Happy Anniversary

On this day in 1969, the Stonewall Riots broke out in New York’s West Village.  This is seen as the symbolic birth of the Gay Rights Movement, and it’s the reason that Gay Pride all over the country is in June.  In honor of this anniversary and all that has been accomplished since, I recommend that you read June Thomas’s excellent series on Slate.

The truth though is that the riots could have passed into history completely forgotten.  The real birth of the movement came on the first anniversary of Stonewall when LGBT activists marched in the first Christopher Street Liberation Day parade.  That has been going on year after year, morphed into the gay pride parades we all know and are ambivalent about.

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Women’s World Cup Day 3: Physicality Carries The Day

Mercifully, for the first time today, no one in the commentary booth compared any team to Barcelona.  This probably has less to do with realizing that this is a foolish comparison and more to do with the fact that not one of the four teams out there look like they were trying to imitate Messi & Co. in any way shape or form (not that this is a bad thing.)

I found both matches to be rather dull.  Sweden and the US were clearly the better sides, and Colombia and North Korea were outmatched (Colombia throughout, North Korea in the second half only.)  It was defense rather than scintillating attacks that carried the day, which is odd to say given that US v. North Korea was the first time in the tournament thus far that a team won by more than one goal.

Sweden v. Colombia

If I were a Swede, which I am not (Børk !Børk! Børk!), I would be alarmed by this performance.  Sweden completely shut down Colombia’s offense, and created chance after chance to score.  This easily could have been a 4-0 match, yet Sweden scored only once.  Jessica Landstrom in the 57th minute redeemed all of her earlier failures and scored.  After that Sweden sort of gave up and was content just to make sure Colombia couldn’t equalize, probably because they watched how an equalizer changed Mexico’s dynamic against England.

Sweden are a joyless side.  Sorry, but they are.  Resorting to outdated national stereotypes, the Scandinavians are blond, attractive, and generally decent, but not exciting or dynamic.  That is how I felt watching Sweden.  Sure, they were dominant, but it was just so rote, and completely lacking in killer instinct.  By effectively snuffing out Colombia’s attack, they robbed the match of that spark.

Colombia, in contrast, I am ambivalent about.  I was waiting for this burst of dynamism after hearing over and over again about Yoreli Rincón, “the next Marta.”  ESPN is partially to blame for these heightened expectation, but Rincón has been Colombia’s selling point for some time.  The Swedes, perhaps having heard about the next Marta and terrified of this happening, ensured she was a complete non-entity.  Colombia’s star of the match was its shaky back line, and perhaps Carmen Rodallega who actually created a few chances.  I’m not being fair to Rincón, I admit that.  She is only 17, and she’s in her first World Cup–as is her entire team.  They played one of the top 5 teams in the world, and still held them to just one goal.  That is extremely impressive, and they deserve credit for it.  Still, I wanted to see something that made my heart beat faster.

Colombia is an extremely young side, and hopefully they can capitalize on this promising start in the coming years.  I have a soft spot for Colombia.  It is the most populous nation in South America after Brazil, and in the late 80’s/early 90’s it produced glorious football.*  We all remember that team.  The brilliant Carlos Valderrama and his hair.  Crazy, crazy René Higuita with his scorpion kick (and his hair.)  And of course the tragedy of Andrés Escobar, whom I cannot think about without tearing up a little.  By all rights, Colombia should be a World Cup contender each year like Brazil and Argentina, but since the team’s early exit from the 1994 World Cup and the Escobar’s subsequent murder, Colombian football has never fully recovered.

The Colombian women’s team performed exceptionally well at the 2010 South American Women’s Football Championship, coming in (a very distant) second behind Brazil.  Brazil has always been the biggest girl on the block.  Perhaps it is time for them to finally get a rival.  Only time will tell.

United States v. North Korea

For the past few days, it was all over ESPN, Lauren Cheney was replacing Megan Rapinoe.  It turns out it was a brilliant move on behalf of coach Pia Sundhage because Cheney was certainly the best player on the field.  In the first half she took multiple shots and finally headed one in the second half (a lot of goals this tournament have been headers.)

