The best sports can surprise you with their narrative, as the beauty of the game combines with the parity of play, and predictions get thrown out in an instant with a well-timed run and clinical finish. What's particularly satisfying in these moments is that we're reminded that us observers, whether fan or professional sports-watcher, decide nothing and know nothing and maybe it's just better if we stop pretending and just enjoy it.
Trash talk and self-awarely sarcastic taunting, of course, is still encouraged.
To that end, sports fans got a gift today, wrapped in a nice bow of American beat down of our socialist neighbors to the north. Sure, I am as enamored with their universal health care and (relatively) sensible drug policy and 90s pop rock bands as the next guy, but boy do I love beating them in sports.
Sweet jersey, bro.
Three out of every four years, this is the point in the summer where sports cease to matter for me on their usual day-to-day basis. The Mets are inevitably out of the playoff picture (check), the Sabres have underwhelmed in an offseason in which they needed to pick up the pieces from a disastrous finish to last season (check), the Bills look promising but for the fact that they're the Buffalo Fucking Bills (check), and the various European footy leagues are still a couple weeks away (check). Summer provides its own distractions of day drinking and beach visits and eye candy throughout the five boroughs (well... four, since Staten Island is, well, Staten Island). And of course there's MLS action which continues to impress, particularly with the Red Bulls (who, incidentally, I caught live Tuesday night when they played Tottenham... I'd recap that match but, let's be real, I was drinking, coming off a separate four day bender and there's not much to say than that the Spurs looked pretty good when they tried and that they showed why the MLS still has a few years/decades to catch up with the quality of top-notch European clubs).
But, one of every four years, we get the Olympics to keep us busy in late July/early August so that we don't have to feel quite so down about the Mets or the Sabres or the Bills (or whatever other shit burger squads you happen to follow) each looking like minor league organizations trying to keep pace with the big boys. I've always been a huge fan of the Summer Olympics since it plays the role of gap-filler and since it typically happens while I have a little bit more free time than usual to watch endless hours of sports I know nothing about and drink enough tallboys to convince myself that I'm actually an expert. Back in '08, I absorbed the Beijing games on the heels of taking the NY bar exam, which worked out perfectly even if my family did start to question my motive in watching back-to-back matches of women's beach volleyball. (Spoiler: it was the ass shots
, of course). This year, I have a little bit less free time, being employed and all, though I did get to check out quite a lot of it during a three day bachelor party weekend, and have kept up with the bigger goings-on since getting back to NYC Monday night.
I love international soccer. I love the passion of it, I love the tournament structures of the men's and women's world cups, and I love seeing a squad of US jerseys take the field and try to do us proud. I love these things despite the fact that my footy fandom is in the minority in the US and that most American sports fans could give a shit if the Stars and Stripes win a weekend friendly, much less a World Cup. Let's be honest - the men's team looks lost on the pitch a great deal of the time. Sure, they've shocked the world a few times in the last decade, but any true fan is always sitting with hope for a miracle when they root on the Yanks in any legit international tourney. (And, honestly, the Gold Cup is not all that legitimate...and even that we managed to blow). The women's team, on the other hand, has been largely dominant. The 1999 World Cup victory in penalties, on American soil, was the pinnacle of that dominance. Indeed, the fact that they hadn't won since then was the true shocker.
For a country full (or really, not full at all) of soccer fans who've been waiting for the sport to take off in this country, the women's team has always carried the most promise, and the most expectation.
And, for those who watched the disasters of the last two Women's World Cups - the first coach initiated, the most recent player initiated - it's fair to say that the women may have been burdened by those expectations. Fair? Unfair? Anyone's guess could be right, but it's gotta weigh on your mind when you take the pitch with the knowledge that your success or failure is being looked to as the barometer for the game's success or failure in your home country.
