Will the Sleeping Giant ever awaken?

We are currently in the middle of the Gold Cup, the premier international tournament for the North and Central America region (CONCACAF) of the soccer world.  Earlier this week, the US defeated Canada 2-0 in the opening game of the competition, but despite the victory, I couldn’t help but wonder if US Soccer has really lived up to the promise the program once showed.

 It was the summer of 2002, and fans of the US Mens National team, were living a dream.  For many of us, we had been waiting years to finally see our country take its place among the world’s great footballing nations.  The sport we loved, and which was largely and frustratingly ignored by the ignorant sports media, was at long last the headline news.  Our boys defeated a star-studded Portugal side, as well as Mexico, our greatest rivals.  We made it all the way to the quarterfinals against powerhouse Germany, surprising much of the world in the process.  And if it weren’t for a blatant handball, missed by the referee, we may have gone even further.

Despite the defeat, it was a glorious moment indeed.  And what truly softened the sorrow of an unfortunate loss was the promise that this successful tournament, the moment we all thought would be when the sleeping giant finally awoke, was only the beginning.  But nearly a decade later, it seems the giant was only flipping over to find the cool side of the pillow.

American Soccer Legend Claudio Reyna

Sadly, the US team has not progressed the way we all hoped, and to some degree even assumed, it would.  The promise in 2002 was felt throughout the American soccer community.  Major League Soccer was stable and producing players who were making significant contributions to the national team, players like Landon Donovan, Eddie Pope and Clint Mathis.  And we had our fair share of talented players playing and succeeding in Europe’s top leagues, such as Claudio Reyna, Brad Friedel and John O’Brien.  And we assumed more and more would soon make their way across the pond to play atop the soccer world.

But instead of taking that next step, it can be argued that US Soccer’s top team has regressed somewhat.  The game against Canada, while always nice to win, was not the stuff of a burgeoning soccer giant.  In the nine years since the 2002 World Cup, the United States has failed to produce even one good striker or center-back worthy of strong national side.  And assuming we reach the 2014 World Cup, we will be relying on a 32 year old Donovan and a 31 year old Clint Dempsey to form the attack, while hoping that Tim Ream and Timmy Chandler both become world-class defenders.

Take a look down the squad list and you will not see many players who will be hitting their prime in 2014.  Yes, there are a few.  And that is more than could be said 25 years ago.  But is there really enough to become what we all hope US Soccer would become after the 2002 team retired?  Or is this what we can expect from now on?  Only time will tell if 2010 was the high-water mark for quite some time.

By Dave McBride

Published in: on June 10, 2011 at 2:48 pm  Leave a Comment  
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All soccer teams report to the Holodeck!

There are many reasons why awarding the World Cup in 2022 to the tiny nation of Qatar is ridiculous, not least of which is that temperatures average over 100 degrees in the summer, which are not exactly the kind of conditions in which one should be running around a field for 90 minutes.  But fear not sports fans, the Qataris are working on the solution, a remote controlled cloud.

Qatar's proposed remote-controlled cloud

Yes, you read that correctly.  According to reports, Qatar is working on developing and manufacturing a solar powered artificial cloud that would hover over the playing fields and provide shade from the blistering sun.  (To be fair, the also say they will air-condition the outdoor stadiums, another claim I don’t have much confidence in.)  I think it is time for Qatar to stop these pipe dreams and turn to the tried and tested Holodeck technology found on the USS Enterprise.  I mean, we already know how well that thing works!  That way, instead of a scorching desert the teams can play in any conditions they like.  Maybe the pregame coin toss can determine who kicks off and which team gets to pick the settings for the Holodeck.

We can even play the World Cup Final on the deck of the HMS Bounty

No matter what the Qataris claim they can devise to solve the issue of temperature the fact remains the players will be playing in a furnace.  FIFA better hope Qatar actually comes up with some seriously fascinating inventions to capture the attention of the media because we can be certain the heat will reduce the quality of play to something resembling snails migrating.

by Dave McBride

 


Published in: on March 23, 2011 at 1:28 pm  Leave a Comment  
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When Life Imitates Art

There are those truly extraordinary moments in sports that rarely ever happen.  And when they do happen, you know right then and there that you will never forget it.  Wayne Rooney of Manchester United provided just such a moment this weekend with a piece of skill that was nothing short of spectacular.

In the Manchester Derby, against United’s local rivals Manchester City, Rooney won the game with an overhead “bicycle” kick that brought ever one who saw it to their feet.  While not unique, Rooney’s goal was an breathtaking strike late in the huge game, just the kind of drama that makes us love sports.

While watching the replay in slow-motion, I couldn’t help but recall another equally dramatic and similarly struck goal.  And I am certain that after seeing it I was not at all the only person who thought of Pele’s goal at the end of the film “Victory”.  Sometime, life does imitate art.

by Dave McBride

 


Published in: on February 15, 2011 at 11:59 am  Leave a Comment  
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There’s new grass on the field

I felt like a grizzly bear this morning, emerging from hibernation crawling out of my den.  The sun was shining, the snow was melting, and I could tolerate being outside for more than ten minutes without being wrapped up like Randy Parker in “A Christmas Story”.

