FOOTBALLS ARE ROUND!

Soccer – The Most Important of Life’s Unimportant Things


August 20, 2005

STREAM OF CONSCIOUSNESS: COLUMBUS V FC DALLAS


by @ 6:41 pm.
Filed under Major League Soccer

Like you, I was transfixed by the compelling battle between Roger Federer and some guy named Robby Ginepri on ESPN2 this afternoon. Not since Tony Trabert beat Ken Rosewall back in ‘55 at the US Open have I seen such a display of tennis. Such was the intoxicating specter of this clash of titans that I nearly forgot that the kickoff of the Dallas-Columbus match was being delayed.

Yeah, right.

Anyway, I can’t remember the last time we needed a win so badly to get us back on track. Well, okay, the entire last season does come to mind. But I digress.

The boys are wearing the hoops even though they’re on the road. Drew Moor gets another start, Mina gets a start, and a still toe-sore EJ starts on the bench. I think we’ll see him before it’s all over, however.

Crew stadium has all the atmosphere of a well-attended Sunday League game. I don’t mean that kindly. This franchise is hurting, in my view. Coaching changes, inconsistent play, sparse crowds. They need help. I hope they don’t get it today, from us. They have some talent, and I think Robert Warzycha will be a good professional coach, kind of a poor man’s Peter Nowak. The Crew will be okay, but probably not for a year or two.

20 minutes in, and this game has all the intensity of an off-season training session. Kevin Stott just blew the whistle to clear the field due to lightning. A storm may be more exciting than the game. This is the second week in a row that a lightning storm has delayed a Columbus Crew match. If you believe in signs from above, what does this mean? Personally I’m reminded of Badluck Schleprock, the cartoon character who was followed by a dark cloud wherever he went. But that’s just me. I’m sure a “glass half full” Crew fan could find a positive spin here, maybe a lightning reference to represent the power and energy of a Crew resurgence in the second half of a season.

But I doubt it.

Hmm…. so, read any good books lately?

How about those Yankees, huh?

Sure has been hot, lately, hasn’t it?

Okay, I’m out of small talk. I’m going to take a break until the weather cooperates. Please take this break in the Stream to go to the fridge and grab the cold beverage of your choice.

Huh? Oh, we’re back. Hi.

Last week when the Crew and Metrostars had a weather delay, Columbus came out after the break and gave up two goals, blowing a 1-0 lead. Here’s hoping.

All frivolity aside, I have to hand it to MLS, the staff at Giants Stadium (last week) and Crew Stadium (this week), as well as the referees in both games. You don’t want to screw around with lightning, and the correct call was made on both occasions to get the players off the field. Especially at Crew Stadium, where, unless I’m sorely mistaken (and really, what are the chances of that?), the stands are comprised entirely of metal benches. Very intelligent and professional game day management. Kudos all around.

The Crew have come out of the break with a little spring in their step, presumably having learned their lesson last week. Hopefully it’s a bit cooler now too; that should help both sides pick up the pace a bit. A little intensity wouldn’t kill this match, no matter which side it comes from.

Still mostly all Crew as we head to the half. Szetela ripped a shot that just barely missed the left corner. That would’ve been a pretty nice first professional goal. Even the fans in Columbus are showing more energy. Maybe it doesn’t rain all that much in C-town or something, but it sure has had a reborative effect all around.

Extra points to me for using the word ‘reborative’ correctly in a sentence.

Jolley just tried to score Maradona-esque “mano de Dios” goal. All he did in the end was kick Jonny Walker in the solarplexus. I don’t think there really is such a body part as a ’solarplexus’, but I like the way it sounds. Gives the piece an old-school wrasslin’ column kind of feel.

Whether that’s a good thing or not, I leave to you the reader.

Ruiz is bitten by the offside bug again, this time calling back a goal. I love el Pescadito, but the man’s never been offside in his life, if you ask him.

By the way, for those of you new to FC Dallas, “el Pescadito” is Spanish for “The Pescadito”. We’re all about educating the masses.

Halftime. No score. A draw today would be like a loss, in my opinion. Though it goes against my longstanding tradition of rank pessimism, I’m predicting a big second half for the boys today, and a win by two goals, whether it be 2-0 or 11-9. Which would be cool, you have to admit.

