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How to Get Out of Work to Watch the U.S. v. Germany Game Tomorrow

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There is only one universally recognized diagnosable illness that can garner one an excused absence from work without a doctor’s note. That illness is of course, footballitis. As you can see from this Adidas ad circa World Cup 2002, it is an illness that affects one mentally and physically which means you’re going to be utterly useless at your workplace if you have it.

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No worker with footballitis can be expected to adequately concentrate on any task with a match as big as U.S. v. Germany going on. If you think you might have footballitis, the responsible thing to do is stay home from work tomorrow and watch U.S./Germany. It’s vital for your health; after all, there is no cure for footballitis. You can only hope to manage the symptoms and the only way to do that is to not do anything important like your job and just watch the U.S. play Germany.

Contemplating those affected by footballitis...

Contemplating those affected by footballitis…

So there you go, it’s simple: call in sick with footballitis tomorrow. Your employer will surely understand, and if they don’t, do you really want to be working at a place insensitive to the hazards of footballitis anyway?

Feel free to share your methods for coping with footballitis below…

And if you need a way to help pass the time until kickoff tomorrow, check out my brand new non-fiction book Dallas ‘Til I Cry:  Learning to Love Major League Soccer, now available on Amazon.com in both paperback and Kindle e-book versions.

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The Things We Do for Love

How I almost missed the dramatic U.S. victory over Jamaica

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I received an email from Stampede Sports, the name of the indoor soccer facility where I’ve played on a team the past couple years. It was an invitation to come watch the US v. Jamaica World Cup qualifier in Stampede’s bar area, creatively dubbed “The Corral”.  The email made the event sound very exciting, including that it would be the first gathering of the Southlake chapter of the mighty American Outlaws (the US men’s national team supporters group).  I’m certainly not in the habit of watching my soccer matches in pubs or bars, primarily because I don’t drink.  But in this case I perked up since all of the US’ away qualifiers are only televised on the be In Sports channel, which I don’t get on my cable package.

So, right after I read the kids a goodnight story I threw on my US jersey from World Cup 2010 (the one with the beauty pageant sash) and headed for Stampede Sports in Southlake (about a 20 minute drive).

I arrived at “The Corral” at 8:30, just in time for kickoff, but there was no soccer on the single big screen TV hanging above the bar.  The few patrons seemed oblivious to any imminent World Cup qualifier.  There were no American Outlaws in sight.

I found a flight of stairs.  Aha!  I wasn’t aware that Stampede had an upper bar area.  The gathering must be upstairs.  I jogged up the stairs, afraid that I’d miss an early surprise goal by Clint Dempsey or more likely a squandered chance by Jozy Altidore.  Alas, no one was upstairs and the sole TV was turned off.

I jogged back downstairs.  The bartender changed the channel… to a Texas Rangers game.  I nearly broke into a cold sweat.  Did I dream up this qualifier?  It was June 7th, right?  I checked my watch to verify.

I suddenly remembered there were a couple party rooms at the far end of the arena.  Duh!  Why hadn’t I thought of those in the first place?  Surely the big watch party was there.  I jogged down to the rooms only to find them completely empty, lights turned off, doors locked.  This was not cool.

Ten minutes of the match were already gone.  I jogged to the front desk and asked where the game was being shown.  The teenaged girl manning the desk barely looked up as she replied (as if it were no big deal), “Oh yeah, we’re not showing it.  We don’t have that channel.”

“We don’t have that channel”?  Don’t have that channel?  But what about the email invitation?  What about the American Outlaws?  Why was I the only one that seemed to care that there was a crucial World Cup qualifier in progress?  I could feel my pulse in my temples.  This was turning into one of those dreams I periodically have where I’m running all over trying to find something or someone and never succeed.

I jogged back to my car without a plan.  Where could I possibly watch this game?  If I were in Europe or South America I’d probably just have to drive a couple blocks and look for a crowd spilling out of a shop or café broadcasting the game.  But not in Southlake, Texas – the ultimate suburban oasis.  If I wanted a designer latte, fancy ice cream, to see a movie, or purchase an Apple product, I’d be in business.  But finding a place to watch US v. Jamaica here on short notice?  I might as well be in the Australian outback.

