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Posts Tagged ‘philadelphia union’

Ah, distinctly I remember.

Posted by kozemp on July 19, 2012

Remember Muzzy Izzet?

He was a Turkish international who played for Chelsea way back in the day and spent most of his career at Leicester City. After Leicester he spent three injury-wracked years at Birmingham where by all accounts he produced nothing particularly noteworthy, except for what I still remember eight years later as the single greatest handball in the history of soccer.

I have tried and failed to find video of this play but believe me when I tell you: it was truly, truly spectacular. I remember it like it was yesterday. It was in November, I was at the Dark Horse, and I was walking out of the Rigger Bar past the brand-new big-screen television that had been installed the month before for an England-Wales World Cup qualifier. (My attendance at the Dark Horse for that specific game, I recall, was required by certain parties as a shibboleth to prove that I “actually” liked soccer.)

I was walking out of the bar when I glanced at the television. Everton had a free kick maybe 25 yards from the Birmingham goal. Thomas Gravesen – sweet zombie Jesus, I can’t believe I still remember it was Thomas Gravesen – lined up over the ball and took a very nice free kick that looked to sail over the heads of the wall and slightly trouble the Birmingham goalkeeper (whose name, sadly, I cannot remember). It looked like it was going to do this until, possibly entering a dissociative state and believing he was playing some other sport, Muzzy shoved his arms up in the air, hit the ball square with the heels of both hands, and pushed it over the crossbar.

It was as perfect a set as you would see on any volleyball court. Unfortunately, it happened in a soccer game.

Everyone in the bar stared at the television. Everyone in the stands stared at the pitch. It was a moment of perfect, stunned silence on two continents. The ref walked over to Muzzy, pointed to the spot, and showed him a red card with a bewildered look on his face that clearly said, “what the fuck were you doing?”

It is, to this day, still one of the most bizarre things I have ever seen in sports, and it takes the cake from Luis Suarez as the Greatest Handball Ever because while Suarez was simply cheating, Muzzy Izzet genuinely appeared to lose his mind for a second there.

I am reminded tonight of Muzzy because walking back to my car from PPL Park tonight, between the corner at the stadium road and the church where I park, I sent a message on Twitter to a friend of mine.

I wrote, “Has there been a change to the Laws of the Game that visiting players at PPL Park can use their hands?!”

This is twice in a week now and it’s starting to get really, really irritating.

I’m not going to say that the handball witnessed in the closing stages of tonight’s friendly with Aston Villa was close to as bad as Muzzy’s famous set, but is the second time in seven days I’m sitting here talking about a Union game and the most important part of it was a terrible refereeing decision.

The Union won a free kick on the edge of the Villa penalty area in… late in the game, I want to say maybe the 82nd minute or so. I’m not entirely sure how the Union actually won the free kick – we were on a careening late run towards the Villa goal, because as we know the the Union’s new MO is to only actually play soccer in the last 10 minutes of the game – but there it was all the same. The free kick right on the edge of the area, just inside the post.

Part of the reason my memory of this free kick is somewhat distorted (i.e., I cannot remember when it happened, who won the foul, or who took the kick) is what happened ON the free kick.

The ball was kicked.

The ball flew at the wall.

One of the Villa players in the wall flung his arm at the ball and knocked it away from the play.

It was a clear, deliberate, obvious handball by defending player in his own box. It may not have been as spectacular or ridiculous as Muzzy’s handball against Everton, but it was no less blatant. This should have been the easiest red card and penalty the referee had ever issued.

Play continued.

Sitting in our seats more than 120 yards away, Nick and I saw this clear as day and both screamed simultaneously, “ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?!” Tom, in his Aston Villa shirt, more demurely muttered, “wow.”

Now, again, don’t get me wrong. Just like the Cup semifinal against Sporting last week, the Union did not lose because of a poor refereeing decision. Well, bad refereeing decision. Well, atrocious refereeing decision. It may not necessarily have been the worst soccer game I’ve ever seen, but it was definitely flirting with the top 10. We put out what was mostly a youth side, Lambert rotated his squad players and his youngsters in and out as well, and the quality of play on both sides could generally best be described as “terrible.” And that’s fine. It was a mid-season friendly for us. It was a preseason tour game for Villa. No one is expecting an all-time classic. And we lost because Nathan Delfouneso scored a really, really good goal.

It does rankle, though, that our undefeated run in exhibitions against foreign sides ended this way, where by rights we should have had a chance to at least tie it up late in the game and keep our unblemished record. Yeah, it’s just a friendly but… pride, you know? It’s not just a terrible U2 song.

JLK

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I believe you will find it is you who are mistaken. About a great many things.

Posted by kozemp on July 12, 2012

We learned three very important things at PPL Park last night.

1) There is, in fact, a level of officiating that is worse than what is commonly found in MLS.

2) The Philadelphia Union still have quite a long ways to go before all of their problems are solved.

3) I am not very good at kicking a soccer ball.

So, a rundown.

It’s an article of faith among MLS fans that the officiating in the league hovers just above abysmal. This is hardly surprising. USSF refs don’t exactly get the best training in the world so one can’t be too surprised when they go to a game and fuck it up on a scale normally used by people like Charles Richter.

