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To the Hex!

posted Thursday, 18 October 2012 on The Clean Sheet

Last Friday, the US MNT grabbed some hope when Eddie Johnson scored in stoppage time to put the US 2 - 1 up against Antigua & Barbuda. It was Johnson's second goal of the match. Johnson was a (surprise?) addition to Klinsmann's lineup for the final two matches in the group phase of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying. Was including Johnson in this roster inspiration, genius, or luck? A combination of all three, I'd imagine.

When I settled in to watch the Guatemala match last Tuesday night, I was less apprehensive. All we had to do was eke out a tie. We did better. 3 - 1 USA thanks to goals by Clint Dempsey and Carlos Bocanegra. Dempsey's performance was marred only by two obvious dives, the last of which earned him a yellow card for simulation. Given the stink in the EPL at the moment over simulation, you'd think players might think twice about flopping on the ground or going down like a felled tree when an opposing player merely breathes on them. So minus a style point on Dempsey's performance.

Next up for the USA is the Hexagonal which will be played out between February and October of 2013. Ten total matches against Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama, Honduras, and Jamaica -- two matches, home and away, against each. The US has to finish in the top three to be assured a trip to Brazil in 2014. The fourth place side will have to play and additional match against a team from Oceania for a spot in the World Cup. I'm picking USA and Mexico in the top two spots. Costa Rica will take third and Honduras will make that trip to Oceania. Predictions are useless.

But that's not all. The US will play in the CONCACAF Gold Cup next year as well. So there'll be plenty of US MNT action in 2013.

NASL. Still nothing substantial newswise about the Cosmos. This coming Saturday, the Tampa Bay Rowdies and the Minnesota Stars play the first leg in the NASL Championship Series. The future of the defending champion and league-owned Stars is in doubt. Accusatory fingers are pointing at the Cosmos. It will be interesting to see what happens if the Stars can top the Rowdies to become second time champions of the NASL on the 27th. Their reward could be liquidation and extinction.

A Word from Our Sponsors

posted Thursday, 11 October 2012 on The Clean Sheet

Among the many stories in the football news this week is the new sponsorship deal that Newcastle has with Wonga, a short-term loan company. Newcastle is catching flack over the deal, and it's well-deserved since short-term loan companies (while legal) are ethically suspect inasmuch as they steal from the poor and give to the rich. That's all I'm going to say about short-term loan companies, but I will write down a few thoughts about the importance of sponsors and the side effects of their logos appearing on soccer jerseys.

Over the summer, a friend of mine who is not a soccer fan watched several MLS matches with me. One of his biggest complaints about the game was the name of the sponsors on the jerseys. "Is the team called the Seattle XBoxes?" he asked. No. "The Philadelphia Bimbos!? You gotta be kidding me." No, Bimbo is a brand of bread, I said. "The Chicago Quakers?" Fire, actually. "New York Red Bull? Seriously?" Well, yes. You got that one right.

The sponsor logos on soccer jerseys just serves to confuse American sports fans who are used to seeing the club logo on the jersey.

I've been keeping an eye on the "Barclay's" (English) Premier League this season (even the league bears the sponsor name) and so one of my concerns has been to pick a team to follow. My early inclination was to follow Stoke City since Geoff Cameron is a fixture on the field there. But when it came time for me to face reality and acknowledge that eventually I might purchase a jersey to show my support for this team, I thought, I'm not sure I want to be wearing an ad on my chest for a gambling website. Not that I have anything against gambling. Gambling is fine for folks who are interested in that sort of thing. But only slightly better than short-term loan companies.

This last weekend, because a youth soccer tournament my son played in I didn't have my usual allotment of time for EPL and MLS matches, so I had to pick and choose. The New York Red Bull v. Chicago Quakers match was "must see." But which EPL match would I pick? I decided on Everton v. Wigan, routing for Everton. Yes, Tim Howard is the goalkeeper for Everton so that's a plus, but I decided on Everton because of the style play. However, against Wigan, Everton looked less spectacular than they have in previous weeks. That could have been because Fellaini didn't appear to be firing on all cylinders. While watching the match, I thought I could probably tolerate wearing an Everton jersey. Everton's sponsor is Chang, a Chinese beer. I've never seen Chang in the US and have never tried it. I assume it's probably yellow industrial swill, but at least it isn't a short-term loan company or a gambling website.

