116street Soccer

Footballing from a lesser authority...

Location: New York, New York

Monday, July 30, 2007

Quick Hits

Raise your hand if you are enjoying SuperLiga as much as I am. There is some real passion on display in these matches, not to mention a nice bit of skill from the much-maligned MLS players. Christian Gomez was magnificent for D.C. against Club America yesterday, and I think my newest favorite MLS player might be Joseph Ngwenya (who Houston subbed off too early last night, in my opinion). Mexican League teams might have expected a series of glorified friendlies, but this tourney looks as if it will be a dogfight to the end. Over time, this could shape up to be the tournament MLS fans have been waiting for, and let's hope that future editions feature a true "home-away" format for added drama!

Freddy Adu is going to Benfica, which is a great move on his part. In Lisbon he will be able to participate in a big club, but under less of a microscope than he would find among the pundits in England and Spain. He also moves directly under the wing of one of the game's most venerable playmakers, the distinguished Manuel Rui Costa, who teamed with Gabriel Batistuta years ago to make Fiorentina one of the most enjoyable Serie A teams of recent memory, before helping mentor the great Kaka at AC Milan. He was also defeated by the USA in the '02 World Cup, as a member of a Portugal squad that will forever be near and dear to the hearts of Gringos everywhere; Freddy should learn much from him! Lastly (and perhaps most importantly), Freddy will be in a side with an annual shot at Champions League action, which is more than you can say about Tottenham. Playing in such a high-pressure environment against the world's best will certainly help Adu's game; now all he has to do is earn that playing time. Best of luck, Freddy.

Robin van Persie is going to be a very big star this season (I know I said that about Luis Garcia last year, but I'm certain of this). He was absolutely phenomenal against Inter in the Emirates Cup yesterday. The scariest part of his dominant play on Sunday was the seeming discovery of his right foot, which he used to score a stunner:

Perhaps those rumors of the demise of Arsenal are a bit exaggerated (then again, they might be pleading for Henry to come back by January)!

Can't wait for Becks to make his SuperLiga debut, here's to hoping the Galaxy go through, just in case he can't play against FC Dallas on Tuesday. A little star power goes a long way, after all, and it's a shame Chicago wasn't included in this tournament as well; while walking home on 116th Street (a stronghold for Chivas and Club America supporters) yesterday, I saw a group of Mexican teens in Fire jerseys. That was certainly a first! David Beckham and Cuauhtemoc Blanco have been marketing coups for MLS thus far, and their impact has the potential to stretch far beyond the U.S. market. For proof, check out this MLS-themed show from the UK, "David Beckham's Soccer USA" (shown below in five parts):

Finally, congratulations to Iraq for their Asian Cup victory. Although many players will not be able to return home in the near future for safety reasons, hopefully their sense of unity and sacrifice will provide some inspiration to a nation in desperate need of it. Soccer may be a small thing, but it incites passion like few other things in the world; let's hope Iraq gets to experience similar joy in the years ahead.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Kissing the Cup

That's right, this is a photo of yours truly kissing the European Cup (try your hardest to contain your envy - jealousy will lead you down a dark path). How did this come about, you ask? Evidently, AC Milan is touring the trophy in an attempt to turn some unfortunate saps into Serie A fans (Milan fans at that - even worse!), and they made a stop at a prominent NYC soccer pub, Nevada Smith's.
Although they displayed the trophy most of the night, a disappointing number of patrons came through to see it, possibly due to the rain or the steam pipe explosion that crippled the East Side of Manhattan for much of the night. Milan gave out some promotional knick-knacks for the event, and its devil mascot, Milanello, was in the house along with some models (I missed that part, sadly), but the main attraction was the trophy.
Security around the Cup was surprisingly lax - there was just one representative from Milan, along with the aforementioned mascot and models, and a couple of bouncers - which meant that fans could pick up the trophy, kiss it, pose with it, basically do everything short of drink from it (and having gotten a good look at the inside of that thing, there's no way I'm doing that). I approached the trophy nervously, just hoping to reach out and touch it the way a runner-up would on the way to collect his second-place medallion. I put my hands around its handles and gave it a nervous lift; it wasn't all that heavy, and now a gleeful, childlike grin was sweeping across my face. I lifted it higher, and was instantly transported into the center of the field, confetti flying everywhere. I was Fernando Hierro, Paolo Maldini and Steven Gerrard, all at once (I imagine that any captain who lifts this thing must instantly feel as if he'd become every captain before him; it's quite a rush). Without many other patrons in the pub (and without a Pirlo-esque teammate to take the trophy and start a victory lap), I felt no pressre to put it back down, so I held onto it as long as I could. Eventually, I did put it down to examine its contents: in addition to the UEFA logo on the front, there is a French inscription that loosely translates to "Cup of European Champions." On the back, another French inscription; I interpreted this as saying "Vanquishers." There were names of memorable Cup winners of the past: Manchester United, powered by David Beckham corner kicks to take down Bayern Munich in injury time; Real Madrid, inspired by Nicolas Anelka, of all people, then two years later through a piece of Zinedine Zidane magic; and AC Milan, who I can't stand but to whom I am grateful for making this whole thing happen.
While there were few people around, the football fanatics who did arrive had the fan experience of their lives. I've never seen so many adults turn into little kids right before my eyes! One woman was just taking a walk down the street when she saw the advertisement outside of the bar; she came in, eyes widened at seeing the trophy, then went home to fetch her Milan shirt. When she returned, she lifted the trophy as if she were a member of the Maldini family herself. A girl visiting NYU had no idea what the trophy represented; when I explained to her that it was equivalent to the Super Bowl trophy (only way better), she exclaimed, "I'm going to be a soccer fan now!" One girl came in and giggled, "The World Cup is here!" I let her be. A Newcastle fan held it and said "One day, there will be black-and-white ribbons on this," to which a fellow patron countered, "Yeah, when Juve wins it." All and all, it was a fantastic evening, although my buddy Joe was slow in arriving and missed the trophy. Maybe next year, Joseph, maybe next year.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Brazil Returns