I thought about calling my friend Kristian, but I was pretty sure he didn’t get be In Sports either, plus he lived in Arlington which would be another 30 minute hike from Southlake.  I thought about my friend Jim (the former professional mascot) but it was getting late, he’s working on his doctoral thesis, and his wife is pregnant with their second child, so I didn’t really want to bother him.

I hopped in my car, started driving, and dialed up the only fake person I could think to turn to:  Siri.  I asked her for Buffalo Wild Wings locations in Bedford.  I hadn’t been to a BWW in probably a decade, but I remembered they have lots of TVs.  Surely one of them was tuned to US/Jamaica.  Siri zapped me a map in a flash.

Twenty minutes later, I pulled into the strip mall parking lot where I thought the Buffalo Wild Wings used to be.  It was gone.  Had Siri led me astray?  I checked her map again.  No.  I was wrong – the restaurant moved in the decade since I’d been there and was now on the other side of the freeway.  I checked the time, disheartened.  It was nearly halftime already.

As I drove to the Buffalo Wild Wings I refreshed the match score on my phone… the US had scored!  I whipped into the parking lot and could already see multiple TVs tuned to the game.  Yes!

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I asked to be seated outside on the patio because the night air was unusually pleasant for north Texas in June.  I got a table and a menu just as the players left the field for halftime.  As soon as I sat down, the only other groups using tables on the patio finished up and left and I was suddenly sitting outside, in the darkness, all alone, in my US jersey.

Though I’d already had dinner and wasn’t hungry, I felt obligated to order something.  But my wife Trevlyn had me on the caveman diet, so a soda was forbidden.  I gritted my teeth and ordered an unsweet tea.  I hoped Trevlyn would forgive me for the chips and salsa I also ordered (chips aren’t caveman diet approved either).

The waitress asked me if I’d like to have the sound turned on outside.  I certainly did.  Soon, I was kicked back with my own snack, two high-def TVs, with surround sound, and a cool breeze blowing.  Did it make up for missing the entire first half?  Probably not, but it wasn’t a bad consolation.

Still, it wasn’t quite the same without any fellow fans to cheer on the US with.  I called my brother Dan, who has started his extreme busy season as a summer camp director, in the off chance that he was actually getting to watch the game live.  He’d just started watching the recording so we couldn’t discuss the action or gripe about players in real time.  He said he couldn’t stay on the phone long because he didn’t want to read any spoilers in my tone, but we started talking about Star Trek Into Darkness and ended up on the phone ten more minutes anyway.

Into darkness is exactly where I and all other true US soccer fans plunged when a victory that seemed relatively in hand disappeared with a Jamaican equalizer in the 89th minute.  I blamed Graham Zusi.  The Sporting KC midfielder lazily mistimed his jump for a header against a Jamaican player who won the ball and might have raced past Zusi had Zusi not tripped him and earned a yellow card.  The match commentators commended Zusi for a “smart” foul, but I’m not convinced the play would’ve been much of a threat had he not fouled.  Jamaica lined up the resulting free kick within easy distance of the US box.  Sure enough, the ball floated in and Jamaica’s Jermaine Beckford easily waltzed through and headed the ball into the goal past a frozen Tim Howard.

All my effort scrambling around suburbia like an obsessed treasure hunter suddenly seemed madness.  Why did the US team constantly break my heart so?  Why can’t they finish out games when they have the lead?  Why did I have to be on this wretched caveman diet when I’m not even a caveman?

As I stewed and pouted into stoppage time, the US pushed the ball up field with semi-urgency.  They earned a corner kick.  Michael Bradley played it short to Zusi, who wisely returned it to Bradley.  Bradley turned sharply toward the end line trying to beat his Jamaican marker.  Bradley looked covered but he struck a pass anyway.  Brad Evans received Bradley’s pass with his back to goal, spun and ripped a desperate shot that zipped into the upper right corner past Jamaica’s Hulk of a keeper Donovan Ricketts.