As a fan, I wanted the team to win, for the sport to continue its growth with a jolt of energy and enthusiasm, and for sponsors to start lining up to support a game that is far more enjoyable than the monotony of a NASCAR race or the tedium of mid-season MLB. So, naturally, I was disappointed on Sunday. But, as an aspiring realist, I'm also acutely aware that the game's success in the US is dependent on so many factors other than the success of the Women's Team in any given tournament, particularly when the Men's Team is consistently getting bounced out of the World Cup's first round of the elimination stage (if that...). So, when the team lost, I feared that the storyline that has been so thoroughly fed to us - that the US Women's team is the best in the world and should never lose, and that their success could mean a huge uptick in interest - would come back to bite the team in the media coverage that followed.
In other words, Cue the Douchebags.
Let me preface this by saying that I think it's totally fair to criticize the manner of the US team's loss. They held two separate one goal leads that should have each iced the game, only to give up absurdly poor equalizers that forced overtime and then the penalty shootout. And then they didn't close in the shootout itself.
But, what I cannot stand, is bullying - and unresearched bullying at that - taking the form of some distorted feminist meme that demands we all treat the US Women's Team the same way we would if they were men: like good for nothing chokers. Because, clearly, they are much more than that to anyone that's been paying attention.
I start with Greg Couch of AOL Fanhouse. Putting aside my gut instinct to just spend a paragraph taking potshots at AOL generally, Mr. Couch's article, entitled "U.S. women's national team deserves serious criticism
," is emblamatic of some of the bullshit reporting coming out of various corners of the internet over the past couple days. In the piece, Mr. Couch essentially argues that any pride in the women's team - any refusal to dwell on the epic fail that was their loss - is somehow an indication that we're condescending the team by failing to call them out for the loss. Indeed, taking his cue from President Obama's tweet ("Couldn’t be prouder of the women of the #USWNT after a hard-fought game"), Mr. Couch feels the need to equate the Prez's sentiment with that of a parent patting the head of a 7 year old from whom "you don’t really expect much and don’t want to hurt feelings."
Or maybe its just that some people choose to voice support in defeat, to not point out the obvious - that a higher ranked team got beat by a lower ranked team after crumbling with the lead - when they are debriefing the biggest story in U.S. women's sports since, well, 1999 probably. That's not insulting to the women on the U.S. team - women who I am sure are well aware that they fucked up. It's patriotic and it's optimistic and it's, frankly, a more accurate interpretation of the hard road that the team had to travel just to get to the final. President Obama and all the rest of us have every right to be proud of this team, regardless of the ultimate result in the final, without being told we're somehow condescending these women we so greatly admire.
Another voice in the chorus of douchebags is T.J. Simers, whose headline describes the World Cup loss as "disgraceful."
He starts the article with these two sentences, setting the tone for the hyperbolic shite that follows: "In all my years watching futbol, I have never seen a side on the pitch gag as much as the U.S. gals. Talk about just dribbling it away."
COME THE FUCK ON.
The Google tells me that, when not incessantly bitching about the current state of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Mr. Simers dabbles here and there with soccer commentary, much of it bitching about David Beckham and the LA Galaxy. Other than that, though, his resume seems utterly devoid of any contact with The Beautiful Game. So forgive me if my initial reaction is to punch him in the face for saying "In all my years of watching futbol
" to open his article. Maybe he's a fan, too, I don't know. But, even if he is, all the more reason to call him out for the unsubstantiated drivel that follows.
In addition to the wolf in sheep's clothing argument about being "fair" to the women's team by calling them out for the chokejob on Sunday, Simers goes to the mat and brings out a series of comparisons so that the casual soccer fan can fully understand the implications of the USWNT's loss in the final. "This was the mighty Soviet hockey team losing in Lake Placid to a bunch of kids and then fearing the next stop might be Siberia. . . As mismatches go, this was Oregon versus USC. The Mavericks against the Lakers."
Ugh. Where to begin.