Huh. During ESPN2’s halftime piece on Eddie Johnson, they showed a clip from the opening night at Pizza Hut Park, and all of the sudden I saw myself drumming with The Inferno. That was kinda freaky. I’m sure my Mother would be so proud. If my Mother ever watched soccer. Which she doesn’t.

Two observations from seeing myself on television. First, whoever said the camera adds five pounds was off by a factor of two. Or perhaps three. Second, hoops aren’t really the perfect fashion choice for those of us who are, uh, shall we say, particularly well-fed. Time to head back to the gym, big guy.

But that’s neither here nor there. Game on for the second half.

No intensity from us coming out of the gate, here.

You know, the word that described FC Dallas at the beginning of the season was ‘dangerous’. We were hot, intense, always a threat to score, and not likely to be taken advantage of. Lately, not so much. So far today, the weather has been more dangerous than FC Dallas. Something is missing lately, and I think it’s that ineffable quality I like to call fuego. Fire. We lack fire. It happens to all teams now and then I suppose, but it’s getting critical at this point. It’s distressing, and I don’t really understand it.

Anybody? Anybody? Bueller? Bueller?

EJ comes in for Aaron Pitchkolan in the 66th minute. We need some magic. Some Dipsy Selelowane, if you will. If we can’t get it from EJ, it’s just not coming, is it?

Slight signs of life. EJ brings it up the middle, gets it to Ronnie on the left, who rifles a shot that is nicely saved by Jonny Walker. If Walker was getting paid by the hour, he’d have just now clocked in.

Arturo Alvarez in for Mina with 12 minutes left.

Columbus goal in the 81st. Clarence Goodson gets schooled in the left corner by the wily old Chris Henderson. Henderson brings it up the baseline like John Starks at The Garden and jams it across the goalmouth to Cornell Glen, who backheels it nicely off Chris Gbandi’s shin and in the net. One-nil.

Criminy. This is ugly. This is uglier than a great big plate full of chicken-fried ugly smothered in ugly sauce with a side order of ugly with ugly pie for dessert.

And Eddie Johnson is clearly limping, just to rob the afternoon of anything even remotely encouraging whatsoever.

Two great saves by Jonny Walker in injury time. Of course. What’d you expect today?

Full time. The wheels have officially come off for the boys.

I got nothing.

See you next week for Los Goats Del Norte at the Hut.

August 9, 2005

STREAM OF CONSCIOUSNESS: FC DALLAS v METROSTARS


by @ 8:25 am.
Filed under Major League Soccer

PART I: BEER, SOCCER, AND VISITS FROM UNCLE LAMAR

So, I hit the road at 4:40 Friday afternoon in my tan ‘05 Chevy Cavalier rental (’cause that’s how DJ rolls), heading to Big D for the 24-hour tailgate leading up to the opening of Pizza Hut Park and what should have been a jackslapping of the Metrostars (but we’ll get to that later).

After taking a solid hour to get clear of Norman (about 30 minutes longer than it should take on a non-OU football day), I put that baby in cruise control, put The Clash in the CD, and started eating up the pavement in a way that only a rented Cavalier can (did I mention it was tan? Sweeeeeeeeeeeet).

Never having been to Frisco, things could have gotten tricky once I left I-35 and ventured into unknown territory, especially since I asked for directions on the BigSoccer FCD forum and got no less than five different versions of how to get there. But I have to tell you, when I turned right on to the Dallas Parkway, and saw the distinctive lights blazing in the distance, I knew I was home. It was not unlike the scene in “Field of Dreams” where Kevin Costner and James Earl Jones see the lights of the field in the distance as they returned to Iowa with the young Archie Graham. Except at this point in my life I identify much more with the Timothy Busfield, cranky brother-in-law character. Which is sad.

Anyway.

The Tailgaters were in full swing, smack dab in the middle of what will be one of the swanky, high priced “Blue” parking lots, but which that night resembled nothing so much as a construction site. Which, oddly enough, seeing the stadium was within 24 hours of opening, it was. I had apparently missed a visit from Ronnie O’ Brien just moments before, which was a drag, but I was handed a Newcastle Brown Ale by Mudpoet (Great American and Prince Among Men) at the same time I received that news, so it was a wash, disappointment wise.

