Country Last

13 10 2017

“I think there has been this rhetoric that has been spewed out over the last couple of years – players have to go to Europe. If you want to go to Europe that’s fine, but I would guess that come 2018, 80% of our roster will be made up of MLS players. It is not about where you play, it is about what you bring to the team and how much you care.” ~ USMNT Goalkeeper, Tim Howard – January 2017

The U.S. Men’s soccer team will not be participating in the 2018 World Cup Finals. That bad news was finally determined a few days ago, and it has taken me that long to gather my thoughts. While there are many reasons for this elimination and many more problems with U.S. Soccer, the statement above is at the core.

The sad trip ended on Tuesday night, but we started down this road in April 2013 when Clint Dempsey left Fulham FC in English Premier League to play in MLS. He left arguably the most competitive league in the world to come home and play in the U.S. Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, Tim Howard – the core of the USMNT – soon followed, leaving their teams in Europe. That was the beginning of the decline that eventually eliminated our country from participating in the 2018 World Cup,

US Soccer has exhibited a cockiness that is unfathomable to me. Soccer is the most popular sport in almost every civilized country in the world, and it is played the same way everywhere. The rules of the game are the same. Professional league rules are the same. Except in the United States. Player development differs, and one can certainly argue that passion for the sport is key. But for some inexplicable reason, our players and supporters ignore a belief shared around the world – Country First, Club Second.

One of the true principles of development in soccer – or any sport – is that if you play with and against better players, you become a better player. It works consistently at the youth and professional levels.  In a list of the Top 100 Footballers in the World published by The Guardian in 2016, only five of the top twenty-five played professionally in their own country. So Howard’s belief is false to me, but he was close to right about one thing: The roster for Tuesday night’s match against Trinidad and Tobago was 72% MLS players. So we may reach his 80%, but since we won’t be in the World Cup in 2018… who really cares?

The passion for the sport is much less here, but it is growing. MLS is trending up in popularity and succeeding financially, but it will be decades before it rivals top European leagues – if ever. It has been said that part of the success is due to its close relationship with US Soccer, and I agree. But while MLS continues to grow, expected growth in domestic talent and development has not happened. That makes the relationship very one-sided.

I’m keying on one issue, but there are others. Player development must be examined more closely than ever, and many have been crying out for the heads of manager Bruce Arena or Sunil Gulati, president of the United States Soccer Federation. While those steps may be necessary, the core issue will remain. If our players and fans want to compete on the international level, the national team must be the priority.

By the way… the ladies understand that.

The USMNT-less World Cup will go on, and I will watch all of it. But I’ll really miss screaming and yelling and singing for my country with my son and hundreds of others at a local drinking establishment. And that makes me sad.

Our country is experiencing unprecedented conversation about national pride. Our citizens question each other daily… Do you have pride in your country? Are you American? Or more accurately, are you American enough? But looking at the last two years of US Soccer, one can see that being the greatest country in the world must be earned… it isn’t a given.

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Soccer Is Life

23 07 2015

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More than any other sport, soccer is life.

When asked to qualify my love for the sport, I immediately go to the usual reasons – the flow of the game, the constant movement, the consistency of the rules, the athleticism of the players, no stoppages or timeouts, only three subs, blah blah blah…

I also lean very heavily on the supporters culture – being there for the team, and each other, no matter what.

The events of past two days in my little corner of the football world enabled me to hone in on the best reason to love the beautiful game. On any given day, any team can beat any other team… regardless of payroll, professional or amateur, or league level.

Two days ago my Philadelphia Union won a U.S. Open Cup match they had no business winning. Down a man for 75% of the match, conceding a late equalizer, each player dead on his feet… they prevailed against a much more powerful opponent. Eleven buses full of Union fans made the trip to Red Bull Arena to witness what may have been the finest moment in the history of this young franchise. I was there!!

481612286My euphoria was short-lived, as the U.S. National Team (the men) were shocked by Jamaica in the semi-final of the Gold Cup last night. Jamaica… a team that ON PAPER had no business winning a game against the mighty United States of America. That may be debatable… but the result left me shocked and bummed, and sent tournament officials into a tizzy trying the figure out how to promote a USA-less final at the big stadium. A lesson learned.

In soccer and in life, you better be prepared and always at the top of your game. These “upsets” happen all year long, in competitions all over the world. This is the beauty of my game. And because I love it so much, the highs are that much higher and the lows are that much lower.