The first half was fairly even.  Hope Solo certainly did herself proud.  She did a great job (as I’m sure she herself would tell you) when the North Korean attackers eluded the American defense, which happened with too much regularity in the first 45 minutes.  The second half was all USA, or almost all USA.  There was Cheney’s goal and there was Rachel Buhler’s goal, and it was over.  North Korea, who I believe are the youngest team of the tournament, were done.  It’s a shame too because teams that gave far worse performances (Colombia, New Zealand) ended up with more flattering scores, and goal difference will probably matter.  I wonder what North Korean state television is saying, or if it is saying anything at all.**

I cannot speak with any authority about the North Korean team, which, to my eyes did a decent job, but was undone by the superior conditioning and experience of the US.  I can talk about what I saw with the US.  I liked the pressing.  To my eyes, the US has done the best job of any team in pressing the opposition and winning the ball back.  I am not thrilled that the US often lost the ball after winning it back, although that is forgivable because this is the first match.  What bothers me most is that too many US goals come from set pieces (although that first goal from Lauren Cheney came from open play, and what a beauty it was.  More of that please.)  But this is the problem I have with the USWNT in general.  Free kicks and corner kicks are nice, but at its heart, football is a game of speed and skill not height and power.  There is always someone bigger and stronger, but skill always carries through.

Other Thoughts

The first round of a World Cup is usually the one with the least amount of goals because everyone is nervous and trying to get a result.  On the other hand, the trend toward more defensive play, which has been an unfortunate mainstay of the men’s international game, is starting to creep into the women’s.  While I do not particularly want to see one 6-0 blowout after another, I would hope to see a few more goals.

Footnotes: 

* There was also a Golden Age in the 1940’s and 50’s when Colombia had one of the finest leagues in the world, but that had less to do with Colombian players than those imported from other countries, particularly Argentina.

** True story, or so I am led to believe.  At least year’s World Cup, Brazil eked out North Korea 2-1, and a jubilant North Korean state television showed it as a 1-0 victory for the North Koreans.  So much did they believe their own hype that the government allowed the next match (against Portugal) to be shown live.  Portugal went on to win that match 7-0.  After 4-0, the government cut off the feed and told the people that North Korea pulled out a victory.  After North Korea’s ignominious exit, Radio Free Asia reported that the team faced a six-hour public reprimand and the coach was sentenced to hard labor.  This was clear violation of FIFA rules which forbid government intervention, so much so that FIFA were forced to investigate, although “investigate” meant they sent a letter asking if the reports were true.  North Korea denied it, and FIFA closed the case, satisfied that the reports were false.  Today, Ian Darke repeated that story about the players, and only briefly alluded to the fact that it may not actually be true.

If You Love Something, Destroy It

Listening to World Football Daily lately has gotten me depressed.  For one thing, I cannot think of anyone in the media who wants Bob Bradley gone.  Rather, they ardently defend him.  Nor do I hear any reporters taking the USSF and Sunil Gulati to task.  Moreover, the way the members of the media treat the fans has been beyond patronizing. There appears to be this belief that fans have never played, don’t watch games, and don’t read.  Only they know what they’re talking about.

I get that no respectable coach will take on the US job because it would be a tremendous salary cut.  I also get that the US does not have the talent to compete on the world’s biggest stage.  I get that the biggest stumbling block for the growth of US Soccer is not Bob Bradley but Sunil Gulati.  And I also understand that despite my complaining and that of my fellow fans, Bob Bradley is here through 2014.  (And I also understand that the US is doomed to an early exit in Brazil, but no one mentions that.)

But the condescension is too much.  Why are US fans so upset?  Because they are watching a program that took years to get to mediocre start to crumble.  Because they are tired of watching an inept team led by a lackadaisical manager.  Because you only don’t fix something when it’s not broken.