I was dumbfounded.  This.  Never.  Happens.  To.  The.  US.

I suddenly wanted Brad Evans posters for my office.  I even contemplated not cheering against him next time Dallas plays Seattle.

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Sure, a draw wouldn’t have been the end of the world, but the away win provided the US with some welcome breathing room.

I paid my bill and walked to my car.  The restaurant seemed unusually empty for a Friday night.  What a match!  The whole spectrum of sports fan emotion, dejection to elation, in under five minutes.  America doesn’t know what it’s missing.

Klinsmann v. Donovan

Landon unwisely left out in the cold for upcoming U.S. games

Landon Donovan

Last week, US Men’s National Team coach Jurgen Klinsmann released his roster for this month’s friendlies and the World Cup qualifiers in June.  The big brouhaha is his failure to include Landon Donovan on the list.

Though the team’s overhaul hasn’t materialized quite the way I hoped it would by now under Klinsmann’s guidance, I continue to give him the benefit of the doubt.  The team is a work in progress of course, but it is precisely because it’s a work in progress that it seems crazy to leave out Landon Donovan.  The team needs him during the course of figuring out the best starting eleven mix for the 2014 World Cup (and even after that’s figured out, it’s hard to imagine Donovan not being one of those starters).

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Is anyone on this latest roster – besides Clint Dempsey or perhaps Michael Bradley – currently a stronger overall player than Landon Donovan?  It’s hard to imagine Argentina leaving out Messi, or Portugal leaving out Ronaldo.  Yes, Donovan’s older than those superstars, but his leadership, stature, and quality are of parallel importance to the U.S.

I’m not sure the tension and controversy created by omitting Donovan is the kind of division you want to have when you’re about to enter the heart of World Cup qualifying.  What would’ve been the harm in putting Donovan on the roster?  It doesn’t mean you have to play him if you don’t think he’s up to par.  It seems there’s much more to lose by leaving him out.

If Donovan doesn’t make the roster later this summer for the Gold Cup, and the US makes it to the semifinals of that tournament (for which I have a ticket), I’m going to be an extremely disgruntled camper – along with a lot of other US soccer fans.

What do you think about Donovan getting left out?

International Break Blues

Will Chelsea’s momentum stop after the latest international hiatus?

The International Break is a necessary evil I suppose.  It’s fun sometimes, particularly during World Cup Qualifying.  Well, if your team wins that is.  I love supporting the USMNT (I always want to read that as U.S. Mutant Ninja Turtles), but it kills momentum for clubs.  It’s like tennis matches that get rain delayed overnight – it gives the guy who’s losing the match opportunity to regroup, rest, and heal if necessary.  Sometimes it totally changes the match.  And that’s what I’m afraid of because Chelsea has been on a roll, but now the international break – the IB if you will – has stopped the Blues in their tracks.

Compared to the past two seasons, this campaign is strange for Chelsea fans in that the team is sitting relatively pretty for a change, atop the league table, four points above the Manchesters.  So far we haven’t had to deal with the kind of angst that plagued us the past two seasons.  Yes, it’s hard to justify complaints when your team won the Champions League last season, but as anyone who followed that saga knows, it was the most stressful possible tournament in which Chelsea repeatedly cheated death, somehow escaping Munich with the big-eared trophy in their clutches.  By comparison this Premier League season has been downright docile.  So far at least.  That’s the main reason I’m concerned about this most recent momentum-killing IB.

I’ve really enjoyed watching Chelsea go undefeated this season – it’s been refreshingly un-stressful.  But now the team has to shake off their jet lag (Chelsea players are on a lot of national teams) and get their groove back in time to do battle at Tottenham this Saturday.  Add in the weirdness factor that they’ll be facing their old manager Andre Villas-Boas for the first time since Chelsea fired him last season and you have the makings of a potential perfect storm.  You can bet your booty AVB will have his Spurs revved up for maximum pride salvaging (meaning AVB’s pride).  It’s certainly not the cushy assignment a first place team would prefer to get to ease back into Premier League play after a tiring IB.  On the other hand, resuming the season with a dogfight like this may be the best way to get Chelsea back in the full swing of things.