My preference would probably be to support Arsenal since they play attractive football and they are in the Champions league, but the whole "Fly Emirates" command on the jersey leaves me cold. I assume that Emirates is an airline, so that seems rather harmless as sponsors go. But still, I'm squeamish about becoming a walking bill board for any corporation.

It's true that when I go to Red Bull Arena, I put on my Red Bull logoed jersey. I'd probably even wear the jersey to a soccer pub just to declare my support of the team, but I wouldn't just put on that jersey casually for a trip to the grocery store. I'm actually embarrassed to have to wear an ad for a beverage I wouldn't drink (and that goes for Chang too). Wearing the jersey is a concession I make for the support of the team, the players, the coach. But wear it proudly, I don't.

Logo / No Logo

posted Thursday, 4 October 2012 on The Clean Sheet

Earlier this week I was on the phone with the charming young lady who has been designated my "personal ticket sales agent" by New York Red Bull and she suggested that I purchase my 2013 season tickets and she explained the perks.  I didn't say this, but in the back of my mind I was thinking "Cosmos season tickets."

Pitch Invasion (the podcast) has an interview with Peter Wilt, a guy who's got a lot of experience forming and running professional soccer clubs in the US.  On the podcast Wilt talks about how he and the team he assembled to set the Chicago Fire ablaze back in 1997.  Wilt's name was floated on the This is Cosmos Country Forum as the man who could get the job done for the newly reformed Cosmos.  Not that he'd take the job, but he's got the chops and fan respect.  Wilt said that he only had about ten months to get the Chicago Fire ready for its inaugural season.  Ten months.  Hmmmm.  Let me see.  If the Cosmos name their staff at the end of this month, that will leave them what? five months to get ready to field a team for the 2013 NASL season.

I was at Red Bull Arena for that Wednesday night loss to Sporting Kansas City.  That was a big game for the Red Bulls and only about 5000 people showed up.  Christopher Dobens on his blog, Total Footblog, suggested that (just perhaps) people care more about when a match is played than who is playing in it when it comes to MLS attendance.  LA Galaxy aside, there aren't many teams in the MLS that can pull in the spectators outside their own market.  Seattle Sounders do great at home, but they couldn't pack Red Bull Arena.  And NYRB didn't get a home match against LA Galaxy this year.

2013 New York Red Bull season tickets?  I'm going to hold off despite all the dangling carrots, in hope that the Cosmos will get their ship out of dock.  Will I buy Cosmos season tickets?  Of course, if for no other reason than I'll be able to get the Hofstra stadium in under an hour.  It takes me right at three hours to get to RB Arena in New Jersey.  So my qualms over the Red Bull logo are secondary to logistical considerations anyway.  Even if the team in New Jersey was still called MetroStars, I would still be looking to trade in my Black and Red for Green and Blue.

At the match against Toronto FC the other night Thierry Henry made a point of drawing attention to the colors of his captain's armband: black and red stripes.  Twice he came prancing in front of the supporters's section showing the armband off.  MetroStars, I thought.  But why?  Could it be that the players are uncomfortable with the corporate logo on their jerseys?  Or, is Henry's gesture just intended to acknowledge that what this year's team is doing is a credit to what the MetroStars began so many years ago?  Making the loyal fans feel good.  The players and fans have an understanding that goes beyond corporate branding.

At the moment the Cosmos is just a brand, just a logo.  It's a logo with a history.  The newly reincarnated Cosmos will go out of their way to connect with their storied history.  Maybe Henry's armband was his way of saying "this club has a history too."  The MetroStars weren't ever as stellar as the Cosmos were in their day, but at least they've been able to field a division 1 side for the last seventeen years.  Today's Cosmos have a lot of catching up to do.

The Potters' Field

posted Friday, 28 December 2012 on The Clean Sheet

On Boxing Day, Liverpool traveled to Britannia Stadium to face one of the Premiere League's most formidable defenses, Stoke City. Given that I've just finished watching Being: Liverpool, the documentary mini-series about Liverpool Football Club as Brendan Rodgers takes over as the new manager, I thought that my sympathies might lie with Liverpool. But the heart is a funny, fickle thing, I found myself pulling for Stoke.

What happened? Why should I be routing for Stoke? I'd just subjected myself to a six week course in brainwashing in the form of Being: Liverpool. Was it my habit of routing for the underdog?