But there is another match against another team who could show us another lesson. Today the American Outlaws are licking their wounds and figuring out the best way to support their team at the next match, in that little stadium by the river. And the Sons of Ben are getting ready to head to DC to support the Union.

Why? Because it’s what we do. Its part of what makes soccer beautiful, and why I love it so.





My World Cup – Recap

14 07 2014

GermanyLast month I wrote about my excitement for the pending World Cup, and I made some predictions. Now that it’s all over, here are some thoughts, observations and realizations about the big event.

Overall, the World Cup competition was fantastic. I’m glad that the matches were completed with minimal controversy, and that everyone in Brazil was safe and peaceful. I was especially pleased by the excellent coverage by ESPN. Their commentary, analysis and special features enhanced what was already a tremendous event.

I made what I thought were a few bold predictions, and some were realized. This World Cup was full of surprises in the group stage, then everything settled down and the best teams went through to the finals. Germany won, and they were the best team… without question. But let’s see how I did on those predictions:

For the USA…

jonesPREDICTION: Jermaine Jones will do something that will cost the team. A red card, or a bad foul resulting in a dangerous free kick. I couldn’t have been more wrong… Jones was consistently the best field player for the USA (Tim Howard was team MVP, no doubt). My worry about Jones was that he had a history of cheap fouls and his temper getting the better of him. But after playing every minute and performing fantastic in every game – he made me a believer. His goal against Portugal was one of the best of the tournament, for any team.

PREDICTION: The USA will score in each match. Almost happened, but because they scored against everyone except the eventual champion Germany… I’ll give myself half credit.

PREDICTION: Julian Green will get in the Ghana match, but not see the field for the rest of the tournament. I had that one backwards. Green didn’t get in until late in the last match, and scored a nice goal.

PREDICTION: Tim Howard will stop a penalty. That didn’t happen because we didn’t concede any. Nevertheless, Howard was incredible… best performance on the USA squad.

PREDICTION: Klinsmann will park the bus against Germany, but try to run with Portugal. I think I got this one right. The situation of the group standings was that the U.S. only needed a tie versus Germany, and they played conservatively for that result. The 1-0 loss got them through. But they outplayed Portugal, and should have won.  

PREDICTION: The United States WILL get out of the group, then upset Belgium in the first knockout round. Argentina will knock us out, but that will be deemed a successful showing for Team Klinsmann. Spot on again, well… mostly. The group stage went exactly how I thought … Beat Ghana, a result against Portugal, and close match against Germany. I had counted on Belgium not being as good a TEAM as the U.S. even though they had so many stars. Still, we fought until the end and almost pulled it out.

The rest of the world…

PREDICTION: Lionel Messi will win the Golden Boot. Correct!! But I do think James Rodriguez of Columbia would have been the better choice.

PREDICTION: Some not so big names that will have a big impact: André Schürrle (Germany) and Hulk (Brazil)… “Puny humans!” Schürrle was fantastic, consistently bringing energy and pace off the bench… plus he scored three goals. Don’t forget the fantastic cross on the final winning goal. Hulk was probably one of the better players for Brazil, but they were such a disappointment that it’s hard to give any of them credit.

PREDICTION: England will not win a game. Spot on with this one too. The Three Lions have no bite (pun), and need to completely retool how they plan to compete internationally. The Premier League is the best in the world, and produced more World Cup players than any other. But there are too many foreign star players there restricting the development of English players. The FA has a problem, and no solution.

PREDICTION: Bosnia-Herzegovina will beat France in the first knockout round. Ouch! Lost the first two group matches, and were never a factor.

PREDICTION: Brazil will be a big disappointment, losing in the semifinals to Germany. Holy shit, I’ll never be so right about something again!! Truthfully, at the time of the prediction I thought that the pressure of winning at home would be too much for them. But I never thought it possible they would be humiliated like that. That match got its own post.

PREDICTION: Germany and Spain in the final. So I was half right!

PREDICTION: Spain will win the World Cup. If it wasn’t for Brazil’s epic collapse, this would have been one of the biggest stories of the World Cup. No one thought that some of the top teams in the world (Spain, Portugal, England, Italy) would be heading home after three matches. Wild results… great World Cup.

