30 March 2010

The Hungover

The Hungover aka The Rewatch

The night was March 25, 2010, a date, if not a night out, that I will not be forgetting for some time. At long last, our beloved Union took the field, and the Dark Horse Pub on Second Street played host to what was surely the most rabid collection of Union fans with excuses to not travel to Seattle, including this guy. Being both a huge fan of soccer and any reason to scream, Heaven died and came to me. I even have high definition evidence to prove it:

My roommate is the easily identifiable maniac in the Phillies t-shirt. I am to the right, pulling a Farley, unsure of the words and trying to shake the hair from my eyes. My on-camera interview was excised from the final program, I'm guessing down to my demeanor, appearance, and attitude. At least two of those three, anyway.

What followed is mostly a blur. Wound up on spirit, and spirits, I screamed, sang, ridiculed, mocked, insulted, and drank a bit more. For 90 minutes, supporting the team was the principal focus, with the actual match events mostly obscured by a combination fellow fanatics, brew, and an unwavering optimism that resides in a true supporter.

With an occasion this grand, it is only right to re-live the night, and turn the focus to the actual game that was played. A few days removed, here comes the pain:

First impression from the telecast: I don't hate Alexi Lalas anymore. (Don't worry, by halftime, I'm back on board the hate train. Choo Choo!) Or at least as much. Now that we've got an MLS team, I guess I'm just resigned to the fact that his analysis is now a part of my life. I still hold out hope for a trunk of hilarious props and anabolic steroids under that ESPN desk, though.

I really hope no one's making a documentary about Charlie Davies. I'm pretty sure his life story was already told on film. You most certainly CANNOT call him Mr. Glass.

Pregame with Danny Califf, showing off some decisive choices regarding the facial and cranial follicles. “We're different, and we're gonna be different...stick together...work like hell.” In retrospect, obvious code words for “intimidate foreigners and get a card before I get my first touch, from a clear off the ball shoulder tackle.” More on that in THE FIRST F*****G minute.

Who is the douchebag wearing the Chicago hoodie amongst the traveling Sons of Ben? Insert Visa commercial reference here. Looking a prat: Priceless.

Lalas quite prophetically raises doubts about goalkeeping. I'm already wavering on my acceptance of this malaka.

0' JP Dellacamera, the official broadcast voice of the Union, oughtta be rememberin' who signs some of his paychecks. He's joined by John Harkes, who totally sucks.

1' Montero goes down in the 20th second under a playful nudge from Califf, earning the Union center back a yellow card in what has to be a record time for an expansion team. So we're already in the record book! Take that, Red Bulls!

3' Nowak chewing fiercely on...? My guess is whale blubber he fished out of Puget Sound with a butterfly knife and an angel's tears for bait.

6' Le Toux's first effort on goal as a Union representative soundly turned away by Mwanga? Mwhat just happened there, son?

6' Orozco unloads from distance and forces Keller into a tremendous save. If only he'd been so protective of his hair line.

8' Union keeping pressure up the field. NOTHING CAN GO WRONG.

10' Poor offsides call against Moreno on the near side. Bizarrely, now the Sounders supporters getting on the officials' case. They just hate a bad call, I guess. A lot to be respected in that. Well played, ECS.

Witness: The Curse of the Commentator, expertly executed:

John Harkes at the 11:18 mark: “It's a bright start for the Union side so far.”

20 Seconds Later @ 11:38: Sounders 1, Union 0

12' Evans puts the Sounders ahead after some silky smooth buildup play, the key thread pulled by Freddie Ljunberg, allowing Moreno to set the up the centerpiece on an all-too-rich move. That's how I had dreamed this game beginning, except, you know, the exact opposite.

15' Useless color man defends reckless tackle by Seattle's Alonso. No way Harkes is paired with Dellacamera on Union's local coverage. Not over my dead body.

16' Zakuani misses a sitter. At this moment, Drew Carey is chanting “SEX DUNGEON” while surrounded by puzzled Asian investors, who are still cheerfully puffing on Sounders-provided American Spirits.

18' Le Toux is HAULED DOWN BY HIS SHIRT IN THE BOX. A clear penalty not given. I find this officiating to be shallow and pedantic.