Both Greg Elliott and Lamar Hunt would also stop by that evening and the next day, for no other reason than to check up on us and see if we were doing okay out there in the wilderness. I mean, one is a billionaire, and the other is a sports executive with about a thousand-and-one tasks on his plate and pressure by the boatload on his back, and they took time to come by and visit. I can’t tell you how much more my love the team grows when I am constantly reminded that it run by people who are not just competent, but also genuinely wonderful human beings.

Speaking of wonderful human beings, the Inferno, as a group, qualify for this distinction. Someone came up with the idea last week that the tailgate would be a great opportunity to raise funds for a worthy charity; Within just days, it was a done deal. That’s the kind of people we’re dealing with here. Fun loving, fanatic about The Hoops, and with a collective heart as big as all Texas. Infernites, I love you folks.

The evening rolled on. Animals were cooked and consumed, grain-based alcoholic beverages were drunk. Speaking of drunk, so were most of us. Along about 1:30 in the morning someone had a brilliant idea. What that idea was, I don’t know. But I do know that at about the same time someone else got the idea that we should all go find a field and go play soccer. Thus the first game in the history of MLDMS (major league drunken midnight soccer) was played. It was a singularly un-aesthetic affair, which was fine, because there was an announced attendance of zero. I’m still trying to decide whether it’s a tragedy or a blessing that no one was there to record the game on videotape for posterity. I’m leaning towards the latter, the more I think about it.

Have you ever seen about a dozen inebriated, unskilled, out-of-shape adults play soccer in the middle of the night? No? Well you haven’t lived until you do, and don’t claim otherwise, because you’d be wrong.

My team, which had no name, was playing, in the words of Parrish, “What can only be described as a 1-1-4-1 formation, with only one defensive strategy, which was to leave Kevin Lindstrom unmarked”. The other team, which had no name, was playing a swarming, attacking minded style that would have been reminiscent of the Dutch “Total Football” concept of the 70’s, if the Dutch had played with middle-aged drunken fat guys with limited skills.

The girls of the Inferno Posse Assembled played with heart and tenacity, being neither drunk nor out-of shape, and a young man named J. R., being 13 years old, ran circles around everyone in attendance. I played goalkeeper for a while, the skills of my youth long having deserted me, and only grit and determination on my side. I made a handful of good (dare I say great?) saves, but unfortunately gave up two hands full of really soft goals. At one point, out of breath and on the verge passing out, I instructed my main man Parrish to give the following statement to the press, should I croak right there on the field: “DJ left this world exactly the way he would have wanted to – drunk, playing soccer, and having given up only a half-dozen goals in a thirty minute game”. Fortunately, a eulogy was not in order.

The final score of the match, unfortunately, has been lost in the mists of history. I’m pretty sure my team won though.

We returned to base camp, celebrated with a few drinks, and by about 4:00 am, most of the crew was asleep, dreaming sweet soccer dreams, not unlike good little children on the night before Christmas.

Coming up in Part II: Hot Hot Heat, Red Plastic Hats, And A Game For The Ages.

STREAM OF CONSCIOUSNESS: FC DALLAS v METROSTARS (Part II)


by @ 8:22 am.
Filed under Major League Soccer

PART II: HOT HOT HEAT, RED PLASTIC HATS, AND A GAME FOR THE AGES

Around 4:00 am I had plunked down my sleeping bag on what was probably the only patch of non-soccer-field vegetation within a mile radius of PHP, and was hunkered down nicely, sleeping like the proverbial log. All the sudden, around 8:00 in the morning, I have this awful nightmare. I dreamt there was a mad Scot running around the tailgate site, draped in a huge blanket bearing the crest of Liverpool FC, singing “You’ll Never Walk Alone” at the top of his lungs.

I opened my eyes, blinked away the glare of the early morning sun, and found that my nightmare was no nightmare at all, but was actually Jonno. He was, in fact, running around in his Liverpool blanket, singing. It was without a doubt one of the most surreal moments of my entire life. You know how when you’re sleeping in a place that is not your home, it will sometimes take you a few moments to figure out where you are? Imagine that happening, and then realizing that not only are you not at home, you’re actually in a sleeping bag, in a parking lot, being serenaded by a man in a kilt. It was like some kind of bizarre soccer Woodstock moment.