*At this point it should be noted that I tied for first place in my World Cup pool… no small feat! Yes, there were only four of us in the pool, and I didn’t predict everything right – but I was better than most. I guess I know some stuff…

photoLast thoughts… I observed a lot of soccer in the past 39 days. I watched at least one full match in the group stage each day, and fast forwarded through each goal in the others (love my DVR!). I saw almost every minute of the knockout stage matches. And I reveled in sharing the USA matches with hundreds of new friends and fellow American Outlaws at a few local watering holes. The crowds who gathered across the nation for these matches were incredible, and I hope that US Soccer keeps the momentum going. I know it’s only sports… but in those communal situations you realize that there is nothing more gleeful than a shared joy, and there is also nothing more soothing than commiseration.

But I think my favorite memory was yesterday. I went to my local bar to watch the final with family and friends. Not a traditional soccer bar, but a great place to watch sports. It was a good crowd, but not as many people for a USA match. I got a prime seat directly in front of the 15 foot screen, and seated to my left was a regular who knew nothing about soccer. Most soccer fans would shudder, but I spent the next two plus hours explaining some of the finer points of my beautiful game to an admitted non-fan.

I’m not sure if I turned him from the dark side, but answering his questions reminded me why I love this game so much. The past six weeks have shown how exciting, raw, unexpected, excruciating, and inspiring the game truly is.

And it’s beautiful.

Thanks for reading so many of my soccer posts. We now resume our regular programming…





Colors

4 07 2014

The colors of the flag of our nation are on my mind today, maybe because of all the World Cup/USA soccer fever over the past three weeks. Here are a few red, white and blue thoughts on the anniversary of our nation’s birth…

photo (2)Speaking of the World Cup – Although it’s still going on, I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed a sporting event more than this World Cup – and I have no idea who these people are in the photo! With very few exceptions, the games have been edge-of-your-seat fantastic. Even if you are a soccer novice, it’s been the sports story of the year. Our U.S. team performed admirably, and I think soccer has finally reached the level of acceptance it deserves. Who could have pictured hundreds, and in some cities, thousands of people getting together to watch the World Cup? I can’t wait until 2018! There is a lot of work to be done, and many matches to be played before the next World Cup. But it’s a great time to be an American soccer fan!

If I Had A Time Machine – I often wonder what our Founding Fathers would think of our United States today. These brave, brilliant men could never have foreseen this future, as I’m sure none of us could accurately paint a picture of our world 238 years from now.

6a014e8c33f773970d017ee7f226ce970dImagine if we could pluck Thomas Jefferson from the past… I think he would revel in flying back and forth to his beloved Paris in a jet, and look in wonder at the massive cities that have sprung up across the wilderness he knew. (He might wonder how we got all of this done without slaves.) And, I think that he would be in shock to learn that his two century old parchment writings are considered by some to be the letter of the law.

By definition, a patriot is “a person who vigorously supports their country and is prepared to defend it against enemies or detractors”. Today, many describe themselves as “patriots” because they are convinced that their beliefs are the only solution to the ills of our nation… and all non-believers are to be treated as enemies of the state. They cloak themselves in the Constitution or the Bible, and spit upon those who dare to question their ideas. But they forget those very writings were made to be a beautiful framework for a vision of a free state, or a guide for all of us to be a better, kinder people.

We should continually inspire to be just that.

tumblr_l5aly0HcB01qa944oo1_1280Family and Friends – I’m looking forward to a great weekend. It looks like rain today for the actual 4th of July in Philadelphia, with remnants of Hurricane Arthur that making his way up the east coast. But it should be clear, blue skies on Saturday, and I’m heading to my sister’s place for a fun-filled afternoon by the pool with a bunch of family and friends. Sunshine, good conversation and cocktails are the only things on the menu… maybe a burger or two. Be warned, sis… watch out for a great big cannonball, and – to my chagrin – much water displacement.

As a wise man once said, “Family… what it’s all about!”

Quoting Myself – This time last year I wrote this tidbit, and then stole something from a “so-so” author:

Here’s something you’re not used to seeing on my page… great, great writing:

“When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Happy 4th of July, my friends.

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My World Cup

9 06 2014

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This is a huge week for me, my friends. The 2014 World Cup kicks off in just three days and I couldn’t be more excited!