20' Jacobson blows a volley into the second level, where there are no fans to retrieve the ball. There is going to be one very confused Seahawks fan come the home opener in September.

23' Tony Stahl barely conceals the sniper's bullet which catches Ljunberg in the small of the back. Yellow card for obstruction of the referee's view? Harsh, but I guess I'm unfamiliar with the wrinkles of the MLS game.

25' More tedious, fruitless possession. If I wanted that, I'd be a Liverpool supporter...oh, wait, yup. (Wow, is that a “Smell my finger” celebration?)

26' Stahl covers Califf's ineffectiveness with a sliding clearance that could have gone just about anywhere. Just about anywhere is also where Drew Carey likes to be beaten by a Brazilian pre-op.

27' A series of poor decisions by the Union's Jordan Harvey allow Montero a crack at goal that ends up adrift. This is foreshadowing, a traditional literary device. See? SEE???
28' “35,000 singing strongly in Seattle.” That's not singing. That's reciting “Seattle Sounders” to the tune of “Darrrrrrrryl...Darrrrrrrrrryl.”

31' Ljunberg is nudged off the ball by Orozco in the box. Proceeds to moan to referee. Detecting a disturbing pattern of f**go*ry from the Sounders line leaders.

33' Torres spins through a few feeble challenges, allowing Le Toux to haplessly attempt to fashion a proper connection off the proceeding corner.

35' Torres' presence continues to impress, even as his creations fizzle out when unfortunately compromised by unable teammates.

38' Le Toux expects an earlier pass from Moreno as the Union's first would-be-goal is called back for offsides. I almost broke the chair I was standing on in the back of the pub. Actually, I pretty much did break the chair, and stood with my feet less than parallel to the ground for the rest of the match. I imagine the euphoric rush of a goal is enhanced ten fold by it counting towards the scoreline. Can't wait!

39' Ljunberg leads with the elbow, hunting Califf's mohawked head. A card not coming. Paul Allen's pockets undoubtedly deep enough for these officials. I am gonna blow the lid off this story. What is Donaghy in Spanish?

40' OH WELL WELL WELL here comes the red. Stahl gets a kick into the backside of an unfailingly dramatic Montero, collecting a second yellow and getting first dibs on the shower and post game spread. Under Nowak's meticulous management of all aspects of club culture, he is now tasked with slaughtering the calf for the team meal. (The blood on his hands to reflect the color of the card, obvious symbolism).

43' After a Ljunberg corner is cleared from the box, Harvey fails to step up, gifting Montero an onside position for a diving header, as clear for liftoff as the space between the Union left back's ears. 2-0 to the Bad Guys.

Mercifully, HALFTIME

Confidence and decision making, both offensive and defensive, are the factors between the two sides. Philadelphia certainly look capable of competing in the MLS, but they seem a bit nervy and overwhelmed by the noisy atmosphere. Seattle is shamelessly doing a much better job at conning the referee, while continuing to profit without dignity.

Lalas mentions the momentum turn after the first 10 or so minutes, but fails to point out the mush by Harkes which unbalanced the match and tampered space and time as destiny so clearly intended. Harkes is messing with powers he cannot possibly understand, and Lalas is clearly his minion. I am back to hating Lalas. Sweet, sweet hate.

That's twice Lalas has said “We're blowing it out here at ESPN.” I couldn't have said it better myself, twice, Alexi.

The Martin Tyler-narrated World Cup 2010 commercial jacks me way up.

Some non-threatening sludge metal accompanies a halftime montage filled with Drew Carey's boobs, a Sounders' cheerleader's boobs (no not the same thing), and more physical challenges than two jock families on Double Dare.

45' Mwanga is subbed off. I remember still drunkenly singing his name, well after being told he'd been replaced. I can't wait to see him playing up top, as it seems he absolutely should be doing. He was a bit of a lanky square peg abandoned to scrap in midfield.

48' Nowak's oral fixation noticeably startling. Having swallowed two hundred pounds of whale blubber during the first half, Nowak's moved on to aluminum foil. That's the first time I've ever seen blood act as a substitute for chapstick.

