That's Something You Don't See Every Day, Chauncey

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Posts Tagged ‘soccer’

None of this has happened yet.

Posted by kozemp on September 14, 2017

I remember a night, many years ago, when Nick and I were at the Cherry Hill Diner.

I can’t imagine what we were doing there of all places – the only thing I can think of is that we must have been at the Loews for a movie, but even that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. I want to say this was somewhere around 2008, give or take a year or so either way. I think Reg was in Arkansas, but when Nick and I were out late while she was gone we were usually much farther away than that.

When I wasn’t bitching about women or cards, we usually talked about soccer. It was different back then, before the sport seemingly was everywhere overnight; it was still an oddity you shared with your friends behind other people’s backs, like a secret society. Your main source of information back then, ironically enough, was a video game: FIFA taught me more about who was where in soccer more than years of staring myself blind at the BBC website ever did.

In my experience, a lot of the soccer fans I know have little satellite teams. You have your main side, the team you watch every week – or as much as your schedule allows, as we get older – but there are a couple you keep your eyes on, checking out the scores or the news to see what’s going on.This, also, comes as much from FIFA as anything. I support a fourth-division side in England called Cheltenham Town because when I first started playing the game you had to start your career with a lower-league team and work your way up, and I saw the list of possibilities and said “there’s a Cheltenham here, let’s go with them.” I’ve known Arsenal fans who also loved Real Betis in Spain and Chelsea supporters who are die-hard Napoli fans. There’s more than enough to go around; you could have a team in every league if you wanted.

I’ve tried to explain this to traditional American sports fans and, again in my experience, they usually seem to recoil in horror at the idea. It does not help that eventually I will get frustrated and try to explain why it’s okay with the phrase “Liet serves two masters,” which apparently has far less cultural penetration that soccer ever did.

That night at the Cherry Hill Diner, after we ate we were standing in the parking lot talking about the upcoming season, and who we’d like to see in the Champions League – this was, as I recall, a digression from a conversation about the European sporting concept of “fairness,” sarcasm quotes intended – and how both of us would like to see the competition widened rather than concentrated among the top teams.

“You know who I want to see in the group stages?” Nick said.

I said, half-joking, “Sheriff Tiraspol!”

Nick said, “yes!” and laughed.

Sheriff Tiraspol is a soccer team in Moldova that was founded by a police officer in the late 90s. Their team crest is literally a sheriff’s badge. I knew all of this from a combination of seeing them in FIFA and scouring Wikipedia during my downtime. I was enamored of this team from a city of 129,000 in Moldova – smaller than Cedar Rapids and four thousand miles farther away – because I had run into them a couple times in a video game, and their name was “Sheriff,” and I’d learned that they had a solid black away kit. I like solid black soccer kits, to a point that I once even looked at a black Liverpool shirt with something less than scowling distaste. I look good in black, after all.

Nick and I expressed as much to each other, though he wasn’t into the black away kit like I was. To date Sheriff still hasn’t made the group stage proper of the Champions League, though they’ve done well in some qualifiers and usually make a little noise in the Europa League every year.

Looking at LiveSoccerTV this morning I saw that their Europa League game against Fastav Zlin (a team from a Czech town of 75,000) was on one of the streaming services, and I could get a free trial and watch the game.

Ten years ago the odds of sometehing like this being televised anywhere in this country were almost zero. Jack Keane at Nevada Smith’s in New York might somehow be able to work his satellite magic and get it on a single TV or a laptop somewhere, but that was it, and if you got that there’s a good chance the picture quality would be so bad you wouldn’t be able to tell one side from the other. Whole teams and whole leagues were basically imaginary things that lived only on Wikipedia pages and video games and club websites in foreign languages. They almost weren’t real.

But now a team from Moldova is playing a team in the Czech Republic, on my big screen TV in my own living room in my own house, in high definition. The picture is so good I can see individual raindrops falling. I’m sitting here now, ten years or so later, actually watching Sheriff Tiraspol play for the first time.

They’re even wearing their black kit.

Before the show got ahead of the books, I used to joke with Game of Thrones fans who only watched the show that I could tell them what was going to happen and they wouldn’t believe me. I think it would be even more amusing to go back to that parking lot in the middle of the night a decade ago and tell ten-years-ago Me and ten-years-ago Nick what was going to happen.

I want to see the looks on their faces when I tell them I’m sitting here in the house I took on from my parents, with a random European soccer game on in the background and clear as day while I work remotely at a job I couldn’t have even imagined existed ten years ago, and Nick is watching his three year old son and two week old daughter in a house where my father played cards with his father-in-law when they were teenagers.

I want to tell them that even though on this particular day it’s just a soccer game on TV, and even though there’s a whole lot of terrible shit going on everywhere around them, living in the future is pretty fucking amazing.