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Watching the Women’s World Cup, I am reminded (thanks to ESPN) of the 2007 debacle, which I realize ties into my feelings on Bob Bradley.  If you read this blog, you probably already know what I am talking about, but if you don’t, it’s a doozy.  In 2007, the US Women’s National Team went to China with an excellent record (granted from friendlies and minor tournaments), a number one ranking, and an expectation that they would reclaim the title that they lost to Germany four years before.  They had already recaptured the Olympics and gotten rid of national team coach (and former star player) April Heinrichs.  She was replaced by Greg Ryan who had previous been an assistant coach for the USWNT.  Although there was no Mia, no Julie, no Joy, and no Brandi (the first three because of retirements and the latter because of exile), the new generation seemed to be coming into its own.

The 2007 World Cup was not an easy one for the USWNT.  They drew their first match with North Korea, and then beat Sweden and Nigeria to win the group.  They beat England 3-0 in the quarterfinals.  Then Ryan made one of the great tactical blunders in USWNT history.  For the next match against Brazil, he replaced top goalkeeper Hope Solo with former US #1 goalkeeper Briana Scurry.  Scurry was the keeper throughout the famous 1999 World Cup win.  Her talent was never in doubt, but honestly, time and a younger rival had caught up.

A keeper is different from other positions.  A good keeper is the general of her half and the last line of defense.  Watch any match and you will see the keeper screaming at his or her defenders.  Good keepers tend to be somewhat crazy and very outspoken.  There is a different kind of rapport between a keeper and the team, because, unlike every other player, the keeper is a fixture.  Even replacing a bad keeper can have consequences.*

There is an argument to be made that benching Solo for Scurry is not the sole reason why the US lost.  There is even an argument to be made that scapegoating Greg Ryan masked the real problems with the USWNT and the US women’s program in general.  However, whether solely responsible or not, the switch in the keeper had dire consequences for the US.  Early in the match the US blundered with an own goal, and from there it went from bad to worse to catastrophic.  (This is, of course, the perception of a US fan.  If you are a fan of Brazil, or just the game itself, what you saw was the ascendancy of history’s finest female player.) That 4-0 defeat is to-date the worst loss the USWNT has ever suffered.

Solo, being a goalkeeper and afflicted by goalkeeper insanity, looked both miserable and furious on the bench.  After the match, she let loose to the media, saying that had she been in goal, she would have saved those goals from Brazil.  The truth is, she was probably right.  The entire team, who were all very fond of Scurry, excommunicated Solo, so much so that she had to fly back to the US alone.  Needless to say, the third-place match was played with Scurry in goal.

The USSF was unimpressed with both the team’s performance and the media fallout.  Greg Ryan’s contact was not renewed.  The happy coda to the story is that Pia Sundhage was hired, she brought Solo back from exile, and the US defended its Olympic title over Brazil (Solo being the star of the match.)

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The point of that foray down Repressed Memory Lane, believe it or not, was not actually about the USWNT.  Rather it is about the contrast in the USSF’s reaction to Ryan and to Bradley.  With the women, a 3rd place finish was not good enough, which is shocking.  Keep in mind that (a) although sometimes the best team does not win, by that time the US was not the world’s best anymore; (b) Ryan’s record was very good; (c) Ryan, like Bradley, fit the profile of a Gulati-preferred coach; (d) knockout tournaments are unpredictable; and (e) in the last three men’s World Cup, where there is far more pressure to succeed, no coach who led his team to the semifinals or beyond was sacked (although France should have fired its 2006 coach.)

When she was first hired, Sundhage was only given a one-year contract.  If the team did not perform well (i.e. win) at the Olympics, she too would have been gone.  (After the team won the gold medal, Gulati got down on one knee and begged her to stay.)

The point of this extended story is that the USSF and Gulati have shown that they are not afraid to cut loose a coach with good results if those results don’t meet expectations.  Therefore, it is a wonder that they have so mismanaged the Bradley situation.  Once again, I understand that there are other factors, not the least of which is that a top women’s coach is paid far less than a top men’s coach.  And of course there is always the issue of control, and how much the USSF is willing to give (little).  But given how openly disappointed Gulati was with the USMNT results in South Africa, it is a wonder that Jürgen Klinsmann was the only other candidate considered.