49' Harkes and Dellacamera shouting out the Sons of Ben. “They are fantastic.” Respek.

51' Seattle doggedly persists through the middle, allowing the disadvantaged Union side to stay in the competition. Drew Carey doggedly persists after the arena's condom dispenser, in anticipation of encountering something with the type of genitals you wouldn't have guessed on first glance.

53' Union hanging on to the ball but unable to cross midfield with possession in tact. A brief glimmer of attack is swallowed up by the water-slicked bush league field turf. BUSH LEAGUE.

55' Seitz rushes to challenge Evans' pursuit of the cultured through pass, resulting in a loose ball that is embarrassingly guided wide of an open net by Zakuani. Later, Alexi Lalas would verbally fell ate his efforts during the match. Because he's an idiot. And a jerk. And an idiot.

58' Sounders pour on the pressure, but the Union defense continues to absorb their harmless attacks. It is clear to anyone with a brain that this match is finished. Of course at the time I was singing, “We're gonnnnna winnnnn 3-2222222!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

59' A free kick from inside the half line sets up a long ball opportunity, which Le Toux picks up and promptly fails to convert. The Union are unlikely to create many more opportunities like that. And much more unlikely to convert them if they fall to Le Toux again. Not his night.
63' Myrie receives a decidedly deserved yellow tarjeta on account of a flying cross body check, more typical of a Samoan wearing full padding and a helmet. I loved that.

67' Union battling, but failing to keep the ball on the ground for more than a few touches at any given time. That sounds kind of dirty, but I can't quite figure out why. Oh yeah, Drew Carey's here! That's why.

70' Myrie marauds down the right flank, winning the Union a corner which is ultimately squandered by a lack of personnel, a minor lack in desire, and a major collective lack of oxygen.

74' More love for the Sons of Ben, which is nice, but the polite small talk underlies the undeniable reality: There is not much hope left in this game for lovers of attractive soccer.

77' Score, shmore, it's still awesome we have our own franchise. “3-2, 3-2, we're gonna win 3-2!”

79' Dellacamera again refers to the Sounders atonal droning as “singing.” He keeps using that word.

82' Sounders now taking limp pot shots. Ten man Union (that doesn't sound very good) showing expected signs of fatigue, understaffed and forced to chase the ball.

84' I will forgive all of Califf's clich├ęd tattoos if he gets a Tyson on his face. His head is already mostly shaved, perhaps in preparation for some sick ink, bro????

86' Jacobsen tries to pick out 17 year old substitute Jack McInerney's deft run with a ball over the top, which is sadly dealt with and promptly extinguished. The youngling's intent is evident, and his endeavor undeniable. Might have been useful from the off, I would think.

87' Moreno puts studs to Nyassi's calf and takes just a yellow card for his effort, leaving the door open to try that one again.

90' Le Toux receives the ball in the box, and with it: a severe case of ants-in-the-pants.

90' Three superfluous minutes of stoppage time added to an interminable second half. I will boycott analyzing those.

93' The referee mercifully denies the Sounders a penalty, and blows the final whistle. That was less fun sober, but just as interesting. “Less fun sober, but just as interesting: ZOLO” Put that on a t-shirt.

I regret to admit that I watched the post game coverage, but I feel obliged to comment. (*REALLY???)

Lalas' stupid face says that part of the local fan base will be applying pressure on our team to win, in a way which we are traditionally accustomed. But he confuses the Philadelphia sports fan with the Philadelphia soccer fan. A lot of us are glad to be a part of something bigger, something global, even if just in our own local bubble. There is precious little dissent amongst the faithful after a difficult opener. We will be here to greet them with open arms when they make their triumphant debut in little more than a week's time. We're sticking to the Union, Alexi. You're a jackass.


This is the part where I watch the rest of the MLS so you don't have to. Don't worry, I didn't watch much. Which puts me squarely in the market for teams like Kansas City and Columbus, whose attendance was far less than impressive at an extended glance.

Caught some of the Red Bull Arena “Grand” Opening. Guess what? When you're opening a new stadium, and I can SEE the Red Bull logo via the empty seats at midfield, you fail. Coloring a pattern in the seats is a risky proposition. Sure, it looks brilliant when you're taking a picture of the empty new cathedral. When there's a game on, though? Bring back Pele, NYC.