Also, right before I pop back to the future, I’ll tell them Jon Snow dies and comes back to life.

JLK

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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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IM Fun: Reading comprehension FTW.

Posted by kozemp on November 14, 2010

Hackett: Chelski win?

Me: Ugh.
Me: Lost 3-0 at home to Sunderland.
Me: Terry and Alex both out hurt, playing without CBs is not good.

Hackett: Wow.
Hackett: I really didn’t know.
Hackett: That’s great!

Me: You’re a whorebag.

Hackett: I used to be.
Hackett: I’m monogamous now.

Me: No.
Me: You’re not a whore.
Me: You’re a whoreBAG.
Me: You’re the little fake Prada purse the whore carries her condoms and lube in.

Hackett: … that was a pretty awesome insult.
Hackett: I bow to your ability.

Me: Damn right.

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ENGLAND PREVAILS: Something just broke.

Posted by kozemp on August 16, 2010

I realize we have only now finished – or are, at least, one game from finishing – the first weekend of the EPL season, and oh what wondrous and strange things happened in that opening weekend, but before we get into that let me spend a quick moment talking about international football, more specifically the England National Team.

I no longer give a shit about it.

For most of my soccer-watching career I’ve been an ardent supporter of England alongside the US, but somewhere along the line…

Actually, scratch that. It’s not some nebulous thing I can’t pin down. I can pin it down exactly: I stopped caring about England at 2:30PM on June 12, 2010. It’s as though before that game my brain was a single-pole-double-throw switch that traveled between England and the USA, but once the ball got kicked off it got permanently stuck on the USA side. And it wasn’t even the result: almost the second the game started I knew, just KNEW, that I wasn’t an England fan anymore. If they hadn’t been drawn together in the World Cup, I dunno, I might still be splitting my support across the Atlantic. It’s distinctly possible. But from here on out, England is just another side as far as I’m concerned.

Now, admittedly, there was a lot of buildup to this moment. Being an England fan is a lot like being a religious fundamentalist*: you have to very pointedly and forcefully ignore the fact that your beliefs cannot be reconciled with any sort of empirically verifiable reality. England fans tend to cling to a belief in some sort of sporting “destiny” when it comes to international football, as though their status as the “birthplace of the game” (which, in actual fact, England is not) grants them special powers placing them above and beyond all the game’s other practitioners.

The obsession with “history” as it relates to the sport may be English football’s most maddening aspect. Here, we treat sports history as remembrance (“I was at Game 6 of the 93 World Series when Mitch Williams gave up that home run to Joe Carter”) or foundation (“Wilt Chamberlain changed the way basketball was played”) or trivia (“Jerry Rice is the all-time leading scorer in the NFL who wasn’t a kicker”). Among English football fans history is like the Force, an actual thing that presses up against and exerts actual physical influence on current events. It affects the outcome of games – you will often hear things like “well, [Team X] had never won at [Ground Y] before today, so it’s no surprise they lost this one, history was against them” and it’s not meant poetically or metaphorically. Statements like that are taken as perfectly literal. Ian Fleming once wrote “the cards have no memory,” but he appears to be the only Englishman ever born to grasp that fundamentally simple idea.

(It is worth nothing, though, that Fleming spent large portions of his life in the Caribbean, where the tropical sun probably cooked his brain well past the medium-rare of the average English person. It is also worth noting that he was such a disgusting pervert that his very name is synonymous with horrifying debauchery, i.e. “that guy is an Ian Fleming-level sicko.” So maybe we should take what he says with a grain of salt or two.)

So, in the first place, you have the wider sporting culture’s belief that games and leagues and championships are, for all intents and purposes, decided by midi-chlorians. Then you add to that the fact that the English press in general, and the sporting press many many many times moreso, seems to be not so much an enterprise designed to collect and organize facts so that the general populace can be kept informed, but is more a gigantic nationwide contest to see who can make up the most nonsensical and outrageous horseshit and get the most people to ACTUALLY BELIEVE IT. Combine those two bizarritudes with the yet-lingering socio-psychological aftereffects of the loss of empire and weather that averages almost 150 rainy days per year** and you have a recipe for a sports culture that does not, for lack of a better term, exist on the same plane of reality as the rest of us.

Okay. Now that we have established that thanks to English insanity and the Hand of Gaul my international football fandom has finally been limited strictly to the good old US of A, let’s get on with a look at the weekend results in, er, the English Premier League.

(Partially because talking about this week’s MLS results, given what happened at PPL Park on Saturday, will only push my blood pressure past the redline.)

There actually isn’t a whole lot to say on the Chelsea front, really. We’ve gotten to a point anymore where beating somebody 6-0 isn’t too terribly far from routine. Chelsea set a Premiership record for goals last season and scored 5 or more a whopping 8 times, and aside from the Benayoun “upgrade” – God it makes me want to puke just typing that – this year’s side looks leaner and meaner that last year’s.