Well, for starters, Mr. Simers - and to an extent Mr. Couch as well - COMPLETELY gloss over the fact that, while favorites, the U.S. was not so heavily favored to make this a David v. Goliath matchup. When FIFA last did their world rankings in March, Japan ranked 4th. FOURTH. Behind the U.S., Brazil and Germany, each of whom was favored by many columnists and soccer pundits to win the torunament. But, suddenly, moving to Japan in the 4th spot is coming upon an outmatched underdog with no hope of success. Mr. Stimer, Google is a wonderful thing. You can use it to find facts, in addition to that weird fetish porn you're into. #UntrueTJSimersFacts
Sure, the U.S. hadn't lost to Japan in 25 games, and they thoroughly dominated the match in such a way that probably gave the casual fan the impression that the ladies from Japan were simply bad. But, to somehow equate the stellar play of the U.S. team with the alleged poor quality of the Japanese team is simply sloppy reporting. Japan had already beaten Germany, the two-time defending champion and home nation, so any allusion to them being a bad team is stupid. And the reference to history - which includes very dated history of a women's game far less competitive and skilled than it is today, to anyone who has been paying attention - is simply not a fair metric for whether the ultimate result is a disgrace or not.
Listen, I get that this team lost, and lost in a way that can fairly be called "choking." Fine. But, to push aside the success that they had - beating a Brazillian team from behind, and in doing so denying the reigning world player of the year from the elusive World Cup title - is, I think, a really self-satisfying exercise for sports writers who don't much care about soccer and are eager to take any opportunity for cheap shots at the future of the sport in America. After all, for these writers, soccer's success hangs in the balance whenever our national teams take the pitch in a big tournament. The need for real infrastructure and recruitment at all levels of the national game is apparently lost on these guys. All we need is a great moment, and then we're all hooked right? Maybe, but after the magic that was 1999, and the little sustained interest that followed, I tend to think the process is more about baby steps than the need for one big splash to get Americans' attention. Looking at this one game, and concluding that American soccer is going nowhere because the USWNT lost is missing the big picture, and is ignoring the great things to be happy about with respect to the future of the American game.
For the fan that got hooked during either of the past World Cups - last year with the men, or this summer with the women - the key isn't to give them a winner on the international stage, the key is to give them a watchable sport to keep their interest up during the years between these opportunities for international glory. To that end, if a writer really wants to talk about whether the game can maintain American fan interest now that people have cared enough to sit down for a few matches, let's start talking about the infrastructure, about the national pro leagues and make sure that the new fans of the game are actually aware of what else might be out there for them. For guys like TJ Simer, American women's soccer may be on hold until next summer's olympics, but for those that know, by way of example, the WPS will feature a match between the WNY Flash - featuring Brazillian superstar Marta and American Alex Morgan, among others - and the magicJack - featuring American Abby Wambach - Wednesday night in front of a sold out crowd in Rochester and a national TV audience on Fox Soccer Channel. For those that know or care to do a little basic research online, the Beautiful Game is being played every weekend in our own backyards, with some of the most talented and skilled players on the planet, both men and women.
In my eyes, no grand opportunity has been lost, beyond the obvious opportunity win the World Cup itself, with the result on Sunday. Sunday's loss does not spell the end of the U.S. Women's Team's success in international play, nor does it indicate any sort of danger for the future of women's soccer in American generally. Indeed, a 4-seed beating a 1-seed is exactly the kind of parity the sport needs to gain ground on the men's game, both here and abroad. Calling these women chokers, for the sake of some quasi-principled argument, misses the point about why I, and many other soccer fans across this county, are feeling proud of our ladies today. And why I, for one, am excited to keep watching them and giving them the respect they deserve by continuing to be a fan.
Ah yes, the Beautiful Game. See, Scizz? Soccer is awesome!
With the Gold Cup just around the corner, FC Buffalo's season now underway, the Women's World Cup on the horizon later this month - and the Mets struggling to even be watchable - soccer will be getting some pretty consistent coverage over the next couple months. The Yachtsman - previously the sole promoter of the Beautiful Game here on DGWU Sports - has been without internet access for about a week now, so after a big weekend of Buffalo and National Team games, I'll take this opportunity to recap the action. And, with the US Men's National Team opening Gold Cup play Tuesday vs. Canada, while I'm at Citi Field enjoying a live friendly between Greece and Ecuador, make sure to check back later this week for recaps of those games as well.
