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Dallas ‘Til I Cry: Learning to Love Major League Soccer

Dallas_'Til_I_Cry_Cover_for_Kindle

Those of you who used to periodically read this blog may have noticed the lack of new posts for many months.  I did not intend to neglect Red, White and Blues as much as I have, however, the neglect was for a good reason.  My writing energies over the last year were poured into completing my first non-fiction book, a soccer title, called Dallas ‘Til I Cry:  Learning to Love Major League Soccer.

“Euro Snob” is sometimes used to describe American soccer fans that generally ignore Major League Soccer in favor of the elite professional leagues of Europe. As a big Chelsea FC supporter, I was admittedly one of these Euro Snobs for several years. In 2013 however, feeling obligated as an American soccer fan to pay attention to my domestic league, I decided to try to become a fan of MLS by following it closely for the first time. My conduit for this MLS experiment was becoming a Season Ticket Holder for my local club, FC Dallas.

Dallas ‘Til I Cry: Learning to Love Major League Soccer chronicles my experience as I try to become a full-fledged supporter of FC Dallas and MLS overall. Part soccer fan memoir, part MLS critique, the book explores American soccer fandom in all its joys, agonies, and quirks. It’s an American twist on the kind of soccer fan passion reflected in books like Fever Pitch, Bloody Confused!, and 32 Programmes. Whether already a fan of MLS, cynical about the league, or a curious fan who simply enjoys narratives of soccer cultures around the world, I hope you’ll find Dallas ‘Til I Cry to be a funny, heart-warming examination of the much-maligned, resilient, and emergent Major League Soccer.

The book is now available to purchase on Amazon.com and will be available soon as an e-book for Kindle.  I will also be relaunching this soccer blog at http://www.nathannipper.com in the coming weeks.  Thank you very much for reading this blog over the years.  I appreciate your support and hope you will check out my new book as well as continue to read the new blog when it launches at nathannipper.com.

Thanks for the Memories, Didier

Drogba leaves Chelsea for Shanghai

This week Didier Drogba made it official that he’s joining Shanghai Shenhua, where he’ll presumably finish out his remarkable playing career.  He first announced his Chelsea departure the week after the team’s amazing Champions League Final victory in which he scored the winning PK.  If he was going to leave Chelsea, it was understandably an ideal time to depart – going out on top as the hero (not only in the Final, but in several other crucial moments of the season).

If Chelsea hadn’t won the Champions League this year, perhaps Drogba would’ve pushed harder to strike a new deal with the club.  But since they won, he’s moving on to a new challenge.  I’m not sure what he finds appealing about Chinese soccer though.  If he was going to leave Chelsea, I wish he’d chosen MLS.

Drogba has been one of my favorite Chelsea players, but it’s hard to be bitter about his departure.  He seemed genuinely torn up about leaving.  Plus, in today’s transfer happy world, he stayed at Stamford Bridge longer (2004-2012) than a lot of players do at any club.

Chelsea will seem a bit strange for me without Drogba because he was a major reason I became a Blues fan in the first place.  He, along with Michael Essien and Michael Ballack, first really caught my eye during the 2006 World Cup.  Since all three of them played for Chelsea at the time, I quickly became partial to the Blues.

Drogba is a Chelsea legend.  It won’t be the same to tune in Saturdays and not see him in blue, muscling his way around the box, rifling shots from crazy angles.  But it sure was fun while it lasted!

What are your favorite Drogba moments as a Chelsea player?

Happy Blogiversary!

Red, White and Blues began a year ago today

Stoked about Red, White and Blues’ first anniversary: Chelsea’s Frank Lampard*

Okay, blogiversary isn’t really a word, but that’s part of the fun of blogging – you can make up words and there’s no editor to stop you!  Unfortunately, that’s also the downside – there’s no one around to stop you from sounding dumb.  Unless you run it by your wife first, which I’ve done on many occasion over this first year of RW&B.  I didn’t run blogiversary by her.  Probably should have.

Anyway, I’m taking a short break from soccer writing today to say thank you to all who have stopped by to check out the blog this year!  Thank you also to those who have posted comments, “followed” the blog, “liked” a post, or all three.  This has been a fun way to exercise part of my brain and I hope you’ve enjoyed the occasional post.  Please continue to stop by when you’re on the information superhighway and bear with me in my effort to develop this tiny slice of digi-real estate.