I'll have to go back to the second week of the Premiere League season when Stoke City hosted Arsenal. I met Franz at the Blind Pig and he loaned me an Arsenal jersey so that I'd fit in. But I felt like a traitor wearing that jersey because the only player on the pitch that day I cared anything about was Geoff Cameron, Stoke City's new defensive player just acquired from the Houston Dynamo. Cameron is an American and from the MLS. I wanted him to do well. If memory serves me correctly, that was Cameron's debut match with Stoke, and he acquitted himself well, winning the praise of the home crowd. (Yes, it was Cameron's Stoke debut, 26 August 2012.)

The Boxing Day match between Liverpool and Stoke began with a foul at the edge of the box and a penalty kick. Luis Suarez took a ball on the right and was dribbling in toward goal, but Ryan Shawcross grabbed ahold of Suarez's jersey and couldn't let go before the Reds' striker flopped theatrically (needlessly?) in the box. Steven Gerrard converted the PK and Liverpool took an early lead at the Potteries.

I didn't like it. Yes, it was a foul. Shawcross shouldn't have been holding onto Suarez's jersey, but still, the way Suarez dived, doing his best fish impression, left me cold. So when Jon Walters put one into the net for Stoke, I (involuntarily) cheered and did a fist pump. "Now we have a game!" I was surprised by my reaction. I hadn't planned that. Cheering for the Stoke goal was completely spontaneous. I looked at Eliot, who was watching the match with me, and said, "I thought I'd be routing for Liverpool."

You might say that I was routing for Stoke because they ended up winning the match, 3-1. But when Walter's kicked in that first goal, I had no idea what the outcome would be. In fact, I expected Liverpool to answer with their own beautiful goals. Just before Christmas they drubbed Fulham 4-nil, so I knew they had the quality necessary to breakthrough a tight defense. But the quality wasn't with Liverpool on Boxing Day.

Does this make me a Stoke fan? I don't know. Franz was probably right when he said I respected the game too much to be a true fan, at least of Arsenal or Liverpool. A true fan would admire the theatrics of Luis Suarez just as long as it got Liverpool the win. Maybe I just can't accept Luis Suarez. Ever since his blatant handball in the 2010 World Cup which led to the elimination of Ghana from the competition, I've not been able to respect the Uruguayan.

Being: Cosmos. Currently, I'm preparing myself to be a fan of the new New York Cosmos who will begin modern league play in the new NASL in the fall of 2014. My preparations include reading and essential historical viewing. I'm reading Once in a Lifetime: The Incredible Story of the New York Cosmos by Gavin Newsham. And last night, I watched (on YouTube) four half-hour documentary-style highlight shows covering the 1977, 78, 79, and 1980 seasons. In all but 1979, the Cosmos won the Soccer Bowl, an incredible run. Poking around on YouTube afterward, I found a wealth of streaming video for the historically-minded Cosmos fan, including complete matches.

As an exercise (to help me catch up on my Cosmos knowledge, all proper fans should know the history of their club), I've been compiling a Cosmos timeline, beginning in February 1971 when the club was formed, all the way up to today. And perhaps I'll keep it up-to-date as a resource for the future.

What I'm trying to do with this (historical) reading and viewing is bridge a gap between the past and the present. And I'm discovering that the same club names, the ones I'm familiar with from the MLS and modern NASL, are the ones that were around back in the 70s: Portland Timbers, Seattle Sounders, Vancouver Whitecaps, Tampa Bay Rowdies, San Jose Earthquakes, and the Fort Lauderdale Strikers. When the Cosmos begin play next year they will be facing new incarnations of the Rowdies and Strikers. And if they one day ascend to the MLS will face more familiar names.

At first, I was skeptical that the present day Cosmos could lay claim to a champion's heritage just by purchasing a logo, but I am beginning to think that what's more important in establishing real continuity and a link with the past is the fans. That's what I learned from watching Being: Liverpool. The club owners are only the trustees of something much bigger, much deeper. Being Liverpool FC is independent of the ownership group, independent of the players and managers who come and go. Being Liverpool is about the generations of fans who put on their red and occupy the Kop. Owners come and go, but the fans endure over generations.

The Cosmos might have begun as a speculative business venture by Warner Communications in the early 70s, but the logo, the colors, the club took up residence in the hearts of millions. The flame has been kept alive during a thirty year period of dormancy by folks like you and me, just normal guys and gals who remember, and who will stand proudly in the stands of Shuart Stadium next year in our Green, Gold, and Blue. The Cosmos are not something that a corporation does, they are us and we have no gaps.