Besides my family and friends, nothing is more satisfying and enjoying to me than the beautiful game. Soccer is my religion. I’ve been combing through my employee handbook to see if the USA matches qualify as religious holidays, but I don’t think I’m that good a salesman. But that’s what vacation days are for…

I’ve waxed many times about my love of the sport, so this isn’t new territory. After two years of qualifying and months of anticipation and hype, the opening games are at hand. My bracket pools are filled out. My DVR is prepared to work overtime starting Thursday. And my red, white and blue scarves, t-shirts and hats are out. Waiting…

I can’t wait to see some of the best players in the world, on the best teams in the world battling for the ultimate dream (and possibly the ugliest trophy ever created). My hope is that the matches are all competitive, free of controversy and full of sportsmanship… PLAY FAIR! I’m looking forward to the personality, insights and technology that ESPN will bring to the coverage. Most of all, I sincerely hope that the entire tournament is safe for all of the players, fans and the Brazilian people. Now… some predictions, if you please.

For the USA…

  1. Jermaine Jones will do something that will cost the team. A red card, or a bad foul resulting in a dangerous free kick.
  2. The USA will score in each match.
  3. Julian Green will get in the Ghana match, but not see the field for the rest of the tournament.
  4. Tim Howard will stop a penalty.
  5. Klinsmann will park the bus against Germany, but try to run with Portugal.
  6. The United States WILL get out of the group, then upset Belgium in the first knockout round. Argentina will knock us out, but that will be deemed a successful showing for Team Klinsmann.

The rest of the world…

  1. Lionel Messi will win the Golden Boot.
  2. Some not so big names that will have a big impact: André Schürrle (Germany) and Hulk (Brazil)… “Puny humans!”
  3. England will not win a game.
  4. Bosnia-Herzegovina will beat France in the first knockout round.
  5. Brazil will be a big disappointment, losing in the semifinals to Germany.
  6. Germany and Spain in the final.
  7. Spain will win the World Cup.

So, again I exercise my blog post powers and put it out there! Call me out on any of these somewhat bold predictions… what do you think?

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The Harangue-Man’s Noose – Episode I

27 05 2014

Up until now, I haven’t really used this forum for a good rant. This felt so good that I might make it a regular feature of the blog. So… Here are a couple of soccer-related pieces about two coaches… rants that have been screaming to get out of my head!!

hackworth-john0623_7698 On Hackworth – I’m a diehard Philadelphia Union supporter, and now fully on board the “SackHack” bandwagon. At a time of the season when teams are starting to gel, it’s clear that this team is going backward. After close to twenty matches (pre and regular season), our boys suffer from a stunning lack of team cohesion, consistency and confidence on set plays. The only answer John Hackworth seems to have is a weekly turnover of the match day lineup, leaving the players and fans frustrated.

I’m sure Hack is a good soccer man. And he is probably a fantastic assistant coach. I think he did a great job bringing in new talent like Maidana, Nogueira and Edu this past off-season. So it is difficult to fathom how the performance has taken such a leap backward this year. It’s time for a coaching change, and I’m sure it is coming soon. It’s a hazard of the job, and success or failure is measured by wins and points.

But this rant is not directed at the coach, the front office or the players… it’s directed at my fellow supporters. Not all, but some.

Let’s stop with hate. If you read some of the comments on blogs and social media, you would think Hackworth was the mastermind behind the crash of Malaysia 370. Like all of us, he is a just a guy doing a job. And I’m sure he is doing the best he can. But there are no lives at stake… he is not a surgeon or a soldier. Its sports, people. Professional or not, everyone needs to relax and get some perspective.

One day in the next couple of weeks, John Hackworth is going to go home to his family and tell them he is out of work… the same family we welcomed and cheered when they came to the Sons of Ben tailgate in DC. I have been fortunate enough to meet Hack a couple of times and he seems like a great person. So I will not be joyous when the inevitable happens.

I know from experience that it sucks to lose your job, as I’m sure a lot of us do. So let’s lighten up, and stop being assholes. Coaching is a lot easier in the cheap seats.

klinsmann-blog-e1400015378410On Klinsmann– We have seen it over and over and over in sports. A management or personnel decision leads to the behavior of a petulant child. In this case, that child is our national team coach, Jurgen Klinsmann.

