Thursday, July 19, 2012

An Ode to Fans

I want to take a minute to reach out to my fellow MLS fans.  You guys and gals are awesome.  You show up in the driving rain (I'm looking at you Portland) and scorching heat (Houston, New York!) to support your boys.  You paint your face and sport your team's jersey.  You wave your scarf and sing your songs.

There is something to be said about the American soccer fan.  Most of us have not grown up in a culture where soccer is prevalent.  We have had to search soccer out.  We've had to work twice as hard just to BE a fan.  We drive for hours to show up for a home game.  We fly across the country to support our team on the road.  There is a tenacity to be found in MLS fans, a fighting spirit that refuses to back down even when we get the inevitable raised eyebrows and dubious looks from the non-initiated.

All this is, of course, in addition to the usual trials of fandom--the tears over a devastating loss, the rage at an incompetent ref, the post season depression (so, pretty much all of last season for Quakes fans).

Naturally, we all know that is not by any means the whole story.  We are fans because our team brings us joy.  We love the sport, but we feel like our team is our family.  I was once asked by someone why I referred to the Earthquakes as "we."  I didn't quite know what to say, I had never thought about it before.  It had just never occurred to me not to include myself with them.

That sense of belonging is in full force at home games.  There is no feeling in the world quite like sitting in a sold-out stadium before a penalty kick.  It is so quiet you could hear the drop of a pin.  Everyone has a knot in their stomach.  One of your boys steps up to the spot.  It takes a moment to absorb the fact that the ball has hit the back of the net, then the stadium erupts in a roar of joy.  You hug (or if you're not a hugger, high-five) the person next to you even if you don't know who they are.  At that moment, they too are your family.

Granted, much of this does not apply to soccer fans only.  (Except the second paragraph--that's pretty specific to soccer.  And maybe curling.)  However, I do feel that soccer fans, and MLS fans in particular, share a special bond if only because of their relative rarity in the United States.  We are growing, to be sure, and you are all a huge part of that; but there is definitely a special camaraderie that exists between us because we are comparatively few.  It reminds me of C.S. Lewis' quote: "What?  You too?  I thought I was the only one."  He was referring to the moment that friendship is born, but I think it is equally applicable to us.

So, all my fellow MLSers, keep on keeping on.  If your team is in a mid-season slump, don't give up on them.  If your team is doing well, enjoy it along with them, never forgetting what you've already been through.  Keep sweating it out in the stands during these hot summer days.  Keep high-fiving your boys after games.  Keep inviting your friends and family to games--they'll catch on soon enough.  In short, keep doing what you are already doing.  It's worth it.

And by the way, yes, the Quakes did beat FC Dallas on Wednesday to put 7 points between themselves and their closest followers in the standings.  I am a very happy fan.

Image courtesy of

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Muamba and Messi: A Week of Contrast

Fabrice Muamba
Lionel Messi

I am always amazed at the twists and turns that life takes. The ups and downs sometimes come so quickly that our senses can't seem to keep up - we can very quickly find ourselves overwhelmed with sheer pain or sheer joy. The past week was no exception in the world of football.

On March 17 our beloved Tottenham Hotspurs were playing the Bolton Wanderers in an FA Cup quarterfinal match. It is our routine to record the matches that we are not home for - such was the case for this match. Before we could see the match we received news that Bolton's Fabrice Muamba, the 23 year old from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, collapsed on the pitch in the 41st minute. He had suffered a massive heart attack. After several minutes of resuscitation, Muamba was moved from the pitch and the resuscitation continued. Then the referee, Howard Webb, removed all players from the pitch and abandoned the match - a very respectful call on his part.

Though Muamba was critical for a time, the quick response of the physios and a Tottenham fan (who also happens to be a cardiologist) saved his life. Muamba is doing remarkably well now and is expected to fully recover. It was awesome to see how Bolton fans and Spurs fans alike, as well as the entire football world, rallied us all to prayer. I saw video clips of that day and I was moved by the compassion of everyone at White Hart Lane. We have not watched the recorded match, and we probably won't. As much as we love the Spurs, there will be other matches to watch - the important thing is that Muamba is on the mend.

Just a few days later, on March 20, Lionel Messi of Barcelona made history. Scoring a hat-trick against Granada he became the all time goal scoring leader for Barca with...wait for it...234 goals! Remarkable by any standard, but especially remarkable considering Messi is only 24 years old and is in his seventh season with Barca. This season he was also the first player in history to score five goals in a UEFA Champions League match (you must see the video for these goals - two of them were cheeky little chip shots over the keepers head) and he became only the fourth player to win three FIFA Ballon d'Or (best player in the world) honors. Whatever Messi is eating for breakfast, I want some. The man astounds me.