Mickey Mantle

Yes, it was nearly 50 degrees today in the northeast.  And after what seems like months of bone-chilling cold it also just happens to be the day pitchers and catchers reported to Spring Training.  The Boys of Summer are back, and that means the sun is too!  (My wife also mentioned something about a holiday…)

The Newport Gulls practicing at Cardines Field in Newport, RI

So in honor of this momentous day, let us look back to an article posted on the American Public House Review that featured what is perhaps the best baseball bar in all the land, the Mudville Pub in Newport, Rhode Island.

The view from the Mudville Pub in Newport, RI

So as John Fogerty said, “beat the drum and hold the phone. The sun came out today!  We’re born again, there’s new grass on the field.”  Play Ball!

By Dave McBride


Perhaps a better choice

Late last week, the committee that administers the sponsorships for the London 2010 Olympics announced that Heineken has been named the official beer of the games, which means they have exclusive “pouring rights” in and around the Olympic venues.  We here at Pub Talk would like to echo the disappointed cries of our fellow pub-fanatics on the other side of the pond who were hoping the London Olympics would choose an ale that represents the great culture of a great city.

Wenlock, mascot for the London 2010 Olympics

I agree with many people who have expressed opposition to this decision that the obvious choice here was Fuller’s London Pride, perhaps the most famous ale bearing the city’s name.  But I am sure there are other choices that could have been equally as fitting.  However, once again when it comes to professional sports money talks and everything else takes a backseat.

Finally, let me just mention that this posting is by no means meant to disparage Heineken.  It is only meant to point out a missed opportunity by the Olympics to recognize the cultural importance of London’s influence on the world, especially the world of great ales.

by Dave McBride

 

 


Published in: on February 8, 2011 at 10:05 am  Leave a Comment  
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Of Super Bowl’s and Presidential Perks

This weekend is one of the great gathering days on the calendar in the United States.  Families and friends come together and congregate around the television to watch four-plus hours of advertisements, football and halftime shows.

Come Sunday the American public will fret over which number they have in the five-dollar-per-square house pool, how many cocktail franks to put in the oven, and which beer to stock the fridge with.  The very same thing is also happening over at the White House.  (Okay, maybe not the pool)  The guest list is set, the invites out, and even the beer is picked.

According to reports, the President has chosen a few cases of a Wisconsin beer.   Both the Pale Ale and Amber Ale from the Hinterland Brewery in Green Bay have been shipped from the brewhouse directly to the White House.  Let’s be honest, being able to have a “few cases” shipped straight from a brewery half-way across the nation to your Super Bowl Party must be high on the list of great presidential perks.

Just in case you care, and there is no reason you should, I am going with the President’s apparent pick and taking the Packers.  Enjoy the game!

By Dave McBride

 


Published in: on February 4, 2011 at 9:18 am  Leave a Comment  
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Shocked to find there is sexism in pro sports!

It seems that the sports world, or at least football fans in Great Britain, are understandably and correctly up in arms over something we here in the United States are fairly used to by now, sexism in professional sports.

Sian Massey

Sian Massey

Sian Massey was the assistant referee this past weekend during a match between Wolverhampton and Liverpool.  It was her second match in England’s top flight, arguably the most popular league in the world.  I do not recall seeing her first match myself, but I did see this one and she did a fine job.  But as we all know by now, putting in a commendable effort is not always enough for a woman trying to break into the boys club known as professional sports.

During the broadcast of the game on Sky Sports, Andy Gray and Richard Keys, two longtime football commentators, remarked that she was incapable of handling her job because she was a woman.  The two thought their microphones were cut when they made the comments, which only makes them imbecilic as well as sexist.  In the days since the games, Keys has resigned and Gray was fired.  Neither the commentators nor Sky Sports has much to be proud of here in the handling of the situation.

Richard Keys and Andy Gray

Do I really need to point out how remarkably stupid and backward these two “pundits” were when they decided to make these remarks?  I simply refuse to believe that anyone born after the Paleolithic age truly believes a woman incapable of judging offsides because of her gender.  No, this is like every other such reactions to social change.  It’s based on fear and general ignorance.

Shocked to find there is sexism in professional sports!

Thankfully, few if any have come to the defense of these two cavemen and neither will be working any longer in a field they obviously needed to retire from long before this weekend.  But I can’t help but thinking this is something of a Captain Renault moment for many speaking out against Keys and Gray.  While I applaud their denunciations, its time for them to do their part in helping to break the barriers that women face in professional sports.  Its easy to criticize the club, and its even easy to change the club’s rules, but it’s much, much harder to change hearts and minds of its members.

Can “King Eric” lead the Cosmos and American soccer to victory?

Last week saw what was perhaps the most bizarre, and at the same time potentially the most important, signing in American soccer history.  Eric Cantona, Manchester United legend and world football icon, was hired to become the Director of Soccer for the New York Cosmos, or I should say for an organization hoping to become the New York Cosmos.