25 March 2010

F Starbucks

"But I'm growin' hungry (growin' hungry)
I'm growin' hungry (growin' hungry)
I'm growin' hungry (growin' hungry)
I'm growin' hungry (growin' hungry)"

Temple of the Dog, 199-It's-A-Shame-These-2 Made It

Thank you, yes, I know what goes here.  The part where I laud Seattle for their resounding success in their MLS "expansion" season, after over a decade in American soccer's minor leagues.  Followed by this part, hoping we can replicate it - which we will, but only as a jumping off point towards the path on which we will carry soccer's torch in this country.

BUT they invented soccer in America, dontchaknow? 

Nope, I call shenanigans.

But oh, their tears shed in their Space Needles, they will cry, "The attendance!"  Pessimism or no, that building is half empty.  XBOX PITCH AT QWEST FIELD is exactly like the same field the Seahawks play on, except with no one upstairs, evoking all the atmosphere of Grandpa Carey's four inch toilet cushion made of foam and sadness: lots of action, and lots of echoing.  I will casually brush past the giddy irony of a stadium a few months behind schedule built for a team called the Union, as Lincoln Financial Field will play host to two "sold out," yet somehow half-empty unofficial warm-up matches before the grand opening of Chester's PPL Park.  

Killer kit sponsor aside, so many things feel so wrong.

That shade of green was popular in windbreaker fashions, around the time when Seattle's mopey-mopeyness poisoned early 90s pop culture with an initial rush of anti-euphoria by hypnotizing a nation, while bearing little but an earnest passion for flannel shirts and distortion pedals.  Such promising beginnings: The Pixies, Nirvana, Ken Griffey, Jr., Shawn Kemp, Shawn Kemp's illegitimates, Shawn Kemp's designated joint roller.

And what now!  What do we have to show for our evolution from that point?  Starbucks and the Oklahoma City Thunder.  I thought of all the things I know about Seattle and Washington state, to some extent, and here are my findings:

Stephen Lucey's A Brief History of Seattle

1970 Hendrix, Jimi
1990 Wood, Andrew
1994 Cobain, Kurt

1996 Al Donelly succeeds despite wild election fraud, not to mention repeatedly damaging interventions from his ne'er-do-well quite-morbidly obese brother, during the 1996 race for governor.  (KILL WHITEY)

2002 Staley, Layne

That's not as much bashing as they deserve, but I must move on.

Prediction:  Philadelphia Union 2, Seattle Sounders 0
(A little birdie whispered that the Union are 5/1 tonight.  Flip that sh*t, Larry)

24 March 2010

The Union Forever

Money speaks for money, the Devil for his own
Who comes to speak for the skin and the bone?
What a comfort to the widow, a light to the child
There is power in a union!

Billy Bragg, "There Is Power In A Union"

Bragg's chune quoted here indicts evil and greed, while advocating the strength borne of solidarity and faith in brotherhood. The plight of the worker mirrors my plight as a lifelong Philly sports fan, on a familiarity with failure that only comes from defending the merits of Roman Cechmanek. I had tears in my eyes while listening to the 2008 WFC do their thing on that glorious night. I knew what a championship could feel like, but baseball is not really my Bud Light in a plastic bottle. So while I screamed my voice raw during the parade, and managed to sustain a fist-pumping related elbow injury (PRE-JERSEY SHORE) which still pops up to this day, I was never committed to the Phillies, and certainly not during their considerable lean years.

Refusal to acknowledge Comcast's terrorist-like ransoms for their sports channel has deprived me of Flyers coverage, left marooned in the digital wasteland, fighting off pornography and free prizes in search of a reliable illicit stream, if I could even be bothered anymore. I was appalled by the lifeless Flyers crowd at a recent home game against the Maple Laffs. It was so quiet you could hear a puck drop? Sorry, but until I get an editor, these things will keep happening.