Spain 4, USA 0: Warm-up Game or Not, Americans Embarass Themselves in Front of a Record Crowd at Gillette Stadium
For my first footy roundup, this game was slated to be the main attraction - actually the only game I'd be able to watch, what with a pretty busy schedule and the 400 odd miles between my apartment and All-High Stadium in Buffalo. Now I just feel depressed spending this much time thinking about it. DEAR LORD I HATE YOU FERNANDO TORRES. I HOPE YOU CATCH THE PLAGUE.
There, I feel marginally better.
Despite the fact that the USMNT took a victory away the last time these two teams played, we all knew this Spanish squad would be tough to beat again, particularly as they're still riding high from their World Cup win last summer. I also know that the US team had a recent string of, well, shitty results. Sure, they drew against Argentina, but they also drew against Chile and lost to Paraguay. Not bad teams - in fact, Chile has cracked the top 10 in the world rankings in the past year - but still disappointing given the high that US fans were on coming off of last year's group win in South Africa. In essence, I wasn't expecting too much on Saturday, but was at least hoping for something watchable.
Unfortunately, the match brought the team's recent record into sharper focus, as Spain exposed the US side's many flaws - on both ends - and embarrassed the team and its record-setting crowd of supporters in Foxboro with a lopsided 4-0 beatdown. Hell, I'm used to seeing my team go to Gillette Stadium with optimism for an upset and lay a turd, but even this was shocking. Four - nil is bad, and it could have easily been much, much worse.
In case you missed it, well, you're lucky. I'll give you the Spanish language version of the highlights so we don't have to listen to John Harkes try to convince us that they did it better in his day.
Now, I know they were playing with reserves in a lot of positions - trying to avoid injury before the "games that matter" begin this week, as well as missing a few key guys due to injuries - but, honestly, those reserves are still part of a group that represents THE BEST PLAYERS WE HAVE IN THIS COUNTRY. They're still professionals, and they should still be good enough to, I don't know, mark players in the box and make sure Spanish strikers don't get uncontested looks from 11 yards out. Tim Howard, as good as he is, was laid out to dry all afternoon, and his frustration showed. And, the reserves issue doesn't begin to explain or excuse the continued absence of any legitimate strikers on this team. Simply put, until the US team gets a striker who can shoot the ball without hesitation and with the touch of a pure scorer, we better get used to these mixed results in international play. This is where the US team has failed in recent years, and - even though a goal or two wouldn't have helped on Saturday - the lack of a pure scorer playing the forward position was one of the glaring holes against Spain. I can't count how many times someone got a decent through ball - actually, I can count...it wasn't that many...maybe two - only to have the player hesitate, look to pass, or just look clueless. Here's an idea: SHOOT THE BALL. Maybe it goes in, maybe it goes wide, but until the US players start believing that that they have the talent to finish, we'll be dealing with a lot of games like this.
This US Team is a string of disappointments, frankly, and unless they can muster up the pride to make a run at winning the Gold Cup, it may be time to show Bob Bradley the door and bring in some international coaching talent to shake this squad up. At a certain point, with the national development of the game, and the instances where we've seen the US play some decent, competitive football against the best in the world, games like Saturday's just aren't acceptable.
That said, they can bounce back with a great result tomorrow night against Canada and prove me wrong. Just do it, Yanks.
FC Buffalo 2, Pocono Snow 0; FC Buffalo 1, Erie Douch...er.... Admirals 2: The Blitzers Split their Home Games and Remain In the Keystone Conference Hunt
Needless to say, I didn't watch either of these games, but the interwebs did keep me in the loop. Salvaging my Saturday night after the USMNT debacle were our dear FC Buffalo Blitzers, who got a solid win against the Pocono Snow. I'll refrain from any cocaine-related jokes (after all, I never did like it when people said I went to "Snow-Bart and William Sniff Colleges"), and just say that it seemed like the team really hit their stride with Saturday evening's match. A clean sheet is always a team effort, and it was encoruaging to hear that the team got one for their first home win. Incidentally, spirits surrounging this game were also brightened today when I saw a Pocono player's twitter love for FC Buffalo's team and fans.