The bizarre aspect of all this is that Cantona has the “overall responsibility for all soccer-related matters” for a team with no players.  The Cosmos are currently a club without a team, and with no guarantees that any top-flight team will exist in the near future.  Also, I don’t believe Cantona has any knowledge of the MLS or American soccer nor any front-office experience, but obviously that is not the point here.

"King Eric" Cantona joins the semi-fictional New York Cosmos

While Cantona’s position may very well be nothing more than a publicity stunt, it is a publicity stunt with huge significance.  What it tells us is that the folks running the Cosmos brand are not only looking to become an MLS franchise, they are looking to once again become the biggest and flashiest soccer team in the country.

As a child growing up in the New York area during the 1970’s, there truly was nothing bigger in sports than the New York Cosmos.  I remember going to Giants Stadium packed to the rafters with fellow fanatics to see world-class legends like Franz Beckenbauer and Carlos Alberto.  It was certainly the glory days of soccer in the United States.  Despite our recent successes with the US Men’s National Team, when the rest of the football world speaks of the United States they still tend to speak in somewhat derogatory terms about our inability to understand or play the sport.  But the one phrase they still recognize as a positive in our soccer history is the “New York Cosmos”.  It remains our one great contribution to world’s most important game.

Pele and the New York Cosmos

That team and those players inspired me to play the sport as a child, which led directly to my adult obsession with the world’s most popular sport.  And I am not alone.  Since the inception of Major League Soccer, fans of the sport have been waiting for the Cosmos to return.  Now that the league has established itself and soccer has made serious progress, it is time for the country’s most storied franchise to return to the pitch.

I have been a fan of the New York franchise in Major League Soccer (once called the Metrostars, now the Red Bulls) since the league began.  For those who don’t know much about the MLS, the team has been nothing short of an epic failure on the field, the polar opposite of my first love, the Cosmos, who were the most successful of their generation.  But despite those hardships we have stood by the Red Bulls all these difficult seasons.  Finally, we now have a stadium, ownership, and players worthy of our support.  There is no doubt that should the New York Cosmos enter the MLS they would instantly become our biggest rivals.  But I will be honest, it will be very hard for me to root against that shirt.

To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield!

We here at Pub Talk have decided to expand our ranting to include more subjects that interest us…and hopefully you as well.  Besides our normal topical banter, the editors told me I had “carte blanche” on whatever topic I wanted to discuss. So I chose, among other things, the world’s greatest sport…football!  (No, not advertisement plagued football we americans play, the real football!)  Join me each week as I blather on about my favorite sport!

Can one man’s ambition really change the contemporary thinking of a worldwide sport?  If not, than Blackpool manager Ian Holloway is certainly giving it a try.

Blackpool FC manager Ian Holloway

For decades, small clubs have gone out against the giants of the sport with the horribly boring idea of sitting their entire team inside their own half with the hope they could fend off the usually inevitable for 90 minutes and earn a scoreless draw.  Sure many a minnow has succeeded with this agonizingly dull tactic, and a few have even won a game or two like that, but is that really what we want out of our team?

This season, Ian Holloway brought his incredibly undersized Blackpool into the English Premier League, perhaps the toughest, and certainly most expensive, league in the world.  I for one expected little, and many football pundits wondered only half-jokingly if little Blackpool could earn even a single victory during their campaign.  But so far, with half the season completed, Mr. Holloway and his band of so-called misfits have proved us all wrong.  And they have done it with only one noticeable trait we all failed to take in to account when prognosticating this past summer…ambition.  Pure, exciting and wonderfully refreshing ambition!

The Blackpool faithful are living a dream season

With 21 games played so far, Blackpool have 8 wins and sit 10th in the league table.  That might not sound like much to us, but for a club with probably a third the resources of most of their competition, it really is.  But what’s more, they have gone after every game to win it and have attacked each Goliath with confidence.  Along the way, they may have just rewritten the book on how to play as a minnow among sharks.

I suppose there is a chance that Blackpool may yet be relegated back down to the lower leagues.  And even if they do manage to stay in the top flight next season, the odds will once again be stacked against them.  But no matter what happens, the example has been set and football world has had its collective eyes opened.  Play with ambition, strive for better!  And you too will become the stuff of legend!

By Dave McBride

Published in: on January 18, 2011 at 10:45 am  Leave a Comment  
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Many Thanks Mr. Steinbrenner

I have not followed the game for a very long time. But there were those magic summers with seats in the upper deck, an occasional lucky perch down the third base line, or just some cigarette fogged bar in the south Bronx watching the spectacle unfold on the big heavy box with the disproportionately small screen–in a world where beer only came in one color. And for those rare days when I was out of touch with the drama and theatrics, there was always that inevitable question…How did the Yankees do today? 

Wars, economic downturns, natural disasters, political strife and even affairs of the heart could be put on hold…The answer to my question would determine the quality of life.

I remember those boys of my summers past—Martin, Munson, Chambliss, Randolph, Dent, Nettles, White, Rivers, Jackson, Piniella, Guidry, Gullet, Figueroa, Tidrow, Sparky and Catfish.

And I remember the man who made those cherished memories all possible…Many thanks Mr. Steinbrenner!

Posted by: Chris Poh

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