I’ve spent a good portion of the last three years at PPL Park and while the MLS officials have not been out-and-out terrible every week, poor officiating seems to be the norm rather than the exception. After a while you just get sort of… I don’t know… inured to it, I guess. You go to the games, you root for your team, the official makes a shitload of mistakes, there are no peanuts in your goddamn Cracker Jack, everybody goes home, and on and on it goes, till death do us part, amen.

Occasionally you’ll get egregiously bad refs whose intent, it seems, is to elevate bad officiating into some sort of hideous performance art, as though their desire were to go in front of 18,000 people and put on a terrible show so as to purposely draw the audience’s ire, as some sort of bizarre commentary on the American need for a villain. This, frankly, is pretty rare. Most the time you get garden-variety terrible refs who simply don’t know what they’re doing, or aren’t fit enough to keep up with the game, or hate Peter Nowak because of that time he told the ref’s mother go fuck herself.

Last night, though, at the US Open Cup semifinal against Sporting Kansas City, officiating in American soccer reached a new, previously unthought-of nadir. Like I said, I’ve been at PPL Park for the better part of the last three years and last night was, without a doubt, the single worst officiated soccer game I have ever seen in my entire life. The sheer number of things the referee “let go” in this game was STAGGERING. Hand balls, lunges from behind, players kicking the ball away from the team that won a free kick – that last one of at least three things in this game I counted that are supposed to be an automatic yellow card where none was issued – the official no-called every one of these things, multiple times. Oh man, the hand balls. So, so many.

Now, don’t get me wrong. We did not lose BECAUSE of the ref. I’m not even sure how much the ref directly contributed to the Union’s loss. Having the worst official of the history of soccer – that’s right, you heard me, worst official in 2400 years – certainly didn’t help the cause, but any reasonably fair assessment would show that the Union lost because Zac MacMath lost his mind on a free kick in the middle of the second half, flailing at it like a seven-year-old trying to return his father’s serve in beach volleyball.

Which, conveniently, nicely segues into the next thing we learned, which is that for all the recent turnaround under John Hackworth, the Union still have a long way to go to get back to where they were, say, a year ago.

There is a fine line between playing badly and simply not playing well, and the Union flip-flopped back and forth over it all night. I still say they spent more time on the “not playing well” side, and that overall the game had the feel more of a dire and dreary cup final than of a usually-more-interesting semifinal. I can’t even say one of the usual platitudes like, “this wasn’t the same team that won their last three games, including beating this Sporting team 4-0.”

This was, in fact, very MUCH the same team that rattled off those three wins in a row, and that was part of the problem.

Around the middle of the first half (just before a Union free kick where our slam-bag official would wrongly rule him offside) I turned to Tim and Nick and said, “Jack McInerney has got to get out of there.” In the buildup to the kick, which like almost every other free taken this game seemed to go on forever, Jack wandered around the Sporting penalty area seemingly tired, beaten down, barely there.

Tim said, “he looks gassed.”

I said, “he looks dead.”

And he did. Jack looked terrible the entire game. I get that the Union are trying to put on a new face in the Hackworth era, and that in order to restore the fan’s trust in the team they need to go out there and win as many games as possible. I agree; these are things they have to do. But the simple fact of the matter is that three days ago this team was playing Toronto FC at home, and even though in our previous meeting this season we lost to The Worst Soccer Team In The World, if Hackworth had put out a slightly reduced side this past Sunday to save up players like McInerney I don’t think anyone would’ve complained too much with the far more important US Open Cup semifinal coming – a game where a fully-fit, fully-charged McInerney would have been much more useful than a game against the absolute dregs of professional soccer.

As it was, with McInerney a pale shadow of himself, and Pajoy performing his usual shtick of “running around on a soccer field with no one really knowing what he’s doing,” the Union attack basically had no teeth the entire evening.

And let’s not even go into SKC’s second goal, which was the first hockey-style empty-netter I’ve ever seen in soccer.

I’m still inclined to give Hackworth a significant benefit of the doubt – the league results are good and at this point almost any sort of positive outcome is a major uplift for the team and the fans – but the roster selections last night and over the last week were pretty egregious mistakes. Hackworth’s mistake compounded with MacMath’s mistake and left the Union crashing out of the Cup, but, well… live and learn, I suppose. It’s early days for both of them and last night’s result aside, the future still looks a hell of a lot brighter than it did six weeks ago.

And, finally, I kicked an actual soccer ball with my actual foot for the first time since approximately 1986. It was a very nice evening weather-wise, and after the game we found ourselves in the parking lot waiting for the line of cars to reduce to a point where we could conceivably leave sometime that night, and Nick had a ball, so I ended up occasionally joining the kick-around.

To say it not go well would give poetic license a bad name, and on at least two occasions my attempt to hit the ball with my foot failed entirely and I was forced to defend myself with my hands and arms, and I’m still not 100% certain that on that last free kick, in which I tried to knock over a 64 ounce soda mug on the lip of a trunk, I didn’t break five or six bones in my right foot. Still, though, a good time was had and I wouldn’t mind doing it again. Provided I can get myself better shoes. And better feet. And better coordination.

Or, at the least, I could simply stop telling everyone how badly I do at it.

JLK

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