Thankfully, my lifelong flirtation with soccer was finally consummated during the wondrously wild soccer orgy known as the Euro 2008 Finals. All the energy I previously spent following the NHL mutated into an obsession with futbol that a junkie would be proud of. Concurrently, the Sons of Ben, a grassroots supporters group based in the Delaware Valley, was seeing their dedication to a dream turn into something tangible. Not just a team, but a new dedicated stadium manifested in Chester, of all places. Surely stirs confidence in miraculous possibilities. Further entries here will extol the heroes whose dedication and irrational zeal forged the belief which has delivered us these riches.

I am excited for our beloved Union franchise in a way that only Borat has been able to express: very excite. If fanaticism carries any romance, we are all about to marry a virgin with none of the mess. I seek to share this gift and preach the Gospel of Zolo. For He so favored the City of Brotherly Love, that he has bestowed upon us the MLS' sixteenth franchise.

I am also prone to delusions of grandeur, wildly generous opinions of hometown talent, and ridiculous, insane expectations. Later, this will be redundant.

On April 10, 2010, Major League Soccer will experience the true class of a top tier sports city. But first:

So much to do
So much to see
So what's wrong with taking the back streets?

"All Star," Smash Mouth, 1999(?)

For the long dormant, but frothing at the mouth - if not frosting their mug - Philadelphia soccer fan, the patient wait for a true cause to support is all but over. There are many balls to be kicked by our players, and there will be many flares set off by yours truly. The bacterial passion has cultured, and all horizons are painted with greatness. The rotten stench of a lingering lockout has dispersed, and relocated back down to the stinky bridge near the South Philly sports complex.

Peter, Peter, Maneater

My personal expectations for the inaugural season are impossibly high, in no small part teased out by the quite-jocular-for-an-Eastern-European manager Peter Nowak's championship success in 1998 as a player with then-expansion side Chicago Fire. (LOL - that is a horrible, horrible name. Red Bulls now seems like a tasteful choice compared to the NY 9/11s. Further digression: that will hopefully be the last mildly pleasant remark regarding NYC in this blog. And it mentioned 9/11, so I don't feel horrible about it.)

Nowak's championship prowess continued in his first year as a manager, leading D.C. United (puke) to the MLS title in 2004. Flashforward six years, and he has the chance to continue his championship form in American soccer in a proper city, with a mayoral integrity second to no city named Washington, D.C.

The country at-large got a glimpse of the Philadelphia spirit during the Superdraft at the top of the new year, with the locals hauling away a rickshaw load of young talent from the Convention Center facility, located within spitting distance of Chinatown. Nowak illuminated FSC's poorly-lit presentation with easy charm.

"What are the biggest challenges of building a team from scratch? Where do you start: with defenders, midfielders, or attackers?"

"I start with the U-8 program..."

And this is how my affinity for Nowak, our very first commander-in-chief, was born. Even as the insipid questions from Fox Soccer Channel's callers-in and on-air talent continued to chip at Nowak's begrudging hospitality, his sharp humor and ambition were on full display at the Superdraft. (What's so super about the Superdraft?)

He is clearly in love with the challenge, and appreciates the fanaticism afforded by his new metropolitan home. Additional superficial impressions include an infectious enthusiasm, as well as the cool demeanor of a benevolent dictator. I imagine a Ken Hitchcock raised on cabbage instead of Tim Horton's.

Nowak has a chance to step into the personality vacuum currently present in the Philadelphia coaching scene. Charlie Manuel has a seemingly bottomless cache of "aw shucks" and simple wisdoms, as well as, most importantly, a ring to be worshiped. Mormon Santa doesn't like sharing anything with anyone. My informal poll of no one suggests that the average Philadelphian would struggle naming the coaches of the professional occupants of the Your Bank Here Center (Actual arena not pictured).

He and the Union will face a relatively weakened battle for attention from the local bigs. The Phillies zeitgeist is perhaps at its most feverish annual pitch, closing in on selling out every single seat before the season's begun. However, the usual preseason Eagles buzz will be more of a dull rattle, given the steadfast maintenance of the unpopular status quo, paired with their completely impotent playoff exit to their most despised foe. I doubt the Union will make much, if any traction on local sports talk radio, but their television deal with 6abc will be very effective towards establishing a respectable place as a legitimate fifth sporting option.

Next up, we will look at our first opposition, and take a deep, deep breath.