No special feature by a Goal.com hack, or Grant Wahl, or Sean Wheelock, and no browbeating by Kenny Hassan will convince me that retaining Bradley was the right choice, even if now it is too late.  But in the long run, Bradley is not the main problem.  What I have realized more and more is that as long as Sunil Gulati is in charge, football in the United States will either stagnate or regress.

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So it got me thinking if there is a way to change things.  There is, but it is not a pleasant solution.  In fact, it is anarchic and nihilistic.  But otherwise, I got nothing. Maybe you have a better idea.

The only way to get rid of Bradley and Gulati is boycott.  Boycott the US Men’s National Team.  Don’t buy their kits.  Don’t go their matches.  Don’t even watch their matches.  Cheer for another country (I hear Mexico is on the rise.)  Stop supporting MLS.  Find a European team, or an African team, or a South American team to support instead (you probably already have at least one; we all do.)  Boycott all things US until the USSF is on its knees, and begging for the fans to tell them what to do.  Without the fans, USSF cannot exist.  Be willing to sacrifice all the gains US Soccer has made since the 1990 World Cup in Italy.

Now I am not recommending this course of action.  It’s like killing a mosquito with a bazooka.  Sure, you’ll get the sucker, but you’ll destroy most everything else around it.  Nevertheless, I have felt very disappointed of late, and somewhat helpless, which is not a feeling I like.  And worse, I feel like I’m being talked down to, by the grand pooh-bahs of the football media, which really pisses me off.

The one hope in all of this.   Landon Donovan**, the great and mighty majesty of American Soccer himself, is not particularly pleased with Bob Bradley.  No doubt the backtracking will begin soon if it hasn’t already, but perhaps this is the crack in the facade.

Hope spring eternal.  Especially for the hopeless.

 

Footnotes:

* Consider the England men’s national team in South Africa last year.  England has been woefully lacking in good keepers of late, and at the World Cup they paid for it.  The US equalized only because England’s goalkeeper Robert Green made a blunder to end all blunder.  National team manager Fabio Capello punished him by benching him in favor of a keeper so prone to error, his nickname is “Calamity” James.  Needless to say, England’s form for the rest of the tournament was woeful even when they won.

** I wonder what Donovan and Clint Dempsey think of one another.  They each have what the other desperately craves.  Dempsey has succeeded in Europe, at least in that he is a big fish in a small pond and helped lead his team to the final of a European competition.  Even if Dempsey only plays for Fulham, playing the in EPL has a real cachet attached to it, whereas Donovan failed in Europe several times and could not get a permanent move to Everton even when he did play well.  On the other hand Donovan has the name recognition and the respect of the average American sports fan, even those who only watch the World Cup and nothing else.  I imagine that drives Dempsey crazy, and is at least partially behind his ludicrous belief that he should be playing Champions League football.

Some Questions for Libertarians

I have a couple of questions for any Libertarian readers of mine out there (and I mean real Libertarians, not the Ron Paul/Rand Paul social conservative types who claim they are Libertarians because they hate taxes and the Federal Reserve.)  Who do you vote for in an election?  The American is such that there are only two choices, and neither of them really lines up with your core beliefs.

If I were to briefly define a Libertarian, if would be a person who loves his money and doesn’t want to be told what to do.

The truth is though that neither party suits that philosophy.  Republicans talk about cutting spending, but all that “saved” money will just to the Pentagon and the military industrial complex.  Worse, Republicans are very involved in your personal life, which I gather (although not from the media) is as big a deal to Libertarians as the money stuff.  They want to tell you what you can smoke and who you can marry.  Democrats, on the other hand, believe in spending your money and spending it on social welfare programs.  The laws they enact are a form of social control (some may call that governing, but I gather that Libertarians don’t really care too much for that either.) So who would you vote for and why?

Do you hate that the only major media portrayals of your belief are Ron and Rand Paul, who really make a mockery of them?

Are you planning on using Social Security and Medicare when you get old (or if you already are of age.)  If so, how do you do that in good conscience?