My how quickly things change.  A year ago today Chelsea hadn’t even hired Andre Villas-Boas yet, Bob Bradley was still the U.S. coach, and FC Dallas was near the top of the Western Conference!  Looking forward to covering another great year of soccer…

(*Frank Lampard doesn’t actually endorse Red, White and Blues.  Or even know it exists.)

Champions At Last!

Chelsea defeats Bayern Munich to win the Champions League

 

 

The Appendectomy Blues

I won’t soon forget Chelsea’s 1 – 0 loss at QPR last Sunday…

I didn’t feel great last Sunday morning.  I had an annoying lower abdominal pain.  Didn’t think much of it though and continued on to church with my family.  I was looking forward to watching Chelsea dismantle QPR when I got home.  The game was happening live while I was at church, but if there’s one thing you can count on as a Chelsea fan in my corner of the globe, it’s that no one will ever ruin the score for you at church.  If it’s the Dallas Cowboys or any number of college football teams playing, that’s a different story.  But if Chelsea’s on while I’m at church, I can arrive home after the game’s already over, fire up the ol’ DVR and enjoy the whole 90 minutes without so much as a single pass having been ruined for me by an eager-beaver fan.

Alas, Sunday’s match was a train wreck almost from the start.  More on that momentarily.  As if the Chelsea loss wasn’t annoying enough, that stomach pain I woke up with hadn’t dissipated at all.  In fact, it seemed to be getting worst.

One has some strange thoughts as one is lying on a rickety hospital bed in a dingy hospital room, alone, with a morphine drip that was actually doing little to squelch the abdominal pain that had increased since driving myself to the ER at 11:00 PM.  It was 2:30 AM and I couldn’t sleep.  As I waited for the CAT scan results to confirm appendicitis, I had loads of time to ponder Chelsea’s meltdown at Loftus Road.  Here are some of said thoughts:

1)  David Luiz is starting to annoy me a little bit.  Not a lot.  Just a little.  For now at least.  When he burst onto the Chelsea scene last January he became an almost instant fan favorite thanks to his enthusiasm, aggressiveness, and crazy hair.  He was a real shot in the arm at a time in the season when Chelsea truly needed one.  I still love the guy.  He could still develop into one of my absolute favorite Blues.  But the guy has got to stop the needless fouling.  Quit nipping at players’ heels!  He’s fast enough (I think) and athletic enough (again – I think) not to need to do those things.  I love the heart and desire he showed in trying to eke out a win against QPR (like using his elbows to hack some box space for himself amidst the Rangers molesting him during corners and free kicks).  But all the little fouls must stop immediately.  They’re hurting the team.  Having said that, his “foul” in the box that gave QPR the PK and ultimate victory was a softie to say the least.

2)  Didier Drogba’s tackle choice… seriously?  I’m a long-time fan of Drogba.  I’m really glad he’s been a Chelsea man for so long.  But I expect a lot more from such a veteran.  After this many years of top-tier soccer, did Didier really think his two-footed lunge would be okay?  His offense was fairly mild as red cards go, but no one can be surprised that his tackle was red-carded.  The surprise is that Drogba did it in the first place.  I’d be livid if I were Andre Villas-Boas.

3)  Bosingwa’s red card decision was a bad call.  Shaun Wright-Phillips didn’t have a “clear” goal-scoring opportunity.  He and Bosingwa were shoulder-to-shoulder going for the ball.  It may have been a yellow card, but red was unfair.

With three split-second decisions the referee altered the entire game and perhaps Chelsea’s entire season.  Chelsea can’t blame the ref entirely, after all, Luiz, Drogba, and Bosingwa could’ve and should’ve controlled their bodies to avoid maximum punishment.  But the ref shares the blame – at least on the Luiz/Bosingwa calls – and it was clear to anyone watching the game that there was considerable inconsistency in failing to card QPR in similar circumstances.  It’s very frustrating when refs impose themselves on a game in such an intrusive way that truly affects the outcome.

In a league as big and influential as the Premier League, refs need to be far more careful about doling out red cards and PKs since each one has potentially far-reaching implications.  How could the Premier League curb these injustices?  I’ll explore some ideas tomorrow in part two of my appendectomy blues session…

What do you think about the ref’s decisions in the Chelsea/QPR game?

Stadium of Might (Chelsea’s!)