I was shamelessly front-running, bouncing up and down to "Popazuda Rock 'N Roll" while some extremely attractive Brazilian girls were shimmying with the Robinho lookalike to my right, and who could blame me? Brazil, with a B squad full of players I was barely familiar with, had just pistol-whipped their more celebrated archrivals, vanquishing Argentina to claim another Copa America title, and since I had never partied with a bunch of Brazilians postgame, I couldn't think of a better occasion.
Wendell, the aforementioned Robinho doppelganger, was filling me in on the appeal of cheering for Brazil, and I have to say it was quite a nice pitch. "Today, you are Brazilian," he said, then directing his attention to another non-Brazilian in the room, he added, "so is he. So is she! Today, everyone is Brazilian!" That's how it looked on the field, too, as the swarm of yellow and blue made a previously dominant Argentina side look completely irrelevant. The Albicelestes, so accustomed to controlling the pace of the game, were simply overwhelmed by the pure pace of the Brazilians.
Playing with neither a classic target man or wingers, Argentina has relied primarily on its composure and passing in midfield to pinpoint openings in the defense, at the expense of width and a consistent aerial game. Against Brazil, however, that lack of width was telling, as the Brazilian counterattack caught Argentine fullbacks too far upfield and wreaked vengeance with stunning precision. By the 40th minute, Argentina's defenders were already hunched over and pulling at their shorts, and only seconds later Roberto Ayala was trying to pick himself off the ground, an own-goal scoring victim of Brazil's fearsome counterattack.
Thus it appears that Brazil, written off as a work in progress, are players on the world stage once again; we will have to get familiar with a few new names, such as Josue, Elano, and Daniel Alves. The match has also proven just how tough it is to win a major competition (USA fans, don't be so impatient!); the last time Argentina won one of these, Saved By The Bell was on the air.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Embracing Beckham

I am honestly excited by all of it. I can't wait for the hoopla, the impossible to fulfill expectations, the mocking and guffawing, the eventual backlash from the anti-soccer dolts, the eventual Spice Girls reunion, the eventual Landon Donovan beeyotch session where he cries about not being the center of LA's galaxy, the curling free kicks, and even the hairstyles. I am positively ready for the David Beckham experience to land right here in the USA, where hype truly belongs, because at the end of the day, the Mancs and Madridistas can't do it quite the way we can. This is high drama here, people, the kind that we soccer fans eat up in spades.
A refresher: Beckham's biggest challenges to date have been (1997) snagging Victoria away from pretty-boy teammate Ryan Giggs; (1998) convincing the English public not to hate him, it's not entirely his fault that Diego Simeone is a flopping actor who played his part in getting Beckham sent off; (2003) escaping Sir Alex Ferguson's warpath of anger to flee to Madrid, then somehow supplanting Luis Figo as Real's main man on the right; and (2007) making himself indispensable to Real and England squads that had totally rejected him. Now, he is faced with the most Sisyphean of all his challenges to date, making soccer relevant in the USA, and there is no question that we won't succeed in this endeavor.
That's right, it's a lost cause. David Beckham will not cause the American public to care about soccer anymore than it already does. In this regard, his endeavor is hopeless. There is, however, a very fine line between caring about something and noticing something, and people will pay attention, whether it's to the free kicks or the hair or Posh's implants. The sportswriters will notice enough to slam soccer once again, but the difference this time will be that it is not a World Cup year and there is otherwise no reason to even discuss the game in this country. So while David Beckham won't get anyone to care, his arrival takes us once step closer to the day when other factors do convince the public to invest their time, emotions and interest in the sport.
With all of that being said, this is going to be fun, which is why I don't quite get all of the sarcasm associated with his arrival. Sometimes I feel as if American soccer fans want to be closed off to everyone, as if we're some super-cool club no one gets invited into. Maybe Beckham's arrival is exposing us as the band geeks we are, but so what? We get it, we get him, we get the circus. It's been going on for years, now it's just in our back yard. I say we go ride the Ferris wheel and down some funnel cakes. It's David Beckham, you know what I'm saying? This is a guy with an uncanny sense of the dramatic, a true professional, a guy who just made the hot female factor at MLS games increase by about 5000%. Now is not the time to be loathsome or irritable, it's time to make some friends. David Beckham is here. He's not the Messiah, but he's a start. Let's show him some love.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Wednesday Night Paradise