I suppose the big news from Saturday is that we actually HAD to score 6 goals to move into first-day-first-place. I was at the pub early to watch the Villa-West Ham match with Tom and Keith, and at halftime when I checked the scores on my phone I said, “holy fuck, Blackpool is up 3-0 at the JJB.”

I believe Tom’s reaction to that was, “shut the hell up.”

Blackpool would, of course, finish 4-0, leading me in the space between games to lament that we’d have to score 4 just to get into a tie for first. When we hit 4-0 I shouted, “woohoo! First place!” After we scored the fifth I looked up the odds and found that a 6-0 Chelsea final was only 9/2. After our sixth in the 91st minute Tom and Keith started getting up to go and I said, “where the fuck are you going? This could still finish 8-0.”

They seemed persuaded by that to stay the last 2 minutes.

On our way out, a quick jaunt around the headlines from the Premiership from the rest of the weekend:

HOLLOWAY DOESN’T QUITE GET WHY HE’S HERE, WEARS CUFFLINKS. Dateline: the bowels of the JJB. Okay, seriously, what the fuck. Ian Holloway – IAN FUCKING HOLLOWAY! – coaches Blackpool – BLACKPOOL! – to an opening day 4-0 away win, and Ollie’s response is “we’re not going to get carried away.”  You’re a decent manager, Ian. Yes. We know that. But you’re also supposed to be a reliable quote machine. Get on the fucking stick.

SO, BASICALLY, YOU’RE FUCKED. Dateline: the blue end of Manchester. Citeh manager Roberto Mancini has left Welsh striker-slash-psychopath Craig Bellamy off of both his 25-man Premier League roster and his 23-man Europa League roster, but has indicated that he will not sell Bellamy to another EPL club. In other news, Roberto Mancini is kind of a dick.

THOSE WHO ARE IGNORANT OF HISTORY ARE DOOMED TO PLAY FOR CITEH. Dateline: still Manc/Blue. Manchester City defender Vincent Kompany has claimed that his club’s absurd-by-even-Roman’s-standards spending this summer is “good for English football,” that “everybody is enjoying it,” and that “nobody was complaining about having a top four.” In other news, Vincent Kompany is blind and deaf, and lives in a cave, and is fucking stupid.

MAYBE HE WAS DISTRACTED BY THE SHIRT. Dateline: Blackburn (eeewww). Everton loses to Rovers 1-0 when USMNT keeper Tim “Timmy Two-Times” Howard, in a move that almost exactly replicated Petr Cech’s blunder against Turkey at Euro 2008, catches a perfectly innocent ball and then while coming down drops it at an opposing player’s feet, who goes on to score. Asked for comment, Howard remarked after the game, “Jesus H. Christ that kit is ugly.”

AND HILARITY ENSUED. Dateline: the Merseyside dole queue. Pepe puts it in his own net. The match finishes 10-on-10. Joe Cole’s contribution to Liverpool’s first 4 games will last a total of 45 minutes. The guy Joey tried to kill gets himself sent off in the end. Nobody wins. Both of these teams still think they’re good enough to win something, anything. Everyone everywhere laughs their asses off.

MARTIN WHO? Dateline: Villa Park. Aston Villa puts on a delightful display and dismantles a woeful West Ham 3-0. Avram Grant, Mick McCarthy and Alex McLeish console their teams by showing Jon Stewart’s “what’s happening right now is the only thing that’s happening” clip on the locker room TVs.

That’s all the good stuff, for now. See you this time next week. (One hopes.)

JLK

* I’m not talking about all religious belief here, just “God created the earth in 6 24-hour days 4000 years ago” kind of stuff.

** Philadelphia, by comparison, averages around 90.

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You can’t spell “Eto’o” without “TO”

Posted by kozemp on July 28, 2009

From Samuel Eto’s press unveiling in Milan, on the issue of whether or not him and Jose are bestest buds:

http://tinyurl.com/m6jvy6

“‘ I never said those words that were attributed to me,’ he said. ‘There is also a tape which proves it and, in any case, that was after an intense game.'”

If you never said it and there’s a tape to prove it, why does it matter when you didn’t say it on tape?

When you consider the combination of how good he is with how badly Barca have been trying to get rid of him the last few years, Jesus fuck Eto’o must be one of the all-time great locker room cancers. Perhaps he should try plying his trade in Buffalo…

I hear Buffalo is lovely this time of… well… just this week, actually.

JLK

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Can you hear the drums, Fernando?

Posted by kozemp on June 25, 2009

I cannot reliably comment on the US win over Spain yesterday as I did not witness it. I was trapped in meetings all afternoon, and then…

Well, the story of “and then” will be up in the next 24 hours or so. Hint: it’s not a happy story.

JLK

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