Blues dominate at Sunderland

The big news before today’s match was that Torres would start… on the bench.  Word is that AVB ain’t all that thrilled that Nando left his magic scoring boots in Liverpool.

On the good news front for Chelsea:  Cech was back in goal today.  It was also great to see David Luiz again, even if it was just on the bench.

Overall, a rather un-dramatic match today.  It was pretty much a walk in the park for the Blues.  But after the last couple nail-biters, this Chelsea fan welcomed the break.  Here are a few of my game notes:

-Early on, some classic Cole runs up the left wing from the back.  Ashley Cole is an unsung workhorse for Chelsea.  He’s so reliable in his position that it’s easy to take him for granted.

-11th min:  Mata made a great run into the box, but Anelka couldn’t do anything with Mata’s cutback pass.  In fact, Anelka was virtually absent for the first 10 minutes.

-18th min:  Fantastic finish by Terry for a Chelsea goal!  And nice cross from Sturridge to kick off the frantic sequence in the box, which led to the goal.

-First quarter of the game was nothing for Chelsea to write home about.  Not bad, but nothing flashy.  Expected a little more precise possession.  Apparently they’re still working out the kinks with new players in the lineup.

-Mata was a very bright spot for Chelsea in the first half hour.  Always moving, trying to make things happen.  Some smart and spot-on passes from him.

-Sturridge was energetic, trying hard to get involved, though he missed a great low-level cross from Bosingwa in the 37th minute.

-By the end of the first half the game was very casual with Sunderland content to let Chelsea bring the ball forward.

-51st min:  Great 40-yard pass from Anelka to Sturridge who then cleverly back heeled the ball into the goal!

-63rd min:  Awesome on-goal half volley from Malouda (in his very first touch of the game), but it was saved by Sunderland’s keeper.

-75th min:  Torres replaced Mata.  Probably a well-timed choice by AVB to get Torres into a low-pressure situation.  Unfortunately, Torres barely touched the ball.

-79th min:  Oriol Romeu made his Chelsea debut, replacing Anelka for the game’s home stretch.  He didn’t see the ball enough to make much of an impression.

-91st min:  Chelsea allowed a very disappointing Sunderland goal to make it 2 – 1.

-94th min:  Scariest minute of the game as Sunderland suddenly sprang to life, launching several balls into the Chelsea box.  Chelsea had a sudden 3-on-1 offensive situation after Cech launched the ball downfield out of danger.  Torres received it and had a wide-open Ramires to his right, but made an absolutely dreadful waste of a pass that went out of bounds.  Fortunately for him, the game was over seconds later!

So, a solid win for Chelsea, even though it wasn’t the kind of commanding victory that the Manchesters have produced.  After Man U thrashed Bolton today, I’m leery of the Blues’ trip to Old Trafford next weekend.  Before psyching themselves up for that one, Chelsea turn their attention to Bayer Leverkusen in Champions League play on Tuesday.  Things are about to get interesting!

What did you think about Chelsea’s performance against Sunderland?  How will Chelsea fare against Bayer and Manchester United next week?

Blues Best Brom (Barely)

Chelsea’s victory over West Bromwich more a relief than anything else…

Whew!  The photo of Andre Villas-Boas on the Chelsea website speaks volumes – epitomizing the relief and pent-up release of Chelsea fans during last Saturday’s match at Stamford Bridge.  Malouda’s winning goal came a little too late for comfort.

Midway through the first half, a nightmare scenario flashed through my mind involving a loss to West Brom, followed by a freak loss to Norwich City – one draw and two losses in his first three games getting AVB fired, etc.  Fortunately, Chelsea didn’t quit, and kept plugging away until the ball found the net twice in the second half.  Maybe AVB will get to stick around awhile after all.

Chelsea wasn’t terrible of course, but there is cause for concern.  The counter-attack was too slow.  Corners were unusually ineffective.  I don’t know why Drogba & Torres can’t play simultaneously.  It’s like it’s already an unwritten Chelsea law that they can never share the pitch, but they’ve barely been granted opportunity to develop any rapport.

After Saturday’s match I was feeling pretty shaky about the season, but reading Pat Nevin’s column on the Chelsea site earlier this week was reassuring.  Pat’s right – it’s way too early to worry.  Still, here’s hoping the Norwich match has fewer white-knuckle moments.  I could really use a five or six to zero walloping (by Chelsea of course!).