Saturday’s game at Tottenham is a bigger match than initially meets the eye.  It is a crucial encounter that could mean the difference between establishing dominance in the league and giving the Manchesters a toehold.  The Manchesters do not need toeholds given to them.

Will Chelsea be able to regroup and shake off the cobwebs in time for the big clash with Tottenham Saturday?

American Breathing Room

U.S. keeps World Cup Qualifying hopes alive with win over Guatemala

The first five minutes of tonight’s game were depressing.  The U.S. defense was AWOL and Guatemala scored an easy tap-in goal.  Fortunately, Clint Dempsey had his game face on and scored a pair of first half goals, which, along with Bocanegra’s goal, gave the U.S. a relatively comfy 3-1 lead by halftime.  Speaking of game faces, did anyone notice the hilarious giant placard cutout of Dempsey’s wild-eyed crazy face (that he made in the last game against Jamaica) in the stands?  Good times.

The U.S. shored up their defense in the second half and passed more calmly and efficiently.  They should’ve added a few more goals, but I was just relieved to see them keep Guatemala from climbing their way back into the match.

Jurgen Klinsmann’s Andre-Villas-Boas-like celebrations after each U.S. goal were undoubtedly echoed by U.S. fans around the country.  We can all breathe a sigh of relief for now.  There is a very long way to go of course, but the U.S. bought itself some more time with the win tonight.  Time to regroup, get healthy (Donovan!), and figure out how to play some stingy D before the next round of World Cup Qualifying kicks off in February!

What changes does the U.S. need to make to survive the next round of qualifying?

Jozy Out-the-Door

Why Jozy Altidore’s omission from the US National Team is a good thing…

As some of you know, I’ve had some articles published on EPL Talk and a couple of their related sites this year.  In anticipation of the U.S.’ World Cup qualifier against Antigua and Barbuda tonight, I have a new article (about Jozy Altidore being dropped from the latest U.S. roster) which is now live at MLS Talk.  I hope you’ll check it out!

 

 

Red, White & Blues Roundup

Thoughts on last week’s big matches for U.S., Chelsea, and FC Dallas

There is a reason this blog has been mute this week, even as my three main teams were in action.  And it’s not a pleasant reason.  I’m calling out Time Warner Cable as the worst TV/internet provider in these United States!  My cable went out first.  It was gone for a week, forcing me to watch the Chelsea/Newcastle match at my non-soccer-fan in-laws house.  But thank goodness they have Fox Soccer!  And their big screen isn’t too shabby either.  My Time Warner internet “service” was also out during the cable outage.  Services were restored for a week, then this past Monday Time Warner decided they hadn’t quite scared me away as a customer so they knocked out my internet for another week.  They finally showed up to repair it Friday night.

Then yesterday, just to kick me while I’m down, Time Warner inexplicably pulled the plug on Fox Soccer Channel in the 67th minute of the Chelsea/QPR match!  The horror!  I think that was actually worst than not having cable at all because I didn’t have time to crash my in-laws for the game.  Of course, Time Warner finally restored Fox Soccer a couple hours later, but the damage to my fanhood had already been done.  Time Warner, you are a truly terrible service!  I will be dropping them as my cable/internet provider as soon as possible!

Now back to this week’s soccer action…

First, it was a great, relieving win for the U.S. over Jamaica Tuesday night.  The U.S. looked encouraging in the first half, rattling the post three times.  I started to get that uneasy feeling you get when your team is dominating but can’t quite find the net.  But Hercules Gomez finally created some breathing room with his amazing free kick in the second half.  The U.S. should’ve had more, and they allowed some nerve-wracking moments during the final ten minutes, but the three points were secured and hope is thankfully alive again for World Cup qualification.