@Paddybhoy14, you are an Irish gentleman. Remind me to buy you a shot when DGWU visits E. Stroudburg in a few weeks.
The good vibes surrounding the Pocono match were decidedly NOT repeated in the Sunday matinee against Erie - a 2-1 loss. Reports of the game via Nick Mendola
, FC Buffalo co-owner and President, made it clear that the Admirals were doing their best Greg Louganis impersonations throughout the afternoon, thus securing themselves with a 1st half PK and an ultimate victory. Despite that, it was certainly nice to see Nick hold on to the concept of quality football over the stereotypes that so often define this under-appreciated sport in America.
As if Erie's asinine on-field antics weren't bad enough, in response to a FB post on FC Buffalo's page last night, a few players from the Erie team went trolling, accomplishing little apart from (1) making themselves look like asses, and (2) ensuring that members of The Situation Room
will be making the trip down I-90 for the revenge match later this summer. In particular, Danny Muidd and Biran Fitzgerald, I'm looking at you two DBs:
Good work guys. You've now guaranteed a shit storm of heckling down in PA.
My sources - aka some tweeps who actually get to go to games (my jealousy runs deep, friends) - have informed me that there was some sort of spat regarding the goalkeeper - Dan Mudd - talking some shit about USA, and some Blitzer supporter putting him in his place. So our dear pal Danny took it upon himself to fight back with some semi-coherent points - including a mischaracterization of FC Buffalo's length of existence - and then was backed up by his teammate Mr. Fitzgerald. Whatever. They won, so their points necessarily carry weight, even if they are showing themselves to be morons incapable of using google for some basic info.
Speaking of Google, it tells me that Dan Mudd
is actually an awful human being who steered Fannie Mae into $2.2 billion in losses over a three monin 2008. Wait, not the same "Dan Mudd?" Says who? I can't verify that online, so I'm going to assume google is telling me the truth. THANKS A LOT DANNY, YOU LOVER OF SANTORUM (the substance, nor the Senator...). Enjoy your fucking government bailout and your win. The real Americans from Buffalo will make sure to pack their whoopin' sticks when they travel down to your pathetic excuse of a Great Lakes town. As for me, I'll make sure to spread the word about you and your classlessness, ensuring that the five people who read this blog taunt you with every breath they take.
Even Erie's own "The Wonders" are embarassed by Danny and his America-hating ways.
I LOVE YOU HOPE
USA 1, Mexico 0: The USWNT steals a late winner in their send off before the 2011 Women's World Cup
Having already gone through enough analysis with little to no respect for the fact that I didn't watch the games I'm talking about, I'll keep my comments about the USWNT's game versus rivals Mexico on Sunday brief. While the Men's team was a sure underdog on Saturday, the Women's team was the exact opposite. Heading into stoppage time in the second frame, still knotted at zeros, the result was looking just as much of an embarassment as the Spain result the day before. The ladies, playing their final game on home soil before heading abroad for the World Cup later this month in Germany - where they hope to regain the Cup after two cycles of 3rd place finishes and German champions - looked less than stellar, well, until this happened.
Hey, USMNT - take some GODDAMN NOTES. Say all you want about the fact that they're women - sexist jerks - but that was a world-class strike. They keep doing that, and we could all be in for a treat when the matches in Germany get under way.
So there you have it, friends. A full weekend of football, with a healthy mix of success and failure to keep us fans interested, but not hopeful; to keep us watching, but never forgetful of the motto - Dear God, Why Us?
Check back later this week for reports and pictures from Citi Field's hosting of Ecuador and Greece, as well as thoughts on the USMNT as they open Gold Cup play against Canada.
Follow me on Twitter @theycallmedubs
And the Dear God, Why Us? Crew @DGWUSports