What was your take on the Chelsea/West Brom match?  Concerns?  Positives?

Opening Weekend Blues

It’s hard not to be disappointed by Chelsea’s 1 – 1 draw at Stoke

Logically, we shouldn’t worry about a draw on opening day.  It doesn’t mean all that much with so many fixtures ahead.  There are sure to be more disappointing draws and even losses this season.  But it’s hard for fans to keep that perspective.  It’s hard because you’ve waited all summer with such anticipation and buildup.  And then the first game finally arrives – Chelsea looking all shiny in their snazzy blues, AVB looking all svelte and sixties-ish with his black Chelsea-badged suit and skinny tie.  And then the team plays mostly like the team we suffered with last year.  You know, the one that perpetually schools teams in possession and scoring ops, but can’t find the back of the net.

Drawing against Stoke City is not the end of the world of course.  It’s just that after such a positive preseason I was hoping for a real opening game statement.  Something that would suck the wind out of the Man U/Man City sails.  Instead, Chelsea’s already two points back in the title race.  Here’s hoping we get our big statement win against West Brom on Saturday… and that the Manchesters lose of course.

Was the Stoke game cause for concern for Chelsea?

Renewed Blues

Chelsea’s preseason ends on a high note

Chelsea won their last preseason match, defeating Glasgow Rangers 3 – 1 on Saturday.  The victory capped an undefeated preseason and confirmed that Blues fans have reason to be very positive about the upcoming season, which is now one week away.

Chelsea is flying under the radar to start the new season, which is a great place to be.  While all the attention has been on the Manchesters and Arsenal’s will-they-or-won’t-they-lose-their-superstars soap opera, Chelsea has quietly gone about their business in a methodical, un-glitzy fashion.  Aside from the summer-long Modric question, even Chelsea’s transfer dealings have been pretty quiet.  The deals that have been made are smart – the most recent being Oriol Romeu and (just Saturday) Romelu Lukaku.  Unfortunately, Yury Zhirkov is departing the team, presumably to make room for these new signings, however, if you had to lose someone, Zhirkov is a smart choice.  Not that he isn’t a top-quality player; he just never quite became the regular starter (partially due to injury) that might have been expected when he came to Chelsea two years ago.

The addition of Romeu and Lukaku – both still teenagers – is exciting, particularly when considered alongside the other Chelsea youth that was on fine display throughout

the preseason.  You can really see the future Chelsea squad taking shape, and yet, the veteran favorites are still in great form.  This blend of youth and experience will make for an exciting season.

Speaking of exciting, Daniel Sturridge scored two goals Saturday against Rangers.  He has surely earned a starting forward spot with his preseason fireworks.  Problem is, he was red-carded during the final game of last season (while on loan with Bolton) and is therefore suspended for the first three matches of this season.  Tough break for Sturridge – and Chelsea.  The other forwards might want to use the first few games to make a case for themselves because Sturridge’s case is currently the most convincing.

What do you think of Romeu and Lukaku – smart acquisitions or wasted transfer opportunity?

Modric Money

Why Chelsea should forget about signing Modric

Chelsea will be in the race to win the Premier League this season whether they sign Luka Modric or not.  I like Modric.  He would strengthen any team he’s a part of, including Chelsea.  But Chelsea is good enough right now without him.  “Good enough?” some might say, don’t you want to be better than good enough?  Not when acquiring him might cost some £30 million or more.  It’s just not worth it.  Save the money and reassess in January.  There might be a more pressing personnel need at the season’s mid-point.

Chelsea currently has multiple midfield options.  I understand the risk involved in whether or not Michael Essien will be able to get back to his former playing self at all, let alone be back before this season’s over.  But Chelsea has more than enough to get by at midfield this season.  In fact, they’ll have at least a couple of very talented midfielders on the bench every week.  They don’t need to further complicate the rotation with Modric (at least not at the price Tottenham wants).

Teams need time to develop chemistry.  Chelsea just returned from a long Asian chemistry-building trip.  If the Aston Villa game is any indication, Chelsea is really starting to solidify.  Trying to suddenly incorporate a new star in an already crowded lineup just a few days before the season begins isn’t ideal.  Not impossible, just not ideal.  Just ask Fernando Torres.

What do you think – should Chelsea continue pursuing Modric?