So, that was just a few days of twists and turns in the world of The Beautiful Game. In each case we that love the game gasped and had to catch our breath - we wept and prayed for Fabrice Muamba, we pumped our fists and cheered for Lionel Messi...then we pumped our fists and cheered for Fabrice Muamba! The great thing about football is that you don't know what to expect from week to week. However, the game gets more beautiful each and every day.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Starting the Season Off Right!

Last night was a good night.  It was the first time the Quakes have won a home opener since they rejoined MLS in 2008.  It was long overdue, but all the sweeter because of that.

Not only was it a win, it was a Wondo goal that put us over the top.  I think this will be a good year for him - possibly even his third year as top scorer in the league?  I think it's more than possible.

It was exciting to see some of the new players show what they have to offer, and let me tell you, they do have a lot to offer.  Equally exciting was the return of some of my favorite players, Steven Lenhart and Simon Dawkins, whose return was not at all certain at the end of last season.

And I can't leave out Mr. Jon Busch, who started off the season with a clean sheet.

Overall, I am now even more excited about this season than I was before (if that's even possible!).  I know it's only the first game, but based on what I've seen so far both last night and during the preseason, I know we can go far.


P.S. Next week is a double-header at AT&T Park: San Jose Earthquakes v. Houston Dynamo followed by Mexico v. Senegal.  I would highly recommend making the trip to the Bay for this one!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Le Toux Legit to Quit

I have to say that I experienced a fair amount of anxiety some weeks ago when I first heard that Sebastien Le Toux had left the Philadelphia Union in preparation for a transfer to the Bolton Wanderers of the EPL. My first thought was 'bad for the Union, but great for Bolton' who are languishing at the bottom of the EPL table. I found some solace in the fact that he would be playing for a team that needed help up top, in a league that I thoroughly enjoy - but what a pity that the MLS would lose him.

Le Toux, born and raised in Rennes, France, is one of the most exciting players to watch - he works hard on and off the ball for every second he is on the pitch. In 2011 he led the Union in goals, assists, shots on goal, and minutes played. Additionally, he received an honor again this past season, the Fair Play award, for not receiving a single yellow card on the season. This is remarkable considering that he was also a league leader in total minutes played. Of course, I am a die hard Earthquakes fan, but I have a great deal of respect for this man and his style of play.

Needless to say, I would not be anxious for too long, because by January 31 the deal with Bolton fell through and Le Toux ended up signing with the Vancouver Whitecaps of the MLS! Of course, I was very pleased to see him stay with the MLS and I can't wait to see how the Whitecaps benefit from his presence this season. On April 7 Vancouver will be playing the Quakes at Buck Shaw stadium, and as always I will be hoping for a clean sheet against the Whitecaps. But with a player like Le Toux up top, a clean sheet just might be too much to wish for. In any event, I hope the best for Sebastien Le Toux, and I hope that he will be an MLS'er for years to come.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Sad Day for Women's Soccer

The 2012 WPS season has been cancelled.  Because the organization is now bogged down in litigation with an idiot former owner.  My initial reaction is anger.  Perhaps I will take the time later to actually analyze the situation, but for now I want to express how sad this makes me for women's soccer.  While I don't personally follow the WPS very closely, I do know that the vast majority of the players on the USWNT (all but one, I think) play for WPS teams.  This means that, aside from national team duty, these girls are out of a job.  Not to mention all the girls who don't play for the national team.

Read the article about the situation here.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Pepe and Balotelli

Soccer is a very physical sport. I have played it, watched it, and coached it for years – so I am very aware of its physical nature as well as the rush of the competitiveness. You have the hard challenges, the tackles, the 50/50’s – people are going to get banged up sometimes, so one needs to be prepared for that fact. No one should really get bent out of shape for the incidental contact that is part of the game. However, there is a definite line that can be crossed. The world saw two gross examples of the line being crossed over the last couple of weeks.

Pepe (Real Madrid) and Mario Balotelli (Manchester City) were the recent sad examples of going beyond the usual physicality of soccer. Pepe appeared to intentionally step on Lionel Messi’s hand in the last match between Real Madrid and Barcelona, and Balotelli appeared to intentionally kick Scotty Parker in the head in Man City’s match with Tottenham. Both incidents occurred while the ‘recipient of the boot’ was on the ground and after the whistle blew. The news today is that La Liga took no action against Pepe, but the FA did suspend Balotelli for four games.

I personally have very strong feelings about Pepe and Balotelli – truth be told I can’t stand either one of them. And to make matters worse, Messi and Parker happen to be two players that I absolutely respect, they are definitely in my short list of favorite players. But this isn’t about a personal rant against individuals; this is about respecting individual players and respecting The Beautiful Game. Hey, mix it up, get physical, try to win that ball, protect yourself…but when the whistle blows, separate yourself from the opposing player and move on…we are all watching.

Take a look at the videos and let me know what you think.

Photo: Scotty Parker of Tottenham