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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.

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Off to a Good Start

Chelsea defeats Seattle Sounders 4-2

Chelsea beat Seattle last night in the Blues’ first preseason match.  With six total goals, it was an entertaining game for fans, though oddly all six came in the first half.

For me, the best thing about the match was seeing Chelsea’s new signings for the first time.  Marko Marin and Eden Hazard were the most impressive (and each scored a goal).  It was encouraging to see their speed in transition, and accuracy in passing and shooting on goal.

I was also pleased to see Romelu Lukaku get two goals in a lone striker position.  The poor guy will probably be saddled with Drogba comparisons all season, but the strength on the ball he demonstrated, particularly on his first goal, couldn’t help but remind us of good ol’ Didier.  Lukaku has tons of potential – he’s still only nineteen!  I hope we get to see his aerial prowess tested this preseason.  With his height, he could be a great target.  I’d also like to see him be able to possess the ball in the box area long enough to dish it off or create space for himself to shoot.  Last night wasn’t a fantastic performance from Lukaku.  Aside from his two goals, he wasn’t involved very much.  But he definitely showed enough to make me hope Chelsea doesn’t loan him out this season.

In the second half, we also got a good first look at Kevin De Bruyne.  Like Marin and Hazard in the first half, De Bruyne showed a lot of speed and energy.  I liked his eagerness to shoot, though he wasn’t as accurate as Marin was from similar areas of the field.  De Bruyne will really have to prove himself this preseason since Chelsea has so much talent at midfield.  He might be a good striker off the bench as well, but with Mata, Torres, Sturridge, and Lukaku available, it won’t be easy to get starts.  I liked De Bruyne’s effort last night, it will just be interesting to see if there’s room for him in the first team.

Of course, it was fun to see Lampard and Essien mixing it up with the new guys in the second half.  I really hope Essien makes a full return to his regular starting role.  I still think he has a lot to contribute.

My favorite thing about Chelsea’s play last night was their fast transitions through the middle third of the pitch.  I complained a lot last season about their slow transitions and build-up play.  If they can hone the kind of transitions we saw last night, they will be a lot more dangerous (and fun to watch) next season!

What did you think of Chelsea’s play against Seattle?

Training Blues

Chelsea begins training in Seattle

Chelsea transplanted their preseason training across the Atlantic yesterday with morning and evening sessions at the Seattle Seahawks practice facilities.  The Sounders FC website captured some great footage of the sessions, along with an interview with club ambassador Graeme Le Saux.

In other Chelsea news today, the UK’s Daily Mail claims Chelsea is nearing a deal to acquire Brazilian midfielder Oscar from Brazilian club Internacional.  Not sure what to think about that possibility as I haven’t had the opportunity to see Oscar in action.  However, I’m a little surprised Chelsea hasn’t focused on beefing up the defense this summer as they’re pretty stacked in midfield at the moment.

Any thoughts on the potential Oscar signing?

Seeing Red

Hernandez & Perez lack common sense in 2-0 loss to Colorado

FC Dallas has had an awful start to the 2012 MLS season.  Not so much in terms of points (12 so far from 10 games, in 6th place in the Western Conference), but because of injuries.  The injured list is so ridiculously long that the club had to bring in an extra player last week (former Timbers man James Marcelin) to augment the weakened squad.  It’s a nightmare scenario for manager Schellas Hyndman, as even Brek Shea missed Sunday night’s home clash with Colorado due to turf toe issues.

Knowing the team is scraping to get by, veteran (and former captain) Daniel Hernandez received two yellow cards in short succession, earning himself an early trip to the showers, all in the first half hour against Colorado.  Two minutes after the Hernandez ejection, new FCD forward Blas Perez received a red card for a bone-headed, cleats up collision with the Rapids’ Drew Moor.  Suddenly, with nearly an hour of the match remaining, Dallas had nine players and little chance of winning an important match.

The Perez red card might’ve been debatable, but it was probably deserved.  Hernandez’s two yellows were certainly deserved.  They were both very petty offenses committed by veteran players who should know better.

The Hernandez cards were particularly problematic because he received the first one for mouthing off at the ref.  It was ridiculous, immature, and unacceptable behavior from one of the team leaders.  Hernandez is a tough dude and has been a solid midfielder for Dallas the past few seasons, but he is too mouthy, and this time it is really going to cost his team.  Hernandez has earned two red cards already this season.  He seems to have lost a step, which has made him prone to irrational challenges.  He would be much better suited to a substitute role this season, but Dallas’ current injury situation makes that difficult.

The Perez challenge was very unwise considering that Hernandez had just been ejected.  Perez seemed to be a great acquisition at the season’s start, but I’d like to see more goals and fewer off-the-ball shenanigans from him.  Just play the game!

The mental lapse of two players with so much experience hurts Dallas during a crucial week with Seattle visiting on Wednesday and a trip to Columbus Saturday.  Having lost to Colorado, these next two matches are even more important.  The ejections were also a slap in the face to FC Dallas fans that didn’t pay to see the team limp their way through an hour of the match with nine men (as valiant as they were) on their way to a 2-0 defeat.

What do you think?  Am I being too harsh with these red card criticisms?