So now I’m awake, but, having played soccer the night before, out-of-shape and without having warmed up or stretched, actually standing up presented a bit of a challenge. Everything hurt. Every. Thing. Hurt. I felt like someone had taken a hammer to me during the night. Thank the good Lord that within moments of getting vertical, Gordon handed me a cup of coffee and some other angel handed me four ibuprofen. I sat down, sipped the coffee, let the ibuprofeny goodness wash into my system, and enjoyed the morning breeze.

It may well have been one of the finest moments of my life. Pure tranquility. Surrounded by friends, beautiful weather, the smell of bacon in the air . . . does it get much better than that?

And then, my friends, it started to get hot.

Do you remember in the film “Biloxi Blues” when Eugene first gets off the train in Mississippi? “It’s hot. It’s Africa Hot. Tarzan couldn’t take this kind of hot”. Yeah, it was like that. And this unrelenting, wicked, oppressive, damnable, ferocious, kick-you-in-the-teeth hot frickin’ HOT became the story of most of the rest of the day. Had I not discovered a Del’s Lemonade stand on Main Street in Frisco, I don’t believe I’d have made it.

I don’t want to belabor the point, but, damn it was hot out there. All day, under the shady canopies, waiting for breezes to grace us for 10 or 20 seconds every 45 minutes or so. Trying to stay hydrated, going to your car to sit in the AC for a while, having to use the bathroom but dreading the oven-like porta potties.

It was great.

And, what’s more, I’d do it again at the drop of a hat, but not without some industrial strength fans and a large contingent of those water-mist dealies that you see at the state fair.

About 5:00, like a tribe of soccer-loving Bedouins, we pulled up stakes and moved the whole Tailgate about 100 yards north (or maybe south, I get mixed up), closer to the stadium, to what will be the regular Inferno Tailgate site from now on. I guess they needed the parking spaces, or something, but at any rate, it was a feat of logistical improvisation not seen since the Evacuation of Saigon in ‘75.

Once the new Tailgate site was set up, the rest of the tailgaters started arriving. By this I mean the normal kind of tailgater: sensible folk, who actually had spent the night before in comfortable beds, and who had spent the day indoors, in air conditioning.

Sissies, essentially, is what I’m saying.

At this point, more animals were consumed, more liquids were quaffed, and special guests started flowing through the tent city. Valerie Simmons, whose amazing and brave struggle with cancer was the inspiration for the fundraising aspect of the weekend, arrived with her beautiful family. She was received like the hero she is, and the love present had an actual palpable presence. You could feel it as plainly as you could feel the wind picking up from the north, sending much welcomed cool air through the canopies.

Or maybe the wind was picking up from the south. I get mixed up.

Players Jeff Cassar and Bobby Rhine came by; classy gentlemen both. They seemed genuinely gratified at the support. Good people make good organizations. The players on this team exemplify that idea.

Around 6:00, a good hour and a half before kickoff, I couldn’t stand it anymore and decided to head into the stadium. I just had to see it. I had to soak it all in, walk around, smell the smells, hear the noises, everything.

Walking in the North Gate (or south gate, I get mixed up), the first thing one saw was that the Hunt Sports Group has a sense of humor. The first 7500 fans through the doors were given red hard hats, with the PHP logo and the words “Pardon Our Dust” on the side. That was great. I’ll treasure mine always.

And then, walking around for the first time, I can only sum up what I saw with one word: Perfect. It was perfect. I know technically it wasn’t perfect, because it was only 95% finished, but that’s not what I saw. I saw perfection. A stunning, beautiful, living monument to the game I love in the country I love.

It’s perfect. In “Field of Dreams”, when Shoeless Joe asks Ray Kinsella “Hey, is this heaven?” and Ray replies, “No, it’s Iowa”, Shoeless Joe looks around at the field and says “Funny, seems like heaven”. It was that kind of moment for me. I’ve a feeling I’m not alone, either.