“Herculez! Herculez!”

The Chelsea/QPR game was a scrappy one – at least the 67 minutes of it Time Warner allowed me to see.  It ended up a scoreless draw, so at least Chelsea retains first place in the league this week.  It wasn’t a great offensive Blues performance.  Torres was back to his thumb-twiddling ways up top.  Ramires was much weaker than usual.  Hazard continues to be pretty great though.  If his teammates learn to link up with him, Chelsea will generate a lot of goals this season.

Hazardous to defenses (I know, I know. I had to do it just this once.).

On the home front, I was at FC Dallas Stadium last night for the next-to-last FCD home game of the season.  It was a must-win match for FCD against Vancouver Whitecaps if Dallas has any hope of making the playoffs.  The play was extremely physical, the refereeing atrocious, and Dallas’ strike force woefully lacking in urgency (Blas Perez and Brek Shea looked downright lethargic).  The score remained 0-0 until the 96th minute when Julian De Guzman rocketed in one of the shots of the season.  Just minutes earlier I had lamented in my mind that De Guzman had done nothing of note since his arrival in Dallas a few months ago.  I’ve repented of that lament.  The crowd exploded after De Guzman’s amazing goal and it was probably the most exciting MLS match moment I’ve ever experienced in person.

The U.S. men and FC Dallas are off for a while, but Chelsea has a big week ahead with Juventus on Tuesday in Champions League action and Stoke visiting on Saturday.  Good times!

What was your favorite soccer moment this week?

Not Cool, Mon

Jamaica puts U.S. in a dreadlock with 2-1 defeat

My thoughts exactly.

Clint Dempsey scored for the U.S. in the first minute of last night’s World Cup qualifying match in Kingston, Jamaica.  Looked like it was going to be a good night for the U.S.  But it wasn’t.  In unfortunately typical fashion, the U.S. flushed away their crucial road lead, this time by granting Jamaica two free kicks, which the Reggae Boyz converted to goals.

I don’t want to completely flog the U.S. team; after all, they’ve shown a lot of promise since Klinsmann took over and have enjoyed some good friendly wins this year.  But I do want to decry something that has bothered me for years about the U.S. men’s teams:  their lack of mental discipline in matches.  You’ve got to think out there.  For the full 90 minutes!  In the heat of battle it often seems this raw, brute force, overly aggressive American athletic instinct takes over that produces boneheaded fouls in dangerous areas and at inopportune times.  When will we learn?

And when will we learn that 1-0 leads aren’t enough in World Cup qualifiers away from home?  They usually aren’t enough in World Cup qualifiers at home either.  It may be enough of a lead for the Spains and Brazils of the world, but not for us!

One last vent… Kyle Beckerman – seriously?  I’m a Jurgen Klinsmann fan overall.  I like that he’s mixing things up personnel-wise, giving players like Brek Shea an opportunity.  But I don’t get what he sees in Beckerman.  I know we missed Donovan and Bradley in the lineup last night, but why not try Bocanegra in a holding midfield role, or start Shea?  Spector, Jose Torres, and Zusi were also on the bench and are each a better option than Beckerman.

The only silver lining here is that the U.S. doesn’t have to wait long to right the ship.  The return leg against Jamaica is this Tuesday in Columbus.  Here’s hoping the U.S. can rally with a big shutout before their World Cup qualifying picture really gets messy.

Need to vent about the U.S. loss to Jamaica?  Feel free to comment below…

Brazil or Bust

World Cup 2014 starts tomorrow for the U.S.

The United States’ 5-1 rout of Scotland on May 26 already seems a long time ago thanks to the two matches with much different results that have happened since.  First there was the 4-1 loss to Brazil in Landover, Maryland on May 30, then the 0-0 draw with Canada in Toronto last Sunday.  I’ve had to remind myself that these are friendlies, mere tune-up matches designed to prep the team for imminent World Cup qualifying – otherwise the Brazil and Canada results could be rather depressing.