Michael Bradley was pantomiming "2-1" to a group of Uruguayan sore losers, and I was texting a friend to drunkenly inform him that, yes indeed, Leo Messi is the best player in the world. It was soccer paradise, celebrating a hard fought win by the U.S. Under-20 while anticipating the thorough annihilation of Mexico at the hands of Argentina. Only a few moments later, Messi backed up my inebriated text message by lofting a spectacular floater just over the outstretched hand of douchebag supreme Oswaldo Sanchez, causing a number of Mexican patrons to sarcastically begin chanting "U-S-A!". Last night was made for us, fellow futbol fanaticos.
A couple of years ago, I was watching a Champions League match between Barcelona and some random European power they stepped all over en route to the European Cup, when Ronaldinho snaked his way between three random world class defenders (remember when he used to do that?), in order to make an otherwise pedestrian back pass. Derek Rae commented that "we are all privileged to watch this young man in his prime," or something to that effect. In other words, true genius doesn't always come before a goal, it is not always a spectacular volley. Sometimes a great first touch or a magic turn is all it takes to recognize the purest form of genius on the field. That is how I felt watching Messi last night.
At the time I sent my drunken text to my appreciative (I'm sure) friend, Messi hadn't yet scored his lovely chip, or sent a spectacular through ball through magic space (well, he might have done that), but he left all of us agape with his ability to change direction, weave through tight places and maintain possession where it appeared that none existed. The fact is that every time he received the ball, we all expected something spectacular to happen, and then, when it finally did, it was even better than we had hoped. That, my friends, is the mark of true genius, the kind that makes you say to yourself "you know, playing with Riquelme and Cambiasso and Mascherano and Veron is really holding Messi back right now."
I know, I know, I'm gushing right now (by tomorrow I'll probably be telling my friends that Robinho will outplay Messi in the final; isn't that how we soccer fans can be sometimes?), but I have one more thing to say about yesterday's rainy night of soccer Valhalla. Can we please stop talking about Mexico as if they are good? What a predictable, unimaginative squad they are. They overdribble, can't pass and don't finish, and in that half a sentence I just gave you the entire scouting report on their side (all future opponents of Mexico reading this, you can thank me later). They looked like eleven Justin Mapps out there, and they are lucky Argentina called off the dogs in the 70th minute, or else it could have been 5-nil (maybe even six). No wonder Landon Donovan beats them all the time, they are the epitome of wackness. How did they get this far in the Copa? The USA could beat them anyday (ha!).

Friday, July 06, 2007

Dear Soccer-Haters: Sorry...

So the U.S. is out of the Copa America, the Beckham hype machine is underway, and Gene Wojciechowski is making fun of soccer, mainly because, well, he doesn't know anything about it. Meanwhile, over at The Big Lead, commenters are making the argument that soccer is actually over-covered. It's just a day in the life of the American soccer fan, having to endure the USA getting the $#!+ kicked out of it in major competitions only to be soothed by mockery. But since we are all un-American idiots, let's take some time out of our day to observe the really important matters in the sporting world, shall we?

1. Looks like steroids are played out among baseball players; the way to go is stimulants!

2. NFL players are real Americans - they don't watch a girly sport like soccer because dog fighting is so much more manly.

3. Some whiny beeyotch on the Lakers says he's sorry for being such a whiny beeyotch; now he's just an ambiguously whiny beeyotch.

4. Thierry Henry's best friend married a primetime soap star!

Of course, absolutely, positively none of this stuff is old news; the American sports scene is so full of fresh and interesting developments, that it is only natural for people like us to be a bunch of stupid pansies, allowing our beloved soccer to steal headlines away from the Earth-shattering competition to decide who's "Now." We should all apologize for being a bunch of dull, flopping, head-butting Commies, and realize once and for all that A-Rod's wife's t-shirt is much more important than whoever this Beckham guy is.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007


Work obligations kept me from watching the USA-Paraguay match, although I did manage to catch the first 20 minutes, including Sacha Kljestan's missed header. Since I haven't really seen the match, I thought I'd direct you over to Mike Cardillo's blog That's On Point, where he has some observations:


Monday, July 02, 2007

I Hate The Galaxy's New Shirt

A Comparison:

Old - unique color scheme, cool sash...

New (via The Offside Rules) - Adidas templated, Real Madrid knocked-off garbage (but with a better crest)...

EDIT: Maybe it's starting to grow on me a little?