Walking around concourse with TexasArsenal, we schmoozed with the hoi-polloi (Mr. Hunt, Mr. Garber, all the biggies), were interviewed by the Frisco Community TV channel (Which neither of us get, even though TA actually lives in Frisco). Oh yeah, and I got yet another Del’s Lemonade. It’s nectar of the gods, I’m telling you.

Oh, and had I known that the restrooms in the stadium were going to be air-conditioned to about 60 degrees, I might have snuck in and tailgated there all day. It speaks to the severity of a Texas Summer that the most comfortable place I had found all day was the mens room at Pizza Hut Park.

One of the Inferno Drummers didn’t feel like drumming, so I got my shot at the big time, drumming during the whole game. Well, most of the game; my tired 40 year old body started to wear out by the start of the second half, and I deferred to one of the younger drummers and just watched and yelled until the final whistle. I’ve always wanted to be a drummer. I’m not even sure if I kept time or not, but it was a blast.

It is a little melancholy, in retrospect, to realize how much I’m missing by not being a regular in the Inferno. I can’t tell you how much I wish I was. I need to start checking on jobs in Dallas. I have no life whatsoever here in Oklahoma . . . it may be time to make a move.

Oh yeah, the match . . . it’s almost an afterthought in the telling of this crazy weekend. The match started off like a dream. Good possession, confident play, two incredible finishes by El Pescadito. The second goal was a GOTY candidate if I ever saw one. He was about six yards out, right in front of goal; Ronnie fires in the low, hard cross. Carlos lets it slide between his legs and then pops it with the back of his right heel as it goes by. Tony Meola never saw it coming. It was beautiful.

What was just as beautiful, however, was that even though the goal took place on the opposite side of the stadium from the Inferno, we were able to see it, in replay, absolutely vividly on the two HUGE jumbotrons on the far side. I’m stunned by that technology. There we were, more than 100 yards away, and the replay on the screen was as clear as the television in your living room. It was incredible. The replay was shown after play had already re-started, and to hear the crowd appreciate the goal for a second time was fantastic. The roar was almost as loud as that from the actual goal itself.

And, speaking of noise, it was beautiful as well. I’ve never, ever heard a Dallas crowd that loud. Not only was the attendance (16,750) twice the normal number, the acoustics of the small stadium, in contrast to the cavernous Cotton Bowl, magnified the voices splendidly. What an atmosphere. When I got home Sunday morning, even though I was exhausted, I turned on the Tivo replay of the game, mostly just to hear what the crowd noise was like on TV. When the inferno was singing . . . it was almost (dare I say it?) . . . European. Words cannot express what it’s like to hear that from an American crowd. It’s like a dream.

Soccer-wise, the second half was a flaming disappointment. We had a lot of chances to score, but Tony Meola, I must grudgingly admit, kept the MetroStars in the game, and Youri Djorkaeff got a brace to give those Yankee carpetbaggin’ swine a 2-2 draw in the end. Djorkaeff is class. I wish he played for us. Ronnie and Youri together in the midfield, along with Simo? I gotta write a letter to Santa Claus (and start being good, I suppose), because that’s what I’d like for Christmas. I don’t care if he is 58 years old, the man can play!

Truly, though, even a draw couldn’t dampen the high spirits of the evening. Oddly enough. all four goals were scored on the far end of the field from us. I was just dying for an FC Dallas goal on our end, and having one of the boys do a “Lambeau Leap” into the Inferno. Ah, well, there’s time enough for that in the future. Which, as they say, is bright.

I’m sure there’s more I meant to mention, but, I’m telling you, it’s Tuesday morning as I write this, and I’m just now feeling like I’ve recovered from the weekend. And Texgator is one impatient son-of-a-gun, and I’d hate to incur his wrath further by delaying the posting of this epic epistle. So that, as they say, is that. What a weekend, what a stadium, what a supporters group, what a team.

One last thing: thanks to all the Inferno folks, who always make me feel welcome and like one of the family whenever I venture south to the promised land. You are a great, great group of people, and I love you all. I’d start going through names, but then I’d forget someone and blah blah blah. But you know who you are.

That’s all for this week. See you Saturday for the Revs.

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