The Brazil score wasn’t pretty, but there was plenty of pep in the U.S. step against Brazil, with the Americans inches from scoring on several occasions.  The 0-0 result against Canada is actually cause for more concern.  Yes, it was the third game in eight days for the U.S., they were probably tired, they’ve been training hard, etc.  But it’s Canada!  Our northern neighbors have made some headway the past few years toward improving soccer respectability within the region, but the U.S. should be able to handle them.  Instead, the zest that pulsated through the U.S. against Scotland was replaced with sluggishness and an inability to get sufficient numbers forward.  Canada was a lot more threatening on goal, and frankly scored one that should have counted (it was mysteriously waved off by a linesman).

A draw with Canada isn’t the most recent match memory you want to have on the eve of World Cup qualifying, but Jurgen Klinsmann and the boys are going to have to put it behind them, eat some Wheaties, and gird themselves because it’s CONCACAF time.  The World Cup doesn’t start in Brazil in 2014.  Those are the finals.  The World Cup tournament starts tomorrow night for the U.S., in Tampa, Florida against Antigua & Barbuda.  Here’s hoping for a multi-goal U.S. victory to get this qualifying campaign started off on the right foot!

Who would you like to see among the U.S. starting eleven against Antigua/Barbuda?

The Italian Job

Thoughts on U.S. Men’s 1 – 0 defeat of Italy…

Yes, it was “just a friendly”, but the U.S. win over Italy on Wednesday is a very big deal.  A little historical perspective helps in fully appreciating just how far U.S. soccer has come the past twenty years.  For those who don’t remember the deer-in-headlights U.S. team of Italia ’90, trust me, we’ve come a loooooong way.  So even though it was a friendly, it is a very significant win for the U.S. – in Italy no less – that should give Klinsmann and company plenty of confidence heading into World Cup qualifying this summer.

It was still primarily a defensive effort from the U.S., but the apparent game plan worked.  They made the most of their few chances, with one of them finally paying off in Dempsey’s grass-burner of a goal early in the second half.  It was the kind of goal Dempsey seems to score almost weekly now for Fulham.  Too bad the World Cup isn’t this year in order to catch this guy in his absolute prime.  Still, as long as he stays healthy, he should be a major contributor in 2014.

In midfield, Michael Bradley was mature and poised.  His stint in Serie A this season is obviously paying off.  He needs to start every U.S. qualifier.  Maurice Edu was also very effective and I hope we get to see more of him.  Brek Shea didn’t have one of his better games.  His decision-making needs honing as he too often tries to dribble guys he shouldn’t and sometimes passes to covered teammates.  But he’ll grow out of that.  He makes up for his mistakes by hustling back on defense.  I like his work ethic and speed.  I hope he continues to get U.S. team minutes because he could be a huge factor by 2014.

The defense was leaky in the first half, but fortunately the Italians were repeatedly offside.  The last ten minutes were nerve-wracking, but the defense got the job done and Howard came up with some quality saves.  It’s no small feat to keep Italy scoreless in Italy!  I hope Klinsmann can settle soon on a core back line so they have plenty of time to gel in qualifying.

My only real beef with the U.S. lineup was Altidore.  Has any American player been given so much opportunity with so little to show for it?  Commentators continue to heap praise, but I don’t see what the fuss is about.  Against Italy he received raves for assisting Dempsey’s goal.  Sure, it was good that he saw Dempsey’s run, but it was a very routine layoff that every player on the field could have made.  Altidore just isn’t enough of a scoring threat.  If he has speed, he rarely uses it.  He’s strong, but rarely uses his strength to force his way toward goal with the ball.  Most of the time he seems content to try to draw fouls.  Yawn.  For my money, if the U.S continues to do the lone striker thing, Dempsey’s the ticket.

It wasn’t always pretty, but it was a unified effort from the U.S. to get a memorable win.  It’s a very long road to Brazil 2014 but the first couple steps are looking good.

Which U.S. players were standouts against Italy?  Feel free to weigh in below…