismiss him. Yes, he's untried, but do we have another forward who has his kind of skills and upside?
  • Eddie Johnson scored in his debut for Kansas City, and it was a nice one. After last year's turf toe disaster, the goal for EJ is to get into form before the World Cup. If he can manage that, he'll definitely get minutes, especially after scoring in his first game back against Guatemala and looking strong against Germany. Based on what we saw yesterday, EJ seems to be on the right track, both physically and mentally.
  • Clint Dempsey had a nice series of moves, including an impressive backheel-to-self, during the first half of New England's 1-0 win over Los Angeles. Marcelo Balboa used the opportunity to compare Clint to Ronaldinho. Hm. He then noted that Clint might use the World Cup to open up some Euro teams' wallets for a major transfer fee, and illustrated the possibility with the example of Pablo Mastroeni, whose stellar performance in WC02 resulted in . . . a return to the Colorado Rapids. Celo, you were a great defender with a strangely effective Chileno, but seriously, lay off the crack, at least when you're announcing.
  • JOB trained with Chivas USA earlier this week. Are the Goats getting closer to landing the oft-hampered ex-Ajacied? Update: according to a second-hand account of an interview with Bruce Arena and Thomas Rongen, JOB is going to sign with C-USA very soon.
  • Kenny Cooper came up huge with a game-winning goal as a sub for FCD. He looked huge, too, because he is, going at least 6'3" with a large frame. For the past few years there have been rumblings about Cooper's performance for the Man United youth teams, but after loan spells to Academica Coimbra in Portugal and Oldham Athletic in the English second division, Man U released him. It's a puzzling decision, since he never seemed to get a real shot with the first team, but Dallas is certainly happy to take ManU's castoffs. And based on what I saw yesterday, this kid has got to get a shot with the Nats at some point, if only because he has the kind of physical presence that none of our other forwards bring.
  • Update: Brian Ching scored four for the Dynamo in their 5-2 win over Colorado, after his last outing for the Nats pretty much sealed his fate as a World Cup spectator. So good in MLS, so mediocre for the Nats. I suppose it just shows how much of a leap there is from American professional soccer to the top international level. Fun fact: Brian's total goals from today exceed by one the total he's scored in his entire career for the USMNT.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Book review: Franklin Foer's How Soccer Explains the World (2004)

When this book came out a few years back, I avoided it for two reasons. The public reason—the reason I told friends who recommended it or told myself when I resisted checking out a copy from the library—was that it was the functional equivalent of Simon Kuper’s Football Against the Enemy, which came out a good decade before Foer’s book. But the private reason—the one I never told anyone and refused even to acknowledge to myself—was that I was jealous.

I knew Foer back in the early 1990s, when we were both at (embarrassingly enough) debate camp at Dartmouth College over the summer. He went by “Frankie” then (and I still think “Frankie Foer” sounds better than the author’s current nom de guerre, though I can understand why a serious political journalist wouldn’t want to be known as “Frankie”), and was one of a million kids who made me jealous because he went to a fancy prep school and took electives like “The Cultural Revolution in China” rather than being forced (as I was) to endure countless courses on Catholic marriage, all of which boiled down to a priest or embittered emasculated middle-aged man imploring us not to have sex (which, given the acne-ridden, scrawny dork that I was in high school, was really not an issue anyway).

Lord almighty that was a long sentence. Kind of irrelevant, too. Point is, when I saw in 2004 that someone I knew had been paid to travel around the world watching and writing about soccer while I moldered in an office working at a corporate law job that I hated, I was overcome with a new and improved kind of jealousy. So I turned my nose up at the book, dismissing it as derived from Kuper’s earlier work, and forgot about it. Forgot, that is, until I was recently reminded of its existence by a colleague who shot down my theory that it was functionally equivalent to Football Against the Enemy. So I read it. And the truth is, I was missing out. How Soccer Explains the World is a wonderful book.

To begin with a beef—one of my few and an admittedly minor one—I’m not a huge fan of the title. I don’t think soccer does much explanatory work. I think soccer is a reflection of various world problems, a site in which cultural anxieties and conflicts are manifested—kind of like a mood ring for societies and nations. Thus soccer doesn’t really do the explaining; it seems like the opposite is true. The title of the book should really be How the World Explains Soccer, though that hardly sounds as provocative. I suspect this might have been a move pushed by a publisher to amp up the book’s sexiness, in the same way that the book How the Irish Saved Civilization likely sold better than it would have had it been titled The Continuity of Classical Culture in Ireland During the Middle Ages.

While this book is a good primer for the novice, any football fan will find it illuminating. Some of the facts are more familiar (the section on Barca is largely adapted from Jimmy Burns’ seminal history of the team), but the history and detail in, for example, the chapters on football in Milosevic’s Belgrade and Islamist Tehran are great pieces of sociological as well as sports analysis. And even where the informed soccer fan knows the basic facts, some of the stories are hilarious and kind of scary (my jealousy for Foer declined when I read about his being cornered by angry Serbians or Rangers fans).

It’s easy of course to like a book this much when you see a lot of yourself in it. Frankie had me at hello. The first lines of his book—“I suck at soccer”—could as easily have been spoken by me, and his rationale for following the sport—trying to expiate a long-felt sense of inadequacy from being useless during AYSO games—rang true as well. Also resonant was the chapter on soccer and cultural division in America (a topic Kuper’s book doesn’t touch). I think Foer gets it exactly right. A huge part of the reason that soccer has a hard time catching on in America is that huge swaths of the nation think of it as foreign, and in turn think of things that are foreign as objectionable and threatening. These are American isolationists, and their cultural opposites—people like me—who prefer to downplay the importance of international borders and see commonality with people of other countries—welcome American participation in world events as a way of bridging these gaps.

That said, Foer’s book meets my admittedly unsophisticated standard: I consider a book good if I look forward to reading it and have a tough time putting it down. I’m glad I got past my jealousy and read it; I would have been missing out otherwise.

 
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