It’s clear to me (fat ass securely in my cheap seat) that not including Landon Donovan on this year’s World Cup team had nothing to do with a lack of form or fitness. Klinsmann made this decision a long time ago, in retribution for Donovan’s failure at Bayern Munich and for taking time off during the beginning of the qualifying cycle. He twisted the knife a little more by inviting him to the camp when he knew that Donovan was not going to be included in the final 23.

There is a logical argument against every BS reason he gave to cutting Donovan. Give credit to Donovan for being such a class act since the snub, always putting the team first. I don’t think Klinsmann expected such a backlash, so don’t be surprised if Donovan gets to Brazil because of an injury.

If he is on the team, Landon Donovan is the face of U. S. Soccer to everyone around the world. Klinsmann thinks this is his team, and he is putting his massive ego ahead of our national team.

This is our team… MY TEAM. Not yours, Jurgen. Like any coach, you’re a temp.

Soccer is one if my biggest passions. As with anything I write here, I welcome comments and spirited debate. 





B-MUSINGS… Cool August Night Edition

13 08 2013

“B-Musings”… random blurbiage and ping pong balls rattling around my dome.  Why?  Because I can, and I have a blog!

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Beachin’ It – In a previous post, I mentioned my new found longing to be at the beach. It hasn’t waned. Fortunately I was able to get to the shore a couple of weeks ago and quench that thirst. My friends know that I am not one to stay at the beach for more than an hour… two tops. So the 10 hours over two days I spent sitting on the sand was a revelation. Granted, I was blessed with the right mix of great weather and great company… the perfect storm. It also came at the right time, in what has been a very hectic few months.

I’m going back next week, to plop my ass on that chair again. Can’t wait… I seem to be a poster boy for change lately, and I have to say I’m enjoying it.  Look out, fudgy wudgy man…

Culling the Facebook Herd – I like to go into my social media contacts periodically, and “unfriend” some people and places with whom I no longer interact. Recently I cleaned out a bunch of brands, bands, movies and other assorted “Likes”. Alas, I also jettisoned about 10 people who have thus far failed to enrich my social media experience. But as I was going through the exercise I came to four Facebook friends who are deceased. Obviously I was aware of them in my list, and each had very different levels of friendship for me. It’s nice that friends and family still drop comments on their pages for birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, etc.

So… those four will remain. Until I see them again.

The Soccer Supporter Mentality – I spend a decent amount of time explaining this concept to my non-soccer friends, so I thought I would throw it out for some comments. I fully expect Philadelphia Union striker and rising star Jack McInerney to be playing somewhere else next year, and I’m okay with it. If he moves to Europe, he will develop faster and better than in MLS. And that is good for U.S. Soccer, the priority.

Unlike any other sport, the true fan places country over club.  I think it is the best way to go, we support our national team first, then we have favorite domestic and/or overseas club teams… and we are rabid about all of them!!!  For me… USMNT, then Union, then Manchester United. The goal is always to fortify the national squad. Nuff said…

photo1Wedding of the Century – I often call Joe O’Hagan my faux cousin, when in fact he is my oldest and dearest friend. Our Moms were best friends growing up in Belfast, and travelled to America together on the Mayflower (well… that’s what they led us to believe).  So Joe, myself, his and my sisters grew up as cousins. He’s been a swinging bachelor for all these years until the fair Jennifer finally lassoed him to the ground. When I got news of their pending nuptials I expected an epic event, and was not disappointed.

It was a grand day, epic in its tradition and simplicity. I was honored to be asked to do a reading at the traditional Catholic ceremony, and I delivered it with my usual panache. The reception was held at the same classic venue that hosted my Senior Prom 35 years ago, and the place hasn’t changed one bit! The flashback feeling was aided by a great DJ who played Sinatra and other standards during dinner, and pulled out all the classic wedding reception dance hits… “Celebrate good times, come on!!” Joe’s nephew gave what might have been the greatest best man toast ever, and the newly married couple danced to an absolutely perfect song choice – the beautiful “At Last” by Etta James.

It truly was an epic event. All that was missing was a whiskey sour fountain and the garter / bouquet tossing, omitted I assume because of the groom – throwing anything is dangerous at his advanced age. But there were four other things missing… Joe and Marie, and Bunty and James. No doubt they would have been delighted that after a half century we are all still together.  Real family… no faux, mofo.

Good times, good people, good craic.

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Meet Herb… Official “Face” of the B-Musing Blog Post.  Are you B-Mused now? A-Mused? Both?

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